Healing Grief with Burning Sadness
Linda Gallery | Beijing
Linda Gallery | Beijing
April. 24, 2022 - Jun. 5, 2022
“Invisible Cities” is a novel by Italian author Italo Calvino. In the story, Marco Polo describes to Kublai Khan a grand blueprint for how to modernize cities. The language barrier between the two protagonists forces them to communicate with some difficulty through gestures, actions, expressions, sounds and objects pulled from a bag. In these descriptions, cities expand endlessly, far surpassing the human capacity to understand, they become like uncontrollable creatures. Amidst constant modernization and globalization, economic development has become the only driver, and the loss of history and nature is the unfortunate price we pay. Homogenized cities and booming technologies bring with them the maladies of post-industrial societies. The urban condition, characterized by the alienating forces of power and desire, has become part of an unbreakable vicious cycle.
In Tian Longyu’s youth, he moved between the city and the countryside. During spring plowing in the countryside, he learned from the adults how to turn up the soil, and he and his friends would roll around and play on the soft topsoil. With the urbanization of rural areas, that soil has been lost, traded for a sea of high rises built of reinforced concrete. Together, the synchronized march of demolition and forced moves and the polyphony of the construction of the New Countryside—a form of urban modernization—have set the tone for economic development. Many years later, Tian Longyu is living in a city, mentally moving between experiences of and feelings about rural and urban life—this transformed him into a member of a group changed by modernization yet full of nostalgia. Like every artist who migrated to Beijing, Tian has encountered forced moves and demolitions numerous times. He often had a house, but not a home.
Tian Longyu approaches an emotional connection to the land from an artist’s perspective. Taking oil paint as spiritual soil, he fills a well-designed frame with thick colors. The plow and rake, elements of prototypical memory, are tools for cultivating the land. When he created the series “The Scar”, he added something new: city skylines. Through raking, scraping, and removing paint, he transforms the language of the work, retaining its original function, while giving it the appearance of a lethal weapon. The furrows left in the “spiritual soil” offer an inverted image of the city under harsh light from directly above. That undulating shadow is like a painful curve growing from a white wall.
Creating and using tools are Tian Longyu’s most important working methods, and this exhibition showcases two works made of sheet iron. In his inverted images of cities derived from farm tools, he cuts into iron plates, leaving behind the negative image of a “violent” action, an urban fantasy with a metallic quality. From a distance, “A Middle Ground” looks like sound waves or the visualization of a code as it is being communicated. As viewers move closer, the jagged shapes on both sides of the plate emerge, like a mirage, as an urban landscape. These forged and cut shapes also fit into the grand plan of economic development. Do these never-ending building complexes really belong to us? Where did the positive image of that city go? Does the remaining negative space point to the truth or represent nothing? Are we simply seeing the lyricism of tools or the meaning of the work? Through works related to tools, Tian questions the more results-oriented works in the exhibition.
“Healing Grief with Burning Sadness”, the work in the final space, is more closely related to real situations and its form as an installation is more clear-cut. The bucket of an excavator is an essential construction tool, related to both construction and demolition. In real life, there are very few opportunities to see excavators, but they usually appear at demolition sites, clawing at roofs and walls until they collapse into clouds of grey dust. The power bestowed by power causes disaster, making its indifferent ferocity all the more obvious. Tian Longyu welded high-rise buildings that symbolize power onto the teeth of an excavator’s digging bucket. The construction of power, the development of cities, and the lives of others are welded into the tools that control our fate. “Healing Grief with Burning Sadness” is both a romantic poem and a brutal depiction of reality.
“Healing Grief with Burning Sadness” uses poetic works of art to present the perspective of ordinary people, addressing those who feel swept up in urban life yet unable to escape modernization and globalization. In “Them”, Li Zhi sang: “They point to the left, they point to the right.” Visible cities belong to them. Invisible realities belong to us.