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China – Two Young Artists

There are hundreds of wonderful young artists emerging in China who create work that is inspired by the changing (developing) world around them and its demands on humans.  He An and Chen Wenbo are two out of many talented artists who are a part of Chinese Avant Garde movement and visual art’s reaction to what is happening around them now. 

He An is inspired by Generation X’s mad, riches-seeking, dog-eat-dog dark side.   In 2000 He An started working with displaced young people from his country, after becoming fascinated by the role of the Internet in the way it could connect just about anybody from any given region of the world while preserving their anonymity.  He An placed an ad on one of the servers asking young people to respond if they wished to be interviewed and photographed for his series of work.  He asked them to try to define ”Cool” – He An promised he’d try to do whatever it took to help his subject present how a particular ”cool” fantasy influences their life.   

There are only three pieces so far (Fashion: Wound), since money and resources are scarce – ironically it is the same thing that stops He An’s subjects from having their goals  of luxury living realized stops the artist from being more productive.  But.  But the images are amazing and powerful:  in one image a person’s back is marked by two – one much longer than the other – scars, wide and raised.  The subjects of the photographs are young women whose ”cool” desire was to appear scarred.  The scars reflect the internal torture of having to have the subjects’ integrity sell out in order to pursue ”cool”. 

Each picture is accompanied by a text listing their statistics which is supposed to serve as a reality check – despite fashion model-like poses the girls are everything but.   The girls in photographs all come from impoverished families and live in the cities working in entertainment venues which is how they support their families and their own lifestyle that parodies what they perceive as luxurious or ”cool”.

It has to be noted that the He An himself still lives on day to day basis, still waiting for his own ”cool” moment to happen where he will be recognized for his talent and will be able to support his living through his art.  In China the most recognizable and most respected visual art medium remains oil painting; new media is still too Avangarde.

But even the artists who use ”traditional” media such as oil paint have amongst them young painters who aren’t afraid to react to the scary, developing world around them in a way that is new and  that leaves the viewer shaken and reflective of his own reality.  Chen Wenbo began his Test paintings in 1996 and after some time started to wonder about the relation of his medium to actual photography; he asked: If painting is visual fiction, then where does the dividing line between reality and fiction lie within the picture plane?

Chen Wenbo inspiration comes from a belief that the world is evolving as a fake, man-made version of what is natural.  According to the artist through his Test series Chen Wenbo perceives as the current mood of society, and an exploration of fairy-tale youth and human’s desire to control it.   Through his paintings of glossy-faced youth -- speckled with paint or perhaps plastic… or perhaps evolving into plastic… or paint – he also investigates human awareness of their emotions as well as their natural senses such as sight and touch.  In order to show the fake world around (and inside) his subjects he actually does covers the figures with the texture that reminds one of plastic. Where youth meets high technology it precipitates a break out of the confines of a conservative safety net by challenging their world strength of imagination.  The combination of traditional media with the new media reflects well the snake-eating-its-tail reality of people infusing technology infusing people.