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Chu Chu 

Awakening / Alisan Fine Arts, Central / Feb 1 – Mar 16, 2023 /

Chu Chu’s second solo exhibition at Alisan Fine Arts in Hong Kong was an overview of the emerging artist’s works from 2007 to the present. It was curated mainly to provide viewers with background knowledge of her practice, featuring some of her best-known earlier works, as well as showcasing her latest multimedia experiments. Highlighting her roots in photography and Chinese calligraphy, Awakening not only traces Chu’s development over the past decade and a half, but also serves as an affirmation of her talent at reinterpreting and reconciling vastly different genres.

The presentation started with her iconic Material Immaterial series from over a decade ago, featuring five monochromatic works depicting dried fruits, gardenias and twigs. You could easily be forgiven for dismissing the photographic renderings of such objects as banal or commonplace. However, understatement is the key here. Embedded in the photographs among the nuanced shadows are calligraphic scrolls so subtle and delicate that they could easily be mistaken for shadows themselves. For example, in Whispers of Trees – Bamboo (2011-21) and Whispers of Trees – Cercis (2011-17), tiny Chinese characters hide behind the photographed objects, peeking out only if the viewer actively searches for them. They add depth to the shadows and transform the works into objects of contemplation.

Whisper of Trees-Cercis by Chu Chu, 50 x 50cm, 2011-2017. Courtesy the artist and Alisan Fine Arts.

Another body of works is inspired by Italian writer ltalo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities (1972), in which he describes 55 fictitious cities. In Cities-Bergamot (2007-18), the artist’s works become metaphors for these imagined cities and what they represent. Capturing urban skylines across bodies of water in photographs, she embellishes the overcast sky with calligraphic Chinese characters that look like large raindrops fading into the horizon. Most of her works are inspired by a diverse range of ancient texts, from Marcus Aurelius (121-180) to Wen Tingyun (812-870) of the Tang dynasty to Lord Byron (1788-1824). The poetic and philosophical references help the artworks emanate a melancholic longing for days past.

Finally, viewers are treated to splashes of colour in the artist’s most recent series, Bright Stars, which she produced during the pandemic. Stylistically, the works vibrate with energy and colour unseen before. The Golden Seal (2020-22) is inspired by John Keats’s Love Letter to Fanny Brawne, in which the author references the short but fruitful lives of butterflies in the summer. Although the work consists of discrete panels of photographed leaves that are placed together, the treatment of colour gives the overall composition a peculiar harmony. In addition, gold calligraphy flows through the foreground, expertly scrawled in an organised frenzy. Instead of hiding in the background, Chu’s calligraphy now boldly greets her viewers, in a departure from the simplicity of her earlier monochromatic works.

The Golden Seal by Chu Chu, 91 x 153cm, 2020-2022. Courtesy the artist and Alisan Fine Arts.

A romantic at heart, Chu is a master at capturing mood and emotion, and tempting her viewers with the promise of more. While her style is like the seasons, ever-changing and ever-evolving, she remains faithful to her cross-disciplinary practice of photography and calligraphy, referencing nature and also drawing inspiration from historical, cultural and literary sources. Although her earlier works exude a quiet sophistication, they merely set the stage for bigger things to come.

Featured image: Cities-Bergamot by Chu Chu, 75 x 94.5cm, 2007-2018. Courtesy the artist and Alisan Fine Arts.

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