“NEW PEACE” appears in big letters with LED back-lighting on Timur Si-Qin’s aluminum panel “New Peace Pro Sign 1” (2016). Above the letters there is a round symbol that is reminiscent of a Chinese taijitu symbol. The logo appears pleasantly familiar. It’s light grey/white aesthetic recalls lobbies of upmarket hotel chains. A spa or wellness center would also be a good fit – the neutral, grey-in-grey, after-work relaxation program for modern city-dwellers. Timur Si-Qin’s “New Peace” group of works is aiming at precisely this effect. In contrast to his brand “Peace”, which the artist launched in 2014 and in which he is concerned primarily with the dynamics of branding as well as the formation of patterns in commercial imagery,“New Peace” further develops this line of thought into a proposal for a new mysticism and mythology for the anthropocene.
“My works are based on a type of secularism, which derives neither from apathy nor from a lack of curiosity about the world, but rather from a conviction that existence, as improbable as it might be, is holy. It need not put up with belief being devalued as something non-existent”, explains the artist.1 It’s a secular spirituality, which finds its redemptive nirvana in the self organizing behavior of matter. The search for a higher force that watches over us and influences our actions is something Si-Qin takes a skeptical view of. Rather, he believes in the unlimited creative potential of the material universe. Signs and images serve him as raw material from which he creates new pictorial worlds and symbols. At the same time, Si-Qin is less interested in the meaning of the individual motifs as they are precariously contingent. For him, it’s much more about the temporal significance they have in society and the affective impact they have on the observer. In his essay “Stock Photography as Evolutionary Attractor”, which was published in 2013 in the digital magazine “DIS”, Si-Qin describes specific symbols in society and recurring pictorial motifs as “attractors”. According to the artist, these are images that trigger specific reactions in the observer due to biological predispositions, and are used accordingly in advertising and other media. “They show that there are certain innate human qualities that are bigger than the individual”, writes Si-Qin.2
In examining and questioning the roles of generally recognized symbols of the western and consumer world, the artist opens these up to reinterpretation and reuse at the same time. By combining the English word “peace” – a term that has degenerated since the 1960s into something of a meaningless pop mantra – and the Chinese taijitu symbol, Si-Qin deprives them of their corresponding context and thereby highlights their lack of essential character or eternal identity. This inner contradiction between form and content runs through the artist’s entire oeuvre.
The inner contradiction between form and content runs through the artist’s entire oeuvre.
Si-Qin describes the “New Peace” brand as a topological sculpture, the form and content of which can (and should) change over the course of time. Just as the landscape images in the group of works consist of countless individual, ever-recurring pictorial elements, the group of works as a whole is made up of individual installations, landscape images and videos together, the constellation of which is continually changing. The sole binding element is the new peace logo, which is featured on all the works in the series. In the Schirn Kunsthalle the “New Peace Pro Sign 1” is shown together with the two landscape images “On the path to mirrorscape (A Place like this) – A” (2016) and “On the path to mirrorscape (A Place like this) – B” (2016), as well as a smaller installation, “Mirrorscape Effigy” (2016).
On the Path to Mirrorscape (A Place Like This)
The landscape images printed onto a backlit fabric display appear peaceful. A high-desert mountain chain with small juniper trees shapes the horizon of “On the path to mirrorscape (A Place Like This) – A”. In the foreground a large tree is surrounded by cacti-like plants and debris. What we are looking at here is a fantasy landscape, compiled of artificially constructed pictorial elements and 3D scans of real materials like grass or stones. “A Place Like This” is written in white letters across the cloud-covered sky. Si-Qin is not aiming to bring the observer to a specific place or a concept. Rather, he urges us to examine the true nature of nature itself.
This call to proliferation is clarified in part B of the work, “On the path to mirrorscape (A Place Like This) – B”: Here, “Replicatio variationi servi” is written around the round taijitu symbol in the center of the image: Replication serves for variation. Si-Qin himself describes this sentence as an organizing principle of the “New Peace”. “Material and universe only exist in order to experience the greatest possible diversity of their own self”, he explains in an interview.3 Diversity is the key word here. In his harking back to the material, Si-Qin is often categorized under new materialism, an interdisciplinary trend of the twenty-first century that deals with material as an affective, morphogenetic, continually changing medium. In doing so, new materialism does not differentiate between subject and object. The human is an integrative part of the continually changing mass, a concatenation of various material constellations. Due to this dissolution of structures and hierarchies, new materialism can be considered anti-universalistic.
In his “Mirrorscapes”, Si-Qin picks up on the idea of endless reproduction through mirroring, reflection and proliferation. The landscapes reflect the artist’s inner imagination on the one hand, and at the same time demand the supplementation of the virtual places with one’s own associations. The endless diversity of this chain of reflection is epitomized in the installation “Mirrorscape Effigy” (2016). Here an artificial landscape made of plaster, sand and plastic is reflected in endless multiplication. Unlike many contemporaries, here Si-Qin treats the digital media as a means of contributing to the proliferation of material. „That even though things are getting more sci-fi by the year, we owe the make-up of our reality in large part to the self-organizing behavior of matter which is the oldest story of all“, he explains in an interview.4
Ultimately the observer should also perceive a cheeky little wink if western hippy slogans and Chinese neo-Daoism are used jointly to promote commercial brand-name products and kitsch fantasy landscapes. Hence Si-Qin’s “New Peace” is both a homage to nature and the inexhaustible diversity of its elements, a rejection of the western values system found in the predominant “good taste” aesthetics of the art-world, a recognition of the role of the artist as the creator of virtual worlds and new forms and, not least, also an appeal to the human power of imagination to participate in the continuation of this diversity.
Lea Schleiffenbaum, b. 1985, Lucerne, CH, studied at the University of Westminster in London and Art Institute of Chicago. As curatorial assistant at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt and Kunsthaus Dresden she contributed to the conception and practical realization of numerous exhibition projects. Lea Schleiffenbaum currently lives in Berlin, where she works for neugerriemschneider and realizes her own projects and exhibitions.