As a dancer-choreographer, Shen Wei is known for his work on the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. He choreographed the breathtakingly beautiful dance piece, titled Scroll Painting, in which dancers performed on a constant changing LED scroll of Chinese ink-and-wash paintings, depicting the evolution of China since ancient times.
The New York-based artist also expands his art vision to paintings and films. From Dec 3 to June 20, 2021, the artist will launch his solo exhibition, titled Painting in Motion, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, in the United States.
As the first exhibition in the US to present the range of Shen's artistry, it will cover the artist's works spanning from 1982 to 2020, including 18 paintings, three film works, notebooks, sketches and documentation of his choreography, including the drawing for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Games.
"Most people do not know the other important part of my life and art creations, special recent paintings and film works. Also it shows my interest in all art forms toward my next important new creation development," says Shen. He was speaking during an email interview with China Daily, adding that this project started in spring 2017 after he was invited to make a site-specific project at the museum's courtyard, titled The People of the Garden, which will be displayed during the upcoming exhibition.
With The People of the Garden, he created an immersive work for the courtyard and upper balconies while guests watched as the 13 dancers in white body paint and monochrome costumes move mystically amongst the plants, sculptures and architectural elements to music composed by Daniel Burke and Avro Part.
"I also wrote a small poem for this upcoming exhibition: 'We rebuild differently but with a same goal. Though we are in a divided space, we are synchronized in ideas. We are individual but we rebuild together'," he says.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Shen was in Paris himself for over eight months, which enabled him to have more time to collect his thoughts.
"It inspired me," he says. Audiences will clearly see the influence of the pandemic on the artist from his most recent series, titled Reflecting Element (2019-2020). Also as many his video works and writings.
His films, including April (1998), which is a very personal investigation of the artist's struggle with isolation, loneliness and creativity, Inner Shadow of Movement (2016), which celebrates the monumental architecture of the Harbin Opera House in Heilongjiang province as a dancer moves throughout its light and shadows, and a new commission for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, titled Passion Spirit, will be screened.
Shen also re-imagines a still from Passion Spirit for his piece on the museum's Anne H. Fitzpatrick Façade, showing the continuity between the time-based and still media in his work.
"Amid the coronavirus pandemic, people need to be healed and comforted. We can feel the power within Shen Wei's artworks, offering us a spiritual journey," commented museum director Peggy Fogelman. "We hope these works of art, film and movement ignite your sense and reconnect your soul."
Born in Hunan in 1968, Shen followed the footsteps of his parents and began training as a local opera performer at the age of 9, which enabled him to learn singing, dancing, acting and martial arts. He also learned traditional Chinese painting at the age of 7.
"That experience really helped me understand the Chinese tradition. Chinese opera is for me the best form of performance art ever born in China-combining music, vocals, acting and acrobatics all in one and evolving for hundreds of years," he said in an early interview.
"Traditional Chinese culture deeply connected to my painting works in this exhibition," he adds.