Dark eyes, a lively gaze framed by vibrant red glasses, long flowing hair, a young and slender body in a nice red tube dress, Hu opens the door to her atelier with a smile. It’s an attic in a historical building, with dormer windows that look out at the sky and wide windows for gazing at the moon-like landscape of the Apuan alps, chewed out by the marble quarries.
A small studio filled with canvases, paintings, brushes, paint tubes, colored test tassels on the walls, folders with drawings and sketches. Hu begins to explain how she prepares her own canvases and boards, by following a traditional Chinese technique that uses chalk and animal based glue. She guides me through her canvases, describing with composed grace her most recent works; among canvases and easels I listen to her fluid Italian, with soft consonants and perfect subjunctives, she illustrates a pictorial and symbolic universe: Chinese women clothed in traditional dresses, warrior princesses, new identities emerging from masks, nature in transformation, women turning into pineapples, trees that turn into people, transformer babies, multicolored children, explosions of plants and flowers, bright red and shiny anthuriums stand out in traditional still lifes. Playful color schemes and layered meanings. Portraits of men and women titled “Love is blind and deaf”. The puzzle of emerging art by this young woman is built among inks, fans, watercolors, inchiostri, and small paper sculptures.
We retrace together her journey to Carrara from her hometown in China: a young talent in search of techniques for expression, artistic growth and refinement. The path of her studies on the female image, between two continents, takes her to retrace Caravaggio’s footsteps. It then takes her from the Berlin devastated by WWII of the Saint Matthew and the angel canvas, to the Rome of San Luigi dei Francesi, through the seductive light in the portrait of the Magdalen. Between playful tricks of light and colored brushstrokes, death – with an ambiguous and sensual smile – reaps souls for their last journey.
Fallen angels, death shivers, luscious fruit baskets, enigmatic ephebes, portraits of smiling youths: we go over the journey of her BA thesis, the artistic growth that culminates with the “eternal mirror” painting: a pregnant woman laying down with a candle next to a skull, in parallel with the human growth journey. A blossom of rare beauty that survived the terrible Chinese selection process which accepts only males. A warrior who fights the tradition of precocious marriages, a woman and artist determined to explore the world, reinterpreting its views, landscapes and traditions: these are just a few traits of my eclectic friend, Hu Huming.
Overlapping anatomical details, diversified eyes according to glances, the game of identities and representations culminates in the aesthetic and philosophical research “Huisthis? Huiming solo show”. ‘The flower in the mirror, the moon in the water’ is the Chinese proverb that inspired her search for multiple reality representations, their duality. The mobile and deceptive nature of symbols, doubts raised by the perceived or constructed reality, essential reflections on representation. The search for reality and the tools for its representation – from Plato’s myth of the cave to the Veil of Maya – is articulated through the most diverse of materials: painted mirrors intent on creating interactions with the viewers’ gaze , unique frames melted with the paintings. The game of reality and its double merges and becomes one in her untitled project featuring layers of ancient books, burned and glued with eyes, mouths and coral gazes. The past and the present are interwoven in Hu’s imagination, creating artworks suspended between vision and reality, between different perspectives. Constant overflowing the boundary between life and painting, we also look back on our friendship: from tour first meeting at a mail art gallery on Fellini’s imaginary, to the trip to China, where she showed me landscapes, customs, contradictions, presenting an age old culture with few and simple gestures, going through the dutiful and elegant tea ceremonies, the Italian dinners and Chinese lunches, the many many questions we pondered on through our emails, whatsapp messages, in person, an on Facebook (replaced by q during our Chinese stay).
A path of painting and experience, our friendship, eloquent silences and smiles, endless conversations while laying on the mattress of the attic suspended among stars and clouds, phone calls blended in with multiple languages, in which Hu sprinkles Chinese sounds to explain the meaning, long letters to compensate the mutual absences and hours on Chinese notebooks to overcome the complex communication barriers.
While illustrating her works, Hu talks about her city of birth, the ceramics tradition, the meaning of the seals she gifted me, the motivation that drives so many students to work and study frenetically, day and night, the traps in life and the tentacles of the work environment, the insecurity of employment, unclear arrangements that are always disregarded, her defeats and achievements. She recounts the hours she spent in silence making a portrait of a person, to get to know them better, while glancing out the window the ghostly light emanating from the marble hills of Carrara, which she paints as homage to the absolute beauty of the white color and the rare grey veins.
A young woman searching for excellence, portraits of photographic perfection, painstaking attention to details; delicate and deep brush strokes, her skill with color sometimes bright and sometimes blended… a style of representation full of images… a young woman in the search of her pathway through European cities, a skilled perfectionist dealing with the everlasting challenge of complexity, the ongoing search for better light, the challenge to push her art to higher levels, for which she studies and works hard.
Hu’s star sparkles in the sky of foreign female artists, she collects awards and qualifications in painting contests, topping her exceptional studies in Italy with hard work and a personal interpretation of Caravaggio’s painting, she founded the association Amicina to build solid bonds between China and Italy, she weaves nets of virtual and human relations between multiple continents, while fulfilling her dream of coordinating Chinese high achievers living in Italy and active in various artistic and cultural domains. She travels in Europe painting portraits of passersby, monuments and basilicas; she is fascinated by the social organization of some of the northern European countries; she lets herself be charmed by the relaxed lifestyle of Madrid all the while never losing her constant pace of study and exercise, She does all of this both figuratively and pictorially, she underscore that Chines name translates into Italian Costanza (Constance).
A constance and consistency in commitment, in her studies and friendships, a constant engagement in the y study of Italian, which has become a fluid and a rich tool to express her liveliness, and is building a bridge to to acquire fluency in Spanish and her future projects.
Translated by Melina Piccolo, from the original Italian article appearing in La Macchina Sognante n. 14.
A discourse based on skepticism, doubt, lies and knowledge.
Reality is like ‘the flower in the mirror and the moon in the water’, according to a Chinese proverb, which describes the emotions produced by deception. However, who or what deceives us, what is ascertained by our knowledge?
My work questions the seemingly exclusive pairs of reality and fiction, totality and fragment, certainty and doubt, presenting them as a unit. Through a pictorial investigation carried out in photographic and audiovisual media, I intend to create a ritual language capable of expressing my doubts, feelings and contradictions regarding art, culture, reason, morality and society.
La realtà è come il fiore nello specchio e la luna nell’acqua’’, dice un proverbio cinese per descrivere le emozioni prodotte con l’inganno. Ma chi o che cosa sta cercando di ingannare noi, la nostra percezione e la nostra conoscenza?
At Hu Huiming’s first solo exhibition of in Budapest the artist displayed paintings, burned books, painted face fragments on mirrors and a huge golden frame with a 2×2 miniature painting in it. She produced more than 40 artworks during her one month long residency,
Is this all reality? Or is it only an illusion? Are we misled? Are we skeptical?
According to the artist’s philosophy, reality is like “the flower in the mirror and the moon in the water”. As Plato explained in his allegory of the cave, we can only see the shadow of reality. Are we capable of discovering the truth behind the shadows if our knowledge is not sufficient to see through deception? The artist’s pictures represent her search for an answer to this philosophical query She tries to involve her audience through a visual game and encourage them to become skeptical.
The central work of the exhibition, a long oil painting (900x80cm), is situated on the main wall of the exhibition space. Eight different body parts can be discovered on this oil painting, neatly placed in a hilly landscape with five burned books on top of it. Creating long oil paintings is part of traditional Chinese culture, although smaller paintings are even more popular. In her portrayal of body parts, the artist went back to famous artworks of classical masters (e.g. Michelangelo’s ‘David’ from 1501-1504 or Gustave Courbet’s ‘The Origin of the World’ from 1866). Among the body parts a two-faced woman with a male body stands out as the focal point of the artwork which symbolizes the center of the universe, yin and yang (female and male). The body parts represent the eight fundamental principles of reality: heaven, earth, fire, water, wind, thunder, lake and mountain. These are called Ba Gua (or the eight symbols) in Taoist cosmology. The principles are portrayed by three-line trigrams (continuous or broken) and represent yin and yang. The trigrams are also connected to the ‘five elements’ (metal, wood, water, fire and earth) that appear in the form of the five painted books in the painting.
To the left of the long painting a group of 25 burned books can be found that similarly tries to find an answer to the philosophical questions discussed above. The pages of the books cannot be turned anymore, as the books themselves gained a new meaning when they got glued together and were repainted. The books, original Hungarian editions from the 1960-70’s, were acquired by the artist from second-hand bookshops in Budapest. She burned the books and dipped them in natural glue that she produced herself from rice soup. Then she let the books dry for a week and with time the books became as hard as wood and lost their original function completely. At this point the books gained a new meaning. The artist painted unfinished figurative oil paintings in the middle of each book (e.g. hands, one or more faces, a landscape). The exciting artworks that she created by this method pay homage to the memory of the big book-burning which took place 2200 years ago during the first Chinese emperor Qin Shihuang. It also refers to what people do to their culture, namely that they destroy it and then try to rebuild it.
On the wall opposite, seven round mirrors look us in the eye in a playful way. The title of the artwork is: HUISTHIS. The artist painted face fragments on six of these mirrors, which engage the viewers in a visual game and invite them to question their perception of reality. The seventh mirror displays the following words “Engage with the artwork and distort your own perception. Grab a friend to help take a photo. Position yourself so that your face lines up with the fragmented face in the artwork. Snap a shot and see how it has changed.” If you wanted to, you could upload your picture on Instagram immediately (#huisthis).
Pictures with different themes, techniques and sizes are to be found on the fourth wall. However all of these pictures try to find the answer to the same question as the previous works. All the oil paintings, mostly portraits, are an attempt to show us our failed perception of reality and our delusion about the world. Why does a brush get into the middle of a portrait if not in order to deceive us and to encourage us to stop a moment and take a look at the world from a different angle. We should not believe what we see in the first place but remain skeptical and consider various kinds of interpretations. We might find truth and reality on the way, if we persist in our search.
Budapest, August, 2017
Franca Dumano holds degrees in Law and Anthropology, she writes poetry and short stories. Her texts have appeared in the Italian language journals Sagarana, La rete di Indra and La Macchina Sognante, in the book Lavoro, cultura, disabilità and in the paper anthology Poeti allo specchio. She tries to build a better world through empowerment and self development projects and volunteering in socially minded organizations. She has published the book Il cammino di Hamdan, Lu::ce Edizioni, 2015,