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GE-SICHT: Masks and Portraits

2023.09.16 - 2023.10.18

Artist: Mao Yan, Zhang Enli, Peng Si, Yan Bingqing, Ni Hao, Sonia Jia

Academic Adviser: Dr. Jiang Jun

From painting to photography, film to television, the digital Internet to the current artificial intelligence. The human face has been over-imaged and has acquired new mediums, modes of dissemination and reception in today's image-infested media age. The image of the face reproduces itself multiplicatively in a consumer society dominated by the entertainment, news and advertising, which tends to make the face patterned, flattened and hollow.

The exhibition refocuses on the time-honoured theme of the face, inviting artists of different ages: Mao Yan, Zhang Enli, Peng Si, Yan Bingqing, Ni Hao, Sonia Jia to push the boundaries from their own existential experiences. The Chinese title “被凝视者”  has a double meaning in the German translation 'Ge-sicht', which translates directly as 'the seen', but also means 'face'.

The face is a part of the human body and exists for the gaze of others, and in the same way that I gaze at others, at the moment of the eyes meet, we become aware of our own existence and the encirclement of others as another subject, i.e., the social nature of the human being, or as Aristotle called it, 'man is by nature a political animal.' At the same time, I further distinguish between the 'face' that is externally shown to others, the so-called 'social mask', and the 'true self' that is internally hidden. Thus the 'mask' has been used in human culture as a metaphor for the 'face' that meets the social gaze. 

According to the German art historian Hans Belting, the cultural history of the face has its roots in the rituals of masks in religion and theatre. In ancient Greece, the mask and the face shared the same word, 'Prosopon', which translates as 'the seen' and 'the one who is presented'. In ancient Greek religious ceremonies and theatre, when the performer wears a mask, he hides and surrenders himself and acquires a new face that connects him to the community, i.e., a new role and identity, revealing what Aristotle called the 'political nature of man'. Both religion and theatre are concerned with the understanding of a common life and the visibility of its members.

Unlike in antiquity, in modern theatre the masked performance declined, and instead the actor's face assumed its role on stage. The face became the template for the 'social mask' (at court and later in civil society), so that in the Renaissance the reproduction of the face was taken out of the physical performance and entrusted to a silent medium, the 'portrait'. It is created as a substitute for a particular face and as a memory of a particular person. A face is present in a corporeal form, and conversely a portrait gains presence through its corporeal absence. The portrait is a shift between the animate face and the inanimate mask, an aggregation of sociality. After the Renaissance, the portrait, in its quest for individual differentiation, was considered to be another kind of mask, and its popularity and popularity marked the birth of the modern society, that is, the 'emancipation of the individual' as an independent subject.

In today's contemporary art, the depiction of the face has long since left its various social, political and commercial functions. In the name of art, the portrait has gained a temporary disinterestedness, in order to allow the viewer to re-reflect on the human situation in the present, my relationship with others, and my understanding of myself and my surroundings, myself and history, through the gaze of the faces (masks) that are depicted in different ways - searching for an original image (Urbild) beyond the individual portrait.

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