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A “Worldly” Artist

About Liang Shaoji’s solo exhibition in PSA Author: Hou Hanru Oct,2020


For the past forty or fifty years, Liang Shaoji has always been a “worldly” artist who is passionately and profoundly interfering the reality, while at the same time being a transcendental loner. The term “worldly” here can have two interpretations. First, “world” represents the social reality, or the reality of the world that China is trying to face with in its efforts to participate in modernization and globalization. Its most attractive image is the world of geopolitics. Other topics such as “the opposition and fusion of the Eastern and Western cultures” are its expression in the world of the “cultural realm” that is both “microscopic” and immense. On the other hand, nowadays, the “world” has been more and more re-recognized and redefined as “the World of the Living” beyond “the human society” and anthropocentrism. Even the original meaning of the world rooted in Buddhism is at times resurrected by the learned to describe a kind of absolute world without the concern of physical survival. Liang Shaoji has long been holding a thorough care for these two aspects of the “world issues” intensively and intimately, regarding this care as where the meaning of his work and life lies. He participates in the discussion and formation of this “worldliness” via his incredibly unique method and media language. He makes an extremely natural choice of a modeling form in “contemporary Chinese style” to delve into the conversation, conflict, and fusion of aesthetics, poetics, biology, science, politics, and personal circumstances, and hence to express an intention to reach a “Chinese-style” state of life that is a “unity of nature and human.” Utilizing various kinds of living forms in the kingdom of life, from bamboos to silkworms, from rocks to flowing water, from clouds to sounds, he conducts all sorts of experiments, including contemplation, compilation, casting, construction, cremation, or even manipulation and alteration of genes, grafting of irrelevant elements, as well as quoting the most up-to-date digital images and internet without hesitation. By doing these, he is consciously seeking for an “artistic expression” of contemporary ecology outside of the Western legacy. In a time of environmental crises and uncontrollable pandemic today, we “all of a sudden” realize the fragility of life and all kinds of “political strategies” to sustain life. We also long to find a way out of this powerless feeling. How to generate tenacity from powerlessness is precisely what Liang Shaoji has been investigating over the past half a century with all his heart and soul. He retreats from the center of geopolitics and perseveres in the borderland, revealing to us the beautiful pictures of how to turn dark to bright and transform weak to strong. He will soon “make a big move” in PSA and put up a big scale exhibition taking over more than half of the museum. It is not at all his intention to satisfy a narcissistic complex of retrospection. Rather, he wants to lure every viewer into “another world” that he incubates through navigating and struggling between being effortless and painstaking, where we can imagine and explore a “poetic” way of self-salvation together in a completely contemporary environment, namely the “unprecedentedly” fragile and precarious circumstances now.

20 October 2020, Rome.


Borrowing the "narrative mode" of Zhuangzi's "paradox of the butterfly dream", we can best understand the profoundness of Liang Shaoji's art. Therefore, we decided to call his large-scale exhibition "Can Wo/ Wo Can (Silkworm me/ Me silkworm)", or as it is translated in English (A Silky Entanglement), like entangled silk, weak and warm, but unable to for one to get out. Indeed, Liang Shaoji is conceiving the exhibition from multiple angles as a special world that is as clear as spring water and as complex as cloudy mist. On the one hand, he uses all kinds of heavy materials to compete with the huge space in order to be sublime and eternal, and on the other hand, he exposes everything in the invisible stream of time by means of "transmedia" that is as light as the "Ether".

The exhibition includes the results of Liang Shaoji's persistent exploration of the "intertwining" of nature and culture, which has continued from his early days to the present. First, the audience can see from the interdependence of bamboo and writing symbols - bamboo slips - to the biological phenomena of growth and transformation of the natural life of silkworms from birth to silk spitting, from metamorphosis to death in "Die Verwandlung" style. Under the artist's "artistic" intervention, this process becomes a metaphor for human life and transformation - the weaving of nature and artificiality as its embodiment (incarnation). Further, he tightly combines this process with the modernity represented by the discovery of science and technology, and actively uses various contemporary video and sound techniques to create a world in which creatures and environments, light and sound, silkworms and "me", "me" and silkworms, are intertwined and reflect each other. He is both sincere and transcendent. On the other hand, the artist, who has been living in seclusion and traveling around the world for many years, has not only kept the purity of the artist's heart, but also worked closely with the scientist with his unparalleled curiosity and imagination, coupled with his brilliant rational thinking and hands-on ability, "overstepping", changing his profession and identity, demonstrating how it is possible to break the disciplinary field and its "sphere of power". After all, living in today's China, which is both sincerely open to the "outside world" and constantly worried about losing its "traditional" status, he tries out various artistic, or "super-artistic" techniques with the utmost dedication. He is constantly concerned with the not-so-fortunate and happy social reality of human beings; he makes us face natural and man-made disasters together, and sighs with compassion from the heart.

Through Liang Shaoji's consistent persistence and all kinds of forms of expression, this painstaking and relentless exploration process unfolds with various adventurous "acts" and is derived into a system. This time, he has purposefully designed a route for PSA to present this creative system, inviting the audience to enter his "double world" in a coherent manner, in sections of nature, life, daily life, society, research and meditation, and to feel and share a certain hope for the "sublime spirit" together. Therefore, in the largest space of the exhibition, we are led to a "field between heaven and hell" - "The Temple" - to participate in the dialogue between "heaven, earth, human and god".

September 2, 2021, Briançon, the Alps

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