MY To start with GLIMPSE of Tang Song was by the windshield of a motor vehicle. He was perched on a rooftop superior earlier mentioned the bamboo-coated mountains as I drove up to his lair. With his newly-shaved brown head shining in the sun and his pointed ears chopping the sky driving him, he looked like Lucifer, the fallen angel, peering down above his topics as they completed their lengthy journey. Initial impressions go a extended way and Tang’s. . .very well, his keeps on likely. The scene appeared straight out of a James Bond film: a solution, remote headquarters the place a mad villain paced the rooftop conspiring to decimate the planet. Within, his sprawling complex disclosed yet another intensive actuality. Aside from a smaller untidy space that held a cot and hotplate, the full uncooked concrete shell—room after room, ground following floor—was filled with Tang’s daring installations and paintings standing resolute to the bare features, productions of sheer insanity.
I was up on this mountainside to interview Tang for the Asian Art Archive’s 1980’s undertaking, which aimed to gather very first-hand info from those people who aided shape that tumultuous period in China. There was a selected serendipity in coming right here for responses. In some approaches, Tang’s hand was complicit in that decade’s violent crescendo. His collaboration with artist Xiao Lu in the seminal 1989 exhibition China Avante-Garde unleashed a shot of defiance that rang out all over the earth and expected the tragedy in Tiananmen Square just a number of months later on. This legendary episode is regarded a milestone in Chinese modern artwork, nonetheless Tang never ever entirely recuperated from its calamitous reverberations.
Our job interview wasn’t simple. Tang was hardly ever a single to just give you what you needed. He had a way of rhetorically mirroring any dilemma you posed so that it appeared irrelevant, insignificant and in some cases downright silly, primarily pertaining to delicate subject areas. Tang was himself a sensitive subject matter and, in a way, his individual nemesis. He continued to speak in koans correct up to the end, nevertheless his ambiguity didn’t inhibit his large heart, which seemed to be in a condition of regular reconciliation. Crafting to the critic Li Xianting in June of 1989, he pronounced: “I regard a person’s life, or my personal life, as an experiment, an experiment with an creative attribute.” Tang was personal with the absurdities and the futility of daily life, probing his existence and the calamities that plagued it by way of his perform.
Tang’s childhood in the course of the Cultural Revolution was marred by his mother’s suicide when he was just seven yrs old. Following a stint in the military, of which he fondly remembered the course of gruelling work out, he enrolled in the Ink Portray department at what is now the China Academy of Art at a time of fervent experimentation. He remembered that “there was no these point as modern day,” and no text to sufficiently describe what was taking place: “Where does the new start?” His early functions were being a much departure from the prescribed ink on xuan paper, tending toward multi-media installation and overall performance. In actuality, action became the mandate for his life and perform, with all his creative imagination stemming from efficiency. Robert Rauschenberg’s vacation to Beijing in 1985 remaining a profound perception on Tang. The American artist warned the youthful Chinese scholar not to “always imagine about what to do in New York, or what to do in Paris, but to construct a little something new that belongs to China, in your have nation. . .Will not try to eat other people’s leftovers.”
Soon immediately after that famous shot marked the stop of the ’80s, Tang stowed absent on a cargo ship from Hong Kong to Australia. He was learned by the ship’s captain as they crossed the equator. When Tang lastly emerged into the sunlight, the 1st he’d noticed in weeks, a rainbow stretched across the sky to greet him. He recalled that “the ship steered towards the rainbow but could by no means achieve it and the rainbow would never ever fade absent.” The rainbow turned the symbol of hope and eternity that appears in the course of Tang’s afterwards paintings, and was a driving pressure in his life. On the other hand, this hope was momentarily crushed when, upon arriving in Australia, he was detained in a refugee internment camp for 6 months. Tang’s time there was not straightforward, but he ongoing to make his Action performs and observed strategies to endure. He exhibited an set up of five thousand matches all standing with their recommendations dealing with up, building a wonderful sea of red. It was a negligible sculpture with lots of implications that had to be vigilantly viewed above by a protection guard so that no fireplace would erupt. The do the job, like Tang’s character, was a dare, a menace and an invitation at the exact time. He afterwards explained of his paintings: “I want them to make people today feel uncomfortable, give them nightmares. And when they wake up, they sense gratified.”
Tang returned to China in 2007 and started doing the job fervently and nomadically, trying to keep studios in Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai, but seldomly exhibiting. His return was not so a lot a reunion with a shed land and people but a catalyst for inward exploration. The canvases he created about people decades are the end result of a series of determined, decided steps. He forcefully labored his surfaces with dense coats of paint, often applied with mops, more than a grid or other designs produced of strings. In some cases he utilised a energy saw to expose the painting’s self-referent archeology—years of labor, anguish, indecision, disgust, jubilation, transcendence. The sheer thickness and scale of the paintings, up to 30 meters long, expose the vitality and actual physical stamina Tang utilized to execute them. Portray is no effortless job, able of exhausting one’s essential essence, still with just about every canvas there are no signals of Tang retreating. Each individual are introduced like mere instances in a very long background of turmoil fairly than finished will work of artwork.
I did not see Tang for a long time just after that job interview on the roof right up until a opportunity face reunited us. It was most likely his first social celebration in many years and he believed it was fate that introduced us jointly, just like destiny brought him Lao Wang, his new husband or wife who, like an angel on his shoulder, guided him in the direction of the gentle. “My painting is a way of courtship and this love is about liberty,” Tang stated of his works but he could have simply been talking about his everyday living with Wang. My return to Tang and his art actually left me shaking in my sneakers. His canvases, scarred like the person himself attained simultaneoulsy toward the internal self of Ātman and outward to our universal, unidentified eternity. It’s not frequently in the jaded artwork business that we encounter genuine existential awe throughout a studio stop by. We’re all much too intelligent to be emotional or philosophical. Then Tang invited me to arm wrestle him, drink with him, smoke with him. That’s the way he was. He’d threaten you with a knife and then dance with you.
There was still substantially to do. He experienced only started his new course of motion, but it goes without stating that no make any difference how you move in direction of the rainbow, you will never get to it. It is no coincidence that on the morning he handed, Shanghai’s skies ended up lit up with rainbows.
Farewell you bastard!
Mathieu Borysevicz is the founder of BANK/MABSOCIETY in Shanghai.