Božidar Zrinski (MGLC): In Search of the Lost Image
We often visualise words or images of people by linking them to their image kept in our memory or vice versa. However, names of people might remain in our thoughts and memories without the corresponding images or even images without the corresponding names.
Visual art functions in the context of image and the related ways of visualizing artistic ideas. The artist Huiqin Wang has undertaken a difficult and demanding task to reconstruct the renowned character of historical importance, Ferdinand von Hallerstein. This attempt reminds of a conceptual manipulation and search for the contextual truth. Her work is based on an extensive and lengthy study of historical sources, places and books related to the life and work of Hallerstein. First the artist studied written documents and other preserved archive materials, which she now uses for a detailed insight into all areas of the scientist’s activity. She is patient and persistent in reconstructing his image and drawing his personality based on his rich scientific heritage and vital knowledge. Her research of historical resources is not performed with archive precision, but by being aware that written documents are also visual messages, enabling first her and then everybody else to perform an imagined visualisation and perception of a known, yet never depicted person. The description of Hallerstein as a European with high nose and chin serves to her as the starting point for the visualisation of the scientist and the conceptualisation of the artistic project Transfer Beyond Time. Within the project all historical findings are formed into facts or quotations, which she uses to create a convincing visual language and to provide her images, stencil graphics, sculptural settings, performances, and videos with the desired visual effects.
The conceptual basis of “seeking the image of Hallerstein” is of special quality, as the author has encountered documents on visionary actions that almost three hundred years ago linked the Western culture (with Slovenians as active creators), science and art with the East, particularly with China and its social development. Cultural history, science and art of both lands, having their own developments and keeping memories of Hallerstein’s achievements, have been linked in the field of contemporary art.
The painting motifs express the intertwining of two different cultures and their social bases. Individual scenes from the life of the scientist can be traced in the symbols and acts depicted, from the christening and devotion to Jesuit faith to his travel to China and his life there as well as his interest in the secrets of the Universe and astronomy. With the image of the artist climbing the observation tower she has illustrated symbolically his rise to prominence in the strictly hierarchical Chinese society of the time. Although the image of the scientist can be anticipated in some pictures and the artist has even drawn his face, it seems that she does not want to disclose him completely, rather keeping the image of him that was provided by history. Stencil prints on rastered rubber foundations have acquired artistic importance. The stylized image of the scientist on them is presented in the context of transfer between the two types of realities, from the cultural history and known facts to the freedom of artistic interpretation. Motif repetition stimulates the questioning of his real image and his life. The more often the image appears, the more we are aware how little we know about it. Various artistic solutions intensify our look, interest, and knowledge about the scientist without the face. We are led so far as to feel as though he was always present among us as a well-known and respected person.
The achievement of her presentation and disclosure of Hallerstein’s image lies in her video. The aesthetics of recoding, graphic animations, shots and editing are used to convert all the facts and data exposed in documents, drawings, pictures and photographs into a precisely set landscape of an infinitely vast Universe. The scenes revolve as memory loops, enabling us to compose them into a poetical narrative of the scientist’s life and work. Not only does digital animation based on images, drawings and pictures disclose the scientist’s life and his social importance, it also discloses the procedures of artistic thought of the artist when creating the image that does not exist. The video is thus presented to us as a giant sketchbook, full of notes, information and diary entries.
With the project Transfer Beyond Time, the artist has completed a fairly impossible task to create a conceptually perfected visual image that will from now on easily be related to the right name: Ferdinand Avguštin Haller von Hallerstein.
Eastern and Western art have always exchanged information and inspired each other. In the 5th century, the Chinese painter and theoretician Xie He defined six fundamental principles of Chinese traditional painting, which have been in use until the modern age. His first and most important principle stresses the importance of internal energy (qi), which can help us reach and transfer the spirit of life and an impression of life motion, thus being surprisingly similar to the starting points of European modernism as well as some tendencies in contemporary painting. The latter two can also be related to the last, the sixth He’s principle advocating the painter’s subjectivity in choosing and presenting motifs. If the art of the Far East influenced the formation of European modernism greatly, the influence also worked in the opposite direction, so that contemporary Chinese painting also features the aesthetics of pop art and mass culture. As the integration of values and cultural patterns is becoming increasingly complex, and Asian philosophy has been gaining in importance in the West, the Eastern and Western thought have been integrated into a more comprehensive image of the world, representing cultural transformation on both sides.
To Huiqin Wang, a Chinese-Slovenian artist creating at the intersection of the cultures of two countries, such a process of convergence was spontaneous and natural. On one hand, it is defined by the “congenital” knowledge of Chinese society, its tradition and spiritual lore, on the other hand by accumulated experience that has demanded the understanding of different cultural environments.
In the globalised world where the migration of forms and people as well as the changeability of identities is a matter of everyday life; where space and time are no longer static or fixed categories, multiculturalism is no longer an extraordinary experience. Yet the creative practice of Wang assigns this experience a new meaning, not that of a passive phenomenon, but a binding, alive, constitutive element, established time and again by the author and incorporated in her work in various ways. Her art emerges from the difficulty of establishing identities, form the duality that is generated concurrently, which might be the reason for its constant changes. She seeks new modes of expression, new emphases and starting points, yet always preserving the contextual framework of interaction between both art traditions.
Stressing the importance of personal integrity having been achieved through the unity of body and mind, the microcosm of an individual being in symbiosis with the universal yet flexible cosmic principle, the Chinese philosophy also considers art a complex intertwining of diverse skills and knowledge. The traditional integration of calligraphy, painting, music, poetry, meditation and martial arts as well as the cooperation of various masters in a single work of art is surprisingly close to the use of multimedia practices in modern art and the increasing ‘universal skill’ of artists. From such point of view, Wang reinterprets the tradition to place it in a contemporary context. The artist renounces specialisation. Rather than adhering to a specific mode of expression, she explores new art methods and uses various media, from illustration, graphic art, calligraphy, painting, photography to video art, installations and performances. Wishing to find new creative challenges, she began to cooperate with other artists, particularly the painter Živko Marušič, graphic artist Zora Stančič and photographer Tomaž Lunder. Such coordinations in art are always marked by dialogue and compromise, keeping the recognisability of individual artists discreet, their contribution mostly being present as an intervention into the imaginative field of the other. The final result is unpredictable, being created through cooperation with Lunder (the series Pregrevanja / Overheatings), also shown at the exhibition, displays a witty integration of reality and fiction, the shots of urban environments being provided an unreal disturbance by imaginative digital interactions, a disturbance whose meaning is saturated and provocative in commenting the current social situation. The relation of the local towards the global is that of a part towards the entirety, the local having the role of metonym representing the entirety.
More and more, Huiqin Wang perceives subjective experience as dependent on and defined by the wider social context, in which it is inevitably involved. The artist considers an art form an efficient medium for criticising the social reality and its materialist orientation, therefore her works often include fragments from the Chinese past, reminiscences of current political developments and various markers of the global society, which she uses to warn about the constructed nature of our knowledge, desires and values.
She does not use the tradition to acquire established formal patterns, rather, she transforms them in order to integrate the knowledge of them into the current art context, where traditional media are being adapted to the language of the new ones, where calligraphy for example is not necessarily bound to the surface, as it becomes an active element in the choreography of a performance.
In the series Neotipljiva bitja / Intangible Creatures, Wang uses the media image of the female body as the frame of reference in which to research new possibilities in the expression of an image integrating the nature of an example of graphic art, an industrial product, a photograph and an object. Perforated surfaces of industrial material are inhabited by the historical memory of pointillism, Lichtenstein’s Ben-day-dot technique, print raster and digital pixels, at the same time enclosing the ‘materialised’ concept of emptiness, the empty spaces in fact generating the perception of form and its visibility. The bodily form is becoming landscape, is showing and disappearing, the image being made alive and flexible by the interaction of the empty and the full, the dialectics of the abstract and the actual form and the accidental empty spots to be complemented and completed by the eye.
Within her work, the artist interprets both cultural heritages; she integrated the tradition with the language of mass culture and uses their diverse array of motifs. The contemporary language of art being open and unrestricted. It enables her to wander between formal sources and references at the same time adopting, creatively manipulating and combining inspirations and ideas freely.
The two-year international project Hallerstein (2008–2009], having been dedicated by Wang to the life of the astronomer, scientist, missionary, inventor and diplomat Ferdinand von Hallerstein, born in Ljubljana, yet spending a major part of his life in China. Named Liu Songling, has been indirectly yet strongly marked by the artist’s experience. Integrating the cooperation of artists from various countries and comprising art events as well as symposia and workshops, the project not only serves as an interdisciplinary reconstruction of a story taken from history, it also revives the cultural bond between Slovenia and China and modernises it in the present time. The historical data and archive documents are becoming part of an art project, in which scientific facts and an imperfect historical section are being complemented by imaginative interpretation. The artist finds it the major challenge to transmit the image of Hallerstein, which has not been preserved, nor has there been any information about it, save for a scanty description. As stated by her, she sought inspiration in various sources, letters, descriptions and images from his time, not to reconstruct the actual visual likeness, but in order to come closer and acquire spiritual understanding, because, according to a Chinese belief, it is only in the latter that real presence dwells.
Here, the image as a symbolic carrier of identity is constantly evading and appearing, like an illusion. On the one hand, it is composed of dots, reminding us of tiny data units in modern technology, on the other hand showing as a silhouette embracing the secret material of experience, being filled with writings of dispersed images as component part of consciousness. The path of the scientist who spent the majority of his lifetime between two countries is surprisingly close to the life of the artist, therefore providing her with a particular point of identification.
Yet the concept of identity cannot be limited to geographical, social, economic and political features defining an individual, and a group with its culture. This phenomenon is not stable, but flexible, being constructed time and again upon various points of conflict and upon facing the otherness. Thus, the art by Huiqin Wang is not about her declaration based on belonging to one or another culture or nation, it is about the search, recognition and definition of one’s position and world view based on art.
!Sarival Sosić: Connecting People, Places, and Times
The visual and spatial codes the painter Wang Huiqin brought with her to Slovenia more than twenty-seven years ago were based on the traditional Chinese understanding of art. By leaving her native environment with its overwhelming presence of tradition for another space of different artistic and cultural codes, she was forced to reconsider her artistic approaches, switching to diversity triggered by a new-found penchant for exploration. A playful creative curiosity has guided her through worlds of art composed of painting, printmaking, illustration, calligraphy, video, computer art, installation, dance, performance, and environmental installations. When creatively tackling environment art and investigating various possible combinations, Wang has on occasion worked together with some notable Slovenian artists, such as Živko Marušič, Zora Stančič, Tomaž Lunder, and Miljenko Licul, and cultural institutions, among others Kibla in Maribor. Her open-minded acceptance and dynamic and powerful connecting and intertwining of artistic differences have made the artist an ambassador of cultural mediation between Slovenia and China. The two cultures are now united and recognizable in her work, viewpoint, and lifestyle.1 Traditional Chinese and Western cultures have come together to form a chain of artistic information, an uninterrupted flow of artistic symbiosis, a fabric of originally divergent views on art, which have in Wang’s art grown into an organically logical system of images, clearly understandable to people in the East and the West. This overview exhibition at the Mestna galerija Ljubljana looks at the last twelve years of Wang’s work, of her interweaving the art and cultures of the Western world and that of the Orient, highlighting especially her characteristic creative energy, optimism, and joy of life. The new milieu spurred the artist to develop her forms of expression and themes on many levels, stimulating, multiplying, and broadening her scope of artistic output. Wang’s artistic idiom expanded under the influence of new cultural incentives, giving wider range to her artistic interpretations and bringing her elements of expression together in a symbiosis of purified Western and Eastern aesthetic values. More than merely organisms connecting the two cultures and aesthetics, her artworks became ele-ments of intercultural dialogue, some sort of material and spiritual artifacts, brimming with creative reflection and a positive reaction to the blending of cultural values. These represent a link beyond space and time, constantly encouraging tolerance, respect, acceptance, examination, and analysis of human and artistic-cultural relations. In her new country, Wang has successfully expressed her inner world, her artistic and cultural view of people and society. She describes it thusly: “My advantage is that I can unite Slovenian and Chinese creativity.”2
The artist increasingly combines the various levels of her output, going also into the dynamic sphere of conceptual art, and testing and retesting the use and expressive power of various materials in extensive series of works. This overview exhibition at the Mestna galerija Ljubljana features the most prominent works from individual series since 1998, bringing to the fore the narrative character of the images and their contemporary involvement in the broader socio-cultural context. Some works clearly aim to underscore the importance of mutual tolerance, respect, the acceptance of differences, and the uniqueness of cultural values. Also clearly evident is Wang’s background in traditional Chinese painting: the strokes are swift and delicate, refined into “stillness”, and the emotional attitude underpinning the images subtly evolves into a highly personal view of the world and humankind. Colors are often reduced; the focus is on the explorations of relations between strokes, lines, and dots, exposing the forces of space, the energy of motion, and the symbolism of the images. This approach is discern-ible in all of Wang’s paintings and multimedia works. Another constant in these sophisticated artworks is the reference to calligraphy3 as a Chinese tradition. This serves both as a source of and a complement to her creation, since her point of departure in many works is the basic calligraphic use of a soft, pointed brush, which allows her to make very fine lines in black China ink on paper and also to thicken them in a special way, developing a very personal rhythm of strokes giving the images their inner structure and spiritual power. Calligraphic works are manifestations of momentary moods; the brush follows the hand, which is an extension of the emotional state. Wang calls this “the music of the line and the dot, like a soft melody passing from a slow rhythm to a faster one, from a gentle rhythm to a strong one.” The forms and images produced with calligraphy reflect the calligrapher’s character, sensitivity, view of the world, and attitude to space.
Modulating the way her artworks function in space is an important segment of Wang’s work. Throughout her oeuvre she has gradually intensified, deconstructed, and combined various levels of poetically intimate and occasionally more realistic images and forms by bringing them closer to meditative abstraction. The painted scenes fade and blur in dynamic transitions between recognizability and mere suggestions of images slipping away into free painterly reflections. In particular, the landscapes are spaces of fairly intense color applications; forsaking her characteristic calligraphic blacks and grays, Wang here uses far livelier and brighter, more powerful color transitions. Nonetheless, the depicted landscapes are often still shrouded by the hazy, misty atmosphere typical of Chinese art. Her strokes are brisk and at the same time soft, and the succession of light and dark planes of nature flowing into one another creates a simple rhythm of life that also includes man. Such intimate landscapes become spaces of yearning, refuges for the artist’s reminiscences.
Being caught between two worlds, Slovenian and Chinese, also gives scope for various states of dramatic tension. Around the central image, which is often divided or split, visual spaces evolve with a predominant powerful, energetic stroke or a forceful, even uncontrolled gesture, always subordinate to the basic theme: undisguised nature. The landscapes seem like echoes of images from childhood, in which time has stood still and the landscape has frozen in stillness, in a longing for the ideal landscapes of the innermost experience. These “mental spaces” are filled with memories of traditional Chinese space. They are painted in increas-ingly dense color applications (of mostly gray and black) with large white interspaces in which light is concentrated, illuminating space and transforming it into a sphere where a balance between the spiritual and the emotional can be found. The image of nature and the use of color are minimal, leading to a lyrical experience of space and an acute sense of loneliness, longing, and incessant existential questioning. Observing nature has no boundaries or end, a thing also illustrated by the large formats of some of Wang’s landscape motifs and, above all, the translucent color applications. The most frequent iconographic motif in traditional Chinese art, the landscape is a field of meditation: the levels of contemplation flow together into a universal feeling with layers of different meanings. In her development, Wang has shaped her landscape images through a variety of views, from below, from above, or from the side, in accordance with her multifaceted perception of the world. When gazing into the depth of her painting, one sees the sky and the land blend into one, a dark, shapeless infinity shot through here and there with nuances of light. The contact with the surface often seems to disintegrate or disappear in virtually abstract color strokes that layer the pictorial planes into masses of abstract expression. In her artworks Wang questions the meaning of existence, life, death, love, hate, modern values, general human characteristics, even though man is, as a rule, absent from these landscapes, although perhaps intuited in certain shapes, lines, strokes, or colors – man is present only as a suspicion, due to his interference in nature. The world of Wang’s art thus becomes a world of contrasts in which she explores human relations and underscores the important role of nature. Her landscapes seem to hover in some kind of weightless spaces; in a series of works made together with Živko Marušič4, the format became increasingly narrow, compressing the visual material. Her images (figures) inhabited Marušič’s abstract landscapes of strong colors, ascending toward a state of timelessness, spacelessness, representing longings composed of signs and symbols determining people as happy, hopeful beings. The experience of having worked with Marušič, a colorist, augmented Wang’s color palette and led her to somewhat more realistic or objective motifs.
Since 1994 Wang has on occasion worked together with other artists, a practice that gives her an opportunity to complement or develop some of her artistic principles. Thus, in 2003 she began working with photographer Tomai Lunder on a series of digital prints relating in subject matter to recognizable spaces of the everyday urban environment. Their joint projects brought together urban motifs and diverse, visually ambiguous elements. These large-format works, e.g. the series 1 + 1 Does Not Equal 2. Beyond Dreams (2005)5, were collage-like montages of digital and photographic views of the city, its streets, parks, squares, and interiors, with images of dinosaurs, dolls, shadows, and lamps, all hovering above and partly obscuring the photographs. Lunder’s realistic, detached urban space was covered with Wang’s symbolic, polysemous images. As a rule, Wang uses a brush in her work, and Lunder a camera, but in this project the two artists joined forces and swapped their media of expression. They selected photographs from their archives (also Wang’s photographs) and created new images with a computer. Wang has described her recurrent motif of a dinosaur floating over a city vista as a symbol of animal species on the road to extinction. At the same time, the dinosaur can also represent mankind endangering itself by destroying the environment. Likewise, certain textual accents (e.g. Made in China) draw attention to the contemporary problems of globalization “gobbling up” nations, social systems, and the whole world, make us reflect on our lifestyle and the possible directions a person can choose in our time, and question whether capitalism is the right and only social system for a successful life. Wang sees photography as a medium that still focuses too much on documentary representations of reality; when it is combined in collage with digital images of a lost world (dinosaurs), however, a new, hybrid medium is brought into existence, much more imaginative and uninhibited in its criticism of the neurotic contemporary society. Combining real and imaginary environments in such a manner produced new spaces, which Wang’s critical interpretation transformed into cold, lifeless urban images, resembling set design. The pictures are a work-in-progress, intended to continue to represent current urban images of a given moment for a number of years. Also the next joint Lunder-Wang project, Overheating (2007)6, was a collage of various contemporary digital media. The works called attention to the danger of ecological disasters and were a critical reaction to the unbalanced distribution of global capital, which destroys whole social systems and diminishes the role and significance of human emotions, relations, and understanding.
Availing herself of and exploring certain symbols of her country, China (the Buddha, images of money, idols of politicians, intimate landscapes, calligraphy), Wang associates and upgrades them with motifs of dinosaurs, urban landscapes, and nudes, constantlz playing with polysemy. In the series Intangible beings (2006)7 the lotus flower is thus still a spiritualized symbol of woman so typical of Chinese culture, but the nude on cold metal is a modern-era body bereft of warmth and noturalness. With such connotations, the body in Wang’s art becomes on impersonal corporeal mass, devoid of love or true beauty, disappearing in unclear contours. There are possible associations also between the images of the Buddha and the extinct dinosaur, as they both belong to the past, with only a visual trace of them remaining behind, some sort of advertising slogan that could call them back to life and bring to our attention the contemporary, unspiritual world of merciless consumerism. Interpretation becomes a mixture of manipulation with recognizable, concrete signs and the many levels of presentation, magically polysemous. Using various visual combinations,
the artist plays with the media, discovering new possibilities of artistic expression in computer graphics, perforated painting, photography, light effects, bas-relief, graphic plate, intaglio and planographic printing techniques, expanding her technical options and intensifying her visual expression.8
During her postgraduate studies at the Ljubljana Academy of Fine Arts, Wang become closely acquainted with the teachings of the so-called “Ljubljana school of graphic arts”. To this she added her knowledge of calligraphy, becoming an expert in strong drawing, which best delineates the object world, as is typical of Chinese art. What had at first been ascetically dark color application has over the years intensified into greater tonal differences, making the images softer, the compositions stronger, uniting them into collage systems, gradually expanding beyond the edges of two-dimensional images into an expanded illusionstic deconstruction of space. Such a creatively dynamic transition was also possible in light objects9 and in objects made of stainless steel, which were an even clearer illustration of images of the contemporary world filled with visually more aggressive systems10. In 2006 Wang worked with Zora Stančič on a project for the Venice A + A gallery, entitled Insieme – Together11. The project featured digital images of female bodies by Zora Stančič: expressively humorous, tongue in cheek, even slightly erotic, but highly critical of of the world surrounding them. To this Wang added a critical facet by exploring the many layers of visual levels, from abstraction to realistic recognizability. She used the technique of collage on light boxes; despite the modern technology, her motifs are based on pure drawing, on the line and the contour. She developed diverse visual accents of coexistence and understanding, underscoring the social, political, and cultural similarities and differences.
Wang has produced quite a few series of collages on a light box as the source of light. Between 2002 and 2005 she thus produced series entitled Dreams, Idols, and My Generation: in them she subjectively critically analyzes social issues of the past and the present, focusing on the tragic of society at large or the suffering of individuals. The common theme of the Dreams series derives from the last Balkan war. The artist establishes a critical distance by softening the focus on reality with visual elements from the world of dreams, transposing the mixture of social realities and subjective interpretations of them into a mutual acceptance of the differences of coexistence. Images of mythological beings, dreamlike pictures of angels and tigers hover in undefined spaces, settings of a fictional story full of allusions to the reality of human existence. The Idols series consists of eight light boxes featuring various (religious and traditional) symbols of Chinese and European cultures all entwined in semantic and visual correlations. Discernible in these (slightly humorous) works is, again, the artist’s critical reaction to the current social state. The series My Generation likewise paints a critical picture of an overpopulated world. The images depict repressive state organs controlling generations of children from the period of Maoist China. Still hopeful, the children accept collective happiness based on their shared ideals of communism; a view of these same people thirty years later, however, indicates change: collective happiness is gone, replaced by greed for money, a lust for riches. Wang unites the two types of images into a documentary, thematically coherent, and visually complex narrative in which the collective and the individual intertwine in their yearning for contentment and happiness, even though they too, like everything else, are part of an illusory and deceptive state of mind and society. In these images people have transformed into unrecognizable, impersonal matter.
Wang’s most ambitious and best-known project so far has been Hallerstein12; its origins date back to 2003. Who is Liu Songling, who is Hallerstein? Although Slovenians could well be proud of him, and he was highly regarded in China in his time, most Slovenians and most Chinese have in all likelihood never heard of him; few people even know that the two names denote the same person. In the mid-18th century, baron Ferdinand August Haller von Hallerstein13 (also known as Liu Songling in Chinese) (1703-1774) spent forty years in China as a Jesuit missionary and court astronomer. Hallerstein14 was an open-minded, enlightened person of broad spirit and great intellectual curiosity. Thanks to his vast knowledge of mathematics, geography, botany, and astronomy, the Chinese Emperor Qian Long gave him the title of mandarin of the third class. Wang became intrigued by Hallerstein’s personality and work and, above all, his outward appearance, which is as good as unknown and as a result very abstract. The artist managed to find a short description of what the monk looked like in certain Chinese reports. He was described as a sixty-two-year-old scholar with a long gray beard, wearing official garments befitting a third class mandarin of the time. The description fired her imagination and, employing various contemporary techniques, she set about creating his, primarily spiritual, likeness. She made several so-called relative images of the monk in the technique of collage on paper and computer manipulation, and then transferred the image onto a metal plate. She used this as a matrix of sorts for the final contours of the image on canvas or rubber. The works thus produced retain traditional Chinese spiritual dimensions. Also the manner of representation is typically Chinese: e.g. the combinations of blank and painted surfaces leave a great deal unsaid, allowing the spectators’ imagination to roam freely.15 The image of the monk is executed in a calligraphic style, with computer graphics of the monk’s drawings, letters, clothing, and coat-of-arms added. A closer look at the work processes reveals that Wang combined drawing with neon for its light effects. She outlined the image of a monk in neon tubing and produced a light drawing, an illuminated contour of a man without a clearly defined face, but wearing a blue hat symbolizing his status as a mandarin. The line of light is essentially illuminated calligraphy, a Chinese character forming the monk’s imaginary portrait. Wang spent several years adding to and expanding this project, all the while exploring the image of this extraordinary monk. She also made three pop-art, almost pointillist-like portraits with computer graphics on an unusual support – corrugated rubber. Her pictures bring together the two worlds in which the monk lived and worked; what stands out again is the painter’s characteristic relaxed stroke in executing ideograms – images of words and at the same time visual symbols of thoughts. The monk becomes a European in Chinese dress in the characteristic pose of a writer, and a mandarin, emanating inner spiritual strength. He is painted in an environment reminiscent of Slovenia, but the stars on the dark sky resemble Chinese characters. The background becomes a space of yearning, a distant memory of the homeland, combined with typical Chinese elements, such as imperial gardens and lions guarding the emperor.
Just as the monk16 successfully linked the West and the East, Wang does her utmost as an artist and a person to build up intercultural dialogue. In images ranging from visually concrete to abstract, she has created a palette of feelings and inner moods. Her open spirit and joy, her ebullience and energy foster understanding, acceptance, and connections between the two nations that seem so different at first glance, although they are in reality quite similar. Connections between the nations were also at the focus of the artistic performance Living Calligraphy/Melting (2007)17 at the Maribor gallery Kibla. The multimedia presentation included dancing, video, singing, and painting. Conceived by Wang, the project was based on the softness and subtleness of calligraphy, coupled with computer technology which allowed her to transfer the motions, lines, and strokes onto visual supports in the background. In this project, calligraphy was also related to the dancing body of the Japanese Butoh18 dancer Daisuke Sakaki. Painted white and against a black background, the dancer’s body formed shapes reminiscent of ideograms – like body calligraphy. When the dancer came to rest, the artist, clad in black, appeared in the background and with slow, soft motions painted ideograms in empty space with a light stick. The performance progressed from symbolic motions to concrete black calligraphic writing on if the dancer’s back. By uniting diverse expressive media, the project produced a harmony of motion, visual elements, and the spiritual power of man, image, and idea. Heavily symbolic, it conveyed the message that cooperation, love, and peace should rule the world.
In recent years Wang has devoted herself to making series of visual narratives in different techniques, all of which focus on testing the levels of intercultural communication. Thus the project Heaven19 (2008) comprised light boxes entitled My Generation (2004), Heaven – Ideal (Mao Zedong 2005), Angel and Idol (2003), and the triptych Tian Tan (2007), composed of an acrylic painting, a photo collage, and a photograph by Tomaž Lunder. Heaven represented a multilayered space where individual and collective energy is brought together and where the final judgment takes place. Heaven is a place of bliss, of various life visions, where different levels and symbols of collective or personal stories converge. The four elements the project consisted of were visually equal and played with the levels of presentation by exposing symbols or signs of society and collective and individual values. There were portraits of Mao Zedong as a monk, scenes from the world of entertainment (a casino), and, quite prominently, the grand Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan) with a path paved with yuan leading to it. By using collage Wang underscored the ambivalence images and the diversity of paths chosen in life. This visual record ; of the world critically presented it as a chaos of nonsense, a loss of values, and a loss of direction. Heaven as a proffered option remains a realization of justice and the final place of judgment. In 2009, the artist added a series of prints to the project in the form of a portfolio published by the International Center of Graphic Art in Ljubljana, entitled Heaven?. The prints are images of currencies used in different countries (USA, China, Europe); with the added question mark the artist questions whether money, which should supposedly buy a ticket to “Heaven”, is a possible solution at all.
Wang’s view of human relations, the modern development of the world, and the history of humankind, is quite critical. Many of her projects have historical points of departure, with the artist exploring new possible interpretations, artistic approaches, and visual effects. Also the project-in-progress entitled Rewriting History with History (2009-2010) derives from the idea of incorporating a historical object in a contemporary story, visually upgrading it with a modern view of artifacts and the space of visualization. It began when the painter received a 2000-year old brick from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) as a gift from a friend. Decorated with impressed patterns, the brick symbolically carries within it several periods of Chinese history, having been handled by so many people in the past. The old brick made Wang think of the incessant change from existence to nonexistence and back. This symbolic rhythm or circulation is the principle of the entire cosmos, the secret of living and dead nature. The artist intends to add texts from relevant historical documents and books on history, the natural sciences, religion, and culture to the material and visual story of the brick. She is going to print them in white on one side of the brick, and in black or in color on the other, transforming the brick into a support for multilayered prints of historical texts, so many-layered that the writings will turn into an unrecognizable and undecipherable mass. This visual intervention on the old brick will constitute the artist’s dialogue with the present and the past, where reality, recognizability, and clarity will entwine with the unreal, the unrecognizable, and the obscure. And that is in essence what history is, being constantly rewritten to accommodate the time and the place, the culture and the society.
“My life is at the intersection of Eastern and Western cultures … Life changes and I change with it, but change takes time … This has taught me to go with fate and follow my feelings whenever I’m in a dilemma or making long-term plans. “20 Wang is a sincere and sensitive visual recorder of images, both imaginary and real images of society, culture, and life. She sees art as an energy of communication, capable of subtly drawing people’s attention, sensitizing society, and fostering communication. Moreover, she sees herself as on a mission of beauty, actively uniting images from the Chinese and Slovenian environments. Her life between the two worlds is her endless artistic journey.
- Wang also cooperates with some Slovenian companies (Fori, Velenje), which sponsor her work by donating materials. Wang’s works consequently indirectly promote their products in China.
- Jelka Šutej Adamič, “Pogovor s slikarko Wang Huiqin. Kitajska duhovnost na ‘slovenski’ način”, Delo (19. 1. 1999), p. 14
- The main styles in calligraphy developed up to the Tang period (618-907); since then calligraphy has been a constant companion of painting.
- Wang Huiqin & Živko Marušil (Ribnica: Galerija Mikova hiša, 2001). Exhibition catalogue.
- 1+1 ni 2. Izza sanj (Ljubljana: Galerija Equrna, 2005). Exhibition catalogue.
- Wang Huiqin, Tomaž Lunder, Pregrevanja (Vienna: Slovenski kulturni center Korotan, 2007). Exhibition catalogue.
- Huiqin Wang, Neotipljiva bitja (Ljubljana: Cankarjev dom, 2006). Exhibiton catalogue.
- Together with Arjan Pregl, Wang Huiqin produced a series of stamps dedicated to Shanghai. The stamps feature the city’s most beautiful, precious, and famous landmarks: Pudong, the old city nucleus, the Yu gardens, Baidu – the oldest iron bridge in China, and the Jing’an temple.
- The first light object were designed by the designer Miljenko Licul.
- Huiqin Wang (Velenje: Poslovni sistemi Fori, 2005). Leaflet.
- Wang and Zora Stančič had already worked together in 2002 on the project 1 + 1 = 12; this was ahibited in Ljubljana, Novo mesto, and Macao, China.
- In 2003, the Mengeš Museum staged a celebration of the 300th anniversary of Hallerstein’s birth. The initiator of the event, Janez Škrlep, asked Wang Huiqin to produce a calligraphic inscription for the memorial plate on the monk’s house. This is how the artist learned about the Jesuit and his remarkable fate which had led him to China.
- The monk lived in China from 1739 to 1774. He did missionary work, observed the stars, worked on calendars, and headed work on the construction of an astronomical instrument for observing stars. His primary interest was the movement of stars. He finished the instrument in 1754; it was the largest telescope for observing stars at the old Peking observatory. (Ifigenija Simonović, “Odkrivanje fosila”, Zaznambe (May 2008), p. 70.)
- Hallerstein was also depicted on telephone cards issues by Telekom Slovenije. Wang made nine different motifs related to the monk. She also designed a postal stamp with Hallerstein’s likeness; the printrun was 305.
- Jelka Šutej Adamič, “Vzhod in z roko v roki. Pogovor z Huiqin Wang”, Delo (24. 4. 2008), 16.
- Wang added to her artistic interpretation of Hallerstein with an intermedia project entitled Science and Art, which united dance, music, and visual elements. The project was produced by Kibla (Maribor) in cooperation with European and Chinese partners and shown in Austria (Slovenian Cultural Society Korotan), the Czech Republic (International Center for Art and New Technologies CIANT), Portugal (University of Minho and the Instituto Politechnico de Tomar), and China (University for Languages and Culture in Beijing). (Nataša Vampelj Suhadolnik, Znanost in umetnost. 11. 11. 2009.)
- Huiqin Wang. Ziva kaligrafija / Taljenje (Maribor: Kibla, 2007).
- Butoh dance evolved in Japan in the late 1950s. It contains elements of traditional Japanese theater, dance, mime, meditation, and the martial arts. The motion is determined by the dancer’s spiritual strength and physicol prowess.
- Huiqin Wang. Nebesa (Celje: Zavod Celeia. Center sodobnih umetnosti, 2008).
- Ida Hiršenfelder, “Huiqin Wang. Združevanje kreativnih moči. Pogovo z umetnico”, Likovne besede (Summer 2007), pp. 46-56.
Iz kataloga: Dr Zhu Qingsheng
From a historical point of view, the fact that a socialist country goes through an economic reform has always been seen as a great event. The Yugoslavian revisionism during the 60s might be considered as an earlier experiment of this. At that time all of us remember a name: Tito. The fundamental demand was a socialist market economy based on the freedom of the market and at including equalitarianism and justice with socialistic characteristics. Moreover, this equalitarianism absolutely corresponds with the so-called “equal opportunity” that stressed the idea that an equal distribution should be at any time and any place. This became the main aspect of the socialist ideology. Wang Huiqin is a Chinese artist who lives in the Republic of Slovenia, an ex-Yugoslavian country. In her works, she deeply shows all the questions mentioned above. In a Western liberal market context, building up an equal and human bright socialist culture is still possible. The fact that Tito brought socialism into an arbitrary decision system, was not only a huge suffering for the people but also a deep lesson for humanity. This process has another important aspect: for Tito one of the prerogatives was to resist the German fascistic system and abandon the Slovenian feudal structure with the aim of progress. This is the main reason why he also gained the support of all the people and the intellectuals who dedicate all their lives to the constitution of this ideology. Although everything has been overshadowed by the economic reform, all those aspects can be clearly found in the works of artists and intellectuals. The weight of Wang Huiqin works is that even if she is a Chinese artist, her creative background is full of Slovenian Christian tradition. For this reason, we can see a contract reflected in her works between the understanding of socialism and her motherland’s characteristics. The meaning of showing Wang Huiqin’s work here in China is really particular. In her works, she told us that a new kind of freedom has created a new type of market. Moreover, the development of the human desire to reach justice and richness has created an unequal and opportunistic society. In this society, how can artists equally represent the fundamental rights of the society, how can a socialist culture become an intellectual conscience? Although it was once a complex part of the development of history, at least this event is something that pushes us to rediscover the reasons for such art practice.
Dr Zhu Qingsheng