Opposing Ends of the Same Spectrum: Zhang Enli & Oscar Murillo
In 2018, Zhang Enli participated in the artist-in-residence programme co-presented by KAF and The Royal Academy of Arts. Studio, the work he created in the Academy, reappears in the chi K11 art museum in Shanghai as part of his solo exhibition.
Installation View of Zhang Enli’s show at Hauser & Wirth London, 2010.
In 2018, Zhang Enli participated in the artist-in-residence programme co-presented by KAF and The Royal Academy of Arts. Studio, the work he created in the Academy, reappears in the chi K11 art museum in Shanghai as part of his solo exhibition. Courtesy of the K11 Art Foundation.
Zhang Enli, Untitled (Tiles) 2, 2019, oil on linen, 320 × 240cm. Courtesy of the K11 Art Foundation.
Oscar Murillo, collective conscience, 2014–ongoing, effigies, wheelchairs, fabric sculptural work with fabric torsos, and corn sculptures. Courtesy of the artist and and chi K11 art museum. Photo by Ou Chia-Cheng
Oscar Murillo, flight #69 (double-sided), 2018, pen, pencil, graphite and carbon on paper, perspex frame, 42 × 31.5 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery. Photo by Mathew Hollow
K11 Art Foundation’s latest exhibition in Shanghai brings together artists Zhang Enli and Oscar Murillo for a dual solo presentation. We speak to both artists to decipher how this exhibition reveals conceptual connections between their divergent practices to those who probe deeply enough.
Text: CoBo Editorial Force Images: Courtesy of the K11 Art Foundation
The unlikely combination of Zhang Enli and Oscar Murillo elicits surprised, and somewhat bewildered reactions. While one is a revered and renowned for his ethereal subliminal paintings, the other is a young, recent Turner prize nominee, no stranger to fame, known for his highly charged collaged canvases and forays into performance, video and installation based art.Partially conceived on the basis of the artists’ enduring friendship unknown to many, the creation of this “dual solo exhibition” is additionally cited to stem from “their shared roles as painters…and the importance of speed in their lives and work.” Inspired by this mutual admiration turned friendship, and the artists’ respective oeuvres, KAF’s Artistic Director Venus Lau curates a one of a kind exhibition. One, which strives to forge connections between two distinctive practices that go beyond the shared crimson checkered aesthetic that dominates the show’s promotional material.
Zhang Enli’s celebrated practice marks the beginning of show, his signature ethereal visual imagery radiating the artificially lit, underground white-walled space.In fact it this signature aesthetic which first struck Murillo who was mesmerised by Zhang’s work for the first time during the latter’s first exhibition at Hauser and Wirth London.For this current show, three large scale works comprise his presentation, beginning with an extension of his prior work Space Painting (2007).First launched in 2007, Space Painting sees the artist apply gouache directly to the walls of whichever space the work occupies, cementing one of the curatorial tenants – ‘mark making.’The concept of which, can be read literally as a mark made on the wall, and metaphorically as a subtle indication of presence which exists only upon recognition.Zhang further explains the lightness associated with this work:
“If you see it, it’s there. If you don’t see it, then it’s as if it never existed. It’s just like that. I never viewed these works as having a lot of gravity. This also goes for people, we as people are all infinitesimal in the grander scheme of the world and history.”
Subtle and poetic, the work emits a meditative aura, forming an extension of Zhang Enli’s rather zen-like personality. While marking the space, it simultaneously disrupts it with its’ temporality.
It functions in direct contrast to his other works which are concerned with recreating spaces, memories and presence, including Studio (2018), the second work presented by the artist.A remodel of his 1990’s studio in Shanghai, which he created for his residency at The Royal Academy of Arts in London, Zhang meticulously pieces together a miniature version. He includes significant details such as sketches and notes inscribed on the walls of his actual studio for viewers to discover rendering an immersive experience of his painting process. Even the iconic red and white tiles are recreated as the floor, a notion extending to the Zhang’s final work in the exhibition, Untitled (Tiles) (2019).
Essentially a series of checkerboard paintings, inspired by tiles commonly used for flooring in 1920s and 30’s lane houses in Shanghai (as well as those present in his old studio), Zhang recalls his past.Mark making is again made visible by the shoe-print impressions left on the canvases, which show deliberate signs of wear and tear.Initially conceived to be painted on the floor – the canvases were laid on the floor and walked upon before being installed in the narrow passage laterally.The concept of ‘mark making’ both literal and metaphorical is a primary point of convergence for both artists, which the show aims to highlight.Untitled (Tiles) is Zhang’s last work presented in the show, forging a conceptual link to the beginning of Murillo’s section.
Thrown against the wall in manic action, then falling to floor, a series of black canvases (brushed with thick black oil paint and cut and sown back together into new compositions) reverse Zhang’s floor to wall process in Murillo’s gravitational work The Institute of Reconciliation (2014).While Zhang channels emotion meditatively into his paintings and is consumed with the act itself, Murillo is more concerned with external themes, particularly those which are more personal and political in nature. This is reflected in the way they deal with the space.Zhang conjures memories of alternate spaces, Murillo projects his vision upon the chi k11 art museum, through the content of his work, as well as by imagining the underground space to resemble a sort of mental institution.He recalls, “It reminded me of a mental asylum. Like a hospital, or how at least how they’re represented in films or pop cultures.This idea of insanity is represented in the space.”
From the dramatic gestures and random aesthetic quality present in The Institute of Reconciliation to the papier mache effigies (recreation of Mateos – effigies burned to celebrate New Years in Colombia) in Collective Conscience , many of which are placed in wheel chairs or disturbingly impaled with various objects, a sense of madness is certainly evoked. In regards to content of his work, in particular it takes a “singular root in the working class, the DNA and energy of my work comes from having an alliance with the culture of the working class.” The art world, according to him demonstrates a “a complete and utter oppression and ignorance of the working classes in this structure….particularly members of the art world..they don’t get the working class.” In utilizing the mateos, corn, and materials from Colombia, he seeks to unveil economic impacts of displacement and capitalism, not cultural ones.
This sense of frenzy and analysis is further represented in his drawings which puncture the space in various places, and dwell on various aspects of speed and mark making, portraying yet another integral facet to his highly restless practice.This quality is also what Zhang believes makes Murillo an interesting artist, “his work is very free and impassioned, it’s not simple, he really embraces challenges.”
While parallels drawn between both artist’s practices are far from obvious, vocalisation of their mutual admiration and theme of leaving and making marks enables an exhibition to exist where two drastically different practices are juxtaposed, offering a unique opportunity for viewers to draw their own conclusions and make their own connections between the works and artists.Furthermore all the works epitomize each artist’s narrative, enabling viewers to gain comprehension of the breadth of their practices.Only on view for three more weeks, this dual exhibition certainly offers Shanghai denizens a rare opportunity to experience the convergence of two divergent art practices.