For years landscape has been a constant subject of SHEN Fan's art and he's been trying to interpret it from a variety of perspectives. Three of SHEN's landscape paintings created in the 70s were exhibited at History in the Making Shanghai 1979 – 2009. Back then he had a portable painting kit and drew a lot of small-sized landscape paintings featuring urban streets, suburb villages and wild fields during his leisure time. In 2009, he installed neon lights onto his paintings to outline the urban skyline. When audience passed by these works, the neon lights would turn on automatically. Such an alteration can be seen as an attempt to reestablish the relationship between the artist and the surrounding environment and to reinterpret the concept of change. SHEN's focus on natural landscape gradually shifts to urban landscape and the use of neon light becomes a prominent element of his work. A strategy of the artist is hereby unveiled: the speed to consume a piece of artwork is regulated by the running of the light. Viewers have to accept "halts" from time to time. Sometimes they will also need to repeatedly go back to see the work, which is quite different from how we usually see artwork.
SHEN Fan's practice came to a short halt in around 2008. Looking back we see that our society and our life have experienced dramatic changes during the past few years. The global economic crisis that erupted in 2007 led to not only bankruptcies of individuals, companies and nations but also events such as Occupy Wall Street and the revolts in Egypt. The influence of these incidents was so far-reaching that not only the economic situation but also other aspects of the society were severely affected. Developed countries witnessed a cut in the funding for culture, drastic changes in educational policies and severe political instability. All these changes suggest a beginning of a new era and also "compel" us as art and cultural practitioners to ponder over the way to carry on.
According to SHEN Fan, the root of his recent work that will be put on display in this exhibition can be traced back to 2008. At the Artissima in Turin that year he presented a neon light installation entitled Landscape – The Readable which was composed of three stock index curves. That work laid a foundation for his thinking and creation afterwards and later further developed into Landscape-9210 series.
Since 2011 the artist has started to collect the most significant "development benchmark" of China during the past 19 years: the curves of Shanghai stock exchange composite index. Established in 1990, Shanghai Stock Exchange introduced the composite index mode then in 1992. The artist collected the index statistics of each day, each week, each month and each year and used them as a basis for his creation of the new landscape series. During the past two decades, stock market has undoubtedly played an important role in the life of people from all walks of life.
The 19 paintings of the series embody the exploration process of the artist and are expressed by the media that he's familiar with. The overall ambience given out by the paintings shows a continuance of his sophisticated style. Scraping knife, together with other tools made by the artist himself, took the place of painting brushes. All pigments were specially processed so as to give out a unique texture corresponding to the sense of passing of time. The landscape looks familiar, yet it's hard to locate its source. Black and white, two of the simplest colors, are highlighted as the fundamental elements of the paintings. Each of them represents the stock curve of a year.
The nineteen works made by mirror finished stainless steel reflect the artist's further thinking on this matter. Similarly, each work corresponds to a year of the past 19 years. The use of mirror finished material enables viewers to see the distorted reflection of themselves when they approach the work. In the meantime, the curve made by LED bulbs will turn on, imbuing the work with a sense of ambiguity.
In this regard, the landscape in his work epitomizes the spiritual landscape that is controlled and distorted by the material life. It is not only the symbol of a nation but also the development history of individuals. "Economic development is the priority" has turned to be a common goal and the world is long under the control of all kinds of curves.
The nineteen years recorded by the Landscape series are not only a timeline for China's political and economic development but also a set of criteria to measure individuals' success. The grand changes happening to China consist of all these small changes. The landscape of curves reflects the statistical standard for all walks of life. Art certainly is also included.
These abstract lines have a say in how happy you are, which also remind everyone of us in an extremely absurd way that the gap between us and the landscape is significant.
As a matter of fact, the new series of Landscape of SHEN Fan confronts us with genuine landscape. It's just no one dares to face it. The world is determined by a couple of simple lines and a handful of powerful people. And in the end, all that is left is only statistics and transaction records.
To SHEN Fan, Landscape-9210 is the beginning of a new journey.