YE LINGHAN, Gold.Circle.Tiger 01, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 188 × 270 cm. Courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong. 

Gold. Circle. Tiger

Ye Linghan

Ben Brown Fine Arts
Hong Kong

Have you ever thought of surrendering your freedom in exchange for security? Perhaps “Gold.Circle.Tiger,” Beijing-based artist Ye Linghan’s solo exhibition at Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong, may provide some insight, and liberate your mind, on this topic. The show takes up the entire gallery space and elaborates on the idea of one’s destined fate and constraints in life, bringing people into his imaginary world of gold, circles and tigers, while encouraging them to fight for the freedom they deserve.

The core of the show is Ye’s new hand-painted animation, Gold.Circle.Tiger (2014), which begins with an image of a long amber chain and a messy patch of gold. As these abstract forms move around the screen, the figure of a struggling tiger, dangling upside down, can be identified within the blur of fast-paced images. The rhythm of the video finally slows down when the chain breaks apart and everything fades away. The screen is then taken over by an image of the tortured tiger staring out to the viewers, with rings of golden circles overlapping the animal like a target sign on its body. Everything turns into a countless number of glowing rings that gradually rise to the top of the frame. Then, for just a few seconds, a small image of a white tiger standing on a bridge made of the amber chain comes into view. White circles pop up one by one in the next scene, filling up a rectangle in the middle of the screen, which marks the end of the video.

While audiences may not easily understand the message behind this two-and-a-half-minute piece, a series of paintings illustrating a scene from the animation—which is also on display at Ben Brown Fine Arts—allows viewers to further contemplate the theme of the video work. As evidenced in its title, Gold.Circle.Tiger 01 (2014) depicts subject matters featured in the animation—gold chains, circular rings and stripy tigers. On the canvas are rectangles and circles in various sizes and colors, creating a chaotic scene that viewers may associate with the complicated human mind.

YE LINGHAN, Gold.Circle.Tiger 02, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 99.5 × 150 cm. Courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong. 

YE LINGHAN, Gold.Circle.Tiger 14, 2014, mixed media on paper, 210 × 110 cm. Courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong. 

The tigers appearing in Ye’s artworks are not aggressive beasts, but presented more as submissive pets that need to be taken care of. In Gold.Circle.Tiger 02 (2014), a tiger is roaring due to the pain caused by the amber rings that are digging into its skin. Th golden sheen of the rings can be seen reflected on its black-and-white-striped fur. A thin layer of orange paint is also used to create residual images of the exhausted animal. While most of the tigers appearing in Ye’s works are black-striped white tigers, the one in Gold.Circle.Tiger 14 (2014) is covered in striped, light-gold fur. Hanging upside down, the tiger is being suffocated by a round, blue “mask” covering its head. Dripping acrylic lines and chaotic black circles on the hand-painted background add a sense of dreadfulness to the overarching narrative of the suffering tiger.

The commitment seen in Ye’s tiger paintings is equally present in his other works in which the animal motif is absent. Two smaller works, Gold.Circle.Tiger 17 and 18 (both 2014), which share similar atmosphere and composition as the other paintings in the series, are placed side by side in the exhibition. They depict images of irregular black holes outlined by acrylic paint that are like open wounds that cannot be healed, symbolizing the various imperfections in life.

The show also includes two of the five short animations—After the Spelling of the Names of God (2012) and Rotation and Chrysler (2013)—that were featured in the artist’s previous exhibition, “99 Gods” (2013), at Beijing’s Gallery Yang. Both works feature a 3D-animated object rotating vertically, displayed on a framed monitor, with a gold coin and New York’s Chrysler Building as the “protagonists” of the respective videos. In Rotation and Chrysler, other cylindrical objects appear alongside the slowly rotating image of the skyscraper, challenging the viewers’ interpretation of the work in between footages of distorted objects.

Ye’s palette mainly consists of three colors: gold, black and white. The artist, who is of the post-1980s generation, explains in the exhibition’s catalogue that the gold color is referring to the “good” in life. However, the general message of “Gold.Circle.Tiger” is quite heavy. The tigers are possibly a symbol for the ambitions that people possess when they are young, but are repressed as one grows older through regulations forced upon by society. People try to escape from stereotypes and constraints in life, just like the tiger struggles to break free from the golden chain in Ye’s short film. Yet, after a period of time, they will lose their strength to be individual and start to follow the crowd. Like the tiger depicted in Ye’s paintings and animated video, people are continuously trapped in circles—communities, spheres of influence, routines—where freedom can be illusory.


Ye Linghan’s highly imaginative paintings remind people of what the master of surrealism Rene Magritte once said in a radio interview in 1965: “Everything we see hides another thing.” For Ye, the gold color is all that is good in life; circles represent the constraints stopping one from being free; and the tigers are our helpless selves. “Gold.Circle.Tiger” is a powerful cry for the pursuit of freedom in our contemporary rules-oriented society. When leaving the gallery, one must remember that there are always some golden moments in life, and they are worth pursuing no matter how difficult they might be.

YE LINGHAN, Gold.Circle.Tiger 17 and Gold.Circle.Tiger 18, 2014, installed in “Gold.Circle.Tiger” at Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong. Courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts.  

Ye Linghan: Gold. Circle. Tiger continues at Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong, until September 4, 2014.