Weaving Interior to Exterior: Bi Rongrong’s Fiction Landscape
Text by Sara Yuanjing, translated by R. Orion Martin
Exhibition link: Fiction Landscape
He is that living being who, from within the life to which he entirely belongs and by which he is traversed in his whole being, constitutes representations by means of which he lives, and on the basis of which he possesses that strange capacity of being able to represent to himself precisely that life.
– Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, p381
From a Stone age totemic wall of witchcraft or a Han dynasty fabric motif to a piece of earth discovered upon stepping out of an art museum, graffiti on the wall of a Manchester barber, or posters on the streets of Berlin: Bi Rongrong takes in these elements like a snapshot photographer, only to later enlarge and reconfigure them.
《Fiction Landscape－Overlapping Fabric 2》｜《小说景观－重叠的织物二》
material: oil paint on canvas｜材料：布面油画
1.2×1.8m, 2016, 7
Fragments and Traces
In an era of visual deluge, we are hard pressed to distinguish whether the remnants of images left in our minds are complete or merely a portion of the whole, perhaps even impressions that were distorted of their own accord. This act of discernment is fully overlooked and unexamined in our hectic lives. As she intuitively makes use of this subtle process, Bi Rongrong uses substantive creative gestures as a form of restoration.
However, these restored fragments of the real world become equivalent when divorced from the symbolic and existential contexts they previously occupied. That is to say, both ancient artistic diagrams of established artistic worth and the anonymous street graffiti are autonomous individuals, lifeless. Only when paired with language are they infused with life, and this linguistic construction is the creative method that Bi Rongrong employs.
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Bi Rongrong selected fabric as her material and carried out her expression using laser-cut and hand-woven cotton thread and fabrics. These choices embody her interest in materials and languages beyond painting. The act of weaving may be an unconscious activity she performs in moments of self-reflection, yet it became an integral part of her personal language of expression. Upon looking at Bi Rongrong’s work, we have a pure intuition of the flowing, rhythmic combinations of line, color, and point. But in addition to these, there is also the rational dimension of “What for?” that reverberates through the work. For Bi Rongrong, however, this question becomes, “Why not?” or “What if?” It is this inquisitive impulse of constant questioning that enriches her work. In addition to the large-scale paintings she has made before, this exhibition also features a video work and several woven installations. In combination with the distinct attributes of the space, the audience can’t help feeling a swell of anticipation when rounding a corner.
毕蓉蓉选择了织物这一素材，利用激光切割和手工编织的棉线、布料等等进行表现，这体现出她对于绘画之外的材料及语言的兴趣。“编织”这一行为或许是她面对自身感知时，下意识的行为，却让这一形式得以成就自身的语言。当我们观看她的创作时，除了纯粹地感受线条、色块、点的流动、节奏，理性层面的“为什么”还是会不时响起。到了毕蓉蓉这里，这个问题则变成了“为何不（Why not）”或者是“又怎样（What if）”，正是这种不断发问的好奇和动力，让她的作品愈现丰富。这次展览的作品除了一如既往的大幅油画创作，还有视频、织物作品的装置等等，再加上空间的属性，让人在转角时不由心生期待。
A detail of the Fiction Landscape |《小说景观》展览现场之局部
Left左:《Fiction Landscape－Blue Fabric｜小说景观－蓝色织物》
material: Laser cut on fabric｜ 材料：布面激光切割
Right右：A Detail of Installation｜装置局部《Fiction Landscape－Overlapping Fabric 4｜小说景观－重叠的织物四》
Foremost in artistic expression is to map the real world onto canvas; second is to reflect the activity and emotions of the creator’s inner world. This is how Bi Rongrong wanders between interior and exterior, combining her own experiences with various elements drawn from the real world. In the video work Fiction Landscape, the fragments Bi Rongrong has selected clearly impress upon us the sensation of sitting in a rumbling train car, filming the landscape through an adjacent window. The scenery beyond the window streaks past, blurring into indistinctness. As she chooses what to take in or pass over, fragments seem to rise out of her memory involuntarily. Superimposed on the landscape beyond the window, they ultimately return us to a linear rule.
On the one hand, Bi Rongrong is attracted to the beauty of a rule-based tidiness. The canvas is composed according to a certain set or rules, or simply collaged together from cut pieces of paper, and the implicit spaces “between the lines” reveal a pure beauty that is akin to a basso continuo. On the other hand, an internal drive compels her to seek breaking points in this constructed tidiness. “Rules are made to be broken” may be one of the main reasons she selected weaving. It is based on set rules that, through the labor of simple repetition, create the background of a woven work. And yet traversing between the chaotic threads and the vibrant colors of the lines, we seem to detect a certain agreement in this restless heart. Of course, it may simply be that under the constraints of such regulations, there are times when the only product is static.
毕蓉蓉一方面被规则带来的工整之美所吸引，按照某种规律织成的布料，或者是用最简单的交叠方式将切割后的画纸结合起来，这其中暗藏的“弦外之音”（between the line）透露着类似于通奏低音一般的净美。而另一方面，内心深处的力量又驱使她在这工整之中寻找某个“破坏”的点。“规则便是用来打破的”或许恰恰是她选择编织物的根本原因。依据特定规则，通过简单重复的劳动打造出来的编织物作为背景，而杂乱的线头、跳跃的艳色线条穿梭其间，人们仿佛看到某种约定之下不安分的内心，抑或是在规则约束之下，偶然出现的“噪音”。
《Fiction Landscape－contour 8｜小说景观－轮廓八》
《Fiction Landscape－contour 9｜小说景观－轮廓九》
material: silk screen print on paper, cotton thread｜材料：纸本丝网印刷，棉线
Similarly, we can clearly distinguish some forms within her paintings, such as the bird totem in Fiction Landscape – A Stone Wall or the symbols in Fiction Landscape – Flowers of Holland. Others, however, cast doubt on a singular relationship between noun and object. It is impossible to fathom the origins of some depicted forms. These fragments of reality break down our concept of a known, established world. They are pathways through which to break from a chrysalis, and they reveal the conflict between Bi Rongrong’s external and internal worlds. There is a tension between her powers of destruction and self-control that corresponds to the contradictory tensions of the world at large, and these multiple points of conflict are superimposed and compressed into the work. Her personal journey, a movement through interior and exterior realms, is woven into the images. As such, we can see how erratic lines, points, and surfaces augment her tidy patterns. The clash of colors on the canvas creates a deep impact, but in actuality, the seemingly chaotic pictorial space adheres to its own rules, rules originating in Bi Rongrong’s balancing of control and destruction. At the same time that she “destroys,” she is consistently maintaining control. This is no different than when she allows the brush grow and develop (shengfa) on its own. At times, Bi Rongrong will pause because “the feel of it isn’t right.” This feeling marks a turning point in the balance of control and destruction.
《Fiction Landscape－A Stone Wall｜小说景观－一片石墙》
material: oil paint on canvas｜材料：布面油画
In the development of human cognition, observations precede language. We first use our eyes to perceive the world, then confirm our perceptions when we have grown accustomed to language. Bi Rongrong’s custom, similarly, is to first create a work, then affix a name to it. This illustrates yet again that she is a creator who emphasizes perception. Fiction Landscape is a most appropriate appellation for these works. Simply speaking, the production of fiction also requires that fragments of reality are intercepted and then superimposed or fused with various tensions. As a result, both the novel and the work of Bi Rongrong demonstrate a certain fictional reality that transports us to a landscape we would be unable to experience in our lived reality.
If we were going to classify Bi Rongrong’s “fiction,” we would first think of Bakhtin’s polyphonic fiction. In Bakhtin’s view, only through a multitude of independent and incompatible voices and identities is a true polyphony created from the amalgamation of valuable, distinct voices. This is the starting point of polyphonic fiction. Furthermore, dialogue permeates polyphonic fiction, for the composition of the novel is based in conversational relationships.
 巴赫金著，《巴赫金全集5-陀思妥耶夫斯基诗学问题》，白春仁 顾亚铃译，河北教育出版社，1998年
《Fiction Landscape－Fabric 3｜小说景观－织物三》
In Bi Rongrong’s work, those fragments that she selected while traveling play the main role in this polyphonic fiction. They possess independent voices, but their interactions generate intertextuality when coordinated by the author. This mutual reference, dialogue, and permeation creates a boundless network. At the same time, these elements remain independent and retain the power to self-initiate. Each of them exists in this network in a dynamic state of constant expansion. This allows the works to establish an open composition that is welcoming to the incorporation of new elements.
For example, in the installation Fiction Landscape – Overlapping Fabric 4, Bi Rongrong uses the extremely soft material of silkscreen fabric. She embroiders upon this silk a regular pattern and some points and lines that appear to be randomly formed. The work itself changes when hung for an exhibition. The interacting locations of the four works create subtle changes in the space, yielding a certain form “dialogue.” Light projected on the wall lends the entire work a certain uncertainty that teeters on the edge of unbalanced. It is the power of expansion generated by this fraught situation, paired with the supple cloth, that makes this set of works the “treble” of the exhibition.
mixed material installation (silk screen cloth, laser cut on fabric，laser cut on stainless steel, wood, fabric, video, sound, etc.)
It is worth mentioning that the reverberating background music is a sonic element that carries through the entire exhibition, creating a series of harmonious effects among the visual works. Emanating from the audio of the video work Fiction Landscape, a reverberating bass line is complemented by another audio track that corresponds to the rhythms of the visual elements. Recalling Bakhtin’s comment that a church may be the most suitable physical space for polyphonic novel, we could say that this background sound is no different than that found upon entering a church: it leads one into a specific realm where one can hear the sonic identities that are present there.
The 17th century ink painter Shitao said, “Painting is the result of the receptivity of ink: the ink is open to the brush; the brush is open to the hand; the hand is open to the heart; all this is the same way as the sky engenders what the earth produces; everything is the result of receptivity.” Bi Rongrong has a deep relationship with traditional Chinese landscape painting, and although her works are not limited to any single media, the spirit of landscape painting appears to have impressed itself upon her. Her reflexive attitude brings her into contact, and allows her to accept the diversity of her era and all of its contradictions. She is constantly collecting various realities and fragments of memories. Within these fragments, she coexists with the boundaries of an objective life. To her, the different phases of her life are also different phases of spiritual growth. And as for the observer, in this alternate realm, the feeling of a blooming coexistence harkens back to the existence of a now withered common body.
The exhibition view of Fiction Landscape｜展览《小说景观》的现场
A Thousand Plateaus Art Space｜千高原艺术空间
2016, 12, 17—2017, 02, 28