Gong Xinru | 龚 新如
A forest of Symbols
Nature is a temple where living pillars
Sometimes lease out of confused words;
The man passes through forests of symbols
Who observe it with familiar looks.
———- Charles Baudelaire “Matches” Les Fleurs du Mal (1861)
One of the representing works of Gong Xinru, is a tree full of traffic-sign panels. It’s planted in the gallery area in Shanghai, seems waiting for being transplanted to another corner in the urban jungle. The signs are proliferating semantic vegetation in the air of urban cities. The renowned poem of Baudelaire “forests of symbols” leaves the nature for the materials down the streets without the metaphors. It is the research for the poetry of the urban space that domains Gong Xinru’s graphic works. He transforms his works inside a cinema graphic frame which reveals vivid sceneries of express highway, tunnels and parking lots. These empty places seem waiting for stories to begin, which probably benefited from his training in theatre academy. More than a painter trained in art collage, it is sensitive of the dramatic potential spaces he chooses to represent.
In the new series of exhibits presented by Gong Xinru, the subtlety of the brush gives way to sharp robot cuts. Instead of transparency effects, gradients and shadows are the sour and icy solids shiny plastic. Gong Xinru unexpectedly reinvents — with very contemporary tools and materials — a traditional technique very popular in Europe in the seventeenth century. André-Charles Boulle, a master cabinetmaker of Louis XIV, who had his workshop and lodging in the Louvre, decorated his furniture inlays, also known as “painting in wood.”
The technique is to juxtapose a variety of fuel wood and play on their differences of color to create an image. With the computer virtuoso craft of marquetry deviant simple transposition of a robotic drawing cut into shapes and forms-cons re-assembled in a fit graph. The technique here is purely decorative neutralize any effect of the field and key in order to eliminate the subjectivity of a suspicious expression. It is probably the coldness of an impeccable mechanics to transcribe the exclusion of any singularity is that the rules of the road, considered here as a metaphor of social control. Although Gong Xinru defends himself to a political art, there is inevitably the basis for his work on the codes, beyond any claim or explicit criticism, reflection on the disappearance of the loiterer — who identified by Baudelaire walking through the crowd on the boulevards as the prototype of the modern artist — is now speeding his car on the freeway listening to a song from “beyond”, alone in his conditioned ship, among other solitudes packaged in the incessant flow, working and shopping. Formerly anonymous and invisible in the crowd, the loiterer is now suspect, must declare and certify as a biometric identity. Anonymity on the Internet has become as threatening to the established order as vagrancy could be at the time of Baudelaire. The silhouettes of Gong Xinru are proportioned images on passports. It seems both indexed as an ID, and lost with their anxious glances in the form of questions unanswered. Yet on a personal level, it is clear that Gong Xinru knows what he does and where it goes. He chose a new path by leaving a established successful business created by himself to concentrate on his artistic work. If the figures he presents today are questioning the meaning of a saturated environment of order and ban it has clearly chosen for his freedom by engaging in the difficult road of art.
The works of Gong Xinru probably not escape a certain sense of déjà vu that comes frequently under a saturated Western contemporary Chinese art when it is not simple colorful exoticism. But perhaps it’s exactly his strength. A lover of European art will definitely be reminded the pictures of the narrative figuration, which has already largely explored the potential of urban signage graphics. We are reminded of the almost abstract paintings of Peter Stämpfli made from the geometric design of the tire surface, or the inventory of signs, inscriptions and symbols on railway wagons painted by Peter Klasen. Plus recently we have seen in many international exhibitions deployment of Matt Mullican’s personal cosmology in a vast repertoire of enigmatic symbols. The paradox of what might pass easily in the work of Gong Xinru is that this is the hallmark of a basic honesty and hard that is to not try to “Made in China” to meet expectations of the international market.
Rather, it is a reinvention of a specific domestic, a new look at the urban landscape. What happened in the 60’s in Europe with the development of traffic breeds happened to China in the 90’s. Autos massively invaded big cities like Shanghai until congestion, noise and exhaust fumes preserved at large. The uncontrolled flows of cycling crowds have been replaced by the strict regulations of autos. While advertising sells the dream of largely free and wild in nature with a particular new released car, the displacements is the city daily caped by car crowds. In many screens Gong Xinru empties the city of everywhere vehicles and crowded streets, free to bring up the graphical device that program traffic flows, control the transportation and organize the queues. It seems there is a program recorded on the ground itself like a printed circuit across the city, as it is painted. One could say that the paintings of Gong Xinru are already painted. Indeed, they are actually painted on the ground before being painted on the canvas. That’s why it was able to achieve a beautiful ready-made by cutting out of a 4*4m2 piece of painted ground floor. This radical move on the scale of public works is expecting her site to embed a new ground as a giant inlay.
Shanghai, Aug 8th 2011