As part of this year’s Manchester Weekender, the gallery stages Wu Chi-Tsung’s first UK solo exhibition.
“The images were created by scrunching rice paper for over half an hour,” says Wu Chi-Tsung, the artist behind the Chinese Art Centre’s latest exhibition, Re-calibrate. The somewhat laborious process refers to Wrinkled Textures, a collection of cyanotypes that feature in the show and bring to mind the rock formations of mountainous Chinese landscapes. “The scrunching creates the small rifts, crevasses and textures of a rocky mountain surface,” explains Chi-Tsung. “Parts of the images are also affected by sun-light exposure and the final pieces have been blown up to envelope the viewer.” On closer inspection, Chi-Tsung’s efforts can be fully appreciated: the deep paper creases have evidently been worked into over a protracted period of time and the scale of the work makes it all the more powerful.
It’s not just Chi-Tsung who has been putting in extra hours, the Chinese Art Centre worked closely with Chi-Tsung to adapt their gallery space in preparation for Crystal City 004. The installation, which features a shadow cityscape projected onto the gallery walls, is accompanied by a collection of boxes and plastic materials usually found in the packaging of toys or gifts. Under the projected light, these structures change to form enlarged shadows. The shapes of the boxes and plastic morph as the light reveals subtle textures and creates new landscapes that appear solid and real. Viewers are encouraged to move the objects, allowing the shadow of the cityscape to evolve and change. “I wanted to visualise this invisible reality that surrounds us all and exists as a separate, unreachable place,” explains Chi-Tsung. “Crystal City 004 describes something that appears normal and draws different perspective of feeling. Although the objects appear very cheap, light and fragile; the shadows created reflect structures that appear solid, and almost stronger than the objects themselves.”
Viewers can move the objects to change the shadow of the cityscape
The boxes and plastic packaging itself also forms an integral part of the installation as the artist aims to reflect the mess of an urban environment. “Once the light is placed on the surface of the objects, they grow into tall visible city landscapes,” says Chi-Tsung. “I feel we have lost some connection with what we create within our civilization and what we physically and invisibly surround ourselves with.” Despite probing this distance between our individual experience and the wider world, Chi-Tsung admits that he struggles when exploring darker issues in modern urban life. “Where possible, I respond playfully to the opportunities that are presented to me but people have told me that my work is very positive and that I focus on the bright side,” he says. “Sometimes I avoid discussing the darker side as well, which is an issue for me.”
But the worrying power of new technologies and virtual reality is a subject Chi-Tsung has no problem in confronting. “I wonder what the next generation will experience as new technology surrounds them from the moment they’re born,” he says “I see children playing on their tablets, phones or the internet rather than playing with each other in person. I wonder how this reality will evolve.” As a child himself, Chi-Tsung had little access to modern toys, something that he says has inspired his practise. “My father liked to fix and make stuff which influenced me. My studio is like a factory, it’s full of strange stuff that doesn’t appear to have a purpose,” he says “When I have a new idea, I experiment and play to discover what can be done with the material I’ve researched.”
In the past, the artist has called upon his father’s manufacturing skills to develop new artistic processes. “When I was at college, he had retired from his job as a factory manager and I asked him to come to my studio,” he remembers. “I learned so much from him and was able to introduce him to new ideas too. The time together was a really rewarding experience. We got to know each other more and he has remained actively interested in my work.”