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Guan Wei

Guan Wei's sixth solo exhibition with Martin Browne Contemporary, "Interface," explores the possibilities and pitfalls of what the artist calls "the new digital order."

It may not seem obvious that paintings – produced by the artist’s hand, and using his instantly-recognisable personal vocabulary of symbols and characters, and displayed at one of our most prominent commercial galleries – would be a medium particularly suited for working through the state of digital image production and circulation today. Guan Wei’s Interface proves, then, exactly what isn’t obvious. In a suite of multi-panel works for this show, Wei considers the formal, historical, and conceptual possibilities of the Metaverse, virtual reality, and decentralised modes of digital engagement like blockchain technology, Web3, and their art-world effects – typically know simply by their acronyms, like NTFs and DAOs.

In Entanglement No.1, 2022, a dispersed network of connection between characters and heavily-laden (yet never overdetermined) symbols is made literal; a rope, extending from the hands of a character in the top left frame, encircles all manner of creatures across the twelve-panel work. These are animals, people in what seems to be eighteenth-century European court dress, angels, dragons, ants, and the gelatinous, round figures which have been regular characters in Wei’s work since at least the Two-finger Exercise, 1989. With a Yin and Yang symbol hanging from the neck of what is perhaps the work’s protagonist, a decorated human-ish figure with wings, the work might be read as a kind of knowing balancing act between “Western” cultural iconography and images from Chinese art history – though of course the entanglement of these fields is a long historical one, too. 

Most other works in the Interface series are diptychs. Each panel is typically spliced horizontally at its centre, making the two-panel works look like they’re really composed of four frames. There are two kinds of “interface,” then, between the frames in these works: one where the frames are literally, materially joined onto one another, touching in the obvious sense, and one where visual correspondence carries over the physical gap between separate diptych panels. This figures the complex folding in of spatial, temporal, narrative, and historical dimensions across these works – everything is everywhere, all at once. Much of the imagery calls up ideas of migration, displacement, travel, and colonisation; we find in these frames the traces of cartographic codes, images of ships, and astronomical mapping. In this way, Wei’s work places the entropy of locality – that is, the bleeding-out of each place into each place else – brought about by digital technology within a longer history of exploration and exploitation.

In a text written to accompany the exhibition, Wei positions his strategy of creating porous interfaces between stories, ideas, and symbols as a kind of resistance: “I really like Anselm Kiefer’s views on resistance. Resistance is everywhere and resistance is needed everywhere in life. We resist meaninglessness, nothingness, temptation, power, oppression, virus, and we also resist homogeneity and the homogenisation of life. The meaning of art lies in creation and resistance against homogeneity and mediocrity, because art is a heterogenous force.” Wei’s is a resistance through high spirits, invention, and an imagination that takes no prisoners. Moreover, it is one which keeps pace with the onslaught of challenges faced by artist and people in our rapidly changing world. 

EXHIBITION 
Interface
23 June – 16 July 2022
Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney

 

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