The pandemic through the 'Looking Glass'

Xu Qin
"Through the Looking Glass, and What We Found There" carries on with the theme of "One Hundred Days of Solitude," and reflects on the time spent dealing with the pandemic.
Xu Qin

The exhibition “Through the Looking Glass, and What We Found There” carries on with the theme of “One Hundred Days of Solitude,” and reflects on the time spent dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

It covers a wide range of exhibits, including sculptures, photography, works on paper, ink, oil, and mixed media by seven artists, and is on show at the Shanghai Art+ Gallery till the end of this year.

Taking a cue from Lewis Carroll’s classic “Through the Looking-Glass,” the mirror has come to be seen as a reflector of the self as we dig deeper into our thoughts and actions.

Artists, however, with their heightened sensitivity, are more prone to be receptive and reflect on the subtleties of alternative dimensions that surround them. The ongoing exhibition is a testimony to the changing times and the changed values.

Tang Zhengwei’s intricate paper cut takes us through a thorny yet sophisticated journey that, he says, is an attempt to release one’s spiritual self to the ultimate freedom from the earthly gravity.

“The pandemic is a huge invisible cage that traps everyone. The travel ban has made me deeply aware of the vulnerability and ignorance of the humans in the face of such a large-scale disaster,” said Tang, who is based in Beijing and flew in to Shanghai for the opening of the exhibition. “I don’t want to create anything related to the epidemic, but it made my creative urges simpler, which helped to develop the ideas that had been lingering in my mind for a while.”

In “New Human Being,” many elements have evolved from Tang’s “Carbon Folding” series from his post-graduation show at the Central Academy of Fine Arts two years ago, forming new feelings on the visualization of modern people.

The pandemic through the Looking Glass
Xu Qin / SHINE

Artist Tang Zhengwei poses with his work "New Human Being" at the Art+ Shanghai Gallery.

The pandemic through the Looking Glass
Ti Gong

Tang’s “Carbon Folding” series (detail), hand cut paper 

“The birth of modern people is based on industrial civilization,” said the 33-year-old artist, who teaches at the Academy of Design and Art, Hunan Institute of Engineering. “Industrial civilization has its own life course and support system, which is open for anyone to interpret the meanings of their own interactions and of the social settings in which they find themselves.”

According to Tang, the “Carbon Folding” series is the outcome of his two years of research on carbon finance, which is deemed as a sustainable economic strategy to reduce global emission of greenhouse gases.

In his works, the two-dimensional paper cut is combined with three-dimensional paper art of folding to expose the hierarchy of powers behind the carbon finance system and the economic development.

“I have been using paper as a canvas for a long time. The properties of paper include the thickness, weight, texture, folding endurance, strength and size of the paper. Some grades of paper tear easily, while others resist tearing,” said Tang. “Paper is soft yet strong, not fragile as some people think. I have never regarded my work as a mere paper-cutting craft, but more as a presentation of ideas.”

The pandemic through the Looking Glass
Courtesy of Art+ Shanghai Gallery

"LOOP 2" by Sha Shuang, lightbox

The pandemic through the Looking Glass
Courtesy of Art+ Shanghai Gallery

“Wonder Women” by Tamen Art Collective, acrylic on canvas

Three new artists Sha Shuang, He Haifeng and Du Yingqi have also added new perspectives to the vision of the new normal following the pandemic outbreak.

Sha’s digital drawings enclosed in lightboxes reflect her feelings on family life and a woman’s multiple roles that she observed at home during the Spring Festival lockdown.

He’s “Mystery City” series deals with the subject of hostile urban infrastructures. His ink brushstrokes is a depiction of the modern concrete cityscapes, revealing the soulless composition of urban settings that now sits empty as people remain indoors to avoid crowds during the pandemic.

Du’s miniature series comments on the absurdity and unpredictability of life by encasing disposible items like plastic gloves and face mask into a “2020 Memory,” bound together with gold-foil ribbons.

All the works commemorate a moment in recent human history when healthy individuals and societies depend on the health of the natural environment. The sooner we respond to the current crisis, the better we will be able to build a healthier, greener and safer future.

Exhibition info

Date: Through December 30, 10:30am-6:30pm
Venue: Art+ Shanghai Gallery
Address: 191 Nansuzhou Rd

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