Yun-Fei Ji: Pratt Manhattan Gallery. (New York)

By Wilson, Michael | Artforum International, May 2003 | Go to article overview

Yun-Fei Ji: Pratt Manhattan Gallery. (New York)


Wilson, Michael, Artforum International


In eight friezelike ink-and-mineral-pigment drawings on mulberry rice paper, Beijing-born Yun-Fei Ji conjures a world in turmoil that oscillates between the safety of centuries-old tradition and mortal terror concerning the next five minutes. Amid delicate, rolling landscapes rendered in muted greens, blues, and browns, vehicles collide, buildings collapse, and Goyaesque figures in grotesque masks and costumes indulge their every whim with apocalyptic abandon.

Ji's technique, which involves staining, erasing, washing, and restaining a layered, handmade ground, exploits the chemical interaction of the materials employed to produce a wrinkled, weathered look of premature aging. This way of working, derived from the classical literati method--by which two years of research and preparation may be required to complete a single piece--captured the artist's interest before his departure from China in 1986. The process is highly effective in making physically tangible a sense of the passage of time and the inescapable influence of a historical epoch over those that follow. Compositions that initially appear harmonious break apart, on closer inspection, into a chaos of dissonant perspectives. Sudden shifts in scale undercut the consistency of the landscape and the relation of one figure or object to the next. Representational details run the gamut from suggestive blots of ink to finely applied line: Ji's drawings are, in every sense, multilayered.

More often than nor in China, political messages are communicated via metaphor and symbolic allusion--by what is traditionally known as "pointing to the chicken to insult the dog"--and the invitation to read between Ji's lines is both critical and explicit. Narrative flow is established only to be jarringly interrupted; the tranquil space of nature becomes a stage set for all-too-human drama; quotidian reality and dream logic converge. …

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