Who Am I? ——A Close Scrutiny on the Chinese Cultural Values after 1978: The Touring Art Exhibition of SHI Zidong is curated by Sylvestre Verger, the former curator of Musée du Luxembourg, the world’s leading curator of contemporary art and Chairman of SVO Art. It’s  prefaced by Michael King, Peintre Officiel de la Marine and Vice-président de la Société Nationale des Beaux Arts as well as Phillippe Herzog, Ancien professeur des Universités, Ancien député européen and Président-fondateur de l’association Confrontations Europe.

This exhibition features more than 90 pieces of oil paintings, 20 sculpture installations, 30 photographs, 10 videos and animation art film by SHI Zidong. They represent Shi’s recent exploration in his teaching and creations of contemporary oil painting and video art. It also embraces his traditional easel art and his experimental installations and videos, which are  full of his probing into the art itself and the artist’s thinking on contemporary social reality and culture values.

In his recent works, we find certain trends of his technical demonstration of consciously isolated simplicity and detachment and his abstract pursuit of so-called contemporariness, which have transformed his focus from subject matter and technique to the pursuit of his self artistic temperament, and from the sole exploration of the artistic expressions to the control of the process of artistic creation and the spiritual pursuit, aiming at more subjective and spiritual control of the physical and social realities. He has well combined sketches with artistic creation, strengthening his expressive and spiritual power, elevating his works beyond the simple and direct surface of existence, and revealing the spiritual implications and contemporary characteristics, and therefore adds more profundity and truth with seemingly ordinariness and less fickleness.

By Zhu Di, in his “To Sense the Contemporary Context from the Traditional Art Patterns”

Deputy Director of the Department of Culture and Arts,

Ministry of Culture, China Member of the Educational Committee of Arts, Ministry of Education, China

Shi Zidong has a particular talent for painting, which draws his unique artistic context and structure from various natural objects and expands his imagery to make his paintings full of beauty, brightness, colour and order with elegance in roughness, grandeur in simplicity and tenderness in passion. Neither being lost in physical obj ects nor being feeble in subjective motivation, he has been seeking the control of the measures of his full artistic expression. As a result, his exploration and attempt are based on his own experience and reflection and his artistic expression is derived from his own perception.

By Yang Feiyun,

Director of the Department of Chinese Oil Painting, the Arts Institute of China,

Ph D Supervisor

By the “New Citizen” series and by combining painting, sculpture, photograph, cloth art, diary and fragmented texts, the artist expands the writable space. This is the freedom of thoughts won by the liberation of the media, and it is a significant insight and transcendence. The strategy adopted in the “New Citizens” series is eye-catching by double encoding, displaying irony and quoting narratives and punctuations.

 

By Daozi in his “Positive Value Construction after the Postmodern Critical Point—Preface to Shi Zidong’s Dalian-Beijing-Paris Art Exhibition Tour”

 

Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the 1911 Revolution

Who Am I? ——A Close Scrutiny on the Chinese Cultural Values after 1978

 Art Exhibition

Works by SHI Zidong

Foreword

Is it a coincidence that the entire world is turning their attention on China? Does this mean that human progress is facing a new orientation and ushering in a new era? The great revolution of 1911 became the starting point of modern China — a world-shaking political campaign overthrowing the feudal regime that had been in power for two thousand years and bringing in new ideas for a democratic republic, Affected by the European Enlightenment Movement, the intellectuals of modern China took their social responsibility for the new mission and became pioneers for advancing new thoughts and new ideas.

Entering the 21st century, while the international community is baffled by a series of complexity of uncertainties: globalization, the American subprime mortgage crisis, transformation of new international patterns, environmental degradation and threatening of natural calamities, China is also undergoing a series of economic, social and political changes. This social transformation is crisscrossed by sharp collisions of culture and ideologies. The split and entanglements are in reality confronting both the east and the west. Flooded by the influx of network technology and digital media, together with the mixture of language and culture, new cultural values are being formed, thus affording the contemporary Chinese people new opportunities to gain moral and intellectual sublimity.

I try to observe and present to you the modern world from a distance, expecting to awaken the powers to rescue the fate of man from an aesthetic attitude. I also look forward to a future in which violence and brutality can be avoided while the progress of human civilization is being made. It is only through the process of blending, interaction and regeneration, that excellent and outstanding cultures can be saved, renewed, updated and optimized. I surely realize that this “Utopian” state does not exist at certain social stages. Nevertheless, I still believe my Utopian view will help resolve conflicts between men, man and society, man and nature, and the cultural bias, so as to realize my dream of a peaceful and harmonious world.

If it can be agreed upon that the theories of Darwin, Marx and Freud freed and liberated the thoughts of man, then the “third way” chosen by contemporary China in 1978 will definitely lead to a conception of new cultural values. Does that mean the beginning of another liberation of human thought? If this is the essence underlying the rapid economic development over the past 30 years, can the Chinese socialist cultural values be regarded as a great contribution to the formation of mainstream values across the world? Based on the philosophical theories of shaping the objective world in accordance with the aesthetic principles put forward by Hegel and Marx, Marcuse believed that “art and revolution can be integrated in the process of transforming the world and liberating humanity. Aesthetics is the only subject that can help man to free himself from social frustration and it is a two-dimensional form of criticism in a one-dimensional society. Art is an aesthetic form as well as a kind of historical composition; art is something that unifies the poetic world of beauty with the world of reality.” It is my sincere hope that my devotion to the creation of art will offer one more smart key to the secrets of human progress and setbacks.

By believing in the Chinese proverb, “reading ten thousand books, and traveling ten thousand miles,” I have never stopped in my quest for the artistic truth of beauty. In my quest, I accidently discovered that in the process of social development, the real art pioneers have always kept quietly and silently to their firm belief, The artistic expression and social criticism finally meet in the positive constructiveness. “Art holds both the positive and negative sides of the reality and it also has a conservative as well as transcendent nature. The positive force denies itself at the same time.” Responsible artists will consciously integrate individuality with wisdom and show their willingness and critical spirit. Art will help improve our civilization and human progress. Yet, self-discipline is not conducive to the creation of art. A society must have precious cultural values. As Confucius stated, “A public spirit will rule all under the sky when the Great Dao prevails.” The series of works including “New Citizen,” “Gaze,” “Ecology” are expressions from my heart and soul, asking loudly: “To whom do my sensory organs belong?” “Who Am I?” “Who is the ecological subject?” The various stages I have gone through prompted me to explore such questions as “ego,” “alter ego,” and “super ego.” Trying to separate from the integration of “myself and society,” “myself and others,” and “thought and action” and asking the general public the source of “the collective unconsciousness” so as to solicit answers for responsibilities for history, state, nation and individual rights of democracy.

The financial crises have now turned to a new crisis of identity for the United State and Europe that have always bent on a one-way strategy to resolve the global issues. Their stubborn views will ultimately lead from a political bias to a cultural bias. The contradiction between industrial profit and the protection of natural resources, a system originating from the free competition of capitalism, is now also present in developing countries. As Philip puts it, “Say the natural resources are limited, who are to distribute them? Suppose they are never to be used up, can nature be compatible to such a colossal consumption?” The world is looking forward to new discoveries, new choice, and new creation that can bring a new mode of economic development and new mode of life. Human society is expecting a new period of transitional development during which all areas related to the happiness of man are flourishing: culture, science and technology, economy and democracy. Who will take the lead in the orientation of the global cultural values that have been expected to emerge?

Seeing the world from a historical perspective, the progress of society is the change of thought as well as the renewal of cultural values. At present, China places emphasis on the construction of soft power and stimulates creation and originality. We at the exhibition like to take a close look at the achievements as well as negligence from the social, political and economic perspective since the 1911 Revolution, especially the past 30 years. Guided by the ideological advocacy of “cultural confidence, cultural consciousness and cultural self-improvement”, we should explore the depth of the traditional Chinese culture to find values different from that of the west. As the ancient Chinese sayings go, “Harmony generates and sameness stifles vitality” and “All things submit to yin and embrace yang. They soften their energy to achieve harmony.” Ancient as these sayings are, they are a necessary supplement to the formation of the mainstream values in the world. Harmony and regeneration are indispensable in the world. Suppose that ever-lasting premise that man can be liberated by the best cultural values, do we contemporary Chinese have to defend it as the cultural pioneers did one hundred years ago? The Chinese cultural strategy advocated by the new citizens after the year 1978 will surely impose a strong influence upon the world. This is the wheel of history.

I hereby pay my tribute to the 100th anniversary of the 1911 Revolution

SHI Zidong

August 23, 2011

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