From 3rd May to 14th July ShangART Singapore Gallery is pleased to present a solo exhibition by their artist-in-residence Tang Maohong. The Gallery takes inspiration from Paul Gaugain’s famous and controversial residency in Tahiti and titles Tang Maohong’s exhibition Noa Noa just like Gaugain’s Tahitian Journal. The French artist’s long-lasting influence can be glimpsed from travels and practices of Nanyang style practices. The tropical island of Bali stood in as their Tahiti as they projected onto it their fantasies of an exotic realm.
This is a tremendously relevant fusion between the 19th century French painter and the Chinese Tang Maohong, perfectly combining plenty of subtleties that connect these two artists’ lives and works.
Noa Noa: The Tahitian Journal brings forward an important principle in the practice of art: a work is ultimately the product of stimulations from the artist’s environment. This way, the limited duration of a residency forces the artist to treat his journey as a catalyst. The foreign land becomes some sort of incubator for pre-existing ideas.
Paul Gaugain‘s travalogue reflects his initial impression of Southeast Asia as a place of lush greenery and azure skies, with big clouds, and strong shadows and contrasting, yet harmonious landscapes. Tang Maohong‘s residency projects consciously avoid overtly cultural-specific visuals and romantic ideals. He focuses on the reality of identity in relation to larger political entities, such as countries.
As human migration becomes more and more prevalent and most parts of Southeast Asia have colonial histories, Tang addresses the complication of self-identity and of the concept of country.
Tang borrows the question-title of Gaugain’s painting (1897-1898) : Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
This concern is best communicated by the centre piece Categorising Humans is a Chore. It depicts state crests, flags and maps of 198 countries in a series of looping graphics. The state crests are imagined in hourglasses: tipping endlessly and losing their forms in the process. The flags are arranged in an upward angle as they are usually seen, flashing and interchanging in a geometric formation. The maps are portrayed as oscillating flat pieces, warping and stretching as they approach either side of the screen. The movements in the videos are repetitive and recurring in nature, resulting in seamless loop.
To Tang, repetition is a mesmerising tempo. The hint of tediousness introduced to the work undermines the solemn nature of the state symbols whilst encouraging viewers to contemplate on the topic in a mood of lethargy.
Interview with the artist Tang Maohong
Roxana Florina Popa: Versatile art, imagination, intellect and visual skill is presented in your solo exhibition Noa Noa organised in collaboration with ShanghaiART Singapore : painting, drawing and tryptic projected illustration.
The art pieces Categorising Human is a Chore make me understand once again that Asian art has a socio-political message most of the time. Do aesthetics have a place near exoticism and messages to the world?
Tang Maohong: Art-making is inevitably political. In fact, it can be argued that attempts to avoid political elements would place further emphasis on them.
Aesthetics is a process, as well as a means, under specific circumstances. Exoticism is a presumption of certain populations, irrelevant to reality.
Roxana Florina Popa: Looking at your unprecedented pictorial subjects with a well-defined and unique character that takes the stage in your works:
A thrown sinking heart pulsating and rising above water, state crests in hourglasses, moon drops, a discobolus handling a mushroom
How do you build your subjects and how do you make sense of the eclectic flowing images in your psyche? What is the purpose of your ultimate expression?
你的作品中的焦点出现了前所未有而独特，明确的图示 – 例如一颗沉下的心脏跳动着地浮出水面，沙漏里地国徽，月亮葡萄，掷铁饼者舞动蘑菇 – 请问你是怎么构想出你的主题，又是怎么去以你本身地想法去理解这些不拘一格地形象？你最终所想要表达的目的又是什么？
Tang Maohong: The individual imagery in each painting does not matter as much as the overall presentation. Whether they express my doubts and uncertainties accurately ——this is an exhibition about questions.
The themes of the works have always been about people and circumstance.
Ultimately, the reason to make art is to live life with beauty.
Roxana Florina Popa: Yellow comes forth in Gaugain’s Tahitian paintings. Yellow is predominant in your exhibited paintings and it is different from Gaugain’s yellow.
Why do you think Paul Gaugain was attracted by yellow?
Is durian the Fruit on the Beach and what else has this yellow hue in Asia?
What is its role in the set-up of your works’ artistic reality?
Tang Maohong: Gauguin’s paintings in Tahiti used more saturated colours than those of his impressionist precursors, not just in terms of yellow. I cannot know his motive for sure. Perhaps, it is the eventual result of the evolution of impressionistic language: the flattening of planes and colour, the diminishing importance of spatiality, while saturated colours reflect the hot tropical climate of Tahiti.
Fruit on the Beach is not a naturalistic representation. The evocative title frames the subject matter as a vignette of my travels; a fragment of the traveller’s journey.
Roxana Florina Popa: Which stimulations of the residency country influenced the works in your current exhibitions? Which were the challenges of making them compatible with the pre-existing ideas? In what moments did you go back to Gaugain’s travelogue for guidance during your residency?
Tang Maohong: When going between countries, it is the customs that leaves the deepest impression. The aesthetic sensibility of the customs section and performance of the officer are the most reliable representation of the country’s political propaganda and mottos.
This translation is very similar to the creative process: when fanciful plans and ideas meet the practicality of reality, the concept of the work takes its form no longer changeable.
As for Gauguin’s journal, I have not read it since I was seventeen. If I am to read it again, perhaps I will situate the text within the colonial history of France to contemplate how a middle-class french painter living in poverty managed to become a famous artist in a colonial territory.
Roxana Florina Popa: Which are your revelations on the concepts of “country” and “self-identity” that your artistic residency helped you see starting from Gaugain’s questions Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? Does inspiration have a country and where does it take us?
Tang Maohong: Regarding “country” and “identity”, different circumstances will generate different responses.
The question becomes more pressing when one leaves his country. This is why this theme is only realised in Singapore instead of Beijing or Shanghai.
As for inspiration, I believe more in consistent accumulation. Depending on inspiration is lazy and passive.
Roxana Florina Popa: Given the variety of media and arts you are presenting in your solo exhibition, are multiple artistic directions a reality of the nowadays’ artist? What is your advice for multi-talented artists working with various art media? What are the added value and impact of a multimedia art expression?
Tang Maohong: With the advancement and replacement through technology, creators take what they need. Mixed-media and new media works will become more and more diverse.
Special thanks go to the artist Tang Maohong and
Goh Chun Aik, ShangART Gallery Assistant
About the Artist
Tang Maohong (born 1975, Guangxi province, China) graduated from China National Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou and divides his time between Beijing and Seoul. He simultaneously references and undermines art history and popular culture. He has integrated a variety of visual elements and subject matters, producing works that inhabit the ever-blurred borer between elegant art and popular illustration. His work is absurd, magical, humorous and confrontational, hinting that the juxtaposition of figurative objects might be more just illusions. Tang Maohong’s pictorial universe reflects not only a new subject – a psyche whose internal eclectic imagination is echoed in the environment of constantly flowing images – but also the inversion of out-grown traditions.
Tang Maohong, Riverbed, ShangART Beijing, China (2017); Video Art, Bhau Daji Lad Museum , Mumbai, India (2014); Video Bureau Archive 20: Tang Maohong, Video Bureau, Guangzhou, Beiing, China; Green Box – Remapping – The Space of Media Reality, Hangzhou, China (2013); Uninkable, TOP Contemporary Art Centre, Shanghai Centre, China (2012); Nomadic Report 2012, Arko Art Centre, Seoul, South Korea (2012).
About ShangART Singapore
ShangART Gallery was established in Shanghai in 1996. It has since grown one of China’s most influential art institutions and vital player in the development of contemporary art in China, representing over 40 pioneering and emerging artists, such as DING Yi, Melati Suryodarmo, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, XU ZHEN, Yang Fudonga and ZHENG Fanzhi.
Roxana Florina Popa is the author and self-publisher of the book “Beauty Elegance Creativity – 12 Interviews on the Act of Creation“