Critics’ Picks

Installation view, 2006.

Installation view, 2006.


Wang Jianwei

Arario Gallery | Beijing
# 912, 1 Building, Qilinshe, 4 Wangjing Road Chaoyang District
April 1–May 14, 2006

Wang Jianwei is one of Beijing’s most philosophically inclined artists. For his latest three-part installation, Relativism: A Flying Bird is Motionless, 2005, Wang uses video, digital photography, and sculpture to raise questions about temporality and the telling of history. With the cinematic styling and riveting score of a big-budget martial-arts film, the video is the exhibition’s anchor. Rooted in a climactic chapter of a famous Song Dynasty tale (Yanjiajiang), it depicts a fierce battle scene in which a band of heroic brothers are slaughtered. During the last forty years, the story has experienced renewed popularity in China, and has been reinterpreted in picture books and television dramas, and continuously inflected by contemporary mores. Nearby, a suite of luminous, dramatically staged photographs echo the video, but each has been digitally altered to reveal interior details of the actors’ bodies, as if their indifferent viscera are the only constant in this dance of conflicting histories. In another room, a series of monumental, white sculptures fracture a humanoid form’s decapitation into three frozen moments. The exhibition’s title reflects the Greek Stoic Zenon’s notion that time comprises inseparable experiences, rather than isolated moments. If the latter were true, Zenon asks, how could a bird fly? By constructing a dense web of connections between each of the work’s components, Wang gives form to Zenon’s conception of duration, challenging viewers to consider how even the most well-worn tales are made to reflect ideologies of the present.