Brothers Chen Yufan and Chen Yujun create both as individuals and as a team. Their work explores individual life, geography, space and time.
Chen Yujun has always focused on territorial and spatial subjects while Chen Yufan was more interested in the concept of time. They express their personnal lives, history, cultural and visual research and discovery through the practice of art ; their installations and paintings are often highly specific to the space they occupy, and lead audiences to experience these works by enveloping them whole.
Chen Yujun and Chen Yufan were born in Fujian Province (China) in 1976. They currently work and live in Hangzhou in South China. Graduate from Hangzhou Academy of Arts, the Chen brothers are considered as capital artists from the independent art scene. In 2013 they took part to the secound edition of “Fuck Off”, one of the most controversial exhibition, curated by Ai Wei Wei in the Groninger museum (Netherlands).
Lives and works in Hangzhou
DSL Collection, Paris, France
DSL Collection, Paris, France
He Xiang Ning Art Museum , Shenzhen, China Long Museum, Shanghai, China
M+ Museum, Hong Kong
White Rabbit Collection, Sydney, Australia
Yuz Museum, Shanghai, China
The Second Door, James Cohan Gallery, Shanghai, China
Transitional Room, Boers-Li Gallery, Beijing, China
Mulanxi River – Unsettled, Zhong Gallery, Berlin, Germany
The Empty Room, Boers-Li Gallery, Beijing, China
Exotic Stranger, Galerie Paris-Beijing, Paris, France
The Exhibition of Annual of Contemporary Art of China 2014, Beijing Minsheng Art Museum, Beijing, China
An Anonymous Exhibition, Sheng Zhi Art Center, Beijing, China
The World III in the Third World, Chulalongkorn University Art Center, Bangkock, Thailand
Destroy and Rebuild: New Painting, Long Museum, Shanghai, China
The 8th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, OCAT, Shenzhen, China
The Being of Non-Being, Linda Gallery, Beijing, China
Inside-Outside. Klein Sun Gallery, New York, NY
On the Road: Nomination Exhibition of Emerging Chinese Artists, Guan Shanyue Museum, Shanzhen, China
The Light, Inna No. 2 Space, Hangzhou, China
The Portrait of Space, Parkview Green Art, Beijing, China
Voice of the Unseen, Arsenale Nord, Venice, Italy
Limits of Language, Nomade Gallery, Hangzhou, China
Fuck Off2, The Groniger Museum, Groningen, Holland
Ignition Point, Duolun Museu of Modern Art, Shanghai, China
MIRROR AND SHADOW, Galeri Nasional Indonesia, Jakarta, Indonesia
ON|OFF: China’s Young Artist’s in Practice, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China
Merging: Distances in Light, L-Art Gallery, Chengdu, China
Exhibition of Chinese Contemporary Collectors, National Agriculture Exhibition Center, Beijing, China
Landscape Visual Memory, Venice Museum of Science and Technology, Venice, Italy
Dawn: New Art From China, Zhong Gallery, Berlin, Germany
Water Stains on the Wall: The Carrier of Formation, Zhejiang Art Museum, Hangzhou, China
Line Up, Boers-Li Gallery, Beijing, China
Art Project, Gallery Hotel, Beijing, China
Nostalgia and Rendezvous, Qinghe Current Art Center, Nanjing, China
Ri Yong – Chang Xing, Chengdu Museum of Contemporary Art, Chengdu, China
Mulan River Project: Chen Yujun and Chen Yufan, Boers-Li Gallery, Beijing, China
Post Traditions – The Magnified Slice, Duolun Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai, China
De-Focus, Art Museum at Hangzhou Normal University, Hangzhou, China
Visual Flux – Easel Painting Research Exhibition 1 – Space and Energy, Qinghe Current Art center, Nanjing, China
Invisible Wings, Times Art Museum, Beijing, China
What is Narrative?, A4 Gammery, Chengdu, China
Youth Upstairs: Youth Critics Nomination Exhibiton, Times Art Museum, Beijing, China
Home-Stay, Osage Gallery, Shanghai, China
Reshaping History – Chinese Art from 2000 to 2009, Arario Gallery, Beijing, China
A Close-Up Focus on Chinese Contemporary Art Trends, Platform China, Beijing, China
Change, Hangzhou Wan Yuen Silk Shop, Hangzhou, China
Free Terminology, A4 Gallery, Chengdu, China
Pints & Crosses: Chinese Contemporary Painting, 2010 Art center, Shanghai, China
Future Manufacturing, Qinghe Current Art Center, Nanjing, China
Going By, SZ Art Center, Beijing, China
Blackboard, Shanghai Art Gallery, Shanghai, China
Blade-Reconstruct Leifeng Pagoda, SZ Art center, Beijing, China
Reflective, Wall Art Museum, Beijing, China; Xi Hu Art Museum, Hangzhou, China
Look Deeper, Platform China, Beijing, China
Evolution?, Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai, China
From Hang Zhou, Fellini Gallery, Shanghai, China
To Be A Qualified Successor, YIBO Gallery, Shanghai, China
Future Sky: Exhibition of Emerging Chinese Contemporary Artists, Today Art Museum, Beijing, China
Another Way: Experimental Art Exhibition of Hangzhou, The Quartet Art Museum, Nanjing, China
Aquilaria, Eye Level Gallery, Shanghai, China
Grain Cereals, China Academy of Art Museum, Hangzhou, China
Chongqing’s Position, Chongqing Three Gorges Museum, Chongqing, China
Leap Month: Exhibition of Chinese Contemporary Artists, Yuandian Gallery, Shanghai, China
Academy Co: Exhibition of the China Academy of Fine Art, Xiwu Gallery, Beijing, China
Forms and Colors: Zhejiang Yong Oil Painters Invitational Exhibition, Zhejiang Provincial Museum, Hangzhou, China
Migrants Home: Contemporary Art Exhibition, China Aceademy of Art Museum, Hangzhou, China
Spectacle: Century and Heaven, Chengdu Biennial, Chengdu, China
Young Mind: China New Sharp painting Award, He Xiangning Art Museum, Shenzhen, China
No. 17 New Artists Exhibition, Yanhuang Art Museum, Beijing, China
Mixed Painting Documentary Exhibition, Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum, Beijing, China
Experience, Imagination and Homesickness
Chen Yujun and Chen Yufan’s Mulan River
Text by Bao Dong
The Mulan River is a name almost entirely unknown to me, but for the brothers Chen Yujun and Chen Yufan, the name is not only familiar but also deeply intimate. Looking at the map, the river is about 150 kilometers long, meandering through the mountains, across the plains and finally into the ocean. In my opinion, as an integral element that constitutes the overall geo–cultural milieu of the region, the Mulan River is to the Chen brothers what the Yangtze River is for me, having grown up along its shores. In fact, if one were to ask anyone from the Minzhong Region, one will discover that the role the Mulan River plays in their lives is comparable in significance to what the Yangtze，the Yellow River and other great waterways mean for the Chinese.
The Chen brothers intend to emphasize their sense of the local, and by extension, the communal by using the river as the theme of their exhibition and a series of related artistic practices. Yet, what is unique about their hometown or the general region is the tradition of immigrating to other countries in Southeast Asia, a practice prevalent since the Ming Dynasty. Since they were little, many of their family relatives with “overseas connections” have told them stories based their experience living aboard. Though fragmented and sometimes exaggerated, these stories have helped to shape a non–localized image within the local, in other words, envisaging the foreign has already been integrated in the local imagination.
The horizon beyond the local can only be envisioned through imagination. For the villagers who remained behind, the flow of familial relations that drifts through indefinite spatial or geographical boundaries has retroactively strengthened their sense of the local and the communal, which explains the curious phenomenon that in China, regions with the strongest familial emphasis are often provinces along the east coast where migration is most common and pervasive. The Chen family is no exception; in a certain sense, the fact that Yujun and Yufan, who differ greatly in terms of artistic style and understanding, can come together and collaborate on a project of considerable scale is already an embodiment of the clan culture under which they were raised.
Zheng Yue was the first work that took shape in the Mulan River project. Its images were taken during the Chen brothers’ trip back home around the time of the Spring Festival. These pictures include their relatives, local villagers and impressions of country life, especially the scenery around their house in which the Mulan River plays a prominent role. Images on these photos were then transposed onto drafting papers and newspapers mainly as a visual resource out of which painting experiments could be conducted, but if we examine these visual elements carefully, we see a river depicted in the style of cartography. These photos were probably chosen in the beginning out of availability (the same can be said of the newspapers and drafting papers), but once they were assembled together, their fragmentedness is immediately sublated by an experiential unity that demands a second look. In this way, an underlying though latent experience is grasped reflexively and concomitantly with the emergence of the central motif.
Since 2007, locality has become the central motif of many of Chen Yujun’s works. We see the appearance of many overseas elements in his paintings and installations, such as images of the region’s diaspora, decorative patterns and symbols unique to the cultures of Southeast Asia. In a way, these readily identifiable elements can be considered an unmediated appropriation of the trafficking visual depository and the direct stylization out of aesthetic concerns. On the other hand, it is important to note that the Chen brothers have never had any experience living aboard, thus the overseas encounter in their work remains an imaginary one, which, as we have mentioned before, is constitutive of the local; in other words, imagining the foreign is for them a way of reminiscing home.
However, this kind of cultural imagination/experience alone is not robust enough to sustain their practice, which always calls for concrete methodological engagement. Chen Yujun’s manner of expression precedes his expressive content in the sense that a vocabulary of mixed–materials with a decorative bent has already taken shape since 2006, but the content of this particular language only came about as a result of experimenting in the course of the Mulan River exhibition. This was also a process of reconnecting with the local that rendered Yujun’s inherited tradition of Western art an ahistorical linguistic generality devoid of content, whose vitality can only be rejuvenated and substantiated through experience. Viewed under this light, we can detect traces of the local in Chen Yufan’s abstract works as well, for instance, his obsession with different qualities of paper, searing techniques acquired through incense offering and ritualized experience of time etc. Yet the designation “abstract” is a term originated in the historical development of Western art, thus an inadequate term when describing Chen’s works. In any case, it tends to obscure things that should have received more reflection.
What must be emphasized here is that locality cannot be reduced to signs of the Oriental spectacle, but pertains to what is happening right now. In this sense, locality and contemporaneity are essentially the same, their mutual ground being the confirmation or corroboration of certain experiences that happen in the here and now, experiences one could call one’s own. For me, Mulan River’s sense of the local can be discovered by the way the artists treated space and material, which are more resistant to signification than style and image. The reason behind such resistance is because space, as in Kant’s transcendental aesthetics, is a pure form of intuition rather than something substantial. On the other hand, objectivity, or pure matter independent of all forms, is precisely that which is capable of exodus from systems of representation.
In the series Landscapes of Asia from 2008, the reflexive awareness of space has already become a formative power. For instance, in the work 9 m2 we see an assemblage of wooden boards whose dimensions made it ambiguous whether it was a wooden crate or a cabin. Its amorphous spatial configuration opened up the two referential objects that characterize their local experience via the diasporic: crate suggests transportation, flow and migration while cabin evokes the sense of settling down, habitation and dwelling. This state of being on the threshold is also evident in Chen Yujun’s paintings as well, where the surface and space of the houses depicted in the painting both relate and interfere with the surface and space of the painting itself. A constant negotiation between foreground and background takes place, in which space is transformed into something of which the viewer is spontaneously aware.
Material thus became the central element of the exhibition, whose main structure is a miniature model of the Mulan River made from cardboard, wooden planks, old books and pulverized stones, borderline objects between a mere thing and a readymade, creating, consequently, a work that blurs the boundaries between an installation and a sculpture. One also sees other installations and impromptu structures made out of cardboard and wooden crates (reminiscent of Schwitters’ Merzbau), which emphasize a sense of the organic that comes with handicraft. Human care is thus bestowed upon industrial products. Whether these works symbolize the real Mulan River, the local in abstraction, or simply the self–subsistent art work, they are both dynamic and precipitative, objects of beholding and the background where beholding happens, or simply as constitutive elements of a multi–dimensional sensorium where experiences transpire and transform as the world becomes whole under their aura.
For Benjamin, the pursuit of material essence constitutes the re–enchantment of the modern world. Such re–enchantment, insofar as it is a revelatory homesickness, also lies at the foundation of what the Chen brothers are trying to find through the Mulan River motif. In other words, what they authentically face is not the actual Mulan River, but the sense of the local that the river symbolizes. Furthermore, what they have devoted themselves to is a state of readiness to hand (Vorhandenheit), or the way things show themselves in their essential holding sway. In this sense, art for them is not a means of expressing homesickness, but the yearning itself. Under this light, their practice can be viewed as a series of homesick rituals that summon forth the local as an imaginary experience out of which a community is promised to the future.
—- Peony Garden, Beijing, November 11, 2011.