Pearl Lam Galleries is delighted to present Words Tend to Be Inadequate, a group exhibition that illuminates how the use of text in the visual arts can be as powerful as images in communicating ideas or expressing inner feelings, thus exposing a personal world or responding to the world that surrounds us. The show aims to stage a meaningful dialogue between eight contemporary artists from the East and West who use words visually in their work, which include painting, collage, photography, LED signs, installation, and film.
Works by Daniel Gustav Cramer, Gonkar Gyatso, Jenny Holzer, Qin Yufen, Qiu Zhenzhong, Tsang Kin-Wah, Wang Qingsong, and Zhu Jinshi will be shown alongside each other in an exploration of different uses of text in art. If “words tend to be inadequate” on their own, then these artists aim to go beyond a word’s surface through their work to delve into deeper meaning.
The exhibition title “Words Tend to be Inadequate” is an aphorism from Jenny Holzer’s text series Truisms (first conceived in the 1970s), which is ironic given that it consists of words displayed in all caps, printed and plastered around town, or found at the bottom of cups, or boldly projected on public billboards. These words are often witty, challenging, and thoughtprovoking. The reactions they elicit from passersby play into the power of the work. This show will feature pieces from Holzer’s Pearl’s Truisms and Survival (2013), which incorporate selected aphorisms from the artist’s previous works into swarming masses of texts pulsing from colourful LED signs. Originally created for her 2013 Hong Kong solo exhibition with Pearl Lam Galleries, the signs are also in Chinese, reminiscent of signage found on the busy streets of Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Tibetan artist Gonkar Gyatso and Chinese artist Wang Qingsong both address the effects of globalisation and rapid modernisation through their work. Gyatso creates text-based mixed media collages where the outlines of topical Chinese characters like Wumai (Smog) and Chai (Demolition) (both 2014) are covered with sparkly kitten, butterfly, and flower embellishments. Meanwhile, Wang’s 2014 photographic work One World, One Dream, a diptych named after the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games slogan, features the colourful logos of Fortune 500 companies drawn on a giant blackboard on one panel, and the names of top universities from around the world on the other. Wang questions the actuality of ‘one world’ and ‘one dream’, which overlook individual desires in favour of global corporatisation.
Hong Kong artist Tsang Kin-Wah also uses words for both visual and emotional effect. This exhibition features his large-scale text installation Jenny just turns her back on me when I’m lost in… Art Basel Hong Kong Kabul Nicosia Phnom Penh Ulan Bator?? (2013), where crude phrases like “Luxury Art Create$ Big Money” and “Abu$e Of Art Come$ a$ No Surprise” are swirled across a floor area of 10 x 10 m. On the surface, Tsang creates visually dynamic patterns with the words, but the fundamental core of the work is in the words’ emotional impact.
Qin Yufen is known for her installations which combine traditional Chinese materials like silk with sound and text. She believes that the inner expression of an artwork is more important than its visual appearance. Qin began experimenting with text soon after her arrival in Berlin from Beijing in the mid-1980s. Since then, aphorisms have been constantly appearing in her sound installations. Qin has reworked her installation shown at the Sydney Biennale in 2006 on a smaller scale. The site-specific piece, Untitled (2014), consists of text, which questions the role of art in society, embroidered on 200 metres of silk draped across two drying racks. The installation process will be documented on video, as the performance will be a part of the final work.
Chinese artists Qiu Zhenzhong and Zhu Jinshi all make references to traditional Chinese uses of text in art. For them, writing is part of their artistic process, which is just as important as the end result.
Qiu Zhenzhong will exhibit Status-V from his New Poetry Series and Feeling is a Fragile Container (2005). Skilled in both traditional calligraphy and poetry, Qiu reinvents written Chinese characters by combining them with elements of modern art through a subtle control of space, time, and line. As the characters are largely indecipherable, the importance of the work lies in the created forms and the artist’s process, which is rooted in Taoist principles of connecting nature with humanity.
Since 2000, Zhu Jinshi has developed a custom of writing on the back of his paintings, which he says helps clear his mind. Diary 1 and Diary 2 (2011) display some of his thoughts, while Turning into a Butterfly in a Dream (2014) features text next to a painted image. Here, Zhu writes about his sleepless night before creating the work, which is similar to how poetry was written on ancient Chinese paintings to help viewers better understand their contents. Zhu will also exhibit Formless, a new work that consists of light boxes painted with Chinese characters. The piece is inspired by the Diamond Sutra, and demonstrates the artist’s aim of reflecting Oriental philosophy in the simplest way possible.
Multi-discipline German artist Daniel Gustav Cramer will exhibit his 20-minute video Orrery (2012), which recounts an encounter between two men at night in a hut outside an Australian village. Using word, sound, and image, it records the time they shared, talking, being silent, and finally departing. Words are at the centre of this, as they take the form of written text on the screen, expressing the thoughts and feelings of the two men without attempting to interpret them. Cramer uses the rhythm of the text to draw viewers in, while also keeping them at a distance. The sound records the night outside the hut, while the images only portray the setting of the encounter, never revealing the two men. The film reflects on solitude, friendship, trust, and the fleetingness of time.