March 2008, Lu Chunsheng Retrospective @ The Red Mansion

 Lu Chunsheng, one of the most foolish attacks against science fiction
 is the opinion that it cannot forecast the future,
2005, C- Print,
 courtesy The Red Mansion Foundation

The Materialists are all Asleep: Lu Chunsheng: A Retrospective

The Red Mansion Foundation, London
February 6 through April, 22, 2008

Lu Chunsheng’s works should be perceived in total silence. Perhaps the best effect could be achieved if visitors brought earplugs with them to the exhibition and installed them in their ears upon entering. In the realm of Lu Chunsheng’s work the materialists are in fact dead asleep. Yet the mystical poetry of his language is not poetry of sleep. It is far more real.

 Lu Chunsheng, Carlin-3, 2005, 126.0 x 126.0 cm (50" x 50"), C-print
 courtesy The Red Mansion Foundation
There is a sense of sinisterness in his works. One should move very cautiously upon entering Lu Chunsheng’s visual world. It seems as if a wrong move (or sound) could trigger a burst of outrage coming from the same calm, meditative men. Even if they are in groups, they stand dispersed, their minds focused. Behaving mysteriously they seem to get nowhere. And yet they do. There is a fragile hallucinatory line hanging across the exhibition space. We might want to try walking on it, but we wouldn’t hold the balance. Not to mention how thin it is – such a line could never hold a man. This is our side of the screen I’m speaking of. But on the other one new rules apply – rules set by the players, as they play. What they achieve is the affirmation of being lost.

Now try to imagine (pardon my profane language) you are one of the men standing on the cliff. How much time should I give you? A minute or a lifetime? The question of time echoes in the titles and in the works themselves. At some point the distinction between unforeseen past and forgotten future is no longer possible. This subjectivity of time, this inexperienced duration becomes a key factor. When silence is measured the question is not only how loud it is, but also how long it lasts.

 Lu Chunsheng, 2005, C-print, courtesy The Red Mansion Foundation

Oxymoronic gestures tend to work within a closed system – input and output codes have to be the same. Such behavior produces absurd effects. Let us suspend logic and examine Lu Chungsheng's works in brighter light. They depict a world of absurd already and they let that world speak its own language. In other words, the input code varies from the output code. The information we read is false, but only as far as our inability to translate holds it as such.

Like many Chinese artists, Lu Chunsheng creates a world of illusion, where unreality replaces the light of day. But the characters he depicts in his video and photography works are not escapists. The un-reality they are submerged in is on the outside. They did not choose it, but they have learned to navigate through it. Their journey is still and solitary. Even when they seem to be traveling together, they are not. We see a group but tend to forget about the singularity of each human being. Those in the picture have understood that they have been sentenced to coexistence. L'enfer c'est les autres, as we find out again and again.

 Lu Chunsheng, One of the most foolish attacks against science fiction is the opinion
 that it cannot forecast the future
, 2005, C-Print, courtesy The Red Mansion Foundation, London

Forget the earplugs, cut that thin line you could trip on. We are in the loud labyrinths of factory buildings. Their loudness is visual. Just as catatonic but in just as aggressive manner as the characters are. You were wrong removing those earplugs from your ears. Materialists like you should be long asleep.

Bartek Kraciuk

Bartek Kraciuk is a freelance writer in New York.

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