Date：2011-11-26 - 2012-02-19
Venue：Platform China Space B
by Austin Powers
Song Yuanyuan’s solo exhibition, “Examining Objects”, does precisely what it claims to do - it examines objects. More specifically, it is a visual record of the artist’s personal journey, an effort to understand everything in the world around him on the same level, as an object, reduced to nothing but paint on a canvas. Even the painting itself is examined, as painterly brush strokes and seemingly unintentional drips of paint constantly remind us that we are not actually looking at the subject, but a mere representation of it; the only object we truly see is the painting itself.
Where entire scenes are depicted, the artist disrupts the harmony of the scene by placing objects together and creating physical situations that are either improbable or impossible. In “Good” we see a pair of human legs mysteriously sprouting from the chair, replacing the chair’s front legs. “Second Nature” depicts a complete breakdown of continuity in space and matter, with a reiteration of the tabletop multiplied and intersecting itself in the center of the painting. Song Yuanyuan is very interested in contemporary aesthetic, driven by pairings of out of place or abnormal imagery, in his exploration of the relationship between objects. Characteristic of this are the two works for which the exhibition is titled. In one piece, two wooden sawhorses are placed in the middle of the room; in the other, a large corrugated object. Half a frame mounted on the wall, part of the floor lifting up, almost as if wrapped around some invisible object, a patch of black somewhere between paint on a canvas and something draped over the couch; all present for no apparent reason, other than, perhaps, decoration.
Good /Oil on Canvas /110cmX160cm/2011
Other works focus on isolated objects, taken out of context, existing exclusively within the painting. Objects float in a field of color, or are depicted in an empty room, emphasizing the independence of the subject. Unanswerable questions are raised: what is the object? Why is it being painted? Does the object still exist, or does it only exist as the memory of an object? Did the object ever exist, or did it only exist in the mind of the artist? The artist’s interest in the objectness of the paintings themselves is also seen in his depiction of other artworks. The reference to Velasquez, whose magnum opus, “Las Meninas”, places the viewer as the subject of the painting in the painting, is a strong metaphor for Song Yuanyuan. As Velasquez brought the viewer to the same level as the subjects of the painting, Song Yuanyuan brings the painting, and the viewer along with it, to the same level as everything else.
An Imitation of Velasquez's painting /Oil on Canvas/30cmX40cm/2011
The artist then uses language to question our understanding. Sometimes a blunt statement, and sometimes personal commentary, it is unclear at any point what, specifically, the artist is writing about. It could be the subject of the painting, it could be the painting itself, it could be something completely unrelated. “Good” could be anything: the painting, the concept behind the painting, the shade of yellow, the viewer (for looking at the painting), the artist (for painting it), etc. The artist may not even think anything is good at all. The beauty of written text is that it carries no emotion. It is possible that the artist thinks the subject matter is actually something terrible, and his choice to write “good” on it is ironic. The scene depicted in “Good” is taken from the execution site of Saddam Hussein.
Untitled/ oil on canvas/60cmX80cm/2011
Something is only romantic when we decide that it is romantic. If people can have different opinions on what is romantic, can people have different opinions on what a chair is? There are chairs that are obviously chairs, though they certainly weren’t always chairs, and may not always be chairs. Then there are chairs that occupy a grey area between chair and stool, chair and sofa, chair and bench. If a chair cannot be sat in, is it still a chair? People created language, and one of its main purposes is to help us understand and describe the world around us. But to say that something is a chair only tells us that it is a seat, especially for one person, which probably has four legs for support and a rest for the back. It does not tell us anything about the size, material, color, smell, or texture of the chair.
The House of Romance/Oil on Canvas/250cmX180cm/2011
The choice of people as a subject in a body of works about examining objects is also interesting. People, parts of people, paintings of people, sculptures of people; all treated the same as the objects depicted in the other paintings. In some paintings, the artist is referring to the person as an object, while in others there is an object external to, but existing only in relation to, the person depicted. Sometimes the object is not seen at all, but instead implied through the gaze or motion of the person. The true subject of the painting is not necessarily what it appears to be, and in some cases not even present. By bringing people to the same level of analysis and examination as objects, the artist implies that our understanding of and interaction with each other is equally in need of reevaluation. We are forced to rethink both material and perceived value of people in the same way as objects.
What matters is not what the artist is trying to say by creating these works, or even what he is thinking about while creating them, but rather what he is doing in the act of creating them. He talks about contemporary aesthetic without praising it or mocking it. He offers little to no opinion on the subjects of his paintings. He is exploring, examining, and testing the world around him. He uses the act of painting as a way to get to know objects, a way to at least start understanding them. Putting objects into various contexts, taking them out of context, seeing what is beautiful, seeing what makes sense and what becomes nonsense.
Examining Objects(1)/Oil on canvas/180cmX250cm/2011
Song Yuanyuan: Painting and the Maze of Ideology
by Bao Dong
Every time I look at Song Yuanyuan’s paintings I have to adjust my vision. His paintings create a world where practically nothing is certain, all logic and order break down, and sense of space is fleeting. The viewer is forced to latch on to certain subjects or concepts in order to not lose themselves in the paintings. On the other hand, Song Yuanyuan often brings the viewer into a space where taste and meaning are both ambiguous. For example, he often paints very common, utterly meaningless interiors which, when paired with composition and brush strokes reminiscent of Cézanne and the occasional written word, makes it difficult to specify one definitive aesthetic. Thus we are also forced to restructure our own attitude towards beauty.
Song Yuanyuan’s background in photography makes him very sensitive to images. He tends to reject both images with apparent meaning or strikingly “photographic aesthetic” in favor of snapshots taken by cheap, automatic cameras then uploaded in vast quantities to waste netspace. Most of his images are taken from the internet or other forms of mass media. Much like the failed holiday snapshots Gerhard Richter collected, their most characteristic trait lies in their extreme mediocrity. These images become interesting only in their new form, as paintings.
Polyhedron in blue and orange//Oil on canvas/200cmX160cm/2011
These so-called images of mediocrity, to use the words of Roland Barthe, are images with neither “Studium” (the obvious symbolic meaning of a photograph) nor “Punctum” (that which is purely personal and dependent on the individual, that which ‘pierces the viewer’). In other words, the photographs possess no particular artistic language or graphic distinction. Through the act of adapting these photographs into paintings, Song Yuanyuan
creates punctum in the once-mediocre images. The most common elements of shoddy photography, blurry images and glare from the flash, are objectively represented as vital parts of the composition. Though independent of the original composition, unable to become part of the spatial order, and often confused with the material presence of the brush strokes, the inclusion of these photographic mistakes hinders the view of the scene and creates an element of punctum in the paintings.
Examining Objects (2)/Oil on canvas/250cmX180cm/2011
In another process of transforming photographs into paintings, Song Yuanyuan places a second picture, or completely unrelated objects, into the composition of the original image, disturbing the harmony of the scene, rooted in mediocrity, and generating unintentional visual rhetoric. For instance, a section of stairs or a colorful block appear suddenly in the middle of a typical bourgeoisie living room. What would be a ridiculous and unbelievable photograph is completely normal as a painting. This method of image pairing and space transformation is a visual rhetoric specific to painting. Song Yuanyuan is so familiar with this process that he makes it seem more like an improvisational juggling of montage. Objects “embedded” in the painting, like a pair of legs or a trapezoid, seem to exist both as part of the scene and only on the surface of the painting, amongst the pigments, a separate layer. It is this dual existence of certain images that makes us suspicious and creates a sense of uncertainty in the paintings.
The writing on the canvas makes the meaning behind the images more impossible to be certain of. Some of the words are very direct, like “sofa” written large over a sofa, confirming that we are looking at a sofa. On the other hand, some of the writing has little apparent relationship to the subject, like “command” written on top of a hand, or “happening” written over a sculpture. These words complicate the otherwise bland surfaces of these paintings. It is possible that they are a metaphor, or just an obstacle, or even a joke. Regardless of what they are, they allow us, as viewers, to relax our gaze.
Command/Oil on canvas/50cmX40cm/2011
Song Yuanyuan’s painting style has become more and more relaxed, his brushstrokes more confident, the structure of his paintings more concise, his decorative details more emotive. This puts the paintings in a potentially dangerous situation. Other than easily seeming careless, once the paintings become stylized it masks the images, becoming an aesthetic shell. More specifically, this shell will influence the understanding of the viewer, turning the painting into nothing more than an object of beauty.
Wedge-shaped Structure/Oil on Canvas/210cmX160cm/2011
Human Figure Statue/oil on canvas /80cmX60cm/2011
Snow/oil on canvas / 40cmX30cm/2011
Untitled/ oil on canvas/116cmX91cm/2011
Mental State /Oil on Canvas/60cmX50cm/2011
Renascence - external wall decoration/Oil on Canvas/360 x 250 cm/2011
Basic Conversations /oil on canvas/ 160cmX130cm/2011
Carrying/oil on canvas /100cmX80cm/2011
Untiled/ Oil on Canvas/60 x 50 cm/2011
Opposition/Oil on Canvas/200 x 160cm/2011
Second Nature/Oil on Canvas/200cmX300cm/2011
Coxcombry/Oil on canvas/200cmX300cm/2011