Wang Jianwei had his first solo exhibition in America entitled Wang Jianwei: Time Temple (Fig. 1) at the Guggenheim Museum from October 31st, 2014 through February 16th, 2015. In this exhibition, the artist demonstrated his astonishing creative power to explore new visual experiences and shatter the structure of conservative Realism.
Born in October 1958 in Sichuan Province, Wang Jiangwei predominantly practised oil painting on canvas in the 1980s. Beginning in the 1990s, he turned his attention toward moving images, performances, installations, and multimedia works in attempts to actualise his creative concepts. Wang Jiangwei provokes his viewers to explore the uncertain, remain skeptical of established point of views, and be aware of how context changes the relationship between space and material. In 1997, he was the first artist to represent China in the Kassel Documenta. In 2002, he participated in the Sao Paulo Art Biennial, and in 2003, he was featured in the Venice Biennale. He was a grant recipient of the American Foundation for Contemporary Arts in 2008.
Wang Jianwei is an academic artist. The scope of his research includes architecture, philosophy, social politics, and culture. Influenced by the works of French sociologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu, Wang Jianwei's research focus is the site as a destination for relationships. Since the mid-1990s, he produced a series of videos, performances, and installations that explore the relationships between people, nature, and environment, as well as public and private spaces. These works are successful in making art serve social functions.
'85 New Wave is an event in Chinese contemporary art history that is profoundly meaningful. However, Wang Jianwei did not slavishly follow this trend. During this significant historic period, he remained steadfast in his own independent thinking.
The Blind belongs to Wang Jianwei's Teahouse series. From the mid-1980s to 1990s, China was experiencing pivotal changes and developments politically, economically, and ideologically. The social environment of the teahouse culture in Sichuan became a mirror for Society as a whole. To a person with roots in Chengdu, the teahouse is a platform for understanding the world and exchanging information - it is a microcosm of the entire world. In the year 1990, the teahouse was a great watering hole where everything happened. Socio-economic status, occupation, education, and interests did not matter in the teahouse - only the content and position of one's discussion could determine whether he or she would be respected. Inside the teahouse, a society exists independently, and the relationship between people are intangible. For an extended period of time, Wang Jianwei enjoyed spending time in the teahouse and indulged himself in the idealistic social order, so that he may observe people and the society.
Visually reminiscent of Futurism, the three figures with vacant expressions are superimposed on top of one another in the centre of the composition. The narrative of the picture unfolds from the point of view of a camera lens - the past, the present, and the future have coalesced into a single dimension where the relationship between people, time and space are being examined philosophically. The artist contemplated on how to represent multiple spaces as well as multiple temporal instances on a two dimensional surface. This experimentation foreshadows how the artist will employ similar strategies in videos, installations, and multimedia works in his artistic career. Similar to Francis Bacon's works, the claustrophobic space, sombreness in the figures’ expressions, as well as the dark and ambiguous setting represent the continuity and simultaneous existence of these characters in this confined space. Diverging from the distortion and grotesqueness Bacon used to confront his viewers, Wang Jianwei's point of departure is to realistically express apathy in a surrealist composition. The suffocating and oppressive atmosphere is frozen in the picture by the cold violence of the collective.
Peculiarly, a plate of fishes appears in this teahouse scene. The concreteness of this object demonstrates the artist's intense contemplation on religion. Fish is associated with faith and belief, but it is also a symbol of humanity's desire. After the trauma of 1989, Chinese artists mourned privately with their own idiosyncratic languages. These artists yearned to communicate with others regardless of gender, age, and class, so that they could be emancipated from their loneliness. This profound longing also haunts Wang Jianwei. At the time, he was captivated by the works of existential philosopher Jean - Paul Sartre and post-modern philosopher Gilles Louis Rene Deleuze. Using Blindness as the subject matter, the artist refers to the deficiency in self-knowledge – it is a lack of awareness of one's inherent understanding of the self that blinds and colours an individual's perception. The title also reveals a barrier in the physical reality, as well as the desire and impulse within the artist's heart. Situated between reality and fantasy, representation and abstraction, this teahouse is where faith lets us find hope. It is with this unwavering faith that the artist is able to confront adversities.