Flowers Gallery presents the first major UK solo exhibition by New York-based Chinese artist Shen Wei. The exhibition brings together works from several series from 2009 to the present day, incorporating photography and moving image.
Responding to his conservative upbringing in Shanghai, Shen Wei’s self-portraits, nudes and sensuous landscape photographs explore notions of identity, memory and sexuality. This exhibition draws connections between the influence of Chinese culture and his own personal process of self-discovery.
On view are photographs from his new series Broken Sleeve including provocative self-portraits role-playing iconic Chinese characters from historical and popular culture, inspired by folk tales, films and personal experience. Creating a secret world of time, energy and dreams, Broken Sleeve explores the co-existence of harmony and danger, power and submission. Alongside the portraits, altered images of doorways and pavilions reflect the complex social significance of doors and entrances in China as indicators of status, control and identity. Nude self-portraits from Wei’s earlier series I Miss You Already also suggest notions of desire and control. Bent (also in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum), portrays the body stretched to create a taut arch within the contained space of a cave, while Syracuse examines the potent interaction of two figures.
Also in the exhibition are works from Between Blossoms, a series of introspective nude self-portraits and landscapes created across continents, from the United States to Europe and Asia. These seductive photographs capture a unifying sense of other-worldliness within the changing landscape that Wei describes as “deeply connected to my inner melancholy, a dream-like state of mind.” The works from this series bind the influence of traditional themes of landscape within Chinese art, with the ancient philosophy of Qi – a powerful unseen life force within natural phenomena.
Wei’s attention to the interactions of darkness and light, and negative or void spaces gives these hidden forces tangible form, drawing from the philosophical treatment of emptiness as solid space often found in Chinese painting. The interplay of positive and negative elements also articulates oppositional emotional states of fear, attraction, joy, loneliness and absence. This can be seen in the near pitch-black void within Peach Tree, from which a lush, flower-studded tree emerges, and is also present in images from the Broken Sleeve series, for example in the light-filled cavity of Doorway (Blue).
On view are examples of Wei’s video work, Bubble (2013) and Like Its Own Tear (2016). Performing for the camera in moving image works such as Bubble, Wei explores the intense effects of bodily experience, drawing out a provocatively extended gesture of blowing a bubble until reaching a state of exhaustion. In contrast, the meditative close up view of dew-laden foliage in Like Its Own Tear uses the slowing of time to focus and attune the senses.all images © the gallery and the artist(s)