For his second solo show at Sundaram Tagore New York, Beijing-based artist Zheng Lu presents new sculptures and mixed-media installations revolving around themes of water, a subject matter that holds multiple meanings for the artist, from an element essential to existence, to a medium symbolic of change, self-reflection and the passage of time.
The title of the show, Root Metaphor, refers to a concept developed by American academic Sarah Allan, based on the idea that early Chinese philosophers used physical principals of the natural world to better understand mysteries of the cosmos and the nature of man. Water, a shapeless medium that can be potent or supple, dynamic or latent, can take on abundant meaning and serve as a tangible model embedded with conceptualized ideas. Zheng Lu employs imagery of water and the principals that govern it to reveal a world that exists, which we cannot see.
“With little bearing on the phenomenal world, these models belong to an invisible world that is contrary to our mundane and recognizable universe,” Zheng explains. “Various natural phenomena play the role of models in the system of abstract philosophical principles.”
Zheng illustrates this concept with his new series Fluid Mechanics; abstract metal sculptures that are an aesthetic departure from his acclaimed Water in Dripping series, where he poetically expresses water in stainless steel form, evoking dynamic splashes suspended mid-air. Here, Zheng approaches his investigation on a micro-level inspired by principals of applied mathematics, physics and computational software designed to produce quantitative predictions of fluid-flow. The practical application of this branch of science is used to study ocean currents and weather patterns, as well as develop technology for aircrafts, rocket engines and wind turbines.
Fluid mechanics often uses computer generated grids to explore principals of water flow, but Zheng’s lattice-like structures forged from titanium and stainless steel take the idea further by also considering the fundamental human desire to make sense of what we don’t know or can’t see, while at the same time, imparting meaning drawn from collective cultural experiences.
“Geometry is probably a rational outcome of the life form,” he says. “These patterns, seemingly simple but actually unstable, complicated, and orderly, are showered with human-generated metaphors.” Zheng’s metal structures are rhythmic and delicate, while also conveying the power and momentum that comes from fluid in motion. But some viewers will find symbolic meaning in the incidental geometric shapes that are formed, as with NACA0012 Airfoil, in which a cross appears, a result of when the tail of an airplane cuts through air.
Also on view is Unknown Circles, a spatial installation first shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei (MOCA) in Zheng's solo exhibition Shiosai in 2015. Comprising a series of luminous black orbs in various sizes, the work is inspired by the principle of wave interference, a natural phenomenon that occurs when two waves collide while traveling along the same medium. Where the spheres connect to each other and the wall, expanding ripples appear, the energy of the interaction validating one another's presence.
“I imagine these spheres being liquid and as such, collisions between the sphere and the space around it causes ripples across the surface,” Zheng explains. “As the ripples stack atop each other, they magnify the vibrations in some areas, while diminishing the vibrations in others. The positions of the waves establish each other’s existence, reveal their existence, or reveal its meaning.”
Additionally, the exhibition features new lightboxes that evolved from the artist’s Insubstantiality series, which made its American debut during his solo show Undercurrent (Sundaram Tagore New York, 2017). These bright, colorful works are imbued with Daoist philosophy and play with the notion that reality is not always what you see. A convex lens placed over glass magnifies and deconstructs the imagery beneath, resulting in vibrant abstract compositions similar to what one might see when looking through the lens of a microscope.
These new series are an organic evolution of Zheng’s acclaimed Water in Dripping series, of which there will be several recent works on view. “Water is a very important motif in my art,” he says. “As a key element in Chinese philosophy, it was observed, visualized and ruminated upon rather than getting examined in terms of logic.” With these works, Zheng Lu integrates ideas rooted in Chinese philosophy with explorations of physical forms to reveal deeper metaphysical truths, realized in dynamic contemporary sculpture.