For this new online project by GUCCI, curated by Creative Director Alessandro Michele, KALEIDOSCOPE was invited to select some of the most interesting new-generation artists active in Asia today. These artists were asked to bring a fresh perspective to the #GucciTian, an ornate and colorful pattern derived from early Buddhist banner paintings that is at the core of Gucci’s new collection. Check out their contributions, along with those of other participants, on Gucci’s Instagram account and the #GucciGram dedicated website.
The #GucciTian print finds its footing in 10th-century Chinese painting—specifically, “Bird and Flower” (huaniaohua), an ornate mode centered on stylized visions of colorful birds and blooming flora. Epitomized in the work of artists like Huang Quan and Xu Xi, the genre combined two of Chinese painting’s longest-standing motifs: birds and animals (chin-shou), which often spoke to notions of autonomy and purity; and flowers (huahui), a delicate, decorative form derived from early Buddhist banner paintings. Using techniques borrowed from classical calligraphy, “Bird and Flower” artists produced scenes of exquisite design, the vibrantly hued wildlife anchored in subtle but exacting compositions.
This was a highly symbolic style, embodying Daoist ideals of harmony through a series of balancing acts: between natural entities, action and stillness, intricacy and embellishment, accent and space. At the same time, “Bird and Flower” was a patently sensual brand of imagery, with washes, textures and tones merging to sublime ends. In updating the genre, #GucciTian pushes both traits to extremes. The print itself extends modest arrangements to an intricate tapestry. Translated to canvas bags and accessories, the pattern takes on a wilder edge, the brazen interplay of fabrics and colors reading as a kind of collage.
Like the print itself, the artists selected to “remix” #GucciTian were tasked with integrating existing cultural products into outside idioms. Though their approaches and chosen media vary widely, these young practitioners similarly treat cultural content as grist for the mill, a raw material to be molded in keeping with their respective practices.
Some of these works retain the pattern’s literal status as scenery. In Kong Lingnan’s contribution, the print becomes the backdrop for a sparse, otherworldly landscape, with neon-haloed figures and fluorescent sunrays. Others take a harsher, more irreverent approach to layering. In photographer Chen Wei’s piece, #GucciTian serves as both ground and frame, with a cropped photo of a taxidermy studio slapped directly onto the otherwise intact print. Like a traditional still life, the resulting work’s juxtaposed elements speak at once to lifespans and death, concepts which similarly take on new implications in a digital context. Cheng Ran, meanwhile, brings a post-Internet cut-andpaste aesthetic to his piece, which finds us faced squarely with surly black cat, the pattern swirling ominously behind it. Finally, aaajio’s video-based contributions transform the print into animated landscapes: in one, shadowy black boughs overwhelm the print’s flora, building like spilled ink through cotton; another replaces the print’s blue sky with undulating digital waves that heave as if in a storm.
Central to #GucciTian’s interpretative strategy is the idea of merging methods, dimensions and reference. We find this approach echoed in Chen Tianzhuo’s photographs. With the artist modeling an elaborate costume combining hip-hop bling with Beijing Opera attire, Chen has digitally integrated the Tian’s bird and monkey figures, furthering the admixture of cultural symbols. One finds a similar balance of beauty and provocation in the work of Wu Tsang: soaked with gold and silver paint, the performer poses stoically with handbag draped over her shoulder, rendering herself a living object, a commodity. (Christopher Schreck)
B. 1981, lives and works in Hangzhou
Cheng Ran’s multi-media video projects merge landscape, music, and a chill sense of urban alienation to channel the experience of youth culture in an era of globalization. His videos feature a flock of rock doves startled into flight, channeling the effects of technology on the natural world, or a futuristic landscape filmed in rich colors, overlaid with a conversation full of Internet jargon. His videos reference the way we consume and make media, like the use of a vertical iPhone-esque frame, but they also have an edgy component: handbags burst into flame, a rock band plays. In his remix for Gucci, Cheng Ran focuses on a surly kitten, the Tian pattern swirling in the background. (Larissa Pham)
B. 1983, lives and works in Beijing
Neon-outlined figures float through abstracted landscapes in Chinese artist Kong Lingnan’s paintings, which are more eerie ghost-town than Times Square. People sit, stretch, and wander in a richly hued navy blue expanse, the graphic palette reminiscent of a video game or alternate dimension outside of the time we’re used to experiencing. In Lingnan’s Gucci Tian remix, these figures—dwarfed by their surroundings—are presented with an entirely new territory to contend with, as the Tian print emerges past the horizon, a monkey perched on a neon beam. Suddenly their flat plane has become trickily 3-D as the overlapping flora and fauna hint at other dimensions. What sun rises here? And where will this new landscape lead them? (Larissa Pham)
B. 1982, lives and works in Los Angeles
Wu Tsang is an artist whose work first took root in Los Angeles with a series of popular genderqueer parties called “Wildness.” The parties blossomed into an artistic practice that breaks all boundaries, both of medium and of identity. “Wildness” became a documentary, and the artist translated her restless, provocative aesthetic into performances, research-driven installations, and collaborations. Tsang is creating a new world by inhabiting it as if it already exists. “For me performance is like research; lived experience is fundamental,” she has said. In Tsang’s images for Gucci, she daubs performer Boychild in gold and silver paint, with a Gucci Tian bag slung over her shoulder. The body becomes an object, but a mutable one. (Kyle Chayka)
B. 1984, lives and works in Shanghai
In Chinese artist aaajiao’s remixes of the Gucci Tian print, the images seem static at first—tranquil, even. Wait a moment, and planes will start to peel away from the viewer, rumbling into noisy patterns reminiscent of technovintage computer displays. The bright blue backdrop to the Tian print turns into a stormy ocean; another iteration of the classic print is “infected” with a slow-blooming shadow that creeps into the center of the image, projecting a fore-, middle-, and background into a space that was once purely flat. Birds are reversed into data, and data frames birds, revealing the underlying structure of digital images. The pattern is hacked, flipped and subverted to embrace a post-Internet world. (Larissa Pham)
B. 1985, lives and works in Beijing
Chen Tianzhuo is a young artist who has emerged out of Beijing’s gritty art scene, after attending London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Chen moved from fashion into the more provocative world of fine art, where he makes work that exposes the hidden vices of Chinese youth: weed, sex, and celebrity. His Gucci Tian remixes spring from a performance the artist undertook at the iconic dance club Berghain in Berlin. The costumes mingle the visual culture of ancient Beijing Opera with the contemporary language of blinged-out hip hop. The Tian print’s bird and monkey figures further enliven the dynamic images, capturing a moment of cultural intersection that occurs both for Gucci and Chen. (Kyle Chayka)
B. 1980, lives and works in Beijing
Chinese photographer Chen Wei’s work is as much about creating beauty as elevating social consciousness, as he stages still lifes and scenes that capture the despair and occasional joys of modernity. His images of overgrown plants creeping into homes and leaves sprinkled over a mattress where a discoball headed figure lays asleep, indicate an acknowledgment of nature’s eternal presence. In this image, the Tian print itself remains intact as a large frame around a central photo of taxidermy animals hanging in a room with a blindingly white laptop screen. The Tian’s palette of birds and buds can be read as indicators for life, the muted fur tones of the taxidermy as the descent closer to death. (Alana Massey)
All images courtesy of Gucci and the artists.