Betwixt: GAMA and Siyuan Tan

February 3, 2022 – March 25, 2022
Chambers Fine Art

55 E 11th St
New York, NY

Siyuan Tan 谈思远, The Way 逍遥, 2021. Image courtesy of the organizer.

Siyuan Tan 谈思远, The Way 逍遥, 2021. Image courtesy of the organizer.

Chambers Fine Art is pleased to announce the exhibition Betwixt, featuring artists GAMA and Siyuan Tan on February 3, 2022. This will be GAMA’s fourth exhibition with the gallery, and Siyuan Tan’s first time showing with Chambers Fine Art.

The shaman is a mediator between man and all things in nature. Its influence is particularly evident in northern mainland China, with various branches of the tradition existing within ancient Tungusic (Manchu) and Mongolian cultures. Acting as a bridge, the shaman connects man and nature, man and God to each other.

Both GAMA and Siyuan Tan use their unique artistic language to reference their own cultural lineage, conceptualizing the spiritual core and external symbols of mythology. Breaking away from a religious interpretation of these symbols, they instead search for new definitions and logical relationships between shamanic culture and the contemporary world from a personal perspective.

Born in Inner Mongolia in 1977, GAMA studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing from 1996 to 2000 before moving to Karlsruhe, Germany in 2002 where he studied painting at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste from 2002 to 2007 and was master student under Gustav Kluge from 2007 to 2008. He currently lives and works in Berlin.

GAMA was born into a nomadic family and would move every four months as the seasons changed. His great aunt was an important shaman whose ability to connect with the supernatural world had a profound impact on the young boy. He recalls witnessing her communicating with the spirit world on many occasions to find out what evil demon had entered her body and caused a particular illness. There were also times when she entered into a trance-like state and animal cries came out of her mouth.

Nomadic elements and spatial dislocation are very prominent in GAMA’s works. While he now lives and works in Germany, the paintings still reflect his nomadic freewheeling and infinitely curious mindset. In his work, GAMA focuses on creating a three-dimensional space for his characters in the form of oil on canvas. However, he does not use illusionism to confuse the viewer between the painting and the real world; instead, he juxtaposes cultural and visual references, and emphasizes the texture of the work itself. In GAMA’s images, paint is piled up on the edges of irregular shapes as if it would fall off the canvas. In Manöver #2, the vast prairie and mountains are endless, while a massive cluster of mushrooms grows in the middle of the scene. The sky is broken by a simple lamp, presenting a hybrid of interior and exterior spaces; an ‘in-between’ space that appears often in the artist’s work.

Born in 1984 in Fuxin, Northeast China, Siyuan Tan graduated from the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts with a BFA in sculpture and the Savannah College of Art and Design with an MA in sculpture. He currently works and lives in New York. Fuxin, the hometown where he lived as a child, was once the top energy city in Asia in terms of coal production, and people had to live in the city above ground as well as work in the mines underground. This dichotomy between positive and negative, between above and below in turn inspired his interest in spatial connections, not only physically but also in a spiritual sense.

Related to this, the real world and the virtual ‘underworld’ are also important concepts in Siyuan Tan’s work. Drawing from his Manchu heritage, he employs a series of elements from Manchu-Tibetan Buddhism and shamanic culture in this recent paintings, such as the unique spatial overlapping relationship found in Thangka paintings, and depictions of the “psychic eye”, connecting the earthly and spiritual realms. In Tan’s painted universe, enchantment coexists with roving tension, underscored by the artist’s kaleidoscopic color palette. In The Way, the Fuxi and Nvwa (the original gods who created humanity according to Chinese legend) are depicted with intertwined snake-like bodies, and are surrounded by Bagua, Taoist diagrams that represent the fundamental principles of reality and seen as a range of eight interrelated concepts. The dynamic equilibrium between yin and yang, masculinity and femininity, and the symmetry of the images make Tan’s work appear orderly and disciplined, while elements such as mist and vines interrupt the viewer’s vision and imbue the paintings with a kinetic quality.

Both GAMA and Siyuan Tan cast aside the restraints of religious ontology research and explore the relationship between shaman culture itself, which is highly symbolic and experimental in nature, and the works of the artists concerned from the perspective of contemporary art practice, although with contrasting results. And yet, upon closer inspection, there is a sense of movement and spatial ambiguity that the works share. When a shaman communicates with the spirit world, they travel between the actual world and the spirit world, and according to GAMA’s aunt, it is as if there are two doors connected by a passageway – this ‘middle space’ separates the world of our reality from the place where our souls reside. It is within this in-between space that both GAMA and Tan’s worlds seem to be situated as well.