Pedigree of Life--About Jiny Lan’s epic painting

Jiny Lan considers herself a painter, a conceptual artist and an actionist. She does not only display her painting very dynamically but also positions herself as an artist into the centre of her video work. Lan entitles one of her latest films “Past Future Continues”, here she casts her works of art as a moving choreography. The experimental and innovative character of the video reveals much of her artistic thinking, which centers around the exchangeable relationships between all creatures and things.

Jiny Lan grew up in the north of China, in a cold region close to the North Korean border. It may result from the wintriness, from the nearness of the border, from the young days in a China even before its political opening and also from her engagement in the Chinese pro-democratic movement of the outstanding year 1989, that her works are affected by an internal force and movement comprising her motifs as well as her scenography. Nothing, it seems, remains at rest, everything is drawn into a swirl of elementary powers or catapulted out of it. Her portrayals of humans are always parts of a scenical context, occasionally acting, but often enough also simply at the mercy of someone else, acting reactively. Using motifs manifoldly, reworking them, is important for her. They are put into a collage and painted over. In the end the viewers of her artwork cannot distinguish between photography, print and painted sections. Images and painting are inextricably merged. So to say, the viewer is dragged into this gigantic
stream of forces and vehemently stirred up. Works such as “Vorwärtsbewegung”(2013), “Within ten seconds”, “Passive freedom”(2016) or “Prophezeiung”(2014) indicate this stream of times and floods, this rousing elementary balance of power, which man can hardly withstand.

Jiny Lan likes to put stories and histories on the agenda which seem to tell the history of mankind - in a more general than individual way. There are epics and dramas moving close to the Apocalypse, only rarely reaching a peaceful valley. Skillfully she merges the impacts of contemporary history with approaches from her private biography. In her paintings she sometimes overlays motifs of aesthetic compactness, lines them with partly traditional images of women, with the help of which she displays the morals and also the stereotypes of China handed down from generation to generation and develops them by changing them morphologically and meanderingly. One thing continues the other, they show a sense of belonging together as well as of independency.

The works of Jiny Lan read like epics, can be arranged in lines. Each picture resumes elements from its predecessor and hands over other elements to its successor in the same way as genes are inherited and are passed on by humans. This process is determined to last for an indefinite period. The artist promises to complement her works her whole life long. The fact that this process will not be completed and remains open at the end of her life appeals to the initiator. The pictures, interconnected to one other in form and content by a kind of blood bond, form a system similar to a family tree, which keeps on developing and enlarging. So as a creator she builds a fictitious parallel universe because, following Chinese tradition, being a woman she cannot appear in her own pedigree. She paints, she produces for to exist and for to have existed once.

Jiny Lan enjoys operating in both cultures, in the Western one where she has lived since 1995 and in the Eastern one into which she keeps on plunging time and time again. She understands her art as a private as well as a political activity. Her works unfold their full power most strongly in the numerous performances accompanying her exhibitions. Those different roles can be connected as well as separated on various levels. The works display recurring motifs: the spectacular globe-like architecture of the Milan shopping mall “Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II”, the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, a Catholic cathedral in Spain, gods, humans, monkeys, half-ape - half-man, dead elk, jumping horses, falling women, naked men, and multitudinous portrays of females, semi-concealed in the dusk. Themes are thoroughly selected and serve as links and symbols between the individual and society, between the western and eastern cultures. The meanings of symbols change within the epic sequences of pictures following the respective
correlations of particular pictures. These unfold a constantly altering context.

Jiny Lan likes choosing two extreme poles; she stages dramatic presentations between flexible and stiff, beautiful and ugly, snug and menacing. It is quite certain that she is attracted by extremes, by the play also with the attitude of expectation and the feelings of the viewer. Beside dramatically staged pictures Jiny Lan also presents seemingly ordinary scenes, in which interesting matters lie in wait. At first sight these picture seem thematically trite, in their masterly painting techniques they can hardly be distinguished from traditional art. Some figures are even adapted directly and on purpose from well-known pictures and quote their contexts. She portrays e.g. an elegant young woman who is draping her long hair down to her waist. At first sight she displays the archetype of a gentle and handsome young Chinese girl. On closer examination between her long wisps of hair you detect vertically cut stripes of old Chinese books. On them you find Confucian sayings describing the traditional relation between
men and women (e.g.: A husband sings, a wife gossips.) The female virtues requiring women to be tender, kind, humble, housewifely and tolerant with her husband’s faults are lyrically handled. The conceptual basis of the picture is the Chinese proverb “long hair, short brains” and demonstrates the absurdity of that traditional thinking. Each single work is an original, has its own expression and content. Looking at it together with its predecessor and its follower a new interpretation is possible again. In one picture, e.g. a group of naked men seem to look for something on the ground in vain. In the following picture they appear on the surface of a nameless planet, this time they seem to have found something. In still another picture some of the males disappear, one of them reemerges as a leg of a tea-table. In a further group of works the staging of a woman, lying in a bathtub lost in thought, changes into a strange scene in the following picture: here the woman’s body is tied up by the age-old root of a tre
e. Jiny Lan makes her figures convey varying interpretations in different scenes. This method obviously bases on her personal experiences with multi-cultural identities: what is positive in one culture may be regarded as to be negative in another one. What evokes a feeling of snugness and security in one situation can appear threatening in another one. An artist hovering over various cultures can understand precisely how matters or people and their surroundings reflect and reconstruct or deconstruct each other.

Following her daily rhythm of painting, Jiny Lan’s works are also subject to her mood cycles, knowingly she includes her ups and downs in the pictures. Therefore they often transmit a melancholic up to downright gloomy tone, which gives them their own pathos. This flow of her paintings is not a contemporary one because it is not bound to the rigour of today’s rationalism. It is more rooted in the dramatic history pieces of the 19th century and by that also in Nietzsche’s nihilism of the human existence. In addition against this nihilism Jiny Lan sets the permuting symptom of life, which Mendelises on and on against all odds.

Prof. Dr. Beate Reifenscheid
Director of Museum Ludwig, Koblenz
President ICOM Germany
(Translated from German by W.G. Müller, 2017)  1017 Wörter