Meet Kong Lingnan: Translating Taoist Philosophy Into Neon Light Paintings

<p>Kong Lingnan experiments with different ways to interpret the complicated thoughts of Chinese philosopher Zhuangzhi.</p>

A rising star on the Chinese contemporary art front, Kong Lingnan is best known for taking esoteric Taoist ideas and turning them into fantastical neon light paintings. Her work is clean and direct, a mix of traditional Chinese influences and modern day, Western aesthetics, with a healthy dose of illusion thrown in. One of the most remarkable things about her is her painting technique, which has the look of glowing neon lights but is achieved entirely through the careful and practiced application of oil paints.

When we visited her Beijing studio to interview her about her work and sources of inspiration (see the resulting video above), Lingnan impressed us with her ability to recite long passages from ancient Chinese philosophical texts—a rare skill among China’s youngsters. Heavily influenced by Taoist writing, Lingnan’s paintings serve as metaphors for these ancient ideas, connecting viewers to a visual metaphysical world.

But for her latest project, Lingnan put down her paint brush and switched to the medium of video, creating a three-part video installation exploring philosopher Zhuangzi's ideas on the ever-changing state of the universe. The eye-popping neon colors are replaced with an otherworldly, mysterious ritual.

The installation, called As We Wander, We See The Flicking Flame In The Wasteland, uses fire as the active force to burn and heat up copper and melt wax, creating a phsycial process that is self-changing, representing the essence of a world without human interference. The 30-minute video is typically displayed in a gallery setting where visitors are invited to sit and meditate on the slight changes of the installation’s physical properties. "I wanted to document a process, so I chose the ultimate presentation method as a video," Lingnan says.

For the purposes of this blog post, Lingnan purposely sped up the video to five times its normal speed to suit the attention span of internet viewers.

Photo courtesy of Kong Lingnan.