The installation "The long journey", designed specifically for the Reale Mutua headquarters by the Chinese artist and calligrapher Chen Li for Art Site Fest 2022, addresses the basic issues of human existence, from the relationship between individuals to the relationship between soul and body, up to our need to pursue a balance between Man and Nature.
Drawing on the philosophy of Confucius (6th-5th century BC) and Tang poetry (8th-10th century AD) the artist provides food for thought in dialogue between East and West with solutions of great visual impact, which involve the viewer in an immersive dimension also thanks to the support adopted (large painted canvases) and to the double register of painting and writing, which has always been the artist's stylistic code, which finds a mature aesthetic expression in the calligrapher exercise. This coexistence well interprets the theme chosen for the eighth edition of Art Site, "Tales for harsh days": the narrative dimension of Art, as well as the (also) visual beauty of poetry and literature, and, finally, the recovery of the culture of our ancestors can provide man with ever-present interpretations, codes to face, also and above all, moments of difficulty and change, in which we are most disoriented in reading and interpreting reality.
The site-specific installation combines the oriental tradition of the three large painted and floating canvases with the baroque and elegant forms of the courtyard of the historic Palazzo Biandrate Aldobrandino di San Giorgio, both expressions of a sophisticated and complex thought; the work, with its icastic presence that ideally embraces the entire court, the intense colors and the various levels of reading suggested by the presence of ideograms, ideally introduces and concludes the path of the Historical Museum housed on the ground floor of the building: also in the strong project of the museum is the attention to the dimension of the word in the importance of the written document, illustrated in its changes over time in perfectly preserved and handed down archival documents.
Two of the large canvases were made at the end of a long path of reflection and artistic planning that Chen Li has conducted over time, starting with his personal reinterpretation of Chinese culture, reflecting in particular on a famous aphorism by Confucius, already at center of Ang Lee's famous 1994 film "Eat drink man woman": "Under the sky what interests men is eating, drinking and the relationships between men and women". In this case, the comparison between human beings, underlined in the spiritual enrichment between different genders, is read as a primary need on a par with the nourishment of the body. The artist, also following the artist residency held in 2019 in the splendid natural context of the american La Napoule Art Foundation on the French Riviera, went further in the reflection: "[...] We human beings enjoy Nature, beautiful, luxuriant, in image of the earthly paradise, but this, historically, was not enough for us ”- says Chen Li -“ We want more, we want to know, and this happens through the word. I therefore wanted to represent in the canvases the sea and the fishes, the stones, the Nature, our primordial being; on the other, the words of Confucius, to recall the tireless human search for confrontation with the other: almost a declaration of love in 4 ideograms.
The third work, on the other hand, draws inspiration from the poetry of the Tang dynasty (618-907 A.D.): for complexity, quality and compositional refinement, Tang literary production, although little known in the West, is comparable to the literary production of our Renaissance.
Chen Li wanted to recover this Chinese cultural heritage, much less known than Confucian philosophy but no less important: "The poets of the Tang era, officials and statesmen, belonged to a period of great cultural flourishing in China: only 289 years, which we can compare to the Italian Renaissance. Politics and culture were considered complementary: only those who knew how to compose poems in the classical style could be considered fit to govern. In their compositions there is always great attention to Nature, to the names of plants and animals, to perception and feelings, which are described with sensitivity, attention to descriptive and emotional details, able to restore the individual characters and different situations, with interesting points of contact with Western poetry.
In particular, Han Yu's poem Late Spring was chosen for this project, which Chen Li interpreted visually in an intense variation of reds and purples.
Grass and trees know that spring will no longer return,
hundred kinds of red, purple, fragrance set.
The willow and elm spread seeds without any talent,
but they fill the sky making the snow fly.
The artist continues: "I believe that the universal value of these poems is in full coherence with the motto of Reale Mutua that we find inside the Historical Museum:" We are responsible for our actions and for Our History". Authors always take responsibility for the choice, choice of content, choice of words, which become lessons and care for them and for those who will read them. Each path excludes another. Our actions are our choice and our choices create our own history during the time. Man observes Nature in its eternal lesson of rebirth and perseverance, and reacts with the intellect - the word - to overcome contingent difficulties, but not with effort and haste: "with happiness and love".
IL LUNGO VIAGGIO (The long journey)
Curated by: Domenico M. Papa
Critic essay by: Paola Stroppiana
Date: from Tuesday 2022 October 4 to November 6, 2022Opening hours: Museo Storico Reale Mutua