Displacement and Penetration: the Artwork Exhibition of Xiang- Guohua
Three years ago, Xiang Guohua attended an artwork exhibition We co-planned by Geng Jipeng and others, which was happed to be one of his most memorable exhibition experience during his collegiate years. Now, both Xiang and Geng become someone in their own field. Working in Mianyang, the hometown of Xiang Guohua, Geng Jipeng is the planner of Xiang’s artwork exhibition this time. The second cooperation of the two is a witness of their growing maturity.
There are three major types of works in Xiang Guohua’s artwork exhibition: one is landscape paintings made by synthetical materials with branded holes on a piece of rice paper (Chinese Xuan Zhi or Xuan paper, usually refers to paper made from parts of the rice plant, like rice straw or rice flour. However, the term is also loosely used for paper made from or containing other plants, like hemp, bamboo or mulberry) or fur paper, or the pierced one painted on an acrylic board, which is recognized as his early style; the other is displaced free-style paintings painted by oil paints on a canvas; still another is the combination of the above-mentioned two styles-a displaced conversion of the first one. It took the artist three years- almost the same length of his collegiate studies to practice theses attempts. It was also the time when certain creative works made by students of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute were in great demand in the market. Many of them signed contracts with companies as long as they entered university; whereas Xiang Guohua still insisted on his own artistic exploration under such circumstances. In this regard, his attempts are difficult of attainment, hence worthy of esteem.
A common characteristic among the three types of Xiang Guohua’s works can be generalized as “the Deconstruction of Formalism” or “the Formalism Deconstruction”-because no matter branded holes, pierced work or displaced conversion are no more than the destruction or the dissolution of the existing structure; while a common piece of deconstructionist’ work is usually done by the means of juxtaposition (displacement) of irrelevant symbols, a multi-symbol deconstruction of semantic meaning, or a divorce from the existing context to become an isolated symbol. In short, it is through the deconstruction or reconstruction of the context of the signifier to achieve those of the signified. However, Xiang Guohua’s destruction or deconstruction of the existing structure is to the form, not to the context and what it brings is a special visual effect, instead of an alteration of the context. The visual effect of the branded holes is to thrust a sense of uncertainty to the image; while that of displacement is to create a tension of replacement or an effect of visual illusion. These two special visual effects are the destruction to the forms of Chinese paintings, which result in the destruction or the distortion of the “imagery”. The evident nature of “the Deconstruction of Formalism” in Xiang Guohua’s works is by no means accidental, as being indicated in the titles of his works. For instance, a Blind Eye is an absolute reference to the visual characteristics of the works; whereas Where the Imagery Comes from refers to the destruction of the “imagery” resulted from the formal destruction rather than the alteration of the context.
As to the obvious “Chinese Characteristics” of the works, I think it is not necessary to make any special value judgment because it is only a matter of free choice of the artist. As far as I am concerned, the significance of the “Chinese Characteristics” to China’s contemporary art is no more than “making the past serve the present”; while that of the “Western Characteristics” is to “make the foreign things serve China”. Both of them are aiming at “letting a hundred flowers blossom”, with a sticking point of “weeding through the old to bring forth the new”. Generally speaking, Xiang Guohua’s art is a re-creation of the old based on the “Chinese Characteristics” of the works; while the displacement in his works is obviously originated from the western formal constitution.
Painting and Concepts
-An Analysis on Xiang Guohua’s Works
Painting and concepts has long been a topic worthy of discussion in the contemporary art world. The proponents figure out that “concept” should be one of the most important factors in judging whether a contemporary art work has any value. They further suggest that easel paintings should absorb the essence of conceptual art, emphasizing aesthetic interest and their sapiential expressions in a cultural sense. While the opponents argue that the unilateral emphasis on concepts is bound to result in the deprivation of painting itself in an ontological sense, which will finally lead to a replacement of philosophy for painting. Two core issues cannot be avoided in the discussion of panting and concepts no matter either side one stands along: one is how to estimate the value of contemporary paintings; the other is how to appraise the validity and legitimacy of the conceptual expressions in a painting work by employing certain criteria.
Actually, in the developmental pedigree of modern western art, the emergence of Cubism and subsequent Dadaism in the early 20th century had already put conceptual expressions into the domain of painting, striving to transcend the paradigm of classical paintings in regard of formal expressions and meaning existence; especially in the early 1960s, Andy Warhol and Lichtenstein-the leading figures of Pop Art directly introduced new painting concepts to transcend the stereotypes of classical paintings. In The Artworld, a famous article published in the Journal of Philosophy in 1964, Danto not only made an in-depth analysis on the generated logic of the transformation of an existed object to an artwork, but also suggested the relationships between artistic institutions and artworks. In another words, Danto’s discussion of artistic concept has directly catalyzed a new topic, that is, what kind of art can transcend the tradition of modernism formed in the early 20th century and impel the new development of painting in an anti-elite and self-disciplinary manner. It is not difficult to find that the real contribution of Pop Art or Minimalism in the same period does not lie in the creation of a new form, but rather in its expansion of the extension of painting concepts, including both the creative concepts of an artist and the concepts of what is an artwork. As what Danto said, Andy Warhol's “Brillo Box” is mere a box if put among boxes; however, the box becomes an artwork because it is exhibited in an art gallery. Similarly, it is subject to the impact of this artistic concept that we categorize the minimalist sculptures of Andrew and Jude as artworks.
However, such artists who combine concepts and painting together are marginalized in China’s contemporary art world. On the one hand, there is not an accomplished artistic pedigree as what the western modernism has in China; therefore, the simplex rebellion to form (i.e. various styles of modernism in the New Wave period) and the conceptual expressions of painting (i.e. the wash and ink paintings of Gu Wenda in the mid 1980s) cannot enter into the mainstream domain of creative painting. On the other hand, the transformation-from “cultural criticism” in 1980s to “social criticism”-of contemporary art in the early 1990s has made realistic cultural pertinence a sole criterion to assess whether a work is a contemporary artwork or not. The problem of the former is that China’s contemporary art cannot achieve a real height in regard of cultural sense and spiritual expressions if it has not experienced the seedtime of modernism; while the latter’s is that the interpretation of Vulgar Sociologism will overrun if the attention to the superficial reality is overemphasized-and that the so-called attention to the reality is nothing but the continuous reduplication of the symbols of reality. Hence, when China’s contemporary art is trapped into an unprecedented vortex of times derogated by “vulgarization”, “image copy” and “image production”, more attentions should be paid to those artists who are faithful to art, insisting on artistic experiment yet unknown to the public. As far as I am concerned, Xiang Guohua is such an artist who never ceases to explore the possibilities between painting and concepts and is not in fear of changes.
An incidental discovery provided a chance for Xiang Guohua to create creative painting by branding holes with burning incense through a piece of rice paper (Chinese Xuan Zhi or Xuan paper, usually refers to paper made from parts of the rice plant, like rice straw or rice flour. However, the term is also loosely used for paper made from or containing other plants, like hemp, bamboo or mulberry). The lighted incense could easily burn through the rice paper and holes made up of different sizes emerged in succession. If a fuscous underlay was added to the backside of the holes, the blank space was to protrude from the paper, which would generate unlimited interest in the picture. After that, he began to do further experiment in the hope that he could covert those branded blank into an effective language. He started with branding handwritings. Because if he mounted the whole piece of rice paper into a picture, it would be provided with the form of traditional calligraphy and simultaneously fill those blank space with aesthetic value. Then, he began to brand the landscape paintings of The Four Wangs (The Four Wangs were four Chinese landscape painters in the 17th century, all called Wang. They were Wang Shimin (王时敏) (1592-1680), Wang Jian (王鉴) (1598-1677), Wang Hui (王翚) (1632-1717) and Wang Yuanqi (王原祁) (1642-1715). They were members of the group known as the Six Masters of the early Qing period.) and Bada Shanren (Chinese: 八大山人; Wade-Giles: Pata Shanjen; literally "Mountain Man of the Eight Greats", ca. 1626-1705) , born as Zhu Da (朱耷), was a Chinese painter of shuimohua and a calligrapher. He was of noble lineage, being a descendant of the Ming dynasty prince Zhu Quan)-and also some fans. There is no doubt that Xiang Guohua is to encounter lots of criticisms if we judge his works from a traditional perspective. However, his works are full of wisdom and are concept-bearing under a cultural background of multi- criteria. His attempt is a breakthrough in methodology. The blank burnt by the burning incense has replaced the traditional Chinese painting techniques and has thoroughly subverted their spirituality and cultural identity. Although the display of the works still preserves the external mounting features of the traditional Chinese landscape paintings, they are essentially different from the former in their visual presence.
Obviously, this concept is orientated from the notion of “deconstruction”, with a new vision and a cultural attitude bound up with suspicion to contemplate the traditional art as its validity. Of course, the opponents will question whether such works can be regarded as contemporary paintings or not. In fact, such a suspicious attitude is in essence the same as the questions why Duchamp's "Urinal" is called Fountain and why Andy Warhol's “Brillo Box” becomes an artwork. Well then, how can we resolve and answer this question? The key is that artists’ creative “concepts” have become the criteria to judge whether a work is an artwork or not, instead of the old ones, such as color, style of drawing, theme, manner and significance. In another words, Xiang Guohua’s works contain at least two concepts: one is the formalists’ tradition derived from the pedigree of modernism. However, his exploration of form is not the same as the originality and the elitism of modernism; quite on the contrary, his creation of form is carried out in a playful manner. Nevertheless, it is precisely the apparently “playful” mood that follows the track of deconstruction and then shifts to a deeper concept which is to deconstruct the confine of form built up by the traditional Chinese painting system made up of brush pen and ink. However, in this context, the “concepts” enwrapped in Xiang Guohua’s works must conflict with another criterion in contemporary art, that is, art should aim at the current cultural reality. This is because that, after all, “concepts” cannot directly reflect social problems. Therefore, the topic is bound to return to “how to estimate the value of contemporary paintings”, which is mentioned in the very beginning of this article.
It is not difficult to find that three ways of artistic creation coexisted in the tradition of western modern art during the past one hundred years: the first was the traditional realism, including the “radical realism” proposed by intellectuals and middle class in capitalist societies, the “neutral natural realism” and the “critical realism” in socialist countries. The second was modernism, which was to secure the elitism and the critical nature of art through the construction of self-discipline, for instance, various styles of constructivism, nonobjectivism and so on; and the third was pop art, aiming at artistic institutions and artistic conceptions, for example, the early “Dadaism” represented by Duchamp, “Black Mountain College” in the era of John Cage and the “New Dadaism” advocated by Andy Warhol. Actually, among the three, realism held a minimal impact; while the mainstreams were modernism and pop art. However, apart from the superficial understanding of modernism as formalism and the subjective interpretation of pop art as “destructive”, these two forms of art are in essence the critical reception of reality, with a stronger force and broader subjects than those of realism. In another words, realism is not the only carrier of criticism of modern western art towards reality. The objects also include the criticism towards accomplished concepts, the developmental border of art history, the legitimacy and validity of artistic institutions, which are all targets of pop art and experimental art.
Therefore, we should not only appreciate such “conceptual” paintings, as Xiang Guohua’s, which are experimental in nature; but also courage and attach a great importance to the active and valid attempts based on the experience of those young artists themselves. However, in a problematic contemporary art world obscured by “vulgar” images, “conceptual” paintings are predestined to be confronted with a period of all-time low. It is not hard to find that a great deal of non-artistic factors have made the developmental direction of China’s contemporary art become onefolded; and the alleged cultural criticism towards contemporary society is nothing but the stunt of “symbol copy” and “batch production”. Similarly, the “humanitarian care” paraded by artists has also been trapped into the springe of some critics’ interpretation of Vulgar Sociologism. Hence, the overheated issues of the “transformation of sociology” and the “transformation of images” in the critics’ circle are still waiting to be discussed-for what really needed in China’s contemporary art world is an avant-garde art which is experimental in nature, instead of those symbolized, picturized and industrialized easel paintings. Although the reaffirmation of the reconstruction of the tradition of “modernism” and “pop art” has already outmoded, the attempts to immit new concepts into the domain of painting and the quest for new possibilities can still be regarded as an effective approach.
Of course, “concept” is still a rather abstract word and the question is what kind of concept is valid. As critic Wang Lin said, “The so-called concept is not necessarily a notion, an idea or something can be described by parole; rather, it refers to men’s thinking level and thinking ability-the wisdom which is featured by contemplation and Buddhist allegory. Wisdom is a unique experience, an unexpectedly illumined insight; an apocalypse appears out of nowhere and a meditation penetrating the superficial reality.” If implemented in an artist’s creation, it refers to his or her creative method; while the validity and the rationality of the method are based on whether it is relied on art history and artistic theories by employing bold innovation as its instrument and seeking the new possibilities of painting art and proposing new cultural or artistic issues as its objective.
In 2006, Xiang Guohua created a new series of creative paintings named Where the Imagery Comes from. Different from his early work Finity and Infinity·Beyond Classics, this group of works were made through the agents of oil paint and were not molded by the method of branding holes in rice paper by using burning incense. However, there exists an inherent continuity within the artist’s concepts. No matter his early branding works of The Four Wangs’ landscape paintings or his later oil painting copies of Bada’s ink and wash paintings (Ink and wash painting is an East Asian type of brush painting also known as wash painting or by its Japanese name sumi-e (墨绘). Ink and wash painting is also known by its Chinese name shui-mo hua (水墨画, Japanese suibokuga, Korean sumukhwa). Only black ink- the same as used in East Asian calligraphy-is used, in various concentrations) of still-life, Xiang Guohua always put the form of the work or the style of painting in the first place concerning the expressions of the work. Certainly, he is not satisfied with the mere copy and imitation of the form itself; rather, Xiang Guohua tries to touch the aesthetic habits behind the form. As Gombrich’s analysis on the schema of art that the significance of the public schemas or the classics in the art history of an era not only lies in their provision of the objects of entertainment to the public; but more importantly, they concentrate certain artistic interest, cultural tendency and aesthetic pursuit of a specific era. The reason why Xiang Guohua has tried various means to complete intermediary transformation of these schemas is because, on the one hand, he hopes to explain the conceptual expressions of the traditional painting forms through his very form; on the other hand, the transformation itself contains certain suspicion and negative “deconstruction”. For example, in his works like Where the Imagery Comes from, Xiang Guohua employs the concepts of “displacement” and “rupture” in the formal transformation of Bada’s and Qi Baishi’s works, which directly result in the abandonment of the expressional principles and aesthetic pursuits of traditional Chinese ink and wash paintings, such as “having an idea before starting painting”, “going into ecstasies as long as finding the right mood of painting” and “the Chinese brush should be in a controlled manner” and the discomforts of the readers’ first view to these classic works. It is in virtue of such senses of displacement and discomforts that Xiang Guohua subtly makes his readers consciously reexamine and introspect on their secular habits of appreciation.
Of course, another problem we are confronted with is how to assess the “conceptual” expressions in Xiang Guohua’s works accurately; in other words, it concerns whether this “conceptuality” has any contemporary value and what is its “legitimacy”. If appraised by the criterion that contemporary art should reflect the current social reality, Xiang Guohua’s works surely contains no value because they have nothing to do with the reality. However, if we change our perspective via the reference to modernists’ formal construction and conceptual expressions, we will find out the positive sides of such experimental paintings aiming at the image transformation of art history. At least, it provides us with a cultural attitude towards the traditional schema, even if it is either critical or negative; leastways, it extends the subjects of contemporary painting and its domain of formal expressions through the train of modernism and by employing the postmodernists’ thread of deconstruction to realize the intermediary transformation. Accordingly, the most important thing is that Xiang Guohua has his own “methodology” and he goes on with his experiment in an “individual” yet active way, which helps him to avoid the springe of “Vulgar Sociologism”. Despite the demerits-such as the potential dangers of empty formal copy-existed in Xiang Guohua’s works, we still have faith in his persistent thinking and attempts to transcend the superficial form and believe he will finally touch the cultural cores behind it.
The reason why such emphasis is put on the combination of painting and concepts is because the pluralistic pattern can be built up only when contemporary paintings are able to escape from the strange phenomenon of “symbol production” and “symbol copy”; while the return of the experimental nature of art and the reconstruction of the value modality of art can be realized only when the notion of “concept” is adopted to the domain of painting. Likewise, only through the respect for artists’ individual expressions can contemporary painting avoids to ingratiate itself with the market-and thus keep its ability to cultural criticism. It is also exactly the intrinsic motivation for me to criticize the paintings of “new-vulgarization” style in order to reconstruct the pedigree of “pop art”. In this regard, the significance of Xiang Guohua’s woks becomes evident.
at Central Academy of Fine Arts
June 27, 2007
《史记·儒林列传》：“学者由是颇能言《尚书》，诸山东大师无不涉《尚书》以教矣。”《百喻经·治秃喻》：“时彼秃人往至其所，语其医言：‘唯愿大师为我治之。’” 清代陈康祺《郎潜纪闻》卷八：“二百馀年来，讲堂茂草、弦诵阒如。词章俭陋之夫，挟科举速化之术，俨然坐皋比、称大师矣。” 胡适 《＜国学季刊＞发刊宣言》：“近年来，古学的大师渐渐死完了，新起的学者还不曾有什么大成绩表现出来。”大师成为在某一领域有突出成就、大家公认并且德高望重的人或学者、专家的尊称。
油画的写实历史源源流长，当色彩超越形体，造型让位于摄影后，绘画性的追求就显的至关重要。《意在何处》系列的命名，选取了一个暧昧的 “诗意词组 ”，这或许更能够体味观者的猎奇与幻想。黄公望、倪瓒、八大山人或齐白石等人的或巨作，或局部，或写意小品，或扇面镜心，被或横或竖的分成几组长条状的部分，这些长条按着一定的方向隔一错位，重新组合的形象成为《意在何处》的画面。折尺状的线面造型，似打破的水月镜花。大师们已经远去，作品是他们和我们心灵对话的载体。我们在忙碌中，越来越不善于倾听，交流更成为奢望。错位的经典展示给我们是别样的视觉欣赏，这错位的图象以“构成性”颠覆了我们的视觉元素，更提供一个文化审视的契机。透过作品审视作者，我们习惯了匆忙，文化的影子就在时间的瞬息游走了。
A Displaced Master
— An Interpretation of Xiang Guohua’s Works
Xiang Guohua’s works instantly remind me of a word — “Master”. Who is the master? Of course, it’s not him, as the present Xiang Guohua doesn’t qualify for the title, further impossible in today’s strict seniority system. The prototype of his work’s model, or rather, of the work’s form, is rooted in “masters’” classical works. That’s why the word “master” entered my mind.
The concept of “master” appears mostly in Buddhism, which is called “Sastr” in Sanskrit, namely great model or mentor. Sakyamuni is honored as “the master of tridhatu”. (tridhatu, a concept in Buddhism, including Sexual Desire, Substance Desire and Insubstantial State.) “Master” is also one of the ten grand titles to Buddha—“Teacher of Gods and Humans”. In the eighty-second chapter of the Discourse on the Stages of Concentration Practice, it says that “The man good at instructing his disciples to tell right from wrong can be called master.” And then it became a courtesy title for a Buddhist monk. That’s why monks with great virtue are honored as masters. However, it’s not sure when the title “master” was mostly used to address a respectful Buddist monk posthumously. Nowadays, few alive monks qualify the title master, but maybe, the great master Xing Yun (1927-, a great disseminator of Buddhism in China ) counts for one. In Book of Jin. On Art. About Kumarajiva (a great translator of Buddhism in China), it says, “Yao Xing once told the master Kumarajiva ‘You are intelligent and comprehensive, superior by no one.” And also in Ji Lei Bian by Zhuang Zhuo (named Ji Yu, a great medical official in Song Dynasty in China. Ji Lei Bian is a collection of his notes about the history and customs of Song dynasty.), there is “To avoid offense, the government addresses the Buddhist monks as masters.” Records can also be found in literary works, such as in Wang Shipu’s the West Chamber (Wang Shipu, a great tragedy dramatist in Yuan Dynasty), in the second act of Book One, “The master asked details of his experiences, and then Zhang Sheng answered accordingly”. The title “master” appears more frequently in the present Kungfu novels, therefore, the recollection of the title “master” owes much to those novelists, like Jin Yong ( a contemporary Chinese popular novelist writing about stories of Chinese Kungfu).
As a matter of fact, the Chinese characters “Da Shi (master)” were originally an official title. In Records of Rites in Zhou Dynasty (a Confucian classic, written in Warring States time), it says that the Calendrical Calculations Bureau was in charge of two officials titled “Da Shi” and “Xia Dafu” and other four officials titled “Xiao Shi” and “Shang Shi”, ( the “Da Shi” 大师, “Xia Dafu” 下大夫, “Xiao Shi” 小师and “Shang Shi” 上士 are all official titles in ancient China), who were responsible for training the musicians. And in Rituals of Zhou. Calendrical Calculations Bureau. Da Shi, it notes, “ Da Shi is in charge of the musical temperaments Liu Lv Liu Tong( in Chinese: 六律六同. The Chinese ancient music is based on 12 temperaments, that is, 12 long-and-short bamboo pitch-pipes used to test the pitch. The odd-number bamboos are named ‘Liu Lv’(六律) while the even as ‘Liu Lv’(六吕), together as Liu Lv Liu Tong.) , in order to create sounds of nature. In Xunzi. on Governing(Xunzi, 475 BC - 221 BC, a great ideologist and litterateur in Warring States time), it’s like this, “To prohibit ungraceful music and to cater for the time in order to preserve the purity of musical exquisite from profanity, that is the Da Shi’s responsibility.” Yang Liang has a note to it, “Da Shi, the chief official musicians. “Da” here should be pronounced as “Tai”(太).” It’s recorded in Han Book. Shihuo Records, “In early spring, visitors about to go back, somebody was shaking the large wood-bell along the pathway, inviting them to compose graceful poetry to present to Da Shi, thus to make themselves known by the emperor if their poems are as sweet as Da Shi’s music.” “Da” is the same with “Tai”. According to Rituals of Shooting, the Analects of Confucius, and Records of the Grand Historian, “Xiao Shi” was also called “Shao Shi”(少师). The musicians under the charge of Da Shi included Gu Meng(blind people) and Shi Liao(people with eyesight), 300 respectively; masters of bell and Sheng (a kind of musical instrument in China) who taught performance of kinds of musical instruments, and Mao Ren and Di Loushi ( both are official titles for musicians in Zhou dynasty) who were responsible for teaching dance, etc. “Master” was also interpreted as one of San Gong (three most respectful officials with highest status in ancient China. Gong, a respectful address to people with high status in ancient China). In the Book of Poetry. Xiao Ya. Jie Nanshan, it writes, “The governing of state Zhou owes much to the assistance of the master named Yin.” It’s also said in Zuozhuan Biography (Commentary to the annals by Zuo Qiuming in the Spring and Autumn period) that Zhou Gong and Da Gong had ever contributed a lot to the Zhou state, especially in assistance to the emperor Cheng Wang. Thus the emperor Cheng Wang, out of appreciation, vouchsafed them the characters “Harmony of Generations” which was hung in their mutual mansion, under the supervision of Da Shi.”
In Records of the Grand Historian. Biographies of Scholars, it says, “Scholars are then quite familiar with the Shangshu (or Book, a classic of Chinese historical literature), and thus it is referred in teaching activity by all the great scholars.” The same is said in A Hundred Metaphors. On Cure of Baldness (the book got its name as it comprises one hundred metaphors, through which it narrates the elite of Buddhism.), “One day a bold-headed person comes to the doctor’s house and says, ‘Only if you great could cure my boldness.’” It’s also said in the eighth chapter of Chen Qikang’s Records of Lang Qian Ji ( a record of the systems, politics, economy and literature of Qing dynasty), “In the over two hundred years, the schoolrooms desolated and reciting no longer heard, those superficial rough fellows, taking advantage of the time, are unashamed of taking the seats of great masters.” Hu Shi had it in the Manifesto to the Issue of Chinese Traditional Culture Quarterly, “In recent years, the masters of traditional culture have gradually passed away, however, the new generation hasn’t got prominent achievement yet.” From above, we come to a conclusion that master is a courtesy address to a person, a scholar or an expert, who, with great virtue, are outstanding in some field and highly respected by public.
The author is not inclined to write a critical scholium of ancient literature by tracing the origin of the word “Da Shi” (master). The word “master”, and its correlative words in other languages, was at one time used to refer to great renaissant artists. Perhaps because of the westernized artistic education, we are accustomed to seek for artistic giants in the history of western arts. Those great artists, such as da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raffaello, Tiziano, and so on, are so familiar in the art circles not due to the well-done work in education of the history of western art, but the result of those training books published before the exam, such as Master Lead You to Sketch, through which the concept of western “master” is firmly branded on the artistic examinees’ heart.
While Xu Beihong, Liu Haisu and Lin Fengmian are honored as “masters”, many great artists in Chinese art history haven’t been given any title yet, which may be attributed to the stagnation of Chinese painting. Though the market can not decide the development of art, its effect should not be neglected. Whether artists Li Cheng, Fan Kuan, Guo Xi in Northern Song Dynasty, or Liu Nian, Li Tang, Ma Yuan and Xia Gui in the Southern Song Dynasty, or even Huang Gongwang, Wu Zhen, Ni Zan and Wang Meng in Yuan Dynasty, no matter up to Gu Kaizhi or down to Wu Changshuo, addressed collectively or individually, they are all “masters” without any title. So to what extent can the works in the museum attract us? Probably the cost-free open of museums provide us a chance of walking into them
Culture was involved into trouble by the political downfall. Once the nation humiliated, its ancient civilization of thousands of years was exposed to greed eyes. Chinese history should be regarded from several aspects. Xiang Guohua’s works are not Chinese traditional paintings according to his two kinds of material, one is the typical western art form, that is, oil painting, and the other is a kind of synthetical, either to brand a series of holes with burning incense through a piece of leatherette, or to make it on acrylic Plexiglas. The latter two materials appeared in his works successively. Though the idea of creating with incense and paper are rather ingenious, but contrasted with Wang Tiande, Xiang Guohua is still a junior. However, when he chose paper and incense as creating material, he knew nothing about Wang Tiande. It was not until in his college time when his works were oppugned did he consciously pay attention to Wang’s works. The similarity in their choice of material once led to his inclining to give up the original creating mode. He had ever turned to new ways, but with friends’ suggestion he kept his previous one. I do not want to talk too much about the material, though, when the artistic language loses its charm of originality, the materials, by its diversity, have attracted the artists’ eyeballs. However, material, with some absolute value in existence, can not stand without content even if it’s merely a catering to aesthetic psychology. The appearance of new material in art is certainly accompanied by a corresponding creating mode, so burning holes with lighting incense, separate from traditional writing and painting, becomes a new fashion. The originality of material, however, is not to seek for patent, in which case the material market of oil painting and traditional Chinese painting would be monopolized by businessmen.
An artist is outstood by the unitary information of his works. Xiang Guohua’s Finity and Infinity·Beyond Classics (a series) has completed the transformation of images through incense and paper. The unique expression of “structure” has subverted pen and ink, meanwhile, by interpreting the smoothly running lines as the track of dots which are not hollow holes without trace, it breaks through finity and seeks for infinity transcending time and space. It’s a self-conscious action to cast away pen and ink, for the transformation of images can only be achieved by subversion of classics based on the reorganization of basic language. The ink marks at the back of the burned images in Wang Tiande’s Digital Scenery (a series) expose its close relation to water-ink, while Xiang Guohua’s is a natural combination free from shackles. Assimilation takes place between development and discarding and inheritance. In Chinese aesthetics where a distinct system hasn’t formed yet, artistic concept is endued with an illusionary interpretation. So a loanword usually expresses a feeling ambiguously that everybody can catch. So words sometimes have to play a role of a kind at the presence of art. It’s finite as it, on a certain scale, by trivial burned brandings, composes a work similar to some famous works, but in fact, broking through the shackle of space and time, it has revealed the essence of the fragmented history. The continuity of burning marks in Wang’s works differs greatly from Xiang’s trace of hollow dots. It’s a biochemical relation between presence and absence, but here the absence of marks is closer to essence.
The series of Turning a Blind Eye, putting away the burned marks on paper, choose acrylic Plexiglas as material, whose transparent character bases the visual displacement on the circumstance. Sometimes shadow serves as a necessary foil, because the independence of form calls for returning of material. It seems to be only an improvement in material from paper to acrylic Plexiglas, but actually, it’s a historical accomplishment of the inheritance of images and subversion of materials. Acrylic Plexiglas, as a very modern material, has nothing to do with Chinese tradition, but it is through its transparent character and illusionary visual images of the dots that a returning of spirit is achieved on these materials. What these masters’ works have revealed is a transparent hollowness in a dim background, the same with their present condition. Compared with gaudiness, simplicity seems not so attractive. However, Xiang Guohua’s works, to seek a spiritual returning and inheritance, have to select a spiritual absence, which is his unavoidable destiny.
Oil painting has quite a long narrative history. When tinct surpassing structure, sculpt overtaken by photography, the pursuit in painting becomes of the utmost importance. The series of Where the Imagery Comes from are named with an ambiguous poetic phrase, for which, perhaps, are more capable of catering for appreciators’ curiosity and illusion. The whole work or a part, enjoyable sketches or frame-fan-paintings and framed pictures of great artists, such as Huang Gongwang, Ni Zan, Bada Shanren (Chinese: 八大山人; Wade-Giles: Pata Shanjen; literally "Mountain Man of the Eight Greats", ca. 1626-1705), Qi Baishi, and so on, are cut horizontally or erectly into strips, which are then staggered one after another in the same direction. That’s the picture image of Where the Imagery Comes from, in which the folding-ruler-shaped linear and plane mode looks quite illusionary. Masters have passed away, leaving their works as the stage for our communication. Nevertheless, we are always on the jump to give an attentive ear to them, communication being impossible. Special visual enjoy is brought out by such display of classic displacement, for the displaced images have subverted our visual elements by its “structure”, besides, they provide a chance for cultural review. To comprehend the artist by his works, we are then accustomed to be in a hurry, thus the culture wanders away in a twinkle.
What Xiang Guohua seeks is a transformation of form, a new image in aesthetics, like the returning of displaced images onto paper, and subversion of the previous memories via the trace of dots. The new form corresponds better to the Buddhism ideas about Chinese painting which, though appearing out of reach these days, are, in fact, our permanent pursuit. In the series of Marriage. Bride’s Home Visit, the trace and displacement of dots are combined to present a critical cultural view. Marriage here is to marry off a daughter, and Bride’s Home Visit means the bridegroom should escort the bride home on the third day after their wedding. A new era is coming as an outcome of cultural graft, no matter the western culture to Chinese or vice versa. However, the other side of effect is alienation. The phenomena of appropriation or replacement have their own historical root. Xiang Guohua’s creating mode is, not a blind choice, but a necessary result of reviewing tradition in such a multicultural and leader-absent circumstance. His works explain that the artists of Eightiers not only concern about the illusionary life, but are also pursuing an in-depth thinking and seeking for a cultural sense of belonging.
No matter in the oil painting or the synthetical material, it is the choice of content that links Xiang Guohua to the “masters”. The Chinese ancient classic paintings are presented by another kind of material, by which both the pen and ink in Chinese painting and basic linear mode are subverted. The work of directly transforming images of traditional Chinese paintings with canvas and other materials emerged before Xiang Guohua, and will continue after him, but the key is the transformation of basic elements. If it’s a direct transformation, the significance would be in the ratio of two kinds of materials, but it’s not the truth in Xiang’s works for he chooses to present a new visual form which differs essentially from traditional landscape, just like he says, “Any creation in linguistic form is a response to the need of artists, of appreciators and of the time. An experimental work is a creation to traditional painting. The experimental has subverted the unalterable principle of presenting cont, ent through form by calligraphy and pen and ink.” The images Wang Tiande chooses are self-sufficient. In his works, what the imagination of subject presents is an intrinsic pursuit, while that of Xiang Guohua’s is self-conscious, for his reference of object shows the concern about external links. It’s the same as He Guiyan said in his Painting and Concepts-An Analysis on Xiang Guohua’s Works, “If we change our perspective via the reference to modernists’ formal construction and conceptual expressions, we will find out the positive sides of such experimental paintings aiming at the image transformation of art history.” But it’s not the limit. Just from the perspective that contemporary art should reflect on the present social reality, we can find that Xiang Guohua’s works are by no means senseless, but quite on the contrary, they have touched the basic problems of Chinese painting whether the criteria of evaluating paintings should be unitary. In turn, what painting itself confronted at the moment are realistic problems the contemporary art should focus on. In fact, what the social problems emphasize is whether the evaluating system of relation is fair. Since it’s an evaluation in a relative precondition, the process of amending seems to be more important. Xiang Guohua chooses masters’ classics as his reference in creation, so that his transformation of form is actually an establishment of new perceptive standards based on the subversion of classics.
Displaced images present a displaced master in our impression, or maybe, what displaced is our own review perspective.
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