By Chen Chen
Chinese artist Zong Ning has created Clue as a part of his project reflecting on his emotional upheaval during the pandemic. The work is mixed media, including acrylic paint and wood panels. An acid green grid, painted by the artist himself, defines the space wherein which the most striking visual element presents itself: A spot of red paint, resembling blood. The red liquid appears as spread out all over the wooden grid, stretching along its surface, in the attempt to fill the whole frame. The bright red is in stark contrast with the yellowish brown, thus creating a strong visual impact.
Zong Ning reduces its expressive palette to a drop of red paint on a board, allowing it to flow over, spread into, and permeate the artistic surface. There is something in the gestural component of the Chinese artist that echoes the work of Jackson Pollock, the famous abstract expressionist. With his dripping technique, Pollock developed a unique style of action painting. Though Zong Ning’s Clue does not exactly mirror Pollock’s creations, there is an interesting similarity between those two: They both have a certain preference for abstraction. The lack of representational content both in Pollock and Zong Ning is a device for effectively expressing emotions in ways that can stimulate the viewer’s imagination. Therefore, Clue could be called an abstract painting, whose features resemble some elements of his photography.
“In spite of our hubris, we can’t control nature and prevent disasters. Isn’t that what nature is warning us about?”
In talking about the pandemic, Zong Ning emphasizes that “Our actions have consequences, and desires come with a price.” In the painting, the red color comes to symbolize the source of all tragedies and disasters. This point of origin is gradually expanding and spreading: It can’t be stopped. When disasters strike, Zong Ning wants to tell us, it is nature’s revenge against humanity: No one can stay out of it. And here we can see a pattern. With the development of modern civilization and the progress of science and technology, the ambition of human beings is just getting bigger and bigger. But it is obvious that, in spite of our hubris, we can’t control nature and prevent disasters. Isn’t that what nature is warning us about? How do we get through an outbreak when we think about it, and how do we get through it after? Perhaps, we should try to live in harmony with nature.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 has brought to all of us grief. Just life every person experiences it in a different way, so each one of us should express it differently. The process of finding meaning is not simple. Zong Ning’s creation suggests that this is the revenge of nature. Perhaps this is something that comes from the artist’s personal story. Born in Inner Mongolia, he struggled in adapting to a life in the big metropolises of contemporary China, so crowded and modern. We humans have little or no respect for nature. We believe ourselves to be as powerful as god, when in fact we are just a small point in the universe.