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Tong Kunniao

Press release


Tong Kunniao – Just Stay in the Cold

Just Stay in The Cold will be the Beijing-based artist’s first exhibition in two chapters with the gallery, as well as his first show in Berlin.
In China, Tong Kunniao (*1990) is one of the most sought-after artists of a generation whose works clearly stand out from those of previously known Chinese artists. Tong Kunniao is concerned with breaking out of social structures, which is reflected in the title of his exhibition.  Delimiting a space for outsiders, the expression Just Stay In The Cold refers to the Chinese phrase “哪凉快,哪呆着去” (literally “go where it’s cool”), or “go jump in the lake.” Tong – himself a flâneur, poet, globetrotter, and free spirit – is fascinated by life on the fringes of society.

Firmly ensconced within the post-medium condition, Tong’s work extends beyond formal boundaries to encompass sculpture, performance, painting, photography, and poetry – sometimes even within the parameters of a single work. Tong Kunniao makes use of products of our throwaway society: For him, the endless supply of objects that end up in resale shops, flea markets, and dumpsters form a substructure for the semiotics of the built world. He describes this seemingly limitless flow of consumer goods as a “bad infinity” and the role of the artist as a scatological scavenger who performatively explores its depths. In his sensual and obstinate objects, we associatively experience the special traces and stories found or imagined in his scavenged materials—and what they reveal about a city and its people. Equipment and small machines brought from China serve as a framework for the new mixed-media works that will be shown in the Hua International. In the interplay of the kinetic experiment, contemporary Wunderkammer (Cabinet of curiosities), and installation art, Tong creates a re-enchantment of our material world and challenges the viewer to rethink our consumption-driven value system in a playful way.

The two parts of Tong Kunniao’s exhibition each foreground the fragility of equilibrium, playing upon the precarity of categorical distinctions related to value, use, and destruction, as well as the myriad balancing, acts that we encounter in our daily lives: finding balance within the self, within one's community, and with the other. Structured as a call and response, the two chapters revolve around the notions of Dasein [existence] and Geworfenheit [thrownness]. A concept introduced by Heidegger, the state of “thrownness” connotes the arbitrary and erratic aspects of existence. As the artist himself notes, “the play of human existence revolves around the possibility of being thrown in the world, of being abandoned. We are ‘thrown’ into the world, and we have to deal with what is thrown at us. “Following this motto, the second chapter of the exhibition functions as a reconfiguration and expansion of the works and concepts introduced in the first chapter—highlighting the elemental instability of life in a rapidly changing world.