Thursday, July 31st, 2008

Xiong Wenyu: Ten Years of Moving Rainbow

Three Shadows Photography Art Center
155 – A Caochangdi, Beijing 100015, China

June 21 to August 2, 2008

Xiong Wenyun Xuejila Mountain - Motorcade No.1 1999 C-print, 62-1/4 x 46 inches (158 x 117 cm)  Courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing
Xiong Wenyun, Xuejila Mountain - Motorcade No.1 1999 C-print, 62-1/4 x 46 inches (158 x 117 cm) Courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing

Xiong Wenyun’s project, Moving Rainbows, began ten years ago, when her travels to Tibet inspired her to create installations transforming local architecture and lines of trucks along the Sichuan and Qinghai-Tibetan highways. Using colored plastic tarpaulins that added exuberant hues to Tibet’s mountainous landscape, Xiong created a moving rainbow of trucks as they made their way along the high roads of the region. The colors she used—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple—echo those seen in the prayer flags drivers and journeyers left alongside the highways they traveled on. According to a statement by Xiong, Tibetans “say that this color sequence comes from rainbows, and that rainbows are god’s ladders.” Xiong, who is a well-known, highly active artist who studied at the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts and then researched color in Japan, took this order of hues and made it her own by covering the trucks and the doorways of roadside cabins. As an artistic venture, Moving Rainbows involved both Tibetan society and a sharp sense of the environment; Xiong possessed the wherewithal to complete her plans, so that the procession of trucks and the covered entrances encountered along the way celebrated her sense of sublimity found “in this beautiful, innocent sequence.”

The artist documented Moving Rainbows with still photography and videos, which formed the contents of her show at Three Shadows. It is clear from them that the line of vehicles enlivened the steep landscapes of Tibet, as well as being of strong interest as art in its own right. There are photos of officials taking part in the departure ceremonies, Xiong standing alongside monks kowtowing their way to Lhasa, and the brightly colored clothing of minority peoples in the area (another inspiration for her color scheme). One has the sense that Xiong’s interventions not only reflect the high, joyous spirituality of the people she worked with, but also the inner life of the artist herself, whose quiet presence in the project connects persons to the sites she chose for her interventions. Color is central to her imagination. Indeed, she says, “I believe this order [of colors] is the most pure form of the universe.” Xiong’s presence served as a bridge for so involved an undertaking; a sure sense of hue as well as a gift for bringing people together enabled her to realize Moving Rainbows. Like many people who do public works of art, Xiong has had to portray her efforts through photography, which only gives a fraction of the excitement participants clearly felt. A documentary approach, after all, doesn’t do justice to the complex interactions and extraordinary visuals inherent to the artist’s design.

Nonetheless, the joyous nature of Xiong’s idea comes across, despite the fact that the record is partial. This piece is being written a very short time before Beijing’s hosting of the Olympic Games, and China is clearly worried about protests, most especially those having to do with Tibet. Xiong’s treatment of the landscape, which includes coloring rocks and trees cut for timber, is ecological and not political. Yet her audience, knowing what it does about China’s incorporation of Tibet within its own boundaries, as well as the commercialization of Lhasa, may well see the artist’s efforts as a way of bringing attention to the colonization of a remarkable culture. As an environmental activist, Xiong has created a process-oriented art whose dimensions are quite literally heavenly as well as humanist. Her images capture the noble nature of the landscape, as well as the moving portrayal of the people who live within its mountainous terrain. Her grand action is undertaken with a true spirit of humility, something that China has lacked in its assumption that Tibet must be modernized at all costs. What is needed, more than anything else, is Xiong’s sense that the interaction between people and landscape is something sacred, and not an excuse for raw profit or environmental exploitation.