• One Feet Mountain
    Artists: Cao Yingbin, Zhang Xiaoming
    Opening: 2018.12.15 / 16:00 - 18:00

    Duration: 2018.12.15 - 2019.01.25 / 10:00 - 18:00 
    Venue: OFOTO Gallery. 2F, Building 13, 50 Moganshan Rd., Shanghai

    Multiple Dimensions of Interesting
    by Cao Kou

    In Dream of Red Chamber, it looks as though Grandmother Jia is the highest living authority of the clan; but the real power that changes tides for the Jia family lies in the hands of her granddaughter—the Imperial Consort Jia Yuanchun. One year, the Imperial Consort granted rewards to the boys and girls in the Grand View Garden. Baochai and Baoyu got presents of the highest level, and what Daiyu and others got couldn’t compare. Daiyu, with a temperament jealous and insecure that probably came from tuberculosis, did not easily let it go. She took the hint from the highest level that the future bride for Baoyu would be her foil. To assure and comfort her, Baoyu offered to pass on the precious gifts he got from Imperial Consort’s to her, and she turned him down with a simple but intriguing comment, “Not interested.” This is one of my favorite parts of the novel. It makes this entire book "very interesting" to me, but we will have to leave it at that.

    A story in The Chutian Metropolis Daily caught my attention. In 2011, a 31-year-old man by the name of Wang Gang dwelled on a sofa in an Internet Cafe and died there after playing online games for seven months on end. His last words? “How interesting.” To me, rather than assuming that he was still indulging himself in the ecstasy of online games on his death, I would think that this man might be suggesting otherwise:

    1. It is interesting that human beings have invented online games, or that a human being could die of such an invention;

    2. It is interesting that no matter how or how long one lives, he lives but once;

    3. The transition from life to death is interesting;

    4. Should he had reached the Buddhist realm of “come and go as one pleased” on his death, I would be pleased.

    Do Daiyu and Wang Gang contradict each other? No. I think that they each adds a new dimension to what is “interesting,” building on a sophisticated understanding of the whole thing. It has shades where our daily life is profoundly diverse and lively. We could only see it if we lose our obsession with being “objective.” The value and meaning of such existence lie not in the physical features but are projections, probably through rhetorics.

    To me, art is not the part of the shades, but the multi-dimensional structure that “Not interested” and “How interesting” have constructed. Its distaste and disdain for “the shades” are in its nature. It is not because “Art is inspired by life but beyond it,” but has to do with our reverence for the holy things.

    Now I get to decide what makes Cao Yingbin’s watercolors and Zhang Xiaoming’s photos interesting. They differ in the forms and methods they choose but have one thing in common—an interest in Buddhism figures and architecture. Even in that, they display different tastes in various ways. For instance, Zhang contemplates the Buddhist statues and the grottos while Cao sees them as just the settings of the tourists and monks. He seems to care more about the relationships between the flesh and the rocks (rocks carved with the touch of human flesh). In such relationships, there could be alienation, confrontation, and also entanglement and harmony. He captures them with great effort and represents them as the key “objective existence” in his paintings. Relationships are an intangible, physical, psychological, and spiritual route that we cannot visualize or figure out with the help of geometric techniques like drawing extensions. We have to rely on theoretical constructions and sensory experiences. I believe traditional Chinese paintings also illustrate certain relationships. For example, Fan Kuan’s painting “Travelers among Mountains and Streams” displays them in a classic way that puts things in the right perspective in which the time-honored Chinese civilization takes great pride. We human beings do not own Nature and cannot live without it, and Fan Kuan has the right idea of our position. In his painting, the human beings coexist with the mountain springs, the pine trees, the rocks, and all the other elements in their various shapes and sizes; however, the proportions do not indicate the values that the painter attaches to each object. After all, this is a different case than Gu Hongzhong’s depiction of Han Xizai in this famous painting where the painter disproportionately exaggerates the key character for a close examination of his lethargic demeanor in dangerous social circumstances under intimidating surveillance. Cao Yingbin’s has depicted the figures in wholesome and appropriate proportions.

    Is Zhang Xiaoming concerned with the relationships? Probably, but he deals with the relationships between the “I” and the objects, namely the relationship between the subject (either Zhang himself or the spectator) and the objects in the photo. The relationship between Zhang and the objects is predominant because it directs the relationship between the spectator and the objects. Such an influence, for better or worse, is arguably the greatest virtue of photography. In other words, what the spectator sees in a photo goes beyond its frame; rather, one could recognize Zhang Xiaoming’s aesthetic perception and philosophical judgment of the Buddhist figures and temples he captures. For instance, these photos impress me the most with a solemnly chilling air that reminds me somehow of the “cold and stiff” signature style of late Tang Dynasty poets Meng Jiao and Jia Dao. Zhang Xiaoming seems to have intently avoided any lightheartedness that you could easily see traces of in Cao Yingbin’s watercolors. What is the cold reality here? It is the fact that it does not matter to Zhang Xiaoming whether the Buddhist figures, grottos, and temples are in perfect shape or not, built in the Northern Wei Dynasty or right now. If compared with ancient Chinese paintings, Zhang Xiaoming’s works resemble the works of Ni Zan in their scrupulous cleanness. Neither of these two artists appreciates living bodies or figures in their images. Ni Zan likes it simple and eliminates the elements of human flesh, and so does Zhang Xiaoming. The difference here is that Ni Zan keeps things cut to a minimum while Zhang remains a slight attachment to the prosperity of the human civilization. The fact is that Zhang Xiaoming seems to have an obsession with the elaborate details of the sculptures and frescoes, as he is devoted to capturing them in his photos. He penetrates and reveals the wonders in the subtleties. If there is truth in Buddhism, Zhang Xiaoming seems to be making endeavors to find the undeniable beauty in the torso of truth, so as to bring to light the extensive and sophisticated. Honestly, the way Zhang Xiaoming contemplates reminds me of worship in spiritual rites, with the kind of piety rare in this contemporary world.

    I’d like to end this with a little disclaimer that I am neither a painter nor a photographer. I am a novelist. To me, painters and photographers narrate with images; therefore a good narrative is what I’d look for in their works. I write this article to share with you what I find, attentively and diligently, interesting from these watercolor works and photos that are recommended by my friends. Thank you for your patience for bearing with me.