墨客先生： 在北京一别，甚是想念。眨眼2008年就结束了，又是新的一年。人生与艺术的意义，也许就是在于思考这种瞬间即逝的幸福与无奈。 2008年北京奥运会，对你和我都可谓幸福。你获得了最高奖金奖，而我获得了银奖，并由国家领导人颁奖和接见，也得到国际奥组委的肯定与赞扬，值得庆贺。其间几百位外国艺术家在坦博艺苑聚会交流，多么值得回味和记忆。 奥运会作为外来文化，给了北京以机会和挑战。我们一起由中国网通发行的纪念奥运会特种电话卡，也算是一个应运而生的有特殊意义的艺术和收藏品。尤其是我们一起在中央新闻电影记录制片厂的镜头下，合作中西一体的《天地人》，也算是尝试，但更重要的是中外艺术精神和文化理念的碰撞与融合。 可惜我们呆在一起的时光很少，不然可以更多地切磋交流，获取更多的启发与成果。那次我们的对话，主要是针对你的色彩观，而实际上，在色彩与形式的背后，有着更多的思想内涵需要灌注与展现。这些内容的东西，也就是艺术的思想性所在，如果说艺术有益于对人生以重新观照的话，或许就源于此。艺术的价值，能摆脱普通商品的范畴，升华为理性和灵性的境界，也是出于这种形而上的思考。 你的绘画在中国市场已经得到很好的评价，收藏者日多和价格高涨就是证明。我想，这不仅仅说明中国收藏家的开阔胸襟，也说明中国文化的包容性，当然更说明你的努力与真诚打动了读者，拥有了知音。知音的欣赏，是建立于艺术视觉审美欣赏的基础之上，又不仅仅如此，而是心鉴的有助于生活品位的真实提高，而不是看重经济利益的简单的东西。我一直很重视作品的思想性，也是着眼于艺术最后要对人的生活起作用，假如不是这样，那我们也就沦为普通的画家，而无望于攀登世界美术史的高峰。 我发现你对宗教思想很感兴趣，为人坦诚，同时把很多热情倾注于作品上，我很欣赏。宗教的意义，是形而上的东西，是超脱于商品、品牌甚至标准之上的。我们都不是简单的职业艺术家，我们有着超强的艺术意欲，不是么？如何更好地在艺术形式里体现，值得一起探讨。有机会时坐下来细聊。 春天很快就要到来，希望你抽时间再来北京，我们一起喝茶，更方便地交流。 祝快乐，好运。
Transcription of the panel discussion
Text compilation and editing by the Editorial Department
Chinese National Academy of Arts DR. Cui ZimoDecember 30, 2008Mr. Myo Khin, I miss you so much after seeing you off in Beijing. 2008 has ended in twinkle and here comes the new year. Maybe the significance of life and art just lies in thinking about the momentary happiness and unwillingness. 2008 Beijing Olympic Games mean happiness for both of us. In OLYMPIC Fine Arts 2008, you won the gold medal and I won the silver one. Both of us have been awarded and interviewed by the national leaders, and gotten the affirmation and praise from IOC. These all deserve celebration. And during that time, hundreds of foreign artists got together and communicated with each other in Tempo Art Center. Its indeed worth aftertaste and memory. As the foreign culture, Olympic Games have brought great chance and challenge to Beijing. The Olympic commemoration phone cards of our paintings issued by CNC are some kind of art and collection which arise at the historic moment. Particularly, under the compound lens of Central Studio of News Reels Production, we co-created the painting Heaven, Earth and Human with both East and West style. And the more important is the collision and integration of Chinese-Foreign art spirit and culture philosophy. The unwillingness is that the time we spent together was too limited. Otherwise, we could learn and communicate more, and gain more inspiration and achievements. Our last discussion was focusing on your concept of colors. In fact, there are more ideological connotations need to be infused and expressed behind colors and forms. These connotations are just the artistic idea. If we say that art is good for reconsidering life, maybe it originates from these connotations. And from the superorganic aspect, the value of art makes the artistic works break away from the category of commodities and sublimed to the realm of rationalism and spiritualism. Your paintings have received great evaluation in Chinese market. And the increase of collectors and price can prove it very well. I think it not only displays the broad mind of Chinese collectors and the comprehension of Chinese culture, but also shows that your efforts and sincereness have touched the audience and seized your bosom friends. The appreciation from bosom friends is based on the visual appreciation of art. Moreover, its the appreciation from heart, which will benefit the real improvement of life taste, not the economic interests. I take much count of the ideology of works, that is, art should take effect in peoples life finally. If not, we will become the common painters and never have chance to scale the height of world fine art history. I found that you are quite interested in religious ideology, honest to everything and putting much passion into your works. I admire that indeed. The significance of religion is superoranic and goes beyond the merchandise and the brand, even the standard. We are not the simple professional artists. We do have preeminentartistic desire, dont we? Its worth of discussion that how to embody our artistic desire in the form of art. We could discuss it in details, when we have chance. Spring is coming. And I hope that you could spare some time to be in Beijing once more, and then we can drink tea together to communicate more conveniently. Best wishes and good luck!
Material provided by Da Xiang Art Space
Yours sincere Cui Zimo
Date: July 31, 2010
Location: Da Xiang Art Space
Curator: Zhang Yu
Moderator: Li Yung-Jen, art critic and artist
Panelists: Chung Ching Hsin, director of Da Xiang Art Space; Zhang Yu, curator; Xu Liang, Editor in chief of World Art; Zeng Suliang, art critic and artist; Liao Renyi, art critic and curator; Xiao Qunrui, art critic.
Li Yung-Jen (Li):
The topic, Back to the Essence (also end the practice of Ink and Wash painting, in Chinese) sounds a little sensational. How do we end the practice of Ink and Wash painting? We simply need to focus our discussion on Ink and Wash as a medium. Please be aware, Ink and Wash painting and Ink and Wash seem one same topic, but they are not. There is a distinction between the two by definition. In order to avoid the pitfalls, Zhang Yu outlined the themes of the panel discussion today.
A. What is Ink and Wash?
B. What is Ink and Wash painting?
C. On a basic level, what are the qualities of Ink and Wash, and what are the particular qualities of the medium.
D. Does each artist need to create his or her own method?
E. Is it Ink and Wash art, or contemporary art?
The art of Ink and Wash is usually not considered as contemporary art. Although it is a traditional medium, it does produce different meanings with different approaches and uses. Before we start the discussion, lets ask the curator, Zhang Yu, to explain the meaning behind this exhibition.
Zhang Yu (Zhang):
First of all, thanks to all art critics, artists, and honorable guests who agree to be the panelists. For me personally, this exhibition represents the curve of my understanding of the use of Ink and Wash over the past thirty years. I have always had a strong vision for the media of Ink and Wash. The main question I ask is, how do we bring the art of Ink and Wash into the dimension of contemporary art language? I propose to end the practice of Ink and Wash painting is not an end goal. We all know that no one will be able to end the practice of it, but it is my notion. To move from Ink and Wash painting to Ink and Wash itself is the result of my continual exploration and contemplation. I wish to share and discuss this understanding of mine with art critics, artists and the general audience in Taiwan. There is certain difficulty in putting up a show like this. It aims towards the scholarship, and requires eloquent selection of work as examples. And the emphasis on scholarship might create a distance from the audience. There are very few organizations that are willing to have a show like this. Therefore, I truly appreciate Da Xiang Art Space. We all have our own understanding of Ink and Wash, and we are free to use it the way we want. This is a discussion of no conclusion. To propose to Back to the Essence, I wish to present it as a notion, and encourage a new approach to talk and think about Ink and Wash.
Why am I talking about the curve from Ink and Wash painting to Ink and Wash? This is a question left by history. Our ancestors invented ink as a medium but only developed the art genre of Ink and Wash painting among all possibilities of Ink and Wash. Where are the rest of them? The medium of ink is not the same as oil painting of the West. Oil painting refers to a medium, but also an art genre. Then, how about Ink and Wash? Ink is a medium, and Ink and Wash does not have to be a genre. Only Ink and Wash painting, which uses ink as its medium, is a genre.
Our forbearers invented Ink and Wash painting and last for over a thousand years. As a result, the particular quality of this medium has always been neglected. Today, I raise the question of the particularity of ink so that we can explore this long overlooked question together. In China, you will find contemporary Ink and Wash exhibitions are all about Ink and Wash paintings, so are the conferences. All the critics and artists, when talking about Ink and Wash, also only refer to Ink and Wash painting. We have argued over Ink and Wash for decades, but never have we gone pass the confines of Ink and Wash painting. The possibility of Ink and Wash is always being ignored. This is a great pity. Perhaps this is an opportunity our ancestors left us, to developing new uses of Ink and Wash. From the outset of this exhibition, I have clarified the relation between Ink and Wash and Ink and Wash painting, dissolved the conventions of Ink and Wash painting, and emphasized the unique and particular culture of ink as a medium.
In addition, the exhibition offers a thread in the development from Ink and Wash painting to Ink and Wash. I studied the general thread imbedded in the body of work from literati paintings to those by artists after the May 4th Movement. After literati painting reaches its heyday, Ink and Wash painting has been developing under the thread of merging the East and West whenever they wish to advance. It has continued into today. Of all the artists I have studied, none of them could escape this. The result of these endeavors is the loss of the spirit of their own culture. In fact, there is much disadvantage to solve the issue of Ink and Wash with Western art methods.
In the literature section of this exhibition, you will see that I include the work by the highly influential artist, Xu Beihong. He studied art in France, where he learned to paint in Western styles. Then he combined Western painting styles with Chinese traditional Ink and Wash techniques completing the revolution of Ink and Wash painting. As the history continues, I highlight the work by Liu Guosong, a Taiwanese artist from the 1960s. He is one of the several artists who revolutionized traditional Ink and Wash painting. He brought Western rubbing and collage techniques into his work and revolutionized the use of zhongfeng yongbi, brushwork done by holding the brush perpendicular to paper. In the late 1970s, Wu Guangzhong, who also studied art in France in his early career, employed the method of Western landscape drawing to his ink landscape on rice paper. He used almost no traditional techniques of Ink and Wash, and later professed that ink and brush methods had been reduced to zero. In the 1980s, there was Gu Wenda, whose love to traditional ink art much excelled the three aforementioned artists. He fully utilized the language and techniques of traditional Ink painting while he audaciously absorbed Surrealism from the West and combined it with Ink and Wash painting. From there, he also started to pay attention to the presentation of his work. From Xu, to Liu and Wu, Ink and Wash paintings have remained two dimensional. It was not until Gu that two dimension was turned three. But all of them chose to paint in a hybrid style that merges the East and West. After the 1990s, a very small number of artists started to consider the possibilities of Ink and Wash. Artists Wang Chuans Ink, Spots broke away from the flatness, and stopped talking about the concept of Ink and Wash painting to move on to the discussion of space.
In 1991, I started to work with fingerprints. On the surface, it seemed two dimensional. In reality, it was a revolution that completely abandoned the doctrines of the use of brush strokes and ink. It expressed its concept through the action. The traces on paper represent the exploration of de-conceptualization of Ink and Wash painting. This work was not recognized by the academia back then. They saw it as an abstract Ink and Wash painting and nothing special. Our art education basically models after that of the West. It was therefore very natural for them to make that judgment coming from the Western angle. Under these circumstances, I set my fingerprints series aside. I strategically extracted a dot from a fingerprint and enlarge it, and worked on it as a painting in general. Our critics are usually better prepared and well composed with the larger concept of paintingthey know of the Western realism, surrealism, expressionism, etc. I took a dot from a finger print and expanded it, turning it into a painting, called Divine Light. Now, the critics had an easier time making a judgmentthey see a circle, a pattern; there is light, movement, and special texture from the brush strokes. I created a pattern that completely departs from the tradition.
In 1996, Wang Tiande made his Ink Banquet, an installation using ink on paper to wrap up tables, chairs, and dining utensils. In 1997, Qiu Zhijie made Transcribing the Essay of One Thousand Characters One Thousand Times. In this work, both the medium and the skills are traditional, but the concept behind is the key. He copied the Essay of One Thousand Characters on a piece of paper for a thousand times, until the paper is filled with black ink. The process carries out the concept of the work.
All works exhibited here are examples of exploration on ink and its culture. There is Love Letter by Xiao Lu, which has several acrylic boxes with her handwritten love letter inside. Our understanding of Ink and Wash today is not as narrow as in the past. The work trespasses ink the medium but remains within the conceptual domain of Ink and Wash. This is an installation made with rice paper and Chinese medicinal herbs. Then there is Liu Xuguangs video art, Point of Contact, which uses high resolution video camera to document the movement of an ink-soaked brush dropping perpendicularly on the rice paper and the ink stains it left. The concept is conveyed in only a couple of seconds. In Zhou Bings installation, Lost Writing, several hundreds of rice paper sheets are laid out on the floor with almost a hundred brushes hanging over the paper. A conversation between the brushes and the rice paper is forged. Liang Quan uses collage to create a painting without employing the techniques of painting. Li Huashengs work, Line Checks, employs traditional Ink and Wash techniques and tests the limits of painting with a brush held perpendicular to the paper. He draws hair-thin lines with the particular way of holding a brush and creates grids. I think I will end here. Now lets hear from the other panelists.
Thanks to Zhang for the clear outline of the exhibition and its structure. We can see his new approaches of the traditional medium which is completely different from the one we used to know. In this exhibition, we can find artists who, nevertheless use of the traditional medium, ink, create works that are greatly disparate from those in the past both in terms of concepts and techniques. This helps us understand the development of the use of Ink and Wash in the contemporary world.
Xiao Qunrui (Xiao):
Thanks to the moderator and curator. Hi, everyone. I am personally very interested in this topic. But this is also a topic that has been discussed over and over in art history of Taiwan. Since the 1950s, when contemporary art first made its presence, and also the time right before Liu Guosongs work that you just mentioned was made, people naturally began to raise questions about Ink and Wash and started to talk about it. This was an inevitable topic.
You used Xu Beihongs work as an example, but he is certainly not the most representative of his time. Lin Fengmian is perhaps a much stronger representative figure. When Lin studied classic realistic painting in France, he constantly asked himself if he should be an ink painter or a contemporary artist. When making an oil painting, he questioned himself with each stroke he droppedwhether he was still Chinese or had he become French. The medium of art had confined the art language and thinking. How could he think outside of the medium? Would he be eliminated from the history of Chinese Ink and Wash painting? The same questions forced many artists to return to ink paintings after a detour to Oil Painting. I have published a short article about this. Of course, such phenomenon like this was not always resulted from intellectual activity. Sometimes, it is caused by the environment. The time they emphasized Ink and Wash painting was approximately during the war with China. Some people say the war had stimulated nationalism and therefore Ink and Wash became emphasized. In my opinion, it was not that sophisticated. I think it was because of the shortage of oil painting supplies during the war. The artists were forced to move from the coast cities to inner city Chungking. At that time, many of the supplies for Oil Painting could not reach Chungking. As a result, these artists once trained in Western Oil Painting now had to seek new possibilities. This is very helpful for reconsidering Chinese art. In the late 1950s in Taiwan, oil paint was available. Should the artists choose to do Oil or Ink and Wash paintings? This was a challenge. Should one paint contemporary Chinese paintings, or Chinese contemporary paintings? These two terms caused huge debates at that time. If we turn to China today, Ink and Wash continues to develop. Currently, there is Zhang Yu, whose work strives to break through the limits between the two and three dimensions. I want to ask if we are talking about Ink and Wash or ink the medium. It must be clarified!
Its definitely Ink and Wash. Ink and Wash specifically refers to the brush, the ink, and the paper. It is both a culture and a medium. It particularly emphasizes its cultural substance. There is some essential distinction between the two. Ink does not possess any culture substance. It is a physical substance. I am not trying to make a simple comparison between Ink and Wash painting and Ink and Wash. I am trying to stress the fact that the history has only looked at Ink and Wash as Ink and Wash painting and ignored the meaning and possibilities of expression with Ink and Wash as a medium. Why dont we seriously look into the expressive potentials of Ink and Wash? Can paper convey something? What about ink? Can water as a medium within Ink and Wash express something? It seems to be a question about challenge.
When we talk about ink, it includes the element of water. When facing a question, artists sometimes will generate strategies. In Li Zhongshengs class, he taught his students to discard the thinking norms of Ink and Wash, and return to ink itself. His student Xiao Qin always used ink instead of Ink and Wash as the medium in the caption for his early works. This was because of his influence from his teacher. Since Ink and Wash represents a culture, it can be transcended into a kind of spirit. Can you deny the spirit of Ink and Wash in Zhu Dequns work now that he uses oil paint to convey Ink and Wash? He sees Ink and Wash as a kind of spirit and culture. The points are the expression of artistic conception, the interaction between the artist and ink, and the preservation of the spirit. Whether you want to call him an Ink and Wash painter is no longer important to him. Chu Ge emphasizes the concept of Ink and Wash as a lifestyle for his entire life. He does not deal with Ink and Wash as classic art. He brings it into life, and creates a lifestyle of Ink and Wash. He leisurely makes and drinks tea. All these are tightly related to the Chinese way of thinking and living. Personally, I am extremely intrigued and have a lot of care for this topic. You ask, What is Ink and Wash? This is a big question. Who says Ink and Wash belongs to Chinese? Ink can be Western too. I am not in denial, but this is a real complex question. Material and culture need to be in constant conversation with each other and to enhance each other. Chinese have used brush for a long time, starting from the time of its inventor, Mong Tien. But at first, it is still just about black ink. One day, an ink drop unexpectedly falls on paper and expands. This is not something people can control, but they do appreciate it. Speaking of the perfect union of Heaven and human, when did this come about? It was the during the Wei, Jin and North-South dynasties. The social ideology experienced a complete crash and something new was bornthe aesthetics. It was a revolution on Ink and Wash painting. The term revolution was first used by Chu Ge from Taiwan. The Chinese aesthetics is established as people shape their understanding of Ink and Wash. It embodies a kind of free and uncontrollable spirit that can be found in the relation between human and nature, which is a negotiation between the tangible and intangible. As art historians, we first examine whether ones choice of material is representative. In the 1960s, a Taiwanese artist presented a whole roll of rice paper. There was nothing on it until the very end of the roll where a few ink spots were revealed. Is this conceptual or performance art? In the early 1960s, artists in Taiwan had done something like this. Today, we have Zhang Yu who seeks to expand the thinking on Ink and Wash. I hope that artists in Taiwan can also enter another new developmental stage of Ink and Wash. Different Experiences should be shared across the Taiwan Straits. We are happy that Da Xiang Art Space organizes a discussion on this issue. Normally, it should be dealt with by art museums. It is a great pity that they do not pursue conceptual discussions like this. Of course, it is okay now that we make it happen here at Da Xiang. Things pertaining to culture assume their existence and meaning as soon as they take place. Somewhere in art history, this panel discussion at Da Xiang will find its place.
Those revered early painters Mr. Xiao mentioned all used painting theories to explore Ink and Wash painting, but their focus was not on Ink and Wash as a medium. Mr. Xiao also mentioned Lin Fengmian, and the work by Li Zhong Shengs student: Li Yuanjia. As I choose artworks for this exhibition, I look at the thread within the development of Ink and Wash art in the entire China. Why do I choose Xu Beihong and not Lin Fengmian? Xus position at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing enabled his far reaching influence. Our education today continues to be shadowed by it. On the contrary, Lin has never created such impact. This is not about who is better. My selection is made based on the impact that the artist has. Say, some underrepresented artists might be very good, but they are not influential, which is another subject itself. Focusing on influence helps us to see things more clearly as we study and debate over a topic. Artists and works that are lesser known are difficult as representative examples. This is how I choose the work.
You said Xus influence is large, but not necessarily positive, and Lin, in your opinion, is not as influential. This brings us to the question of art history. Who writes the Art History? I can discover and make a statement for it to become part of the Art History. Say, many people do not know about Li Yuanjia. That is okay. Once an art historian discusses him, he now enters the discourse of the Art History.
(Laugh.) Pardon me, but Mr. Xiao has gone off topic. The focus of our discussion today is not about who is good and who is not, neither is it about discovering for the Art History. I choose Xu because some of the topics he contemplates are representative. Both Xu and Lin are examples of employing a hybrid style merging the East and West. They both suit the Western system of art.
Xu Liang (Xu):
It is my honor to attend this panel discussion. This is my first time in Taiwan. I am very impressed with the elegant culture here. My immediate response is Zhang Yu has suggested a vision for this discussion and its focus, that is, there are endless possibilities in Ink and Wash painting. The four treasures of studyink, inkstone, brush, and papercan be turned into various works. Going back to today, the development of contemporary art provides us with endless potentials. It is impossible to end the practice of Ink and Wash painting, but Zhang suggests a new possibility. I think the discussion itself is very meaningful and will define Asian culture. It is very important. Ink and Wash art has been a focal point of Chinese culture. As far as I know, such sharp question had not been raised before. If at all possible, Taiwan and Mainland China should collaborate to expand the discussion and exhibition, and advance the exploration.
Liao Renyi (Liao):
I have to be humble here in dealing with this subject of Ink and Wash. I am not an artist, nor Ink and Wash is my expertise. Contemporary Ink and Wash art is facing a great difficulty. It might not be a crisis, but Ink and Wash is at a stage where reflection is urgently needed. No one dares to conclude that Ink and Wash has met its end, but it is in the margin. I am interested in the title Yu proposed, which uses the concept of ending a practice. I would like to bring up some propositions along the same lines. Among the various notions across the Straits, which ideas can be connected in our history of reflecting on Ink and Wash? They will represent the future we seek in Ink and Wash. We are here at Da Xiang Art Space. It is surprising that an art gallery can provide a discussion like this. The concept of ending a practice had been used in Taiwan. If we keep using to use it, it will only numb the audience and becomes a concept of sensation! So I really do not want the topic of our discussion today just end up a sensational concept. At the end of eighteenth century, Hegel suggested an end of art. But doesnt art still exist today? His theory is means to allow us to see that art is transcending itself, and is heading towards a better tomorrow, towards new possibilities. This is meaningful to the human world. American contemporary art historian, Arthur Danto, proposes to end art history in response to the status quo of a rising contemporary art. Art history is forming a system of narrative, and a kind of art history is developed under such system. Contemporary art is now leaving this system. With the concept of ending art history, Danto really tries to declare a breakage from certain stiff concepts in art history, and to find a new route for ourselves. This reminds me of Roland Barhess The Death of the Author. Many people believe that he really thinks the author is not important. The only thing that matters is the reader. He was active in a time when critique was the mainstream methodology. He saw that artist biography had superseded the artwork; he therefore proposed this notion so that people would shift the focus to the human side. This was an expansion and extension, rather than a real announcement of a death of someone.
Now, from the theories of these three theorists and philosophers, I return to Yus proposition of ending the practice of Ink and Wash painting. It can mean the powerful idea of putting Ink and Wash painting to death, but can also be less cruel. It can be a catalyst for us to discover a new, vibrant, and more creative foundation. Such thinking may help and diversify the development of Ink and Wash. Perhaps, it can lead a dying Ink and Wash painting to a richer form of Ink and Wash art. And we are not asking to really kill Ink and Wash painting. Are my two interpretations anyhow close to your idea, Yu? I think to end a practice suggests an action of transcendence, so that what is ended can be seen, or that a future of better vision and creativity can be found.
Zhang Yu started working with Ink and Wash since seventeen, eighteen years old. In his early career, he had done some Ink and Wash paintings that are reminiscent of traditional literati painting. He has always had strong attachment to Ink and Wash painting. I believe that his understanding of the materiality and physicality of ink is accumulated from his knowledge and training of over thirty years, from his teens to today. I would like to add something, and not a purposeful guess, about the concept of Ink and Wash. Whether we stress it as a culture, and even if we claim it to be a medium, when we refer to it as a medium, there naturally exists a cultural connotation.
Second, Why Ink and Wash? We may also view Ink and Wash from the angle of nature and living condition. What we cannot deny is ink and water (which results in the effect of wash). Water can be found around the world, but for water to become a medium of art, it definitely requires some base from nature and condition of living. So does Ink. In the early days, inks are divided as vegetative and animal inks. All these refer to nature.
Third, I would also like to focus my conversation today on the issue of Ink and Wash in Taiwan. There is something more complex here than in Mainland China. China deals with the subtle dynamic between East and West. Taiwan, on the other hand, also has to consider its position in the context of the greater Chinese society. In Taiwan, a discussion about Ink and Wash inevitably leads the question of why we need to think about the future of Chinese art. Its been a long time in Taiwan that Ink and Wash is considered a topic of Chinese art. Taiwan is inseparable from Chinese culture, and also need to face the question that how to view artists from Mainland China. I think we need to remove this question from our discussion. We need to objectively position and define the rich connotation of Ink and Wash in order to find the true value of art. Once, debating between artistic and cultural connotations, a student asked me, Shell we consider an issue that only Chinese artists need to face? This is an issue for artists from both Taiwan and China. I am not suggesting any conclusion. They are only reflections of a scholar.
Zeng Suliang (Zeng):
Sociologically, like Mr. Liao and Mr. Xiao pointed out, Ink and Wash will never die. Art making is an instinct of human being. Ink and Wash may quiet down for a while, but as soon as there is an opportunity it will sprout again. Social ecology is a study of treating the human society as if natural ecology. Human society is like the soil where things grow as long as there is the sun, water, and time. Of course, today we consume fruits cultivated in green houses. It is still different from our ancestors who ate food grown in the nature. In the past, social notions, fashion, and trends used to be key influence. The literati painting is a good example. The scholars hold power in the system of social class. Through the Imperial Civil Service Examination System, one can climb from the bottom to the top of a society. And the top represents a model for the society. However, todays society has changed. The social mainstream is driven by capital. Nowadays, enterprisers are popular, so are collectors. They can be artists, so can they be art critics. Many exhibitions are mainly for the wealthy enterprisers or their wives. This in fact represents the change in social hierarchy. Merchant manipulation spurs the rise of art market, especially after Ming dynasty. Today, capitalism is mixed with a bit of scientific spirit. Many artists and art entities now need to try to survive the capitalist society. For instance, Da Xiang Art Space also needs to do marketing and exhibitions.
Different environments and different soils will grow different kinds of Ink and Wash art. With the decline of literati paintings, there needs to be a new form of Ink and Wash that succeeds it. But will this new form suit this people? A Western lady in Chinese traditional dress has to look strange. How do we create a new kind of Ink and Wash that is not Westernized? The last revolution on this was by Xu Beihong and Lin Fengmian. Changes actually started to occur even earlier. Xu and other artists studied art in Europe, but due to the Cultural Revolution in China, there were not many opportunities. As a result, Taiwan took the race baton and reformed Ink and Wash painting. Modern China has seen a rise in economy and culture, and is full of talents. I have discussed this with some artist friends in Beijing. As a matter of fact, Mainland China is much more aggressive in dealing with issues of modernization of Ink and Wash painting. Perhaps because Taiwan had experienced a wave of reforms in the 1960s and 70s, it is now becoming languid.
We know that much of the reforms on Ink and Wash painting are catalyzed by Western influences. China was so closed up that it had no way but to adopt Western forms of art when the crash happened. There is a great gap between the Eastern and Western sprits. When I was studying in England, I was once hired to teach calligraphy and Chinese painting. The English were very interested in Chinese culture. But in this capitalist era, they now become even more attracted to things that have strong capital and technical appeals. Traditional Chinese culture is too gentle, too reserved. This is a question of ideology. When we study the artistic essence of someone, we usually focus on the persons philosophical system, and on the literary influence the persons culture has given him or her. In terms of concepts of aesthetics, I have made the following summary: Chinese tend to view things as a whole, while Western look at individual analyses; Chinese concepts are more general, while those in the West are more precise; Chinese seek spirituality while Western art is subject to materiality; Chinese depend on coincidence and chance, while Westerns like to make plans and employ human force for things to happen. Chinese aesthetics addresses simplicity while in the West sophisticated decoration is the mainstream. I am very interested in comparing the East and the West because I have studied abroad and know Western thinking very well.
Let me bring up another example. Korea, though being an Eastern culture, does not have the same aesthetics as China. For instance, celadon porcelain of the Song dynasty in China is considered top ware. When it was brought to Korea in the Northern Song dynasty, the Koreans kept its shape design but could not stand the succinctness and added a lot of decorative elements to it. Even though they have been greatly influenced by Confucianism, I often say Koreans do not really understand the core of Chinese philosophy. The happening of Ink and Wash art tradition in China attributes to our humanities-centered culture. In the West, on the other hand, they learn about things that require precision since young age. One is precise, while the other is general. And I would like to bring up the issue of Western overpowering. Since first impacted by the Western culture, Chinese who never painted ugliness now do, and who never painted odiousness now do. But the advantages of those changes supersede the disadvantage. Now the horizon of Chinese artists is broadened.
Traditionally, Ink and Wash painting sees the thinking of intellectuals. Then the reform of modern Ink and Wash painting comes about and reevaluates Chinese art with Western theories. This reform tries to improve Ink and Wash painting as a genre of Chinese art. Today, we must not only look at it as merely Chinese art. 21st century is a century of globalization. Chinese should expand Ink and Wash and introduce it as an international medium. This globalized era is also an era of information exchange through the Internet. With constant exchange and flow of culture, Ink and Wash is no longer exclusive to Chinesealthough Ink and Wash paintings by British artists, for instance, still strongly suggest the English aesthetics. In the West, material culture continues to be encouraged. The result is the loss of spirituality, and thus of the soul. German philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote the Short History of Photography. Many artists produce art only for sale, as if running a factory of culture. How do we express the spirit of oneself, and how to keep the inner spirituality alive? How do we continue the art of Ink and Wash without losing the spirit of tradition? I highly appreciate this event organized by Da Xiang Art Space. The renewal of Ink and Wash art depends on continual discussion of everyone. It would be a bit of pity, or even ridiculous, if it is not Chinese who renew it. After all, Ink and Wash can be best carried out by Chinese.
I am really excited to hear the thoughts of all the panelists. They touch upon many questions. Our moderator, Yongren, is an artist as well. He has his own reflection on our discussion. I would like to hear what he has to say.
I am deeply intrigued by the topic, what is Ink and Wash? When I was a student, I studied Ink and Wash too. I concentrated on Chinese art. Those who majored in Ink and Wash all shared an anxiety about future. As far as artmaking is concerned, the baggage of tradition adds to the challenge. It was difficult to reinvent. As a student, each of us was eager to break away from the kind of Ink and Wash painting that exists in the conventions. Yu asks what Ink and Wash is. Xiao has just mentioned modern Ink and Wash painting and the many debates in Taiwan during the 1960s. For me, my works on rice paper represent my wish to break through the material. Now, going back to the question, Ink and Wash for me has transformed into different kind of concept. I am delighted with the exhibition here. The use of Ink and Wash by the six artists is so diverse. Some of them even deal with the conversation between a work and space. I truly admire the new horizon that Yu presents. Yus endeavor in Ink and Wash is no longer just a question of Ink and Wash painting. Behind the use of Ink and Wash is his true intention of conveying the essence of art. He strives to constantly top himself and self-improve. He has gone pass the initial stage. This journey is highly valuable.
My main intention to organize this exhibition is basically close to the comments the panelists just made. There is not much discrepancy between us. What I would like to stress is whether the spirituality of Ink and Wash should be presented with a new medium. I want to heavily emphasize Ink and Wash as a medium. As we continue to promote this traditional Chinese cultural medium in the context of the world, we ask ourselves if we can do so by engaging in scholarly exchange, and find more possibilities. Like the development of Western art, we hope new threads continue to be developed for Ink and Wash. We hope to find different voices and approaches. Although the development of Ink and Wash in the 21st century is rapid, it remains homogenous in some ways. The reason of this homogeneity is partially due to our negligence of Ink and Wash as a medium and lack of extensive exploration into its essence. We can easily skip or escape from it and use another material to replace it. Mr. Xiao has also pointed out, the spirituality of Ink and Wash should also be able to be represented using other media, just as many artists choose to use oil paint to explore the spirituality of Ink and Wash. My biggest hope is to cultivate the possibilities and cultural attributes of Ink and Wash. This is a difficult task. Fewer and fewer people born after 1980 choose to specialize in this subject. Actually, it was already an unpopular subject for those born in the 1970s. Basically, only those born in the 1960s, 50s, and earlier feel attachments to it. One major issue in the development of Chinese contemporary art is that Ink and Wash has always been excluded from it. The reason being the difficulty for Ink and Wash is to gain an international grip, because we continue to converse with the language of traditional Ink and Wash painting. The language belongs to the past, and we have failed to look at the media of Ink and Wash with fresh eye. We have taken a method from yesterday to deal with issues of today. We therefore feel hopeless.
I continue to advance my work. I have used rice paper, silk and satin, and even nail polish and clay, but the essence of my work has never left that of Ink and Wash. I do not abandon tradition just to embrace oil paint, or to cheat by making installations. Many artists included in this exhibition still work with rice paper, brush, and ink (including those working with installations). They all move forward along the thread. Many artists today choose to expand horizontally into other media, rather than deepen their understanding of one medium. Horizontal exploration surely is easier to achieve. Examples of such taken include Xu Beihong, who we mentioned earlier. It takes tremendous efforts to go deep. It requires extraordinary amount of research and study. In contrast, it is much easier to take the horizontal move. Combining the styles from the East and West, for instance, is not that difficult.
Chen Yuezhen (Audience):
Last week I went to the Woodcut Art Biennial at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts in Taichung. It also addressed this question. Faced with the idea of digital woodcuts, they wondered if woodcuts ought to be only considered within the media of woodcut. When addressing digital woodcuts, they discovered that there was lack of the fundamental concepts inherent to woodcuts. I feel that Ink and Wash will never die. Even before the influence of the West on the East, there was already the growing idea of Ink and Wash as a medium. This was something Mainland China had done in the 1980s. This is not an idea that has not appeared before now. Oil painting, with its own history, has such a wide range. Ink and wash, in the future, will surely also have the same. All kinds of different forms are possible; that is the way the future works. What is important is the way in which the spirit of it is expressed. How come no one ever asks whether we should stop using glue-based color inks? For example, in Japan, you can still find groups of people very serious about glue-based color inks. Japan has used manga and anime to capture the attention of the whole world. They can use different methods to face this world, but it is unnecessary to get rid of the one medium of glue-based color inks. The name of this exhibit is also an interesting problem with many interesting possibilities to explore.
First, I would like to add something to what Li Yuan Jia said. Three, four years ago I went to Londons Tate Modern and inside there were four works by Li. I was happy, but also felt something else. What I liked was the fact that Li was the only artist representing the Chinese. But, alas, Tate Modern had put his work with the abstract paintings. They used Western labels to classify the work. The worth and meaning of Ink and Wash art had not truly been respected. Second, I was just saying with regards to media, it is also true that the material is the culture. However, it can also be said that it is the forgotten cultures material. When I was studying in France, there was one time when my friend went to the park to teach me Tai Chi. As he was going through the movements, a French person nearby noticed and introduced himself as an Olympic coach in the field of martial arts and so also knew Tai Chi. He then also performed a form and exchanged his thoughts with my friend with me as translator. The coach said to my friend: Im very clear that my Tai Chi is a sport and your Tai Chi is a culture. Indeed, the Ink and Wash we are addressing today is a material, but is also a material that carries with it a culture.
When I taught British people Ink and Wash, I asked them how I should teach and if I should use the traditional Chinese method. They liked it and felt that they learned something Chinese. Another friend who was Korean asked me why Taiwanese people all have English names. You see, when I was in England, I too picked an English name but afterwards I never used it since in England no one wanted to use my English name.
I want to repeat the topic again: why should we put an end to Ink and Wash? My point is that we should not continue to approach this from the angle of Ink and Wash. In other words, we should approach the question of Ink and Wash from the angle of painting because Ink and Wash paintings are just one manifestation of the media of Ink and Wash. Furthermore, the evolution of modern Ink and Wash painting is following a path that combines East and West. But this is borrowing from the methodology of others, like Xu Beihong, Lin Fengmian, and many more examples that illustrate the point. Just now one of the panelists remarked that the question of Ink and Wash has been discussed many times in the past. But lets think back. When has there ever been a time when a conversation on the topic has started from an examination of the physical manifestation of the material media of Ink and Wash?
Actually, with all the advancements, arent they still Ink and Wash paintings be it representational or abstract, including the works of Li Yuanjia, who was just mentioned? So I continue to push. We should be inventing new techniques and unearth the inner nature of Ink and Washs basic materiality and culture.
To put it bluntly, since the 1960s, the Ink and Wash revolution in Taiwan never got past the strategy of the May 4th Movement era which merges the East and West. All the way up to the 1980s and 1990s and then to todays discussion, there is still a lack of respect for Ink and Wash as a medium, and not a painting style. This is a big problem. Earlier, someone asked why people do not discuss the end of Oil Painting. First, we have always accepted and been conquered by the Western ways. Secondly, oil paint can only be used for painting, so all questions will revolve around painting. But Ink and Wash is differentit can be used for painting, but can also be used for a lot more. There are many possibilities! When I say end the practice of Ink and Wash painting, I am hoping for us to approach and excavate the medium from the angle of culture and get at the expressiveness inherent in the materials in order to open up that space, to come up with answers that are different from previous ones, to not lose its true nature. I regret, and continue asking myself why in a massive country as China, so many Chinese continue to borrow Western methodologies as solutions for contemporary Ink and Wash painting. Are we really that stupid? In fact, changes have started to happen on the international platform of art. Westerners have begun to look at contemporary Chinese art against Chinese culture itself. A while back, a curator of Asian art from the British Museum and a curator of Chinese art from the Metropolitan Museum visited me at my studio and we talked about this question. They said that contemporary Chinese art is only a segment of art. They found it incomplete. Most of it is social and political, which is inconsistent with Chinese culture itself. Then what should contemporary Chinese art be like today? They then turned to the development of Ink and Wash today, and felt quite excited. They thought my finger print work was very interesting, but also confusing. They did not know about my trajectory. Then I showed them my portfolios of the past thirty years to them. They were truly thrilled and finally understood everything. They thought breakthrough should be made by exploring inwards, that we should not use bits and pieces from the West to piece together our work. We will lose our essence if we do so.
The audience member mentioned that Japanese anime has overwhelmed the world. This is just the surface. There are many other things underneath it that are waiting to come up. Yesterday, in the afternoon, I went to Taipei and a gallery was just having an opening of a Takashi Murakami exhibition. I saw it and spent some time talking about it. Excessive commercialization and entertainment make perceptions of the viewer barren. One generation may like it, but will the next one too? What is the change? From this angle, we might be able to find the future development of Ink and Wash. Today, most people do not particularly like to dig into the question, but we do. We are digging into and exploring the possibilities of the development of Ink and Wash. This is the task for us all from now on.
Chung Ching Hsin:
I want to thank all panelists and the moderator for the encouragement. Da Xiang has chosen to walk on a difficult road. Promoting abstract art and modern Ink and Wash painting are two risky businesses. On this road, we have taken extra vigilance, but we have also won a lot of encouragement. Some have complimented that I am doing what ought to be done by art museums. Of course, such is more of verbal support. Now, I hope for more support by action. In addition to visions and dreams, I also strive for sustainability and persistence. There is a long way ahead for Ink and Wash. I hope through the discussion of Back to the Essence, we have flashed out the possibilities in a pleasant conversation. This panel discussion is the embodiment of Da Xiangs motto: choose to differ and find different choices.
Li Yung-Jen, Assistance Curator of Taipei Fine Arts Museum
Xiao Qunrui, Professor at the Department of History, National Cheng Kung University
Liao Renyi, Professor at the Graduate Institute of Museum Studies, Taipei National University of the Arts
Zeng Suliang, Professor at the Department of Fine Arts, National Taiwan Normal University