Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong
Valerie C. Doran ed., China's New Art, Post-1989, Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong, 2001, p. 228
Sui Jianguo (b. 1956, Shandong) lays claim to some of the most visually recognizable three-dimensional works produced throughout the history of Chinese art, but his sculptural practice maintains a productive tension between the iconic and the process-oriented. Whereas a portion of his work self-consciously seeks to distill moments of psychological intensity from popular culture and political iconography, Sui is equally noted for rigorous explorations of material and form that situate contemporary modes of spectatorship and activity within the aesthetic traces of history. For this reason he occupies a pivotal position that links the immediately recognizable imagery for which his genre is known with the experiments in mass, scale, and line that inform this discourse, drawing equally from social critique and more formal concerns. In the same way natural processes and productions are thrown into contrast alongside human actions: ideas of constraint, fracture, and severity are made legible within multiple distinct systems of production, particularly within the body of work that characterized the prior half of the 1990s.
The sculptural objects of Earthly Forces (Lot 840) belong precisely to this early stage in the artist's trajectory, bringing together questions of control and development with those of form and material in a fundamentally modernist proposition. Here six granite stones, up to a meter across, are individually bound with pieces of rusted rebar that conform to the curves and indentations of the material, their lines sometimes straight and sometimes warped but never entirely systematic or predictable. The resulting effect is that of an inescapable and rigid net, adding a supplemental but ultimately defining layer of visual identity to the original objects. Sui Jianguo approaches the problem from two sides: hypothetically tracing the possibility of total control from above—from the dominating hand of the individual artist—Sui also finds a need to delimit the structure of the modern grid imposed over this form according to its own imperfections. Earthly Forces is derived from the earlier Stale Memory— a stone is placed within a birdcage, culminating in a potent allegory for the Tiananmen Incident. Eventually, the claustrophobic bars of the birdcage constrict even further and intimately incarcerate the stone within, made manifest in Earthly Forces. This series, having grown out of such experiments with stones inside birdcages, emphasizes a level of psychological imprisonment that comes across in this work as a subtle property of form and a cynical reading of raw material.
Similarly, Stone Structure (marble) (Lot 841) forms another core component of this extensive series. In this case it is a large pyramid of marble that is saddled with a web of rusted metal bars, but instead of warped lines that passively trace the surface of the stone body this piece is invariably dominated by straight lines. Further adding to the set of implicit goals and possibilities assigned to the pragmatically simple action of binding the stone, the metalwork suggests of the classic bingwen ornamentation, an aestheticized structure often applied to wooden windows said to be inspired by the cracks of thick ice. Through this visual pun Sui Jianguo is able to develop another layer of sculptural modernity, applying to the control of natural form a style purportedly drawn from the same source. This ambiguity of decoration and control is further explored in Stone Structure (granite) (Lot 842), a single piece of granite in the shape of a tablet to which Sui Jianguo has once again added his own structural additions in weathered metal. In this piece, however, the artist employs short strips of metal to suture long cracks intentionally created across the face of the rock, creating an effect of stitching as if he were attempting to repair its visual flaws. It is never clear, of course, whether this intervention can be defined purely as violence or as sympathetic care; this is the question of modern political value that pervades this body of work.
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