Critics’ Picks

Jiang Pengyi, Grace No. 3, 2014, silver gelatin print, 38 1/2 x 30 3/4".

Jiang Pengyi, Grace No. 3, 2014, silver gelatin print, 38 1/2 x 30 3/4".

Shanghai

Jiang Pengyi

ShanghART H-Space | 香格纳画廊H空间
50 Moganshan RoadBuilding 18 Building 18
September 9–October 23, 2016

A simple vertical line is the motif that ties together the pieces of Jiang Pengyi’s parallel series “Grace” and “Trace,” both 2014–16. The latter, housed in one building of this venue, comprises thirty-six small Polaroid and emulsion prints—some are lush, and others are tiny seas of washed-out pinks and blues, soft and comforting in the way only instant film can be. A white line either floats within or bifurcates each piece, or, in the case of his emulsion lift prints, sheets of color hover like fabric or wrinkled flesh around the line of a pin protruding from the paper. “Trace” is control and fresh starts. “Grace,” meanwhile, presents a dark, consummating vision, occupying the second building, as a collection of large-scale silver gelatin prints that turn the artist’s three-year excursion through the Southern Hemisphere into haunting, spectral landscapes. These photographs are meant to seduce. They do. The white streaks of waterfalls (some alone and some in groups) in all the prints in “Grace” form visual rhymes with the lines of “Trace” but function as their antithesis: Lines are not made; they declare themselves, dominating landscapes real or imagined. Each photograph is filled with intricate detail, yet the mountains and jungles are muted in twilight, crags barely visible in dim chiaroscuro. Pengyi records these scenes like a last Argonaut, the final witness on a journey through a world now hollowed out. Like drivers on a lonely highway at night, eyes heavy, then suddenly shaken, we are jarred by Pengyi’s landscapes seconds after being lulled. “Grace” records the last vestiges of a natural world freeing itself from the grips of a humanity dozing through the Anthropocene.