Contemporary Art of Artist Shen Jingdong - Chinese Contemporary Art
Shen Jingdong

Draw the hero back to the day-to-day significance

On “Hero” series of Shen Jingdong

The image that Shen Jingdong’s “hero” series created is an image of the soldiers with certain identity. This image is hardly to tell who the specific soldier is. His facial features are vague, and in fact he is a man in common sense. In clothing and attitude which stand his identity his individuality is replaced by a common ideology.

The image of the soldier which was named hero is out of refinement. They are created into four kinds of people, which are the red, the yellow, the bald and the soldiers with hat. The yellow soldiers possess a hue of humanity, and the red soldiers stand for the solemn atmosphere of revolution. Their bodies are not only dressed in the uniform dress, but also have a fixed correct upright posture. This kind of image comes from his experience in the army. Almost every soldier with certain personality will be uniformed in the end after joining the army.

The hero series originally are a group of ceramic sculptures whose sizes are similar to a doll of a hero’s bust, which make the solemnness of the soldiers’ images be inclined to a kind of loveliness. It seems that these soldiers are playing the role of a hero in this uniform. Compared with the early revolutionary sculptures or sculptures of the time, although this series refer to the image theme of ideology, Shen Jingdong seems to re-endow the image-understanding with a new possibility. His soldiers possess neither the characteristics of high volumes of the early revolutionary sculptures nor the irony to the political image since the 1990s.

Shen Jingdong’s soldier reduces the heroic sense of the images as much as possible. This soldier only possesses a rigid posture as a gesture to imitate when taking souvenir picture. In fact, two aspects of image features are reduced from this soldier by Shen Jingdong, one is his sense of ideology, and the other is his materiality. This makes the works concisely focus on the presentation of the relationship between people and the uniform. In Chinese “uniform” has dual meanings. As a noun, it means the dress of a certain profession; as a verb, it means in the confrontation of bodies or spirits one person is conquered by certain mandatory forces.

The vagueness of the facial features and appearance makes the portrait in fact also the extended part of the uniformity. This soldier is one admonished soldier. After the admonishment both his specific portrait features and complex inner world disappear or are hidden under the appearance of uniform and uniformity, this is unknown. But his image has become an object metaphor of the subduing of one’s personality.

This soldier in fact is inclined to the everydayness of the ideology and professional admonishment. This feature also embodies in the painting series on the soldiers’ sculptures. This series seems one pat of two organic parts of the presentation of the soldier, which are the soldier’s standard sculpture and the painting which presents the sculpture again. The glabrousness and fragile texture of the ceramics seems not obvious in the sculpture, instead they are embodied obviously in the painting part.

This soldier is actually represented as the creation of the identification and role shaping from a common person to a soldier. He enters this hero’s sculpture which is seen as the standard of admonishment, but he seems to show no serious pains, in contrary, he presents an expression of imperturbability, calmness, and complacence. The abstraction of the soldier’s image and the representation of a self-normality both attempt to draw the hero back to a day-to-day eternal significance.

This mode is also used in Shen Jingdong’s painting New Nation-founding Ceremony. This giant painting is the creative renovation of the classic revolutionary painting. In this painting, each of the founding leaders is painted as an ordinary and a day-to-day person without any unusualness and loftiness. Revolutioners, leaders and soldiers are actually the images with ideology in the political publicity art. Their images and backgrounds are both represented as hero and sublimity and epic landscape. In the contemporary art after 1990s they have been used by the ironic post-modernism. It is really another kind of ideology.

Through the abstraction of the images of the revolutioners and leaders and soldiers Shen Jingdong seems to try hard to make the hero really break away with the bipolar presentation between publicity art and the ironic publicity art. His soldiers and leaders are both placed in an image with more general sense. He not only draws the individual out and makes this image a man in common sense but also gets rid of the ideologist features of the publicity art and makes it an expression without historical myth. In this kind of image-filtration of abstraction, both the leaders and soldiers are normalized into one kind of day-to-day eternal essence, and the sublimity and the mysteriousness disappear. They are as real as the people around you, but only different in uniform.

Zhu Qi Written in Wangjing in October 2006

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