Retreat and Advance: Yu Zhenli from 1994 to 2014
2015年12月21日 14:05:15    作者:Wu Hong   来源:Artintern

For Yu Zhenli, 2014 was destined to be another unusual year. Other people may not necessarily know this, but he knows it very well. I use the word “another” here, to imply that 1994 was a similarly unusual year.

In 1994, the transformation in Yu Zhenli’s life was an obvious gesture; he chose to retreat from the world and build a studio on a mountain. Through this obvious method, he retreated into himself.

Prior to this, his star was on the rise. In 1989, he finished the advanced oil painting course at the Central Academy of Fine Arts and participated in “The Eight-Person Oil Painting Exhibition” at the National Art Museum of China. At that time, the art market was beckoning; if he had stayed in Beijing, then he may have been swept up in it. However, at a time when paintings could easily be turned into money, he wondered whether this was really the point of art. He retreated into the mountains and returned to himself. Perhaps he wanted to find an answer to those ultimate questions of what art is and what can art do.

Retreat is only a strategy and not a final goal; Yu Zhenli is very clear on this. What did Yu do in the mountains for twenty years? There are two answers. One thread is accompanied by notebooks, which he uses to engage in dialogue with himself. Through the text, he records this process of dialogue and he accumulated twenty notebooks of “Birthday Notes,” made one per year. The second thread is the process of constructing his studio. He wanted to engage in dialogue with society and use art to intervene in society and change life. In the first thread, the text is a way of presenting his thoughts. He intended to transform these thoughts into expressive artistic forms, which is the essence of conceptual art. In the second thread, these actions were directed towards other people and society, as a form of performance art. The experimental results of these two threads essentially constitute Yu’s way of thinking about the ultimate questions in art, while also representing an important shift from his early abstract expressionist paintings to post-modern artistic practice.

In 2013, the year before 2014, Yu Zhenli’s life was tumultuous. Two events in particular were extremely important to him. One was the unprecedented scale of his solo exhibition at Today Art Museum, which summarized and showcased his entire artistic career. The other was the sale of his entire body of work; not a single painting was left. The psychological experience of this unprecedented exhibition and the sale of his work was like climbing a mountain in a car, a shift from extreme noise to extreme emptiness. He was left expecting the advent of another important moment.

The next year, in 2014, Yu Zhenli was confronted with another life choice. Should he choose to circulate among high society, as many successful artists do? Or should he choose to give himself stability and go back to the mountains? It was actually a paradox between retreating and advancing; the former seemed like advancement, but it was actually a regression to a moment twenty years ago when he chose to leave that life. The latter seemed like retreat, but it was actually a more positive way of supporting the choices he has made over the last twenty years.

In 2014, he personally established the 8 + 1 Art Fund, which is intended to sponsor and support young artists from Dalian. The renovated exhibition space and photography studio currently host a series of experimental art activities. In this process, Yu’s state of mind also changed; the previously caustic Yu became more tolerant and moderate. His ways of understanding art, life, and society are actively changing, and these changes based on his thinking over the entire course of 2014. These ideas are recorded in his notes, which have become an artwork in themselves.

8 + 1 is another way that Yu participates in social practice through exhibitions. Under his guidance, the program is becoming a collective platform for intellectual exchange within the Dalian contemporary art world.

In this exhibition, Yu’s 2014 notes are a conceptual vehicle, to which we have added the work of eight young Dalian artists. These notes contain Yu’s artistic ideas and thought processes, which serve as a foundation for rethinking and recreation and actually represent another process of dialogue. We have spoken of the two threads in Yu’s artistic practice since 1994: his dialogue with himself and his dialogue with society. Today, he is re-engaging in the second kind of dialogue based on the first, thereby creating a new kind of polyphonic discussion. Dialogue, interaction, and communication serve as the primarily framework of this exhibition, but they have also become important traits of contemporary art in Dalian. We hope that the young generation of Dalian contemporary artists, who have been imprinted by these traits, will become better recognized and engage in these dialogues on a larger scale.

December 3, 2015



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