Facing a river,Confucius said, Time passes like this flowing river?
Scoop up a handful of water and it goes through your fingers. Wade across a river and each step treads on different water. Water refuses to be possessed. It strokes your skin, making you assume it is yours then, but in an instant it leaves you alone, so lightly that it has no time to greet you. However, the tenderness and detachment of water has already permeated your entire body, helping you learn tolerance because of its infinite inclusiveness. Wherever it goes, it gives. Man's life originates from water, living on it and thriving out of it. Furthermore, man's self-awareness is also based on water. Jacques Lacan believes that a child becomes self-aware the moment that he sees himself mirrored in the water. The earliest mirror was water and hence the Greek myth of Narcissus drowning himself while admiring his reflection in the river. It passes like this flowing river! Water is closely connected with life so that feelings constantly arise in man when facing water. Man loves to transfer his feelings to water and to seek hope in it. Water is also endowed with human qualities such as water quality, water form, water appearance and water soul, etc. In fact, water is far wider and opener than man. It embraces every single thing, open to every single person.
Water has all manner of forms, as do human feelings. It is water that shapes human character. As a popular saying goes, “a man is nurtured by his native water?(which does not contradict the saying that “a man is nurtured by his native soil if water is insufficient?. A complete explanation can be given to the notion that different people have different personalities according to different dispositions of water. Because of this, geographical appearance is unavoidably referred to at the mention of humanity, and water, among other elements, constitutes the most important part of it. Water is viewed differently by Southerners and tide-makers, and inspires different feelings. Water, so to speak, is closer to the soul of Chinese philosophy and Chinese poetry, books, flutes and paintings. “With crows perching on dry vines and old trees at dusk, there are sweet homes near little bridges with flowing water below,?so goes a popular ancient poem. When viewing water, a Southerner enjoys sensing its stillness, its implicative charm and its gentleness. His eyes follow its ripples wherever it goes. It pauses and moves on and off and goes out of sight. Flowing water yet viewed with a serene mind, remote thinking yet just standing nearby----such associations are woven into the feeling of detachment and delicacy of rivers and mountains in the South, and accordingly into the depth and broad-mindedness shown by the scholar artists there.
The mere mention of Tang Guo is always associated with the image of him making tea in the early morning. For him, a perfect day begins after he drinks tea and passes water. Amusing as it sounds, it reminds me of Gertrude Stein's depiction of Picasso in which she refers to his impulse to paint and the periodic turn after his physiological emptiness. These two things seem to have little connection, but in fact, Tang Guo's tea sipping is a type of meditation, similar to Picasso's physiological emptiness. The essence of art within is so plain and simple that it touches me always: true art is born when the desire to create is spurred by the physiological need. Tang Guo's creation also falls into a few phases. Each phase is fairly intact. He polishes his works while drinking tea and remains silent once he has finished. After that, he will make tea again and drink it until the next group of works is born. Each time I see his new pieces, I always recall his tea-talk and gradually feel how high the degree a genuine work of art and literature should attain.
Also, Tang Guo's tea gives a taste of life and symbolizes an outlook on life which is close to nature and congenial to temperament. Good tea needs good water and Tang Guo knows this very well. He is particularly attached to water in the South. It winds its zigzag way, in a cool and serene air. It combines the best of nature and humanity, most suitable for expressing feelings and thoughts.
In recent years, Tang Guo has worked on a series of paintings associated with water. He has also taken a group of photographs, all still with water, vertical in shape and black-and white in color. Photographically speaking, these works are fairly traditional both in terms of the ancient theme, and in the choice of color or the atmosphere created. Some well-known photographers claim that black-and-white photos contain color. Even so, the general view is still that black-and-white ones speak more of history, implying some sort of time span. Tang Guo's black-and-white pictures do conform to history. He deletes colors, trying to reflect on history in general, Chinese art history, particularly landscape history after the Five Dynasties (907-960). His obsession with water leads him to seek the footprints of ancient artists, to trace the water source in traditional landscape paintings.
The landscape includes mountains and rivers. Rivers are just like dragon-like ridges winding through mountains. A water source was one of the most important factors of old in choosing land and building villages, for the people in those days believed that water was associated with good fortune. It is universally accepted that a water source determines fengshui for a village, for where there is a water source, there must be mountains, streams and rapids. In order to hold back quick water, they built towers in rapids, planted trees near slow water so that shoals and pools are always seen at a water source. The water is deep yet transparent, on its banks pagodas and temples were built, while bridges were built spanning it, too. As water is the ridge of mountains, it has a posture while it moves and makes a sound when it goes. So ancient artists found it difficult to capture, and instead they often tried to represent its soul and spirit, approaching it from a distance.
Tang Guo represents the landscape seen by artists of old through a camera. He focuses on some things associated with water by taking close-up shots. With water as the only theme, he catches the moment when water pauses for a break in its rapid path. Such an attempt has enabled him to try to catch nature, historical spirit and the humanity within. In his shooting, water seems like an inkwell, filled with views of nature seen by people of yore. Such views appear so real and so solid that they are brimming with the spirit of ink and wash in their reverted reflections.
It matters little whether a reflection is viewed upside-down or upright. But a reflection is after all a reflection---it is inevitably an illusion. These photographic works do not involve strokes but are immersed in the same taste brought about by the ink and wash painting. They are not ink and wash paintings but they have reached its consummation. Tang Guo's photos have created an illusion which appears all the more charming from being based on the realistic feature of camera-work. Borrowing from the inclusive and broad nature of water, Tang Guo sets about his reflection and anatomy of traditional ink and wash. He also puts forwards his unique understanding of the link between photography and painting. Just like the flowing water, he follows his inclinations and sentiments, trying to seek a dialogue with people of old and he has succeeded in joining them via this group of photographic works.