From January 19 to May 5, 2019, UCCA presents Qiu Zhijie: Mappa Mundi, the first exhibition after a complete architectural renovation of UCCA’s Main Hall designed by OMA, and the most comprehensive presentation of the artist’s Mapping the World Project to date. The exhibition includes 30 large-scale, ink-on-paper maps alongside freestanding objects, an AI software work, and, notably, Map of the Art World, a nine-by-ten-meter wall painting devised specifically for UCCA’s newly renovated atrium.
Nearly a decade ago, in the catalogues for his exhibitions, Qiu Zhijie (b. 1969, Zhangzhou, Fujian) began to plot out intricate maps of the relationships among his various artworks. It was from this synthesis of research, writing, imagination, and action that the Mapping the World Project was born. In the hundreds of maps that have followed, the ink and brushwork of landscape painting outlines a coordinate system which condenses ideas, individuals, objects, incidents, and situations, weaving them together and offering a possibility for understanding them in relation to each other.
Trained as a printmaker, and an early pioneer of conceptual photography and video, Qiu is a prolific writer, curator, and educator. The central question of his art since the early 1990s, and his pedagogy since the mid-2000s, is how creative work can intervene in daily life, replace received ideas, demolish clichés and stereotypes, and achieve a new union between art, life, and social practice. With these maps, he shows what drives his ambitious answers to this question: expansive learning, as well as his teacher’s urge to deconstruct and reassemble ideas for further consideration and discussion. In each, he uses the pictorial conventions of cartography and landscape painting to chart geographies that encompass history and philosophy, memory and gossip.
Of note in this exhibition is a new, AI software work, born in the collaboration between Qiu and JD AI Research’s He Xiaodong. This AI program was given a list containing tens of thousands of words taken both from Qiu’s artistic vocabulary and from JD’s own database; researchers have applied existing linguistic data to program the AI’s operating logic, and the artist has then used one of his own mind maps to teach the software creativity and humor. As audiences speak or input certain words, the program generates, associatively, a map in Qiu Zhijie’s style that incorporates landscape and image elements that run throughout his work.
Map of the Art World, created specifically for Mappa Mundi, is Qiu’s latest in a series of site-specific murals, offering a concise history of China’s art world since 1989. The work is suffused with the artist’s wry sense of humor and his poetic sensibility, from the naming of geographic elements to the surprising arrangements of space. Besides the state of art education, the official museum system, and private institutions, the artwork also contains lighthearted anecdotes from the history of Chinese contemporary art, and ironic scenes that played out as capital began to flood this art world.
Qiu believes that map-making produces “awareness” rather than “understanding.” The narratives in these maps are rooted in life, appealing to the sensorial, exploring lost meanings and hidden connections that lie outside of history and common knowledge—in the artist’s words, his maps “work with the relationships that exist between concepts.” The exhibition is thus less a collection of finished work than a presentation of a constantly expanding, open experiment. Through the diverse cultural relations found throughout this terrain, Qiu offers us a set of tools to understand our own thinking and creativity against the fraught background of the present.
Read more about Qiu Zhijie (Wikipedia)