Wilderness, on Yang Hongwei's Recent Projects
Source:Artintern Author:Bing Yi Date: 2008-11-18 Size:
Yang Hongwei has established himself through his accomplished woodblock prints. His oeuvre in both woodblock printing and wood engraving never ceases to surprise the viewer. Technically they can be uncanny and breathtaking. The impressive energy and variety of mark-making obscures the portrayed subj

Yang Hongwei has established himself through his accomplished woodblock prints. His oeuvre in both woodblock printing and wood engraving never ceases to surprise the viewer. Technically they can be uncanny and breathtaking. The impressive energy and variety of mark-making obscures the portrayed subject matter or the barrier between the negative space and the positive space, and hence becomes the most effective expression of the artist.

His recent projects concentrate on new conceptual themes in the realm of image-making.

The "Wildness" series alludes to the ancient poetic tradition and landscape painting. Tang poet Meng Haoran wrote:

Wilderness opens as the sky presses the trees low

The river clears as the moon nearing the man

Likewise the Song painter Guo Xi argues that "landscape should have grand image and profound meaning, so that it can rest and wander." Alluding to these ancient thoughts, Yang's manifestation of Wilderness, however, is not about a certain site, a certain environment, or a certain location. His version contrasts with classical western landscape painting, for he is not portraying a specific view or capturing a constructed perspective. The Wilderness that Yang envisions is about the perpetual growth in nature, which is not to be conditioned by seasonal changes or moment in time. It is neither here or there. It is neither yours nor mine. His idea of Wildness is a conceptual revisit to the problem of history. In a world that is explicitly limited by its immediate reality, can we still find meaning in the classical metaphysics? His figures literally grow into the background of the landscape, as a product of painting, carving and print-making. Hence Yang's work raises the inevitable questions: As the art world is so invested in the tension between concept and visual representation, between words and image, can the visual language be the concept itself?

The second series featured by this exhibition is entitled "Characters," which resonates with Albert Camus's acclaimed novel The Plague published in 1947. The inspiration is the internet scandal of Edison Chen which became a massive controversy at the beginning of this year. In his novel, Camus presents a world of disorderly conduct, resulting from the chaos and ridicule of modern life. The characters in Camus' story have little sense of meaning or destination. Likewise, the "characters" in the Edison Chen scandal are equally affected by the epidemic called the Media. Like the Plague, the Media is uncontrollable, contagious, confused, and has little dependable moral ground. In the Edison Chen incident, the female stars invaded by the Media are no longer real people. They are treated as characters that the industry invented together with the public expectation. Their roles in the society are only an act that they will have to balance with love, lust and human relationships. The private photos become scandal because these photos betrayed public images of these "characters". Hence all of a sudden they are both human and ghostly as these photos were released and viewed. Yang Hongwei's interpretation ties the notions of the Plague and the Media into an intelligent probing of the problems embodied by this widely publicized social incident.

Wei Xing, the art critic and curator, argues that Yang Hongwei's language is the concept. His conjecture in fact has historic basis. Traditional woodblock printing has relied on a combination of lines and volumes, and a contrast between the dark and the light to compose the image. Yang Hongwei's carving has long transcended these customary practices. His lines camouflage definition and contour and hence form an estranged sense of dark power. As a result, the negative space in his images can be ever more present than the positive space. The most effective, that Yang manages to achieve, is a boundless transition between painting and woodblock printing. He can carve as he paints, as exemplified by The Bed with Needles, and The World of Wilderness; he can also paint as he carves, as exemplified by his wood-engraving, which essentially was meant to imitate the surface of oil painting. Ink, hence, becomes a versatile embodiment of Yang's virtuoso ability, as it can be a method to articulate color or a solution for printing multiple images.

The connection between printing and painting, between making a print and painting an image, are no longer as separated in Yang Hongwei's practice. They contextualize one another and hence deliver provocative re-examination of contemporary art. No less significant, is that the Chinese classicism combining "painting, carving, printing and coloring" now finds new applications in Yang Hongwei's idiosyncratic ideas and creation.

 

[Editor] Zhang Shuo

    Artintern