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Juxtapoz Magazine – Tan Yongqing’s Fantasy @ Longlati Foundation, Shanghai

On November 9th Longlati Foundation in Shanghai introduced Fantasy, Tan Yongqing’s first institutional show in China. Curated by Yang Jian, the exhibition comprising large scale works opened ahead of the Shanghai art week and will stay on view until January 15th 2023.

FantasyThis is the act of imagining actions, ideas, and beyond the constraints of real life. Once these are contained within the realms of factuality one is just thinking. The appeal of fantasy is the distance it can get from reality or at least possible reality. The fact that it’s generally improbable according to common knowledge, makes it both fascinating and entertaining. It quickly becomes relatable and interesting when it touches on elements of real, common experiences or firmly held beliefs, myths or religions. A light, that Tan Yongqing (b.1990, Hebei, China) tends to put to use during his ongoing process of introspection, autodidactism, and an extensive exploration of the contemporary world and the value of human life, continuing on the steps of other artist’s interested in the similar subject. But unlike Bosch’s hyper-elaborate narrative in the epochal The Garden of Earthly Delights, the Chinese artist’s approach is closer to Bacon’s exploration of the human form through a portrayal of figures in isolated spaces. These darkened spaces depict supernatural events in a realistic and factual tone, while real life events are often imbued by fantastical absurdity.

Working with fantasy as the conception of the exhibition, Fantexi (范特西) creates a sense of fantastical and unexpected through a timeline that spans from Genesis to the extinction of humans. Between this starting point and the terrifying end, opposing themes, such as mythology or science fiction, are creating strong connections with anthropology (quantum physics) and the development artificial intelligence. And the interplay of unworldly elements borrowed from the fantastical sphere alongside factual information sourced from science and philosophy literature together form a language that speaks about the non-fictional and actual tragedy of humanity’s continuous exploration and struggle. Starting with the biblical theme of walking out of the Garden of Eden in Out of Eden, 2022, touching on space exploration in Luminous Night, 2021, the relationship between AI and humans in Good Friday of the Robot, 2022, and the investigation of humanity’s final destination in Immortal, Immortal Heart, both 2022, the presentation is conceptualized as a compact, interconnected narrative. “Each work is a story of continuous exploration and transcendence in its particular environment or historical context,” Yongquing explains, wondering whether life has a predetermined mission or if it’s the inherent nature of life to transcend and keep exploring. For such examination, he works with primal emotions and the deepest sense of freedom in order to hope that Adam and Eve walked out of Eden just as courageously and bravely as two astronauts on a gallactic voyage.

Yongqing’s decision to work with both factual as fictional concepts allows him to develop an experimental research approach through which feelings, thoughts, and emotions contribute to the learning process. This approach informs the emotional setup of the work which encompasses the restlessness under the façade of tranquility, the attack in response to despair, the fervent romanticism, or the tenderness fed by wisdom. A series of formal decisions simplify and highlight the key points in a complex and contrasting setting. The impact of this body work is dependent on how the thoughts, concerns and impressions are translated into a picture.

Monochrome is chosen because it has a less distracting effect on cognitive perception, and because of its factual, timeless and almost documentary-like aura. The contrast of the grayscale palette was ideal for emphasizing the different realities and ideals that the narratives are built on. But unlike some other monumental works, such as Picasso’s Guernica, which also uses the absence of color to maximize impact and conduct an atmosphere, Yongqing’s quest for a clearer, more logical, and intuitive presentation informed a very different, extremely concrete, and precise visual language. The delicate rendition, evoking such classics as Ingres’ iconic Odalisque in Grisaille, allows for a greater accent on light play and volumes which then provide a sense of weight to the subjects. To some extent working in the wain of other Post-digital or Post-Internet contemporaries such as Austin Lee, Cesar Piette, or Emma Stern, Yongquing’s technical approach is irreversibly conditioned by the subject matter and imagery. His primary goal is to paint the image he envisions and allow his inner thoughts and emotions to exist before any technique. The compositions are placed in large empty fields. They are minimalist and simple, with smoothened transitions among the elements and geometrically formed images. This allows him to continue in the post-1990s Chinese contemporary Chinese figurative painting tradition, while also reflecting on global visual trends and imaging modes. Such frequent use of negative space, in the end, enhances the rhythm of the painting and outlines the abstract, vast, and barren environments while evoking some of the “ground zero” impacts of Malevich’s groundbreaking Black Square, 1915. Finally, the monumental, larger-than-life paintings have a humbling effect. They are free from any earthly marks and time and space clues. The large-scale works play the role of physical impact on the viewer. They have a larger dimension of time and a larger spatial dimension, allowing the viewer to become engrossed in the reflections of the existential questions. Again, much like Picasso’s Guernica or some examples from Goya’s Black Paintings series, the ambiance, palette, but also formatting, composition, and scale are utilized to convey the gravity and significance of the subject matter. Yongqing is examining the meaning of life in the contexts of technological advancement and increasing cybernatisation, just as art historians have done.

This idea arguably culminates in Good Friday of the Robot, 2022, in which the story of Jesus’ crucifixion is transferred to a robot and the godly role is attributed to humans. Yongqing proposes that robots could be the carriers of the human spirit in future. This idea is loaded with our desire to continue exploring and survive in an era where humans can no longer survive. His thinking process is driven by genuine confusion and longing for answers. The portrait of the bleeding bionic Medusa-like character is a bizarre, but potentially prophetic warning that unites myth, religion, science fiction, and sentiment. —Saša Bogojev

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