Zhenghui Chen (b.2000) is a designer/artist based in Beijing, China and London, UK. Through archives and writing, Zhenghui endeavours to cultivate a contemplative mindset, delving into the intricate interplay between decay and civilisation. He delves deep into historical records, unearthing forgotten narratives and buried truths, seeking to comprehend the ebb and flow of societies across time.
By navigating the intricate web of worship, memory, obsession, archives, and language, my artistic practice unravels the essence of decadence as a universally experienced state. This exploration not only challenges the Progressivism neglect of decadence within memory and language but also offers a more ethical and politically engaged approach to the process of mourning.
Drawing profound inspiration from the written word, my creative journey is deeply influenced by eminent postwar literary figures such as Paul Celan and W·G·Sebald whose belief in literature as a means of conveying truth resonates deeply with me. Moreover, Maurice Blanchot and Yukio Mishima's exploration of death ontology adds a further layer of influence to my artistic perspective. Therefore, I regard death and decay as the starting point of our existence, with the practice of art assuming the role of both witness and mourner.
At the heart of my creative process lies a contemplation of materiality. Wood, fabric, metal, paper, and rock become my chosen mediums, each carrying its own historical significance, weight, and sensory experience. I embrace rough, clunky, and blunt aesthetics, skilfully employing low-tech handwork. Through the dialogue between the hand and the medium, the traces of creation are better viewed as an important element that composes a work of art. Through this intentional approach, I strive to develop a perspective that complements our contemporary high-tech, digital world.
Central to my artistic vision is the creation of a space that invites viewers to engage in the co-creation and preservation of narratives and memories. This endeavour provides insights into our approach to decadence, echoing Paul Celan's notion of "breathing crystallisation" that crystallises thought into action on the problem，providing a tangible response to the challenges we face.
“Rubbing all that,
the Rottenleaves-like fabric is resisted by
the over hard ruins
As thin as paper, but before the rotten stage
almost dissolves in the object-surface
Bala, Sisi, the brush moves in
undulating continuous surface
be accommodated in the shade of ink and charcoal.
Even if it is only a generalized appearance of the phenomenon,
but kept nothing
in its dark blank,
is the real objective homeland of non-human beings.
‘Give it its shadow,
Give it enough shadows.’ "
Breaking away from the place, rubbings use their abstraction to express universal experience
The burned wood of the hanging frames poignantly expresses the pain endured by the church. A mourning space, archives room.
And，hanging, suffering, sewing……
As a space in a state of decay, ruins evoke people's imagination of the past's decline and their worries about the future, carrying historical information. The concept of ruins encompasses diverse perspectives. Our perception of ruins holds the power to shape reality, influencing our attitude towards them and, in turn, our attitude towards the deceased. Thus, there exists a vast political dimension within ruins.
Different from a Romantic view of ruins, this view of ruins is rooted in seeing ruins as objects of beauty and projecting our desires and emotions onto them. The ruins appear monumental and gigantic, offering solace for the anxieties of death. However, this view ignores the objective existence of ruins as a representation of real suffering.
Drawing inspiration from post-war and ancient Chinese perspectives on ruins, the former defines ruins in etymology as "mounds", a kind of emptiness left after the decay of wood buildings. And the latter which saw disaster as a kind of total and unbeautifiable suffering and sought to record it faithfully. I redefine them as specific historical disasters, utilising their absence to depict the entirety of their encounters. Simultaneously, I recognise ruins as a shared condition, a tangible reminder of human existence and its fleeting nature.
One embodiment of my approach to history and ruins is St-Dunstan-in-the-East In the City of London, a church ravaged by multiple disasters yet intentionally preserved as ruins rather than being rebuilt. It serves as an ideal representation of how we treat history and ruins.
Seeking a more personal connection with ruins, I find inspiration in Derrida's concept of 'semi-mourning,' which involves remembering while keeping the deceased forgotten. I reinterpret this concept and employ poetic reconstruction as a means of mediating between forgetting and remembering. In my artistic practice, I regard the archives as a kind of practical mourning and memory rather than the overflowing of emotion. Therefore I document the surface of the church by employing rubbing as a creative method. By delicately rubbing the surface of the ruins, I record the history they bear, forging a profound connection with the site. The resulting inscriptions create a mesmerising contrast with the fabric's inherent perishability, highlighting the inevitability of decay even in monumental structures. To further enhance the poetic imagination of history and grant the ruins greater freedom, I intentionally blur the rubbing traces and utilise laser cutting to engrave my poems. The hanging installation of the fabric evokes a sense of suffering, transforming it into a site of mourning that invites viewers to read and contemplate. The burned wood of the hanging frames poignantly expresses the pain endured by the church.
Medium:Fabric, burnt wood, charcoal, ink, video, sound, writing，laser cutting
Size:100 x 170 x 180cm
Associate ruins with garbage and contemplate their shared invisibility. Rubbing, as a way of capturing objects, replaces their original surfaces. Texts are handwritten onto these surfaces, creating room for personal expression and impersonal narratives. Rubbings possess an organic quality, just like the originals, facing the inevitability of decay. The archive serves to document the connection between the original objects and their rubbings. Creating a complex and contradictory a multi-layered record-recorded, wrapper-wrapped relationship.