主题：尚扬 庞茂琨 张小涛 尹朝阳 吕山川 申亮 马文婷 刘芯涛
新作：薛松 曾梵志 古原 李俊峰 梁思衡 黎增辉 李乃蔚 印禅 刘一原
Issue No. 81(2013)
Theme: Social Landscape: The “Landscape Narration” in Chinese Contemporary Painting as well as its Cultural Concept Changes
Academic Host: He Guiyan
A.T: Shang Yang, Pang Maokun, Zhang Xiaotao ,Yin Chaoyang, Lv Shanchuan, Shen Liang, Ma Wenting, Liu Xintao
A.N: Xue Song, Zeng Fanzhi, Gu Yuan, Li Junfeng, Liang Siheng, Li Zhenghui, Li Naiwei, Yin Chan, Liu Yiyuan
The “Landscape Narration” in Chinese Contemporary Painting as well as its Cultural Concept Changes
学术主持：何桂彦 ACADEMIC HOST: HE GUIYAN
A very typical phenomenon since 2000 is that the contemporary art has deviated from different thinking trends. Unlike in 80s when the trends and phenomenon emerged one after another, in the new period, a linear development came into being. In these ten years, both post-colonial pop landscapes, urban landscape reflecting on post industrialization, the “bottom humanity” landscape mirroring the countryside and marginalized group as well as natural landscape could be observed. However, three kinds of “landscape” will be discussed in the following parts of the article: “landscape of social experience”, “spectacular landscape” and the landscape resorting to the traditional Chinese landscape painting for transformation.
As for the inner formation of the art concept, the “socialist experience” firstly appeared in 90s China Art: “China Experience” Exhibition in December, 1993, an exhibition held in Sichuan Province Art Museum. This exhibition is to discuss the trend and direction of Chinese contemporary painting since 1990. According to the curator Wang Lin’s idea, it’s to discover the possibility of the Chinese contemporary art being developing after “post-89 art”. Another aim of this exhibition is to point out the post-colonial crisis the Chinese art community faced with under the globalization. In 1993, through the Post-89 New Art from China exhibition and the 45th Venice Biennale, the Chinese contemporary art first met the post-colonial problem after entering the global context, and thus began to rethink its cultural identity. Now it is not difficult to find out that the “China Experience” Exhibition is in essence a criticism on the “Political Pops” and “Cynical Realism” and an exploration for a new art approach. Although the “Political Pops” and “Cynical Realism” were avant-garde in earlier 90s, it turns out that these two trends fell into the western post-colonial traps. Critic Li Xianting also commented that, when the Chinese contemporary art became the “spring roll in the international palate”,[In the speech addressed on the “1st Global Chinese Curators Conference” held in Taiwan in 1998, Li Xianting talked about the “Spring Roll” phenomenon of Chinese contemporary art against the international context. Refer to the article “Cultural Fragmentation and the Prescription of Cultural Identity”, published in “Yellow River” magazine, 1999, volume 2.] the rethinking of the cultural identity of Chinese contemporary art is an urgent must. More than a decade later, the critic Zou Yuejin proposed that the “socialist experience” in the contemporary art should be greatly underlined. However, from their reasoning, both “socialist experience” and “China experience” are in some degree the same, both concerning how Chinese contemporary art could be involved in the global art community as a local culture.
As for the works with the “socialist experience” clue, Zhang Xiaogang is no doubt the representative. The Big Family series after 1995 could be regarded as a very important turning point in his artistic practice. From the inner reflection to outward criticism, from the intimate private thinking to the public memory, the artist realize the outbreak of the academism and mid 80s modernism inclination. Since 2007, Zhang Xiaogang started reinforce the “socialist experience” and shifted his focus on the most ordinary living scenes since 50s and 60s. The artist tried to narrate the change of the times though a personal angel via micro mundane scenery and thus wake certain public memory of the Chinese living experience in certain period.
The works of Zhang Xiaogang and Liu Xiaodong could be regarded as the two poles of the “social landscape”. The former incepts the reality with individual and micro aspect of the personal memory while the later underscores the reflection of the significant events (migrants from the Three Gorges area) and phenomenon (Qinghai-Tibet Railway) with a grander narrative. But both share the traits of the typical “socialist experience” However, as for the “socialist experience thinking”, different artist’s aspect varies. Some are trying to represent the realism, some base their works on reflection of the past and some are more inclined to the native culture stand in the global context, etc.
Another phenomenon worth paying attention to is the “spectacular landscape”. The world “spectacle” originated from French sociologist Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle. Simply stated, Debord is inspired by Marx’s concept of the “fetishism of the commodity”. For him, the “spectacular” fetishism is the main trait of post industrialization, in which the relationship between people and things is reversely expressed in the way of the relationship between things. In the late stage of the spectacle, even the real things vanish; they are all replaced by the fictitious image and become an illusive landscape. The so called “spectacular landscape” underlined the “appropriation” and “parody” which usually could be seen in the post modern art, the fragmented and inconsistent narration is then advocated. The chaos and the disorder exist together within the aesthetic pursuit of the absurd through the combination of the real and the surreal.
Pang Maokun’s work could be seen as the representative of this of practice focusing on the “spectacular landscape”. As the artist stated, “I borrowed the definition of ‘cosplay’, and transplant different life to my visual stage. The realistic depicting manner renders magnified absurdity and makes the audience stop their fixed way of thinking and start coding and interpreting what I put on the canvas. I can’t say that I create a new painting concept, but I’m always trying on exploring new angle of observing the truth…I want to review our reality through this abnormal way, and reveal the truth that we have been consumed and deceived by the information and fashion around us”.[Image Experiences：An Interview of He Guiyan with Pang Maokun，March 2010，from art intern.net.] Similarly, Li Changlong’s works also share the characteristic of the “spectacular landscape”. The spectacular imagery come not only from the virtual stage, but also from the plots in different space and time: the ruins from the battle dissimilated natural scenes, isolated artificial rocks, fighting crowds and scary individual, and segmented urban life…When being showed together in the same picture, the multi-meaningful, vague and chaotic system along with the non-context brings the audience the feeling of absurd that difficult to describe. In Century Park, Jiang Huajun depicted a fictional park that doesn’t exist in real world. And the spectacular landscape consists of different animals. It emphasizes on the metaphor and symbols rather than just simply repeating the reality.
When we talk about the phenomenon of “spectacular landscape”, another question also needs to be solved, namely the change of creative approach of contemporary painting against the backdrop of “image era”. In late 90s, China society entered the “image era” constituted by media networks. In all honesty, the “image conversion” in the contemporary painting is the “photo conversion” or “photo translation”. That means the scenes of the “spectacular landscape” are mostly from the converted photos and other visual image, for example, He Wenjue processed the classical movie stills into painting, Lv Shanchuan re-encoded the significant events in the television in two dimensional works, Zhang Xiaotao used the image in the CCTV monitor, etc. In this kind of works, the artists are no longer representing the surface of the world; instead, they alter and appropriate the visual images to build up their fictitious real world. But this also gives rise to another question, namely the change of realism in the visual era. That means, though these photos and images come from the reality, but these are “second-handed” truth, then where is the “real” truth? We can’t know. Since we couldn’t know the truth of the reality, the meaning of the creating then lies upon how the artists choose different images. This kind of selection becomes meaningful from the very beginning.
The third type is the landscape which seeks transformation of form and style from traditions. Following “Pure Views: New Painting From China” planned by Lv Peng in 2010, the art circle has set off a wave of returning to tradition in just two years’ time. There is no doubt that returning to tradition naturally has its historical inevitability. Today, the reason why “traditions” have been able to arouse our general concern is mainly because with the nation as it rising power, China needs to examine anew the issues of the national cultural identity which a nation must possess and of its cultural subjectivity in the context of globalization. This will naturally arouse the consciousness of contemporary Chinese art in cultural subjectivity awareness. More importantly, it can tally with the nation’s cultural development strategy in the new historical period. However, in my opinion, this is just one aspect of the problem. The underlying reason for contemporary art to seek returning and converting to tradition also lies in that an inner crisis has occurred in the narrative discourse of art history which has been adhered by contemporary art since the 1990s. Facing with this crisis, on the one hand, we need to rethink and examine the development process of contemporary art in the past 30 years and the cultural and artistic aspirations of various periods; on the other hand, we need to walk out from the patterns of contemporary art which are dominated by Western standards and “postcolonial” taste and reconstruct evaluation criteria and value standards.
As a veteran critic, Lv Peng’s acumen and wisdom lie in that he is well aware that under a new historical condition, contemporary Chinese art needs to reshape its own cultural subjectivity. In other words, the contemporary art with the form and language of Western modern or postmodern art as prerequisites since the 1980s and the politically ironic contemporary art with cynicism and kitsch as aspirations in the 1990s have lost the cultural context and avant-garde which they depend on in today’s cultural situation. Therefore, contemporary art needs to refurbish its own cultural context and establish a new writing mode of art history.
However, we also should remain vigilant that in terms of the creation of contemporary Chinese paintings, “returning to tradition” is entirely possible to be transformed into a new type of art strategy. Its potential hazards are reflected as follows: the first is creating a group of “politically correct” works. The second is playing the card of “cultural nationalism”. Cultural nationalism has close ties with traditions. But once the “traditions” are developed into a cultural strategy under the background of globalization, this kind of cultural nationalism is not able to get rid of its own narrow-mindedness. The third is creating a group of works catering to the current art market by means of a variety of traditional symbols and schemata. In my opinion, the schemata and symbols of traditional Chinese paintings in artist’s works does not prove that they are based on traditions. Instead, I think that this is precisely a kind of “pseudo-tradition”, a pattern of behavior to vulgarize traditions…… In fact, most of the so-called “returning to tradition” works we see today are aesthetic but short of intrinsic cultural depth. Therefore, I prefer to look at the problem of “returning to tradition” form the perspective of cultural awareness and evolutionary trace development of contemporary art history. Only in this way, can we avoid the vulgarization and strategization of traditions. [Refer to He Guiyan’s Return to Tradition：Cultural Awareness or a Kind of Art Strategy?collected in “Pure Views: Contemporary Art Exhibition Seminar Album” chief editor，Lv Peng; ，297-304.]
In the camp of contemporary painting, a great deal of artists’ works are inspired by the traditional painting without being confined by the superficial schemata. In “The Dong Qichang Project” series, Shang Yang expresses an artist’s self-reflection and criticism on the relationship between men and nature in the post-industrial era by conceptualizing the nature. By means of the ritualization of vision, the artist completes the double construction of picture form and personal image system. Meanwhile, the leisurely, aloof and elegant atmosphere diffusing out of the picture endows the work not only the rich literary temperament, but also an underlying oriental cultural identity. In Wu Didi’s “Twenty-four Solar Terms” series, images undoubtedly become the significance-revealing “index”. Moreover, these images are not the reproduction of nature, but some conceptual images in traditional Chinese concepts. Wu Didi hopes to combine images with text information and makes them connect with traditional cultural concepts. This creative approach has somewhat implications of image archeology. Different from most of the artists who absorb nutrients from tradition, Shen Liang doesn’t confine his creation focus in the aesthetic field of literati painting. He prefers to seek the appropriate visual resources from his childhood memories and favors those lofty and great landscapes with grand narrative or revolutionary romanticism feelings. Similarly, Zhang Fazhi’s works also take landscapes of loftiness, romanticism and hero narrative as objects. But the difference is that Zhang Fazhi injects into his work a kind of deconstruction color because the pretentious, even somewhat exaggerated mood makes the landscape in the picture give out a breath of nihilism.
In short, in terms of returning to tradition and absorbing nutrients from tradition, artists should really dig into the sedimental connotation and spirit behind traditional schema, language and style rather than just stay in the visual level to simply embezzle the schemata and symbols of a certain period or a certain type, or process defamiliarized images. Meanwhile, for the creation phenomenon of “social landscape”, its emphasis still lies in that artists should keep a foothold in the current cultural position to re-examine the socialized natural history.
After the founding of new China, the “transformation of Chinese painting” began. In the past 60 years, we can see that a series of changes in form, style and art concept have taken place in “social landscape”: “Mao Zedong’s poetic landscape” in the 1960s, landscape as aesthetic modernism (“Anonymous Painting Group”)in the 1970s, “Local landscape” and landscape as aspiration of cultural modernism (creation in the “New Wave Art” period ) in the 1980s, post-industrial landscape, urban landscape and landscape of consumerization in the 1990s, and “landscape of socialist experience”, “spectacular landscape” and “landscape which seeks the transformation of form and style from tradition” in the 2000s, etc. In these phenomena, although “social landscape” still has been divided into narrow sense and broad sense, the boundary of “landscape” is constantly extending outward. Certainly, the evolution of “social landscape” in form, style and aesthetic taste still depends on the promotion of different cultural discourse. For example, the “aesthetic avant-garde” embodied by “Anonymous Painting Group” is exactly a rebellion against the “Cultural Revolution Mode”; the landscape paintings with aspiration of cultural modernism which appeared in “New Wave” period precisely stem from the anxiety on modernism and the yearning for transformation of native culture; and “landscape of socialist experience” is Chinese artists’ response to the context of globalization. It’s not difficult to find that in the field of contemporary Chinese art, “social landscape” has always been a phenomenon which can not be bypassed. It not only forms its own characterization system, but also has its own forward trajectory of rhetoric method and creation development, corresponding to cultural changes of the times.
The reason why “social landscape” has been able to become a unique phenomenon is also because it reflects a basic feature of contemporary Chinese painting: although artists attach importance to the modern form of expression, they are unable to raise the form to the height of modernism; although artists emphasize conceptualized aspirations, they are unable to develop them into a pure conceptual art. In other words, the creation of the “social landscape” can produce neither the landscape with pure aesthetic modernism as pursuit nor the conceptualized landscape. Instead, “landscape” is just the appearance and the sociological narrative is always hidden in it. This is also the biggest difference between the contemporary art in China and in Europe and America. After the mid-19th century, the development of modern Western art is based on the division between social modernism and aesthetic modernism. It is on this basis that the concept of “art for art’s sake” and the tradition of modernism built on “self-discipline of form”can appear in the West. However, contemporary Chinese painting relies on “the whole of modernity”. [“Total Modernity” is the summary of characters of Chinese modernity by critic Gao Minglu. According to his understanding, different from the “split modernity” of the West, the feature of the so called “total” is that this kind of cultural modernity is directly related with national ideology which cannot be independent from politics and economic system to exist. On the contrary, it must be involved into the cultural structure of the whole country to make sense. Refer to Gao Minglu’s article “Dislocation of Space and Time: Chinese Modernity and Avant-Garde”, from Artron.net.]So, only incorporated into the sociological narrative, can the artists’ works make sense.
Thus, another problem appears. Since it cannot separate from sociological narrative, it also means that contemporary Chinese painting is unable to get rid of the creation concept of realism. Reviewing the development of contemporary art, the backwash against the art mode of “Cultural Revolution” essentially originates from two contexts, the creations of critical realism and realism of naturalism. In the specific context of that time, they are also the most fundamental creation methodology of contemporary art. Although the wave of modernism outmatched critical realism during the “New Wave” period, the realism with “new generation” and “cynical” as representatives had the upper hand once again under the ideological trend of anti-“New Wave” grand narrative in the early 1990s. However, at that time, what the “cynical” brought about is a variant of realism. Since the 1990s, the creation concept of realism has not been weakened. Instead, it has been reinforced in the context of globalization because only “socialist experience” can fully embody its own cultural identity. It is from this perspective that for Chinese artists, the “landscape” as visual object and artistic expression is always an important channel to highlight subject value, and the significance of landscape lies exactly in its revealing of how in the past half century, Chinese artists understand nature and society, and express cultural symptoms and individual cultural aspirations of a specific historical period through “landscape”.