GUO HONGWEI (b. 1982) moves beyond his signature watercolor paintings in his latest show at Chambers Fine Art Beijing, “The Great Metamorphist.” At first glance, you might question disbelievably that all the works in the show– which include video, sculpture, and 2D works– were created by the same artist. Yet it turns out that true to the exhibition’s title, these seemingly discrete pieces have a symbolic relationship– metaphorically speaking. A metaphor is by definition a correlation between two seemingly unrelated objects (here Guo interprets “objects” as “art objects”). Metaphors are by nature conceptual. We might even say that all conceptual art deals with metaphor in one way or another. Guo is clearly interested in the relationship between the literary and the artistic, as reflected by his translation of verbal ideas into visual form.
The “focus” of the show is a five-screen video installation of the artist making the twenty-minute drive between home and his studio. While the videos alone don’t provoke much discussion, Guo builds on this everyday routine by converting it into various media. He takes film stills and collages them over PVC pipes, and displays a series of his own (fictional) “artist books” based on sources he consulted while planning the show. In a playful attempt at psychogeography, this modest commute is made epic through a series of maps employing both traditional Chinese and Medieval European trops (one map is humorously signed “Sir Guo Hongwei”).
Of course, an English metaphor isn’t the same as a Chinese metaphor, and there’s a certain amount of Guo’s show that becomes lost in translation. Like reading a novel saturated with symbols or motifs, we have to decide to what extent we should read between the lines. Is metaphor a strong enough device to unite such a seemingly disparate collection of objects? “The Great Metamorphist” leaves us wondering: Is Guo sincerely attempting to contemplate the poetics of objects, or are we being manipulated into “over-reading?”
“Guo Hongwei: The Great Metamorphist” is at Chambers Fine Art Beijing until October 19.