Relics and Historical Recollections
“In a corner of the world, there existed a man-made miracle—the Winter Palace. Art has two sources: one, ideal, whence has come European art; two, fancy, whence has issued Oriental art. The Parthenon belongs to the art of ideal; while the WinterPalace, the art of fancy. TheWinterPalace, indeed, was the crystallization of all of the art that an almost superman race could have fancied. Different from the Parthenon, the Winter Palace was not only an incomparable masterpiece, it was also a huge scale prototype of fancy—if fancy can have a prototype…The tragedy once happened to the Parthenon has now struck to the Winter Palace with a even more savage, and destructive force—a force which is so strong that not a single tile within this architecture was ever preserved. All the treasures in all of our churches are dimmed by this gloriously fabulous and resplendent Oriental museum.”
In A Letter to Captain Bartley, Hugo combines theWinterPalacewith the Parthenon. This is because the two were representatives of Eastern and Western civilizations, and were all victims of foreign invasion. However, the civilizations that the two represented have not been destroyed; rather, they are still vital and vigorous, and will always be. For that reason, I have deeply felt the strong vitality of certain civilization or culture. Such vitality—which happens to be my original intention for the creation of the photography on The Winter Palace—is deeply rooted in the landscape and the people’s hearts of that particular nation.
With a kind of incisive sensitivity, I have taken a good deal of documentary photographs about theWinterPalacesince 2009. After returning, I started to study that “GardenofGardens”—the once unparalleled landscape with peerless grace day and night. I have seen photographs of those crumbling walls and dilapidated houses; I have also watched many historical documentaries and digital movies, aiming at “reproducing” the original face of theWinterPalace. Thereafter, I tried very hard to imagine, wishing to express theWinterPalacedwelt in my mind and to find a kind of connection and engraftment between imagination and reality. The motif of my serial work “The 12 Chinese Zodiac Signs” happens to combine theWinterPalaceand the absent “12 Chinese zodiac animals” together. During my creation, I made use of Baidu, a search engine website, from where I got pictures of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals via portable computer. And then, I juxtaposed these pictures and the ruins of theWinterPalaceto construct a seemingly objective truth without novelty. I tried to let the 12 Chinese zodiac animals go back to where they come from; yet, there have been no returns. So far away is the distance between the illusion and the reality that we can only summarize and express it in the name of “history”.
The preliminary idea of searching for a certain kind of engraftment between theWinterPalaceand theShanghaiExpoGarden, and conducting a sort of historical thinking was conceived, simultaneously to my creation of the serial work The 12 Chinese Zodiac Signs. Various countries set up their own pavilions at theExpoGardenone after the other. I was shocked by a kind of soundless whisper when I saw the sharp contrast between the prosperous scene of construction, and the desolate ruins of theWinterPalace. Therefore, Stories of World Gardens—another serial work of mine which is successive to The 12 Chinese Zodiac Signs has been formed. At the same time, I thought of 2010, a historic moment. As a representative of the golden age of Qing Dynasty, theWinterPalacewas built in the 48th year of Kangxi Emperor’s reign (1709); however, it became an enormous humiliation to its people in the 10th year of Xianfeng Emperor’s reign (1860). Today (2010)Chinais on the rise. History has been going on for 300 years between the two golden ages ofChina. Standing at this historical moment which is worthy of our contemplation, I want to rethink the present condition and the tremendous changes that have been taken place in our nation in view of the existence and mobility of history, so as to probe into such historical revelation and make others think with me.
Therefore, I use “history” and “contemplation” as the fundamental tone and the main clue for my creation; I also tried to express the mentality of a gradually growingChinathrough the artistic means of photography. It was the Eight-Power Allied Forces’ (formed byBritain,Russia,Germany,France, theU.S.A.,Japan,Italy, andAustria) aggression againstChinain 1900 that resulted in the tragedy of theWinterPalace. However, in 2010, some one-hundred years after that tragedy, they came toChinaagain, and set up pavilions one after another inShanghaiExpoGarden. The amazing similarity of history has forced us to reflect on the dramatic contrast: the former is the burning and destruction of Chinese architecture and culture, while the latter is the manifestation of construction and amity. Those two occasions which happened inChinahave brought with me many insights. Today we only need to witness a kind of change instead of a grand scene. In the serial work of The Stories of World Gardens, I juxtaposed the ruins of theWinterPalaceand the Eight-Powers pavilions inExpoGarden. The portable computer told and recorded vicissitudes and tremendous changes in history. The thing I have witnessed through my camera is the growing records ofChina, from a newly-born republic to a strong nation in the world. While as a kind of historical existence, the ruins of theWinterPalaceand the architectures of the Eight-Powers Pavilions are themselves also function like none-stop cameras: they are silently witnessing and experiencing the history, telling the past and the present ofChina, standing as metaphors of today and yesterday.
Therefore, I wish that I can make a joint exhibition of my two serial works: The 12 Chinese Zodiac Signs and Stories of World Gardens, and completely express my conception for creation. I also wish that this exhibition will help more people to care about our history, our present, and our future. Here, photography is more than a method of recording facts. It has become a new expression of contemporary artistic conceptions, presenting the economic and the cultural appearance of today’sChina. Here, photography is more than a way of simply capturing images; it has become an eye-witness of history.