Duan Jianyu: How to Travel with a Watermelon

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The publication “How to Travel with a Watermelon” including Duan Jianyu’s catalogue, edition of Duan Jianyu’s print work and a text by Hu Fang is available during the opening.

Opening: 4:00PM 13/05/2006
Location:Vitamin Creative Space
How to Travel with a Watermelon
Hu Fang

Everything Duan Jianyu wants to say, she says in her paintings. Here, textual guidance is superfluous, unless to provide a vague background:Just like in some of her paintings, words are quoted, explanations coming from our daily lives, or perhaps the words uttered between a female radio broadcaster and a regretful audience confessing sexual transgressions on the air. Even her brushstrokes and palette point us toward an ineffable, slightly aggravating world. Her paintings summon us to envision a threshold we have no way of reaching in daily life, and with equal precision, they summon our feelings about contemporary Chinese reality. As such, they project the background of contemporary China, from the villages to the cities-full of vigor but also incredibly trite. Perhaps, cliché is just the crystallization of our own pursuit of modernity.

Hers are not merely poetic compositions, but nor are they loaded with political symbols; hers are not precise analyses of life, but rather strange entanglements and struggles. All worry becomes, under Duan Jianyu’s brush, extremely mediated and entertaining. “Sublimation” as a kind of cultivation with Chinese characteristics raises the question: Is life in China already too political, making us forget the nature of true entertainment?

Duan Jianyu’s works create a series of unimportant but dangerous flights of fancy: a decaying Chinese landscape amidst the sounds of singing “Super Girl” contestants and their clapping fans around the country; a world in which humans and beasts still live together. In here there is an element of soulful illumination, but it is not necessarily any different from an element of jocularity. She takes on a journey, carrying a watermelon the whole way. Perhaps the watermelon cannot make it past the security checkpoint or board the plane, but when we are thirsty and tired, at least we can eat it right there and right away. This is not necessarily just a kind of Chinese existential wisdom, growing from the native soil; it is also now an existential wisdom responding to a global consciousness.

In some of her recent “Chinese Landscape” scenes, Duan Jianyu continues along the path of ambiguity, making you feel stained with a bit of dirty water; these works make you inexplicably excited, and inexplicably consoled. At least, you think, you have not fallen into a vat of even dirtier water.

A “painter” working today can only ever mean to abandon progress (his or her hand holds only that oldest tool, the paintbrush), and pursue space (his or her expression must ultimately assume the real size and space of the canvas), in this way expressing the problems of painting itself. Is every brushstroke an inevitable part of the world’s existence? This quandary is the very quandary of our survival: after truth has disappeared, we are left with only common customs, spreading without limit or end.

Duan Jianyu’s paintings test at once our weakness and our preconception. On the one hand, they force us into heightened consciousness of our intellectual capacity: at the very least we are all just a bit more precise than her paintings. On the other hand, they agitate us just slightly: in fact the difference between tolerance and appreciation is quite small. Comparatively speaking, we have accepted and overindulged in the reality of the world beyond the canvas long ago; in light of this, our aesthetic preoccupations seem incredibly comedic.

Translated by Philip Tinari