Decoration, montage and overlying--- Review on Fu Wenjun’s Digital Painting Phot

      About the author Peng Feng:

      the curator of "Harmony in Diversity: Fu Wenjun's Digital Painting Photography Exhibition" at National Art Museum of China from 9th to 19th March, 2017, Professor at Peking University School of Arts and curator of the Chinese Pavilion at the 54th Biennale di Venezia

    Ever since the emergence of photographic technology,it had been struggling for its position in the art field. Why the photographywas not considered as an art consists in the fact that, it was determined bythe optical and chemical factors, and the human spirit had no way to penetrate. Althoughphotographers varied on their technical skills, the techniques made adifference in a very limited way. Aesthetic scholars has been taking delight intalking about the ontological differences exist between painting andphotography. In a court trial, photography could be the evidence, although alittle blurred. Painting could not do the same, even if it makes much clearerdescription. We can notice that photography is linked to the object, aimed torecord such an object; painting is linked to the subject instead, aimed toexpress ideas or feelings. The technology aims to record an object, while the art aimsto express ideas or feelings. So the differences between photography andpainting can be conjured up through seeing a part.

    However, the boundary of photography and paintingdrawn by the aesthetic scholars has encountered the twofold challenge oftechnology and art. From the prospective of technology, the appearance of thedigital imaging technology has destroyed the cause-effect relation betweenphotography and the object. Photographer, like a painter, can collect any kindof visual elements to express ideas or feelings. Observers can appreciate theworkpiece as if it was a painting, understanding the morale and implied meaningof the photographic work. In other words, if the photography wants to be shownas evidence in a court trial, it needs evidence to prove itself first. From theperspective of art, after the readymades having become artworks, there is noone insists any more on the spirit penetration and advanced techniques. The pick-up readymades andreal-happened events, without any working and transformation by the artists, canalso be considered as artworks.Then the boundary between art and non- art is completelyblurred. In the context of contemporary art, we can not deny photography isart, just like we can not accept painting is art. Today numerous photographicworks are regarded as art masterpieces, at the same time a lot of paintings areleft out the door of art. The standard to judge if something is art or not haschanged. Painting isinevitable to be an art just for its nature, and photography is inevitable not tobe an art just because of its nature.

    Since the born of digital composing technology, whathas happened to the photography? Firstly and obviously, it is the decoration. TheDecoration did exist already in the era of using films to produce photography,but the degree was limited with high requirements of the technique. Noteveryone could do the decoration, even the technician with superb skill was notable to do it following his inclination. In the digital age, the decoration techniqueshas become much easier, thus the degree of decoration is highly increased. Justgrasping the simple techniques, one can do the decoration as he pleases. Thephotography is free from to the limitation of the cause-effect relation of theobject. So photography is not independent of man’s will any more. On thecontrary, it can be arranged completely on man’s will, and be even softer thanthe painting, as our spirit can go deep inside in an easier way. Consequently,photography has developed into a major method to beautify the reality, becominga principal way to aestheticize the daily life.

    The decoration can make the photography more beautifulthan the reality, but the beauty can not make the photography become an art. Inthe current time of daily life aestheticization, beauty has become a basiccharacteristic of the daily life. However, art should be different from thedaily life. In an era that daily life was not beautiful, beauty could become acharacteristic of the art. But in an era that daily life is already verybeautiful, for the art, beauty is not useless, but harmful instead. Aiming todistance with the beautiful daily life, possibly the art will break with thebeauty. Therefore, the decoration can only turn the photography into abeautiful merchandise, but is insufficiently turn it into the art. For becomingthe art, photography should boycott the decoration.

    Beside of the decoration, the digital photographytechnology has also provided convenience to the montage. In our digital times,the montage technique used for the filmmaking can be done with skill and ease. Takinguse of the montage for the purpose of producing meaning, expressing ideas andcreating dramatic effect, has become a principal method in the contemporary videoart. For example, Eyes of Dragonfly, anundergoing film project of artist Xu Bing, has drawn its material from the collected surveillancevideos. From tremendous amount of videos, Xu Bing finds out all the necessaryelements composed of a story, including characters, plots, places, and makes themontage of unrelated videos, developing into a story film permeated with suspense.Except of the montage, Eyes of Dragonfly doesnot use any other elements of film, no photography, no actors.

    Different from Xu Bing, who uses the montage toproduce video art in dynamic state, Fu Wenjun applies the overlying to createphotography art in static state.Xu Bing does not change the videos, and similarly Fu Wenjun also doesnot change the photos. They are not artists who produce cartoon ormanga. Xu Bing, with the method of montage, has transformed the surveillancevideos into artwork; while Fu Wenjun, with the method of montage, has transformedthe ordinary photos into artwork. In his works, Fu Wenjun does the overlying ofphotos in multiple levels, and creates the series Digital Painting Abstraction series featured with the effect ofabstract painting. Normally, the artist can change a realistic work into an abstract one byway of deduction and extraction. However, Fu Wenjun has applied the oppositeway, creating abstract works with constant overlying and accumulation. Thanksto the overlying and accumulation, not the deduction and extraction, hisdigital painting abstract workpieces are characterized by special depth anddensity, just like the repeatedly painted oil paintings, which provide endlessaftertaste to the spectators. Probably with regard to his experience with oilpainting creation in his early stage, Fu Wenjun uses the photography to pursuethe effect of oil painting. Unlike many artists, he does not use photography toassist oil painting creation, but on the contrary, presents the delight of oilpainting through the photography.

    In the series A Wind from Yesterday, Fu Wenjun overlaysthe images of a page made from a woodblock printing in Song Dynasty and a Euphratespoplar, leading nature and civilization to set each other off beautifully. Bothof the two objects have gone through the test of a long time, so, as symbols oftime they can evoke people’s nostalgia towards ancient times. The works embodya taste that is very close to the “classic elegance” proposed by the modernChinese scholar Wang Guowei. This scholar regarded the “classic elegance” as avery special interest in the Chinese aesthetics. A Wind from Yesterday represents one of the few photographic works ableto give expression to this Chinese aesthetic spirit.

    Harmonyin Diversity can be seen as a variant of AWind from Yesterday, in which Fu Wenjun replaced the Euphrates poplar withthe overlying of Western classic sculptures and Chinese ancient paintings. Thenthe dialogue between nature and civilization has evolved into the dialoguebetween Chinese and Western culture. It is evident that they represent twocompletely different aesthetic ideals: the Western sculptures pursue a perfectform, while the Chinese paintings adore the light and intangible spirit.Nevertheless, with the overlying performed by Wenjun, they do not appear to beinharmonious. In his own special way, the artist interprets the harmony indiversity, which represents a wisdom contributing to the continuous developmentof Chinese civilization and which can untie the hard knot of culture diversityand clash of civilizations.

    Seeking harmony in diversity doesnot involve ignoring the clash of civilizations. On the contrary, precisely becausewe are facing directly the clash of civilizations, we need to advocate theharmony in diversity. In the series Game,Fu Wenjun has brilliantly expressed the current relationship of gambling amongcountries. The dice is chosen as symbol of the game, and the water splashes createdfrom the throwing of dice outline the map of countries. The asymmetricproportion of dice to maps implies that the game has become an essential content of nationalpolitics nowadays.

    Different from Game, that pays attention to thegambling among countries, Thought Readingfocuses on the game among people, especially between the person and himself.The basic elements in the series are some Buddhist statues and pictures of the humanskull under X-ray. Fu Wenjun, with ingenious treatments, reveals therelationship between humanity and divinity in our time. The Buddhist statuesare relatively small, which possibly implies the shrinkage of the divinity nowadays.The enlarged skull refers to the expansion of the self. However, the skull isblur and will be rotten, indicating that the self is temporary and the divinityis forever. The meanings conveyed by this series give us much food for ourthinking, just like a mirror, which make us to see the game between humanityand divinity.

    Post-industrialErais a large-scale photography installation created by Fu Wenjun, composed offive huge tires and four video projections. Chongqing, a mountainous city, isknown for its heavy industry. The high-rises on the mountains and cross-riverbridges bring people a sense of sublimity that is hardly to find in informationsociety. Post-industrial Era deliversaccurately this sense of sublimity created by modern industries. However, it isnot a glorious moment for modern industries, but instead their last days. Eventhough modern industries will leave, they will leave the stage of history in agrand style.

    Fu Wenjun not only has pavedthe way for the technique or school of digital painting abstract photography,his works also represent the manifestation of a wide and profound thinking onthe society and life, which is very charming. As for Fu Wenjun, photography isnot merely a tool to record reality, but a brush to express his ideas orfeelings, a proclamation permeated with philosophy.

    Wei Xiu Park ofPeking University, 23rd February 2017

  • Update:2017-04-25 18:59:52
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