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Nabuqi: her native dream on generic places


Zian Chen

Broadly speaking, sculpture is a discipline that investigates into how things and situations connect with one another. In one of Nabuqi’s earliest work Object No. 8-10, she tied knots on the chopsticks with only a few pivotal points connecting to the ground, making them to look particularly light. The pattern of lines thus rendered almost abstract, against the presence of gravity.

These materials are skeletons of a sculpture, and reverse molding them would add a layer of muscle and skin to their surface. To Nabuqi, the body is a sculpture, and so is a city. It would seem that the city and the body is one and the same. The long lashes of a person can be seen as a public sculpture (Untitled (eyelash no. 1)). Street lamps lit at night, are simply millions of teardrops (Strange View). However, in most of her works, the relationship between the city and body does not manifest on the visual field. Rather, it rests upon a question surrounding these two categories: what is a local experience that departs from the body, and what is the locality of the landscape of a city.

This is a question that gets easily covered up by the many other associations that Nabuqi’s works bring to mind––her sculptures may resemble a ladder built from Lego, the Tower of Babel in Monument Valley, or a long rod put across the shrine. A closer look at A View Beyond Space No. 4, one observes the details of a smooth surface that resembles a plank road in Brancusian fashion. Her installation uses images of landscapes, printed either on canvas, or a light box, and subsequently hang on a cable, or a telescopic scissor. The factory-manufactured plastic boulders, fiberglass cattle, street lamps are used to assemble and construct an empty theatre based on stagecraft, which is quite similar to the miniature mise-en-scène seen in her sculpture as well, on the scale of 1:1.

Imagine you are an artist, driving along a familiar road on a familiar route, right through the suburbs of Beijing into the districts of various factories in an adjacent province. You would expect to spot poorly built roads, flanked by speedily assembled constructions, with more or less identical signboards, characterless in every character, which is exactly what architect Rem Koolhaas tend to characterize as a generic village.

If one were to barge into the scenes arranged by Nabuqi, the sentiments conjured up might as well be reflecting upon Chinese towns and villages, and its totality: a landscape that is essentially an assemblage of various e-commerce produced waste, mother earth sprayed with a layer of plastic-clothing, or covered by an abundant rocks from demolition projects.

For the younger generation of artists in China, the relationship between the production of a work of art, and its locality, is indeed a common and difficult question. Even though sometimes it is an imperative to endure painstaking communication process that comes with production, the inexpensive production chain, however, still brings an edge to this process of art making itself. The same production chain manufactures the exact same layer of skin for all the Chinese cities, villages-within-the city, and millions of townships. It is possible to say, that the eco-system of such towns and villages have been connected by various smart phone applications, logistics, and modular infrastructure.

In the work Floating Narratives, landscape made from spray-paints on canvas points to this fact. Everything that ought to be natural, has been prefixed with a touch of the man-made: memory, individual dreamscape, desire, all has been made generic by these common materials that connects nearly all things and objects throughout the country. This spray painted canvas, just like one of Martin Creed’s effortlessly crumpled sheet of A4 paper, is then spread out and hang from a pole. The far too easily neglected images on these canvases, actually does resemble a little of Nabuqi’s other sculptures. For an example, her Field Pavilion, amongst other works, describes the remnants of architectures when they have been anatomically undermined, destroyed, and scattered, as with the city-suburb situation in the country.

Here, personal memory has been removed, while local experiences are still produced, albeit lacking in character. Local experiences are exactly what the patterns on Nabuqi’s totem poles are beckoning to. Texture, a sense of space, a sense of volume, are all what Nabuqi use as ways to record events and things with her sculpture. These are signs, and records, or what she meant by “two-way entry”. They are both opening and closure at once. Her two-way entry points to the “doubtfulness” of the passageway, in which its inward and outward route possesses the same architecture. For Nabuqi, acertain experience towards space, can be connected to many individual fragments of experiences, and can be recorded by the same sculptural codes. This is the two-way entry to a set of sculptural code, as well as to many things and events. To give a concrete example, what presents immediately upon entry The Doubtful Site (Perpendicular Channel), could also be the matrix that one encounters when entering a subway station where one navigates. What the sculpture records, is the footprint of a fragment of memory. It is simply too generic; we could hardly call it anything at all. In fact, the way Nabuqi had sculpted it, indeed in many ways just resembles the fleeting memory. Just like the intricate details and texture of materials on the wall in one’s dream, these are things you will never see in focus, and clarity. They are but passageways, a non-place, where it is hard for memories to collect.  Unless of course, if you were repeating the same route to work, using the same perfume everyday, only then will local experiences imprint upon you. It’s vividness almost points to the entirety of your feelings towards that moment. Sometimes you might occasionally pull out a series of nostalgic events from the past. This type of experience, once impressed upon you while in distraction, renders you powerless in defending against its ability to come back. Nabuqi uses this type of intuition to describe an abstract and hazy mise en scene, a hazy landscape that resembles the generic combination of city and suburbs with all its characterlessness. To some extent, the industrial city in the north, her childhood home, is not that different from the suburbs of Beijing where she assembles her works, or even the many instant artificial environments where her works get circulated: they all have the same intricate texture many of her sculpture works share, such as the quiet icicle that forms due to the cold.

The door to a two-way entry is just like the scenery of a Northen landscape, volatile, but also open to ambiguous associations. You may imagine, a random entrance to a subway station in Beijing, presents you to a freezing cold wind against your face once you exit. You walk quickly, lowering your head, but unknowing bumping into the chest of a brawny man.

Translated by Zou Zhao