Past Exhibition

Zhang Yu – Fingerprints: Boundaries of Time and Truth

12 Sep - 09 Nov  |  2019
Zhang Yu Catalogue
In the presence of the artist
Artist talk 5-6pm
Fingerprints – Existential Art (in Putonghua)

Exhibition catalogue available

Alisan Fine Arts is pleased to present our first solo exhibition for the Beijing-based artist Zhang Yu. This exhibition is the first ever showing such a comprehensive array of his internationally recognised fingerprint series, which has evolved since 1987 in various combinations of works on paper with experimental performance. The "fingerprint method" emerged from the artist's fervent preoccupation to advance ink painting beyond his classical training and the expressive limitations of brush and paper into a novel contemporary format. Through an exploration across media, including installation, video, and performance, Zhang Yu has employed the fingerprint method to increasingly divorce his art from painterly qualities while addressing cultural questions regarding identity and society. For this exhibition, the artist has crafted two and three-dimensional works from Chinese ink, nail polish, stones of jade and stainless steel, acrylic boxes, and glass bottles. The resulting showcase adds a completely fresh and contemporary dialogue to the discourse around the question of what defines ink painting, to which the artist convincingly declares, "ink art is not ink painting."

In the earliest iterations of "Fingerprints", Zhang Yu used his right index finger to methodically stamp clear water or ink upon the rice paper surface. Through this meditative process, he encountered a Zen-like state, which led him to further explore the spiritual boundaries of the practice and his personal relationship with Buddhist philosophy. The regenerative layering of the human prints points to infinity, and the paper's malleable ability to capture the imprint through structural change serves as a recorded snapshot in the space-time continuum of artistic creation. Zhang was initially attracted to water for its appeal as a "Zero Medium," categorised between the present and absent, emerging and disappearing, with the remnant fingerprints pointing to the existence of nothingness. In further attempts, Zhang worked with colour on paper, typically red, channeling the Chinese cultural tradition to stamp or seal one's identity in red ink. This exhibition includes examples of fingerprints on paper created with several of Zhang's preferred "inks" - water, Chinese ink, and both red and blue plant-based pigments.

Having successfully removed the brush, Zhang Yu then accelerated the series to exclude paper as well. He broadened the variety of media and experimented with fingerprints on found objects and unconventional materials, rethinking the Duchampian idea of readymade and elevating the everyday into an existential idea of ink painting. With the early works on paper, the fingerprint method pointed toward an inner, hidden quality connected to the artist's identity. Through installation and performance, Zhang Yu began to harness a wider social element, with the bold, permanent stain of finger polish stamped upon a transparent glass surface, for example, making a conscious extension towards the external world. In this exhibition, a stainless steel stone is printed with a magnificent pattern of cobalt blue polish; glass bottles are sealed with rising, accumulative layers of red polish; and multi-colour Sealed Fingerprints adorn hanging acrylic boxes. The lustery surfaces of these installations take advantage of the light reflections, adding another dimension to the very tactile and permanent expressions of the customarily undetected trace of human fingerprints.