I decided to title this show "Friendship" because I think we need to establish a more friendly relationship with the past and with the Other. Oil painting has always been an incomplete issue in East Asia. And I am willing to consider this incompleteness as a condition.
The way that I find myself in the world is through painting. I have never left the medium and have always been dealing with its various problems. Some of these might seem easy, but they are quite difficult. For example, if a French artist paints with ink and a brush, and does so in a way that resembles the great Qing-dynasty painter Shi Tao, my initial reaction would not be to examine this French artist’s paintings, but to ask why he paints like that. On the other hand, me using the medium of oil painting—is it not just as curious? This might be a stupid question, and it might just as well be a question with no answers. But I cannot avoid it. In the early stages of modern China, painters like Yan Wenliang, Pang Xunqin, and Dong Xiwen, among others, all touched on this conundrum. Most contemporary artists tend not to deal with this question, either rhetorically or in terms of the painting languages they use. Contemporary artworks tend to be more individual and personal in nature.
Mirrored Gardens offered me the chance to work with natural light. Usually, when you’re showing works in a museum or a gallery, you need to adapt to its exhibition conventions. But after checking out the space, I realized there were other possibilities. By coordinating with the gallery and the architect, we made many adjustments, such as replacing one of the doors with a floor-to-ceiling window. The good thing is that you can’t really tell that we made these adjustments. It just seems like the space has always been like this.
We spent a month observing the movement of the natural light in the space for twelve hours every day under different weather conditions, and eventually we placed fourteen works in fourteen spots, according to the different sizes of the light spots. That is to say, the installation and the arrangement of the works were dictated by the areas of natural light occurring in the space, not by the internal logic of the painting series. For a long time, I have been painting under just natural light. I cannot interpret colors under artificial lights, so I never work at night.
Preparing for the exhibition, I grouped the works into three series. The first has to do with geographic frontiers and China’s ethnic communities; these works are mostly shown in the separate tearoom and include one portrait of a member of an ethnic minority and one landscape painting of the Bohai Gulf. I wanted the latter to look like a sketch, so, in contrast to the vast geographic area it represents, the painting is small. The second series pertains to friendship and includes three still-life paintings with flowers and a portrait of people picking flowers with gloves on. The last series deals with the alien, strange nature of everyday life. But in the making of the exhibition, the last two series were all scattered according to the spatial arrangement and sources of the natural light.
Generally, I think painting can only offer one kind of information—that is, your continued experience of it. Or, it can offer just a state, the exact content or message of which is not that important.