DUMONTEIL Shanghai is pleased to present "A Brief History of Time", the solo exhibition of Cuban artist Rubén Fuentes. The show features the artist’s recent pictorial creations inspired by Stephen Hawking's eponymous book. These works, combining acrylic, oil and traditional ink techniques, depict the origin of life through unique natural landscapes while demonstrating his long-term exploration and reflection as a defender of ecology.
The trees are trapped in space, but not in time. … To trees people seem eternal -- they have always been walking through the shade of the lime trees on the Highway, neither frozen still nor in motion. For trees people exist eternally, but that means just the same as if they had never existed.
—— Extracts from Primeval and Other Times by Olga Tokarczuk,
translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
No doubt, trees play a predominant part in Fuentes’s work, echoing his longstanding interest in Ecology. This passion even led him to the discovery of Daoism and Chinese landscape paintings, both of which convey deep reverence for nature — a distinguishing feature retained in his work. After six years of intensive training and numerous copies made from Chinese and Japanese traditional painting masterpieces, the artist managed to integrate the oriental painting techniques into his creativity.
In this exhibition, the artist questions dominant discourses of human-centred sustainability and attempts to create an otherworldly space between mythical and linear times with his poetic depiction influenced by Eastern and Western painting traditions.
The series “A Brief History of Time” reminds us how Laozi’s idea of Dao has been compared to the Big Bang theory of modern astrophysics: from nothing to being, one to multitude, and simple to complex. The artist uses the void, the central empty point, to indicate the moment of singularity when space and time do not yet exist. The expansion of living matter occurs radially and circularly just as these landscapes developed on canvas. The chemical elements that makeup life are gestated from the cosmic rays produced in this gigantic natural furnace in a highly complex process. Beyond this theoretical reflection, it is a series of contemplative works in mandala structures, often used as an aid to meditation by tantric Buddhists.
It would not be a surprise to find that we, humans, are reduced to our original state of insignificance — tiny and invisible among dense forests, high mountains and rolling hills. In his work "Polyptych of the Non-human Epic", the artist depicts a post-human landscape in the form of a long calligraphy scroll, with only a scattering of discarded machinery suggesting the presence of human beings in the past. When some figures can be spotted in the works, they are juxtaposed with animals and trees with no hierarchy. For example, in the “Assembly”, the artist fantasizes a congregation of different species summoned by Earth on a path in the form of neural networks to discuss the current environmental crisis.
With the frequent natural disasters and the dropping of biodiversity, we are more than ever aware of the artist’s concern about this planet. In "A Brief History of Time IV", Fuentes pointed out how human-related climate change has affected the regulation of the seasons and, ultimately, our own survival through his evocation of the summer season in Spain: large expanses of dry grasses moved by the wind. Among these plants are rice, oats, barley, rye and wheat. They support the continuation of many civilisations on earth. Currently, with the great drought that plagues many ecosystems due to the breakdown of the water cycle, crops are at high risk.
Beyond these gloomy facts about our planet, the artist also leaves a silver lining for us in the series of “Irruption”, which combines detailed brushwork with a splash of ink. Through these works of Zen moment rises the immense energy that nurtures life and eventually leads to the marvellous diversity of nature. As the ink marks stretch across the blank canvas with our perception, hope and new possibilities emerge.