|Image 1. The Lament: Mountain Ghost, 2018. Single channel video with sound, 13’14”: Edition of 6 + 1 A.P. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts|
If you love the blending of genres, especially the textual with the visual, you will love Cheng Ran’s Lament: Mountain Ghost at Ota Fine Arts Singapore (on exhibit until 23rd February, 2019), his latest video work series of the same name that also include several mixed-media installations.
Cheng Ran is a Mongolian artist who currently resides in Hangzhou. His medium is what’s called New Media Art, which tends to employ or embed 20th century technology, telecommunications, and digital modes of delivering artworks. This is an exciting field for which, I would contend, aesthetic standards are still being formulated. Even the boundaries of what constitutes New Media Art are not well-known, although many might credit South Korean artist Nam June Paik as an early progenitor.
In Mountain Ghost, Cheng Ran not only draws upon the vernacular of film, he also deliberately invokes the genre of the music video. As the mesmerising white-painted but heavily tattoed figure of a man dances a ritualistic dance in this 13 min video (see Image 1), his body appears to be developing holes, or becoming hollow, and from within the cracks, we discern shifting images — lunarscapes, cityscapes, as well as the image of a guitarist playing, which is augmented by the background music — an eerie, reverberative piece that’s a collaboration among Cheng Ran, Shanghai guitarist Wang Wen Wei and electronic musician Valley.
Add to this the layer of allusion and allegory that lie within the textual: the title of the work, “Lament” is a reference to ancient China’s first romantic poem by Qu Yuan (c.340 – 278 B.C.). Chu Yuan’s most well-known work is Lament of Encountering Sorrows, a lyrical poem that expresses “the search and disillusionment of a soul in agony, riding on dragons and serpents from heaven to earth[…], while expressing love of one’s country and the sadness of separation.” (Shigeku.org). The text of the poem is worth reading in full.
Cheng Ran’s Lament: Mountain Ghost is meant to be a first take on a number of planned works inspired by the esprit, images and emotions evoked by the poem.
|Image 2. Installation view of Lament: Mountain Ghost, Ota Fine Arts Singapore. Courtesy Zhang Hong|
On the opposite wall, another video channel projects the Chinese characters forming Qu Yuan’s poem as a separate work entitled A Rainy Night (2019), where the Chinese characters are dissembled and thrown up randomly like flowing scipt on a screen but which frustrates an effort of reading. The visceral effect is not unlike the difficulty of access to a classical Chinese poem even for those who are literate in Mandarin. (see Image 3). There are three further ascending sculptures made of readymade lamps and plaster, the works Encounter Image (2018), Biting Moon Image (2018) and Storing Wind Image (2018) (see installation view in Image 3), placed in context to stimulate a conversation between forms and genres, espressionism and minimalism, movement and stillness. The evocative titling are nods to Chinese character-naming practices, and the correspondence between form and title offers yet another layer of perceptual meaning.
|Image 3. Installation View, Lament: Mountain Ghosts (2018), Ota Fine Arts Singapore. Courtesy Elaine Chiew|
In an alternate gallery space, still images extracted from the videos as well as an image of the poem in one of its first English translations are displayed in standard white cube gallery format (see Image 4). These prints in giclee has the aesthetic quality of movie posters, but again, with the melting of the words, the effort to read is frustrated (see Image 5).
|Image 4. Installation view, still images in giclee. Lament: Mountain Ghosts (2018). Courtesy Elaine Chiew|
|Image 5. Installation view of Cheng Ran “The Lament: Mountain Ghost”, 2019, Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts Singapore|
Reading the actual text of Lament of Encountering Sorrows (Qu Yuan’s poem) in translation further highlights a feeling of alienation from its original source. The correspondence of images to text in Cheng Ran’s works (particularly the moonscape and solar images) also trigger a meditation on time, and all the attendant existentialist considerations pertaining to the ancient/classical versus the modern/contemporary, and the giclee prints especially emphasise the bleeding of one into the other, so that there is a recuperative function here. Indeed, artistic reinterpretations of ancient works of art breathes new life into old, and there is the feeling that all is not lost.