In spring 2017, Capsule Shanghai will present artist Feng Chen’s solo show. The exhibition opens on May 20 and runs through August 6. It is Feng Chen’s first solo show since returning to China, after participating in the Rijksakademie residency in Amsterdam from 2014 to 2015. The exhibition’s works unfold from experimentation and research into a diverse range of media, incorporating video installation, sound installation, sculpture, and painting.
The exhibition also includes carbon fiber sculptures, resin sculptures and Ebru paintings, a traditional Middle Eastern paper marbling technique. The works breathe and metabolize with a specific rhythm, like organs in an inorganic system.
胶囊上海将在2017年春季推出艺术家同名展览《冯晨个展》。此次展览是冯晨参加荷兰阿姆斯特丹皇家艺术学院的驻留项目（Rijksakademie Residency，2014 － 2015年）回国后举办的首次个展，将展出录像装置、声音装置、雕塑和绘画等形式的作品，呈现艺术家对不同媒材进行研究与试验的发现。展览将在2017年5月20日开幕，持续至8月6日。
FENG CHEN | THE DARKER SIDE OF LIGHT
Feng Chen’s first solo exhibition at Capsule Shanghai incorporated light, visual, sound, and machine-controlled movement, among other elements.
Capsule is located in downtown Shanghai at the end of an alley tucked inside a residential compound. The middle room of the gallery contains three large windows that look out into a courtyard filled with bamboo and other greenery. For the exhibit, Feng Chen installed flickering blinds activated by a device controlled by sound. The installation regulates the flow of natural light into the room, sculpting space with rhythmic movement.
Feng Chen was born in 1986 and graduated from the New Media Department of Chinese Academy of Fine Arts. His video works are concerned with media language and viewing methods. A few years ago, he started a series of experimental audio works to accompany the video. “The Darker Side of Light” (2017), a site-specific light installation created for the show, marks an expansion of the artist’s oeuvre.
Through the transformation and control of the blinds, Feng Chen creates an audio language that is visible, including weaving daggers of light filtered through blinds and the silhouette of projections. Sound is imbued with a certain tangibility, as in the projected video images that pulsate rhythmically. Synchronized rhythm becomes central to the audience experience. When the sun sets, the audience’s shadow casts a natural projection onto the wall, becoming another vivid aspect of the work.
“The Darker Side of Light” explores the relationship between man and machine, movement and sound. In “Untitled” (2015), Feng Chen used sound to control the movement of a camera lens, resulting in a perpetually unfocused lens that produced vibrating images. The three-channel video “Convulsion” (2017) continues on the theme by depicting mechanized convulsions of human limbs synchronized with sounds from nature, computers and handclaps.
In many cases, art is understood as a production process, and is usually a process that is being simplified. The principle of mechanical operation we know is far from the artist’s creative intentions. For Feng Chen, the logic and order reduce human feelings, leaving only the occasional or accidental opening for senses. The surprise of flickering blinds and convulsing limbs highlight the role of the human body. In fact, Feng Chen’s work reveals the potential vulnerability of the body in the face of greater power, whether physical, mechanical, social or institutional.
Feng Chen attempts to explore new interpretations of the relationship among image, sound, and space. His video concept and work method reference what Deleuze and Guattari describe as the instability of subjectivity; the existence of which can only be regarded as one in constant flux. In dealing with these relationships, Feng Chen raises an important question regarding controlled environments: the extent to which an artist is able to focus on the changes that take place from one instant to the next, and, moreover, the viewer’s ability to understand the work—considering everything is always in flux.
Translated by Philana Woo
FENG CHEN | ILLUSIONS IN SENSES AND PERCEPTION
In Capsule Gallery, nestled at the back of a small neighborhood off Anfu Road, Feng Chen has turned the space from a typical white cube into a house alive with the automated movements of the machinery from which Feng extends his reach into all the visitors. The effects of the artwork are an invasion of reality. “My work does not talk about stories. It is about reality and how people relate to real life.” In the space of the gallery, every decision of the experience down to the color and texture of the carpet has been chosen by Feng Chen. The entirety of the space is curated to point at how our senses have created the illusion of reality.
Repetitively, Feng isolates a sense, sound and sight and even emotion, and then prods at the brain’s interpretation of the information. In his solo show, Feng Chen aims to break the imposition of perception to liberate the audience from their hypnosis. Yet, by taking total control of the experience within the gallery, Feng Chen also aims at the institution of art and there too attempts to undermine its own authoritarian position.
After putting on headphones, Feng and I walk into the first room on the left. Sounds of slaps begin playing in our headphones as Feng conducts the tour, explaining the piece in front of us. It is one channel of “Convulsion,” a video projected across the wall. In the video, the inside of a wrist twitches. Our headphones continue to play the slap, which is almost synchronized with the twitch on the screen. Like someone trying to hit a moving target and just missing the mark ever-so-slightly each time, the twitching wrist is only a fraction of a beat away from being in-synch with the slap. Suddenly, the blinds start to shudder alongside the sound and the video. The three fuse. Together, they envelop the audience.
“Did you design the exhibition to make the audience uncomfortable? Because when I watch this video I long for them to join.”
“My work tries to invade a person. Because I use video often and sometimes I want to make something different. You watch television every day and you don’t know it invades you,” explains Feng in the back office of Capsule. Screens of convulsing arms, backs, and buttocks controlled by electric charges and are paired with conspicuous sounds. As viewers enter the gallery they are invited to wear headphones, isolating them within the exhibition. His work includes carbon fiber installations, Erbu marbling paintings, thermal ink, and sound installations.
Moving room to room, the audience is exposed to these video and sound pairings. The sounds are artificially synchronized and at times desynchronized with the spasms. Of course, the sound of a frog in Convulsion has no real-world connection with the twitch of the shoulder.
“How the mind comes into [the exhibition], that is what I am interested in. Like this mind is kind of a sense perception. How do senses build the mind. How do you do that? But the mind has different kinds of layers. If people see the work and get mad I think it is a good idea. When you get mad some people maybe really like it. You get mad because there is no purpose.”
He forces the audience into an illusory synthesis that is routinely broken. It is our own unconscious that causes the relation between the audio and visual: there is no casual relationship between an arm muscle and a slap. That is a marker of the illusion. We are blind to our own blindness when we long for the synchronization of sight and sound and are wholly unable to divorce the two. Even more, Feng Chen manipulates the space by pairing moving blinds with the video and audio. Here, even the slightest discrepancy in the timing becomes almost unbearable as we long for synchronicity.
In this exhibition, I see Feng Chen’s work as compelling the audience to examine reality through the senses by blurring the line between synthetic and natural through projecting this now-opaque distinction directly into our (hopefully) conscious awareness. To achieve this effect, he must control all aspects of input by using technology, space and time, and the gallery itself as the media. The space and role of the gallery is obscured when Feng Chen imposes his artificial reality: there is no need for the gallery now if Feng is attempting to disarm the authority of the senses. The gallery is manipulated into a passive host in order that the artist can highlight the lines between misinterpreted reality and true reality directly into the viewer. This action is fundamentally destructive with the hope that the viewer can begin to reconstruct her own idea of reality.
Feng explains, “You can help the audience look a little bit further. I know and I want you to know. I think you should know, unless you do not want to know and then you will never know.”
Feng Chen circumvents the space for intimate contact with the audience, isolating them in a curated reality through technology (headphones, video, and moving objects) to separate the audience from both the world outside the gallery and even the gallery itself. Although Feng is not physically in the space, he extends his autonomy through mechanized interactions that touch the senses of the gallery-goer. “For me, for now, the machine helps man build the world. Everything is controlled by the man. The machine is like a hammer or measuring tape. It just helps you be more precise.”
It is through clever subversion that results in the audience succumbing to the illusion of a new reality through sense, which in itself is an illusion of reality as well. His art, therefore, is an illusion built upon an illusion, with one, the illusion through art, aimed at breaking the authority of the illusion through the sensory. His presentation is forceful and deceptive. His goal is to help the viewer come to a conclusion of what reality is. The things Feng Chen has created are illusory and deserve a chance to be a valid experience. They represent misinterpretations of reality but letting these misinterpretations of reality exist is the beauty of art.
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RANDIAN EXHIBITION REVIEW | FENG CHEN SOLO SHOW
The experimental artist Feng Chen’s solo show makes full use of Capsule Gallery’s unassuming space located inside a residential lane. In direct contrast to the serene backyard in full summer bloom, the sporadically quivering shutters seen from the outside gives off an eerie vibe—as though an opening scene to a horror movie. With many artists flocking to and sometimes over-abusing topics such as image representation or the power of media, Feng’s unique perspective lies in his ability to technically and thematically construct automated systems that fully integrate our perception of body and space.
As I navigated videos that document the body’s spastic movements distributed across the exhibition space, whether a close-up of a wrist, or the sensual curves of a woman’s nape, my optic experiences are linked by built-in sonic and kinetic signals that fluctuate and bounce off of each other. The convulsing rhythms of a vein is synchronized with otherworldly sounds transmitted through headphones, which in turn trigger the blinds to flicker and let in floods of light. I felt that Feng’s understanding of the relationship between man and machine is in some ways an experiential version of E. T. A. Hoffman’s short story The Sandman, in which the protagonist falls in love with a well-crafted automaton—reality is not what it seems; automated mechanisms can be equally pleasurable, if not cruel.
The artist’s gift in traveling between different sensorial realms can also be seen in his manipulation of material objects. I was greatly drawn to the series of acrylic paintings also on view: using ebru, a traditional Turkish marbling technique, the works exemplify a spectacular instance of synesthesia, the organic colorful spirals pulsating with irregular rhythm and energy. Similarly, the spatial dynamism of the carbon-fiber sculpture “7 Real Magic Book” is realized by drawing in three-dimensional space, comfortably bridging different mediums.
ARTFORUM EXHIBITION REVIEW | FENG CHEN SOLO SHOW
The core of Feng Chen’s solo show at Capsule Shanghai is a group of video installations that each stands alone, but also correlates to one another. Placed in different rooms within the gallery, each work seems to be independent, together they maintain a perfect synchronization. This group of works is originated from Feng Chen’s reflection on the relationship between sound and image. One central view on such a relationship – let’s call it “naturalism” for the sake of simplicity – suggests that since the world is harmonious, the relationship between sound and image is naturally harmonious; yet both sound and image become distorted or incomplete in their representations through various mediums, thus embodying “the sin of technology”. Another view sees the world itself as a form of representation. There is no stable relationship inherent to sound and image; human beings can only speculate about and simulate the world through cognition. It is quite evident through the exhibition that Feng Cheng is more interested in the latter view.
If video is more than a form of recording, then creating a video piece goes beyond shooting and editing materials, but creates more importantly a mechanism to produce a relationship between sound and image. Let’s take Feng’s The Darker Side of Light, a site-specific work for the solo show as an example. Its creation is in fact also about establishing rules – with the help of the rules, the synchronization of the visual and auditory senses in a video is dissected and then reconnected in the artwork. Using sounds to change the focus of the lens, the artist first shot images, then dubbed them with new sounds; as the final step, he used these new sounds to drive the blinds in the room to flap, again making new sounds and causing light changes.
Sound controls movement, movement creates images, and images trigger other sounds. In the looping of “movement – sound – movement – image – movement – sound – movement – image”, information constantly undergoes transformation through various time, space and mediums, finally represents itself as a seemingly unremarkable short audio-visual sequence. The same piece of work is shown on several screens placed in different spots in the gallery while one screen plays multiple pieces on loop. Viewer wandering around the gallery and wearing a wireless headset would hear specific sounds depending on where they are. It is almost impossible for them to tell which parts of their experiences have been altered and how each part relates to the others. The involuntary mechanical quivering of human skin and muscles in Convulsion, the ever-changing focus of the camera in Untitled and the noises resounding in the rooms of the gallery – together they form another world. As the blinds flash open, light from outside enters, merging the imagined and designed virtual world as created by a manifold of transformation and translation of data, with the real world as experienced by the viewers. We can’t help but wonder, which one constitutes reality?
A similar question was proposed more directly in the work 7 Real Magic Books – The Second Hypnosis: can images truthfully document reality? Currently, reality, as captured by images, has become so unstable that as soon as perspectives change, new images appear and bring about new realities. If we further pursue this train of thought, would it be conceivable that reality could host endless possibilities since there seems to be an endless array of perspectives? In fact, seeing itself is no more than our interpretation of external signals. It is our brain that combines the all those bits of information transmitted by optic nerves to form a meaning. People born with cataracts are not able to perform such a task. Even after an operation removing their disabling physical condition, they still can’t put incoming visual information into a meaningful image, therefore, they only see lights in disarray. We hypnotize ourselves into believing that we can objectively observe and describe the world, into believing that what we see is real. The artist, however, makes use of this false belief to hypnotize us for a second time.
Consequently, the existence of all things should be deemed as indefinite as long as they are not observed. The human perception serves as a kind of “measurement”, making them collapse into some definite state. Expression, perception and reality bond to and interact with each other in labyrinthine ways. We live these days among varied graphic and audio interfaces and have gotten used to modified experiences, but Feng Chen’s work reminds us to be aware of the power of medium in operation. Perhaps we even need to redefine how we stand with reality. According to what Donald Hoffmann calls as “conscious realism”, what matters is not what the perceived world really is, but how we feel and react to what we have perceived. In other words, all our perceptions of reality are,in the end, “illusions”. There is no independent reality beyond our experience. Therefore, experience is the most essential and authentic part of existence and the ultimate nature of reality.
Bruce Ding’s Text, translated from the Chinese by Ken Zhao & Zoey Wan and proofread by Eva Zhao, was originally published on Artforum website and Wechat account.
ACTION MEDIA | FENG CHEN SOLO SHOW
Click on the link below for the full video of Feng Chen Solo Show at Capsule Shanghai realized by Action Media to discover the behind-the-scenes of the exhibition and an interview with the artist.
Video produced and made by Action Media.