《谈谈“旧水墨”》- Talking about the “Old Ink Art”
By; Hu Bin 胡斌
Translated by; Giacomo Bruni
In recent years, “New Ink Art”, Xin shuimo “新水墨”, movement has indeed become popular, especially after the Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China exhibition held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the end of 2013, which strongly encouraged Chinese artists to work in this direction. All kinds of articles and studies on the Xin shuimo movement spurt out all at once. Here, I want to talk about ink and wash from another point of view, specifically on the matter of how to treat the relationship between the old ink and the new ink art.
The so-called “New Ink Art”, it is a very broad concept, that encompasses all new explorations in ink and wash that are different from traditional ink and wash or the academic realistic ink approach of the past 30 years. In fact, the “New Ink” is not limited to the field of ink art media. It’s a more experimental approach that uses and practices ink and wash elements, its aesthetic conception and charm in a wider range of artistic explorations, and all these kinds of visions are attributed to this grand concept. The rise of this sector is due to its cultural mentality, because it is connected with Chinese tradition on one side, and on the other it embodies new contemporary changes, which is in line with the common desire of China and the West for a “non-Western centrist” contemporary art.
For this type of ink and wash, everyone is still working on a new aspect, emphasizing on where it is new, so the changes and innovations in the pattern, technical language, and concepts are repeatedly emphasized. Affected by this cultural appeal and the influence of some pioneers, we have seen a lot of attempts to try to connect the traditional and contemporary expressive patterns, such as turning the use of ink and brush into repetitive traces, assembling traditional elements into modern spaces, or combining modern themes and images and arranging them in a traditional structure and so on. In this relationship between tradition and contemporary times, what exactly can tradition bring to contemporaneity? I think the answer should not be so simple.
Today, some important ancient painting exhibitions have attracted unprecedented attention from the contemporary art world. For example, the Shanghai Museum’s “Masterpieces of Early Chinese Painting and Calligraphy in American collections” became a hot topic in the contemporary Chinese art circle that year. Some contemporary artists and critics are not limited to preliminary dabbling in ancient painting, they have repeatedly observed and learned a lot about the art history research related to it. Under new research horizons and ways of viewing, ancient times are not an unreachable past, but rather a contemporary issue. One is that the various themes that break the mainstream of the ancient painting horizon of the past have brought a sense of novelty; the second is that even the well-known classics are constantly being refreshed due to different research perspectives.
There was once an art historian who gave a very detailed interpretation in a contemporary perspective about a hand scroll at a Shanghai exhibition. Historical stories and facts of the past on film montage shots, emerge vividly before the eyes of contemporary people. I think there is naturally a lot of imagination in this process, the point of view of the ancients is definitely different from that of the contemporary people who have been baptized by the mechanical media, but this kind of careful reading through time and space undoubtedly brings intellectual excitement. Just like Pi Daojian and Lu Mingjun’s “Another Modernity, or Contemporaneity?” The preface of the collection of essays says: “‘Contemporary’ is a way of perception, an angle of understanding. For example, if an ancient relic or a modern event is translated in a contemporary situation or way of understanding, it will no longer be ancient or modern, but it will be contemporary.” Therefore, what is important is to recognize the conversion, rather than treating the “ancient” as a fragment of the contemporary material.
On one hand, antiquities can be invested with new meanings, on the other hand, the ancient ways of discourse can also stimulate a new understanding of the object. For example, at the The 8th International Ink Art Biennale of Shenzhen, one of the curators Fu Xiaodong organized the Ink Art Graphics·Research on Archetypes divided in five sections, featuring “Pavilion of Clouds and Water”, “Flower-and-Rock Project”, “Goddess Biographies”, “Buddha Statue” and “The Classic of Mountains and Seas” respectively represent the vocabulary of different image systems in ancient China to correspond to the various contemporary art images, that have undergone tremendous changes that are associated with the tradition. What they bring is an image with a history, the inheritance of a lineage of thought that dashes against the contemporary thinking and this has expanded the creative, and cognitive horizons of the “New Ink Art”.
In contrast to the Xin shuimo, besides traditional ink art, there is also the realistic ink art influenced by the Xu-Jiang system. The construction of this realistic ink and wash has also gone through several stages. At the end of the Qing Dynasty and the beginning of the Republic of China, the exploration of introducing Western realistic techniques to transform Chinese painting began. However, in the images showing social scenes in ink and wash at that time, we saw a large number of expressions that did not deviate from the traditional formula, but were content that added a lot of modernity, which makes the picture give a funny impression. The efforts of Xu Beihong and others gave to the human figures and scenes of Chinese paintings a sense of reality that fits modern viewing. In the New Chinese Painting Movement after the founding of New China, driven by the situation, many artists strive to establish a visual language of ink and wash that conforms to the ideology of a specific epoch, from content to form, to fully connect with the new era. We cannot put aside the context of a certain era to look at the characteristics of its artistic exploration. In the contemporary era, it does not have a linear evolutionary relationship. Artists who maturely operate the existing realistic ink art programs seem to be imperfect, even clumsy, and some forms of expression that are struggling in historical changes have been resurrected. Behind this involves the transformation of the entire social concept, and the ebb and flow of the topics of various painting styles or painting schools are actually related to the changes in people’s taste and cognition.
Therefore, the so-called “Old ink Art” may become “New ink Art” at any time. The key is whether or not it can be obtained or in which way it can enter in the contemporary field for discussion; and the creation routine without thinking power and motivation will not be in the “new” ranks because it is just a collage of some contemporary symbols.
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