Treasure Island Phantoms
2019.09.28 - 2019.10.30
Artists: Nabuqi, Tong Yixin, Wang Xuebing, Zhong Yunshu

Treasure Island Phantoms

At least, those who belong to the map association can promptly recognise this: central to the notion or indeed the phantom of a treasure island, is the mysterious, wondrous, enigmatic idea and practise of mark-making. A word extremely inflated in the art world, mark-making means in the space of the immortalized, highly influential Treasure Island - by Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, first published in 1883 - the condition of possibility of locating, digging up and (re)discovering what has already been buried - the treasure. Two simple strokes of a cross on a badly drawn, miserably torn, soaked wet, ambiguous map mark an awe-inspiring series of naval, piratic, adventurous, dangerous, probably bountiful, rewarding, and even genealogical connections between people - dead or alive - and things - lost or found. For reasons significant and trivial, one is to put her mind to it, and move away from the contemporary painterly idea of mark-making, to imagining and fantasising a map of fragmented-ness, that nonetheless single-handedly pertain to a totality, that is the treasure.

Cursed or blessed. Debuting the CLC Gallery Venture’s newly furbished exhibition space in the 798 Art District, the exhibition Treasure Island Phantoms, curated by Xie Nanxing, presents recent works by Tong Yixin, Zhong Yunshu, Wang Xuebing and Nabuqi, and considers a series of engaging and intimate acts of signification, concealment and disclosure that are critically at work in the contemporary productions of value, secret, triviality, nature and reality.

Tong Yixin’s tapestry works Bones (2019) and Cave (2019) from the Animalistic Punk series started in 2018 frame the territory in which the big game takes place. Fictional, liberated, yet detailed, meticulous and actively engaging with contemporary transformations between the social and natural, the tapestry works provide guidance and distractions, and jeopardise attempts to accurately locate and localise surfaces, values and behaviours. The Origin of Ripples - Yellow Field Chapter (2018-19), on the other hand, valorises a figure of the fisherman as a figure of the pirate, in the context of the Treasure Island Phantoms: subverting an old Chinese idiom that is pragmatist in nature, treasure is rendered in Tong Yixin’s freehand single-shot video work as the act of appreciation, adoration, identification and even envy.

Specifically developed for Treasure Island Phantoms, Zhong Yunshu’s three new works in different forms relate closely to each other, and to thematic notions in a humorously twisted manner. Just as Tong Yixin has been in his practise concerned with the act and the environment of fishing, Zhong Yunshu has been exploring in-depth the motifs of water, river, sea and ocean in her practise. Wittily playing with the scale of water and the irreconcilable relationship between desires and needs, the triptych of 竹篮打水, 一场空 and 水 narrates movements and failures of human desire, and its struggle with non-human, flowing wills.

Wang Xuebing’s paintings portray objects of desire in a strangely economic fashion, when the paradox of the scale, the location and the total being of the treasure is positively questioned. As representations of luxuries, the paintings are intimately sized; the represented handbags, watches and garments, however, are usually depicted in an in-your-face manner, so much so that the appearance and integrity of the treasures are in turn compromised. Investigated here is the possibility to transform the non-valuable into the valuable, and to discern fictions from realities. The Untitled (The Love Letter) (2018) is especially exemplary, as both an affectionate abstraction of Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s prized work, and as a rare record of a possibly lost trace, or of a non-existent Dead Man’s Chest.

The two works presented by Nabuqi, formally different from one another, sabotage the thematic premise by guiding the will to adventure home. Pertaining to the everyday, Nabuqi’s sculptural object Tangerines (2015) and site-specific installation How to Be “Good Life” (2019) reveal the often neglected yet important aspect of the legacy of Stevenson’s Treasure Island: originally titled The Sea Cook, or Treasure Island: a Story for Boys, the novel is not merely monumental in the history of the specific literary genre, but is also pivotal in emphasising the role of the youth, and the significance of the everyday. Pseudo didactic, semi juvenile, Nabuqi’s works oscillate between embarking on a journey, and a refusal to leave.