[Synopsis] Zong Ning | Reservoir Dogs

By Cui Cancan 2015

For an artist, a solo exhibition is not merely for displaying his works. It is like a narrative of a particular person, revealing the status, the state of mind, and the situation of this person, as well as various responses he makes—somewhat of a motley assortment of autobiography, fragmentary speeches, and longings. In the structure of this narrative, works are no more than refractions of a personal life, and the exhibition hall merely showcases scattered information. It resembles a honey bee: when pollination is finished, the can only leave the flowers, return to its hive, and start another stage in its cyclic life.

Zong Ning grew up both on the grassland and in the industrialised city. During the Support Border Areas movement, his father, together with his family, moved to Wulagai, and later to Wuhai. Like the most kids at the time, Zong Ning had a childhood life of austerity, though not lacking good moments and simple happiness. In 2001 he left his small town for Beijing, and lived in a basement for an extended period of time. He has been a fine arts college student, painting instructor, private tutor, website creator, commercial painting, and artist's assistant, with livelihood being his primary concern. In those days, artistic creation was for him a meaningless consumption. It was too abundant in resources to be resigned to its own dying; yet, to live, it had to resort to a medley of irrelevant methods. Behind that iron gate of reality, his childhood happiness evaporated.

In 2011, Zong Ning moved to Heiqiao outside the 5th Ring Road, a place of something like the Painter Village in the old Summer Palace. Over 1,000 artists, with little more than aspirations, lived in Heiqiao. Its conditions were even worse than in Zong Ning's small hometown, despite being located in Beijing, an "international metropolis" in his family's eyes from afar. Here, potential hope approaches turbulence, unrest, and perseverance. For upwards of several years, Zong Ning had been fanatically painting various imaginary scenes, and taking notes of the relations between himself and the real life. On those pictures painted and repainted, were his own feelings unfettered by the world. This artistic activity brought no goodness in the utility sense of the word, yet was crucially important to him. Through it he cast off the shackles of prejudice, obtained the right of free decision, and crossed the boundary of time and space. He often got drunk in the dull life. Against the completely unchanged situation, his wantonness and sense of oppression seemed at once respectable and hopeless.

Contrary to the cheap structure of reality, Zong Ning's work had an imposing force of impact. He added to his situation some fresh braces of imagination, abrupt switches between dialogues and thoughts, fantasies of impromptu situations, and natural rhythm of desire. Various daily items and aesthetic forms made up a jungle distortedly growing, in which all are interdependent and hold each other up. In those paintings are flashing stories and bluffing weirdness—one can sense the warmth of an animal, the variational growth of flesh, the hollowness of the skull, blood and rottenness, the sound of collision of fleshes and the howl of man, and the unwashable depression and sordidness. These scenes bear a resemblance to the basement where he had lived, with the air of "base" and a mixture of specious information of reality. One might also say, the scenes come pretty close to reality itself, growing in accordance with the logic of reality—a ruin in which men had struggled with inferior life and no one survived.

Things changed across the 20-day span this exhibition's duration, resulting in an ambivalent scene like fragmentary speeches. It contains lots of information, wholly yet separately in its two worlds segregated by an iron gate, narrating the several years here of a person. It is as it were a solidified moment, spreading in wild field crazily, absurdly, and persistently. Everyone could see that there is something impaled by the spikes of those forks: the selves we aspire to possess and we are dispossessed of. Possibly, only in this moment of poverty, dejection, shame, and honor, as when a dog is shakes himself dry after struggling out of water, could our comprehension of the world penetrate deeper into the soil of its nature.