Surely you remember Gu Wenda, the artist who created a massive screen of national flags out of human hair which became the opening installation for the Esplanade’s grand opening back in 2002.
He’s back. This time with his newest large-scale installation Yanhuang DNA Landscape, a series of 27.6 metre-long paintings reminiscent of the Chinese landscape tradition, but created using hair-derived black ink on green tea paper. It will be presented later this month by Gajah Gallery at the highly anticipated Art Stage Singapore 2014.
One of the “Godfathers” of the ’85 New Wave Movement in China, the Shanghai-born New York-resident’s exploration of identity and ground-breaking use of human genetic material date back to the very beginning of an illustrious career pockmarked with controversy.
One might even say the foundation of his oeuvre is built on it. After all, his debut exhibition — in Xi’an, China back in the mid 1980s — was shut down by city officials on the opening day itself for featuring potentially “subversive”, pseudo Chinese characters. The same happened in Poland in 1993, when his exhibition was brought to a close in just 24 hours for using piles of human hair, evoking, for some, painful memories of the Holocaust.
Now considered one of the leading contemporary Chinese artists of his generation, Gu’s works continue to focus extensively around the themes of cultural identity and humanity.
Among them is his 15-year-long United Nations project — considered to be his magnum opus — which saw over a million individuals across five continents donate their tresses to a marathon of installations that took place as far and wide as Australia, Russia and South Africa. The rationale? To break down cultural barriers between nations and ethnic groups.
Also critically received is Forest of Stone Steles, a large-scale exhibition that featured some 65,000 kg of stone columns inscribed with Tang dynasty poems translated into a bizarre form of gibberish English.
For his latest Singapore presentation, though, Gu is bringing to town artworks from his Metamorphosis and Mythos of Lost Dynasties series in addition to his new Yanhuang DNA Landscape pieces. The first features nondescript Chinese and English words strung together by human hair, rope and glue, while the second showcases pseudo Chinese characters brushed over rice paper.
Radical and unassuming in form, all of Gu’s works call on us to probe deeper into our identity, triggering, perhaps, a hair-standing experience even.