Kong Lingxin’s “Unit Time” in Beijing

Exploring the concept of time with artworks that take months to complete

by Alessandro de Toni

In the Chinese art community, Kong Lingxin‘s work has been widely praised for its simplicity and elegance—characteristics rarely seen among the younger generations of artists in China. Kong’s first solo show, “Unit Time” (Shijian Danwei) at ArtDepot in Beijing’s 798 art district, is a mesmerizing series of black and white works drawn in pencil. Architectural but tender, her works explore the concept of time.

Lixin is a CAFA laureate and studied under famed master Chen Wenji, whose distinctive dimension of inner exploration echoes in her work. We meet the artist at her show to discuss her process and philosophies. “Time is a fascinating measure, you can divide it, you can see it passing and you can count it, and yet it’s an abstraction from reality,” she says. Lines, textures, and shades in her pieces play on a feeling of suspension. Beside philosophical concept, she says, “Each single painting can be considered a unit of time, since it takes on average two months to finish one, so you could say one piece sold is a portion of existence given away.”

And, in a time of massive installations and ubiquitous digital media, Lingxin’s approach is closer to that of a craftsperson. She explains, “I live in the outskirt of Beijing. Every day I wake up and start drawing like I eat and sleep. Sometimes I don’t even feel I’m in the creative process; when drawing there’s some sort of genuine pleasure in the repetition—like when as a kid I was endlessly drawing the same flowers or animals—which turns drawing almost into a meditative experience.”

Before drawing, she treats each canvas multiple times in order to perfect the quality and texture of paper. The surface is polished to reduce the coarseness and then layers of white are painted on. The time it takes to complete an artwork allows Lixin to reflect upon each sensation and thought which arises during her daily work, and yet, each piece takes life from a single moment. “I can get inspired by a glare of morning light when I wake up, or a shadow cast by the window’s frame, and when it happens I write a note right away or take a picture and this can become the starting point of a new piece.”

For the viewer, the artworks can be a hypnotic experience in which time dissolves. Lost between shades, lights and fine textures of the shadows, the eye reaches for a definition of space which fades into nothingness, and gets instead projected into the meditative nature of the artist’s creative process.

Images courtesy of Kong Lingxin