"All Have Changed Except the Scene" - Heterogeneous Culture and Paradigm Shift
The history of human society has witnessed countless precedents of the variation and evolution of a host culture triggered by the introduction of heterogeneous culture. For instance, when the aesthetic style is too delicate and dispirited due to the rigidity of a host culture, its conversion to vigorous style manifesting the power of life is likely to be caused by the introduction of exotic or “inferior” culture. Or say when the primitive purposes and motives are shadowed by the multifarious branches that spring up in the development of a culture
The history of human society has witnessed countless precedents of the variation and evolution of a host culture triggered by the introduction of heterogeneous culture. For instance, when the aesthetic style is too delicate and dispirited due to the rigidity of a host culture, its conversion to vigorous style manifesting the power of life is likely to be caused by the introduction of exotic or “inferior” culture. Or say when the primitive purposes and motives are shadowed by the multifarious branches that spring up in the development of a culture, its proximity to “heterogeneous culture”, in fact, is an approach to its origin. In other cases, when bottleneck effect occurs in the development of the host culture, metamorphosis and transformation may be achieved in the name of utilizing heterogeneous culture, that is, “quenching one’s sorrow by other’s wine cup”. It is not uncommon to see these instances in our political history or cultural history.
Gan Yifei, a Chinese American artist and scholar, organized several art activities in Xichang, the capital of the Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture located in southwest Sichuan province. These art activities—“Spark”, “Tracing the Origin” and “Mind’s Eye Open (Looking back at Daliang Mountains)”—seem to be conform to the three levels of heterogeneous culture’s infusion in a host culture. The former two activities have been elaborated in my other articles, so that it is unnecessary to go into details here, but the latest one needs to be analyzed from the perspective as outlined above.
The last stage of 1970s and early 1980s saw the emergence of “nostalgia”, with a faint touch of melancholy, in the literary and art works of China. “Nostalgia” is regarded as the brand of the culture in that period. In different creative themes, it is labeled as “Scar Art”, “Rustic Art”, “Roots Seeking Art” and so on. “Nostalgia” is a term employed by western scholars in depicting a reminiscent mood in modern environment. As Svcmala Boym stated in her The Future of Nostalgia, “Nostalgia is the memory of a hometown which ‘no longer exists’, or ‘has never existed’. Nostalgia means one feels lost and homeless, but it is also overbrimmed with reverie and romantic feelings”. “Taking an initial look, nostalgia suggests the yearning for a certain place; in fact, it implies the longing for different times, or a slower rhythm in childhood or dream.” Obviously, as a sociology term coined in modern western industrial civilization, nostalgia is bound with its social background, namely, a sense of anxiety brought by the environment of modern western industrial civilization. At the early 1980s, the popularity of Andrew Wyeth’s works in Chinese art circle exactly manifested people’s sense of anxiety and alienation in this social environment. However, it is conspicuous that the social environment of modern industrial civilization did not exist then in China. Then, what can be the social context in which the Chinese “nostalgia” emerged?
First, most of the promising young artists sprung up in that era were “Zhi Qing” (educated youths). The rustic sceneries in their works are in fact the lives they once experienced in rural areas. Thus, we can detect that their “nostalgia” is actually their cherished memories of their youth that has gone forever. Meanwhile, the spontaneous overflow of human feelings is suppressed in their memories. As a result, by “quenching one’s sorrow by other’s wine cup”, these artists applied “nostalgia” in giving a vent to the private feelings that were once suppressed. The so-called nostalgic “Roots Seeking Art” is actually their mourning for the sacrificed youth.
In art circle, the notable works of these young artists mainly adopted subject matters from Tibet, Ta-liang mountains, Daba mountains and so on. If the territorial heterogenous culture manifested in these works tends to arouse the spectator’s nostalgic feelings, and the art works were by chance bound to these regions, then, “Mind’s Eye Open (Looking back at Ta-liang Mountains)” is a cultural event consciously devised.
This is, however, an other case of “quenching one’s sorrow by other’s wine cup”. It is true that Ta-liang Mountains is still the same, but the artists who initiated the tide of “nostalgia” have changed—in the way they express their feelings, in the questions they meditate on, in the environment they live in. Then, what is the purpose of their participating and bringing along the artists who are younger or much younger than themselves in this activity? Without any doubt, their purpose is not searching their memory of youth, but a kind of performance art when it is viewed against the background of the present Chinese contemporary art environment. Through this experience, the artists actually ponder the questions confronted by Chinese contemporary art.
In this sense, “Mind’s Eye Open (Looking back at Ta-liang Mountains)” is more like a pause button or a minim rest. By going sketching in the places that once endowed us with our memory of youth, we stop for a moment to recall our past, to think in the so-called vanity fair of the contemporary art. Marketization, ossification, symbolization are the questions that have haunted Chinese contemporary art for a long time. Being seduced by fame and wealth, very few people can seriously reflect on these questions. As a result, we anchor our hope on this activity. When you look around, when you indulge in drinking, when you are alone beneath a silent night sky, you, an active artist of contemporary art, may meditate with inner peace. At least, now we are home, be it a home once existed or never existed at all.
December 5, 2013