“Land of the Lustrous” UCCA Dune’s first summer exhibition

Land of the Lustrous
23.04.2019 – 08.09.2019
UCCA Dune, Beidaihe

From April 23 to September 8, 2019, UCCA Dune presents “Land of the Lustrous,” encompassing work by ten artists both in and beyond China. Each artwork in this exhibition relates—materially or formally—to the figure of the stone, approaching this age-old object from novel perspectives. Participating artists weave their individual concerns together, drawing from, and sinking into, ancient collective memories. “Land of the Lustrous”—UCCA Dune’s first summer exhibition—has been devised to fit the unique spatial characteristics of the building, and the surrounding environment. Designed by by Li Hu and Huang Wenjing of OPEN Architecture, UCCA Dune is nestled in the sand by the BohaiSea in the Aranya Gold Coast Community, 300 kilometers from Beijing. As with all of UCCA’s endeavors, this exhibition proceeds from UCCA’s core mission ofbringing urgent positions in contemporary art, both Chinese and international, to an ever-widening viewing public. The exhibition is curated by UCCA Curator Yang Zi.

Artworks in “Land of the Lustrous” serve as explorations of a single animistbelief: that rock, a piece of seemingly inert matter, is actually endowed with life and thought. Wang Sishun’s Apocalypse 16.9.1, for example, personifies a collection of three found stones; arrayed in a line, they stand rigidly upright, in cautious dialogue, as if participating in a tense religious rite. Zhao Yao, Lin Xue, and Miguel Angel Ríos, similarly, have selected stones of unassuming appearance and brought them to life by cleverly manipulating their details, positions, and “postures”: Zhao Yao has placed an enormous red Mani stone on the margin of sand and sea surrounding UCCA Dune, like a giant cell, absorbing sunlight; Lin Xue has drawn a series of fruit pits, collected from a mountainousforest, transforming them into a set of heavenly bodies, or a life system. Ríos’s film records a cascade of tumbling spheroid stones, reminding viewers of the vigorous movements of antelope.

The proposition that stone “is alive” results in several ancillary questions—is humankind the measure of the universe? Is it shortsighted to base values solely on human needs, universalizing our limited ways of understanding the world? As urbanization and modernization progress, will such nearsighted forms of knowledge bring about a corresponding rise in alienation? After all, only humans can consume, produce, and create surplus value in the world of capital; in this game, “nature” can serve only as dead material. Timur Si-qin and Su-Mei Tsestrive to imagine models and rubrics that are separate from “nature itself.” Si-qin’s Juniper, produced in 2019, is a kind of billboard for the Anthropocene, advertising the spatial and temporal concepts attendant to this new epoch. Su-Mei Tse’s “Stone Collection,” on the other hand, reminds viewers of the Ancient Chinese custom of collecting oddly-shaped stones to serve as foci for ouryearning for nature, for mountains and water. Tse’s presentation of these stones, however, carries a touch of the existential—as we are faced with the inhuman, shaped as it has been over millennia, does our tendency to measure time by our own lifespans not seem absurd? Li Weiyi’s Cairn gives a humorous take on this absurdity: as viewers wear VR goggles, they are transported to the interior of a stone, its sturdiness fusing with that of their bodies. Other artists use these mysterious, self-contained images to create a spectral stage on which to perform their own, fantastic tales. Lu Pingyuan has taken thestory of an art collective, “Meteorite Hunters,” scouring the earth for fallen meteorites and launching them back into outer space, and carved it on the surfaces of three stones. Yan Xing has enacted one of his own stories of industrial design in Republican Era China, featuring the radiant exchange between a piece of jade and an indoor light fixture. Wang Xiaoqu’s paintings explore the rich middle ground between two different interpretations of a photograph—that of the photographer, and that of the artist. Wang purposefully “misunderstands” photos of everyday life and of travel, and turns Chinese sayings—such as “feeling for stones as one advances”—into outlandish diagrams.

The exhibition also provides a series of myths—many from China’s deep antiquity— that center on the figure of the stone, forming an interpretive framework for the artworks. These visual misreadings closely resemble the oral transmission—and mutation—of myths. As the Chinese scholar Yuan Ke has said, “the circulation and evolution of popular myths is a complex affair, one that is difficult to investigate.” In this exhibition, a discourse based on precedent and change links to a more capacious visual system, an interchange that dependsless on precision than on inspiration. “Land of the Lustrous” hopes to uncover and awaken several possibilities often overlooked in the context of contemporary art. China has a long, fruitful history of worshiping stone deities; this most ordinary of objects has gained an aura of ineffability in popular consciousness. This aura suffuses the artworks, too, circumventing that anxiety plaguing Wittgenstein as he described “pictures placed in language.”

UCCA Dune

UCCA Dune is an art museum buried under a sand dune by the Bohai Sea in Beidaihe, 300 kilometers east of Beijing. Designed by OPEN Architecture, its galleries unfold over a series of cell-like spaces that evoke caves. Some are naturally lit from above, while others open out onto the beach. As a branch of UCCA, China’s leading independent institution of contemporary art, it presents rotating exhibitions in dialogue with its particular site and space. UCCA Dune is built and supported by UCCA strategic partner Aranya, and located within the Aranya Gold Coast Community.

All images > Courtesy © UCCA Dune