| Art

Uncarved Block, Unbleached Silk: Meeting Point Project

Studies in the intersection of East Asian spiritual and aesthetic traditions

Francesca Woodman, From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976.

It seems rare these days that curators put together shows outside of the Western canon of wall-text buzzwords. So this show around the idea of Yūgen comes as a breath of particularly fresh air.

Exhibition Notes: Meeting Point Project

“To watch the sun sink behind a flower clad hill.
To wander on in a huge forest without thought of return.
To stand upon the shore and gaze after a boat that disappears behind distant islands.
To contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds…”

[The Japanese concept of Yūgen, as described by 14th Century playwright Zeami Motokiyo]

Uncarved Block, Unbleached Silk is an exhibition which marks the launch of Meeting Point Projects, a new curatorial initiative dedicated to gathering, discovering and living with contemporary art, culture, and cuisine. Curated by Matilda Liu, this programme of exhibitions and dining events focuses on highlighting the dialogue between artists, makers, and creatives from diverse cultural backgrounds, at different stages of careers, and across various disciplines. Exhibiting new works by emerging contemporary artists often alongside works from private collections, Meeting Point Projects gathers creative practices that are not usually shown together, expanding the critical contexts in which art and culture can be shown and engaged with.

Changpeng Li, Vase, 2023
Changpeng Li, Vase, 2023

The first in this series, Uncarved Block, Unbleached Silk, is a multi-disciplinary group exhibition that examines ways with which the traditional Japanese aesthetic concept of Yūgen continues to engage with both Eastern and Western artists and makers today. Yūgen is a Japanese concept adapted from the traditional Chinese term Yōu Xuán 幽玄 – in which Yōu (yu) means slightly hidden, and Xuán (gen) a profound, distant darkness. Across Daoist and Buddhist thoughts it comes to refer to a deep and obscure space within something that appears plain, but which is full of mystery and emotional complexity.

Over time, Yugen has evolved to be a central idea in Japanese aesthetics, relating to beauty that is partially perceived, fully felt, but barely glimpsed. Together with Sabi and Awaré, Yūgen is one of the three aesthetic categories proposed by Japanese philosopher Ōnishi Yoshinori’s intercultural system – as counterparts to the European forms of Beautiful, Sublime and Cosmic.

Uncarved Block, Unbleached Silk takes its title from writer Alan Watts’ lecture on traditional Japanese and Chinese aesthetics, in which he describes the search for an allusive profundity that captures at once the fleeting and everlasting – “a wonderful, lonely place at the end of the road.” Similarly identifying Daoist and Buddhist notions of simplicity, naturalness, and patience as embodied in an uncarved block and in unbleached silk, the exhibition studies the intersection of East Asian spiritual and aesthetic traditions with the emotional and philosophic rhythms of contemporary artistic practices, presenting painting, photography, sculpture, and ceramic by the following exhibiting artists: David Abbott, Lihong Bai, Woojung Ghil, Antony Gormley, Shana Hoehn, Anne-Carney Raines, Changpeng Li, Unu Sohn, Hotaru Tachi, Youyou Wang and Francesca Woodman.

Francesca Woodman, From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976.
Francesca Woodman, From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976.

Innate to the aesthetic world of Yūgen is the sense of melancholy and waiting that arises from being deeply conscious of the transient experience of the world. Here, the intended subject matter is always slightly out of the reach of language. From Gormley’s treatment of sculptural bodies as a site of experience to Woojung Ghil’s attempt to capture inner silence through abstract paintings, the tone suggested by the artworks is defined by what is absent and what is indefinite – profound introspection, intangible feelings, connection to the natural world, the uncanny, the hidden and impermanent. Rather than interpreting Yūgen as a consistent cultural aesthetic, the works in this exhibition, ranging from useable objects to fine art, are disciplined by an artistic temperament which masters both restraint and abandon, searching for allusiveness over explicitness, potential over certainty, essence over excess.

Hotaru Tachi, 言の葉の奥に潜む (Lurking deep within the words), 2023
Hotaru Tachi, 言の葉の奥に潜む (Lurking deep within the words), 2023

From Francesca Woodman’s deeply intimate black and white photographs that capture the psychological uncanny to the handmade ceramic tea wares of recent graduate Youyou Wang that invite quiet contemplation, Uncarved Block, Unbleached Silk explores the varied ways the principles of Yūgen continue to influence artists across ages and mediums. Working across sculpture, ceramics, woodcarving, painting, photography and mixed media, this exhibition sets the tone for further Meeting Point Projects exhibitions to come, examining the critical possibilities of space, medium, and context across art, design, and culture.

Uncarved Block, Unbleached Silk by Meeting Point Project, 20 May – 7 June 2024, 30 Tottenham Street, London W1T 4RJ

Images courtesy of Meeting Point Project


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