The highly anticipated “Silence sonore” at the Palais de Tokyo is the first major show at a parisian institution devoted to the chinese artist Chen Zhen. Chen Zhen was born in Shangai in 1955 and France as his residential country in 1986. He died prematurely in 2000 due to an incurable disease. Chen Zhen regarded himself as an international artist. He made his artistic reflexion with his worldwide education : east plus and across west.
This tribute to Chen Zhen in France occurs in conjunction with the “Annee de la Chine”, the China’s Year. While ironic, it’s not a game of chance!

Precipitous Parturition, 1999

It is happening 2 years after the opening of le Palais de Tokyo, a museum for contemporary art, where Chen Zhen came in 1999 as the first artist to work in the site and think of a big show in it!
At last we can see 13 of Chen Zhen’s monumental pieces. A retrospective of his work which is remarkably appropriate for the place.

Three major lines around the human being form the structure of the show :

– Mankind’s connections with object and nature. Pieces like “Precipitous Parturition” offer a critique of a materialist world and the systems of consumption as dominant models.
– Misunderstanding between humans and the theme of reconciliation. Pieces situated in the field of political critique.
– Meditation and therapy, which lie at the heart of his work. He’s questioning the relationship between the doctor, the patient and his disease. Zhen actually began the process of becoming a Chinese doctor which resulted in a form of philosophical and artistic investigation. Zhen sees the artist as a therapist for himself and more globally for society.

Jue Chang (The last song) – Dancing Body/ Druming Mind, 2000

The piece Jue Chang, invites one to experience the violence of striking a chair and bed hidebound like a drumhead. It shows the desire of “doing things with a therapeutic sense” (for the public).

Diagnosic Room, 2000

The waiting room in doctor Zhen’s dream office, presents 100 different medicinal herbs… Chinese medicines anoint a large place to diagnosis by test, observation , olfaction and audition, then palpation. Including this philosophical approach to his preocuppation, Zhen claimed “to be concerned with diagnosing the illnesses of the world”.

Purification Room, 2003

Purification Room was created in 1991, and realized in Palais de Tokyo with Chen Zhen’s wife and assistant , Xu Min. Zhen introduced this piece like a “monochrome tomb.”

With the pharmacopoeia and surgery equipment he uses a lot organic and natural materials (sand, wax, clay, alabaster, stones, wood, leather…) which add to the testimony of industrial society hither and thither in the works.
“Also the natural material I use – help figure of the source which the objects come from as well of the place where they will go back after their circulation through the society – are purifying elements to sacrifice those objects. (…) the natural materials are here to purify the objects after their utilisation, to sublimate a latent spirit; to provoc a new destiny to the fatal conclusion of these objects.” – Chen Zhen

Zen Garden (model), 2000

With these white alabaster’s organs enlightened in their interior and claimed by colossals surgical instruments, Chen Zhen still interrogated the relation between occidental and oriental medicine, the relation to the body, the therapy, the nature and the meditative condition.
“A kind of mysterious and contemplative dance (…) which is going to create a transformation of the physical elements toward zen condition”

Un village sans frontiere, 2000

Chen Zhen worked with Salvador de Bahia’ under duress. He realized 99 of those “light’ altars” for a big “noborder’ village”.

Fu Dao/ Fu Dao, Upside-Down Buddha/ Arrival at good fortune, 1997

“When did this oriental custom “to thrive” become mixed with the occidental conventions, customes, religions?”

We come along discovering an environment and elements tinted by east culture, but Silence Sonore is not a chinese art show as Chen Zhen had obviated. It’s a chinese, and above all human, artist’s bequest.
A contribution by his bearing fueled by both a continuous migration between different geographic and cultural territories, and his reflexion on the context that surrounds the production of a work of art, taking into account social, historic and political givens. Chen Zhen’s overall view of the world allows for an approach to art that runs counter to an art system in the west deemed to be overly conceptual and therefore detached from reality.

Chen Zhen exhibited in numerous international institutions, including the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, 1994 ; the Center for Contemporary Art, Kitakyushu, Japan, 1997; 1998; the Venice Biennale, 1999; the Ludwig Museum, Cologne; Gam, Turin, 2000; PS1, New York, 2003; CCC in Tours, 2003; and PAC, Milan, 2003.

Silence Sonore – Chen Zhen
Date: 1st October 2003 – 18th January 2004
Place: Palais de Tokyo, Site for Contemporary Creation
Address: 13, avenue du President Wilson 75016 Paris, France

Text: Lola Dousse from Dalbin
Photo: Eric Dalbin from Dalbin

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