Yang Yongliang, a young artist from China, combines traditional Chinese Shan Shui (literally, mountain water) art with digital techniques to create “ghost landscapes,” which offer a dreamy techno vision of man and his environment. While the videos and pictures have a striking sense of harmony, they are also somehow unsettling. Industrial images, pollution, and waste have replaced the traditional country idyll. According to Romain Degoul, writing on the Galerie Paris-Beijing web site, Yang uses the tradition of Shan Shui, with its detailed views of mountainous landscapes and scholars, to create a “new world of illusions, a vision between dreams and nightmares, futuristic and age-old at one time.”
All of Yang’s conflicting emotions about urbanization are in the work. “The city,” Yang told David Rosenberg in another article, “is the place where I live, a space that evolves with me and which contains my memories. A mirage or ghost-city is the environment towards which I reach out, but it only exists in my imagination. The water of the mountain (the landscape) suggests the imitation of the traditional art forms of my childhood, which have gradually disappeared as the city and I have evolved. The birth of the Ghost Landscape is not an accident. The city, the landscape – I love them and hate them at the same time. If I love the city for its familiarity, I hate it even more for the staggering speed at which it grows and engulfs the environment. If I like traditional Chinese art for its depth and inclusiveness, I hate its retrogressive attitude. The ancients expressed their sentiments and appreciation of nature through landscape painting. As for me, I use my own landscape to criticize reality as I perceive it.”
Degoul thinks Yang’s photographs change the closer you get: “When looking at them closely, they become shockingly modern city views. He perfectly handles the contradictions between ephemeral and solid, sparse and bold, beauty and ugly so as to make the entire picture poetically harmonious, but the details are ‘blots on the landscape.'”
But Yang may also simply be updating an ancient art for today’s polluted, urbanized China. “Formatted to long panoramic scrolls, printed on cotton paper and red-stamped like in the ancient times, enhanced with details and sense of scale, the whole composition being black and white as it would be with Chinese ink, Yang’s pictures do indeed represent the contemporary Shan Shui.” While traditional Shan Shui paintings offer “ancient trees, waterfalls, pavilions or some Holy mountains,” Yang’s contemporary versions are of “electric pylons, skyscrapers, and traffic-jams.”
Also, check out another Chinese artist, Yao Lu, who creates remarkable Shan Shui photographs of landfills. These are also a powerful commentary on the ecological destruction that too often comes with rapid urbanization.
Image credits: copyright Yang Yongliang / Galerie Paris-Beijing