2017 Art Recap: Wang Dongling @ OCAT Shenzhen


This week’s photo theme is 2017 in Contemporary Chinese Art: a look back at exhibitions that stood out to us this year, for one reason or another.

I saw a few good shows this year at OCAT Shenzhen, but this one was the standout: Bamboo Path, a solo show of new work by veteran experimental calligrapher Wang Dongling. I featured another shot of this exhibition in an earlier Radii photo series themed around Writing:

Photo of the Day: Wang Dongling’s “Bamboo Path”

Wang is known for his distinctive “chaos script” (luanshu, 乱书) writing style, which he developed after teaching in the US and coming into contact with Western avant-garde art traditions from the early 20th century. Wang explains the origin of chaos script in an article I wrote for a 2016 Beijing show of his:

‘When I was studying in Nanjing,’ Wang says of his formative years, ‘my teachers told me that columns of characters should not intrude into each other.’ He’s now confident to break that dictum as thoroughly as possible. In his chaos script, Wang transgresses not only the boundaries between calligraphic columns, but also between individual characters. As images, his latest works are fluid, chaotically ordered but ultimately abstract. As text, they are practically illegible. That was an intentional choice. ‘This opens a door for calligraphy, connecting the classical and the contemporary, China and the West. A major obstacle for Westerners trying to understand calligraphy is that they do not read Chinese characters. Now, even Chinese cannot read chaos script without knowing the textual content in advance. [It] is both calligraphy and painting. It is abstract, but it is grounded in traditional calligraphy,’

Josh Feola
Josh Feola is a US-based writer and musician, and RADII's former Culture Editor. His coverage of Chinese music and art has appeared in The Wire, Dazed, MIT Technology Review, Artsy, Bandcamp Daily and more. He's been active in China's underground music scene since 2010 via his booking platform pangbianr.com, and is a former member of Beijing bands Chui Wan, SUBS, and Vagus Nerve.

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