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Art Review: Tang Guo's Solo ShanghART Show


Wuxi-born artist Tang Guo’s solo show at ShanghART juxtaposes sentiments of decay—gloom and despair—with stillness and tranquility. Inspired by a devastating flood experience, “The Rhyme of Ruins” displays an almost cyclical pattern to our existence, flowing from subsistence to decay to nothingness and then starting all over again.

Upon entrance to the gallery, the viewer passes through a hallway singularly lined with black and white digital prints, entitled Human Territory (2004). Photographs of everyday life fill in frames from an ordinary, wooden and rustic wagon, to a bicycle leaning against a wall hidden in a shadow of a street corner, to a path of stone pots.

In the gallery’s main space, the viewer will then find Tang’s ink works. On handmade paper, these drawings capture scenes of flooded destruction. Pit (2013) is an attempt to capture the ghosts of the ruins on paper. Half of the drawing has already succumbed to the omnipotent force that caused the wreckage, covered in darkness as the sketched items are faintly exposed. In the remaining lit portion, Chinese ruins lie piled among one another, from crumbled statue heads to tree stumps.

The interior of this main room is wrapped with a singular horizontal lining of his ink sketches. It’s a constant stream of decay that features a wide range of ruins varying from dilapidated dishes, vases and wine bottles to torn books and old clocks, as well as an interjection of skulls. It is not so much the items that breed importance but the sense of dimness that rises through their demise.

While the ink works do exude Tang’s originality, the reportorial expansion into stop-motion animation work is the main attraction. The Rhyme of Ruins (2012), a 13-minute video, compiles black- and-white photographs of natural material like dead branches and dry leaves. It has a very hypnotic, mesmerizing effect though it’s simple in form. The background sounds, dubbed by Tang himself, create a tranquil sentiment while the darkness of the debris against the pale gloom of the background reinforces a sense of despair. A consistency of struggle and tension can be seen throughout the film until the debris disappears, and silence takes over. This may be an allusion to the passage into reincarnation, as the ruins become one with the universe again.

From City Weekend

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