Feng Chen | The Darker Side of Light

Azure Wu, Art China, September 27, 2017

Feng Chen’s first solo exhibition at Capsule Shanghai incorporated light, visual, sound, and machine-controlled movement, among other elements. 


Capsule is located in downtown Shanghai at the end of an alley tucked inside a residential compound. The middle room of the gallery contains three large windows that look out into a courtyard filled with bamboo and other greenery. For the exhibit, Feng Chen installed flickering blinds activated by a device controlled by sound. The installation regulates the flow of natural light into the room, sculpting space with rhythmic movement. 


Feng Chen was born in 1986 and graduated from the New Media Department of Chinese Academy of Fine Arts. His video works are concerned with media language and viewing methods. A few years ago, he started a series of experimental audio works to accompany the video. “The Darker Side of Light” (2017), a site-specific light installation created for the show, marks an expansion of the artist’s oeuvre. 


Through the transformation and control of the blinds, Feng Chen creates an audio language that is visible, including weaving daggers of light filtered through blinds and the silhouette of projections. Sound is imbued with a certain tangibility, as in the projected video images that pulsate rhythmically. Synchronized rhythm becomes central to the audience experience. When the sun sets, the audience's shadow casts a natural projection onto the wall, becoming another vivid aspect of the work.


“The Darker Side of Light” explores the relationship between man and machine, movement and sound. In “Untitled” (2015), Feng Chen used sound to control the movement of a camera lens, resulting in a perpetually unfocused lens that produced vibrating images. The three-channel video “Convulsion” (2017) continues on the theme by depicting mechanized convulsions of human limbs synchronized with sounds from nature, computers and handclaps. 


In many cases, art is understood as a production process, and is usually a process that is being simplified. The principle of mechanical operation we know is far from the artist's creative intentions. For Feng Chen, the logic and order reduce human feelings, leaving only the occasional or accidental opening for senses. The surprise of flickering blinds and convulsing limbs highlight the role of the human body. In fact, Feng Chen’s work reveals the potential vulnerability of the body in the face of greater power, whether physical, mechanical, social or institutional. 


Feng Chen attempts to explore new interpretations of the relationship among image, sound, and space. His video concept and work method reference what Deleuze and Guattari describe as the instability of subjectivity; the existence of which can only be regarded as one in constant flux. In dealing with these relationships, Feng Chen raises an important question regarding controlled environments: the extent to which an artist is able to focus on the changes that take place from one instant to the next, and, moreover, the viewer’s ability to understand the work—considering everything is always in flux.


Translated by Philana Woo