"In contemporary art, flatness is often imagined as the constriction and accumulation of emotion. Its feeling of depth is psychological."
- David Joselit, Notes on Surface: Toward a Genealogy of Flatness
Contemporary art has developed a diverse network of paths. The question of how to distill one’s visual and intellectual intentions into a multifaceted and unique artistic language, and then furthermore to turn it into something no one has made before, is a daunting challenge for artists working in two-dimensional art. To see how they articulate a complex line of thought and display their technical mastery in this flat plane, we look at how the artists control and manipulate the limited space of the canvas.
Born in 1985, Zhang Ruyi received her MFA in Mixed Media from Shanghai University College of Fine Arts in 2012. Her Cell Series, begun in the same year, received the Creative M50 Emerging Artist Jury Prize. She often employees a calmly calculated geometric world to reveal a rich personal awareness. Through the unification of two opposite poles, she reflects the complexity of the psychological state among young people in contemporary China. Twin Towers has a length of 1.3 meters. Although the dimensions appear small, she has used print design tools such as ballpoint pens and colored pencils to sculpt an abstract space. On industrial design paper, the distance between each line is only .2 centimeters. Zhang uses the rolling ruler, a tool commonly used by architects, to mark both ends of the paper. Then, in a single energetic motion, she connects the two ends together. The background that is created by this orderly body movement reveals the essence of automation; it is as dull and unavoidable as industrialized society. The pictorial effect, however, is not stern and cold. Rather, it is a clever mechanism for reversing the relationship of viewing paintings.
The minutely articulated blue and green lines in Twin Towers are woven into a networked background. The two triangular pyramids in the center fracture and then reconstruct the lines, creating an intersection between the rigid botanical models and their vertebrae. This produces a dislocated illustration in the foreground. Light images are layered upon darker tones, and the feeling of transparency created by their interpenetration defines the relationship between front and back. There is no transition across the fault that separates foreground and background. Although the work is full of contradiction, there is no inherent visual conflict, and the multiple superimposed layers encourage the viewer to vary their approach to the painting. Zhang Ruyi uses geometrical forms as a structure upon which to build emotions. The power of constrained emotions being divulged allows the painted elements to coexist. They are contradictory, locked in mutual conflict, as they reflect an emotional climate that is both extremely personal and pervasive in our society. It is the artist’s reflections on the relationship between herself and the outside environment. The small scale of the work is not earth-shattering. Its calm and composure has a personal quality that decreases the distance between viewer and artist, and a fects the mental state of the audience.
Zhang Ruyi guides the viewer through a process whereby they replace their own kinesthetic experience with the identification they feel with Twin Towers. She uses a concrete and logically developed pictorial plane to carry psychological depth, leading the conscious observer into a realm of unconscious thought. This thinking arises when the viewer projects their own bodily experiences onto the work, landscaping the self. This process breaks down the confines of painting as visual imitation. Zhang uses spatial magic to give the work an appearance that is as lively and fleeting as its audience.