Multiple Adaptations: from Poem to Poem, from Poem to Visual Art

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Multiple Adaptations: from Poem to Poem, from Poem to Visual Art

The Amsterdams Grafisch Atelier and TCG Nordica, an art center in Kunming (China) joined forces in a transnational project that, focuses on the interrelation between text and image, specifically between Dutch and Chinese poetry in translation and art works inspired by them.
Six Chinese participants based their paintings and drawings on poems by H.H. ter Balkt , Hans Faverey, Chr.J. van Geel, Gerrit Kouwenaar, M. Vasalis and Ellen Warmond, translated into Chinese by Maghiel van Crevel and Ma Gaoming. Each of the six poems are enigmatic texts full of paradoxes and opaque meanings, that present an enormous challenge to the translator, at the same time providing the visual interpreter with ample space for a non-illustrative approach.
Six Dutch printmaker/artists produced monumental prints inspired by poems of the famous contemporary Chinese poet, author, and filmmaker Yu Jian. “Staunchly unlyrical” and making his readers “see eternity in the most everyday and unexpected places” (Simon Patton), Yu Jian’s poems present their visual interpreters with the equal challenge of tuning into the foreign voice, searching for affinities, and keeping their own idiosyncratic vision.
To facilitate comparison and analysis, all works are shown jointly with the texts that are printed on banners, forming thus an integral part of the exhibition. Both partners of the project stress the performative nature of the project by reading and performing the poetry at the opening and in separate programs.
The initiative for the exchange came from Ursula Neubauer, an Amsterdam artist who had visited Kunming in the fall of 2012. The project has been worked out and coordinated jointly by Luo Fei, former director of TCG Nordica and Ursula Neubauer, representing the Amsterdams Grafisch Atelier.
The event in Kunming took place, with great success, at the gallery of TCG Nordica between April 24-May 31, 2015.
See: http://en.tcgnordica.com/2015/multiple-adaptations

In Amsterdam the project will be presented at SBK KNSM/ Bagagehal
from October 18 through November 1, 2015.
The opening will include a performance. Speakers and readers are Kristien van den Oever, director of the Amsterdams Grafisch Atelier, Yi Lai, Chinese poet and literary scholar at the (Central China Normal University, Wuhan). G.W.Sok, singer and poet and Christianne Rugl Communication Manager. Performance artist Nienke Dekker will interpret two 2 poems of the exhibition.
Sunday November 1 at 3 p.m. a closing music program, from poem to visual art to music by The And.

Perdu, centre for poetry and experiment, will present a related program on October 21. The participants of the panel discussion are Yi Lai, Maartje Smits and Sofie Sun.
The participating artists are: Ning Zhi, Chen Fanyuan, Su Yabi, He Libin, Su Jiaxi, Chang Xiong, Herma Deenen, Christina Hallström, Ursula Neubauer, Naan Rijks, Angelique van Wesemael, and Masha Trebukova

Opening of the exhibition: October 18, from 3 to 6 p.m.
SBK/Bagagehal
Address: KNSM-laan 307-309, 1019 LE Amsterdam
Tel: +31 20-620 13 21 email: amsterdamknsm@sbk.nl
Open on Tue thru Fri: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sat.Za/Sun. from 11a.m. to 6 p.m.
Reachable by tram #10, end stop Azartplein, by bus #48 from Sloterdijk Station and Central Station, by bus 65 from stations Zuid and Amstel.

For further information: www.multipleadaptations.blogspot.com

Interview: He Libin

He Libin
(Interview with the artist in his studio. 30th April 2010. Present: He Libin, Luo Fei and Anders Gustafsson.)

I once read a text by Jeff Crosby, where he emphasized that Kunming historically did play an often overlooked role in China’s road to modernity: from it’s time as a French outpost, to its role as a refuge for Chinese intellectuals during the Japanese occupation, Kunming often led the way for China’s embrace of modern ideas. I guess the South West Art Research Group should also be mentioned here. Do you see Kunming’s art community building on this heritage, or should we declare it dead and buried?

– It is building on that tradition. Compared with other citites, Kunming woke up early in relation to modernity. The first Chinese art community started here (Chuang Ku/Loft, 1999). It was influenced by the Western world. During French and Japanese occupation, this influence was forced upon us. The Han culture didn’t have such a big influence here, so Kunming could accept different cultures.

– It’s actually quite interesting that many Kunming artists are rather lazy, or very relaxed anyway. This also means they’re very free. So if there’s an interesting opportunity, the artists can easily gather. Chuang Ku is an example. Another case is the Jiang Hu-project 2005-2006 (a project supported by Lijiang studio). It influenced lots of young artists and was awarded a price for being the second best art project after the Shanghai Biennal in 2006.

But isn’t the Kunming art community more scattered now than say four-five years ago?

– Yes, definitively.

But is that a sign of the artists cooperating less? Or of something else?

– We cooperate more, actually. There are more opportunities and possibilities. Four years ago, there was only Loft. The exhibitions were more simple at that point. Now we have more art spaces, which results in more cross over art.

I’ve noticed that people in Kunming often remind us foreigners about the minorities influence on the culture of Yunnan. You are of Naxi heritage yourself. Do you see any influence from the minority cultures on contemporary art?

– Personally, the Naxi culture doesn’t attract me. I’m mainly living with Han-people. Even though Yunnan is a minority province, Yunnan’s main culture is Han. Just look at the menues in the restaurants. The minority food is often there more like a decoration.

– Another important thing is, that in the 20th century, even if we have many minorities, we where occupied by Western countries. That influenced us. Minority culture is maybe more influential in song and dance, but not so much in the visual art where the Western influence was stronger.
As far as the art academies educational tradition is concerned, the visual arts relates mainly to the Western system and the Chinese traditional painting: More precisely, the Western tradition of realism and the Chinese one where the students copy old masters and paint plants. So the influence on contemporary art is marginal, in my opinion.

– In early 1980’s there was an art wave, the Heavy Colored School and the Scenery School, who were influenced by minority culture. All the artists were Han-people, and they combined minority culture with western influences. Most of the minority art is more utility based, for religios ceremonies and so on. But it doesn’t reach independent or fine art. Different minorities have different religions. This means that they are enclosed in there own circles; it doesn’t spill over to other cultures.

– If you compare original minority art, with the Heavy Colored School and the Scenery School art, they are very different. The latter are landscape paintings with strong colors. But already in the 90’s they were less influential. They were hardly scratching the surface of the minorities cultures. It never dealt with the feelings of the individual, and it never acccounted for the individual’s experiences.

– When I watched them, they all looked the same. Soft, beautful, like a poem. I’ve lived with minorities, and I know that this beautiful side is only part of the truth. There are sorrow and suffering too. That kind of life is never covered by those paitings, and they don’t show these people’s real life.

– I think that the government knows and likes the Heavy Colored School and the Scenery School art, and those artists use this style to present a romantic idea about minorities to Westerners. They want Yunnan to be the biggest tourist province in China, so they portray it like the Garden of Eden.

It’s not only the minority cultures that distincts Yunnan from other provinces in China. It’s also the geographical proximity to Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Myanmar is Yunnan’s biggest trading partner, for example. Is this influencing the Kunming art scene?

– The cooperation with these countries takes plcae within the economical sphere, but very rarely on a cultural level. So if we look back on the past years’ culture events, very few of them are in any way connected to these countries. (Even if the day before this interview an exhibition from Thailand opened at Yunnan Arts Institute).

– In recent years, we’ve learnt that the differences between art in Yunnan and, say Laos and Thailand, are really big. So we influence each other only to a small extent, if any. Their art education, exhibitions, collectors and foundations are all of Western origin. This will continue, I think, and the main reason for this is that in rescent history they were occupied by Western countries.

Mao Xuhui talks about your “anxiety”, reflected in the loss of the traditional landscape conquered by the destruction of modernity. Do you agree with this?

anders-interviews-helibin– Almost all Chinese have anxiety, it’s only on different levels… Personally, I don’t see myself as an intellectual. My anxiety is mainly about lifestyle. Being caught between on one hand my dream of a pure and simple life, on the other hand the modern life’s with its speed and its urges. So I’m almost afraid to go to the super market, it’s a big waste of products and resources. I’m afraid it’s all about desire. Maybe I would have preferred to live the simple life of minorities.

– The traditional Chinese intellectuals lead divided lifes. They wished to join this world and at the same time escape from it. So I don’t see myself as an intellectual. I can not totally embrace the traditional intellectuals’ opinions or feelings. My culture and knowledge system is only slightly influenced by Konfucianism. Deep down, I much more prefer daoism. Daoists usually live in forests or mountains.

I find your project, Recording Shenzhen, particularly interesting. You and some volunteers painted the city’s sceneries, but used water instead of colour. The art work lasted for a maximum of two hours. Isn’t that quite Daoistic?

– No idea, I hadn’ t thought of that, haha. But probably. Just like my recent works, where I only used water, air and other simple resources. Another important element in my work is about time.

Time… Isn’t there some similarity between the ephemeral or unreachable nature of this vaning waterdepictions of a hypermodern city, and the traditional landscapes of some of your other paintings? I mean: Aren’t we often projecting our contemporary thoughts and worldviews on a distant past that in some sense is unreachable?

– Yes. I always try to reach for it, but it disappears. It makes me sad, and if you lift up this feeling, it’s somthing like impermanence (a Buddhist term). And you can’t really know it or control it.

It looks to me that you are speaking the same language in The Forgotten Views and The Lost Writing; there you are using newspaper as material to depict traditional landscape or calligraphy. Newspapers as a material are ephemeral, even if not as much as painting in water.

helibin– Yes. But as you know, I’m not the person who plans everything. In this progress I tried different materials, but finally I choose newspaper. It’s cheap, actually it doesn’t cost me anything. And it’s a good material, easy to work with. All the newpapers came from friends, they’re for free. I can’t finish it, cause people always ask me if I need more newspapers…

– During the works I found newspaper as a material has its limits. Time will change it, it won’t last. I tried with other materails as well, like sand and metal. Mixed material. Time will change everything. Deep down I’m a pessimist. Impermanence, is a word I really understand and can identify with.

TCG Nordica is celebrating its 10 years anniversary. Please give me your thoughts on which role it – and Chuang Ku – has played through the years.

– They’ve played very different roles. Chuang Ku was established by Ye Yongqing and Tang Zhigang. In the beginning it was like creating an enclave. They were idealists, in a way they wished to build Utopia. With enclave, I mean they wanted to create a life style that was quite different from other citizens. Their land was sort of up in the air, it didn’t land.

– But because of these artists’ hard work, Kunming’s art events became more and more a part of the city’s daily life. There was a distance from the public, maybe. But art became more and more a part of daily life for artists, with exhibitions, platforms and so on. Before Chuang Ku, the opportunities to see or particpiate in an exhibition was very limited . It was limited to the official museums.

– In Chuang Ku there was a thinking mode that it’s “us” inside Chuang Ku, and “them” outside. To make a difference between them and the artists supported by the authorities. “We are Chuang Ku(Loft) artists, they are outsiders”. Maybe Western artists see it more as “I” and “you”, rather than “us” and “them”?

– When I read the last generations diaries (like Mao Xuhui, Ye Yongqing and so on), it was a lot about us and them. They were different, that also went for the relation to society. Today it’s a big difference. The boundaries have been blurred. And this is because of their success. They have become accepted, before they were a more heterogenous group.

And TCG Nordica?

– I see Nordica as a bridge. The founders wanted to share different kinds of culture with everyody. This sharing was not to make everybody be the same. In fact, it makes everybody different. This is the biggest difference between Nordica and Loft. Nordica was not just only for “us”. Instead it made us realize our differences. I think this is a culture difference. For Westerners it was I and you. For Chinese it was much about us and them; us always eating and drinking tea, playing cards together, for example.

– I think Nordica is the most inportant place at Loft. Without it, Loft would be a local community. There would be no dialogue, no conflict.

– According to Nordica’s vision, there’s still a kind of idealism, But it’s not Utopia. It has a positive view on everybody’s life style and culture. If the art community thinks: “Let’s build an alternative life style”, it’s more utopian. It makes everybody look the same. Like communism; everybody are the same.

At one point in a discussion woth the Loft artists, we tried to explain how we at Nordica work more with a flat organization, rather than a hierarchial one. One of the artists ironically exclaimed: “Ahh, you are the real communists!”

– Actually, even when there’s a cooperation with Nordica, everybody still have their individual work.

So will this – and should it – change for the future, in your opinion?

– I think Nordica shouldn’t change their role much in the future. I wish Nordica can just go deeper in their communication between different cultures. And also, I wish there could be more communication.

Other cultures, not just Scandinavian-Chinese, you mean?

– No, my point is that we need build more communication in Kunming, with other culture areas. Not only art, but literature and so on. It’s not only the Nordica staff’s responsibility, but everyone’s.

Can you give a concrete suggestion?

– For example the HIV-project. That was a very good example of a sort of cross-over project, where people meet on a bridge. I wish we could move further, where artists take responsibility for society. In the past years, the art scene has been more profound than the other culture areas.

So, for example, we arrange a concert and let artists and poets create from their experiences during it?

– Yes, and artists could cooperate with scientists.

And how about the future for Loft?

– There are many, many problems with Loft, and everybody knows that. But I think it doesn’t matter if it’s there or not. The most important is how the artists work in the future. I think that even if there’s no art community, it’s not important. If the artists bring art into the daily life, it’s something that could happen everywhere.

– The art communities in China was probably a phenomena related to a certain period of time. The artists needed to make themselves known, needed to gather energy from each other. When or if the artists become stronger, and aren’t considered as being on the edge of society, I think the communities will dissappear naturally.

– Even if Loft disappears, it’s not necessarily a big problem to Nordica, who can still continue their work. All the artists in China have found that the art communities haven’t been the most important thing. The organisations have been more important. Within each art community, there has been a maximum of one or two organisations that have done most of the work.

In one discussion I had with Jonathan Kearney, we both agreed that Kunming’s culture life is different than what you find in the coastal megacities. Kunming can maybe not claim to be The Real China, but that it can claim to be A Different China.
If you agree with this, what is the main contribution of the Kunming art scene, that makes it stand out from the rest?

– I agree. A different China. The Director and founder of Lijiang studio Jay Brown even made an exhibition in Germany with that name. I think all the events happening in Kunming contributed to the whole of China. Some of them had much influence. Generally speaking, the Kunming art scene even made Kunming different from other cities.

In what way, more precisely?

– There were some cases with big influences. The New Concrete Group in the 1980’s influenced many cities. Also, the Chuangku/Loft influenced other cities. Another one was Jiang Hu (The before-mentioned project in Lijiang). It was tightly connected to the local experience, it could never have happened anywhere else. It was a village project outside Lijiang. Invited international artists to connect with the local experience and culture.

– And then there’s Nordica.

– Most of Chinese contemporary art is about an urban experience. In Yunnan the contemporary art connects with experience from nature. Those who come here find other influences and raise other questions, in relation to nature. Yunnan can give the artists inspiration for “slower walking”.

– These things make art life here stand out from the rest of China.

The current party secretary, Qiu He has personal ambitions for Kunming’s future. The universities are moved to Chenguang, outside Kunming. A new airport, China’s 4th biggest, should be ready next year. Rail lines linking Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou, Guangxi and Chongqing will be upgraded. Construction of a high-speed rail between Kunming and Shanghai is already underway. Improved roads to Hanoi and Bangkok will shorten the time between Kunming and these cities drastically.
How do you think such changes will affect the Kunming art scene?

– It’s hard to say. I haven’t thought about it that much. I think it won’t change a lot for the artists themselves. They mainly focus on peoples’ hearts and experiences. But there might be changes in the patterns and structures, relating to the city’s enlargening. I haven’t seen any action from the government towards the art community, so the change might not be so big.

– The small art communities might spread out in different places, because of the economic development strategy. It will hardly make art develop faster, though. In order for the local art scene to stay healthy, it will need local curators, collectors and galleries. But that will take a long time.

You have chosen to stay here, although many artists follow the money to the coastal region. And it’s not that you haven’t seen the world. You have travelled to Scandinavia, for example. So what’s most attracting for you here?

– My family. Maybe I could earn more money in some other place, but I enjoy life here. I don’t want to leave my loved ones: parents, wife, daughter. The daily life is most important to me. Only then comes art.

Interview by Anders Gustafsson
Photo by Luo Fei

anders-and-helibinluofei-helibin

For more information about artist He Libin, please check his CV and works at http://www.943studio.cn/members/he-libin,  thanks!

Creating Inscape On The Spot

Creating Inscape On The Spot
– On Art Exhibition “Inscape On The Spot”

Written by Luo Fei (TCG Nordica Gallery Director & Curator)

1. About Jingjie(1)

Traditional Chinese culture consists of three strands: Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. These three strands share the same concerns about the existence and freedom of this life. They are concerned with the value and significance of the individual and their physiological needs, promising that any individual can be elevated through cultivation. The ‘jingjie‘ of life is the essential question, with other questions around it.

In modern Chinese language, the meaning of ‘jingjie‘ can be broken down into two parts. Firstly it has a physical dimension, i.e. the boundary between countries. Secondly it has a metaphysical dimension, it refers to a ‘realm of life’, it is the level or degree reached through meditation on morality, culture, psychology and beauty. By pondering on the cosmos, society and life, it suggests a departure from earthly values and a capturing of the wholeness of an internal exhilaration, described by Confucius as the act of ’sanctifying personality’. Unfortunately there is no equivalent in the English vocabulary for ‘jingjie’ which is the core concept of this exhibition. Therefore the author will use ‘inscape‘ to refer to the spiritual and artistical nature of the world and also to connect to the theme of landscape which is another vital element of this exhibition. ‘Inscape’(2) is an old English word which refers to the unique inner nature of a person or an object, especially when seen in a work of art.

In traditional Chinese poetry and painting, the theory of inscape took an important position as a definition of spirituality and exerted significant influence upon the thinking of Chinese language. As Wang Guowei, the famous ci poetry critic in the late Qing Dynasty, argued in his Renjian Cihua(also called The World of Poetry), ‘The most important thing in ci poetry is inscape. A high level of art is reached when there is an inscape… Some are focused on creating inscape, others writing inscape. This is the difference between idealism and realism.’

In the practice of writing inscape and the quest for creating inscape, literati use contemplation, meditation and spending time in gardens and amidst beautiful scenery. The attempt to ‘create inscape’ shows that they are unsatisfied with either the superficial depiction of natural landscape or the language game involved in its representation. Instead they aspire to bridge the outer world and their inner world of ideals. They aspire to transcend their feelings of loss, or joy, with the natural scenery before them, and to transform what they see into a symbolic schema to express the world of perfection as seen in their own mind. This process of transforming the scenes of nature into something that represents perfection is an attempt to reach the convergence of self and nature, a poetic contemplation of nature coloured with a hue of oriental mysticism. In fact, this vision of contemplation is not unique to the East, as ancient Greek Platonic philosophy also describes similar concepts and practices, which later evolved into an understanding of a personal divine being. However, in traditional Chinese culture, the contemplative view of nature does not lead to seeing the divine as an object of rational thinking. Instead, it defines subjectively that internal peace and pleasure is the possibility for a ‘completion inscape’ and is based in the viewer’s mind. Traditional Chinese culture objectively treats everything in nature as a source of universal revelation. A good illustration of such a contemplative view of nature is the traditional landscape paintings that are familiar to us all. Small figures together with overwhelming mountains and water, represent a convergence of humanity and nature, illustrating an inscape of serenity and unfettered freedom and an aspiration for perfect harmony between humans and nature. This reflects the quest of ancient literati in relation to the status of life and psychology, in poetry and painting, a schema and philosophy that had scarcely undergone any significant change during the long history of relatively self-sufficient Chinese culture.

This approach has led to what is called, ‘addressing every change with no change’. Although this attempts a definition of personality and also a definition of universal revelation and even though it outlines the concept of ‘completion inscape’, it does not address the source of nature or the divine. This inability to address these foundational issues, sheds light on the events of history. During recent periods of transition and hardship and the movement of Chinese society and culture towards modernity, there has been a lack of inquiry into truth, the absence of a transcendental dimension. The commitment to ‘jingjie, sanctifying personality’ has become an alien concept in a world where materialism and satisfying personal desires are the priority. Therefore ‘addressing every change with no change’ appears unable to deal with the modern world where the inscape of life gradually gives way to a pragmatic pursuit of success.

The heaven and earth that is left in the wake of the industrial revolution is not the heaven and earth described in genesis, where ‘God saw every thing that he had made, and behold, it was very good’(3). What is more, the intrinsic mission of art has evolved from exploring the concept of completion in the classic age to simply raising the consciousness of the problem in the modern age, with no attempt at offering a solution. As a result, today’s cultural and natural environment and the sentiment felt by artists when they consider nature are tremendously different from the ancient tradition. Now, it is much more effective to simply illustrate the problems themselves, to do no more than represent contemporary culture and current sentiment and couple this with personal experience. This approach is much easier than grappling with and attempting to create the inscape of completion.

Therefore, we are now in a world of competing contrasts; completion versus contemporary problems, idealistic sentiment versus present anxiety, the inscape of life versus fleshy desire. All these strains remind us of the stark gap between the ideal and reality, between tradition and modernity. However, there are artists whose work is still concerned with the natural landscape and who are exploring deeper thinking. Maybe they will lead the call for a new type of ’supreme completion inscape’ in these current ‘lost circumstances’.

2. The Context and Transition of Agrestic Art

As described above, nature has been the traditional object and theme for artists to express their ‘circumstances of mind’. In the early 1980s, the Southwest Agrestic Art began to emerge and much critical and academic study developed alongside. Both ‘Agrestic Art’ and ‘Life Flow’(4) and other later art movements, placed great importance on the influence of the geographic environment upon the spirit, style and schema of artists, believing that the nature of Southwest China and other social factors contributed to the emergence and thriving of ‘Agrestic Art’. However, with further urbanization and the advent of the age of globalization and the internet, ‘Agrestic Art’ and ‘Life Flow’ gradually withered and gave the way to the more representative style of ‘Chinese experience’. Despite losing widespread recognition and market opportunities, ‘Agrestic Art’ and ‘Life Flow’ nevertheless remain an enduring influence on many Yunnan artists, not least because of their close connection with local culture and the natural landscape.

In Yunnan where nature is rich and cultural traditions are diverse, many artists choose the expression of natural landscape as their principal form of art. Among them, there has been a unique phenomenon lasting for nearly half a century, which is characterized by the voluntary and persistent daily sketching of the landscape. This is illustrated by the enthusiasm for being integrated into and depicting nature by artists of the ‘Impressionist School’(5) and ‘Shen Society’(6) in the 1960s and 70s , also the ‘Life Flow’ movement in the 1980s and those artists today, old and young, who still go to the countryside to sketch from nature. Such a phenomenon stems from and reinforces two traditions. First is the academic tradition of landscape sketching which is about formal aesthetic feeling and technical practice consistent with a modernistic art tradition and epistemology. Second is the traditional contemplative view of landscape sketching which seeks to capture the sentiment and feeling of the individual, the ‘expression of feeling through the sketching of scenery’. The ‘Impressionist School’s’ and ‘Shen Society’s’ concern about the natural environment and countryside of Yunnan was essentially the expression and extolling of the minority cultures, through depicting scenes of countryside life with close attention given to the colouration. The ‘Life Flow’ school was committed to eulogising the free will and uniqueness of life when the ideology of collectivism was fading away. Today’s artists, when faced with the countryside landscape, have to consider problems such as the urbanization of the countryside and the modern pursuit of satisfying desires (fleshism). Consequently they turn to a different theme, one that considers the contemporary population’s mental circumstances. The Yunnan schools of art in the 1960s and 70s shaped their own art dialects, creating artistic forms and styles with provincial features, formed to some extent by their geographic environment. This led to widespread attention and a historical significance. However, as interesting as all this might be, is it enough to justify giving attention to a provincial cultural and art phenomena? At a time of accelerating urbanization, frequent migration to the cities and increased dialogue between diverse cultures, will the universality and transcendence of these themes, which we are referring to, become even more important?

In response I would like would like to introduce the concept ‘Creating Inscape on The Spot’. This concept’s themes and symbolism originate from and yet transcend a provincial nature. It is activated by individual thinking but is projected towards the universal mentality of the human race. It is a call for change, to turn the external-internal inscape, whether complete or incomplete, into ‘Supreme Completion Inscape’.

At the foundational level, ‘Creating Inscape on The Spot’ is the technical ability to capture a scene from nature, at the highest level, it is a contemplative experience, a practice of artistic creation, an expression of the internal thoughts of an individual and the universal condition of humankind, all in the form of a landscape.

For this exhibition we choose the art works of 6 Yunnan artists, Lan Qingxing, He Libin, Guo Peng, Shi Zhimin, Sun Guojuan and Lei Yan, as well as a Guodong artist Mai Zhixiong, and Jonathan Kearney, a British artist with many years of life experience in China. They have been chosen as their work interprets this theme from various angles.

3. The Artists

The paintings of Lan Qingxing retain the feeling of agrestic paintings and internalise it into a ‘Transcendental Nostalgia’. In his oil painting ‘Landscape without People’, a wondering dog, a bizarre and thick withered tree, a distant chimney, together constitute a picture of sadness hinting at the strain between an agricultural setting and modern industrial development. In the long-frame sketch ‘Scheme’, there is a fragmented ‘home’ among weeds, bonfire, bed, dinner table, desk, coach, fridge, all scattering in the weeds. A man casually wonders about, without doing any serious business, simply killing time, with his posture reflecting the frustration of getting lost near his own house, all by himself, yet the shabby building nearby is irrelevant to ‘home’. The figures and animals in Lan Qingxing’s paintings show a sign of concentration, as though they are constantly thinking of the way back home no matter whether they are climbing, running, carrying things, laboring or having a rest. Yet the red-earth land, small roads and grass under the starry night sky provides suggest opportunity but also seems to cause more frustration. Ever since Adam stole the forbidden fruit, the voice asking ‘where are you?’(7) is lingering in the innermost mind. We may be absolutely certain of our geographic location, we may already be in our hometown, and yet we cannot get rid of a strange nostalgia, which originates not from a certain coordinate on the map, but from a calling in the depths of our spirit, a longing for an ultimate homeland – a ‘Supreme Completion Inscape’ as dwellers on earth.

The expression of ‘Transcendental Nostalgia’ is also salient in the oil paintings of He Libin. The series ‘Wasteland’ endows the wilderness and the void, as well as the little lonely figures in the picture, with the black and white expressionist style. Different from the contrast found in traditional Chinese landscapes, here the contrast between large scenery and small figures is not the serene ‘Completion Inscape’, but an inscape of sadness that highlights anxiety and void, in order to induce a cry for ‘Completion Inscape’. Here the smallness of the figure does not originate from the natural view of humility, but from the helpless view of life. The painter chooses wasteland and wilderness to highlight the dual loss of both body and soul of modern people. Physical and mental fatigue becomes evident against the void of wasteland and wilderness, while the aspiration to get rid of the void is exactly the vision needed by Kua Fu(8) when he was chasing after the sun.

Similiarly, Shi Zhimin from Dali also draws from the local nature in his homeland. The town of Dali, coupled with Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake, are richly endowed by nature and is itself a town of wonder. When I first went to Dali this sense of wonder is exactly what I also felt. The natural characteristics are internalised by the artist giving a unique feeling to the series ‘Glacier’. A view of a glacier is characterized by seclusion, joy of life and super-realism. If nature has lost its ability to encourage inscape as a result of human’s crude plunder, the fragment of a still mysterious glacier may well hit at the existence of another poetic schema.

The majority of Guo Peng’s photography draws on the views found in gardens around Kunming. The scenery in Green Lake park, the lake’s surface, rock-work and bamboo forests. As described above, the concept of ‘Creating Inscape on The Spot’ at the base level is a practical approach, manifested by the technical ability to capture a garden view. It is an attempt to obtain an artificial miniature of the elegant ‘completion inscape’ by mimicking the natural landscape with flower pots, pools and rock-work. Garden design is used to provide a place of mental recreation and spiritual rest for the literati and officialdom, from official career to inner world, from reality to ideal, from clamor to serenity. On the other hand, the close and extravagant nature of gardens made it possible for the declining literati to escape from the reality and live a corrupted way of life in the backyard of leisure. Today, in a society where over-entertainment is rampant in urban life, and the protection and succession of elite culture is absent, gardens have turned into the People Parks for the entertainment of the general public. Here the manufactured landscape remains as it was, but the inscape no longer exists. Guo Peng attempts to present a colorful myth of the garden through the manipulation of colour, to fabricate an alienated backyard of literati, in an attempt to realise what Martin Heidegger called ‘the perch of poetry’.

Sun Guojuan’s ‘Sweetness Is Gone’ series is an interpretation of ‘Creating Inscape on The Spot’ by the use of brain teasers – mirroring on the spot. The artist, while holding a butterfly ornament in her hand, is lying tenderly in front of a mirror on the road side. The mirror is reflecting peach flowers in the park, with spring very much in the air. On the back of the artist is a pair of angle wings made of sugar, adding a playfulness and romance found in a child’s household game. Ornament, mirror and sugar wings reveal the stage property of Romantic Inscape. Sugar has been used as a metaphorical language in Sun Guojuan’s art works for years, symbolizing on the one hand women as the object of tasting in a male dominant society, and on the other, women’s attempt to retain their youth for ever by turning their bodes into sugar. Fictitious and fragile, the image of spring in the mirror and sweet fleshy body speak of the bankruptcy of women’s desire to retain youth forever. While the sweet feeling of the body is the only dignity and comfort alive, the sweet feeling of heart has been devoured by consumerism, the loss and fragmentation of humans cannot be saved by simple stage props. In No. 5 and No. 6 of ‘Sweetness Is Gone’, the dagger in the artist’s hand clearly indicates the anxiety and fear after the fragmentation of body and heart when ’sweetness is gone’.

Lei Yan’s photography continues the methodology of her ‘Freezing’ series. Elements raging from photographs of comrades in the army, to revolutionary articles, to images of the trenches are all put in ice cubes and photographed again, generating an archaeological memory of the image, while a woman’s career in the army is recalled in such a sad yet private way. In her work about her military career, Lei Yan reduces soldiers to men and women, the machinery of state to a school of childish faces, monument of hero to one tombstone after another, sacrifice to price, collectivism to mutual help and revolutionary romance to sentiments in the sealed history. The significance and nobility manifested by life itself are much more significant than any transient state in the long river of history, since life has soul and soul is immortal.

Mai Zhixiong’s ‘Sanctuary?’ series retains his simple style of object, scenery and colour and refined abstraction. However the artist has undergone a shift from his previous work and has rejected any possibility of symbolic construction. The scene in the picture in brightened, Beacon Mountain appears but the title is questioning sanctuary, showing the artist’s rethinking of symbolism. A sanctuary is considered a holy place in Judaism and Christianity, the innermost chamber of the Jewish temple was called the ‘Holy of Holies’, regarded as the dwelling place of the LORD God. Only the high priest could enter the ‘Holy of Holies’ once each year on the ‘Day of Atonement’. However, such a place built by human hands appears too small in front of the all-mighty God, hampering the relationship between humans and God. The curtain that blocked the ‘Holy of Holies’ from human access was ripped apart when Jesus died on the cross. Christianity holds that it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats to take away human sin, however, as is noted in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament, ‘we have confidence to enter into the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus’. The quest for the sanctuary, however, is not for the beacon, nor for the holy mountain beyond, but as Jesus told the woman of Samaria, ‘a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth’.(9)

Whereas the 7 Chinese artists discussed above raise questions in their art as a cry for a ‘Completion Inscape’ or even ‘Supreme Completion Inscape’, the video work of British artist Jonathan Kearney, by focusing on the process of colours following across time, creates an image of ‘Completion Inscape’ in micro scale across a timeframe. If the other artists in this exhibition mainly draw their images from the location in which they are living, Jonathan treats the micro objects in his art as a kind of ‘local experience’. It is worth mentioning that Jonathan has also exhibited his art works via off-site live broadcast over the internet, a remarkable departure from the dependence on, and significance of, location when ‘Creating Inscape on The Spot’. The advent of a digital, internet era makes concepts such as ‘on the spot’ and ‘location’ seem insignificant, maybe even redundant. The important thing is the presentation of ‘inscape’ itself.

4. Conclusion

To a great extent the art discussed in this essay provide justification for considering the landscape around us and comfort for our minds and inner self. They also challenge us with profound insights into culture and life.

Provincial, cultural and natural resources should not become the prerequisite for an art movement or artist to receive historical recognition. The reason why a geographic characteristic or ethnic culture is widely recognized is because it carries a fundamental reflection of self and maybe something universal for all humans. The concept of ‘Creating Inscape on The Spot’ and this exhibition are simply designed to introduce such a possibility. Just as the Southwest school of ‘Life Flow’ inevitably turned into the ‘Chinese experience’ movement, ‘Chinese experience’ will itself return to life.

Notes:

(1) Jingjie: the degree or limit of boundary, country, or the accomplishment of people or artworks in spirit, culture or morality.

(2) Inscape: noun, poetic/literary, the unique inner nature of a person or object as shown in a work of art, esp. a poem. ORIGIN mid 19th cent. (originally in the poetic theory of Gerard Manley Hopkins). Know more about this word on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inscape

(3) According to Genesis, 1:31, On the the sixth day of Genesis, ‘And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good’.

(4) ‘Life Flow’ is a school of painting evolved from agrestic painting by some Southwest artists, originating from the expressionist style of life flow paintings by artists such as Ye Yongqing, Zhang Xiaogang, Zhou Chunya, Mao Xuhui and Pan Dehai. The artists choose the expression of their own life experience, internal journey and sentiment as the purpose of their artwork. This approach has gradually become a cultural tradition for contemporary Southwest art.

(5) Kunming Impressionist School: a school of artists, active in the streets and suburbs of Kunming and keen on the daily sketching of landscape in 1960s and 70s, formed a unique style of Yunnan oil painting characterized by gorgeous colours and strong expressive force. Its representatives include Pei Wenkun, Pei Wenlu, Jiang Gaoyi, Sha Lin and Su Xinhong.

(6) Shen Society: an art society formed in 1970s by artists such as Ding Shaoguang, Jiang Tiefeng, Liu Shaohui and Yao Zhonghua who were born in the 1940s. In 1980, Shen Society as a group held a exhibition
in Yunnan Museum, with their primitive decoration style starkly different from the revolutionary realistic style popular across the country. Later, Ding Shaoguang and Jiang Tiefeng emigrated to the U.S. and formed the ‘School of Contemporary Yunnan Heavy Colored Painting’, which has wide influence internationally.

(7) According to Genesis, 2:15 – 3:10, Adam and Eve, lured by the serpent, ate the forbidden fruit and hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden, ‘And the LORD God called
unto Adam, and said unto him, Where are you?’

(8) ‘Hai Wai Bei Jing’ in Shan Hai Jing recorded a tale that a man named Kua Fu exerted his utmost strength to chase after the sun but eventually died of thirsty and became a grove of peach trees. Based on this tale, He Libing drew an oil painting titled ‘Chasing the Sun’.

(9) Quoted from John, 4:21-24.

Thirty Years of Landscaping

Thirty Years of Landscaping
The roadmap of landscape in contemporary Yunnan art
written by He Libin

The year of 1979, was an important one for many Chinese. With the People’s Republic of China witnessing its first year of opening-up and its 30th anniversary, the government’s cultural and art policies began to loosen up. This year, artists working in Kunming, Yunnan, such as Ding Shaoguang, Jiang Tiefeng, Yao Zhonghua, Wang Jinyuan, Liu Shaohui and Wang Ruizhang formed an artist group named “Shen Society.” They  chose the name “Shen Society” for several reasons: first, 1979 was the Year of Monkey in Chinese Lunar Calendar, and one meaning of “Shen” in Chinese language was “monkey;” second, the Monkey King was a popular figure among Chinese; and third, they wanted to express the desire to pursue freedom and truth and uplift social justice, as “Shen” can also mean “uplift.” This group of artists often got together to discuss art, and chose to learn the idea and style from Cubism and Fauvism in modern Western art and to pursue the language of formal beauty in art. In 1980, Shen Society organized an exhibition of 120 artworks from 23 artists in the Museum of Yunnan Province. In the following two years, they organized some artists to hold exhibitions in Beijing and Hong Kong. Their paintings in the main have a tendency of flat painting and decoration deformation, characterized by gorgeous colors, and, through the portrait of the life of minorities in Yunnan, exhibits an aesthetic style featuring intertwined illusion and emotion, exoticism and imagination. The new style, just like a fresh breeze in China’s painting community, at that time still imbued with the style of revolutionary realism in the Cultural Revolution, together with the contention about the style and subject of the fresco1 in Capital Airport, triggered a massive debate about formal beauty across the country, the first nationwide sensation started by Yunnan art. At that time, some younger Yunnan artists were still in college, such as Mao Xuhui in Yunnan College of Art, Zhang Xiaogang and Ye Yongqing in Sichuan College of Art, and Mao Dehai in Northeast Normal University, who asked his university to assign him to a job in Kunming after graduation. These young people, active in thinking, got together naturally, maintained correspondence with each other at college, and went together in Kunming during vacation to watch exhibition, go out for living sketch or discuss art all day and or night. Similarly, they also drew nutrition from Western modernism. But unlike the artists of Shen Society, they accepted the cultural heritages such as expressionism, surrealism, symbolism and existential philosophy. Undergoing the adolescent frustration and rash, they found the Western modernistic ideas and philosophies, particularly those after the impressionism, somehow consistent with their mentality. At that time, artists such as Zhang Ding, Wu Guanzhong and Yuan Yunsheng frequently went to Yunan to sketch, hold exhibition or give lecture. Young artists like Mao Xuhui were also influenced by the concept of “formal beauty2″ raised by these artists. But when they saw the exhibition of German expressionism in the summer of 1982 in Beijing, they were tremendously excited and shocked, realizing that it was expressionism that was the right approach to express their feeling and mentality. Another trace was their experience of traveling to Guishan Mountain several times for live sketch. In 1979, Mao Xuhui, Zhang Xiaogang, Ye Yongqing and Yang Yijiang, still college students, went to Guishan Mountain to sketch. Guishan, which they long yearned for, was a village of minority Sani people located about 100 kilometers away from Kunming, a pastoral place very much resembling the scene in the paintings of 19th century French Barbizon School artist Jean Francois Millet. Before them, many senior artists also went there and portray Guishan with the Soviet realistic approach and expressionist language of light. Mao Xuhui and his colleagues also used similar language in their expression, but they always had a feeling that those splendid portraits somehow fell short of their feelings. In the following several years, they went to Guishan several times and gradually found the language that suited their feelings. Mao Xuhui’s “Mother of Laterate: Guishan Series” accentuated the tremendous energy concealed in the red soil, and the people, the trees and herds growing from the red soil are gushing, flushing and erupting, with burning primitiveness and lust everywhere. Zhang Xiaogang’s “Behind Mountain” and “Evening Breeze” exhibit the blunt and rough touches like Van Gauge, portraying the primitiveness and hardship of life in a mountainous village. Ye Yongqing drew upon the composition principles of Western classic fresco in his “Sani Sisters in Shepherd Village,” “Sheep Killed by Wolf in Front of Village,” “Blind Girl Going Home” and “Startled Bird” etc, and sketched a series of pastoral lyric pictures by setting some narrative details and scenes. It was the landscape of Guishan that shed some light onto and awakened their mind long sealed in urban life, and presented a stark contrast with their status and mentality in the city. Back in city, Mao Xuhui finished his artworks like “Red Volume” and “Private Space,” depicting a moving volume struggling to shake off the outside shackles and pursuing the true self when running, reflecting the fact that the confrontation against social ideology is evolving to resistance to everything outside self. Life and dream, reality and illusion, intertwined in his chaotic think, are scarcely distinct from each other. In June 1985, Mao Xuhui, Zhang Xiaogang, Pan Dehai and Zhang Long brought their artworks with them and held an exhibition named “Neo-figurative” in the Art Gallery of Jing’an District, Shanghai. What is “neo-figurative”? Mao Xuhui explained in the introduction of the exhibition: “…the concept of ‘neo-figurative’ is devised in an attempt to transfer art away from a vulgar sociological tool and the whole set of false models and social interests that are resulted and to art itself, and to free artists from the position of dependent and slave and restore them to the height of noumenon of man.” Thereafter, the neo-figurative school held several exhibitions in Nanjing, Kunming, Chongqing and the U.S., and later launched activities like “Southwest Art Study Group,” until the full stop when the majority of the members of “neo-figurative” participated in “China Modern Art Exhibition” in 1989.

After 1990s, the artists returned to the status of everyday life, when Mao Xuhui painted “Everyday Epic” series and “Patriarch Series: Vocabulary about Power,” Zhang Xiaogang began to work on “Big Family” which later attracted wide attention, and Ye Yongqing was drawing “Big Poster.” In addition, a school of even younger artists began their journey with a range of exhibition activities: “1992 Painting Exhibition,” “Present Status,” “Individualism,” “Types of Life,” “Urban Personality,” “First Exhibition of Oil Painting Society” etc. Landscape was presented in their artworks with characteristics different the “neo-figurative” school in two ways: first, the anxious sentiment was manifested, and man appears confrontational with landscape; second, the identity of self was blurred, lost, and drifting in weightlessness. In 1992, Zhu Fadong carried out his action of “Notice Seeking Lost Person” in Kunming by looking himself by posting notices seeking himself all over the city in order to express his generation’s feeling of the loss and seeking of self identity in early 1990s. Zeng Xiaofeng’s “Electric Saw and Landscape” juxtaposes electric saw, a symbol of modern industry, and landscape in the same picture, in which the savage electric saw is ripping and devouring ancient architecture and natural landscape, thereby exhibiting fierce clashes between industrial and natural landscapes. Luan Xiaojie in his “Trunk and Branch Series” treats human and tree as a whole body, producing a Delvaux-style grotesquery and surrealistic scene. The objects in the picture, resembling both amputated limbs and muscles, stack in the ambiguous space, glittering with queer shine, while the shallow trunks and branches appear illusive and fragile. Wu Jun’s “Dusk Shadow in Wind” portrays blurred human figure floating above a dilapidated city, with the picture pervaded by endless anxiety. Duan Yuhai’s “Beauty and Limousine” puts a pretty woman, limousine and cosmetics in the same picture, presenting the new orientations and changes in the Chinese society after the 1990s. Li Ji’s “Fashion Girl” also employs the language of gaudiness and juxtaposition by putting a woman with heavy makeup and her pet in a single picture, erotic yet exotic, just like Yamato-e in modern time. In their artworks, everything from the confrontation between humans and their surroundings to drifting in weightlessness is illustrating a kind of potential anxiety and anguish, collectively reflecting the chaos of value, loss of individual identity and the spiritual journey to regain it, juxtaposed by China’s faster process of market reform and urbanization as well as aggravated destruction of natural environment after the 1990s. Their artworks were a reflection of that generation of artists’ collective experience of urban life, and directly heralded the look of the artworks of artists born in the 1970s and 1980s.

After 2000, consumerism and fashion have become the mainstream value in urban life, and the modern popular culture, involving film, magazine, web, cartoon, pervasive advertisements, has constitutes the daily environment for urban dwellers. Artists grown up in such an environment are clearly split in aesthetic approaches: some inherit the scene of anxiety from the previous generation of artists, reflected in their artworks by the tendencies of self-ostracism and anti-metropolitan; others uphold and practice the aesthetics of transient coolness, clamor and popularity, in order to acquire new inspirations and art resources by plunging themselves into the scene of metropolitan consumerist culture. Whether they are anti-metropolitan or putting themselves in metropolitan, landscape exhibits a tendency of virtualization and patching up. Since 2003, several important art events heralded the début of post-1970s and 1980s artists. Exhibitions such as “Health Checkup,” “Sheep Is Coming,” “Altitude Sickness,” “Ultraviolet Radiation,” “Entertainment Is Paramount” etc. on the one hand highlighted the young artists’ sensitivity to and concern about
the relationship between their growth and changes of their surroundings, and on the other hand reflected the divergence of the above-mentioned aesthetic perspectives. In 2003, He Jia began to draw his “Balloon Man” series, which portrays a range of human-like figures without clear identity or complexion, with shining colors all over, drifting or walking in the city or amidst natural sceneries which are thin and transparent, beautiful but illusive just like these balloon men. Zhang Jinxi’s “Glass Man” series exerts the beauty of transparency to the utmost, whereby the body of the glass man reflects the surrounding landscape, which together with the man presents a sense of illusive yet transient vanity. Guo Peng recorded the landscape in Kunming Park with his camera and endowed strong colors to these traditional garden views with manual rendering. Nevertheless, these pictures look in every way like frames of exotic images imbued with a smell of decadence and mustiness. Yu Hua creates an image of a rabbit mingled with man, placing themselves in a metropolitan like a fairy tale, consciously getting lost in the urban labyrinth. Contrary to these artists, some others followed the tradition of expressionism and deliver a primitive and remote flavor with conflicting and turbulent pictures and heavy yet provocative colors. In Zhao Leiming’s paintings, men are always placed in closed space, where even natural landscape appears suffocating, and distorted human body locked in the space is like imprisoned beast struggling. Lan Qingxing’s “Crazy Talk,” “Wind Talk” and “Wind and Rain” portray weeds, starry sky, red trees and red human body to express the desire of man to leave the clamorous urban and return to simple nature. However, would therefore going back to the past be meaningful? He did not give an answer. Shi Zhimin went further with his “Glacial Epoch,” where there is no civilization, no urban, nor the natural landscape today, but the extinction of everything, cold and silent.

As a cross section, the artworks of the above-mentioned artists represent the true situation of post-1970s and 80s artists. Overall, they are more diversified, and values individual difference and experience more, and their artworks also exhibit diversity and new aesthetic tendencies. But this group of artists also generally manifests a tendency of vanity. Whether they are committed to this country or ostracize themselves to somewhere far away, would such approaches actually solve the conflicts and dilemmas in the real world, and deliver an everlasting value to lend the artists experience and enlightenment? Answers to these questions are expected only after necessary observations.

Time keeps on changing, and each generation has their own dilemmas and problems to face and solve, and to confront with the perpetual beings in nature; what the Yunnan artists in the 1940s saw were beautiful landscape and Eden-like minority culture, in which they were enchanted; what the artists in the 1950s saw were the perching images in their inner feeling, where they found their mother of spirituality; artists of the 1960s held themselves slightly aloof when faced with the nature; the disruptive situation of the artists of the 1970s had them see nothing but a realm of vanity whether they placed themselves in urban or returned to nature, whereas artists in the 1980s were lost and enchanted in the landscape of alienation….Facing the eternal nature, what insight do the artists arrive at? Could they acquire from the nature a fundamental wisdom that cuts across everything in the universe, so as to provide mankind today and tomorrow with an enriching and meaningful way of migration in this world? This should be the shared mission and direction for several generations of Yunnan artists.

March 9, 2009 at Yun Yi Xuan, Kunming

Notes:

1. Capital Airport fresco: On September 29, 1979, then China’s largest modernized airport – Capital International Airport, was completed, when 7 giant frescoes in its lounge were also unveiled to the public. Among them was a 27 meters long and 3.4 meters long fresco titled “Water-splashing Festival – Paean of Life” drawn by Yuan Yunsheng, portraying the scene of Dai people (a minority ethnic group living in Southwest China, particularly Yunnan) celebrating their Water-splashing Festival. The fresco consists of two parts: on the front side of the wall was scene of Dai people carrying water, splashing water and dancing; on a smaller wall to the east were scenes of bathing and courting. Because of nudity in this bathing part, the fresco was covered with a curtain several months after it was unveiled for show. On the eve of China’s National Day on October 1, a grand ceremony of completion was held for Capital International Airport, one of the key national construction projects shortly after the Cultural Revolution. The frescos in the lounge unveiled at the same time became a sensational event for China’s art community that year. Among all these frescos, “Water-splashing Festival” was the largest one, and the first artwork appearing in public space with nude human body ever since the People’s Republic of China was found in 1949, triggering widespread debate in media at that time.

2. Formal beauty: In 1981, artist Wu Guanzhong published an article titled “Content Determines Form?” in the 3rd issue of the journal Art that year, for the first time raising the question of “formal beauty” in art. Wu argued that in artworks, the form could came to existence before the content, a proposition that retorting the principle of “content determines form” in art in the Cultural Revolution and triggering a nationwide debate about content and form.

Turn round is barren field – On He Libin’s “Wild Field” series painting

helibin-poster

Turn round is barren field – On He Libin’s “Wild Field” series painting
By Luo Fei

Contemporary art we discuss today in fact is a kind of art on metropolis. It points to the modern social system of metropolis in such aspects as theme, style, trend of thought, economic system and target audience. Although such an idea can’t embrace all contemporary art, we can find that such a tendency is influencing the interest of mainstream artistic circle and the creation of contemporary artists if we refer to the themes of international Biannual exhibitions held in recent years. Indeed, as a cultural incident, contemporary art has its cultural pertinence to survival in metropolis, has criticism and concerns and holds together the echoing in cultural psychology with the target group-city dwellers, organic experience and survival experiences. This kind of grand depiction on metropolis can’t provide a kind of foreseeable critical stand to the survival situation of contemporary people, for the depicter himself is also at a certain layer in the society. Sometimes, we just get the opposite to what we wish and have a kind of fawning, i.e. the coquettish art in late 1990s, today’s big face painting school, prevalent brutal youth diary style as well as auto finishing swept the sculpting circle. In order to reflect the blundering and flattering reality, artists decide to make themselves and their art even more blundering and seductive. Such criticism is just an ineffective solution.

Such beyond-metropolis themes as natural scenery are also occupied by various schools in the modernistic art movements. In result, few people are willing to face the nature, and scenic art has become a kind of concept. There’s only stale methodology, or scenery painting under naturalism. They only secure their stronghold conservatively in contemporary cultural art and have no relation with the survival situation and spiritual appealing of contemporary people.

Under such a historical environment that contemporary art is urbanized and non-metropolis scenery art becomes obsolete, people are unwilling to let go of, but willing to be apart from the term “land” and related glossary which was popular in China in the 1980s, but was regarded as foolish from the 1990s to the present. In-depth mode is completely got ride of in the tide of art marketization.

However, at present when the people are easily dissimilated by metropolis, fame and power, artists who are loyal to the realistic appealing in the deep of human nature retreat from metropolis. They return to nature and land to pursue time and space belonging to themselves, distance from metropolis and to consider the survival crisis of themselves as well as that of modern people and metropolis dwellers. We hereby branch out our expounding with He Libin’s recent oil painting “Wild Field” as an example to see how the artist faces his inner world and the current spiritual land.

He Libin engaged in oil painting creation originally. In the past 10 years, he mainly conducted conceptual schema experiences with upon-frame drawing comprehensive materials, pieced together Chinese traditional landscape schema with earth, nail and burned newspaper. Twisting newspaper into a bar and tessellating into calligraphy patterns are the representative work in this period in order to concern Chinese traditional view on nature and the situation of its schema. In late 2005, for his love of painting and captivation, he resumed upon-frame drawing. During this period, he has made a large amount of black and white oil painting sketches on rural and urban landscape. In the summer of 2007, he carried large-size painting frames to Tiger Leaping Gorge in order to paint in the face of the steep mountain cliff. We can see from this that He Libin has a special sentiment to painting and the great nature. He cares about the influence of the on-site feeling to painting, and a large amount of sketch work done in a short period of time also indicates great energy contained in the deep of his inner world.

He Libin began to create the “Wild Field” series of paintings in 2006. The “Wild Field” series I mentioned here cover three groups of works with “Wild Field” as the representative. The number of paintings in the other two groups is relatively small. One group is the “Sun Chasing”, based on the original version of “Kuafu Chasing of the Sun”, the famous myth story in the “Book of Mountains and Seas”. The other group is the “Extinguishing” of an unknown fire. As the two groups of pictures occur in the “Wild Field” and have consistency and continuation with it in methodology, style and spiritual appealing, they are embraced in the “Wild Field” series in expounding.

The scenery paintings constituted with black and white depict the trees, trails, wild fields, wild grass and reed in the wind, as well as wild field with boorish, concise and expressive style. Thick and unmixed paints are piled on the painting and special tactile feel is formed on the painting cloth. From the use of the painting brush, we can even see that the artist’s excitement at the time of painting and the brush is applied skillfully. We can even see He Libin’s pursuit of freshness in the picture and similarities in his way of painting to calligraphy in running script. “Wild Field” series have continued the visual experiences that He accumulated in comprehensive material experiment stage and the boundary between forms and structure is weakened by the mottled black and white relations, making the entire picture show an atmosphere of burning and imposing. What is interesting is that He Libin has pre-set different expression manners before making many paintings and challenges himself through the demand of scene and feeling. We can say that this series have no perfect methodology and pays more attention to the touch and creation obtained at the time of facing the landscape: some are depict of the landscape, some summarize the landscape in succinct style; some reflects the visional image in running; some presents the original tactile feel of land by piling up paints; some present the atmosphere of field with abrasive sand-alike picture tactile feel etc. Although different paintings have different expression ways, in terms of the overall style, “Wild Field” series have inherited the spiritual principle of expressionism: be loyal to the inner experience and spiritual state at the time of making the painting, and endow corresponding expression to the picture. The adoption of large amount of black and white and cool grey color has created a dream-like environment, just like the vanishing memory. Meanwhile, such a black and white picture has intensified the rational pursuit in the work. In contrast to the negligible standup and running people, such kind of “small figure and big landscape” makes people often associate the relations between people and nature in Chinese traditional landscape painting. In result, a straightforward view on nature and universe is presented. Different from traditional landscape schema, He Libin’s picture still adopts focus perspective, not disperse perspective, i.e. he enters the “wild field” in first person.

In “Kuafu Chasing the Sun” series, the first person perspective becomes very prominent, for the story comes from a literary allusion. The artist plays the role of Kuafu and goes to the fantastic and holy site of sun chasing in person. Staring at the dazzling sun in the field, what leaps before the eyes is the unevading sunlight—this is a fixed picture of the myth of “Kuafu Chasing the Sun”. As the first idealist in Chinese culture, Kuafu’s death has a strong tragical color and representative significance for sun chasing. Of course, people still have different views on Kuafu’s death and there are still many riddles. In the view of He Libin, “Kuafu chasing the sun” is not as insignificant as “a moth darting into a flame”. He firmly believes that there’s certain enlightment in the story. Therefore, he decided to go to the site for sun chasing, face the sun directly and press the pause button. According to Hegel, the realistic subject of primitive tragedy is deity. Deity here is not confined to deity under religious ideas, but divine ethic factors in the acts of some people in the world—i.e ideal(2). But there’s boundary between earth, ideal and paradise—chasing sun is not the same as being sun, which is the “boundary” that the God sets for idealism. The consequence for going beyond the boundary is death, which is the basic enlightenment from the myth of “Kuafu Chasing the Sun”.

In the eyes of He Libin, the purpose for painting is to solve questions of the human self, i.e. the ultimate question of “Where do I come from and where do I go to”. The person here is not a general concept, but an individual – or, he himself. In He’s eyes, we must go back to the wild field – the origin of spirit as there’s no modern civilization element there and people can cope with and solve many questions in urban life with a clearer mind from a distance(1). Out of this consideration, He Libin decided to step into the wild field alone to seek answer to the question in his mind.

Wild field ever was the barbarous land to exile the criminals. Later, it was made a classic image in modern literature. Both T. S Eliot’s lyric long poem “The Waste Land”, or Jame Joyce’s Ulysses are themed on the evil and declining of modern cities with the comparison of myth as the basic structure and the thinking of the fortune of the mankind as the basic topic. Why does mankind exist? What on earth shall be used as the value of mankind? It is rational or irrational, self explanation or belief? As modern industrial civilization and technology come from the soil of western rationalism, why there’s evil in the world? Why people are still sad, crying and bleeding? Shakespeare said: “The world is disordered and in chaos”. Such questions can’t be eradicated just like the flying dusts that Kuafu must face under the sunlight.

He Libin has entered a stretch of wild land overgrown with grass. It’s a place where no people govern for a long period of time, which is just the origin he expected. According to the Bible Genesis, the classic Judean work, the land when Adam & Eve stole taste the forbidden fruit is also a stretch of deserted land: “And no plant of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up” (“Bible” Genesis 2:5). Does this mean that before the occurrence of evil, this is a stretch of place of origin having no virtue and evil(3)?

He Libin entered the wild field – this stretch of place of origin, with first person perspective; he also gazed himself who was watching and contemplating in the picture as an outsider. I had such feelings after watching the “Wild Field” series for the first time.

When people retreat from various affairs, depart from the chaotic and busy world and go to an unpopulated land, the small-sized people no longer are animals having breath on the earth. When people face sun and land directly, they will re-obtain the thinking on eternity and truth. When people re-review their values, the physical body and will no longer are vulnerable to the temptation of the world. The heart of loners is as peaceful as stagnant water. The soul of loners is well settled. Loners just watch silently in the wild field. They just watch silently themselves, the world and the circumstances for people in the world. In this process, the mood and feeling of the loner will be well released to experience the unique realm of “integration between myself and the world. But, why shall an artist select to stay alone? I think the artist is a person who lives on the world but doesn’t belong to the world. He is the watcher of human soul(4).

According to the original intention of He Libin, the purpose for retreating from metropolis to the wild field for a period of time is to obtain the sense of distance from the world and inner peace, which I think is a field that foreseeable cognition may be obtained. Just as what Jesus spoke to the crowd about John The Baptist: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. (“Bible” Matthew 11:7-9). Here, the purpose for people to go to the field is to see and follow the prophet. At present when the Dao has retreated(大道隐没) and prophets are absent, silently watching and reflecting in the wild field may obtain a foreseeable cognition and critical stand. He Libin regarded himself as a skeptic and his skepticism directs at the rational utmost and progressive theory in the urbanization process after modern industrial revolution. This kind of doubt is really precious, just like what the German historian Jacob Christoph Burckhardt(5) said: “the false skepticism is prevailing in some period… but the realistic skepticism is already insufficient.” The recent “Extinguishing” series are also based on such a spiritual clue. The raging fire on the wild field comes from an accident? Disaster? Rage? Abnormal phenomenon? Or absurdism?

He Libin’s retreating to the wild field is just a turning around in his eyes. He began his artistic career on wild field theme 14 years ago and now turns around to face the wild field directly for those un-clarified questions. On the other hand, this kind of turnaround also reflects the reflection and peace needed today. This just comes from our affection to nature and ideal, as well as the call from the wild field.

In our culture, seclusion is a kind of perfect method to handle the contradiction between reality and ideal. But to He Libin, the purpose for secluding to the wild field is not for enriching himself as the mountain and water in the wild land is already endangered in the process of urbanization and industrial revolution and the leisurely and carefree mood can’t be obtained. Therefore, the turnaround doesn’t mean forever peripateticism, but one must face his spiritual land overgrown with grass. He said: “I have a strong impulse to release myself. Especially in the chaos world, secluding to the wild field and returning to the coolest and calmest state enable every one to face the reality with a sober idea.”

What is respectable in this group of “Wild Field” series, is that he was greatly challenged as he not only wants to seek ultimate answer in the wild field, but also to obtain breakthrough in skill, style and schema.

Nevertheless, the topic is wild field, not yard scenery, which is the realistic progress of Literati Painting. The paintings are profound reflections on the urbanization and flattering of contemporary art, as well as a vivid paradigm to scenic art.

Written in Liangyuan, Kunming on the night of March 18, 2008

Notes:
1), Seek the Source of Spirit in the Wild Field: the Talk between Guan Yuda, Luo Fei and He Libin”, 2008

2), Hegel “Aesthetics” Book 2, Volume III, Translated by Zhu Guangqian, The Commercial Press, 1991 version.

3), According to Bible Genesis, the mankind was exiled out of the paradise for the grandfather Adam & Eve’s stole taste the forbidden fruit and the mankind becomes declined since that time. This is the original sin in Christianity.

4), The author’s blog “Watch Silently in the Wild Field” written on December 31, 2006. http://luofeiart.blogbus.com/logs/14404545.Html

5), Jacob Christoph Burckhardt, (May 25, 1818 – August 8, 1897), was born in Basel, Switzerland and died at the birth place. Jacob is an outstanding historian and his key research field is the artistic history and humanism in Europe. His most famous work is Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italian: ein Versuch.