Vancouver Art Gallery


Performance of MadeIn Company (Xu Zhen), Physique of Consciousness, Vancouver Art Gallery, 2014. Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery.

Unscrolled: Reframing Tradition in Chinese Contemporary Art
November 15, 2014–April 6, 2015

Vancouver Art Gallery
750 Hornby Street
Vancouver, BC

The Vancouver Art Gallery presents Unscrolled: Reframing Tradition in Chinese Contemporary Art, an exhibition featuring the work of three generations of contemporary Chinese artists, including Ai Weiwei, Chen Shaoxiong, Yun-Fei Ji, Liu Jianhua, Jennifer Wen Ma, MadeIn Company, Qiu Shihua, Sun Xun, Xu Bing, and Zhang Enli. On view from November 15, 2014 to April 6, 2015, this exhibition includes a dynamic range of artworks—from site-specific installations made especially for the exhibition to digital animations—that examine the influence of traditional aesthetics in China today. Together with The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors (on view through January 11, 2015), Unscrolled inaugurates the Vancouver Art Gallery’s new Institute of Asian Art, a comprehensive initiative expanding the Gallery’s exhibitions, collections and programs in the field of Asian art.

Featuring nearly 30 large-scale artworks, Unscrolled explores China’s cultural heritage as a source for contemporary artistic practice. Traditions are primarily derived from customs, routines, conventions and rules that have evolved over time into ways of being and organizing, which often lose their practical purposes, yet retain symbolic meanings and associations. Distant from their original context and circumstances, they allow for reinvention and reiteration that arise from projections of the present. Tradition in Unscrolled is transformed by individual experiences, contemporary challenges and concerns. The exhibition unfolds as audiences move from overt representations to those that re-invent traditional aesthetic theory in new conceptual ways.

Upon entering the exhibition viewers are greeted by a ten-metre-long light box by Xu Bing that reframes the Song dynasty painting Ten Thousand Li of Mountains and Rivers (c.1127–1279) as a contemporary idiom. Unlike a two-dimensional landscape, Xu’s installation exposes the back side of the artwork and all of its components—plant foliage and salvaged objects that convey various pavilions, mountains and forest landscapes. As the first artwork in the exhibition,Background Story: Ten Thousand Li of Mountains and Rivers (2014) prompts viewers to look beyond the surface application of tradition in contemporary art and to explore the deeper connections between the outer appearance and inner content.

Song dynasty techniques of classical brushwork and hand-scroll formats are explored in the works of Yun-Fei Ji as well as ceramic artist Liu Jianhua. Sun Xun’s work in-progress Shan ShuiCosmos covers three Gallery walls with large ink murals intermixed with projections of animation made using classical painting, while Chen Shaoxiong’s painting series Ink Things also pays homage to the tradition of ink wash painting. Zhang Enli and Qiu Shihua combine brush techniques that use thin washes of oil paint on simple backgrounds creating a space for viewers to interpret or meditate, both evoking the visual depictions of Taoist thought.

Major site-specific installations include Ai Weiwei’s Bang comprised of 886 antique wooden three-legged stools made and installed utilizing traditional Chinese craftsmanship and arranged as an expansive rhizomatic structure that, like its components, is always modifiable, detachable, with no entrance or exit. This cyclical, organic nature of systems and time is emphasized in Jennifer Wen Ma’s Inked Chandelier, composed of more than 700 live inked plants native to Canada’s West Coast. Completely covered with China ink the living installation respects the legacy of ink painting by emphasizing time as an element of the composition; as it continues to grow and transform new green buds sprout from the black.

The appropriation and evolution of cultural customs into popular trends is the commentary behind MadeIn Company (Xu Zhen) installation Physique of Consciousness. A cultural fitness routine comprised of movements based on research of spiritual rituals, mythology, political movements and popular culture is displayed as a multimedia installation of video and performance  surrounded by large showcases filled with plexi-mounted photo sculptures.

Unscrolled: Reframing Tradition in Chinese Contemporary Art is organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery and curated by Diana Freundl, Assistant Curator, Vancouver Art Gallery and Carol Yinghua Lu, Beijing-based curator and art critic. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated publication, co-published with Black Dog Publishing. Available in February 2015, this book will feature new photography, interviews with Hou Hanru, Wu Hung and Wang Chunchen as well as essays by Dr. Thomas J. Berghuis, Zheng Shengtian and the curators.

Media information
Debra Zhou: T +604 662 4722 / M +604 671 2358 /

About the Vancouver Art Gallery
The Vancouver Art Gallery is a not-for-profit organization supported by its members, individual donors, corporate funders, foundations, the City of Vancouver, the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council, and the Canada Council for the Arts. We thank everyone for their continuing generosity.

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