CHEN ZHEN. Metaphors of the Body

Former Fix Factory

It is the first major retrospective exhibition of the internationally acknowledged Chinese artist Chen Zhen. Born in Shanghai in 1955, Chen Zhen settled in Paris in 1986, where he lived until his premature death in 2000.

The exhibition offers a journey via metaphors and conceptual images of the body referring to its individual, social or universal dimensions together with its daily performance and spiritual activity.

The metaphors are both legible and ecumenical, irrelevant of oriental or western origin. Chinese artist Chen Zhen selects beds, chairs, organs of the body, chamber pots and other objects of purification to signify the human body which remains powerfully invisible in his installations, indirect and enigmatic and thus utterly poetic. The visitor does not have to be deeply familiar either with Taoism or Buddhist Zen, the magic and mystical religious movements originated in China which underlie the entire work of the artist: one simply needs to activate his own different cultural experiences in order to interact with the sentimental moods evoked by these poetic metaphors. In three variations with different materials (wax, crystal, alabaster) the body is revealed through its principal organs: the heart, lungs, stomach, liver etc. They are not usually rendered naturalistically but indirectly and suggestively.

Both the titles of the works and the way they are created relate metaphorically the human body to the natural landscape and, by extension, to the body of Universe. Wax, crystal, alabaster by the implication of a variety of symbolisms come as an alternating reinforcement lending a ritualistic or poetic quality in the works.
In a group of works with beds as the main theme – suggesting the life cycle the human body, though visually absent, is evoked by hospital beds which are harmoniously transformed into cradles, by mattresses and other similar pieces of furniture. Human conditions such as health and illness, birth and death, peace and war, joy and pain, without excluding one or the other, are symbolized by the transformation of these items, presenting both aspects of the same thing.

Other works recall the laboratory of the magician-curator / therapist, referring to Shaman therapeutic practices, or a traditional Chinese consulting room with the natural presence of herbs and its special equipment. In his most important installation Jue Chang/ Fifty Strokes to Each which was created in Tel Aviv in 1998, at a rather critical moment for peace in the Middle East, between Palestinians and Israelis, the physical body of the spectator participates literally in the ritual proposed. In this huge installation-musical instrument, second hand chairs and beds covered by animal hides become drums that the audience is invited to strike. This metaphorically condensed, object-laden physical act is answered by the beating of drums. The adversaries release their tension by conquering force with force, both equally and justly. A process of deliverance, a ritual purification unfolds through the released energy of real human bodies, this time.

Curated by Anna Kafetsi