Considered one of the highest forms of Chinese art practiced by scholars and literati, ink art has existed for more than a thousand years, dating as far back to the fifth century during the Liu Song dynasty. Through each successive iteration, this practice has developed and evolved, eventually being introduced outside of China and forming the subject of major international gallery and museum shows in recent years.
InkMagination showcases the work of two visual artists, June Lee Yu Juan and Hélène Le Chatelier. The curation evinces an ostensible intention to explore cross-cultural dialogues through an enduring medium, but does so in an intuitive manner that avoids the usual clichés of ‘East versus West’.
The title of the exhibition is indicative of the goals of the artists’ respective investigations, taking the craft of traditional ink wash painting and calligraphy not as an end in itself, but rather utilising their materials and techniques as a platform for explorations on process and identity, while still borrowing from the medium’s emphasis on harmony, balance and poise.
Lee’s work heads off in various directions, and one particularly intriguing line of investigation is her meditation on the visual qualities of Chinese script. In her work, Chinese calligraphic texts are reinterpreted and translated into new, almost architectural forms.
The incorporation of colour in Lee’s series Calligraphic Matter examines Chinese characters (specifically calligraphic script drawn from the Han Dynasty) as visual pictograms which have developed from pictorial representations, and which slowly became more abstract over time. The work shifts the viewer’s focus away from calligraphic texts as symbols and their semiotic function, to an appreciation of their pictorial form for their pure visuality.
We also see the transformation of space through the origami-like morphing of Chinese script into three-dimensional environments. They become at once objects in space, and yet they also act as textures and backdrops, which in turn simulate illusionistic space, embodying a unique graphic logic.
These works complement Lee’s metal sculptures from her series Lost in Translation. We see here an extrapolation of the artist’s thematic preoccupations into physical space itself, and where textual forms are given immediate presence and weight.
It is through this process of abstraction of calligraphic text into art-objects which thrusts into the foreground a modernist consideration of formal visual elements – colour (or lack thereof), line, and composition. What is immediately evident is the artist’s search for a new visual lexicon, birthed through the dialogue between the age-old dichotomies of East and West, past and contemporary.
Indeed, one of the binding threads of the exhibition is this depiction (and use) of space. A similarly introspective contemplation on composition and white space may be found in Le Chatelier’s depictions of the human body. By suspending the torso against the empty areas of her compositions, Le Chatelier’s figurations are opened up dramatically, allowing their ephemeral forms to be appreciated from afar, and their textures to be admired up close. Veiled in an aura of the evanescent, they almost allude to atmospheric distant landscapes.
Le Chatelier embraces the infinitely unexpected effects of ink on paper to juxtapose within a single frame the ideas of body-as-object with body-as-landscape, where the viewer’s mind is invited to wander through. The white space is enlivened, and our eye traverses the image, across the peaks of saturated blacks, and through the free-flowing midtones.
There is an elemental quality about Le Chatelier’s more experimental pieces, as they capture a certain energy and internal frisson of the human body with a poetic elegance and an aura of depth, embodied in the interaction between the modulated flow of her brushwork and crispness of her surface. The exhibition shows us a progress from a more classical approach to formal beauty, to one which aims to encapsulate the essential spirit or atmosphere of the subject.
It’s interesting to note how InkMagination has been curated by French and Canadian gallerists, showcasing the works of artists from Singapore and France, in a country that is going to celebrate only its 50th year of independence. Singapore is characteristically a cultural entrepôt, open to more cosmopolitan influences and less burdened by a strict identification with any longstanding artistic tradition. Set in this context, InkMagination is able to transcend any linear discussions of contemporary ink practices as being at the crossroads between an ancient Chinese tradition and more globalised dialogues about contemporary art.
One leaves this exhibition with the feeling that there has been a fruitful crosstalk between the practices of two distinct visual artists who are clearly attempting to not only innovate but also search (in an organic manner) for a more intimate philosophy and deep individual visual language, drawing from (but not limited) to the canonical ingredients of Chinese ink.
The exhibition is accompanied by two site-specific performances. On 11 June, Wednesday, at 7. 30 pm, Intersections will be presenting “InkStallation”, an ‘installation-happening; which incorporates a silent performance by Syv Bruzeau inspired by the artworks, using butoh sensibilities. The audience will be invited to participate in the creation of an installation -artwork. On 21 June, Sunday, at 7.30 pm, Syv Bruzeau, in collaboration with Bani Haykal and Ila, will perform “Question Your Teaspoons”.
InkMagination is curated by Louise Martin and Marie Pierre Mol, and runs til 21 June 2015.
ADDRESS: Intersections Pop Up Gallery, 57 Eng Hoon Street #03-72C
OPENING HOURS: Wed to Fri: 2pm – 7pm; Sat & Sun: 1pm – 5pm
Admission is Free
For any enquiries, please contact Louise Martin & Marie Pierre Mol at +65 9128 5260 or +65 9798 5611, or email Intersections at [email protected]