Perrotin Seoul is pleased to present Allongé – Out of Reach, an exhibition by Berlin-based painter Xiyao Wang. The Chinese-born artist’s dynamic, expansive works are endowed with a palpable presence—or perceptual affect—generated through a highly physical painting process in which bold gesture finds form amid vast fields of empty space.
For her second solo presentation with the gallery, Wang expands her ongoing inquiry into expressions of embodied subjectivity, producing large-scale gestural abstractions that implicate notions of temporality and mobility, form and void, substance and spirit. Her paintings disclose a minimal approach to mark-making that derives from the artist’s introspective exploration of subconscious states of spatial awareness, filtered through a cross-cultural lens that integrates sensible phenomena, spatial receptivity and philosophical hermeneutics.
Traversed by lines of black charcoal and punctuated with accretions of colorful oil stick, Wang’s canvases evince a reductive visual vocabulary that activates empty space as an indelible compositional element, lending her works a bearing of kinetic poise. These arresting visual manifestations of corporeal experience resonate with her own practice as an avid student of ballet—a rigorous regimen of harnessing the body’s energy and attaining control over its every movement while executing complex and physically demanding choreography. Among the frequent verbal cues that ballet dancers receive throughout their training is allongé, a French term which reminds dancers to elongate their position at the beginning or end of a movement by extending their arm(s) and focusing their attention on the continuity of line that their body creates. In this respect, allongé is a centering mechanism through which the dancer’s breath, body tension and mental concentration become fully integrated—either in a moment of preparation that channels their energy toward realizing the prescribed movement to the best of their ability, or an act of completion that aids in sustaining their physical and mental intensity until the movement has fully subsided.
For Wang, allongé functions as a mantra for conjuring cognitive composure prior to the instant in which her hand makes contact with the canvas. This critical interval of non-painting is as consequential as the undertaking of mark-making itself, for it is in this brief moment that the sensory impulses in her mind reach their fullest extension. Only after such a point is reached does she begin to inscribe these fleeting sensations onto the picture plane in broad sweeping strokes and condensed staccato scribbles. The clarity and precision of this transfer is therefore vital to the integrity of the artwork, as is the quality and character of each individual line. By invoking an additional allongé at the conclusion of these freehand gestures, Wang further prolongs the impetus of each stroke past its terminus, ensuring that every abstract marking consummately condenses the full breadth of her intention. Although this painting methodology bespeaks a certain spontaneity, it is by no means improvisational—the creative decisions that she makes in front of the canvas are always measured and deliberate, each in the service of elevating the expressive potential of the painted line.
In addition to the moment-to-moment sensitivity that is so essential to Wang’s painting practice, allongé also operates in a more relational context that corresponds to its application in ballet performance as a means of coordinating one’s movements with other dancers. Whether positioned in group formation or standing alongside a partner in a duet, dancers must activate a heightened state of awareness in order to sense one another’s subtle allongé without ever looking directly at their fellow performers. Such subliminal proprioception enables elite dancers to move in perfect synchronicity while executing sinuous and strenuous choreography in perfect unison. Allongé is thus conceived as a means of extending one’s body into its surroundings by assimilating oneself with the space that it occupies—a space of as-yet unrealized movement and a visual void that permits the human figure to assert a more acutely perceived presence. This sensitivity to empty space is similarly activated in Wang’s new works, where much of the canvas is left unpainted and each of her distinct strokes, squiggles and smudges assumes an amplified air of decisiveness.
Whereas the philosophical conception of affect was relatively obscure in the West until the 1980s, an analogous dialectics of interpenetration between the self and the universe has long served as a core tenet of Chinese cultural thought, which draws heavily from the ancient Taoist cosmology. Formalized more than 2000 years ago in Laozi’s Tao Te Ching, Taoism posits that reality and nihility exist as inseparable opposites that collectively comprise the flow of the universe—known as Tao—and are immanent in all things, whether tangible or intangible, limited or unlimited. Such non-dualistic notions of human experience have since permeated all aspects of Chinese society, beginning with popular cultural practices such as traditional ink painting. Artists have historically extrapolated the Taoist tandem of existence and non-existence to conceive that any painted rendering of the visible world must also include its imperceptible inverse—that is, the invisible void. It was through such thinking that empty space emerged as a quintessential component of Chinese art as early as the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when the concept of the “intended blank” (Chinese: 留白, Korean: 여백) first took hold among painters and subsequently developed into one of the most recognizable attributes of Chinese aesthetics throughout the past 1000 years.
That this emergent cognizance of the “intended blank” coincided with her ongoing ballet training during graduate school may have been the catalyst for adopting allongé as a modus operandi in her own painting praxis and inducing a more profound engagement with the corporeal subjectivity that defines her oeuvre. As a physical sensation and cognitive state that belongs entirely to the realm of spatial experience, allongé can never be fully encapsulated in words, nor can painterly affect be approximated by anything other than directly beholding an artwork suffused with such visceral magnetism. Wang’s vigorous outpouring of gestural lines upon the perceptual infinitude of unpainted space enables viewers to embrace the ungraspable and expand their consciousness beyond purely rational or empirical conclusions. This imperative of reaching toward something which is impossible to locate, or indeed quantify in objective terms, is what imbues her works with its arresting potency and singular presence. Wang invites us to harness the non-duality of the Tao itself, offering a site of encounter where the matter inside of us responds to the matter all around us in a simultaneous resonance of the artist’s intent, her gestural collision with the canvas and our own ineffable experience as witnesses to this affective spatiotemporal dance.
(Andy St. Louis, art critic)
Born in 1992 in Chongqing, China, Xiyao Wang currently lives and works in Berlin, Germany. The Berlin-based Chinese artist creates large-scale, immersive paintings in which gestural lines evoke echoes of landscapes, bodies, movements, thoughts. In the process, she develops a kind of hybrid abstract painting that combines various influences and inspirations: Taoism and post-structuralism, ancient Chinese pictorial traditions, bodywork, dance, martial arts, and the canon of Western art history. Wang’s paintings explore inner visions, bodily perceptions, sensations, feelings, interrogating her East-West biography.
She has had solo exhibitions at König Galerie, Berlin (2023); MassimoDeCarlo, London (2023); Perrotin, Paris (2022); Arndt Collection, Cape Schanck (2022); Gerber Stauffer Fine Arts, Zurich (2021); A Thousand Plateaus Gallery, Chengdu (2021); and Soy Capitàn Gallery, Berlin (2019). Her work has been included in group shows at Aurora Museum, Shanghai (2022); Jiu Shi Art Museum, Shanghai (2022); Tang Contemporary Art, Seoul (2022); and Spinnerei, Leipzig (2020).