Chinese painting

Selections from the Nasher Museum of Art
June 1, 2008
Speak, Memory of …

Speak, Memory of … (Five-Needle Pine) series, 2005, by Hong Lei, China. From set of six chromogenic prints, 37 1/8 x 47 1/8 inches.

Chinese painting has a strong tradition of still lifes that depict perfect specimens of nature. Artist Hong Lei's images refer to, yet depart from, that tradition. Hong, who was born in 1960 and lives and works in Changzhou, is troubled by how quickly China is changing and mourns the loss of history and tradition. He has said, "When I manufacture my images, I give that which has survived an intense visual power. The images are strongly emotional and nostalgic. It is about triggering memory as that history disappears."

Hong presents us with bamboo branches, fruit, fir trees populated with insects, and snakes held in place by strings that are plainly visible. The artist has made a point of showing the viewer the staging of the artwork. We are reminded that what we see is not real, but manufactured. Details such as the rough edges of branches broken from trees and the roots of a tree seemingly ripped from the ground imply force and even violence applied to nature.