Within the Floating Pavilions, Beyond the Woman Wall

“By the sea, a tower emerges in the air, a sweeping view of a great palace in the sky.”

 The courtyards hidden within modern cities are like Edens detached from reality. Here, in this illusory interval, a faintly discernible model of nature is abstracted, and when people are placed within, they can isolate themselves from the clamor of the outside world and find a touch of ancientness, as if passing through another time and space, another realm unfolding before them.

In the mid-1990s, as He Duoling was discussing the design of his studio with his good friend, architect Liu Jiakun, he began to grow interested in architecture. In his later works, he began to employ certain abstract architectural signs such as Chinese-style courtyards, painted screens, winding paths and rockeries. In Labyrinth Tower and Courtyard Project, the relationship between man and environment was reconstructed in a blend of real and unreal. He Duoling was carrying out new experiments on the canvas in an attempt to establish a kind of “virtual relationship” between man and environment. Beyond employing space, he also gave moderate presentations of visual elements from ancient Chinese painting, through which he drew out a new dimension: time. These are the inspirations that He Duoling found in a new understanding of Chinese traditional painting. This has been a sustained and fascinating process. He Duoling’s new 2019 works in the Wild Garden, Woman Wall, House with No Roof, and Courtyard Memories series all deepen and expand on this theme.

Wild Garden, Woman Wall is the newest work featured in this exhibition. A wild garden is a garden without gates or fences, symbolizing nature. A “woman wall” is an eye-level wall built in ancient times to prevent contact by the women and girls in the garden with the outside world while also allowing them to gaze on it. In modern architecture, the “woman wall” remains only as a specialized architectural term for a low wall outside of the building. He Duoling’s Wild Garden, Woman Wall uses the sign of the woman wall to at once place women in the natural environment Wild Garden, Woman Wall and break them free of their confines, as well as to make them independent, forming a spiritual presence, and creating tension between space and objects.

By placing these works into yet another courtyard, in collaboration with an architect, curation is no longer rootless, and the “floating city” is no longer an illusion removed from reality. His creations enter an interplay with that of architect Shui Yanfei, the two drawing from each other and shining together as one as walls are no longer walls, scenery is no longer scenery. A series of traditional landscaped garden spatial techniques are used to create spatial atmospheres of different countenance and scale.

Within a limited spatial range, they pursue a realm that is “suspended within the floating pavilions, thoughts roaming beyond the woman wall,” a state of higher resonance between viewer and artwork.

A courtyard is often composed from a combination of architecture and manmade scenery. Landscape and architecture need people to complete the connection between them. Only then can we contemplate the landscape with an empty mind. This exhibition has also specially invited artist Shi Jindian. His artworks are a fitting medium between architecture and painting, like pathways crossing through the pavilions… In ancient landscaped gardens, corridors took on free and flexible forms. Standing within them, the viewer can take on a new sensitivity to the scenic elements in their surroundings. The figure portraits bring to life the surrounding scenery, and the surrounding scenery in turn influences the form of the artwork. The two go hand in hand. The viewer is also fused with the shifting density and arrangement of painting and space, with the spatial rhythm bringing an entirely new viewing experience.

Zhao Huan

November 15, 2019