UCCA Dune presents Land of the Lustrous, encompassing work by ten artists both in and beyond China. Each artwork in this exhibition relates—materially or formally—to the figure of the stone, approaching this age-old object from novel perspectives. Participating artists weave their individual concerns together, drawing from, and sinking into, ancient collective memories. Land of the Lustrous—UCCA Dune’s first summer exhibition—is devised to fit the unique spatial characteristics of the building and the surrounding environment. Designed by by Li Hu and Huang Wenjing of OPEN Architecture, UCCA Dune is nestled in the sand by the Bohai Sea in the Aranya Gold Coast Community, 300 kilometers from Beijing. As with all of UCCA’s endeavors, this exhibition proceeds from UCCA’s core mission of bringing urgent positions in contemporary art, both Chinese and international, to an ever-widening viewing public. The exhibition is curated by UCCA Curator Yang Zi.
Artworks in Land of the Lustrous serve as explorations of a single animist belief: that rock, a piece of seemingly inert matter, is actually endowed with life and thought. Wang Sishun’s Apocalypse 16.9.1, for example, personifies three found stones; arrayed in a line, they stand rigidly upright in cautious dialogue. Zhao Yao, Lin Xue, and Miguel Angel Ríos, similarly, have selected stones of unassuming appearance and brought them to life by cleverly manipulating their details, positions, and “postures”: Zhao Yao has placed an enormous red Mani stone on the edge of the sea; Lin Xue has drawn a series of fruit pits, transforming them into heavenly bodies. Ríos’s film records a cascade of tumbling stones, recalling the vigorous movements of antelope.
The proposition that stone “is alive” results in several ancillary questions—is humankind the measure of the universe? Is it shortsighted to base values solely on our limited ways of understanding the world? As urbanization and modernization progress, will such nearsighted forms of knowledge bring about a corresponding rise in alienation? After all, only humans can consume, produce, and create surplus value in the world of capital, wherein “nature” serves solely as dead material. Timur Si-qin and Su-Mei Tse strive to imagine models and rubrics that are separate from “nature itself.” Si-qin’s Juniper, produced in 2019, is a kind of billboard for the Anthropocene, advertising the spatial and temporal concepts attendant to this new epoch. Su-Mei Tse’s “Stone Collection” reminds viewers of the Ancient Chinese custom of collecting oddly-shaped stones as foci for our yearning for nature. Li Weiyi’s Cairn gives a humorous take on this absurdity: wearing VR goggles, viewers are transported into the interior of a stone.
Other artists use these mysterious, self-contained images to create a spectral stage to perform their own, fantastic tales. Lu Pingyuan has taken the story of an art collective, “Meteorite Hunters,” scouring the earth for fallen meteorites and launching them back into outer space, and carved it onto three stones. Yan Xing has enacted one of his own stories of industrial design in Republican Era China, featuring the radiant exchange between a piece of jade and an indoor light fixture. Wang Xiaoqu’s paintings explore the rich middle ground between two different interpretations of a photograph—that of the photographer, and that of the artist.
The exhibition also provides a series of myths related to stone, forming an interpretive framework for the artworks. These visual misreadings closely resemble the oral transmission—and mutation—of myths. In this exhibition, a discourse based on precedent and change links to a more capacious visual system, an interchange that depends less on precision than on inspiration. “Land of the Lustrous” hopes to uncover and awaken several possibilities often overlooked in the context of contemporary art. China has a long, fruitful history of worshiping stone deities; this most ordinary of objects has gained an aura of ineffability in popular consciousness. This aura suffuses the artworks, too, circumventing that anxiety plaguing Wittgenstein as he described “pictures placed in language.”
Participating Artists: Lu Pingyuan, Li Weiyi, Lin Xue, Timur Si-Qin, Wang Sishun, Wang Xiaoqu, Su-Mei Tse, Yan Xing, Zhao Yao
Curated by Yang Zi
Ullens Center for Contemporary Art
Aranya Gold Coast
Beidaihe, Hebei province