Text by Hu Jiaxing
Femininity is one of the oldest subjects in the history of art, the first image of our human is the female figurines: the oldest undisputed known artifact as a depiction of a human being, the Venus of Hohle Fels, was created at least 35,000 years ago; its voluminous body describes the essence of being female, which reflects the early human’s understanding and expectation of the world and themselves. In ancient Greek mythology, Gaia is the primordial deity immediately after Chaos, and mother of all life. However, there are very few women artists in art history, which may be the fault of the social status and role of women in history. If men represent the power of conquest, a world of borders, this same world, however, in the eyes of women, is more tender and delicate, in which human and nature are full of connection and transformation possibilities.
BOAB Art Gallery's first major exhibition in 2019, Moonlight Garden, which invites three East and West women artists: Hong Wai, Sonja Vereecken and Zhao Fei, is a perfect reflection of this emotional and spiritual world.
In the paintings of the Chinese artist Hong Wai, the female body and the traditional landscape are simultaneously transformed by the artist’s personal deconstruction. Especially the Feminine Landscape series, there the landscape with mountain and water, the highest spiritual and moral metaphor in Chinese painting, is secretly deconstructed by the artist into the voluptuous female bodies. While the traditional Chinese geomancy sees the energy forces in the chains of mountains as an embodiment of dragon, Hong Wai depicts this cosmic body as an undulating body of femininity, and the plants the most sensuous women’s underwear. The Moonlight series looks like a quiet poetic scene of trees under the pale moonlight, but once examined in details, there are still full of knitted laces which wrap the hidden body of women. In the haze, the twisted trunks and branches are in fact also the female bodies with the undulations of desire.
Her recent Origami series reminds easily of cubism, but in fact it is also the deconstruction of the Chinese traditional landscape painting language. If Origami series – Mountain I retains the appearance of the picturesque mountains in our usual vision, the other more abstracted works in this series could be considered as the mountains overlooked from the sky. More than half of the space in these pictures are the folds of the mountains, which is the shady face of the natural world. In fact, the etymology of the character "yin", is ideographically combined by "mountain/hill", "now/present" and "cloud", meaning "the mountain with the presence of clouds", opposite to the "yang" (the sunny side of the mountain). From this image, derived the virtu of femininity, which symbolizes the tranquility, delicateness, wateriness, the quality of the transformation into the myriad creatures, thus becoming the core vocabulary of Chinese philosophy in the unity of yin-yang.
The Chinese artist Zhao Fei is not satisfied with the contemplation of the landscape. Her works, initially inspired by the ancient poet Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BC), who asked the Heavenly Questions. Feeling the lack of cosmic thinking in modern time, Zhao Fei goes deep into poetry, religion and mythology to explore the celestial world, and uses the body's own cosmic attributes to feel the natural environment, draws inspiration from it, and thus elucidates the dual mystery of the body and nature.
Energy Debate, a piece of installation created in situ on the island of Brittany, is such a dialogue between human and cosmos. The artist was attracted by the black rocks formed by the ancient volcanic geology and the fierce waves. Based on the stability and the universe, and strictly following the precursor provided by historical data relating to the tides, this work found the exact position to build a pyramid on the rock with sea salt — a symbolic and original marine material — before the highest tides occur, and eventually to be destroyed by the violent waves. The cosmic energy contained in the raging tides, and the fragile salt-pyramid built under threat, by opposing each other, they established a powerful energy field.
45°63'41.50'' N 25°59'29.49'' E Elev 960M is a work created on the ruins of war memorials. The artist, after setting up a pole in the center of a destroyed statute, drew a diagram along its shadow on the sand with one finger. This 6-hour performance began when the first shadow of the pole appeared on the edge of the ruins, and continued until the shadow reached the other edge; thus she created a happening garden, in which both gesture and time were irreversible, as what had happened in the ruins.
Her most recent art project Celestial Body : Glade, is an interpretation of the Chinese cosmic mythology, the "Paces of Yu", an ancient walking ritual that corresponds to the astronomy, as well as space-exploring and calendar-establishing. The performance and foot-printed painting were completed in an empty space in the night forest under the North Star. With the bells tied to the artist's ankles, the dance steps were taken in parallel with the earth under feet and the night sky above head. Such corporal movements are undoubtedly cosmic. Zhao Fei's creative actions, like a glimmer of light in the vast space and time, faintly shines on the ephemeral human existence.
Drawing inspiration from the natural world, is not necessarily an unique artistic thought of the East. The Belgian artist Sonja Vereecken transforms natural materials into symbols of the flexibility of women’s emotional and spiritual world. These natural fibres, such as hemp, flax, abaca and cotton, in the eyes of the artist, are materials of the unruliness and resistance of nature and human being. She works like an alchemist, developing refining processes and techniques in her artistic creations. Hydration followed by sustained mechanical beating of the fibres during hours bring them to a paste that is meticulously applied on her self-created molds. Depending on the amount of water and the type of process used, the material gets different degrees of shrinkage. Some fibres are dipped into some dyeing pigments, while others stay blank. The drying and callousness take several weeks. The outcome is an unpredictable gift of nature forged by a talented practicing artist.
By this process of transforming the delicate texture of nature into art works, Sonja Vereecken is also domesticating the natural matter, anthropomorphizing it, adding more quotidian sensibility of man. Symbols of the emotional world, such as Airs and graces, in which the red rough shell feels like a raging flame, but this blazing appearance contains within it a pure white heart; or a nirvana renaissance. In the work of Leavers, the fibre material is transformed into healing bandages, which is entangled into a light, fragile and even ethereal space. The emptiness, although reminding the pain, is also release, possibility and hope. The artist grasps such an emotional transition, a fragile and fleeting zone, through the expressivity of the natural materials.
These three women artists from the two extremes of Eurasia unanimously placed the objects, techniques or backgrounds of artistic creation on the macroscopic nature, showing the deconstructed landscape, the ancient cosmic poetry, and the symbolism of the natural material itself. Their starting point revolves around female’s sensitive, delicate and even mysterious body perception. From painting, sculpture to installation and performance, the works themselves fully combine the textures of the macroscopic nature and microscopic human body. In this world of artists, one wanders in a garden under the moonlight, where he risks entering the realm of mysterious thoughts.