Perrotin Shanghai is pleased to present Chen Ke’s solo exhibition Bauhaus Gal / Room. Representing the mental space, to the artist, a room both shelters and confines. The exhibition features two seemingly divergent pictorial series: Bauhaus Gal (figurative portraits on canvas) and Room (abstract shaped aluminum plate), created by the artist simultaneously between 2020 and 2021.
The portraits on canvas seem to be in past tense, providing a historical background, while the shaped aluminum plates resemble more of real objects. From the aspects of “pictures” and “facts”, they work together to show the value she advocates for women: having the right of choice, being independently minded, unwavering and creative. The juxtaposition of the two series suggests a factual, evidential creator-product connection between the girls depicted and the specific objects.
The motivation for the project comes from a photo album called "Bauhaus Mädels." The cover of the book is carried with a small line "A Tribute to Pioneering Women Artist,” and the title page says, "Girls Want to Learn Something." This book records the files of some female students who once studied at the Bauhaus. It contains their portraits with simple life experiences. Before that, I didn't expect that so many women had studied in Bauhaus. The faces of young girls in the book resemble the rising sun. They are fresh, independent, confident, and full of expectation for the future.
We can see that for the first time, women appearing in a bold and avant-garde posture, and their appearance is extremely forward-looking, far beyond its era. It coincides with the wave of female independence that is emerging all over the world today. In them, I seem to identify the shadow of me at the age of 20, and also see the difficult grew-up process of women with their surroundings. I want to translate these faces to record the transience and eternity of life, the speed and slowness of time.
Whoever wishes to find the woman of today must seek her in real life: in art, in science, in practical work, indeed, even in society.
The Bauhaus Gal portraits are based on the zeitgeist-charged archive photos of the Bauhaus. Chen Ke prefers the classical conventions when delineating the faces of these pioneering young women of modern times. Immersed in their own world and in deep thought, they are completely oblivious of the gazes from the outside. While transforming into painting, these archive images undergo “physical implants” so that the painter can relive certain moments in life and recollect involuntary memories such as smell, light and touch, thereby reviving those black and white figures in these historical records.
Her awareness of medium from years of painting practice (seeing in abstraction) helps her to establish a link between the ancient spirit and contemporary sentiments. In the portraits, one sees the physical sensation of the early renaissance fresco painting transposed, imbricated on the close-ups of avant-garde films.
Chen Ke purposefully blurs the boundary between painting and photography, being and acting. Her portrait paintings restore to the moment just before the shuttle clicked, a moment in the past marked by the form, the props, the gesture, lighting, the look, and the camera shot, despite the fact that it is just her own interpretation, a type of restaged mise en scene. Her practice operates in the space between imagination and chemistry. Like photography, her paintings capture light and shadow to express congealed time.
One may say that the figurative and abstract language in the two series both serve in constructing a mind-scape, in and outside the pictorial field. The shaped aluminum plates were made in a state of purged subjectivity, or in other words, never before has she been so devoted to improvisation, much as the Bauhaus Theatre of Totality demands, to actively give up logic and intellect to be employed “on an equal footing with the other formative media”. These small scale works, taking the gallery space in its entirety, grow groups, break through the picture frames, connect with the movement of light and shade in real time and include the surroundings and walls in the visual field.
The abstract paintings on the metal sheet in this exhibition are the verification of the study of abstract painting in practice. These paintings constitute the Room series, which are derived from my visual experience and inner scene. If the canvas paintings depict the external world, these aluminum sheets are the reflection of my spiritual landscape. These Bauhaus Gal are also the scenery of my inner world.
Bauhaus Gal and Room exist in fictional territory but at the same time they are unique and truthful creation on their own. Chen Ke plots her art inside her own script, involving the medium of painting in the mutual generation of experiences and memories to endeavor an open-ended development. Spectators in the hall may contrast /judge for themselves the experiments behind the two styles, or perhaps just forget about painting all together by taking a stroll in the spatial-temporal set piece as if browsing through a picture album.
These girls found their spiritual utopias in the negotiation with the outside world, and so did I.
We were all lucky.
Born in 1978 in Tongjiang, Sichuan, China
Lives and works in Beijing, China
Chen Ke obtained a BA from the Oil Painting Department of Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in 2002 and an MFA in 2005 from the same faculty. Chen Ke launched her career in Beijing after graduating from Sichuan Fine Arts Institute. Since 2012, she began to use the real figures in historical images as the object of description. From Frieda to Monroe, she expresses her feelings in real life through the interpretation of these characters, especially the situation of women in society, and the experience of time and life. In her solo exhibition “The Real Deal is Talking with Dad” at Yuz Museum (Shanghai, China, 2018), through a series of mixed media paintings and installations inspired by the daily talk with the artist’s father, Chen Ke discussed the subjects of youth, personality and family.
Her work is widely collected by individuals, enterprises and museums like Franks-Suss Collection (London, U.K.), BSI Art Collection (Lugano Switzerland), Uli Sigg Collection (Switzerland), White Rabbit Collection (Sydney, Australia), Long Museum (Shanghai, China), Yuz Museum (Shanghai, China), Shenzhen Art Museum (Shenzhen, China) as well as Minsheng Art Museum (Shanghai, China), among others.
—More about the artist