‘The Red Door – and other myths’
I was lucky enough to be offered an artist’s residency in Beijing in 2004/5. The works exhibited in this show are the product of that residency and are strongly influenced by what I saw and felt and experienced during that time.
Beijing in 2004/5 was a city negotiating the pangs of being reborn, again. Memories of graceful or portentous pasts were being obliterated by preparations for an ill-defined future. It was adolescent, gangly and gawky, uncomfortably vacillating between the promise of unsurpassable beauty and the threat of unspeakable ordinariness, ugliness or horror. The city appeared to be only beginning to adjust to its newfound maturity, yet was preparing itself for its international debut by destroying archaic things of simple beauty and constructing visions of cheap tawdry modernity.
This exhibition captures my emotional and rational response to a city in which I found myself fascinated by the interplay of its multitudinous and disparate historical and modern influences, from the Dynasties and political/military invasions, to religious, philosophical and cultural invasions. Dynamic articulations and incongruously superimposed artifacts of Beijing’s cultural plethora, are apparent and find expression in the landscape and in the people living in that landscape, and give full depth and resonance to notions of the ‘Chinese psyche’.
I found myself overwhelmed by my exposure to, and comprehension of, the layers and expressions of a complex and intertwined history and my struggles to interpret what appeared to me to be cultural symbiosis between apparently disparate elements. The cultural assimilation and synthesis is ongoing. It is quite unnerving. Sometimes enigmatic and sometimes only too obvious; welding a new aesthetic and ethos to the generations-old papier-mâché of cultural layering, C21st Beijing presents a diaspora of, what to the Westerner, is often a bizarre amalgam of apparently conflicting philosophies that comfortably inhabit parallel strata in the Beijingers psyche and society, unquestioningly validated, and enthusiastically, if occasionally naively, promulgated.
Whilst the remnants of Beijing’s many pasts often created ironic paradoxes and surreal juxtapositions, I found it remarkable and reassuring that the people and the environment, despite constant cultural and economic pressures, continued to maintain a tenacious hold on essential ‘Chineseness’. The present, in its many guises, both familiar and foreign, unswervingly careens ahead – as Beijing is poised for massive social, cultural and economic transformation, this exhibition captures the exciting essence of Beijing today, teetering on explosion or implosion, prior to becoming whatever it will be tomorrow.
‘The Red Door – and other myths’ explores contemporary Chinese philosophy and aesthetic, and the interplay between the artefacts of an intricate history of cultural invasions and their expression in contemporary landscapes, by juxtaposing graphic elements and cultural or personal symbols and metaphors, and creating a dynamic that can only be interpreted by the viewer in the third person, as I felt I was interpreting the life I saw and felt around me in Beijing.
One of the biggest but most obvious challenges of preparing the work for this show was to avoid creating a ‘travelogue’ or a colonial collectors itemisation of anthropological and cultural curios. Similarly, reference to Communism and the Dynasties, although necessary, had to avoid the blatant and banal. In Beijing I found myself continually aware of the synergies and tensions between translucent layerings of the paraphernalia attended by the multitude of influences on modern Chinese life, and found that my artistic interest in expressions of dimensionality - mechanical, temporal, cultural, conceptual and philosophical, found ready voice in this environment.
The works are ‘layered’ to indicate the ‘layering’ of values and time as a multi-dimensional objects construct. Images or metaphors sometimes ‘bleed through’ to each other, and sometimes obscure each other. In my works I use ‘acquired objects’ as well as my own drawing and painting, and photographs that I take and manipulate. I select images as metaphors for certain concepts or conditions.
2007 Michèle Devèze