Urban Scenery and Its Elegy
People used to know that photography technology would develop rapidly in the recent half century. In an age when everyone can use the portable digital cameras, the era when one had to carry a heavy, expensive and new gadget to take pictures seems too far away. At that time cameras were expensive toys for the smart and rich people. The first group of cameras produced in BritainandFrancein the late 1830s could only be operated by the inventors and photography fans. There were no professional photographers and thus no amateurs as well. In the first decade, photography didn’t have a clear social function and it was an artistic activity without charge, though photography had not developed into a form of art. But contrary to Benjamin’s assertion, it was the “industrialization” of photography that made it art. “Industrialization” generated social utility from the photographers’ activities and the power against the social utility triggered and enhanced the photographers’ self-consciousness and aesthetic tastes when they wanted to take photography as art and did individualized experiments accordingly.
The idle and obsolete machines, the formidable gigantic steel plant workshops, the blast furnace and chimneys, the rail tracks like giant dragons extending to the distant places and the industrial ruins and the old houses torn down in the movement of constructing cities are not natural but man-made “industrial landscape” or “industrial scenery”, which are the repeated theme and objects in Fu Wenjun’s works. The stories about cities he told with images were not a simple optimistic longing of a futurist. On the contrary, the deliberately old processing ways and the selection of the desolate and the dark and gloomy hue pose a lingering elegiac feeling, which is sentimental and nostalgic, just like feeling generated by the sunrise and sunset in the city.
The so called “Industrial Landscape” or “Industrial Scenery” had already appeared in the works of the impressionists, futurists, surrealists and Dadaists. The industrial landscape and urban scenery were not only the main theme of the works of Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Andre Breton, Umberto Boccioni, Marcel Duchamp and some other artists, but also the source of their creating inspiration. Someone once said that the motivation for Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque to establish Cubism came from the scary and predication of the time of machinery civilization after the vanishing of idyllic pastoral scene. Then we have to ask-how about Paul Cézanne, who was earlier than them? He hid himself inProvence, the southern part ofFranceyears after years and tried to use an analytical, rational and scientific method to draw the Aix Slope in his home town. Born form the Western Modernism, the scientific rational spirit of industrial civilization and urban civilization has always played a pushing role. Paul Cézanne taught us to view nature as cubes and cylinders. It is an exact observing method with a scientific stance: against the nature being seen, the nature being thought of has already taken the predominant role in the newly rising world view represented by urban civilization. This is a very important dividing line between the classical world and the modern civilization.
The photographing technology is undoubtedly an outcome of the technology myth. The urban culture and industrial civilization it relies on provide it with suitable climate and soil. In 1931, Walter Benjamin discussed the “Industrialization” of photography in one of his articles.
Different from those artists who are averse to technology and instrumental rationality, Fu Wenjun adopts digital output and post processing to strengthen the “technology” content of his works. His works on industrial landscape are not pure objective documentaries, while the subject spirit and conceptual intervention of the artist are just realized with an isolation of time and space created by an illusion of “absence”. In the series named Memories of Industry, the words of the artists were completely removed from the pictures. The industrial landscape is the object to be represented as well as autonomously existing subject. The natural interpenetration between subject and object makes the meaning breakthrough the confinement of the binary language, and therefore the works are cast with a special “retrospection” effect of a reappearing past and convey a polysemous and abundant elegiac sentiment to the viewers. Similarly, in the work of Memories of the Southern City the artist employed some processing skills of painting and highlighted another kind of more sorrowful and emotional memories of the industrial landscape and city.
In Fu Wenjun’s works, the scenery in the time of industrial civilization is like a tomb having been sealed for hundreds of years, while the distance between the observers and the scenery is even further than the distance between them and the actual tombs. Just because of this, his works have an archeological value of “industrial landscape”-the artist rewrote the memory of the urban and industrial landscape with a seemingly calm, objective and scientific stance and attitude. It has overthrown one technology with another one and the overthrow is bidirectional and fatal. It points to the urban civilization represented by the “industrial landscape”, the modern people creating such civilization and their instrumental rationality. In his works, Fu Wenjun used the technological features of the artistic language media to help him realize his ultimate creating goals, but at the same time he must discard such features as something he doesn’t truly possesses, which constitutes the contradiction and confusion of his works. It is said that people usually grasp the meaning while forgetting the works or catching the fish while forgetting the trap. Can the artists truly do so?
May 2ed, 2009 in Mengzi Yunnan