Taiwan-based artist Zheng Yuande’s first solo on sculptures is stunning, writes Sarah NH Vogeler
IT’S been a while since we’ve seen a Zheng Yuande solo. His first, Otherworld-Glimpses Of Chinese Opera in 1988, was held at The Australian High Commission, curated by Datuk Ramli Ibrahim. The works on his studies of Cantonese Opera were compelling, gripping — seizing the resonances, the ensigns of stage and the narrative, the schematic guises and powder and paint, the emblematic movements. In 1994, he held another, The Echo of Light and Shadow, in Rimbun Dahan, this time helmed by photographer and writer Chu Li. Notes from the writings read: “The echo between light and shadow isn’t an unfamiliar language in art. Through the years, Zheng Yuande has developed this language in his paintings and sculpture by manipulating inter-personal space, feeling, mood and the body language of his subjects. His topic remains the same — the backstage drama of Chinese opera, the rarely seen moments of tension and release of the actors and actresses backstage, though Yuande is no longer interested in capturing the ‘real face’ of the Chinese opera.” Accolades for Yuande are many. His works on Cantonese Opera, He Who Was the Hero Just Now! earned him the National Art Gallery Young Contemporary award in 1985, and in 1994, a Petronas Art Salon Young Contemporaries Prize. Yuande studied at Malaysian Institute Of Art for two years, and then at Kuala Lumpur College Of Art for another two. He says: “I left MIA because, at the end of my second year, I was the only one studying Fine Art, and being the best in a classroom of one is ridiculous. The other classmates opted for courses more commercial, lured by the promise of a steady income upon completing a degree. There’s nothing wrong with that. I just wanted something else, to go past what I see and what I can know. I wanted a life that had much hope but at the same time that need to gamble overwhelms and KLCA set the foundation for that chase.” His years spent in KLCA under the careful tutelage of founder-principal Cheah Yew Saik set the artist on a course that changed his life. Cheah understood all too well the struggles which came with the decision of making art one’s lifelong pursuit and was much involved in shaping Yuande’s future. Not long after that, Yuande appeared to have dropped out of sight, existing just below the radar, continuing his works in a much quieter vein. Along the years, he participated in several art shows, a solo in 1997 at NN Gallery, but for the most part of the last decade, went to Taiwan to further his knowledge of art under a professor he greatly admired. Yuande’s boyish charm, that Peter Pan impish disposition coupled with sudden bursts of delighted laughter, his hands clapping together, eyebrows furrowed when making a point, is like “rain” on an afternoon that is oppressive and draining. It is also a remarkable coincidence that the photographer who climbs to the rooftop to capture Yuande’s image, camera precariously poised, is artist Nirmala Karuppiah, herself more than well-known for intimate studies on Cantonese Opera. THE WORK Stillness Consumed is a body of work which took almost a year to emerge and 12 pieces of studies in charcoal, and 12 to 15 sculptures concentrated in bronze and stainless steel, all cast in a foundry in Taiwan. Yuande brought out some of his monochromatic drawings, yet to be framed, of the body postulated in unending gesticulations, torsos twisted, bent, in reverie, all uninhibited and wandering in a dream-like state. At our meeting, three of his sculptures are on display on the dining table, stunningly askew, each appearing to be in deep tete-a-tete with one another, the rest waiting to be shipped in from Taiwan, a trip he is eager to make, to bring home the rest of his remaining ‘progenies’ for their world debut. Of the three, only one is titled — Street Dancer — a stainless steel silver effigy postured in a flawless split, the arcs and contours magnified splendidly by skilled hands. The other two, equally salient bronze works of limbs lengthened, manipulated in such a way to give an impression of endlessness, a dancer who whirls to a refrain perfectly his/ her own. This is Yuande as few have ever seen before. Eva Hesse wrote in 1969, (Art in Process IV): “I remember I wanted to get to non art, non connotive, non anthropomorphic, non geometric, non, nothing, everything, but of another kind, vision, sort. From another total reference point. Is it possible? I have learnt anything is possible. I know that. That vision or concept will come through total risk, freedom, discipline. I’ll do it.” Yuande is doing exactly this — pushing the precincts of possibilities and in doing so, Stillness Consumed is a body of work entrenched in powerful symbols of kinesis, very personal, the edifices strikingly visual, romantic and adorned with just the right hint of poetry.
Stillness Consumed by Zheng Yuande WHEN: Until Sept 16 WHERE: Kamaria, 6 Jalan 16/7, PJ www.sutrafoundation.org.my or : 03-4021 1092