In front of Han Feng’s pictures: Approximations (English version of the text “Vor den Bildern von Han Feng: Annäherungen”)
29 七月 2020

Jörg Huber

Stepping in front of Han Feng’s pictures, which come in a number of different formats, viewers will first need to recalibrate themselves: they need to choose a certain distance in order to gain an overview and have general impression of the picture. At the same time, however, the sense of calm and retreat in these pictures entices viewers to come closer. One is drawn to them, feeling seduced by a desire to experience the picture from up close and in its material presence. One has the desire to perceive the pictures while at the same time feeling them; the glance wants to see and touch. This aesthetic experience initiates a mutual interplay between immateriality and materiality, between lucid transparency and strong presence, between distance and closeness. Such oscillation takes the ground out from under one’s feet, letting one glide into groundlessness.

In such moments the pictures appear to flicker and dissolve into painting. This elusiveness of the image body is effected by the emphatically subtle application of paint. The acrylic paints in shades of white-grey-black are placed onto the ground as a gentle and transparent skin as if the image was always only about to emerge and under threat of immediate disappearance again into the abyss of its ground. Painting descends onto the image as a veil. And again we are in a game – a game of veiling and revelation, of empathy and aloofness.

Colour appears on the one hand as if it was a varnish, a film, ever so thin, layered over something that had been placed there before, and on the other hand as a grounding for something that is yet to be placed. Painting thereby produces a no-more and a not-yet: a transitional situation, or a threshold – perhaps also a hesitation, or a pause. In this transition the picture exposes some kind of endangerment, perhaps its own: its own precarious presence as a picture in a world of loud and garish manifestations of visual culture.

The colours are applied with quiet brushstrokes in subtle nuances, precise in their formal distinctions. What manifests here is the discipline of minute precision, the fascination with a clarity of representation. The pictures are unambiguously figurative, they present something, the artist knows what he is doing. At the same time, however, as if this presentation wanted to present itself, in various places the application of paint takes on a life of its own. The colour forms droplets, separating itself from the form and flowing downwards into an openness as if the image was hurt in these places. „Something“ happens, accidental occurrences manifest; painting eludes the painter’s grasp. As the author of the picture the artist sets something in motion that liberates itself in the events of the picture, eluding his control. The painting is the scene of this empowerment and loss of control: a place of aesthetic events.

Each picture is a representation. They represent things: a ventilation tube, a staircase, blinds, a ventilator, an airplane, a chimney, a bus … The things stand in isolation within the picture, detached from any contextuality. These are unspectacular things, in unspectacular stagings, and that is precisely why they become spectacular in the picture: they become noteworthy. Han Feng is not interested in the thing, the object as such, he is interested in the thing and the object in the picture and as a picture.

The same thingness also characterises the pictures as pictures, which are both things and signs. They are not framed, they appear „unfinished“, emphasising the fact that they are the result of a production process. They are mounted canvasses which make the folds and the small sides on the massive wooden frame visible and capable of being experienced. The artist produces everything himself: handicraft. He chooses a coarse canvas whose knobbly structure emphasises the materiality of the ground on which the lucid painting is layered. The tactility of such surface affection can immediately be felt. Together with the thingness of the picture it conveys a stability of the picture in its presence, in the tense relationship to the transience of painting. A further dimension of this sensualisation is caused by the light that breaks in the surface structure of the canvas, giving the impression that the pictures are lit from behind – an arrangement which Feng stages deliberately for some of his objects in space: objects with the effect of pictures that have entered space.

The pictures are manifest as bodies; they open planes, areas, and spaces. The staircase leads down and up and yet remains within the plane: the space is plane, and the plane is space. The pipe emerges from the left background of the picture, fills space, leads through the picture with two bends at right angles, and to the right back into the background. The inconceivable length of the airplane becomes small and fits into the picture square yet reaches across by filling it; fuselage and wings stretch out to form long and thin elements: the object transforms into a formal element that divides the picture plane into four squares. Busses stack up like cakes, forming towers, autonomous structures resembling staircases. And human beings? They produce the things, use them, and remain outside the picture – only sometimes, occasionally, they leave ephemeral traces of use, in the rare places were Han Feng uses colours. A small trace of rust, for example, that marks a spot on a ventilation pipe. No more.

What thoughts cross your mind as you stand in front of these pictures? You think something that has not yet been put into words, something that has no meaning yet. You think sensations, and you think that the things and the pictures are among us and act with us and speak to us. You think with the body and you think that you are in the pictures and that they are around us. You think with the pictures, in pictures. And you experience yourself feeling and thinking: the aesthetic of pictures is an aesthetic of experience.

Translation: Benjamin Marius Schmidt