All that is solid melts into air--Comment on Fu Wenjun’s Echo
All that is solid melts into air
—Appreciation of Fu Wenjun’s Echo:
Throughout the various art forms, photography is one with unique artistic features, and the artist’s conceptual expression it bears is especially worthy of pondering over. Nowadays, the photographers are more likely to integrate their own thoughts about the problems in the human society into their works and Fu Wenjun is one of the pioneers who are devoted to such a directional expression. Over the years, Fu Wenjun has dedicated himself to the reflection on and exploration of the past and current social development with his works.
His series of Echo is the best proof. People cannot avoid thinking ofLeaving the Stage when they are talking about Echo. As the extension of and supplement to Leaving the Stage, Echo further explains and expresses Fu’s humane complex.
“All that is solid melts into air, and all that is holy is profaned.” Karl Max once wrote in Communism Manifesto. The first half part of the sentence “All that is solid melts into air” could be a perfect description towards Fu’s photography series Leaving the Stage. In this series, Fu presents a visual effect of colors that are either dense or variegated. The things displayed in the photos seem to be something in the past history to the viewers. Because of the colors in the pictures, some photos look like undeveloped films, some have the similar color with the frescos in Dun Huang Mogao Grottoes. Though the colors of the objects in the photos can be vaguely seen, they become variegated because of historical vicissitude and time. Fu photographed the passing architectures, industrial facilities, such as worn-out rail tracks, housing, industrial machinery, carriages, and the overall scene of these architectures and facilities. The photos composed the series named Leaving the Stage. This series is in fact a historical record and witness that a witness gives to someone who has not witnessed the objects that has already been historical relics or even disappeared. What it wants to arouse is the memory and reminiscence towards history.
Leaving the Stage can be understood as the restoration of history more than pointing out the truth that “All that is solid is melted in air”, but it should explain why all that is solid is melted in air. The rapid development of industry in Chinamade everything unsolid solid and meanwhile anything solid unsolid. A variety of macro-controls and measures were set up for the economic development. But the only thing left was the GDP figures, while the industrial facilities which made the figures solid were gone. Though with the development of the nation’s economy, more solid things will appear, the disappearance of certain things will cause the individuals to lose their memories about these things. Fu Wenjun made some photos in the series similar to the architectural drawings in the Song Dynasty to illustrate the importance of historical scenes. These photos adopt the bird view for their layout, which is similar to Zhang Zeduan’s Along the River during the Qingming Festival. Just like Zhang Zeduan’s Along the River during the Qingming Festival, there is such a fact that Leaving the Stage is a repair work of data and documents before the things leave the stage completely.
The appeal of Leaving the Stage series has not presented Fu’s explorations completely. After that, he made a thorough extension and supplement on the same theme and created the Echo series. In a sense,Echo deepened the theme of Leaving the Stage, because Fu made the works more subjective in Echo. However, the objects he photographed and the theme were the same or had certain similarities, but he made the objects he wanted to express in his photos and the historical context more concrete.
We can take the background of industrial facilities including railroad cars, rail tracks etc. in the photos of Leaving the Stage as the Republic of China period or even the industrial age in the late Qing Dynasty and early Republic of China period. In other words, the theme we are talking is general, and we can view the time span as the whole 20th century inChina.
Fu Wenjun did two more things in Echo than Leaving the Stage and one was that he added an image of the national emblem ofChinain every photo in Echo. The adding of the national emblem is in fact indicating the producing age of the objects in his photos, such as the railroad cars, or the contextual age of the architectures in the photos rather than the producing age. The appearance or employing (different to employing in Pop Art) of the national emblem is only a sign of time, just like the shooting date in a picture or the specific historical period when the objects came out.
Fu was prudent while he was employing the national emblem and put it into his photos. He didn’t parody, mock or satirize. While presenting the historical topics, the artists must indicate that he has a rigorous attitude. In the political pop of Chinese modern art, we only see parody and mockery, so we cannot see the reflection on and the criticism towards history. If Fu had taken that attitude and employed and collaged the national emblem in a parodying way with the Pop method, his reflection on and criticism towards history would have disappeared. That would be an overthrow of his previous works and totally against his long time belief and artistic creeds. Fu once wrote in “The Critical Thinking Matters-Notes on the Creation of Echo”, “This can fully explain why we are lack of critical thinking and the missing of that leads to the prevalence of authoritarianism. It is of crucial importance that in the context of post-modernism we need to examine the value of industrial civilization with a more rational and critical view.”
The other thing Fu did in Echo is stilling and focusing the photos here. By doing so, the images in the pictures are the trisquare-like thick white lines in the four corners of every photo. Such a method was also used by him in the series of Overdraft 2009. These thick white lines, like the frame of an oil painting appear in the photograph works. It is just the frame that reminds the viewers the objects and views are presented by the artist with the artistic method and the painting in front of the viewers is a piece of artwork.
Though we can also put the photography works into frames, the frame-like lines added to the photos will have another meaning, which is that though we use our eyes to select angles, to zoom in and out when we are shooting something, we are in fact controlled by our brain and consciousness. InEcho, the thick white lines clearly indicate the definite and clear attitude the artist had when he was focusing on and stilling the shooting objects. More importantly, it emphasizes the subjectivity of the artist as a creation subject as well as a viewer behind the work; that is to say since the photography works remind that the individual exists as a subject, what attitude and thought does the individual have when he is in front of the object presented in such a photography work?
In Echo, the artist “employed” the national emblem added frame-like lines to clearly indicate his creation preference and views about the objects he wanted to shoot. These two creation methods are different from the Pop tact. “The critical thinking” is just specifically manifested by these creation methods.
The article was published in the fourth issue of Art Tip-Top, “Introduction of the Cover Artist-Fu Wenjun” in October 2011.