Wang Sishun’s collaboration with New Galerie, Paris, supported by collector John Dodelande, started in a rather peculiar way: with an old copper lantern shielding a fragile flame as ephemeral witness to history in the making. Like an invitation to follow, to accompany, the lantern reveals the work of an artist unique in his poetry, diversity and individuality.
The flame carried in this old lantern is a testimony to Inventing Ritual, a project in which the artist revisits ancient ceremonies and looks at the precise codes and protocols of contemporary society. It brings to mind the journey of the Olympic flame, but also the chaotic course of economic, political and climate refugees, dragging the few relics of their past lives along the road.
The artist carried out a six-week journey of 12,000 km in a battered car from Beijing to Paris, carefully maintaining this spark, picked up from the site of a devastating fire. He filmed the flame and asked strangers throughout his journey to etch the word “truth” with a knife on the bonnet of his old Ford, like primitive graffiti, in as many languages as countries traversed — a testament to the truth that had not crossed borders.
It is this truth and this poetry that characterizes the artist’s work in all its forms. Wang Sishun is not interested in artistic movements or trends, schools or even the various media from which these creations are made. The tool serves the discourse without assimilating it: whether he uses video, sculpture or performance, whether his works are post-minimalist, narrative or conceptual, he offers no confirmation. Instead, he suggests discretion, if one can call it that, as in the video in which he repeats the same action hundreds of times: throwing a plastic cap into the middle of a circle drawn on the ground, a vain exercise that is nonetheless poetic and makes one think back to childhood games.
Popular wisdom says that “experience is a lantern that only illuminates the one who bears it.” There is no doubt that Wang Sishun’s work has the power to illuminate beyond the experience it conveys in the brightness of its soothing and poetic light.