Poetic was the first word that sprang to curator Kwok Ying’s mind when he came across Taiwanese artist Wu Chi-tsung in 2006.
Wu was a young artist just two years out of Taipei National University of the Arts but was selected for the Sixth Shanghai Biennale.
For more than a decade, Kwok witnessed Wu’s exploration in different mediums and his development in artistic language.
Though he is usually introduced as a photography artist, Wu’s work is not limited to just images. He uses concepts in the discipline to capture shadows and light and extends them in his paintings and installations.
Wu’s exhibition Expose at Galerie de Mondu, curated by Kwok, is an example of how the artist combines photography, painting, collage art, installation and sculpture to present a Chinese ink landscape.
In the exhibition running until June 16, Kwok leads viewers on a journey to discover the correlation between Wu’s Cyano-Collage series and these concepts.
The series, first created in 2015, builds on Wu’s earlier Wrinkled Texture series that started in 2012. Some pieces from that series are also displayed in the current exhibition.
Both explore the process of “recording light” on xuan paper. Wu began with the intention to reinterpret the classical technique cun, a brushstroke in Chinese landscape painting achieved by filling space with dry and light ink after outlining. Instead of using ink and brush, he uses a classical photographic technique – cyanotype.
He soaks the xuan paper with a photosensitive solution and then exposes it to sunlight for 30 minutes.
The paper is crumpled and shaped into various forms to imitate brushstrokes before it is flattened and washed for an hour to fix the exposed textures.
As the exposure process is random and uncontrollable, the light intensity and angle of the sun are different every hour of every day – this is also the most intriguing part of the creative process. The treated paper becomes a record of time, light and human gestures, marked with folds and various shades of blue.
A gloomy, narrow room has been set up in the exhibition as if to mimic a dark-room atmosphere. A screen plays a video documenting Wu’s creative process, alongside rice paper with different degrees of exposure for visitors to touch. A draft board of different textures of gel finishing and documents of exposure dates are also hanging nearby.
“Cyanotype seems to be a very simple technique widely used in fabric such as denim, but it takes quite a lot of control manipulation and years of practice to achieve the exact intensity the artist wants,” Kwok said. “It’s important that people understand the process to appreciate the works more.”
One work she highlights is the scrolled Wrinkle Texture 097. At first glance, it looks like a Chinese landscape, but closer examination turns it into an abstract painting.
It’s more difficult for Wu to contain various degrees of exposure in only one xuan paper without layering or collaging as in the newer series, which also shows harmony when the Chinese landscape aesthetic comes together with a fairly western technique, Kwok said.
Another important work is Cyano-Collage 083, which creates a grand view of mountains enveloped in mist and clouds like a fairyland. In the series, each individual work is composed of many xuan paper pieces that are pasted onto the canvas. Each layer is sealed with acrylic gel before a new one is added.
Sometimes Wu adds plain white xuan paper to create depth or erase part of an image, leaving large areas of blank space for the subject to seem to leap out from the painting – an important technique in Chinese ink painting, termed liu bai.
This art extends to the venue’s design.
Guests are greeted with a six-panel screen of the Cyano-Collage works to mimic walking in an ancient Chinese landscape. The idea behind this is the Chinese architectural tradition of view borrowing, which considers views from different perspectives.
Although the wooden scaffolds at the back of the screen appear to be at odds with the poetic atmosphere, they are there by intention to show how the work was built.
The process of combining man and nature becomes the footnote of the show.
(This article was published at The Standard on April 30, 2021: Weekend Glitz: A wrinkle in time )