Transformation of the Daily

A discussion between Jiang Jun and Bi Rongrong on the exhibition Absolute

April 20, 2016







Translation:  R. Orion Martin  翻译:马睿奇



The link of the solo exhibition: Absolute|个展的链接《穹顶》



个展《穹顶/Absolute》现场,Vanguard Gallery20163月,摄影:郭波。

                                                                              Installation view of Absolute, Vanguard Gallery, March 2016. Photo: Guo Bo.


Jiang Jun: Rongrong, how did you choose the title Absolute (qiongding) for this exhibition?



Bi Rongrong: For the Chinese name, qiongding (lit. dome) was one feature that appeared in the materials I prepared. At the time, I was thinking I wanted to use something from the materials as the name to reference one of the fragments. The English title, Absolute, was a word that fluttered through my mind as I was in the process of making the works. The word itself is quite popular, and also very powerful. In the same way that all the different kinds of elements I collect for my exhibitions are familiar to people, the way they come from our daily lives, I thought that this word had a certain equality with my works. And in terms of the power of the word, I thought qiongding was comparable. 

Im rather curious how you understand the title of this exhibition?




Jiang Jun: My first impression for the word qiongding is to connect it with the Christian religious tradition. In general, the architecture of vaulted ceilings traces back to Western religious structures like the Cologne Cathedral or the Pantheon in Rome. Domes are formed above their supporting pillars to enclose a vast interior space that can be understood as the intermediary between the secular and heavenly worlds. Even today, churches and temples can still be viewed as the earthly offices of one or many gods. In order to establish their divinity, they must separate themselves from secular spaces, creating a link to heaven in the mortal realm. These hallowed spaces serve as intermediaries to a higher realm and convey the gospel of the other side. The domed ceiling of a church is the zero degree of the transition from secular to spiritual realms.


In terms of the English name Absolute, I think first of Hegelabsolute spirit (der absolute Geist). This philosophical concept also has a theological origin, for it is well known that Hegels historical philosophy was itself an expansion of Christian salvation. It can also be understood as Platoplatonic idealism. In the Western context, these theories naturally imply so called transcendence, which is to say, only by departing from profane states is it possible to pass onto the other side and reach what Hegel called the absolute spirit or the ultimate logos (the word of God). Because absolute has an affinity with concepts such as perfection, the supreme, the otherworldly, and the eternal, it was later translated into the supreme spiritual force. Therefore, to a certain extent, both qiongding and absolute actually express the aspiration to reach (for example, by ascending through the dome of a church) a higher plane . While they imply ascendance, they are also a form of sublimation. 



再来说Absolute,它的中文翻译是绝对的,让我首先想到黑格尔的绝对精神(der Absolute Geist)。这个哲学概念同样拥有类似的神学渊源,因为众所周知黑格尔的历史哲学本身就是一种基督教救赎过程的展开,同时也可以被理解为柏拉图理念的世界中绝对的理性Idea)。在西方语境中,其背后含有的当然就是那个所谓的超越性,也就是说,只有摆脱世俗的状况,才可以向彼岸超越、那样才能达到黑格尔的所谓的绝对精神,或者是绝对的逻各斯(上帝之言)。因为绝对这个词本身是跟完美的、至上的、彼岸性的、永恒的这些词亲缘,它在之后被转译为至高的精神力量。于是,在一定程度上,这个穹顶和绝对的双重诠释反而有效地表达了,有一种通过中介(教堂上升的穹顶)达到彼岸的意向,它蕴含着超越性,同时也是一种升华。


Bi Rongrong: I see. That brings us to the exhibition space and the works. Can you discuss your impressions?



Jiang Jun: Your exhibition space is realized in a unique style. It does not look like other exhibition spaces that are simply three-dimensional cubes with a few paintings hung inside. You are presenting a spatial experience. It is a project with a strong feeling of unity as the presentation of each work, including the video, the walls, and the carpet, adheres to a single atmosphere. Using the theme of a dome, the exhibition seems to become a metaphor for your own personal church. The geometric composition and the environment of the colors made me think of the transformations and intensification of color in a churchs stained glass windows. As youve said, all the modeling of the works is actually derived for your life experiences. Your handling of the entire exterior of the space, in comparison to the gray of the derelict factory spaces in M50, truly creates an artificial separation. This unified work could be thought of as your transformation of the daily, the overlooked, the invisible, or the influences that touched you, into a work. It could also be said that it is a work that takes the fragmented feelings of daily life and transitions them into the realm of art. 




Spatial color design for Absolute.



Bi Rongrong: Thats right. To take an example from the materials I collected, there was an architectural pattern that I saw on a brick from ancient Babylon while visiting the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. After I took a photo, I started to modify it, silk screening it or painting parts of it or incorporating it into an animation. There were also many elements that were taken from graphic design motifs I saw on the street. You know, European streets are covered in all kinds of posters full of all kinds of information and designs. Sometimes it’s more interesting than going to a gallery to look at works. This was often how I immersed myself in an urban environment. When I expressed this feeling in the exhibition, I tried to use the colored space to create a unified atmosphere out of the independent works. I wanted to give that feeling of immersion I had to audiences. I think this may be what made you think of the feeling of color that churches have.


Material collected by Bi Rongrong while traveling. Photograph from the Pergamon Museum, 2015.



Video work, Absolute 15/16, 48’’. 2016

作品 《穹顶 15/16》截图,48’’, 2016


Jiang Jun: Ive heard you say that each portion of the modeled painting is drawn from a different location and they are all places you personally experienced, so they contain memories. Knowing this backstory gave me a further recognition and feeling for your exhibition. When I did not know, I thought the work was very visual. So I want to ask whether you need to make an explanation or documentation of your handling of the images when you show these works. That way, we could see how these fragments have been modified and installed in your church. You also use a bidirectional interpretation, qiongding and absolute in your title. I think that people will need to indicate the source in order for people to understand that your artistic practice relates not to those dazzling visual effects found in all kinds of fashion magazines and advertisements, but rather, to the process of turning the daily into the sacred.



Bi Rongrong: I have no interest in juxtaposing the original materials and the final works in the exhibition space. I would rather the works themselves stand as an independent whole. They should be pure. When people see these images, they may come up with different associations. As for explanatory texts, there are other ways to transmit such information to audiences, such as on a website.



Jiang Jun: The reason I would like to see these source materials is because weve already become numb to magazine design or to the huge number of images we see in lightbox advertisements and electric screens. Going back to your works, on first glance one might think they are beautiful, cool, but nothing more. But if they know the individual story of the artist, there will be a tension that contrasts with the production of meaningless abstract images. This can also help people understand your process of turning decay into mysticism.



Bi Rongrong: Street imagery is actually quite trendy and popular. Theres no difference between it and fashion magazines. Because they try to grab peoples attention and stand out from the mass of magazines, theyre all looking for designs that attract people. When I was in European cities, I was a tourist who only stayed one to three months. Their culture is different from ours, as is their visual experience. As such, it was very appealing to me, so I would pick out materials everywhere I went. In their use of colors, the street posters and graffiti were extremely exaggerated. They would do things like cover a huge area in a neon color. They often use color first as a way to attract attention and second to create form. I moved many colors and forms into my database of materials and once they were there, I carried out a renewed discussion between them in a personal context. These were combined with a new environment, that of the exhibition space. This process involved referencing, copying, and recreating whereas the process of gathering was a process of study. At the same time I felt clearly that many of the images actually had no attributes. They could be used in any situation. When an image can be used anywhere, theres no point in discussing whose image it ultimately is or what its source was. The images can be quite simple or classical, drawn from Assyrian civilization thousands of years ago or from the graphics on a poster, but when theyre placed together, theres no actual difference between them. Anyone can use these images. I wanted to take the images that are available to anyone and incorporate them in my work, turn them into my own language. Within my system, they can be put to a new use once again.


Absolute 06/16, watercolor on paper, silkscreen, and collage, 38 x 53 cm. 2016. Photo: Guo Bo.

《穹顶 06/16》,纸本水彩、丝网印刷、拼贴,38 x 53 cm2016,摄影:郭波


Absolute 1/16, is an onsite work building on the Absolute series, created for Shanghai K11 Chi Museum. Materials: acrylic, PVC. Dimensions on site, 11.5 by 2.8 meters. 2016. Photo: Guo Bo.

《穹顶 1/16》,是个展《穹顶》系列作品延伸出的一件现场作品,

创作于上海K11 Chi美术馆。材料:丙烯,pvc   现场尺寸:11.5×2.8米,2016,摄影:郭波  



Jiang Jun: That is to say, you turn these images into modules. Your processing is a reconfiguration of these modules that produces different variations.





Bi Rongrong: Once I have the modules, I use some of them in a large painting. Then new modules are formed from this large painting that will be used in smaller works, and the smaller works may also develop into a larger space. Once it has become a component of a comprehensive whole, no one is thinking about where it was used. In this exhibition there is a collage on paper made from images of an art museums domed ceiling I collected while traveling. This was used for a contemporaneous group exhibition at K11, and I expanded a portion of this work on paper for the exhibition space. The background colors, however, are expanded portions of an oil painting in the solo exhibition. They are also used throughout the solo exhibition space. I used the structure of the gallery for the animation in the solo exhibition. In this virtual space, I created a flowing version of the gradient that I sprayed on the walls of the exhibition space. I also used other elements I had collected in order to realize more possibilities in this virtual space.



Jiang Jun: Its able to display modules, 1, 2, 3, 4 so people can recognize them. I think thats quite interesting.



Bi Rongrong: In fact, this kind of arrangement was already implicit in the exhibition. From drawing to painting to video to installation, it resembles the way Chinese traditional painting begins in one place and expands outwards. It is a painting method of emergence. The larger structure may be at the core or it may not have been set in advance, but it extends from this point like a form of mental travel,(woyou). I want to move this feeling from drawing to installation, allowing ones thoughts to drift within the images while also creating a free entity. The emergent process of these images is actually my process of travel. I want to let people use their eyes or their thoughts to travel mentally within the painting. By enlarging the scale of the work, even into an entire space, I hope to bring the body itself into the work so the audience will have more chances to make a connection. 




Material collected by Bi Rongrong during her travels. Photo of the outside of UferStudio, Berlin, 2015.



Absolute 07/16


Watercolor on paper, silkscreen, laser cutting, and collage, 38 by 53 cm, 2016. Photo: Guo Bo.

《穹顶 07/16

纸本水彩、丝网印刷、激光切割、拼贴,38 x 53 cm2016,摄影:郭波  



Absolute 03/16


Oil on canvas, 190 by 190 cm, 2016, photo: Guo Bo.

《穹顶 03/16

布面油画,190 x 190 cm2016,摄影:郭波


Jiang Jun: Due to your background studying traditional Chinese painting, you certainly know as well that for educational purposes, the modular methods in your imagery are like those described in German art historian Lothar LedderoseTen Thousand Things: Module and Mass Production in Chinese Art (2000), which traces the many appearances of modules (Versatzstück) in Chinese art. You intercept the images you experience in your daily life and turn them into various modules. Like the Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden, they become a system. But the difference is that this is your personal, proprietary modular system. And the myriad combinations of modules, just as described in Ten Thousand Things, create in your work a process by which limited modules iterate limitlessly. This is also an effect of systemized production.




Bi Rongrong: Right. Its already quite developed in the painting.




Jiang Jun: Here we have found a perspective for understanding your work. You turn fragments of daily life into a modular system. This is part of how your language is formed. Through repeated constructions in your work, you shape the limitless possibilities for variation. Rongrong, I think that as you accumulate more and more modules in your life, you can write your own Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden.



Bi Rongrong: Thats an excellent idea. I may try that.