Decoration, montage and overlying-- Review on Fu Wenjun’s Digital Pictorial Photography
By Peng Feng
Ever since the emergence of photographic technology, it had been struggling for its position in the art field. Why the photography was not considered as an art consists in the fact that, it was determined by the optical and chemical factors, and the human spirit had no way to penetrate. Although photographers varied on their technical skills, the techniques made a difference in a very limited way. Aesthetic scholars has been taking delight in talking about the ontological differences exist between painting and photography. In a court trial, photography could be the evidence, although a little blurred. Painting could not do the same, even if it makes much clearer deion. We can notice that photography is linked to the object, aimed to record such an object; painting is linked to the subject instead, aimed to express ideas or feelings. The technology aims to record an object, while the art aims to express ideas or feelings. So the differences between photography and painting can be conjured up through seeing a part.
However, the boundary of photography and painting drawn by the aesthetic scholars has encountered the twofold challenge of technology and art. From the prospective of technology, the appearance of the digital imaging technology has destroyed the cause-effect relation between photography and the object. Photographer, like a painter, can collect any kind of visual elements to express ideas or feelings. Observers can appreciate the workpiece as if it was a painting, understanding the morale and implied meaning of the photographic work. In other words, if the photography wants to be shown as evidence in a court trial, it needs evidence to prove itself first. From the perspective of art, after the readymades having become artworks, there is no one insists any more on the spirit penetration and advanced techniques. The pick-up readymades and real-happened events, without any working and transformation by the artists, can also be considered as artworks. Then the boundary between art and non-art is completely blurred. In the context of contemporary art, we can not deny photography is art, just like we can not accept painting is art. Today numerous photographic works are regarded as art masterpieces, at the same time a lot of paintings are left out the door of art. The standard to judge if something is art or not has changed. Painting is inevitable to be an art just for its nature, and photography is inevitable not to be an art just because of its nature.
Since the born of digital composing technology, what has happened to the photography? Firstly and obviously, it is the decoration. The Decoration did exist already in the era of using films to produce photography, but the degree was limited with high requirements of the technique. Not everyone could do the decoration, even the technician with superb skill was not able to do it following his inclination. In the digital age, the decoration techniques has become much easier, thus the degree of decoration is highly increased. Just grasping the simple techniques, one can do the decoration as he pleases. The photography is free from to the limitation of the cause-effect relation of the object. So photography is not independent of man’s will any more. On the contrary, it can be arranged completely on man’s will, and be even softer than the painting, as our spirit can go deep inside in an easier way. Consequently, photography has developed into a major method to beautify the reality, becoming a principal way to aestheticize the daily life.
The decoration can make the photography more beautiful than the reality, but the beauty can not make the photography become an art. In the current time of daily life aestheticization, beauty has become a basic characteristic of the daily life. However, art should be different from the daily life. In an era that daily life was not beautiful, beauty could become a characteristic of the art. But in an era that daily life is already very beautiful, for the art, beauty is not useless, but harmful instead. Aiming to distance with the beautiful daily life, possibly the art will break with the beauty. Therefore, the decoration can only turn the photography into a beautiful merchandise, but is insufficiently turn it into the art. For becoming the art, photography should boycott the decoration.
Beside of the decoration, the digital photography technology 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. Taking use of the montage for the purpose of producing meaning, expressing ideas and creating dramatic effect, has become a principal method in the contemporary video art. For example, Eyes of Dragonfly, an undergoing film project of artist Xu Bing, has drawn its material from the collected surveillance videos. From tremendous amount of videos, Xu Bing finds out all the necessary elements composed of a story, including characters, plots, places, and makes the montage of unrelated videos, developing into a story film permeated with suspense. Except of the montage, Eyes of Dragonfly does not use any other elements of film, no photography, no actors.
Different from Xu Bing, who uses the montage to produce video art in dynamic state, Fu Wenjun applies the overlying to create photography art in static state. Xu Bing does not change the videos, and similarly Fu Wenjun also does not change the photos. They are not artists who produce cartoon or manga. Xu Bing, with the method of montage, has transformed the surveillance videos into artwork; while Fu Wenjun, with the method of montage, has transformed the ordinary photos into artwork. In his works, Fu Wenjun does the overlying of photos in multiple levels, and creates the series Digital Pictorial Abstraction series featured with the effect of abstract painting. Normally, the artist can change a realistic work into an abstract one by way of deduction and extraction. However, Fu Wenjun has applied the opposite way, creating abstract works with constant overlying and accumulation. Thanks to the overlying and accumulation, not the deduction and extraction, his digital painting abstract workpieces are characterized by special depth and density, just like the repeatedly painted oil paintings, which provide endless aftertaste to the spectators. Probably with regard to his experience with oil painting creation in his early stage, Fu Wenjun uses the photography to pursue the effect of oil painting. Unlike many artists, he does not use photography to assist oil painting creation, but on the contrary, presents the delight of oil painting through the photography.
In the series A Wind from Yesterday, Fu Wenjun overlays the images of a page made from a woodblock printing in Song Dynasty and a Euphrates poplar, leading nature and civilization to set each other off beautifully. Both of the two objects have gone through the test of a long time, so, as symbols of time they can evoke people’s nostalgia towards ancient times. The works embody a taste that is very close to the “classic elegance” proposed by the modern Chinese scholar Wang Guowei. This scholar regarded the “classic elegance” as a very special interest in the Chinese aesthetics. A Wind from Yesterday represents one of the few photographic works able to give expression to this Chinese aesthetic spirit.
Harmony in Diversity can be seen as a variant of A Wind from Yesterday, in which Fu Wenjun replaced the Euphrates poplar with the overlying of Western classic sculptures and Chinese ancient paintings. Then the dialogue between nature and civilization has evolved into the dialogue between Chinese and Western culture. It is evident that they represent two completely different aesthetic ideals: the Western sculptures pursue a perfect form, while the Chinese paintings adore the light and intangible spirit. Nevertheless, with the overlying performed by Wenjun, they do not appear to be inharmonious. In his own special way, the artist interprets the harmony in diversity, which represents a wisdom contributing to the continuous development of Chinese civilization and which can untie the hard knot of culture diversity and clash of civilizations.
Seeking harmony in diversity does not involve ignoring the clash of civilizations. On the contrary, precisely because we are facing directly the clash of civilizations, we need to advocate the harmony in diversity. In the series Game, Fu Wenjun has brilliantly expressed the current relationship of gambling among countries. The dice is chosen as symbol of the game, and the water splashes created from the throwing of dice outline the map of countries. The asymmetric proportion of dice to maps implies that the game has become an essential content of national politics nowadays.
Different from Game, that pays attention to the gambling among countries, Thought Reading focuses 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 human skull under X-ray. Fu Wenjun, with ingenious treatments, reveals the relationship between humanity and divinity in our time. The Buddhist statues are relatively small, which possibly implies the shrinkage of the divinity nowadays. The enlarged skull refers to the expansion of the self. However, the skull is blur and will be rotten, indicating that the self is temporary and the divinity is forever. The meanings conveyed by this series give us much food for our thinking, just like a mirror, which make us to see the game between humanity and divinity.
Post-industrial Era is a large-scale photography installation created by Fu Wenjun, composed of five huge tires and four video projections. Chongqing, a mountainous city, is known for its heavy industry. The high-rises on the mountains and cross-river bridges bring people a sense of sublimity that is hardly to find in information society. Post-industrial Era delivers accurately this sense of sublimity created by modern industries. However, it is not a glorious moment for modern industries, but instead their last days. Even though modern industries will leave, they will leave the stage of history in a grand style.
Fu Wenjun not only has paved the way for the technique or school of digital pictorial photography, his works also represent the manifestation of a wide and profound thinking on the society and life, which is very charming. As for Fu Wenjun, photography is not merely a tool to record reality, but a brush to express his ideas or feelings, a proclamation permeated with philosophy.
Wei Xiu Park of Peking University, 23rd February 2017
About the author Peng Feng: Professor at Peking University School of Arts and curator of the Chinese Pavilion at the 54th Biennale di Venezia.
This critic article is written by Peng Feng as the curator of “Harmony in Diversity: Fu Wenjun’s Digital Pictorial Photography Exhibition” held at the National Art Museum of China in March 2017.返回搜狐，查看更多