In Capsule Shanghai’s recently concluded solo exhibition Tender Thorns, Tao Siqi transformed the gallery space into a grand allegorical site, inviting the audience to confront scenes of ambiguity, tenderness, entanglement, and translucency -- those infinitely amplified gestures, movements, and body parts, also magnified the subtle sensory stimulation. Tao Siqi paints everyday objects that seem meaningless yet extraordinary. She prefers to use soft and vivid colors, as well as filmy brushstrokes to further emphasize the sensation. It feels like a nerve ending being plucked, triggering myriads of ripple effects, paralyzing, tingling.
Cat is one of Tao’s favorite subjects. I think her paintings resemble the cats she depicted, pretending to reject but acting welcoming, teasing you, and not sticking to you. The works are small in scale, but the display is often unexpected, just like some smart little tricks in her works, which bear some implied meanings once examined closely.
In the exhibition preface, He Xiao defines Tao Sqi’s style as an expression of “eros”. If “love” was a direct manifestation through formality, then “eros” was often not directly described and perceived. Tao Sqi tries to visualize “eros” to confront the audience in her works… revealing a desire toward others and infinity.
After the rise of the “post-90s” generation, the grand narratives of contemporary art gradually fell into countless fragments. The top-down “verticality” was folded and became shared information within a flat dimension. Although the equal rights that the marginalized groups have been seeking haven’t been realized, and the ideological progression has been as tardy as the development of medical science; still, modern society has upgraded itself in the past generations. Since the prevalence of consumerism after World War II, Pop art has been winning it. Everyone loved Andy Warhol, but little did we know that the “Pop Spirit” that was once anti-establishment and anti-academy has now become a paradox. Pop finally becomes what it once opposed, a representative popular culture without meaning and depth, yet still favored by the masses.
The masses seem to represent a discourse power here. Besides the masses, the voices are faint and weak, and even slowly silenced…Thus, I think that, to a certain extent, Tao Siqi’s work is anti-consumerism. Mike Featherstone once wrote in his exposition of consumerism and postmodern theory: “In popular culture, people consume goods not just for their utility value, but primarily for their images, that is to obtain a variety of emotional experiences from the images.” -- People would unlikely obtain some easy emotional experiences from the images created by Tao Siqi. In other words, her works are fragmentary and scattering, and only viewed in a group can the audience get the outline of the whole picture, which is also ephemeral, like the morning star or the evening glow.
However, what’s so intriguing is that even though Tao’s palette is full of sugary colors, I still think that she paints dreams of an endless dark night. She confronts her earnest emotions, letting her eros and imagination flow (Tender Thorns, Bite the Ear, The Art of Rope, Blood Drops, Sun Shower, Tongue). She is also sensitive to the psychedelia and splendor in the microscopic vision (Trapped in Tears, Lightning, Untitled, Lotion, Star Chain). She is clever at arousing the sense of “itching” from visual to tactile. (Feeler, Hold, Shower, Caress). After luring viewers into the trap, she withdraws and whets their appetite. (Waterdrop, Juice, Crescent Moon, Fluffy)…
These images, imbued with scenes and narratives, are likely born out of Tao Siqi’s early-year interest in photography and film. Her painting language is influenced by French Impressionism in cinema, which involves the use of superimposition and montage, split shots, and metaphorical visual language. Director Fritz Lang is one of the master filmmakers who have influenced her. I would suggest referring to Impressionism and its advocation for actively shifting from the external world toward internal exploration. It is very different from what is advocated in the field of painting — leaving the studio, going outdoors, and embracing the natural light. Under the German Expressionist movement, however, cinema forges distortions of the external world to express the madness, brutality, horror, and frenzy of the inner world, which could be closer to the artist’s taste in films.
Of course, our views are regularly updating with time. Insanity is no longer pathological to us, but a sense of alienation slowly emerges with the changes over time, according to Michel Foucault. In our world, some may enjoy blood and solidity, while others are fascinated by fragility and warmth. I think Tao Siqi’s images offer us new choices, just as how she made her choices. So I don’t think that reading a painting is like getting to know the artist. The viewer’s interpretation often has little to do with the artist, unless the work itself is meant to be interactive. The allegory only belongs and stays faithful to the artist herself.
Finally, I would like to conclude with Foucault’s passage which is worth savoring: “In a sense, it is thus plenitude, joining to the figures of night the powers of day, to the forms of fantasy the activity of the waking mind; it links the dark content with the forms of light. But is not such plenitude actually the culmination of the void? The presence of images offers no more than night-ringed hallucinations, figures inscribed at the corners of sleep, hence detached from any sensuous reality; however vivid they are, however rigorously established in the body, these images are nothingness, since they represent nothing.”
So does it mean that art is nothingness? Perhaps we still need some tingles to locate our existence.
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