Tang Maohong’s art has been discussing the orders and rules established on collectivism, and examining the subjective initiative of himself along with the changing mediums and themes. The artist’s concern transmitted from slightly highlighting the rules within social life that has been default to establishing the rule with spontaneous initiative. In this exhibition, Tang shows more about his autonomy for art creation.
It is probably inspired by the atmosphere of Shanghai art word in late 1990s, which is vigorous and self-motivated, Tang Maohong abandoned printmaking temporarily after graduating from China Academy of Art and started to make art with video and performance. A sense of improvisation and criticalness could be grasped from the art he made from this period. For example, in In Circulation (2001), a work made right after his graduation, the artist organized his family member in Guangxi province to blow balloons, transferring them to Shanghai and released the air. For Tang, family is far from a fundamental factor to build up a metropolitan like Shanghai. By migrating the balloon from Guangxi to Shanghai, the rising gap between urban and rural area was highlighted. At the beginning of this century, when the issues of urbanization were discussed mostly, In Circulation effectively points them out. Another case work is Harvest (2004), Tang duplicated the key of his apartment for 900 times and send them to different strangers. Nobody knew what is going on, and this is the way that the artist tried to examine the effectiveness of social rule under the law.
Around 2005, Tang devoted himself to make prints and animation. Due to the change of medium, the rules and orders began to be visible along with beautiful visual forms. Images from his works always filled with strange and absurd sceneries that seemingly differentiate themselves from the reality. Bright colors and variable patterns invade the audiences’ sense fiercely. However, it does not really mean a breakage of the artist’s creation context, the works keep a close contact with reality. For example, the images of Orchid (2005) were from the news reports he found within the internet, not to mention Tang’s Silent Film (2009), a controversial video work sharing a similar rhythm and pictorial form with his former animations, while the content closely related to the discourse of Chinese constitutional law. Instead of taking a clear-cut stand, Tang’s choice of images and symbols has shown his reaction and appeal to the world.
In Tang’s solo exhibition “Enclave Con” in 2013, he did not indulge in “appropriation” of the external images, but to create symbolic logos that separated themselves to the representation of the world. The concept of Enclave comes from his observation of the cultural contexts he lived within, including Chinese traditional, socialist and Western culture. Tang chose to expand his artistic sovereign territory based on the collision of them. By playing a commander’s role, the artist disciplined both form and content of his art.
For this time, the artist started to be more self-discipline during the process of creation. As a painting-oriented exhibition, Tang describes his practice as what figures are doing in the works —carrying a stone and dreaming of emptying the riverbed. Instead of being a modern version of “Yugong Removing the Mountains”, the story hidden behind Tang’s works neither has a referent nor has an easily-achieved goal, only leaving the repetitiveness carrying motion. Such structure kind of echoes his early work Play Serial (2002), in which he appropriated the famous story song “there was a mountain” that has no real ending in terms of the time dimension to his video. In fact, Tang has an expectation to the video’s audiences: it requires them to stand in front of the work while bearing the pressure applied by the narration. After restarting to paint, Tang tried to transfer the pressure back to himself—Time was exhausted by his painting motions back and forth. The motions make a change to the painting series, especially colors and patterns of burdens (like bones, limbs and unknown objects). Compared to the rational and objective narration, these paintings were wrapped by the artist’s body temperature.
In “Riverbed”, human backs in the photographs are quite thought-provoking, all of which come from pictures Tang found from the Internet. These retouched figures and the photoshoped stones push audiences to doubt about whether what you see is what you get. It also kind of explain why the backs were shaped as an identical and anonymous head in the paintings. The artist later painted them flatly and even built a head pyramid. The head turns to be a reflection of himself and fully reveals his latest contemplation and concern.