Deng Chen Wen (b. 191) graduated from Tianjin Fine Arts College. In 2003, he was featured in the "Rising of the New Generations" contemporary art exhibition. Being named as one of the rising stars among the art industries, he continued to shine his way through in his career.
Deng Cheng Wen’s Blind Walking series captures the collective ambition, ignorance and emotional flurry within the young Chinese of his generation. His works adopt a concept-based approach in order to seek a depth and complexity – at a level that causes some of its viewers to recognize personal truths when standing before the art. For an emerging artist, Deng’s insight into the issues unique to his generation is encouraging. Despite his youth, his message is compelling and pertinent while his arresting compositions attest to his immaculate attention to detail. The strong compulsion to express himself on the condition of his generation suggests that some have already started to see and will lead their compatriots towards a more meaningful future. And rightly so, this collective ambition is directed towards their infatuation with still-life techniques. Because modern life is multi-faceted, they cannot hope to achieve the public consensus that Yang Fei Yun's garners. However they have to veer away from simplistic representations of single-faceted beauty.
Through his own sensitivities, Deng has re-constructed a new visual experience that evokes the spirit whilst creating an art that integrates both symbolism and metaphors. Deng’s works counter the clash between perceptions of image and language. Of course the separation between language and image in order to find his own method of creation is consciously derived from his personal history. This method of painting is heavily imbued with symbolism and gradually fashions Deng’s eventual painting style. Deng’s works are a stunning display of the contradicting visual imagery that many in his generation encounter daily in their lives. His analysis often presents itself in the arena between imagery and language, with a biasness towards the unstable flux of their times.
Deng Chengwen’s blind walking series is about the allegorical theme of the survival of the next generation. He uses stimulating visual situations to describe the lost mental state of Chinese youth after globalisation.
In 2007 a few of Deng Chengwen’s “blind walking” pieces were on show at the first 798 art festival which I organised. The scene was several stern looking young people who looked like they were playing a game of feeling their way around in the dark, standing in a line, with the last person in the line covering the eyes of the first. Being like an embyo of this whole series, when this piece first began it started off with just two or three people with a freehand empty background of grey nothingness. Later, the number of people was increased to seven or eight with a specific city, wasteland, river and country road background. “Blind walking” depicts the new generation and their landscape after China’s rise. The temperament of the new generation in Deng Chengwen’s works already possess the same post globalization characteristics as young people all over the world; not having the special political naivety of those born in the 50’s and 60’s, nor the adolescent cruelty accumulated during the preliminary stages of capitalism of those from the 70’s. Due to their excellent material standards and robust bodies they have good skin and fashionable clothing, with some young people even dying their hair to become a western blonde colour.
Loss of direction causes this generation’s anxiety and even fear which has become the phenomenon directly expressed by Deng Chengwen. He depicts various kinds of people’s psychological actions; those with mouths wide open; those with mouths tightly shut; those with two arms outstretched; those with hands together in prayer; those with bodies bent forwards and those with heads turned looking back. It is easy to see; Deng Chengwen is not only expressing the mental state of himself, but that of a group. Furthermore, it seems this is a collective phenomenon. Their state of being burdened and lost also possess some special characteristics; they are not in the midst of politicized activities but in an adolescent state of grasping their way. In this state of grasping they feel directionlessness, unspecified fear and anxiety.
Deng Chengwen’s “blind walking” was originally a void with no background, with the foreground being a burdened and anxious face covered by the hands of another. The game style survival method causes this generation to fall into a vain directionless, anxiety, fear and to become burdened. This is the phenomenology of the work “blind walking”. In the early stages of the “blind walking” series, Deng Chengwen only showed the mental phenomena of the present generation and didn’t directly show the reason which led to it. In the later works in the series, he added background situations for the blind walking line of people such as cities, rivers, wasteland etc, showing the different spheres causing the burden and fear.
These different spheres all belong to a series of difficult situations, for example, a line of blind walkers on top of a building in the city walking straight ahead, the leaders feet being right on the edge of the roof. In front of them is a landscape of towering buildings and a sea of neon lights but they have already walked to the edge of the building. Certain difficult situations are located by rivers in the city suburbs, the blind walkers are pressing forward through a river up to their waists in water or some young men and women are just standing around aimlessly in the water. Another scene is blind walkers in a patch of wasteland. Despite their being no immediate danger the blind walkers faces are full of emptiness and anxiety.
Ever since the paintings of the 70’s, it has become a pattern to express the self characteristics of the new generation and their mental state through realism, super realistic pictures and allegorical behavioural scenarios. Yet most themes of paintings are still focussed on painting the phenomenon of the experience of adolescent cruelty. Deng Chengwen, however, has not stopped at this expression of this generation’s adolescent art, instead depicting their existence in the midst of this issue. He not only expresses the new generation’s self pain and burdened feeling, but also tries to search for the philosophical link between their mental state and their habitat.
His personal original idea shows these two aspects: the first, is trying to find the link between this generation’s psychological problems and the changing Chinese environment; the second is to summarize this new generation’s circumstances as a kind of mental phenomenon with a philosophical meaning. In these two respects, Deng Chengwen has discovered the mental phenomenon of himself and his generation. The rise of China is the background in which they have grown up, it has also formed this generation’s unique mentality: He and his generation have enjoyed the globalised life style brought about by the rise of China over the past 15 years, but his generation have no experience and memory of the process and problems of this rise. Therefore they feel the actual mental issues bought about by China’s rise, yet cannot be clear about the reasons for these mental difficulties’ existence.
For his generation, this inexplicable anxiety seems to have no origin, the only interpretative reason seems to be materialism, urbanisation and the turning of life into a kind of game which has caused a loss of direction. As Deng Chengwen’s generation’s paintings cannot give themselves a historical explanation of the phenomenon of their mental state, therefore their paintings emphasise mental phenomena, self descriptive allegorical representation as well as a kind of philosophical link between the characteristics of their environment and their mental state.
The game like state of superficiality as well as feelings of anxiety have been represented in some of Deng Chengwen’s early works, for example, using post-modernist techniques to reflect a series of modern juxtaposed portraits, imitating the “astonishment” in Da Vinci’s Last Supper, and also imitating Vermeer’s A Marriage in his work “A Contemporary Wedding”, with modern day people shaving Mona Lisa. In these works, although Deng Chengwen is trying to show the theme of burden through post modernist techniques, for example the feeling of being betrayed, the oppression of common wedding customs as well as challenging masterpieces. However the playfulness of his technique not only did not pass on the feeling of being set free from sombreness, yet actually hid the sombre meaning of the theme.
As for self thought about the game culture, some of Deng Chengwen’s early works also reflect on this issue, for example, “A contemporary anatomy lesson” shows a group of college students in sombre mood annotating a pile of old thread bound books. On top of the piles of books are several Hollywood action figures; the incredible hulk, spiderman. “Stone Picking” shows the young guy who is holding a stone does not know where to go. These two paintings are actually the pre-cursors to the blind walking series. The picture does not use a game like post-modern technique to reflect a sombre theme but uses games as a state of existence to show the self characteristic of a mental phenomenon of emptiness and being racked with anxiety.
Deng Chengwen touches on raising this generation’s mental issues and reflecting on them; their loss of direction and emptiness. He shows a moral picture of the empty pit of a globalised age, with the high rise buildings representing a new kind of pit as well as a post modern game-like state representing a shallow and empty pattern. Deng Chengwen’s blind walking series’s starting point is not just to express the current generation’s innate mental characteristics and cultural form, but also to reflect and dissect the problems facing this generation starting from a mentality perspective. Some of these problems could be problems already encountered by mankind during industrialisation in the last century or in the post industrial period. Some are special phenomena occurring after the rise of China.
This is the starting point of the blind walker series from the perspective of the mental reflection of this generation, the reflection has been shown a little already in “The lesson of contemporary anatomy”. What we should really think more about is Chinese contemporary culture is still playfully consuming between the globalization without foundation and the traditions with deep roots; therefore the contemporary itself becomes meaningless. Deng Chengwen’s work began to return this serious theme, this is the new trend of upcoming Chinese new art.
“Deviant Generation”, 798 Arts Festival Exhibition “Pyramid of Sand”, China’s New Emerging Artists of 2007, Painting Exhibition, Yan Huang Art Museum “Dissociation”, Deng Chen Wen and Feng Yi Ying, Joint Exhibition “Spirit of the Times”, Portrait Exhibition