art projects
The Chinese Rooms
Categories: Art

Exhibition: Exhibited at The Prichard Gallery, University of Idaho,
October 23 – December 31, 2020
Materials: Series of ten, oil on canvas, via Instapainting.com
Description: The city of Xiamen, China, contains a “painting village”, where thousands of artists create oil paintings to-order, typically converting photographs of weddings, families and pets into oil paintings. These artists, generally unseen, are yet another example of invisible, instrumentalized human labor. In this work, ten artists from the painting village were approached via instapainting.com and, rather than copy other peoples’ photographs, were asked to paint self-portraits.

The resulting paintings are somewhere between a selfie and the traditional half-length pose of the artist at work, paintbrush in hand, that we associate with this genre of painting. The work’s title is drawn from John Searle’s famous thought experiment, in which a hypothetical room receives Chinese characters, processes them, and then returns an appropriate response. If we were to substitute the characters for a photograph, and the response for a painting, we might have a similar system to instapainting.com. For Searle, it would make no real difference if the room was occupied by a human or a machine – in both cases, they were simply manipulating symbols and not necessarily needing to understand what they were. In the case of these self-portraits, however, we find something irrefutably human, returning the focus to the individual, as has been the case throughout the history of self-portraiture.

Credits: With thanks to the painters: Simon Hung, Li Hua, Yan Hua, Hai Ping, Yu Zhu, Wen Xiong, Hua Pi, Yuan Xin, Xie Bin, and Andy Cheung.

Categories: Art -