In 2015 the small and courageous Amos Anderson Art Museum in Helsinki held an exhibition about China’s Changing Landscape – Contemporary Ink. It showed how modern Chinese artists (yes, there is more to China than Ai Weiwei) reinterpret classical Chinese working methods and motifs. While the whole exhibition had a freshness and energy that made some Western artists look tired and repetitive, it was one single work there that took me by storm.
Now, as you meanwhile know I don’t use hyperbole, except when I do, or are prone to superlatives, except when I am. But my bag of English adjectives doesn’t quite contain enough words of praise for this still relatively young artist from Shanghai. I think I spent almost an hour just in front of his work – that is a personal record.
What I am talking about is a work of Yang Yongliang (b. 1980) and in that case “Phantom Hsimenting”. The work is, hm yes what should I call it, an animated digital creation, a video installation, a mixed media presentation, whatever. In fact I think Yang has created a new genre all of his own. The work shows a crossing in Taipei’s Ximending (Hsimenting) shopping district embedded into a digital version of a Chinese classic, Guo Xi’s “Early Spring” from the year 1072.
Yang received training as a painter in the classical ink manner, so he knows his old masters and uses or re-creates their works as compositional basis for drawings on the computer. But all the shapes and textures are then filled with snippets from photos and videos he takes. Mountain sides are thus formed e.g. by skyscrapers, waterfalls are animated. So it is difficult to say, whether he is a painter, digital artist, photographer or videographer or just all of it in one.
It surely helps appreciating his work if you love Classical Chinese paintings as I do. But even if one is not “into” Chinese classical art, one can admire the mastery, no – perfection, of execution. Yang has in my view found a remarkable way to visualize his sadness, or even outrage, over how Chinese identity, culture and nature have been trampled over by modernization and industrialization. But the message is equally valid for any Western viewer. We all have natural landscapes woven into our personal cultural identity fabric. One can observe at exhibitions of works from Pekka Halonen in Finland to Caspar David Friedrich in Germany how also landscape art is still for so many a matter of the heart.
Losing our affinity to, or respect for, landscapes is thus doing harm foremost to ourselves. Isn’t that what I try to do: restoring your love to landscape, one person and one picture at a time?
My recommendation for today: Yang Yongliang (you can also search him on YouTube). For my part I just bow in admiration for this young master. All said.