“Clouds Gathering and Unfolding: Paper”
a contemporary Chinese art exhibition
An Interview with Guest Curator Zheng Yan

Re-questioning the Relationship Between Humans and Nature through Paper

“Clouds Gather and Unfolding: Paper” an Exhibition of Modern Chinese Art on Paper” reopened at the Ichihara Lakeside Museum, which had been temporarily closed since April as a preventative measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus infection. Organized as one of the main programs of “Boso-Satoyama Art Festival: ICHIHARA ART x MIX” postponed until March next year, the exhibition was prepared via remote instructions from the participating artists and guest curator who were unable to travel to Japan from China. What did they feel, and under what kind of mindset did they send off their works? What did they wish to communicate? We spoke with guest curator Zheng Yan online, and asked her to share her thoughts.

――This group exhibition invites seven Chinese contemporary artists with the theme of “paper,” which is one of the four great inventions of ancient China along with gunpowder, the compass, and printing. It was introduced to Japan in the seventh century, and is also an important “material” in art. What kind of aspects of paper does this exhibition bring focus to?

Zheng Yan: The invention of paper has contributed greatly to the development of kanji, calligraphy, painting, information transmission, and media, and is something that has a long and deep tradition common to both Japan and China. That being said, in this exhibition I did not wish to focus on the history and understanding of paper itself, but rather, on the spiritual aspects of “paper,” which is an extremely common everyday thing. In addition, as it was also a part of the Boso-Satoyama Art Festival, I wanted to present a theme that brought attention to “Satoyama* and “nature.” Since raw materials used for making paper are derived from nature, paper could be described as a product of humans having transformed nature into a medium, and in this respect, I felt that it was a theme that reflected the relationship between humans and nature. 

*Satoyama: consisting of the words sato [village] and yama [hill/mountain], satoyama refers to the area between mountain foothills and arable flat land, developed through centuries of small scale agricultural and forestry use

  • Lin Yan《PhecdaⅢーWHY?》Lin Yan regards paper as that which brings to mind nature, and consistently continues to produce works on the theme of the whiteness and power of “Xuan paper.”

――The seven artists each engaged with paper through their individual philosophies and approaches in order to convey the meanings that it harbors.

Zheng Yan: Each artist’s work engages with paper in different ways, such as using it as a material or as a medium, yet they all communicate the artist’s attitude towards their own life and matters and objects. The act of folding out or scrunching up a piece of paper can also draw direct comparisons to the way in which the artist engages in repeated trial-and-error over the course of their production process. While it is of course not possible to introduce the entire scope of contemporary Chinese artists in this exhibition alone, I feel that we have been able to shed light on the some of the materials that they work with, as well as the approaches and aesthetic thinking that lie in the backdrop of their artistic practice.

――Please tell us about the title of the exhibition “雲巻雲舒” (Yun Juan Yun Shu, ‘Clouds Gathering and Unfolding’).

Zheng Yan: The title was something that suddenly came to my mind when I returned to Beijing after having gone on a study visit of the Ichihara Lakeside Museum last year. The Ichihara Lakeside Museum is in a place surrounded by the nature of the Satoyama located along Boso Peninsula, and upon my visit I had gained a serene and highly poetic impression. In the city, new things are constantly being born and everything moves very fast, and therefore there is neither opportunity nor time for us to sit back and reflect on our environment. I felt that the environment of the Lakeside Museum was a place that granted us with that time for contemplation. I decided on this title by drawing connections between the characteristics of paper and the meaning of “雲巻雲舒 (Yun Juan Yun Shu) = the manner by which clouds gathering and unfolding in the sky is likened to the vicissitudes of life and matters over time.”

  • Cai Guo-Qiang《Project for Extraterrestrials NO.4》While using paper and gunpowder, which are both ancient Chinese inventions, as his material, Cai Guo-Qiang attaches great importance to "I Ching (The Book of Changes)" and attempts encounter aliens in order to discover new possibilities.

――This exhibition, which encourages you to “take the time to sit down and slowly rethink things,” unexpectedly came to be held in times in which the world faces a common concern, with our daily lives as we know being brought to a standstill, and we have but no choice to change and adapt to new values.

Zheng Yan: The basis of this exhibition is to raise the question of the relationship between man and the natural environment, as well as the relationship between man and space, through paper. We ask viewers this question through presenting the perspectives of each artist. Practicing culture and art is something that is very difficult, with there being many challenges and hardships regardless of the circumstances. Nevertheless, it is in our current times that I am reminded how there is an increasing need for art, as that which serves to strengthen the minds and spirits of people. Originally I had wished to visit Ichihara and engage in discussions with the Japanese audience through symposiums, yet for now I must resign myself to the situation. I hope that this exhibition could create an opportunity to inspire diverse thinking and give rise to discussions.

We welcome viewers to experience the refreshing whiteness of paper and clouds, as well as time away from the hustle and bustle of the city at the Ichihara Lakeside Museum with overlooking views of the lake, and where you can see embrace the vastness of the sky.

Zheng Yan 
She currently serves as the art director of Wanying Art Museum. In addition to curating many museums and art projects including Today Art Museum(Beijing) and Gwangju Biennale, she coordinated the exhibitions at Guggenheim Museum(USA) and Tate Museum (England), and participated in “Asia Curator Exchange Program” organized by The Japan Foundation in 2013.

“Clouds Gathering and Unfolding: Paper”
a contemporary Chinese art exhibition at Ichihara Lakeside Museum
Participating Artists : Cai Guo-Qiang, Li Hongbo, Lin Yan, Liu Jianhua, Wang Yuyang,Wu Jianan, Wu Wei
Dates: Open now-Until July 26th (Closed on Mondays)
Time: Weekdays 10:00-17:00, Saturdays, and Before Holidays 9:30-19:00, Sundays and Holidays 9:30-18:00
Admission Fee: Adults 1,000 yen / Students (University/High School) & Ages 65 and Over 800 yen / Junior High School Students or Younger for Free
Organized by : Ichihara Lakeside Museum (Designated Administrator: Art Front Gallery Co., Ltd.)
In Association with : Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Japan;
The Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries

For more information, please visit the official website of the museum

Photography (except the portrait) : Hideto Nagatsuka

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