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Dialogue Between an Artist and His Shadow


Text by Mo Yan

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to preview each set of Dongfang Tuqin’s new work in his studio, and every time I couldn’t find words to express my overwhelmingly complicated feelings. When I saw his latest series, I’m Not Me, the situation was no different. Without his explanation, I would never guess that he had taken photos of his own shadow with a digital camera, transferred the images in pieces to giant canvases with a net, web and other technical means, then applied oil paint- culminating in innovation akin to what legendary Cang Jie did to invent Chinese characters. No doubt the work would be classified as a hybrid or assembled art, but the combination of many elements is one specific feature of modern art. This kind of amalgamation creates novel and unprecedented visual impact- it is not simply assembly or a montage, but an organic fusion under the guidance of certain clear philosophical ideas. Once they merge, they become a single piece of art with an individual life.

Dongfang’s “graffiti” was never as simple as random smears. The work was born of thorough contemplation, though improvisational elements are still injected into his creations. He is first a philosopher of life and humankind, and secondly an art creator. Patrons may get some ideas about his intentions after browsing the themes of the I and Me series. “Where am I from?” “Where will I go?” “Who am I?” “Who is ‘I’?” The same age-old questions to puzzle ancient people continue to confuse us today. No definite answers can be found in the past nor have authoritative answers been developed today. This series explores the relationship between humans and shadows as well as between light and shadow. This is an inseparable relationship, with subjects inextricably linked by a common fate. In many primitive tribes, shadow was considered an extension of the body, or one in the same. “Whip my shadow, I will feel pain; shoot my shadow, I will bleed to death.” Modern photography has finally peeled the shadow away to an existence independent of its caster. But can the shadow obtain independent essence through the divorce? I guess this question was lingering on Dongfang Tuqin’s mind when he conceived the I’m Not Me series. To some extent, every shadow belongs to its caster and shares common attributes. But the objects that carry the shadows- for instance, land carpeted with falling leaves, a trail paved with pebbles, or a piece of wall with preserved slogans- differentiate them from one another. Various shapes of the caster also inject shadows with metaphors about the era as well as political symbolism. Therefore, writing and painting depicting such subjects become further extensions in metaphorical and symbolic expression.

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