Сн. Христиан Вачков

 

Christian Vatchkov is a Bulgarian artist, currently based in Suzhou, China. He holds a PhD in Cultural Studies and Anthropology from the Sofia University, and a MA from the Central European University, Budapest. He is the author of the book “Salvator Mundi Artis” and of articles on topics regarding contemporary art. He has been living in Nepal, Japan and China for the past four years, and draws his major artistic inspiration from East Asian cultures, contemporary and ancient alike.

His practice builds upon the traditions of abstract-expressionism and neo-dadaism, with characteristic use of elements from traditional and Mao era Chinese art. His latest series of paintings, titled “Urban Enlightenment” is the product of a year-long observation and creative work focused on the “Lightning Capital of the World” – the town of Guzhen, Zhongshan in the Guangdong province (Canton). The thirty pieces are currently being exhibited at the GAS gallery, Shenzhen (13.03-05.05 2021).

Christian Vatchkov, The Sea Shines Exposed to the Light

Christian Vatchkov, She Bangs The Drums

Christian Vatchkov, Half by Heaven Half by Men

Christian Vatchkov, Pleasures Au Revoir

The Cantonese town of Guzhen is best known for manufacturing all kinds of lighting. In recent years the town has grown into a place with thousands of small and big factories all related to lighting in one way or the other. Due to the rapid economic development of China, Guzhen’s lighting fittings industry has undergone unprecedented growth in the past two decades. The production of lighting fittings is its primary industry, accounting for nearly 90% of the town’s industrial output. The total annual exports exceed $1 billion.

Christian Vatchkov, Only Then the Smile is Not Tired

Guzhen is a town in the process of inventing and reinventing itself. It’s streets and buildings are in a constant flux, moulded by a stream of entrepreneurial advancement as much as by Guangdong’s scorching sun and ever present humidity. This “ancient town”, lives to its name in a peculiar way – by exemplifying a spiral of cutting edge tech innovation and abandoned ruin. For instance, this flashy lightning-only mall is but a street away from it’s abandoned and decaying twin, and the flowers, marking the daily openings of new stores and showrooms usually sprout straight from the rubble of the gutted-to-be-rebuilt venture of the past tenants.

Christian Vatchkov, Red Blooded in the Sky

Christian Vatchkov, Do a Little Dance

Christian Vatchkov, I Am Standing in the Wind

Christian Vatchkov, Une Bonne Fille

China is a land of festivals and fireworks. It comes as no surprise that even the opening of the smallest store deserves a proper ceremony – at least a red carpet and two long lines of flowers. As the days go by, the merciless sun of Guangdong withers the flowers, while the humidity makes sure they will rot by night. The fast paced economy of China is a game of trials and errors – usually the same store space will go through a full cycle of birth, death and rebirth within six months. In the town of Guzhen it means that a light storefront will spark in full glory, thrive for a few months and go to complete ruin… until the new owners come to start the fanfare-to-decay process all over again. The life cycles of flowers, businesses, people and their dreams and desires intertwine and mimic one another in the dance of reality.

As new shops appear and disappear, the ebb of ongoing competition leaves its marks on the walls of the buildings, where layers and layers of quickly written or stenciled phone numbers and their consequent erasures and over-paintings add up to create an ongoing artwork, where individual strivings and desires are gradually been reduced to unintelligible abstraction.

In China explicit erotic materials are far less prominent than in many other countries. You won’t see Playboy and Hustler magazines and definitely there is no dirty section in your local pharmacy (like in Japan). However, just like the flowers that push through the concrete skin of Guangdong, desire in its most primal form, literally sprouts from the streets of the city in the peculiar form of small printed cards advertising escort services. These pieces of cardboard, always sporting a phone number and a QR code, are scattered all over the town of Guzhen. The corridors leading to the still functioning toilets of the abandoned lighting mall display the history and evolution of the lightbulb, while the sanitary compartment goes back to the theme of sexual desires.

While the scattered cards draw one’s attention downwards, it is the expressionistic stains covering  the more industrial areas of town that capture the imagination. Rapid and simplistic in their evocative shapes, these spots vary from the size of a spilled coffee to gigantic Rorschach blots spanning over several meters.

Some of the streets’ walls still display images from the Mao era juxtaposed with new murals and posters, that keep alive the themes of filial piety and social cohesion. Indiscriminately all the murals are subjected to the ongoing “numbers game” – a haphazard interplay of stencils, erasures and frantic rewritings of phone numbers advertising everything from plumbing services to traditional treatments for STDs.

Walking around the streets of Guangdong is never dull. As China opens itself more and more to Western influence and its capabilities for machine translation grow evermore accurate there is hardly any everyday object that does not bear an English title.  Buildings, consumer goods, cars, food – everything has some auto-translated text attached to it. And if in most cases the crude translations serve a purely marketing purpose, there is one particular type of translation that has evolved into a pure enigma – the t-shirt prints. Every title of the paintings from this series has been borrowed word-for-word from such t-shirts. These mind boggling and sometimes curiously poetic mistranslation give a surreal twist to a foreigner’s experience in China. You can read more of the artist’s thoughts on that matter here.

All these various elements – lamps, lighting diagrams, numbers, flowers, murals, escort services cards and obscure phrases, find their way to the canvas in the same way they do on the streets of Guzhen – appearing and disappearing through veils of paint, simultaneously commanding the viewer’s attention and sliding away back into the uniform wall-like ground. Much like the vaguely related pictorial elements that construct them, the works don’t impose a narrative or convey some “message” to the viewer, but rather invite them to build and explore their own semantic networks and to search for possible relations or the lack of such altogether.

The artist perceives his work to be equally representational and abstract in its nature, both in terms of its plastic qualities and its subject matter. The paintings are intimately engaged with the very real phenomenon of the thriving industrial town of Guzhen. At the same time they relate to an utopian “City of Light”, a mind construct and object of meditation which strives to reconcile the classic buddhist dichotomy of enlightenment and desire, as it has been challenged by Taoits and Ch’an thinkers through the centuries. This is but one of the pairs of opposing forces that inspired the artist to create the series and which continuously engage his thinking. The unceasing cycle of creation and destruction, of meaning and obscurity, of ruthless and impersonal market forces and enduring social bonds are all embedded in the work, but not as statements or solutions, but rather as questions and starting points for further inquiries.

The materials and techniques used to produce the paintings are as eclectic as their semantic composition – pencils, markers, spray-paint, stencils and drip-pens evoke the scribbled walls and stained streets of Guzhen, while the photo-transfered collage elements range from personal photographs and found materials to classic paintings and posters. Layers and layers of liquid white acrylic paint both reveal and conceal the overlapping visual elements. The color scheme dominated by black and red and the strong use of negative space evoke references both to Chinese ink painting, as well as to American and European post-war abstraction.

Christian Vatchkov, There is no Planet (2021), 40×50 cm. acrylics, marker, drip pen and photo transfer on canvas

Christian Vatchkov, The Craze Swept the Country (2021), 40×50 cm. acrylics, spray paint, marker and photo transfer on canvas

Christian Vatchkov, Just Cloud me (2021), 40×50 cm. acrylics, marker, drip pen and photo transfer on canvas

Christian Vatchkov, Life was Like a Box of Chocolates – October – (2020), 40×50 cm. acrylics, marker, drip pen and photo transfer on canvas

Christian Vatchkov, Paradise the Evolution Vibe (2021), 40×50 cm. acrylics, spray paint, marker and photo transfer on canvas

Christian Vatchkov, Success the Easy Way (2021), 40×50 cm. acrylics, spray paint, marker and photo transfer on canvas

Christian Vatchkov, King Power (God Bless Jesus) (2021), 40×50 cm. acrylics, spray paint, marker and photo transfer on canvas

Christian Vatchkov, Skills of the Player (2021), 40×50 cm. acrylics, spray paint, marker and photo transfer on canvas

Christian Vatchkov, Unexpected – Lovely Little Mess (2021), 40×50 cm. acrylics, spray paint, marker, drip pen and photo transfer on canvas

Christian Vatchkov, Keep in Mind Spring/Summer 1990 Never (2021), 40×50 cm. acrylics, spray paint, marker, drip pen and photo transfer on canvas

 

списание „Нова социална поезия“, бр. 28, май, 2021, ISSN 2603-543X

 

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