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Geographical Experiment for a Man

Author: Wen Zhenqi Feb,2010

In fact, the memory of the days in middle school was deeply embedded in Liu Weijian's mind for all these years. In the Binjiang area, there were farmlands between the school and roads to the nearby towns. Back then the exclusive residential community, Zhijiang Garden, was surrounded by a bunch of low and old buildings. Liu Weijian lived in one of these shabby buildings together with a roommate, Sun Xun. They taught exam preparation classes on the first floor, and the upper floor was used as a studio/bedroom. It was a very dirty tiny place, establishing a basis of 'Art Right'.

In general, the decisions made during one's youth, on the one hand, transcend the constraints of tradition; and on the other hand, tend to rely on something specific. I remembered vividly that vague images of people and blood were always shown in Weijian's paintings, which easily remind people of Artist Chaim Soutine.

However, when I saw Weijian's works again in 2007, the sharp contrast with his previous work astonished me greatly. I was surprised at the cold, clean, plain, and implicit plot of his paintings. The bloody images disappeared completely. Architecture and highways revealed a strong sense of cement. His paintings usually featured ordinary stuff. But a sense of unfamiliarity was often perceived. Such stiffness, concreteness, paleness, dryness, roughness and sense of oppression had something in common with cement.

His attitudes toward painting used to be beyond my comprehension. Weijian studied classic painting, but he painted so fast and directly. There's no need to take a close look at the image and you will feel the determination and resolution hidden in his strokes.

Thereupon, the senses of determination, concreteness, paleness and dryness prevail in his art. Looking at Weijian's work, one would be reminded of the landscape of the Binjiang area in Hangzhou a decade ago. However, there might be similar scenes in the countryside of Hunan province. Hence some people would also associate it with his hometown in Hunan. But as a matter of fact, such scenes can be perceived almost everywhere in China.

Therefore, Weijian's attitude and his works can be considered as a prelude: the presence of cement and a sense of concreteness exist everywhere.

In Weijian's studio, there is a large map of China. Each summer he would start a new journey. The routes were not pre-arranged. He just kept on walking, like a crazy man, along the national highways, and under the blazing sun.

His veins and roads are integrated into one. His journey can be regarded as a man's geographical experiment. Different from the discovery journey of Columbus, Weijian's journey possesses more similarities to exploration made by great Chinese ancient travelers such as Xu Xiake, who also emphasized walking and examining again and again. But the difference lies in the transition of time. The present features one of the most tragic and turbulent periods of geographical change in urban and rural areas.

"The sun and moon-like two pieces of jade manifest the pattern of heaven; mountains and rivers in their beauty display the pattern of earth. These are, in fact, the pattern (wen) of the Tao itself." (Excerpted from The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons)
"Can this beauty be considered external adornment? No, it is natural, it is just so of itself." (excerpted from The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons)

In ancient times, the literature and the grain of 'Tao' appears as nature, so the heart of literature and culture, which is also called the heart of the universe [the heart of tian (sky)  and di (earth)], kept in words and texts, and remain in the tradition, but at that time, in the 'ancient nature', human events are still simple.

And then, 'tian' (sky) and 'Tao' is alternating seems far away from people now. Today the mountains and rivers are no more lustrous like silk, and the role of nature is also based on the industry. But somehow our sights are still living in the past. Our site still cannot face these real things. By contrast with the ancient landscape, these present landscapes were broken and fall down. So do we need to rebuild the vision? That is not what Weijian's mind.

So Weijian's works are entirely different from landscape painting. He does not express the landscape,  but the impressive cyan and white color in his images are showed the real, these two colors just represent the two geographical directions within ancient Chinese transcendentalism, cyan is east, and white is west. And in original means, the Chinese character 'the event of drawing' (画) represents the footpaths between fields, 'the event of drawing' is the boundary of farmland (画者畛也). So firstly, what the event of drawing care about is the practice of people's life, which relate to the ground and geography. Before Weijian's face there lies the overall image of contemporary geography, and therefore, in this sense, his practice is certainly like the re-deduction of the occurrence of the ancient landscape painting.

"Heaven and Earth determine the scene and the changes (Yi) take effect within it." (Excerpted from Book of Changes)
"Painting is far more than technique. What matters the most are changes." (Excerpted from Narrative of Painting)
"Ancient people considered flexibility and changes as the core of painting." (Excerpted from Narrative of Painting)

What Weijian has known, our homeland has been changed and broken. Those landscape photos of the national geographic magazine just produce the opposite world in watch landscape.

So these are only some parts of the present geography. Then the pure natural homeland is put peremptorily outside the frame, so we distinguish the broken detail thing. Those 'unnatural' parts of geography, the image of a human, the image of an animal, the image of farm machines, and the building materials are just some component part of the image of geography.

Originally, Painting events should be "multicolored and embroidered the image of the world of 'tian & di', category and classed all the living things."(Wang Yanshou, East Han Dynasty)It is precisely these parts to form the feature of this world. It also declares a kind face of the law of the universe.

Like a big thing, this face of the law of the universe is generated from and connected by the heart of human events, but now in front of this face, 'tian & di' world in recession, and all the living things are humble.

As English ancestor of modern geography scholar Halford Mackinder says, there is no complete geographical area to be less than or greater than the surface of the entire earth.

So in the direction and determination, what Weijian painted, crossed the geographical essence, and refers to someone Centrum of the world's system. After the industrial revolution, Hamel Jinde advertised that the main function of geography explores human interaction in society and the environmental interaction in some changed parts. These coarse geographical parts always repeating be shown, it depicts the ignored geographic "heartlands".

For a long period of time, narrative sense runs through Weijian's paintings. In the cold image there always is a kind of tension. That is different from the critical moment of photography. That narrative sense is from the experience of watching many movies in some period. However, now he removes away the narrative sense, just like to break away Soutine. Now the narrative sense is going away. Following, Weijian's eyes fall on the houses, because of walking, Weijian already knew that the flat substance was a key pivot of human habitation and existence. The concrete material is the state of the substance of the building, and the build is the capability of the concrete material, and they are living with a human being. Since then the matter of the universe there been such things as evidence, why express the kinds of personnel in the various dramatic tension?

Then Weijian started to reduce some medium of feeling, to investigating things and extending knowledge.

So before the blood feeling disappears in the images, but the cold and gloom is displayed in the vision, the basis is the mix of blood and earth. Returning the build, returning the house, then these unnatural habitations is not the product of nature in the universe, is it?

In fact, which Weijian insists on, is much more close to the classic attitude of indifferent travel.
Then observing things to view image appearance, studying the build to require living, Weijian has already felt that the mind of nature and humans is implied in the object.

Weijian's practice is not only building the system of geography but also expressing the whole image of the world in which we Chinese people live. So as a young artist, Weijian's judgment is still courageous and resolute, and Weijian's Tactile Perception is blended with one of the essence of the world.  


Wen Zhenqi
Spring, 2010, Hangzhou

Related Artists:
LIU WEIJIAN 刘唯艰
Related Exhibitions:
Liu Weijian: Under the Sun

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