He Jiang: Reflection --- Opinions on Fu Wenjun’s Conceptual Photography
It has been my goal to stay away from those meaningless visual graphics about the glance at the surface of traditional Chinese culture.--- Fu Wenjun
I have been enjoying Fu Wenjun’s conceptual photographs for some time. From the rational Industrial Memory to the retrospection reflected in Echo; from the tranquility in the Story of the City South to the warmness inNeighbors- Document of Human Ecology; from the humiliation in Twelve Chinese Zodiac Signs to rise of the east in Story of the Expo Park, to the entanglement and interpretation in the No Realms, Thought Thinking andIllusory Metamorphoses, to the thinking and asking in Goldbach's Conjecture, Red and Black and Anxiety and Hope, I can find a clear clue--- the thinking of a generation behind the works.
In his fifties, the author of these conceptual photographs, Fu Wenjun always speaks slowly and smiles, which leaves an impression of the Buddha to others, while people can find the misery and anxiety in this forehead when he is meditating. What are the eyes behind the glasses looking at? His apparently relaxed hands seem to be ready to turn everything into eternity.
Historically, civilization has been cleansing the heart of human beings and purifying people’s thought. It has never been stopped by any obstacles, neither by burning of books and burying of scholars nor by criticism of Confucius. History has never been eliminated.
Nowadays, people seem to be unprecedentedly nervous. Has the traditional civilization become an obstacle to the development of post-modern civilization? How many people are unconsciously behaving in contradiction with their tradition which they were proud of?
We betray our past because of pure benefits and materialistic. Our enthusiasm becomes cultural nihilism. Having experiences confusion and fantasy, more and more people return to look for the historical memory to rebuild their tradition.
With the modern technology --- a digital camera and a computer, Fu Wenjun began to record history and appreciated it. He wants to recall people’s memory with photographs and believes that he is not only taking a photograph of a grass, a tree, a hill or a stone, but also recording the fighting between good and evil and the harmony of nature as well.
Fu Wenjun never uses warm color in his conceptual photographs. The scenery is covered with a kind of pure and cold brilliance, indicating transmigration and variable eternity. Light texture creates warmth in disguise, which turns out to be permeating breathless sorrow eventually.
When a time is enclosed by materialistic and post-modernist civilization without introspection, critics, spirit and belief, the feeling of individuals will become insignificant. Meanwhile, the endangering natural environment, frequent disasters and the tininess and hopelessness of human beings injects strong sense of beauty into the works of Fu Wenjun. The resolution and helplessness penetrated under the light appearance shows cold and distant beauty.
In this restless time, everything in Fu Wenjun’s eyes is fragile. With much montage, diversion and restructuring, he shows his idea directly and vividly. “Angiography” integrates his own culture and mystery. The main idea expressed by these lines, distant views, layout of the pictures, rich color lump, and hierarchical light and shades is the sense of responsibility to his country by the author, which unintentionally reproduce the history.
Many things in the past is becoming history or disappearing without any hints. However, introspection and questioning to these phenomena remain. The photographs of Fu Wenjun put a large and profound question mark on the scenery in front of his camera.
In the last twenty years, with electronic media, the most apparent characteristics of conceptual photograph are to express the individual emotion and experience of artist through entertainment, reconstruct and decompose social phenomena by selection, montage, replacement, diversion and combination so as to reconstruct a system of value among art, society and the public in the form of post-modernist art.
When it shows the movement of reality and culture critically, independently and synthetically, any kind of expression focusing on the future of the whole society, questioning the humanity behind the image of art becomes an art.
However, Fu Wenjun wanted to solve a problem. The cities or entities shown in artists’ works shall integrate history naturally, which was expressed evidently in the Show of Formality. Although he is still aiming to do this, it doesn’t affect the thought of his works. The idea of the Show of Formality was provoked by an auction in Parisin 2009, where the bronze statues of the mouse head and the rabbit head which were robbed by the Anglo-French Allied Force in theOldSummerPalacewere auctioned. This became his sore point. Anyway, this sore point was released in the World Expo 2010ShanghaiChina. Seemingly unrelated, Story of the Expo Park and the Twelve Chinese Zodiac Signs are actually connected in the history. The two figures and theOldSummerPalaceput in the history are reminding people of the humiliating past and the reshuffle of the countries. The faintly discernible gray is like the lingering memory in people’s mind. We can’t predict the future of the world. It seems that the history is always kidding people.
Socrates once said,” Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” The value of works lies in its thought, which kindles the flame of warm and hope. As a national lever photographer, Fu Wenjun combines art education and the research and development of cultural industry. Living inChongqingwhere there is rich academic atmosphere, he stays away from secularity, staring at the changes of his country and thinking about its implied meaning under the surface. Everything in front of his camera has become the sea spray inspired by the river of history.
In the name of art, I hereof cherish the memory of the passing time with temporary eternity. Reflect the ongoing time with my thought and recall civilization with light and shades.
Brief Working Journal of Fu Wenjun
March 2009: religion is a general theory about the world and the ultimate care for people which influences the value of people and shapes the thinking of individuals.
June 2009: when I visited the Dunhuang Grottoes, the Longmen Grottoes and the Dazu Grottoes, I was shocked and conquered. Facing the solemn and quiet figures of Buddha, I spontaneously became still in deep meditation. However, Buddhist pilgrimages have become places of interest in recent years. Mass produced holy Buddhist articles are displayed in shops, among which are rough figures of Buddha which are not made following Buddhism rituals. In fact, these figures are not related with the holy religion, they are only commercial products in the form of the Buddhism.
November 2009: the essence of the Buddhism has been distorted or even falsified. It has been masqueraded to be superficial pomposity and simplified to be a form. How can we find its real essence? It cannot be obtained by eliminating useless matters scientifically, just like how doctors find a disease according to the images in a CT.
December 2009: It has been my goal to stay away from those meaningless visual graphics about the glance at the surface of traditional Chinese culture.
December 2009: it seems that I have found a relation between CT radiography and the imaging of Buddha. They are interrelated and mutually repulsive. Both radiography and imaging give a hint of life and death.
January 2010: CT radiography is a way of reproducing images which are sort of unreal, like the images in Buddhism. As we all know, other images except for Shakyamuni and his successor Maitreya were created in later dhyana.
February 2010: as a traditional belief, the appearance and existence of Buddhism is based on imagination. There is no religion without imagination, in which we get closer to divinity, feel divinity and sense religion. InIndia, dhyana refers to meditation. Therefore, the activity of dhyana is intuitive thinking. It is not analytical but irrational. It is the direct impression on what is meditated while modern radiography is scientific which analyzes solid objects quantitatively and qualitatively.
May 2010: different from other religion founders such as Jesus Chris and Mohammed, Buddha doesn’t think he is the only announcer of truth. He doesn’t call himself the God or a Prophet. He is only one of the mass creatures. He told humans about the sufferings he has realized and the Four Noble Truths to overcome sufferings, i.e. the truth of dukkha (suffering, anxiety, unsatisfactoriness), the truth of the origin of dukkha, the truth of the cessation of dukkha, and the truth of the path leading to the cessation of dukkha, which show his attitude towards life --- it is bitter. For him, the significance of life is to overcome bitterness, enter nirvana and get rid of transmigration.
September 2010: when choosing a media, artists take them as an essential factor instead of an external and trivial factor. Although we must use a camera to take pictures and output them onto paper, I think the media by which images are presented is also critical. The effects are amazingly different when we output images into canvas, Chinese art paper, mirror surface or metal. This leads me to pay much attention to tones, lines and textures.
October 2010: in the restless modern society, the development of science and technology does no good in solving the ultimate question of human beings. Religion will still influence the spiritual world of people.
December 2010: life and death are closely interrelated and inseparable. Before the birth of people, it is sure that they will die. It is not gratifying to live and not sorrowful to die. What to gratify if life is not significant? What to sorrow if life is respected? If people are definitely to die, life itself is a process of seeking significance and respect.
January 2011: Spenser once said: there is a belief in almost every nation that people can resurgent after their death. Death and resurgence is one of the themes in Buddhism, and this makes peace with the instinct of people of hoping the life is eternal. Buddhists believe that our present life and death are only one part of our eternal life.
February 2011: the description about Paradise in Buddhism literature is attractive. It says, “There is a seven treasure pool filled with eight flavor water. Its bottom is made of gold sand and the streets are made of gold, silver, colored glaze and glass while there are gold and silver in the above buildings…” The paradise that people could only enter by way of abstinence and penance in the past now has become a reflection of the modern society in which there are money worshiping evils everywhere.
February 2011: if people follow the way that Budda encourages, they shall live morally.
Comments by Experts:
The Twelve Chinese Zodiac Signs responded to important events in nowadays. As a conception of history, it emphasizes the significance of re-understanding and introspecting history.
-- Zou Yuejin
Fu Wenjun’s works is a track of “industrial landscape”: he rewrites the memory about cities and industrial scene calmly, objectively and scientifically. His bidirectional and fatal overturn is towards the civilization represented by “industrial scenes” and the modern people who have created this civilization.
--- Guan Yuda
It is worthwhile to study the secularity of Chinese Buddhism. Even the most pragmatic Buddhists have to face life and death… with this image as the source of his works to illustrate the ultimate question in the way of selection, combination and post processing; Fu Wenjun is retorting the consumption culture and hedonism. Only when people realize that death is towards life, they can pursue significance and thus art has its own value.
--- Wang Lin
Mr. Fu Wenjun polishes his art while meditating in his mind. In this state, he seeks for rules in the universe. When his works is combined with the existence of lives and the universe, the artist enjoys the mysterious happiness in the universe.
--- Hu Jiujiu
His photographs have the effects of traditional Chinese paintings. There are not blatant scenes but is filled with tranquil, poetic and fun life. The poetic treatment reflects the author’s pursuit of ideal life.
--- Wang Wenjuan
It has only been a short time since experimental photographic art started to develop inChinaand there are limited photographs which deeply focus on culture. Mr. Fu Wenjun transfers the expression of content and forms of photographs. The works exhibited this time is boosting Chinese experimental photography.
--- Li Xingqiang
When we turn photographing into viewing, the world gets rid of all the meanings imposed by people and is presented by its appearance. It becomes free while the task of audiences is to review it until the viewing stays there. In other words, the significance of photographing is to keep us viewing spontaneously. Viewing the world is the starting point of photographing. --- Bao Dong
With penetrating intuition and artistic ambition, Fu Wenjun grasped the tension between theOldSummerPalaceand theExpoPark. He restructured the photographs he had taken and reproduced them in the form of a dialogue: the pictures of theOldSummerPalaceand the Expo Part got out of the frames, they were not still like other photographs but motive people to think of historical eternity.
--- Hu Xudong
Fu Wenjun pays much attention to the scores of time which indicates steps of eliminating memory. Fu Wenjun’s works seem to fight with the memory loss. Reminded by the scores in Fu Wenjun’s photographs, sensitive viewers can think of the memory lost.
--- Zhang Qikai
The combination of these various but shabby scenes adds up to an overall momentum. Viewers get different visual experience and aesthetic appreciation from the different pictures, thus the visuality and readability of the pictures are strengthened and the idea of the author is emphasized in this way.
--- Li Wei
Modern image creation is a trend of art. Fu Wenjun expresses his standing in practice, and this boosts the combination of traditional photographing and modern digital technology, modern culture, society, the way of looking at things and the way of expression. That’s how art becomes more and more valuable and significant.
--- Wang Chunchen
In Show of Formality --- Fu Wenjun’s Historical Conceptual Photographing, the most obvious characteristic is the strong “historical awareness”. It is one and a half century from the robbery of theOldSummerPalaceand the host of World Expo 2010ShanghaiChina. In this one and a half century, great changes have taken place inChinaand these changes are closely connected with the western world.
This article was published in China Artist Magazine in December 2011.