The Energy of Emptiness
Globalization is accelerating communication and interaction among the multitudes of human cultures and the boundaries between existing cultures are disappearing rapidly. While globalization is a universal concept that makes life easier for all, it does not unify cultures. In that sense the individualism of unique cultures is more important and precious now than it has even been before.
The artist Li Chen was born in central Taiwan, and in his expansive studies of Buddhist and Taoist scriptures he seeks truth beyond the material world. He uses sculpture to convey the spirit and allusions of eastern culture, taking the idea of "Emptiness'', or "Void", as his central creative aesthetic concept. These are important concepts in Chinese Buddhist and Taoist cultures. But "Emptiness" in Buddhism does not mean "Nothing". Instead it connotes a vast and calm understanding of one's existence in the world. In the same vein, there is a Taoist saying that goes: "When emptiness is broken, the earth loses its balance"; it describes an extreme state of disturbing the balance of things as pursued though the idea of interconnectivity.
Li Chen's sculptures investigate the energy of such emptiness, and his sculptural forms are not empty, but instead are full of a vital energy. He achieves this through an energetic and spiritual style that uses exaggerated shapes and dark black lacquer to create a spiritual matter that people can absorb. But the sculptures also convey emotions that are sweet, romantic, happy and satisfied. For this reason, though some of his works may be massive, they don't appear oppressive and heavy. Instead they seem to be floating in the air, exhibiting an alluring ambiguity between lightness and heaviness.
Li Chen also makes breakthroughs in the already-existing styles of Buddhist sculpture that have existed over thousands of years. He alters the thick and full Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) style Buddhist sculptures and the elegantly spiritual characteristics of Song Dynasty (A.D. 960-1279) sculpture, reaching an extreme simplification in both face and line. He extracts elements of China's five thousand years of history and culture, including Chinese immortals, Buddhas, dragons, fairy tales and folk tales, etc. and takes them a step further, creating contemporary artistic work from them. He successfully combines classical and contemporary perspectives and creates works that are unprecedented and unique forms, endowing new life to eastern sculpture.
I'm honored to be part of this project. Li Chen's exhibition "Energy of Emptiness - In Search of Spiritual Space" will be holding in the Telecom Italia Future Centre, which is an important museum with historical significance in Venice as part of 52nd International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia Collateral Event. The exhibition will present a group of Li Chen's indoor and outdoor sculptures from his past significant series. In Li Chen's work Dragon-Riding Bodhisattva, the Buddha stands firmly and with a compassionate face. With his right hand he makes a gesture and in his left hand he holds a sacramental purifying bottle. The figure stands between heaven and earth and radiates a quality of peacefulness with its warm embrace. The dragon itself was inspired by the design on ancient Chinese dingvessels, and is filled with energy and a solid vitality. The dragon reveals a lively and benevolent expression. Each foot rests on a dragon ball, a lotus flower, an auspicious cloud, and heavenly flame respectively. The dragon seems to levitate and transgress space and time.
All in One is a representative early work by Li Chen from 1998. "All in One" is the action of putting the palms together, and is a common Buddhist ceremonial act. It not only brings concentration to the mind, but also impresses sincerity and modesty on the viewer. Putting the palms together has the implications of strengthening concentration and memory as well as reaching a free and tranquil state of meditation. The traditional expression and posture of the slightly bowed head, closed palms, and solemn appearance are all presented here, but the normally elaborate pleats of clothing and shapes of physique are simplified into a concise yet natural and powerful image. The true spirit of "unity" and "perfection" are realized in this piece. Li Chen's artwork is not only a simple act of creation, but is also a supreme state of devoutness and purity, as well as the union of body and mind.
In Pure Land, a child lies or almost floats unburdened on top of a mountain peak, seemingly lost in another dimension. From a physical perspective, the sculpture appears unstable, but Li Chen cleverly manipulates the form and expression, in particular where the legs cross, to create a carefree, innocent sculpture of a child resting on a mountaintop. The full forms and lines of this work contain a powerful tension and energy, and the use of Chinese lacquer also adds a remarkable effect on the facade of the bronze material.
Li Chen uses rounded form and soft line together with contemporary methods to convey a profoundly classical Chinese spirit. He looks inwards towards eastern realms of thought and reaches an enlightenment through the shifting emotions of his, an enlightenment that is a precious commodity in today's busy society. These sculptures are also the projection of Li Chen's individual pursuit of an inner harmony. This kind of naive and innocent beauty is indeed what differentiates Li Chen's style from the rest. I truly believe Li Chen will make his name on the international stage in the future.