Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Views from China: Yang Yongliang and the Modern Metropolis

Did You Know? :: Views from China: Yang Yongliang and the Modern Metropolis

Yang Yongliang, Viridescence, Stock World, 2009. Inkjet print on paper, 16 x47 inches. Courtesy of the artist and LIMN Gallery, San Francisco.

Main Text
Upon first glance, Yang Yongliang’s photographs appear as dreamlike Chinese paintings, not unlike the traditional Chinese art he studied extensively as a student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Upon closer inspection, however, one finds that his works are cleverly crafted from montaged digital photographs of China’s bustling cities—and then manipulated into haunting imaginary landscapes that critique China’s rapidly developing built environment.

Born in 1980, Yongliang is a resident of Shanghai, China, who depends heavily on a camera and a laptop computer to make his art. Using only these tools—and a knowledge of traditional Chinese painting—Yongliang invents urban scenes that depict skyscrapers under construction, freeway systems, electrical power plants, and bustling urban corridors. His compositions reveal the impacts of technological progress that China has undergone over past decades.

Between the years 1966 and 1976, under the leadership of Mao Zedong, the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, the nation of China experienced a period of political instability. During this time, artistic production came under strict government supervision. Yongliang is among a generation of young artists who came of age after the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and therefore embraces a level of artistic freedom that is not common among earlier generations of Chinese artists. This is Yongliang’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States.

Traditional Chinese Scroll Painting

  • Handscrolls provide a continuous horizontal surface of silk or paper on which to develop a composition. Though often displayed in their entirety in museums, traditional handscrolls are meant to be viewed by only one or two people and unrolled from right to left two or three feet at a time. In this way, the viewer may "travel" through a story or landscape that conveys a progression of time. Separate papers containing titles or colophons may also be attached and the complete scroll mounted with silk boards. A wooden dowel is attached on the left end of the scroll and a semicircular rod at the other end. After viewing, the scroll is rolled up around the dowel from left to right and secured with ties.

  • Hanging scrolls provide the artist with a vertical format for an image. The painting surface of paper or silk is mounted with decorative silk borders. A wooden rod is attached at the bottom to give the scroll the necessary weight to hang smoothly on a wall, as well as a means of being rolled up for storage. A thin wooden strip with a cord is attached at the top for hanging the scroll. The composition of a hanging scroll usually places the foreground at the bottom of the scroll with the middle and far distances moving upward toward the top of the scroll. Hanging scrolls are displayed only for short periods of time and are then rolled up from bottom to top and secured with ties for storage.
  • Scholar Officials Chinese painters and calligraphers were often members of an educated class of men. Their formal education in classic Chinese literary, historical, and philosophical texts, as well as in the history of Chinese calligraphy, painting and music, was considered essential for a cultured man. Their knowledge was highly respected in Chinese society. An educated man's responsibility was to use his knowledge to serve his ruler, the emperor, and to improve society. By the beginning of the Song dynasty (960–1279), scholars or educated men were generally required to pass a series of difficult exams to serve in the government.
  • Seals are impressions made from carved stones or other media pressed into a thick, red, oil-based paste. They are affixed to a document, painting, or calligraphy to certify authorship or ownership. Since artists and writers typically used several names throughout their lives, they had several seals inscribed with their given names, artistic names, the names of their studios, and, possibly, an identifying literary expression. Usually rectangular or round, seal designs are cut into materials such as jade, ivory, and soapstone. If the characters are incised, they will appear white in the impression; if carved in relief, they will appear red. The script often used for seals derives from an ancient script, known as "seal script," used during the late Zhou (ca. 1050–256 B.C.) and Qin (221–206 B.C.) dynasties.
  • Yin and Yang constitute an ancient, fundamental concept that describes the underlying nature and order within the universe. The interaction between these two polar, yet complementary, opposites can be seen in nature: the darkness of night leads to the brightness of day. Yin is associated with darkness, softness, water, passivity, the moon, the feminine, and the earth. Yang is associated with brightness, activity, the masculine, the sun, fire, and the sky.