Chihung Yang's Aesthetics of the In-Between

If the human condition can be embodied through the creative application of painterly line and color, viewers of Chihung Yang’s Beijing solo exhibition, “Inner Vision—Human Condition, Paintings 1990-2007, found reason to be empowered by the vision of art. Filling the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, Yang’s exhibition of striking motion and vibrant application was noteworthy for its aesthetics of the in-between.

The Taiwanese artist’s inspiring utilization of form, brush stroke, and vibrant color fields found itself prominently displayed in the National Art Museum the same week as the meeting of the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. The National Art Museum’s celebration of the cultural production of this prominent Taiwanese artist permitted artistic change and experimentation to speak powerfully for the strong cultural ties in-between artists in Taiwan and China that politicians often question in public.

Yang’s large scale paintings of abstract torque, speedy motion, and temporal swing revived in this curator of new media art his passion for the conceptual force of abstract painting. There’s something almost calligraphic about the way Yang forms shape in his large scale color fields. His fluid combinations of outline and color suggest a care and precision one would expect from the careful application of ink on paper. But here the expanse of canvas and the explosion of color delight the viewer less with the experience of reading historicized line than with the action of experiencing time in movement. While broad strokes provide solid shapes of ground and surface, quick lighter jags and broader flourishes of color lend motion and vibrancy to Yang’s large scale canvases. Although enclosed in well-delineated painterly edges and borders, Yang’s forceful imagery produces a sensation of movement that seems to fly off the canvas, as if film stills awaiting their motion. Indeed, there’s almost something electronically virtual or even holographic about the way that flourishing combinations of light, color, and shape approximate movement in these canvases. In one swirling canvas, “Aesthetics of Speed,” jets of black and blue paint work around the abstract intersections of a quadrilateral field to approximate the continuous variations of a speedy vortex. Just as the movement of intersecting shapes bring the eye into the center of the canvas, bursts of line break away from denser forms of dark to heighten the illusion of speedy circulation across a smooth surface of dim yellows and grays.

Particularly striking is the tenuous space of the center in Yang’s paintings. Many of his recent canvases leave their centers empty of figure and line in calm hollows of crème and white. Yet the painterly activity on the horizons of “Past Crossing Future,” “Genesis,” and “Last Fall” deprives the center of any lasting perspectival anchorage, leaving it as a space about to be filled or invaded with the vibrant activity of drip or swirl on the edges. Indeed, the majority of Yang’s spatialized canvases fill their center with the competing actions and contrasting overlays of brush, gesture, and color in a way that disturbs, enlivens, and unbalances the center so continually soliciting the eye. Here Yang’s viewers are enlivened by the passion of his paint, by the edginess of his line, and by the intensity of his stroke. The center becomes the space of empowering chaosmos.

So many of Yang’s canvases capitalize on the fractal aggression of the center to position the viewer directly in the exciting field of moving time: “Past Present Future,” “Remembrance of Things Past,” “Past Crossing Future.” These are not paintings for which time stops, for which Yang’s inner vision becomes the equivalent of timeless contemplation. His painterly vision activates and crosses the parameters of time so that the present can only be realized only in relation to the futurity of artistic application, so that the spotty blotches of black and grey in a painting like “Proliferation” can be read only in relation to the past touches of red and the inscriptions of number that emanate faintly from past fields of painterly application. Yang positions his viewer in the temporal field of inner vision that shifts continually between moments of memory, insight, flashback, and subconsciousness (all titular subjects of his paintings).

Three canvases openly appropriate the “in-between” in their titles to emphasize how the viewer flows within time, between horizontals and verticals, between shape and line, background and foreground. As his viewers move between the canvases in this monumental exhibition, they are continually confronted with Yang’s aesthetics of the in-between. In-between cultures, in-between space, inbetween time, and in-between form. These paintings activate passage while thinking the in-between.

~Timothy Murray

A recognized art educator and curator, Timothy Murray received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from The Johns Hopkins University. Professor of Comparative Literature and English, and Director of Graduate Studies in Film and Video at Cornell University. He is the founding Curator of The Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art in the Cornell Library, the Co-Curator of CTHEORY Multimedia.

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