Imitation starts at the other end of awareness by Gao Yue 2002

Imitation starts off from the other end of awareness
-- Reading Wang Qingsong’s works

Gao Yue, 2002

The birth of photography can be considered as one scientific and technological progress. Once it is categorized as a variety in arts, its original essential function that is recording the happenings objectively will be granted with more ideas. The popular contemporary photography maybe is one expression in the concepts of photography. What I want to say is no matter how it is processed subjectively, photography is still objectively existing. It will finally give us one “truth”. No matter whether this “truth” is a kind of virtual truth or not. This truth shall lead us to recognize, understand and decode because we will find our answers behind this truth. This is the fundamental idea I have as regards conceptual photography. It can be said that the photographs of Wang Qingsong are not to record one truth through candid shooting. Instead, he applies the manner of theatrics to demonstrate an imitated and fabricated truth.

Wang Qingsong said that because the language of painting could not reach what he wanted to say about gaudy art, he thought of photography. His first works in 1997 were still based on his exploration into gaudy art, a term given by art critic Li Xianting. Wang Qingsong intended to use photography as a new medium to better demonstrate “kitsch”. However, he comes to understand conceptual photography as he creates more and more works. Once he has an excellent feeling for creation by way of photography, he comes to the mastery of photography quickly. Therefore he hopes people can consider him as one of conceptual photographers.

Among various language forms in contemporary Chinese art, “gaudy art” is given the most criticism and attacks. Somebody calls it a product “premeditated”. Maybe this premeditation comes from the concerted effort by all artists involved. Objectively speaking, gaudy art has its apparent origin for social development. When artists intend to express their certain sensitive feelings and find out friends around have similar feelings, it is natural and necessary that they come together. Possibly, like its name, gaudy art tells the exaggerating phenomenon in the society at that time and satirizes the kitsch psychology the public have on consumptive culture. However, the superficial expression of gaudy art or its separation from ordinary painting language gives us some kind of premeditated fabrication. Maybe this is the major reason that it is  attacked and died out pretty sooner. Maybe artists have put too much attention to finding out the expression of their creativity. Leaving the utilitarian mind of these artists aside, gaudy art does provide us some reference and reflection upon artist inspiration, art and social ideal of art, or social responsibilities for artists and etc.

Wang Qingsong is one representative artist for gaudy art who is also one that does not avoid gaudy art. He always creates his works naturally and tries to resolve well what he does not fulfill. When he startes off with photography, he chooses theatrics according to his character and habit for creation. He slowly works hard on his works based on his financial capacities. When he carries out important and big works, he creates single pieces upon inspiration from occasional feelings.

His earlier works have once been painted on silk reflective films, which are easy to fade out and pose difficulty for collection. Even though there is economic pressure, he still give up this way of printing quickly. Due to his persistent exploration into gaudy art, his earlier works give off an idea of traditional Chinese Spring Festival pictures. However they are lack of happiness and added with irony and imitation. Works at this time highlight the major images, which he acts out, with rather grandiose and rich colors in the backgrounds. On the surface it seems not systematic of his earlier works. However they were related to his works coming later, continuity comes out. For example, Requesting Buddha Series created in 1999 is a case in point. This series of works continue the posture of the Goddess of Mercy in earlier work such as Thinker (1998). What is different is he uses computer to process the hundreds hands of the Buddha and make the background pure and simple. What is holding in the hands of Requesting Buddha are all varieties of commercial products people consume in real life such as cigarettes, mobile, golden cup, money, VCD and etc. The artist hopes to achieve the effect of irony through imitating adverse phenomena in the society. It is clear that he uses honor to poke fun at pursuit for material gains. Through his own body, the visual impact is deepened. This series of works are complete, easy to understand while not superficial.

His recent work Night Revel of Lao Li (2000) is a significant work with clear awareness for conceptual photography after he gets involved into this field that takes photography as a medium of expression. It is said that when he shoots this series of works, it is bitter cold. He has to offer extra payment to models for warming up.

In the course of continuous exploration, he keeps understanding and mastering how to create his works that fits for theatrics. Once he feels it is right to work it out, he will get involved into preparation immediately. Of course, cost is a consideration that Wang Qingsong has to face up. Just because he is very clear about the connotation for conceptual photography, he knows what works are most suitable for him. He is very concerned about and sensitive to social problems and history, which needs to be reflected upon from another perspective. He knows his works are destined to spend a lot of money. Even if Wang Qingsong tried his best to present a simple kitsch, which is more exaggerated than reality, what he delivers to us is more intense and much richer. Night Revel of Lao Li becomes his representative piece as an artist of conceptual photography.

Everyone that knows history will recall that Night Revel of Han Xizai, the inspiration for Night Revel of Lao Li, is a traditional Chinese figure painting. A painter dispatched by Emperor Li in Post Tang Dynasty came to spy into the life of Han Xizai, a senior official in his reign. The painting depicted the dinner party in Han’s home where a lot of guests were enjoying themselves with female singers and dancers around. However, on Han Xizai’s face, there were worried looks. Wang Qingsong applies this traditional story and figures to depict contemporary figures in Night Revel of Lao Li. What is missing is the multi-layered facts and spaces. But he adds a lot of female figures dressed up colorfully and a contemporary party with kitsch decor. When people discard the extravagant kitsch scene, they feel much sentimental and choiceless. This work reflects upon the situation of contemporary intellectuals and promotes the artist’s own role as an intellectual.

In Another Battle series (2001), Wang Qingsong presents us a setting of warring times, which are too true to believe. However he uses such signs with cultural significance as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola to remind us that it is a war he fabricates. In the meantime when he exposes the confrontations between eastern and western cultures or cultural invasion in the global era, his works hint that he is a solider with another awareness and mission though his head is wrapped with gauze. His different outlook tells us that he is more conscious of his new role.

Artists born in 1970s are more concerned with personal feelings. In comparison, artists of 1960s experience a lot of significant events in that part of history. They are more concerned about social problems and would like to create works to reflect upon their own experiences. It is their way of creation to consider both then and now. Wang Qingsong’s latest work Past, Present and Future (2001) demonstrates this point most clearly. On the surface, this triptych imitates urban monuments. However he invites models to act out the sculpted roles in the monuments. Besides giving out a sense of hard cement sculpture, his work has a deep theatrical effect.

In Past, he uses wall paper used in decoration for common families to cover the pedestal aiming to give out the effect of marble while covering the front with mud. On this pedestal, Wang Qingsong applies true human beings to depict a typical scene in the warring times though it is far away from us. Wang Qingsong covers the models, flag, guns, pack of dynamite, bugle, and etc with mud. It seems that mud can represent the colors of that period of time. What is more interesting is that Wang Qingsong portrays himself as a wounded soldier who looks up to the people on the pedestal who wear serious but expressionless look. He holds a bouquet of flowers which might be presented to the “heroes” in our hearts.

In Present, Wang Qingsong takes one puppy and looks up at the workers in urban construction that include cleaners, oil workers. It deserves mentioning that Wang Qingsong used to be a worker in the oil field. Maybe it is that experience that gives him this inspiration. In this photo, he covers the figures with silver powder though having a sense of oily connotation which adds some color of post-industrial society and decreases the sense of truth. This personalized redecoration aims at emphasizing the artist’s attitude and thoughts --- workers should walk into modern history or honored on the monuments.

In Future, Wang Qingsong himself walks into the golden monument. He applies golden color to signify the beautiful golden future. However what is the golden future like in his photo? With extravagant riches, figures hold lanterns, fruits and flowers characteristic of Chinese festivals that are presented in a shape of much-honored crown. However the threat of war is still looming large. The suffering and misery are still existing. This beautiful future deserves our deep pondering.

It can be said that Wang Qingsong’s triptych Past, Present and Future which takes months of preparation and great cost is a powerful classical piece no matter from the perspective of presentation or the idea behind the picture. I evaluate this piece as a classic is because conceptual photography has to be dealt with and readjusted after a lot of trials though its concept is finished in one second. This is one of the charms for photographic art.

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