New Energetics: Inverting the Process
Solo Exhibition By Ruben Pang
Curated By Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani
18 October – 2 November 2013
SOLVE ET COAGULA: CHARTING NEW POSSIBILITIES
By Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani
The alchemical quest for scientific and spiritual enlightenment was one of the milestones on which Futurist theorists based their conceptual framework on the transformation of matter into an “explosion of energy”. (1)
While the physical transformation was envisioned in the convergence of the elements, the metaphysical dimension of this transformation was left to the alchemy of materials. The ‘coagula’ or fusion—the act of merging and transforming metals to a greater source of energy—acknowledges in Futurist manifestos the role of alchemy as a spiritual force within new artistic and cultural endeavors. (2)
Alloyed with technical advancement, Futurism praised the formation of a new society where mechanical bodies functioned as non-human species. Alienation, rupture and disjunction were integrated elements of the new world.
New Energetics: Inverting the Process by Ruben Pang (b. 1990) draws its conceptual framework from the Futurist’s vision of a new, regenerated world—a world made of light and form that is the ultimate synthesis of cosmic energy. In this latest series of works, however, Pang pushes further the alchemical relation to the artwork by inverting the technical gravity typical of the Futurists to allow chemical and accidental fluidity in his practice.
Indeed the unpredictable stasis of natural elements is paramount to the act of painting—as it is to alchemy—where solid and liquid meet, naked and pure, as partners or antagonists.
As oil and water, color and colorless, male and female: solvent and pigments struggle to emerge and solidify on Pang’s canvases, eventually materializing as liquid sculptures in the solid black space. This process, consciously or unconsciously triggered in the artist’s mind, takes over the virtuosity of the artistic execution. The forms in the paintings are not planned but are reminiscent of personal memories and historical references—the accumulated knowledge that constitutes our unconsciousness.
Largely abstract in composition, the canvases and sculptures in New Energetics retain a strong anthropomorphic connotation. The portraits, one may say, are not so much figurative as they are the unfolding of the form. In this process the artist’s self-as-subject and self-as-object become paint and earth matters, lumps of colors, liquid and solid material.
700 Painless Years is the first painting that greets the visitors at the gallery entrance. Majestic, yet one of the smaller pieces, this canvas emanates a state of primordial chaos that is the origin of all matter. In a gust of vibrations, like music in an acoustic room, the sparkles of fluids and incandescent light blind the beholder, while, emerging from solid black space, the reminiscently anthropomorphic figure collects its parts, reassembling limbs and thoughts in a reconstructive process. 700 Painless Years, crucial in initiating the New Energetics series, led Pang to steer his practice towards an uncharted artistic dimension, that of having “raw and finished surfaces working together within a series”. (3)
With 700 Painless Years a number of canvases in New Energetics are shaped towards form, such as Core, Camp Whimper is a Place in My Heart, and Roundabouts, amongst others. The physical push and pull in all directions that we observe in these works is heightened by the use of synthetic hues and resin.
Like solid thoughts on the aluminum surface, the color is at times combined with resin to give a textured, rough finishing to otherwise polished images. The dense black hole from where the images emerge warrants the fine line between sanity, insanity and hallucination.
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung, in his exploration of alchemy and art, refers to the artist as “…vehicle and molder to the unconscious psyche life of mankind”, alluding to the neurotic quest towards ‘individuation’. (4) Pang’s approach to the art matter corroborates this neurotic quest by fervidly negotiating the conscious and the unconscious in his works. (5)
The series of ‘anti-drawings’, as Pang defines them, such as the Sky paintings, Supercharger and The Pharmacy, feature in New Energetics to counterbalance and defy the pictorial frame towards an accidental order. (6)
Each work in this series draws the viewer in, like worshippers to mediaeval religious paintings, by emanating a “distilled” light or, to put it simply, by morphing the color into flashes of superior light. In each work the whole canvas is used to depict a spectacle that unfolds before the audience’s and the artist’s eyes—a supernatural sequence of events, which brings the sky, earth and all natural elements to meet on the aluminum plate, each plate one step away from its predecessor.
Historical references mark another ‘series’ of paintings presented in the exhibition, which include Are You an Empty Eye?, Ginger Dragon, I Believe in Second Chances, and Metabolic. Drawing from Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’ (7), these paintings unintentionally allude to art history lessons—through Pang’s spontaneous approach to paint, which escapes sequential methods of composition—as religious and cultural symbols occasionally find their way through the canvas.
In Are You an Empty Eye?, for instance, we find references to iconic works by Francis Bacon and Van Gogh. Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh IV (1955), produced by Bacon after Van Gogh’s The Painter on the Road to Tarascon(1888), epitomizes the figure of the misunderstood artist set apart from conventional society. In both paintings the traveller casts a shadow on the ground indicating his human nature, yet faceless and obscure, he seems to float in space rather than physically touching the earth.
While indirectly referencing these masterpieces, Are You an Empty Eye? bears no figurative resemblance to its historical past. Synthetic colors take over the earthy tones visible in the works of Bacon and Van Gogh, freezing the image in a chemically generated shot taken in transitional space.
Ginger Dragon too adopts the composition of the traveler figure, which in turn references Hieronymus Bosch’s The Wayfarer (1510).
Hieronymus Bosch, The Wayfarer, 1510, oil on panel, 71 x 70.6 cm
The human figure, which is believed to indicate a new path for religious awakening in Bosch’s painting, becomes in Pang’s work a vaguely anthropomorphic and erratic presence. Pang’s whole image is tilted, presenting to the viewer the reflection of the original composition. Lumps of artificial colors build up on the aluminum surface, crystallizing the emotions and thoughts of the artist to the extent of producing its self-portrait.
The art historian James Elkins describes the painting process as alchemy, which “…insists on the radical impossibility of distinguishing observer from observed, subject from object” adding that it is impossible for the artist, as for the adept alchemist, to discern whether he or she is in the laboratory “…watching the vessel, or inside the vessel, looking out.” (9)
So are Pang’s works. They are the melding and transmutation of paint matter, as much as of Pang’s mind and body.
(1) David Mather, “Energetic Excess: The Visual Structure of Movement in Early Italian Futurism, 1910–1915” (PhD diss. University of California, San Diego, 2011). Accessed October 4, 2013, https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3qk939m5.
(2) Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, “Futurist Manifesto,” La gazzetta dell'Emilia, February 5, 1909.
(3) Ruben Pang in conversation with curator Loredana Pazzini- Paracciani.
(5) Carl Gustav Jung, “The Spirit in Man, Art, & Literature,” in vol. 15 of Collected Works of Jung, par 157. In the recent Venice Biennale 2013 Carl Jung’s famous Red Book or Liber Novus was disclosed to the public within a major art platform. The book, on which Jung worked for over 16 years, documents his personal cosmology, visions and interpretations, which are illustrated and depicted by Jung himself. For more refer to Il Palazzo Enciclopedico (Marsilio Editori S.p.A., 2013).
(6) Individuation is the psychological process of integrating the opposites, while still maintaining their relative autonomy. See Carl Gustav Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ed. Aniela Jaffé (New York: Pantheon Books, 1963).
(7) Ruben Pang in conversation with curator Loredana Pazzini- Paracciani.
(8) Carl Gustav Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C. J. Jung) (London: Routledge, 1996).
(9) James Elkins, What Painting Is (New York: Routledge, 2000), 171.