Harmonious Society, London
The Fine Art Society, London
18th Oct 2016
‘The Harmonious Society’ ran from 18th October - 8th November 2016 and was Jacky Tsai’s second solo exhibition at The Fine Art Society in London’s New Bond Street, following his successful debut show at the gallery in 2015.
The impressive exhibition consisted of 11 beautifully crafted lacquer carvings to form a new body of politically-driven work that focussed on Tsai’s ideas about a harmonious society in his native China.
By continuing to fuse together cultural imagery from Eastern and Western societies, these powerful works imply a hypothetical vision by the Chinese Government for the country’s future socioeconomic development based on stability and social cohesion. The concept of ‘harmony’ has been deeply embedded in Chinese culture for thousands of years, dating back to the philosopher Confucius (551-479 BC), whose ideas became the official imperial teachings that were followed in dynasties such as the Han, Tan and Song.
Western superheroes and Tsai’s distinctive Lichtenstein-esque graphic style form the basis of the works, which are paired with key characters from Eastern mythology and executed in the traditional Chinese lacquer carving technique.
In ‘Chinese Spa’ (2016), several Eastern women seduce and distract a relaxed Superman as Western girls cry for his help whilst in danger, with the scene set in a characteristically classical Chinese landscape. In another piece, titled ‘Pokemon Go In China’ (2016), Tsai presents a scenario that sees a reversal on Nintendo’s popular ‘Pokemon Go’ - game of the moment in 2016 - which depicts Eastern characters catching Wonder Woman, Spiderman and Captain America as opposed to ‘The West’ chasing after the well-known figures of Asian pop culture.
Superman features again in satirical pieces such as ‘One Night in Macau’ (2016), which sees the superhero losing at roulette whilst on a gambling night out, and ‘The Hangover’ (2016), where he appears to be enjoying the company of a series of Eastern women after a rather heavy night on the town.
More serious works from the series focus on the multiple and conflicting identities of China today, along with its place in the world. Subjects such as immigration are addressed in works such as ‘Welcome Refugees’ (2016), and that of wildlife conservation in ‘Save the Last Chinese Tiger’ (2016). In ‘Tug of War’ (2016), Superman and Batman are joined by more Western superheroes to take part in a game of tug of war with Chinese figures who sit calmly dining, being entertained by Western Women; Tsai’s artistic impression of the cultural differences that are still prevalent between East and West.
The Fine Art Society was established in 1876 and is of one of the oldest fine art dealerships in the UK. Based in London and Edinburgh, the gallery has historical links to many of the most influential British artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. In 2005, the contemporary programme was established, adding a progressive dimension and increasing cross-cultural links, particularly in Asia, the US and Australia.