A THOUSAND KISSES DEEP
– Philip Tinari
(Director, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art)
Song Kun is a painter of surfaces, of mental states, of fleeting feelings, and of lingering symbols. She was born at the front end of a generation that is only now coming into its own–after the death of Mao, just before the rise of Deng, and reared into the rising tide of consumer subjectivity and individual differentiation that marked the 1980s. The defining characterization of this generation is perhaps its schizophrenia–caught forever between systems, between regulations, indeed, between worlds. And faced with what seems to most like a very good thing, societies produce artists who explore alternative propositions, proposing ways of thinking and being that lie beyond widely accepted confines.
A Thousand Kisses Deep, shows how far her explorations have taken her in the intervening years.
The inspiration for the exhibition’s title comes from a 1967 song by Leonard Cohen which triangulates sex, depression, and anomie into a series of abstract situations that form, collectively, a picture of urban angst. The song cycles ambivalently among the second, first, and third persons, never quite sure where its most effective register might lie. As anyone who has both spent time in a corporate setting here over the past few years and dipped into the television series Mad Men can attest, there are shared conditions and obsessions between 1960s New York and 2010s Beijing. Unsettled dichotomies, shifting relations, and inflating fortunes breed specific pathologies. Isolation, one might surmise, becomes more intense against a backdrop of exuberance. The bubbly onset is the loneliest part.
Song Kun and her collaborators are not the first generation of Chinese artists to look at the city as a site for the uncanny. Indeed, the Post-Sense Sensibility formation, in whose footsteps she and her N12 generation follow chronologically if not stylistically, saw the upsetting potential of contemporary city life as a starting point for their often radical explorations. The subtitle of that group’s first exhibition in 1999–“Alien Bodies and Delusion”–could almost function as the name for the present project. But where those artists saw a deeply political, or at least sociological, undercurrent to their every gesture–if only in that they felt the need to justify their work as not being about such larger themes —we instead have here a feast of ambiguity and uncertainty, a paean to the ineffable lightness of a city on the move, and a testament to the acuity of this one observer of contemporary life in China.