Gossip from Confucius City 1

Huang Jing Yuan


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Object Detail

acrylic on paper
55 x 55 cm
Gossip from Confucius City (2011), a conceptual project for which she created a fictitious institute and its museum, was inspired by the state-sponsored Confucius Institute, an arm of Chinese soft power that aims to spread Chinese language and culture across the world. Huang Jing Yuan created a series of paintings that resemble black and white photographs, critiquing the over-blown images produced by the apparatus of state propaganda. Starting with small, hand-made collages, she layered cut out figures from diverse sources to create surreal, theatrical pictures in which strange characters act out ambiguous narratives. There is a sense of rupture and unease. Foregrounds are disassociated from backgrounds, as if two entirely disconnected events have been slammed together by some unexpected slippage in the space-time continuum.
Using tiny brushes and a monochrome palette Huang painstakingly copied her collages in a very small format with magnified detail and extreme realism. This deliberate process of distancing, in hand-made versions of works that are themselves already copies, mimics the ways images are filtered, manipulated, reproduced, shared and infinitely recombined in an image-saturated world. Each fictional image appears hyper-real, like a photograph from a fantastical parallel universe. Their satirical intent is emphasised by elaborately carved black frames, a reference to the interior decoration excesses of China’s rich and powerful new elites.
Gossip from Confucius City 1 depicts a blonde girl wearing evening dress and bunny ears, posing in front of an ornately draped window. On closer examination we see that, despite her girlish appearance, her face is lined and wrinkled with age. The window frame leans forlornly in a wintry rural landscape like an abandoned stage prop. In the background men are engaged in farm labour, recalling the oblivious ploughman in Bruegel’s sixteenth century painting of Icarus falling into the ocean. The connection between the contemporary Chinese artist and the northern Renaissance painter is not as unlikely as it seems: each paints an imagined world with exquisitely rendered detail, and each is making allegories, moral tales for an immoral world.
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