George Segal Gallery, Montclair State University, New Jersey, USA
Exhibition dates: 10 October – 7 December 2019
These international group exhibitions, related international conferences and publications, across three countries, has global impact. Confluence: Tradition in Contemporary Art is a group exhibition (10 Oct - 9 Dec.’19) of artists and designers from both DJCAD and Sichuan Fine Art Institute; 30 exhibitors at Montclair State University, coinciding with their ‘Leaders of the World’ conference. A second iteration documents 15 MSU artists joining the expanded exhibition, to be exhibited at SFAI (17 April-1 June ‘20) but postponed temporarily. Curated by Xu Sheng, organised by Mary Modeen and Kevin Li, the publication Modeen edited documents this work, in Chinese and English.
Independent curator Xu Sheng’s selection of these artists and designers from 3 institutions began with a call for the work of creative practitioners/researchers who draw inspiration from tradition in its broadest sense. He sought work that: ‘no longer sees “tradition” as an abstract entity, but focuses on the concrete forms that inspire the contemporary artist or designer, …concentrating on works based on real experiences and thoughts on the contemporary worlds.’ Tradition, then, is defined in broad terms, culturally, materially, emergent; it is reflected in the ‘confluence’ of many differing material responses and cultural customs.
Through origins, ancestry, immigration and investigative journeys these 46 selected artists (31 in the first New Jersey exhibition; 46 in the second Chongqing iteration), draw on various traditions around the world, reworking various traditions in reimagined and reinvigorated contemporary art forms. Teresa Braun, for example, was raised in the Canadian Mennonite tradition; Riad Miah’s work is based on research adapting an East Indian tradition; Mari Ogihara applies research in her work based on Japanese tradition; and Nadia Estela of the Dominican Republic, has a creative practice that reveals memories of shared immigrants’ experience.
Several artists combine biological and spiritual or metaphysical concerns of different religious traditions. Chinese Buddhist beliefs infuse work by Karl Nussbaum; Indian Rangoli ritual inspired Riad Miah. Moved by Shishi-odoshi fountain tradition, Christopher Kaczmarek explores shared energy around us through a sound device composed of machine parts and broken eggs.
Calum Colvin’s work builds on the Scottish Ossian myth, a blind seer and Scottish Gaelic bard who was reputedly the narrator and author of a cycle of epic poems published by the Scottish poet, James Macpherson in the 1760s. Colvin has worked with this imagery since 2002, exploring ideas around the construction of history and national identity, questioning the role of ‘truth’. He combines traditional photographic techniques with digital creating artworks that further blur distinctions between painting and photography. Graham Fagen’s digital film The Slave’s Lament was also featured in the Venice Biennale (2015), and arises from Robert Burns’ work of the same name (1792), that communicated the transatlantic slave trade. His newly reworked song brings social, political and human tragedies of today into focus, connecting Scottish and Caribbean history. Honorary Professor Alistair Maclennan’s digital film documents of one his more than 600 art performances around the world in evidence of the striking legacy of European live art avant-garde tradition.
Professor Pang Makun’s portraits are renowned across China, and he stands as one of the country’s most famous contemporary figurative painters; his work meticulously references the work of Old Masters, but is absolutely contemporary in his creative practice with elements of humour and sly wit. Zhang Xiang’s woven wicker ‘chair’ and Andrew Milligan’s chair-like sculpture reflect traditions of situated design, but both equally resist a seating function as objects. And Wei Jia’s lithographs are compelling images that emerge from shadows, resonating with the mystery and power of Goya and Rembrandt prints.
These works speak across nations, beyond verbal language, and signify complexly.