Testing Freedom's Temperature marks the London debut of Chi Ming and J S Tan and follows on from a joint exhibition of the artists at Atkins and Ai Gallery in Beijing last year.
Visually the artists differ, but explore the same pervading themes of their young post-Mao generation and raise questions about the implications of China’s economic and cultural change. For two decades Chinese youth have lived, unlike their elders, without the ‘religion of Mao’. Theirs is a new culture with bigger boundaries and rampant materialism.
Shandong-born artist Chi Ming presents a unique snapshot of his generation, blending everyday realism with a mildly surreal approach to figurative painting. His grandfather and his father both painted in the service of Mao Zedong. Following their creative footsteps, Chi Ming moved to Beijing in 2001 to study at The Central Academy of Fine Arts. Chi’s creative environment was dominated by the prolific painter and professor Liu Xiaodong, whose fluid and narrative style of realism rode against the wave of Political Pop and Cynical Realism. Chi went on to forge his own brand of realism, pursuing emotional honesty over innovation for innovation’s sake, and a philosophy of mankind as “earth-bound”. He is personally championed by Liu Xiaodong, who has spoken of Chi Ming’s works as "delicate poetic language to convey complex emotions". For Chi Ming, China’s rapid era of economic change delivered one form of freedom but also a new imprisonment under materialism and cultural dissipation. The urge for freedom takes shape in Chi Ming’s works as a defiance of accepted social norms, distorted perspectives and in some cases, a sublimation of reality, dancing between Realism, Surrealism and Romanticism. The parallel of reality to theatricality in Chi Ming’s body of works reveals a desire to treat life with the same hallowed reverence that directors and actors reserve for the stage.
Born in Hong Kong, raised in Beijing and educated in the United States, J S Tan has departed his early interest in figuration, for a series of enigmatic charcoal drawings and inks where shapes and lines, bricks and wire and unnamable objects float in space. With the meticulous gradation of a monochromatic palette, Tan begins to liberate from the breakdown of manmade hierarchies into the order and security of unchanging geometric laws.
In his conceptually rich practice, Tan also incorporates computer science, design and art theory. As both a student and a practitioner at Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University, U.S., he cites the digital design guru John Maeda as a major influence. Tan has embraced a new world of “magic”, programming vast, sprawling digital universes. For Tan, technology presents an alternative opportunity for creative play. The longing for other worlds, once satisfied by religion and visions of heaven, is now being answered by virtual universes with new social architecture and identities.