The artist and animator Li Qin Tan currently has his latest exhibit, “Primitive Level Signals,” on display at the Dalet Gallery in Old City. Ranging from powerful conceptual messages to stunning multimedia constructions, Tan’s show provides a bridge between the new and the old, as well as providing visually stimulating textures and forms.
Some pieces in the show are older throwbacks to Tan’s digital primitive style, which seeks to close the gap between the ancient and the cutting edge. Printed images are applied to stretched animal skin, producing a work that is raw and almost prehistoric, as well as bright and contemporary. The images themselves hearken to cave paintings with basic depictions of animals, but their 3D appearance clearly demonstrates a technological leap that Neanderthals could never have dreamed of; the saturated colors are a long way off from pigments or charcoal.
One animal skin also acts as a two-sided projection screen. Multiple projectors aimed at the skin from both sides trace the movements of dancers across its surfaces. Compared to the still image, video projections are an even more recent technological development. The multiple moving forms mingle together into one indiscernible mass. In some ways, this indicates how unrecognizable advanced technology might be to an early artist, and perhaps how convoluted it can even appear to modern humans as well.
In “Lava Body,” an installation of six HD monitors shows the path of a lava flow as it snakes through a rocky crevice. There is oftentimes just rock visible, but eventually the lithe shape of a glowing, orange snake of lava slides across the screens. Other pieces in the show pair printed images with monitors. Here, the textured forms from the pictures come to life in abstract animations. These dual images allow for two entirely different interpretations of a form: a solid, static version and a similar image in perpetual motion.
The forms that Tan works with are often abstract, like in the monitor/print series. They are rocky and wooden burls with occasional metallic sheens. These Stone Age artifacts, as with all of Tan’s work, speak to his overwhelmingly strong sense of textural detail. Whether rocky crags with gritty edges or smooth, metallic globs with patches of peeling rust, the rendered objects seem physical and touchable. There is a very strong desire to touch and feel the objects at hand, and a somewhat painful realization that they don’t actually exist in the world as they appear.
Levels and measuring spoons make their way into Tan’s most recent work from where the show takes its name. As with much of his art, these pieces are highly symbolic. Tan examines the role of measure and balance in relation to the human mind as a way to grapple with the many trials and tribulations that come our way. He even introduces a scrubbing brush into one canvas, implying that keeping our brains clean and sharp is a major responsibility.
Overall, Dalet Gallery delivers Li Qin Tan’s work in a glowing, multi-faceted show. Showing older pieces as well as his current work, the artist proves that he is as flexible and talented in his process as he is thoughtful in his intention. If you haven’t seen the art of Li Qin Tan, check out the Dalet show before it closes on June 23.