Yafeng Duan - Form Of The Formless
28 January—18 March 2023
Opening: Friday 27 January, 6—9 pm
- Download: Exhibition Portfolio ( EN / DE )
- Download: Press Release ( EN / DE / CN )
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Breathing is a term that holds deep spiritual significance in the creative vocabulary of the Chinese artist Yafeng Duan. Introduced to the tradition of ink-wash painting by her father at an early age, Duan developed her artistic instinct through close observation of nature — by tracing the enigmatic Qi, a vital force that links all living beings together. In classical Chinese philosophy, Qi (breath) is a fundamental category similar to energy in Western philosophical teachings. The captivating patterns of Duan’s abstract landscapes are ethereal footprints of Qi, observed and captured on her breathing canvases.
The exhibition title, the Form of the Formless, alludes to a concept found in the works of the father of Taoism, Laozi, a crucial philosophical reference in Yafeng Duan’s oeuvre. According to the Chinese thinker, the form of the formless describes an unceasing, continuous space, too ambiguous to be defined. He also calls it the image of nothingness —the evanescence of a fleeting moment that is hard to capture in figurative forms. But through the prism of abstraction formlessness obtains an endless potential, an open possibility, just like Duan’s non-narrative canvases.
In the abstract compositions of the Form of the Formless, color is a language encouraging a subjective game of association that preserves the possibility of ambiguity. This explains the intuitive application of paint on Duan’s canvases: the spontaneous oscillations of her brushstrokes follow the deep breathing of her transcendental landscapes. Rather than actively creating them, the artist watches the elements in her paintings evolve and interact with each other. Spatial superimpositions of color fields and the interplay of linear constellations create a deeply introspective atmosphere. The artist uses color overlaps to play with the perception of space, allowing it to alternate, build and disappear.
A non-linear chronicle of textures and stains, The Form of the Formless is replete with anthropomorphic mirages that tease the spectator with their deceptive corporeality. But the viewer is also in a position of power because formlessness opens everything to interpretation. The process of observation transforms into an act of co-creation. Yafeng Duan skillfully plays with scale, using size as another artistic technique to alter the viewer‘s perspective of the pictorial space. In smaller pieces, Qi is manifested through a gentle, soothing breathing energy, while in large paintings this force expands to reflect the quality of omnipresence innate in nature. „Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished,“ writes Laozi.
Yafeng Duan‘s works find a connection to traditional Chinese painting through an intense relationship with nature. However, her further education at the Bauhaus University in Weimar led the artist to reconsider her initial understanding of art and to develop a synthesis between formal practice and frequent rebellion against it. According to her own statement, Duan uses European techniques to give her paintings a haptic quality and physical presence. Her methodical approaches reflect the processes that shaped the evolution of 20th-century art up until the New Abstraction of the 1990s.
For Duan, the process of painting is the result of a subjective decision detached from politically conditioned contemporary narratives. Simultaneously existing in different, often contradictory cultural contexts, the artist explores dichotomic ideas with a gentle curiosity. Though now distanced from the tradition of Chinese ink-wash painting, Duan’s art preserves a spiritual element within it — what Kandinsky called ‘’stimmung’’, or the essential spirit of nature. Soulfulness is an intrinsic quality of Yafeng Duan’s art. By experimenting with the inherent aesthetic potential of nature, she intuitively creates an inner world of shapes and textures —a mental space where time is frozen and gravity is suspended, a place that allows the viewer to reconnect and breathe.
Text: Karina Abdusamalova
On the occasion of the exhibition, a catalog will be published (together with Snoeck publishing house) with a text in English and Chinese by Jurriaan Benschop. Yafeng Duan’s Artist portrait #8 will follow shorty. This video will be again produced by k_u_c_h_e.