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SHIT AND GOLD — Wang Rongzhi Solo Exhibition

Shit and Gold

By Danqing Xue


It is definitely obvious that we have placed ourselves in a society that is not even a money society, but a society that symbolizes money as an abstraction. (This conception was put forward in a speech by Albert Camus after receiving Nobel Prize for literature on December 14, 1957, at the Uppsala University, Sweden.) When the land and gold bars used to measure wealth are replaced by the exact figures corresponding to a certain number of exchanges, the society that was originally built on symbols and the universal rules derived therefrom are gradually tending toward mystification, as a result, the society runs in a set of alternative principles based on the moral consensus, which, from the perspective of historical dialectic, is both a religious and mainstream value system. Now the slogans like freedom, equality, and fraternity have become ubiquitous: in the national prisons, sweatshops, financial administration, educational establishment, sports arenas, etc., and the moral consensus has been spread more widely than ever before. The mystified social experiences with money as a symbol, on which the rules of the world are centered, have nevertheless falsified the moral consensus from the invisibility, degrading it into a form without content; therefore, as Camus put it, “freedom as a principle is actually served as oppression.”

In Character and Anal Erotism, Sigmund Freud unexpectedly interpreted the intimate relationship of anal eroticism to money on the level of symbolism: money is always related to dirt in the received conceptions from ancient times to the present. Discharging gold from the body, gold’s turning into feces, and others of that ilk recur in Western myths, fairy tales, and superstitions; in the East, seeing money as dirt such as expression also prove the universality of this conception. Anal erotism in excretion, as the locus of metaphor, indicates the dialectical relationship between the subject’s existence and beggary, the essence of which consists in that one might always give something else if cannot give the same feedback for what he bears. Therefore, in the contemporary context, anal erotism and its excretion can be seen as an alternative if the subject cannot alleviate the repression and depression incurred by the lack of money, and it is a deconstructive answer that artist Wang Rongzhi gives in view of the repressed issues that cannot be responded positively in the current society. The answer, with self-mockery, innuendo, and scourge, is like a clenched fist ready to attack but comes to a gentle lay-off in the last moments. The title of the exhibition Feces and Gold blends Wang’s humor and outspokenness and suggests the connotation of rebellion in the exhibited works.

The frame of the exhibition organizes in Wang’s easel paintings created over the past few years. Wang has been scanning the repressed real narratives and emotions in human spiritual civilization with his characteristically wild style. All the drawings, whether the graffiti of rock texture, standing for the consciousness fragments, quickly brushing against the canvas or the opera-like majestic depiction in thick brush, truly reflects his unrestrained and soul-centered drawing language. As a matter of fact, the discussion on the interactive relationship between drawing techniques and related concepts has hitherto been a cliché. In the book A Brief History of Modern Painting written by Herbert Read, a British artist and art historian, the development of painting so far was summarized with great precision: first, attention is paid to the specific materials of art and the language of painting, i.e., painting for paints; painters after Jackson Pollock, including Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Frank Stella, are paying more attention to the color scale and color value. The second branch attempts to implant symbolic images in the exploration of paintings in order to bridge the gap between life and art, which is usually expressed by adding to paintings original material of prints or photographs or ready-made products, as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and famous Andy Warhol do. The last attempts to make painting beyond its material, known as material as ideas, originated from Europe by Yves Klein and Piero Manzoni to the world.

In fact, as to Wang’s exploration of paintings, there could be a pleasant surprise for viewers that Wang has a combination of the characteristics mentioned above. Brain Flower highlights Wang’s ingenious use of paints: what comes into vision is a concrete image when viewers are distanced from the picture by the highly generalized abstract stroke. In many works, such as Juggling and Head Portrait, the recurring image of cucumber, either directly or implicitly, shows the artist’s sympathy for depicting the situation of the subject, and it could even be found that his empathy with the depicted object, and hence the sardonic self-relaxation from it. From the perspective of totality, his paintings have the pioneering nature of automatic creation under the influence of subjective initiative. The material here is not only a vehicle for ideas but also a material medium through which the latter is free from the limitations imposed by the former and has to move through in order to reach more spirituality; therefore, trying to summarize the creation of Wang Rongzhi still has to go back to excavating its spiritual connotation.

To some extent, artist’s isolated conditions and the coercive values ??of mainstream society make him walk on the edge of the social orthodoxy on a formal conceptual level. It might be a bold assumption that many contemporary artists may be potential criminals, but when the various criminal tendencies are carried in the media in the form of art, the essence concept mainly characterized by destruction is aesthetically treated, as if social collective emotions find a reasonable vent, which is compatible with the mission of art record history. Wang tries to take off the make-up for the elaborately fabricated good living and to resist the Overpleasing Syndrome prevalent in the society by authentically expressing human emotions and ordinary life. Shall we see Wang’s creation as a medical record for the current society? Here, the Lacanian three orders friction will be presented in an aesthetic form. In the context of not offending the law, the turbulent criminal impulses in the society can be presented.  Applied three orders theory (i.e., the real, the symbolic, and the imaginary) and reflected on Wang’s distinctive spiritual state from the perspective of psychoanalysis, we might say that what makes him find the spiritual joy from the symbolic world and the imaginary world is the primitive force that drove his creation, and that the secular turmoil in the real world, such as the minimum dignity of living, drags him out of Utopia now and then, in which the twisted pains and compromises are immediately vented through the art channel: works become a legitimate medium, buffering the reality that is not completely rational. As Lacan put it, “In the sense of repression, all things rejected by the symbolic world have reappeared in the real world.”

In Wang’s pictures, people are exposed as animals whose skins have been stripped in the wild or urban ruins. Behaviors are inexplicable. Motivation and justification have nowhere to verify. His creation was permeated by absurdity and satire, while the veil of hyperrealism covers the realist kernel so that his works can be as close as possible to honest in responding to the social reality. Sharing Bowels, for example, combines Kafka-style slapsticks and black humor, raising excretion to more provocative suicidal compromise; providing viewers with grotesque overlooking, Oyster,based on the activating female genital symbols implied by oysters themselves, suggestively turns upside down the conventional sexual movements, reconstructing the power mechanism with a political connotation. In fact, Wang forces viewers to distinguish the images in the picture, since he seems to confuse the differences between human and animal intentionally, which suggests the desolateness and sadness of the idea that one is both hunter and prey the artist tries to convey in highly spiritual language. Moreover, Wang is good at rubbing characters into Giacomettian animals, black and thin, dehumanized and de-territorialized. This obvious creative method, from another angle, also proves the artist’s inner pessimism and sympathy for the human condition.

If it is necessary to attach any realistic meaning to Wang’s works, they must be placed in the climate of contemporary Chinese art. Wang Rongzhi, as an artist, does not provide any solution for his questions in this exhibition; however, Space Station still displays these works without apologies. Alternatively, the artist and Space Station jointly created a magical context called Freudian Anal Eroticism and juxtaposed a dimension of madness taken Lacanian psychoanalysis as the core, inviting viewers to excrete without taking any responsibility. Written further notes for Wang Rongzhi or artists like him, you might turn your gaze to a day in 1957, when French existentialist writer Camus won the Nobel Prize for literature and spoke at the prize presentation, “one often feels that he chose the destiny of being an artist for his idiosyncrasies, but he soon realized that only by acknowledging that he was similar to others he could feed his art and idiosyncrasies. The real artists did not despise anything, and they forced themselves to understand rather than to judge.” French writer Honoré de Balzac put it more briefly: genius is like everyone, and no one is like him.