The juxtaposition of the East and West whilst on the road to modernity and forming of a unique culture is the core of Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows. The original text from In Praise of Shadows serves as an overarching theme for this new exhibition from the gallery represented artist Chen Ronghui. Resembling the passages which contemplate aesthetics and its influences on culture, Chen while pursuing his MFA degree in New Haven encounters his journey of discovering meanings through his surroundings of light and memory, night and fear. The exhibition is divided into three parts and weaves images with video works created from 2019 to 2021. In Tanizaki’s words, “If light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty.” Reminiscing on Chen’s mental and physical state during these difficult years, this new exhibition presents an array of delicate pieces conceived under limited light, shadows of memories and beauty of hope for the future.
New values of the west and constant yet excessive new information about his surroundings bombard Chen, with what could have been a peaceful two-year student life. Born and raised locally in China, Chen was thrust into an area where nighttime crime cases were high and the Covid-19 pandemic was looming in the backdrop. After a long day at school or at his artist studio, Chen would run back to his rented apartment, praying he was safe either from a crime scene or getting diagnosed with the virus. Upon arriving safely, not bothering to turn on the lights, he would sink into his sofa, out of breath as exhaustion took over. The light of night would seep through his windows where he would lay and observe, enjoying its beauty interlaced with eeriness and fear. Surprisingly, the scenes reminded of Chen his childhood days in rural Zhejiang, beautiful memories contradicted his frame of mind in New Haven. This began as part one of An Ordinary Evening in New Haven.
As Covid-19 cases arise so did anti-Asian hate crimes, Chen started to receive e-mails from his school and news of attacks unfolded. Part two slowly took form as streaks of artificial light, signifying actual crime scenes happening in New Haven flooded into his living space. Images created with a projector were cast on everyday objects. These artificial scenes located through Google Maps by Chen found their way as a portrayal of omnipresent fear creeping into his daily life. Shadow and light, rather than representing fear and hope respectively, roles interchange while slowly blurring boundaries through part one and part two. As tension, frustration and fear clouded the mind, quarantine was also restricting mobility. Days stretched endlessly and limited gaps within days offered rare breathing space for short walks. Part three features three video works, fragmented in time where the artist would go on walks alone or with a special company. As a temporary migrant from the East, immersed in this troubling new world, Chen ponders on his values, beliefs, and hopes as a person moving forward. These seemingly quiet voices in his mind make way for the voice-over in these video works.
Stepping on a journey between light and shadow, coinciding with the essence of photography, this exhibition is Chen’s path to maturity in image-making during his days in New Haven. His understanding of his preferred art form, photography deepened, but more importantly realizing his interpretation of culture and modernity as a contemporary Asian artist was found. Hence, we welcome our audiences to the gallery space, where we praise these overcasting shadows, if not there would be no light.