Qiu Shihua

Julia Steiner "A TENSE TURN"

Exhibition Views: Qiu Shihua

Exhibition Views: Julia Steiner

January 30 - April 4, 2010
opening: January 30, 2010, 4 p.m. - 7 p.m.

Qiu Shihua

untitled, 2007

oil on canvas
153 x 265 cm

gouache on paper, 153 x 265 cm

Julia Steiner

"Nachtmarkt" 2009

gouache on paper
152 x 216 cm


Qiu Shihua  - The Image as an Epiphany

by Max Wechlser         


Inscribed within the ambivalence of shape and non-shape, image and non-image, Qiu Shihua's (*1940) paintings are literally sensations beyond rational understanding. They reveal themselves solely in the imminent contemplation of a vast perceptual field which persistently eludes conceptual comprehension. At first glance, notwithstanding the figurative elements they contain, these paintings radiate mainly a "void", which Western beholders immediately assimilate with the concept of monochrome paintings; a sterile interpretational context when taking into account that Qiu's works  - though representative of a relevant position in contemporary art  - position themselves beyond the self-reflective, formalistic concepts of modernism. Here, Frank Stella's pragmatic, yet arrogant motto  - "what you see is what you see"  - runs idle.


It is characteristic of Qiu's paintings that different beholders generally make out different shapes within the image, while actively perceiving and identifying the motive more or less clearly as such  - an astonishing occurrence, even if one considers that perception is an individual phenomenon. Indeed, the extremely cautious articulation of the paintings gradually unravels their pictorial character under the gaze of the beholder, a phenomenon where time plays a key role  - not unlike James Turrell's lighting rooms whose pictorial presence only constitutes with time. While Turrell's works require the eyes to adapt to the peculiar light they radiate, Qiu's paintings seem to involve yet another dimension: a contemplative momentum not merely addressing sight. Embedded in the pictorial surface, the motive is not aimed at representation but rather at evoking an essence, something which Roland Barthes, in his melancholic reflections on photography, missed when contemplating the photographs portraying his mother: amidst the numerous petty details he was unable to recognize the beloved being he remembered.


The chemical process of photography provides a cunning metaphor for the perceptual mode induced by Qiu's paintings. The way in which their motives slowly condense to form a picture and take shape in our spirit can be compared to photochemical processing in the dark room. Immersed in a chemical bath, the photosensitive paper progressively reveals the imprint of light captured by the camera; we witness the image surface from the depths of the blank paper and its features become progressively distinguishable until the process is disrupted, whereby the illusion is recorded as a transient representation of the world. Along the lines of this analogy, Qiu's paintings appear to coincide with the intensity and time span of perception in different stages of the constituency or "development" of the image they contain. Untouched by the putative objectivity of photography, their volatility demands the viewer's careful evaluation of his perceptions, presuppositions and speculations. One always faces a highly ephemeral phenomenon; an epiphanic apparition which can hardly be termed unreal nor, for that matter, virtual in contemporary terminology  - quite on the contrary.


The paintings' sheer materiality is beyond doubt: the structure of the canvas as well as Qiu's concise technique sustain their reality. There is but the landscape, a motive derived from Chinese painting tradition, to divert our attention from the contemporary quality of the images. But once the veil of exoticism is shed, one discovers a painterly argument which holds a quite unique fascination for the Western view as well. According to Qiu, his working process grounds on the premise of forgetting about such painterly matters as motive, technique, emotion, thus achieving pure sensuality in the void space from which the image must emerge rather than construct itself. This involves a deliberate Taoist-inspired notion of unintentional practice, best illustrated by an anecdote about the 13th century Zen priest Ch'en Jung. Ch'en is said to have painted clouds and fog by spraying ink and spitting water on his paintings. Then, once he was replete with wine, he would be shouting while brushing his large strokes with his hat. This story echoes the incident related by Leonardo according to which Sandro Botticelli threw a sponge drenched in color on a canvas and subsequently modeled a landscape from the stains. As a matter of fact, the stain in itself is not art, but it can trigger the artistic imagination.


Qiu may not be working according to this recipe but he is nonetheless concerned with the unintentional aspects involved in painting. Provided that one broadens the idea of "stain-art" to encompass French impressionism, a current in painting which he particularly cherishes  - and which literally reduced its perception of the world to the level of stains  - yet another interpretational layer discloses. Starting with the "tache", impressionist painting builds on the fragmentation of visible reality, a process which dismisses the mimetic rendering of the motive in favor of the evocation of its substance  - Qiu's landscapes bear a similar degree of dissolving and substantiation. Still, their materialization is ultimately withheld, as if in the spirit of Caspar David Friedrich, the artist were shutting his "bodily eye" in order to paint straight from the heart. His evocation of romantic spirituality should not be evaluated in historical terms, for it expresses a fundamental attitude still present. Elaborated on the backdrop of abstract painting, Qiu's art acquires a new dimension. In both practices, the image emerges from the practice itself: without reference or ideology. Qiu's paintings confide their meaning through perception and cognition, through contemplation.


Julia Steiner - Charged Space

by Karin Seiz, 2010 (english)


"This buzzing in the air, this somewhat disquieting sound, which is quite specific to the place, comes to mind when I think of Beijing," says in Julia Steiner. "I think it happens when the pigeons, which have these strange little pipes on their tail feathers, quickly change direction in flight." Swiss artist Julia Steiner (born 1982 in Büren zum Hof, Switzerland) has been artist-in-residence since October 2009 at the Galerie Urs Meile Studio in Beijing. To mark the close of her visit, the Galerie Urs Meile is showing A TENSE TURN, featuring a selection of the works created by the artist during her sojourn in China.




As part of an intensive exploration of drawing's artistic possibilities, Steiner has been working with gouache on paper. She assembles sheets of paper into very large works, whose strong suggestive power derives from the complicated layering of several visual levels. As a painting technique, gouache makes it possible to differentiate the spectrum of darks and lights, while in the process of drawing, some of the blank, white surfaces of the paper are left exposed. The empty spaces in Steiner's compositions maintain the balance among precisely positioned forms and fragments of forms.


The tension and interaction between upward and downward motion, between the fragile and the tensile, are essential characteristics of the works Steiner made in the cultural context of China. Through the means of drawing, the artist investigates forms and structures of surfaces, employing fragments of found phenomena in her compositions. "Lotus" (gouache on paper, 230 x 304 cm) is inspired by the smooth, taut surfaces of the lotus blossom petal. Concave forms are placed next to the convex; contradictory energies (the upward contrasts with the downward) manifest as motion that pervades the drawing, but which is broken off or accentuated in individual places. "Nachtmarkt" 1) (gouache on paper, 152 x 216 cm) also begins with a sense of tension, which is shown in the surface conditions of materials, physical attitudes, or forms of nature.


Organic forms and fragments are contrasted with abstract elements, so that the drawings fluctuate between the figurative and the abstract. At first glance, the drawings seem to be based on a narrative structure, whose logic, however, cannot ultimately be reasoned out. As soon as the viewer thinks he has discovered the thread of a story and begins to follow it, he realizes that it takes a very surprising turn - much like the birds in the skies of Beijing, whose flight the artist observed. The complex, multiple layers of the works, supported by the selection of this particular title, allow for a variety of interpretations, challenging the viewer to test and sharpen his powers of perception.


Due to the large size of the works, it is impossible to see them all at once in their entirety, so that the viewer's gaze sweeps across the surface, as he changes his standpoint several times. A drawing titled "Nest "(gouache on paper, ø 151 cm) goes a step further in terms of its concept, since not only does the viewer's gaze have to move, but the viewer himself must also walk around the entire work, which lies on the floor. Through the use of this round format, Steiner alters the usual way of looking at a drawing and, in an analogy to sculpture, introduces the principle of the overall view.


Even before traveling to China, the artist had studied the concept of space in traditional Chinese painting. In theoretical writings, she discovered an intellectual foundation for the conception of her own work. The notion of space is a fundamental principle of Chinese aesthetics; it introduces discontinuity and reversibility into a given system, allowing individual elements to overcome rigid oppositions and one-sided developments. In the fine arts, the creative principle of space suspends the effect of linear perspective and makes mutual interaction possible - the intertwining of man and nature within a single painting, on one hand, and, on the other, the interplay between the viewer and the painting as a whole. 2)


Steiner also embraces the understanding of space as it is in traditional Chinese aesthetics - not as something vague or non-existent, but rather, as a decidedly active, dynamic element that can be introduced into her drawing. Using space as the polar opposite of overabundant phenomena, Steiner's works create open, illusionary expanses that draw the viewer into their vortex.


Translation: Allison Plath-Moseley


1) English translation: Night market

2) Francois Cheng, Fülle und Leere. Die Sprache der chinesischen Malerei, Berlin 2004, pp. 52ff.




Julia Steiner - Aufgeladene Zwischenräume

von Karin Seiz, 2010 (deutsch)


 "Dieses Sirren in der Luft, dieser etwas beunruhigende, aber doch für den Ort so spezifische Ton, kommt mir in den Sinn, wenn ich an Peking denke", sagt Julia Steiner. "Ich denke, er entsteht, wenn die Tauben, an deren Schwanzfedern eigenartige kleine Flöten befestigt sind, im schnellen Flug die Richtung ändern."  Seit Oktober 2009 weilt die Schweizer Künstlerin Julia Steiner (*1982, Büren zum Hof, Schweiz) im Artist-in-Residence-Studio der Galerie Urs Meile in Peking. Unter dem Titel "A TENSE TURN" zeigt die Galerie Urs Meile zum Abschluss von Steiners Aufenthalt eine Auswahl von Arbeiten, die in China entstanden sind.


Im Rahmen einer intensiven Auseinandersetzung mit den künstlerischen Möglichkeiten des Mediums Zeichnung arbeitet Julia Steiner mit Gouache auf Papier. Steiner setzt mehrere Papierbahnen zu grossformatigen Werken zusammen, die ihre intensive suggestive Kraft aus der komplexen Überlagerung mehrerer Bildebenen beziehen. Die Maltechnik Gouache ermöglicht ausdifferenzierte Schichtungen von Dunkel zu Hell, während die weissen Flächen im Prozess des Zeichnens ausgespart werden und den Papiergrund zeigen. In Steiners Kompositionen halten sich Leerstellen mit präzise gesetzten Formen und Formfragmenten die Balance.


In der Spannung und Wechselwirkung zwischen dem Aufstrebenden und Hängenden, dem Fragilen und Gespannten findet Steiner Themen, die die im kulturellen Kontext Chinas entstandenen Arbeiten wesentlich charakterisieren. Mit zeichnerischen Mitteln untersucht die Künstlerin Formen und Oberflächenstrukturen und nimmt Fragmente des Vorgefundenen in ihren Kompositionen wieder auf. "Lotus" (230 x 304 cm) ist inspiriert von der glatten, aufgespannten Oberfläche des Blattes der Lotusblüte. Konkave Formen stehen neben konvexen, gegenläufige Energien  - aufwärts strebende Elemente werden herabhängenden gegenübergestellt  - manifestieren sich als Bewegung, die durch die Zeichnung geht und an einzelnen Stellen gebrochen oder akzentuiert wird.

Auch "Nachtmarkt" geht von einem Gefühl der Spannung aus, wie sie sich in der Oberflächenbeschaffenheit von Materialien, in Körperhaltungen oder in Formen der Natur zeigt.


Den organischen Formen und Formfragmenten stehen abstrakte Elemente gegenüber, was die Zeichnungen zwischen Gegenständlichkeit und Abstraktion fluktuieren lässt. Auf den ersten Blick scheint den Zeichnungen eine narrative Struktur zugrunde zu liegen, deren Logik sich aber nicht schlüssig erfassen lässt. Sobald der Betrachter meint, den Faden einer Geschichte entdeckt und aufgenommen zu haben, wird im klar, dass sie eine ganz überraschende Wendung nimmt  - ähnlich den Vögeln, deren Flug die Künstlerin am Himmel Pekings beobachtete. Die komplexe Mehrschichtigkeit der Arbeiten, die durch die prononcierte Titelwahl unterstützt wird, lässt verschiedene Lesarten zu, was den Betrachter herausfordert, seine Wahrnehmung zu prüfen und zu schärfen.


Die Grossformatigkeit der Werke macht es unmöglich, die Komposition als Ganzes ins Auge zu fassen, sodass der Betrachter den Blick über die Oberfläche schweifen lässt und die Perspektive mehrfach wechselt. Die Zeichnung "Nest" (ø 151 cm), geht in ihrer Konzeption insofern einen Schritt weiter, als der Betrachter nicht nur die Augen bewegen, sondern die am Boden liegende Arbeit ganz umschreiten kann. Mit dem runden Format löst Steiner eine vorgegebene Leserichtung der zeichnerischen Komposition auf und führt in Analogie zu skulpturalen Arbeiten das Prinzip der Allansichtigkeit ein.


Bereits vor ihrem Aufenthalt in China hat sich die Künstlerin mit dem Konzept der Leere in der traditionellen chinesischen Malerei befasst und in den theoretischen Schriften einen intellektuellen Referenzraum für die Konzeption der eigenen künstlerischen Arbeit gefunden.


Die Idee der Leere ist in der chinesischen Ästhetik ein grundlegendes Prinzip, das Diskontinuität und Umkehrbarkeit in ein vorgegebenes System einführt und den einzelnen Bestandteilen erlaubt, starre Entgegensetzungen und einseitige Entwicklungen zu überwinden. Im Bereich der bildenden Kunst setzt das gestalterische Prinzip der Leere die lineare Perspektive ausser Kraft und ermöglicht eine Beziehung des wechselseitigen Ineinanderübergehens, einerseits zwischen Mensch und Natur innerhalb des Gemäldes, andererseits aber auch zwischen dem Betrachter und dem Gemälde als Ganzes. 1)


Wie in der traditionellen chinesischen Ästhetik formuliert, versteht Steiner Leere nicht als etwas Vages oder Inexistentes, sondern führt sie als ausgesprochen aktives, dynamisches Element in ihre zeichnerischen Kompositionen ein. Mit der Leere als Gegenpol zur Fülle der Erscheinungen schafft Julia Steiner in ihren Arbeiten offene Illusionsräume, deren Sog den Betrachter in den Bann zieht.


1) Cheng François. Fülle und Leere. Die Sprache der chinesischen Malerei. Berlin 2004, S. 52 ff.



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