Where junk is art: Tong Kunniao′s surrealistic works | Arts | DW | 20.09.2020
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Where junk is art: Tong Kunniao's surrealistic works

Tong Kunniao sees himself as a free thinker on the fringes of society. The Chinese artist's bizarre sculptures are currently on show in Berlin.

A web of feathers, nets, rods, and colorful pieces of plastic rotates around an axis that is shaped like a pointed bird's head. The individual elements are spread out like wings, keeping perfectly balanced despite the movement back and fro.

Balance and freedom are the two concepts that are key to Tong Kunniao's art. The Beijing-based artist is only 30 years old but has had solo exhibitions in major galleries and museums all over the world, and his works have been shown at leading art fairs. 

International collectors are increasingly eager to buy his quirky collage-like kinetic sculptures. After stops in Shanghai, Beijing, Los Angeles and Basel, his works are now being showcased at the Hua International Gallery in Berlin.

Tong Kunniao exhibition in Berlin | XC·HuA Gallery (XC·HuA Gallery)

Being able to interact with his artworks is part of Tong Kunniao's signature style

Finding freedom in uniqueness

The exhibition is titled "Just stay in the cold” — a title that was chosen long before the coronavirus pandemic emerged. However, it could hardly be more fitting, says Hua Xiaochan, the owner of the gallery. 

Tong Kunniao had planned to be in Berlin for the opening because not only does he create his unique works, he also interacts with them at his exhibitions as part of an artistic performance. However, the coronavirus pandemic travel restrictions squarely nixed that plan. In the end, he’s the one who had to stay out “in the cold.”

Tong, who studied at the Chinese Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), is one of the most sought-after artists of his generation. His artworks include sculpture, painting, performance, photography and poetry. 

When asked about what he does, he states that he is not an artist but a bird. And sometimes, he pretends to be a bird in the performances linked to his kinetic works — he is seen as airborne, free and completely mobile.

Throw-away culture as inspiration

To create his sculptures, Tong Kunniao collects things that people have thrown away; he gathers objects at flea markets, receives gifts from friends or orders individual articles on the Internet — or whatever is accessible of the internet in China. 

The assembled materials bear the traces and stories of people who lead their lives in a never-ending stream of using consumer goods.

Value, use and destruction become unreliable categories; human existence is portrayed as a perpetual balancing act. 

Tong Kunniao exhibition in Berlin | XC·HuA Gallery (XC·HuA Gallery)

One man's trash is another man's treasure: Tong collects discarded consumer goods to create his artworks

The balancing act of finding balance

Tong studied German 20th century philosopher Martin Heidegger and his philosophy of "Dasein" (being present) and "Geworfenheit"(being thrown), that is, the inevitability of existence. "In everyday life we are busy finding a balance within ourselves, our community and with others," says Tong.

His artworks make that notion of balance look playful and easy, and at the same time fleeting and precarious. Vividly and rather sensually, the works reflect the elementary uncertainty of life in a rapidly changing world

The exhibition at Berlin's Hua International gallery runs until December 12. Hua International is also represented in Beijing's art district 798.

Adapted by: Dagmar Breitenbach

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