Karl Weiming Lu was a member of the first generation of Chinese artists, after the end of the Cultural Revolution, to seriously begin experimenting in the visual arts. This movement is usually cited as having begun in some of China’s larger cities around the year 1985 but it only lasted a few short years as the government soon cracked down on such expressions of individualism around 1989, the year of the Tiananmen Square horror. This crackdown seems to be one of the reasons we see so much representational work coming out of China, although Chinese artists have cleverly learned how to make political and social as well as deeply meaningful personal statements through super-realism and other types of representation in response to an official frowning on more experimental techniques (although you do sometimes get experimental techniques coming out of China anyway).
Lu now lives and works in Sydney and he apparently first created his ‘dripping flow’ technique in the 2000s as part of a series he did on the theme of memory. For his current amazing show at the Andre Zarre Gallery, his work seems focused on the paradox we live with every day and which should probably be driving all of us nuts – how could the universe come from nothing or how could there have always been stuff/energy from which to derive a universe? As the old rhyme goes: “How could something come from nothing? How could something always be? It’s the riddle you can’t answer. It’s the answer you can’t see.” Basically, if we are to trust the human intellect, nothing should exist.
To be honest with you though, when I saw Lu’s work at Zarre, I liked it because it seemed to employ the perfect technique to capture the central problem of memory for me. Memorizing stuff that we see or sense is fine. Memorizing information is fine. The real problem happens when we have meaningful or transformative experience in our inner reality and try to capture that for further use. That doesn’t seem to work well and the process seems to degenerate or deteriorate in the way that we see Lu’s paint dripping down his canvases from his arches or spirals or other figures. When we experience some motive or emotion or any type of inner process that we find valuable we attempt to make it more concrete or we attempt to create a visual representation for the experience, but the experience becomes lost and the visual markers soon lose any meaning. So I see a bit of process art in Lu’s swirls and spirals – we see a beginning and ending of a process but at the same time we see the deterioration of the experience as it is attempted to be shifted into a more usable cognitive form.
The paintings also work, however, as an investigation of origins and our attempts to capture that which seemingly can’t be captured. In Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, Faustus flat out asks Mephistophilis how the universe came into being and Mephistophilis becomes outraged. Even the chief representative of Satan can’t tell Faustus how the universe came into being. Lu’s abstract images and his technique in creating these images seem to capture our constant attempts and constant failures to crack the one nut that seems impossible to crack.
Karl Weiming Lu
May 21 – June 25, 2015
Andre Zarre Gallery
529 W. 20th Street
New York, NY 10011
Writing by Daniel Gauss
Photography provided by the gallery and the artist