home > texts > Articles > Return To The Unknown

Return To The Unknown


Text: Han Liya

Objects of obscurity tend to convey a sense of unfamiliarity and curiosity in audiences. On the one hand they cannot be accurately defined, nor do they seem to have any clear intentions; on the other hand, they allow space for imagination to emerge. This type of visual experience is often encountered in Nabuqi’s recent works—an unstable straight line, semi-closed erect geometric shapes, fragmented bleak landscapes, etc. There are no narratives joining these vague forms and they have rejected any possible connection to one another. This is why even though they embody similar elements, there are no actual correlations between them. Each assemblage of objects is able to construct a complete and tenable scene in the exhibition space. Intuitively arranged by the artist, where she creates an unordered variable system, this work is more closely related to the “rhizome”, as mentioned in Deleuze’s A Thousand Plateaus. Each creation is an independent node that can evolve ac- cording to the changes occurring in-between them. Those who are familiar with Nabuqi’s previous works might notice a conviction in progress, the beginning of new endeavors.

Since studying at the affiliated middle school of CAFA and later onward to graduating there with a Masters degree, Nabuqi has received a very complete and comprehensive art education. During her training, Nabuqi had been more focused on how to apply her solid foundation to strong visual and emotional ideas. The human body and its embodied power often be- came her initial starting points, including accumulating energy through repetitive bodily movements ( i.e. the act of wrapping, or piercing) and creating spatial forms. Nabuqi’s early works epitomized a dramatic tension and strong presence. Her working methods are particularly visible in works such as N (2012) and the Eyelashes series (2013), where she employed precise black lines in combination with metal forms. She incisively captured the texture and tension from within the material itself, where its energy radiated outward, creating a sense of confrontation. This particular period of works conveyed a sense of desire to break out of the limitation of material objects and space. This aggressive “attack” was later replaced by more controlled and subdued methods in 2014, progressing towards a freer form of expression—an investigation propelled by the process of making her installation work, Object No.3 in 2014.


For this artwork, Nabuqi installed thick black ropes through the walls of a huge exhibition space, which were then pulled by mechanisms hidden inside the walls. The intertwining ropes were sometimes in motion, sometimes at a standstill, moving intermittently. This was also the first time Nabuqi had placed herself in the position where she was not in complete control of the final presentation of the installation. Object No.3 subtly trembled in the exhibition space, as though opening up multiple dimensions. As people moved throughout the space continuously, no one could predict or truly experience every movement entirely. Neither spectators or the artist herself could have the exact same experience encountering the moving ropes. Therefore, this work was not able to break out of the limitations of that space specifically. Since then, Nabuqi had restricted the forms of her work in terms of her intentions. She no longer focuses on tailoring works to particular spaces, nor creating specific worlds, but rather, prefers to return to the core idea of what a sculpture is—a creation that is not bound to space or ideology. This return is most prominently evident in her series, A View Beyond Space (2015). Objects in this series are in a constant state of flux. While observed closely, it would seem as though they are not completely “grown”. It could be said that the artist was present at a certain moment in time, and bestowed these objects with their current state of appearance and emotions. However, these works have become a fragment of a state of growth, caught in space and time, while the artist employed her own experiences, embedding them in their current state. Elements that appear in these works are random and therefore of an equal state. The artist has thus succeeded in liberating these objects.


Certain modernist elements are evident in Nabuqi’s works today, such as traces of modern masters like Brancusi and Giacometti. At first glance, the artist seems to have employed a kind of extreme extraction in these works; getting rid of all their uniqueness with a minimalist approach, forcing them into a form of pure imagery, even though on the surface, both are actually searching for an unknown that could be amplified. In this process of going back and forth in art history, Nabuqi accommodates each of the independent parallel connections between objects of her open systematic approach. Complex issues, such as historical events and identity, material, and even the use of colors are some of the issues that most sculptural pieces or installations currently deal with. These types of works tend to be large in scale, and in terms of ideology, they also search for social and historical connections, thereby emphasizing the seriousness of the work. These methods are generally prompt and convenient, though often end up being overlooked in the exhibition space without the ability to provide room for spectators to ponder or imagine, easily falling into repetitive and tiresome investigations. This casual state is, in fact, a conscious decision of Nabuqi’s. It avoids dealing with the complex issues concerning the work and the exhibition space, while also breaking out of the pointless pursuit of form. Borrowing from Walter Benjamin’s viewpoint applied to Nabuqi’s works, “Native does not connote the evolution in an already born matter, but a matter that is able to evolve, as well as the birth of matters of fate... it demands us to admit that it is a recovery and a reconstruction, while also being something unfinished, and will always remain open.1” The uncertainty within Nabuqi’s works embody a boundless space- time, a kind of precarious state, along with other un- defined components. These are in fact unexplainable things that happen while the artist attempts to create “natives”. This kind of attempt is neither strategic nor calculated, but rather an anticipation of an inward energy found within these works, regardless of where they are placed.

It’s worth also mentioning that Nabuqi’s works are formed based on personal experiences of everyday memories, and thusly, are an important influence fromwhich her artwork takes on; a kind of hidden emotional backbone to the artist’s practice. The creative motive in An Autumn Night (2015), Monologues and Vacant Spaces (2015), as well as, Memory, But Not Of the Past (2015), were propelled by the artist’s own daily life, such as the elaborately shaped wooden stick, on which the artist transcribed Lu Xun’s text. In this action, Nabuqi has also marked her place in time. Since this marking happened on an Autumn’s night, it also conveys a poetic sense of loneliness; a series of images juxtaposed with monologues taking on a very emotional form. This evokes the exact elements that the artist tries to avoid in her sculptural works. Although the text already exists in conjunction with these photographs, together in harmony they are also lost in contrast to the quiet sceneries portrayed—a blurriness depicting a scenery that the artist passes daily on her way to her studio, seeping through plastic sheets, a warm light source, paired with a mirror box that reflects the inside of the structure, presenting deep and personal emotions. Even though these works are related to the artist’s personal experiences, they face the unknown, or rather return to the un- known —arriving to a nascent, boundless indescribable point straight towards individual perceptions.


In this solo exhibition, noticeably there is a loosened spiritual state in the artist, as well as a lighter, freer form of presentation in her works. While the artist is ultimately able to relieve herself of all prejudices, pre- tense and impersonal energies, she also manages to avoid employing clever tricks, and returns to an honest state of reality. Kandinsky wrote in Concerning the Spiritual In Art in 1907, “If I could prescribe medicine for artists, I would give them ‘sincerity’”. Although it takes courage and patience to practice “sincerity” in a time where the importance of strategies and efficiency are emphasized, Nabuqi manages to achieve just that. The clear transformation in her work might seem as though it is letting go of sovereignty and losing its power, but it is in fact an inward accumulation and renewal of energy, wherein Nabuqi is able to break out of her comfort zone lightheartedly. With pure intentions she is able to pursue an unknown that is full of danger and possibilities. This is where we can see her fly freely.

1 Georges Didi-Huberman, Ce que nous voyons, ce qui nous regarde, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, p.146-147