Qiu Anxiong - Mountain and Sea in the Modern World

Still from New Classic of Mountains and Seas III (detail) Video animation, 30 min 2013-2017 Courtesy of the artist and Boers-Li Gallery
Qiu Anxiong, New Classic of Mountains and Seas I: Landscape, 2006. 17 3⁄4 x 70 4/5 inch. Acrylic on canvas.
Qiu Anxiong, New Classic of Mountains and Seas II: City of the Future, 2009. 17 3⁄4 x 70 4/5 inch. Acrylic on canvas.
Still from New Classic of Mountains and Seas III (detail). Video animation, 30 min. 2013-2017. Courtesy of the artist and Boers-Li Gallery
Still from New Classic of Mountains and Seas III (detail). Video animation, 30 min. 2013-2017. Courtesy of the artist and Boers-Li Gallery
Qiu Anxiong, New Classic of Mountains and Seas: Traveling by River in the Snow, 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 19 1/3 x 19 1/3 in. Courtesy of the artist and Boers-Li Gallery
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In Qiu Anxiong’s cosmology, aquatic squids are gas masks, elephants can be tanks, skyscrapers replace mountain ranges and the earth itself is on the brink of destruction. This dystopic vision, evident throughout all of the artist’s oeuvre, reaches its climax in Qiu’s trilogy, New Classics of Mountain and Seas. It took more than ten years to complete this work and now the third and final installment is on view at Boers-Li Gallery’s new outpost on the Upper Eastside of New York City.

TEXT: Barbara Pollack
IMAGES: Courtesy of Boers-Li Gallery and the artist

 

Qiu Anxiong’s masterpiece is inspired by the ancient text, Classics of Mountain and Seas, a study of culture and geography predating the Qin Dynasty, replete with tales of mythical creatures and accounts of strange lands beyond the borders of the known world. In this updated version, depictions of mountains and waterways worthy of a classical scroll painting soon give way to scenes of industrialization and urbanization obliterating any shred of natural beauty. In New Classics of Mountain and Seas I, 2006, civilization develops gradually with the Great Wall turning into superhighways and overgrown cities laid low by mushroom clouds. In New Classics of Mountain and Seas II, 2007, sheep are cloned and cows are slaughtered in a mechanized production line, housed within vast tanks connected by underground tunnels. This entire gruesome industry is flooded by a Biblical act of destruction, sending the planet Earth under water.

 

Qiu Anxiong, New Classic of Mountains and Seas I: Landscape, 2006. 17 3⁄4 x 70 4/5 inch. Acrylic on canvas.
Qiu Anxiong, New Classic of Mountains and Seas II: City of the Future, 2009. 17 3⁄4 x 70 4/5 inch. Acrylic on canvas.
Qiu Anxiong, New Classic of Mountains and Seas: Over the Cloud 2, 2015. 31 1⁄2 x 47 1⁄4 inch. Acrylic on canvas.

 

But New Classics of Mountain and Seas III, 2017, brings this artist’s outlook to its most complete and frightening resolution. This haunting animation, by far the most sophisticated of the three films, plunges viewers into a world where virtual reality has replaced real life and the futuristic city where all the action takes place looks very much like present-day Shanghai. The Jing’an Temple plays a role as well as the city’s space age skyscrapers, but these may be mere props in the video games the citizens obsessively play rather than actual locations. Animals are distorted into mechanical devices–a lobster is a pair of VR glasses, dragons are treadmills, turtles are keyboards–the air is so polluted that characters where squid-like masks in order to breathe.

The most disturbing image of all is the sequence where a lone man, an apparent suicide, falls from the top of building. Suspended in the air, never quite reaching the sidewalk, he imagines a world where mountains and streams are as bucolic as ink paintings, a time before human beings manufactured an unlivable existence. It is a soulful way of resolving the disparate threads in the three films which offers a degree of respite from the often pessimistic story on display.

 

Still from New Classic of Mountains and Seas III (detail). Video animation, 30 min. 2013-2017. Courtesy of the artist and Boers-Li Gallery
Still from New Classic of Mountains and Seas III (detail). Video animation, 30 min. 2013-2017. Courtesy of the artist and Boers-Li Gallery

 

The gallery exhibition included numerous paintings in preparation for this animation that gave a glimpse into the artist’s process. Qiu Anxiong, working with a scant group of assistants, generates thousands of acrylic-on-canvas paintings that are often erased and reworked as the film evolves. These are digitized and organized in a laborious effort that results in the final sequence of events on view.   Though working in acrylic paint, Qiu makes it look like ink on rice paper and by doing so, has established himself at the forefront of experimental ink painting movement. This ability to combine classical aesthetics with contemporary technology distinguishes his work which owes as much a debt to South African artist William Kentridge, a pioneer of handdrawn animation, as it does to the shan shui tradition.

 

Qiu Anxiong, New Classic of Mountains and Seas: Traveling by River in the Snow, 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 19 1/3 x 19 1/3 in. Courtesy of the artist and Boers-Li Gallery

 

 

Qiu Anxiong: Of Mountain and Sea
Boers-Li Gallery, New York
January 28 to March 3, 2018

 

 

About the artist

Qiu Anxiong is one of China’s most prominent young contemporary artists. Born in Sichuan Province in 1972, he graduated from the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute and had a five-year stint at University Kassel’s College of Art in Germany before making Shanghai his permanent home. Qiu’s works are known for their profound and bleak contemplation on the relationship between man and nature, and criticism of mass urbanization and environmental degradation. His 2006 animation work, Flying South, will be auctioned at Christie’s Asia+ / First Open Sale in Hong Kong.

 

 


 

Barbara Pollack

Since 1994, Barbara Pollack has written on contemporary art for such publications as The New York Times, the Village Voice, Art in America, Vanity Fair and of course, Artnews, among many others. She is the author of the book, The Wild, Wild East: An American Art Critic’s Adventures in China and has written dozens of catalogue essays for a wide range of international artists. In addition to writing, Pollack is an independent curator who organized the exhibition, We Chat: A Dialogue in Contemporary Chinese Art, currently at Asia Society Texas and she is a professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She has been awarded two grants from the Asian Cultural Council as well as receiving the prestigious Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writer Grant.

 

 

 
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