In his essay about the exhibition ‘Odyssey: The Return’ (Beijing 2019) the curator Huang Du writes
“Fion Gunn's works here are inspired by Joyce’s Ulysses and in fact, from childhood she has had a keen interest in reading literary classics from which she absorbed much about the human condition.
In these classical stories of exploration and adventure, the heroes and villains are recognisable as ethically and morally ambiguous human beings who have complex psychologies, who are driven by selfishness or integrity and so on. She makes particular reference to Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ in her three-dimensional, stream of consciousness "pictures", where the simultaneous encounter of thoughts, emotions and memories reflect the literary cross-narration.
She is constantly searching for unexpected connections and by incorporating these in her artworks, she creates a very different kind of literary ‘collage’, one which leads her to remember old worlds and discover new ones simultaneously. In almost every painting, Fion Gunn’s narrative is intrinsically linked to a chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses, however the artist is not merely recreating or illustrating literature, for this is a subjective depiction of the real world inhabited by people and things.
Running through her personal concerns about family, reality, mythology, Chinese culture, gender and immigration, she has brought to bear her visual ideas and imagination, so in ‘Dublin Bay Triptych’ (2018) which refers to ‘Ulysses’ Chapter 13 (Nausicaa), she depicts the frequent trade between Dublin and Liverpool through a church like window. At the same time, the painting also makes reference to an episode in ‘Ulysses’ where Joyce explores the male gaze, sexuality and love from both male and female perspectives.
Meanwhile, in The Dream of Zheng He (in five parts, 2017), Fion Gunn uses a ‘continuous image’ technique to depict the stories of Zheng He's personal life: family separation and capture by the army in Ming Dynasty China. It vividly evokes Zheng He’s extraordinary courage and the arduous adventures he experienced in the Western Ocean.
Although Zheng He’s expedition to the West did not end as brutally or tragically as the sinking of the “Titanic”, the artist hints at the dark side of today’s complex and uncertain reality, one where the world is in crisis and at risk.
Contradictions and conflicts between globalization and counter-globalization, migration of immigrants and conservative populism, the divide between the North and the South, between the center and the periphery are highlighted throughout her work.
Contradictions and conflicts between globalization and counter-globalization, migration of immigrants and conservative populism, the divide between the North and the South, between the center and the periphery are highlighted throughout her work. Similar concerns are addressed in paintings such as Age of Exploration no.5 (2017) and The Immigrants no.1 and no.2 (2017) which metaphorize or infer that we are in a state of uncertainty.
On the other hand, Fion Gunn's two paintings, ‘Agamemnon Waiting’ and ‘Eurydice and the City of the Dead’, which refer to ‘Ulysses’, Chapter 8, (Lestrygonians) and Chapter 18 (Penelope) respectively, encompass fantastical narratives. From these collaged paintings, frightened people and broken bronze statues, gaze. The dramatic treatment of this gaze highlights the contradictions within the central figures in these works, symbolizing their loyalty and love through the juxtaposition of other figures, flowers, wedding dresses, architectural vaults or Greek columns
The narratives of these two works play with the notion of "absurdity" and reflect on the contradictory psychological characteristics of human nature - betrayal, guilt, disgust, death, love and so on. It is in this sense that she uses a unique method of expression to recombine unrelated or incongruous images. For instance, almost all these images derived from different times and places, are grouped together on the same spatial plane, creating and enhancing the sense of magical reality. The synchronised dialogue and narrative of different images undoubtedly echoes the stream of consciousness evidenced in ‘Ulysses’.
The artist uses colour expressively and in so doing highlights and celebrates the body’s visceral instincts and perceptions: the relationship between light and darkness, consciousness and physicalism, emotion and energy. Her paintings recreate a dreamlike visual language, using natural landscapes and intimate everyday scenes. Through the assemblage of incongruous fragmented images, her work evokes the fragility of the human spirit and the unpredictability of the world.”
黄 笃 Huang Du is an independent curator based in Beijing. He has published numerous critical articles and essays on contemporary art for magazines and catalogues internationally, He was Art Advisor to the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale 2012 with Hans Ulrich Obrist, curator for the Chinese pavilion of the 26th Sao Paulo Biennale, Sao Paulo, 2004 and assistant curator for Chinese Pavilion of the 50th Venice Biennale, 2003.
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