Breaking Landscape．Trembling Eyes: Reading Sean Wang’s Painting—Objects
Text／WANG Sheng-hung 文╱王聖閎
When audience first step into the exhibition, each detail of their viewing experience seems to be involved in a type of returning to the conceptual. This is the contemplative space Sean Wang has prepared in the solo exhibition, Box: the Profound World. Although his paintings possess an extreme sensible and exquisite side, he does not offer any possibility that allows the viewers to be submerged in the unlimited desire of spectacles and narrative. Instead, he appeals to the development and elevation of the consciousness level so that the viewers could better face a series of issues regarding “the cognitive structure of viewership.” Through the most elementary question of linear perspective, the dialogue between artworks, what is in between the surface and support of the canvases, and the switching between viewer’s positions and consciousness modes, he repeatedly asks about the basic understanding of “what the objects are seen as.”
How should we grasp the relation between the “outside” and the “inside” of a painting? How should we contemplate on the fundamental meaning of “delineation” in terms of paintings? How should be define the “completion” of a painting? These questions are subtly and implicitly embedded in the concept of the Box exhibition. What Wang cares about more is the reflective aspect of paintings in this exhibition, meaning the procedures and processes of the action of painting itself, instead of confining himself within the circumscribed spheres of how to delineate a picture or landscape, be it outward or inner, real or imaginary. In other words, painting is not a series of pre-meditated, delicate and meticulous procedures, which one only has to follow the steps to “complete” a painting. On the contrary, he usually takes care of every step of painting with incredible self-restraint and reservation. From laying the foundation, creating the outline, filling in the colors to finally painting the work, his objective is never to present the objects he paints (no matter it is a house, a forest, a flying bird, a petal or light shown through branches and leaves). What he pays attention to is to bring out the depth of “the contemplation of painting” through the relations and interstices formed in between all the steps. It is safe to say that he does not take painting as a simple tool of representation, or a mean to deal with materials found in everyday life experience, or even as his tool to simplistically respond to some practical issues or social relations, but mainly and merely as a possible way to demonstrate the fact of using “painting itself” to contemplate on the ontology of painting.
Simply speaking, Wang appeals to a type of dynamic viewership and the dialectics between different ways of cognition. This approach allows him to create very unstable viewsheds in his work, and transforms painting from pure representation to a type of “oscillation” that is comprised of three levels. These levels are intertwined, and together they construct the thinking behind this exhibition. The first level of oscillation is the change between the viewer’s positions and his perspectives that the artist has given to his work. His paintings always demand the viewers’ attention to the correlation between the artworks and the viewers’ bodies. This method transforms paintings from a question of representation to a question of “viewing—moving.” The second level of oscillation is to address the question of “viewing—cognition” in paintings. Wang’s paintings often demand that the viewers should switch in between different cognitive modes, moving between submerging concentration and distancing objectivism, which proposes a kind of media oscillation in between the illusion of landscape and the surface of canvases. The third oscillation further advances the question to the level of “viewing—journey” in paintings. Wang often provides a kind of ambiguous “expectation” from his utter reservation and the few and scattered objects in his images. As if there is always something that is called upon but has not yet appeared in front of our eyes, he creates an “oscillation” in process.
Covering and presence, disappearing and metamorphosis, crossing and in-and-out, abrupt pause and continuation, these are the dynamic relations that Wang attempts to develop in his paintings. He no longer stays in the execution of “representation—formation” that lacks the process of thinking (i.e. pure demonstration of techniques, delineation of images). Neither does he take paintings as a tool that some artists use to deal with their artistic anxiety (arbitrarily connecting art to any issues). Instead, he repeatedly questions and responds to the characteristic of “painting as a kind of action/execution.” Maybe the artist does not pay attention to the pressing issues of the time; however, it does not mean that he turns his back on reality or that he is senseless and detached to the social scenes. The philosophy of his art is to appeal to the essential aesthetic domain, which has always been important ever since the beginning—the history of the consciousness question of this ancient art that we call painting. This is not the egoism of art. On the contrary, the artistic action of artists can be a kind of caution. What Wang points out is not only the fact that “it is necessary that painting has to conduct self-criticism of its own history.” More importantly, these “paintings—objects” clearly reveal the crucial aesthetic issues in the historical context of art although they might not be pressing or connected to the society. In other words, if one wishes to create a new way of viewing, and to search for a fundamentally different way of expression, contemporary art eventually has to start from a type of reflective investigation. It is obvious that this exhibition has provided for us an austere and profound demonstration.