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Zhang Yu’s One-Finger Chan Culture and Spiritual Exploration

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Zhang Yu’s One-Finger Chan Culture and Spiritual Exploration

Date:2009.06.19 ~ 2009.08.09
Reception:2009.06.21 15:00
Curator:Li Szuhsien

Exploration for the Spirits / A Cultural Standpoint
—Zhang Yu’s Instant Zen

By LI Szuhsien

The Cultural Level of Contemporary ink and wash

The name Zhang Yu may appear to be somewhat unfamiliar in the Taiwanese art scene. But he has been a brave warrior of Chinese “Experimental ink and wash” since the 1990s.。For years, Zhang Yu has been constantly experimenting in the realm of ink and wash art. Zhang Yu has become legendary ever since. He established its contemporary spirit through his pursuit for a new expressive format in ink and wash art found in his “Fan Painting Series” 、”Portrait Series” , his emphasis on personal art language found in classical-modern ink and wash ”Collection of Random Thoughts”, his reconstruction for the internal ink and wash, and search for the contemporary meaning of ink and wash art found in his “experimental ink and wash” “Divine Light ”、”Morning Post” series, to the totally unconventional “Fingerprints” series that utterly surpassed the rules of traditional ink and wash art. Zhang Yu’s aesthetic pursuit is identical to the contemporary ink and wash art history in its development. It is worth mentioning that he has been involved in this extremely powerful colliding realm of art since 1993. Zhang Yu has collected his discourses and arguments prior to 2003 in a compete article titled “A Declaration of Experimental ink and wash Art” Manifesto of Experimental Ink and Wash . This article is considered an extremely important document in contemporary Chinese art history. Working parallel with his creation and discourse, he has incessantly made a certain number of interpretations for “experimental ink and wash art” through time. Working parallel with his creation and discourse, he has incessantly made a certain number of interpretations for “experimental ink and wash art” through time.

Zhang Yu has regarded “ink and wash” with a supreme unconventional and detached point of view. He has elevated his understanding of “ink and wash” from a scholastic level to a cultural one. It is not simply just a turn from plain illustration to the leaving aside, abandoning and confronting traditional ink and wash, but an attempt to depart from “ink and wash” and a strive to seek a new cultural significance in a new generation. In his Manifesto of Experimental Ink and Wash , Zhang Yu has claimed that “the artistic expression of experimental ink and wash art has become the reflection of the world we know. Of course, certain awareness and reflection were originated from various problems—oriental, occidental, traditional, modern, cultural, artistic, and social, etc.—that we are confronted with. So far, experimental ink and wash art has marked our attitude and social standpoint….”and it “has gone beyond the metaphysics (anti-metaphysics) and surpassed what is recognized as oriental or occidental. It is the new concept and new order of ink and wash art in the Chinese contemporary art scene.”

According to the statement, Zhang Yu’s point of view towards “ink and wash” is obviously a sum of style, connotation and conception that has been passed down, delivered, and developed from tradition, and gone through the modern and contemporary. Exactly as to what he said to the writer of this article, the new contemporary ink and wash delivered and extended from experimental ink and wash art, “though we have no idea what it is going to be, we surely know ‘what it shouldn’t be.’” Such an idea has remotely responded to the idea that “experimental ink and wash art is opposed to the water ink autism and pulled a distance from the traditional literati pen/brush/ink rules. It is even discontinuous. It is a newly opened path outside the traditional system” Manifesto of Experimental Ink and Wash . It is the original intention and goal of such discourse. From this point of view, “Fingerprints” is no doubt the high embodiment and practice of Zhang Yu’s artistic attitude and his cultural standpoint.

When confronting with artistic subjects that is attached and tangled up in the traditions such as ink and wash art or calligraphy, there is always a group of ambitious participants who made a clear and precise pose to prepare for the future in China. Most of them have considered the problem with tradition should only be meaningful under certain specific circumstances of time and space. Frequently looking back into tradition would not be able to solve the artistically linguistic problem, in reverse, they would set themselves in a conventional impasse. Therefore they leave the obsolete problems of tradition such as brush/pen ink and wash and literati, etc. to the realm of art history in case these perplexed “non-problematic problems”would hold back the progress of creative advancement. As Zhang Yu claimed: “The experimental ink and wash art has terminated the problem of ink and wash at the time we break through it.” Manifesto of Experimental Ink and Wash Whether it is pen/brush ink and wash or not, whether there is a presence of literati or not, they are not questions Zhang Yu would care about. What he really cares at heart about is how to find a new artistic language to represent the cultural attitude of the present Chinese artist. In that sense, “Fingerprints” would be the artistic achievement of his overall performance.

The Artistic Asceticism of Push-and-Press: Behavioral

“Experimental ink and wash has new concepts, new methods to understand the world, new discourses, and new cultural values. Manifesto of Experimental Ink and Wash When confronted with the contemporary age, this is the fundamental goal that experimental ink and wash art has set up. This is also the basis of Zhang Yu’s standpoint for his creativity. For Zhang Yu, after putting aside the disputes on the discourse of traditional mottos and rules, art should be discoursed and examined with a coming back to its own professional linguistic context. Therefore, even ”Fingerprints” is passed down from experimental ink and wash art. After the current mission a reassurance of experimental ink and wash art confronted with the world is accomplished. “Fingerprints” would break through the fence of experimental ink and wash and become nothing but “Fingerprints” itself. Besides, Zhang Yu has never denied the fact that “Fingerprints” is a medium-crossing (multi-media) integrated artistic expression.

A language without language, an expression without expression, dense and numerous finger imprints have completed a nearly “non-creativity” status of art, are critical indexes to read and interpret Zhang Yu’s “Fingerprints”. Even though Zhang Yu has reflected a not completely unchanging but incessantly repetitive and recurring status of life through infinite pressing and pushing of finger imprints, it is with this status that the willpower and strength of intrinsic life are kneaded and turned into generations of austerity and into the asceticism practiced by monks. Taking an observer’s point of view under the premise that the human body is the most precise proportional scale, then combined with the general public’s understanding of the size of finger imprints in their experience of life, the fact that every single dot created by finger-pressing/imprinting has expanded into a gigantic scale work of art. This revealed an unimaginable, incredible accumulation of time and a kind of sympathy for the trial of stamina and endurance that, to a certain degree, worked together to catalyze an unnamable admiration within the observer’s heart. Such prediction and manipulation of the reaction of human instinct is something theoretical discourse can never grasp or reach.

The ascetic behavioral pressing/imprinting process of Zhang Yu, and his art works featured an especially intensive part of their own. Certain intensities are isolated, and he seek for calmness within intensity, and look for a contrast where there is no contrast. In their visual components, Zhang Yu would present a more conceptually instinctive and closer to nature perspective since he is not only searching for a intrinsic practice of the strength of life, but fulfilling the main ideas with the instant feeling of touch between his fingers and Xuan (rice) paper—a pure response to the material and substance. As a matter of fact, on the spot of his creativity, Zhang Yu does not presume any outcome for his finger imprints. At the moment his super-conscious creativity allows “hands at their own will.”He has abandoned the general conventional principles of composition, and he has no intention of creating layers of structures. The only intrinsic qualities (if qualified) are the repetitions of the moments of the fingers touching papers and the fingerprints itself. Zhang Yu has reach the minimal status of dissolution for a tableau, or even for the pictorial quality. “Fingerprints” has returned the artistic format entirely to art.

In his Manifesto of Experimental Ink and Wash , Zhang Yu proposes a fundamental concept that “takes the resource of Chinese and foreign traditional art as the setting point for experimental ink and wash exploration. In this sense, we have come to realize a broadened overall treatment for the global art and an attempt to integrate them as one in his “Fingerprints”. It is worth paying attention that, extrinsic skills, compositions and pictorial formats do not matter to Zhang Yu. He has placed his focal point on the embodiment and experience of intrinsic spirits, including the enclosed meanings of mediums. “What is valuable lies not in a work, but in the spiritual locus of one’s whole life. It lies not in what one has done in his life, but in his ability to see vaguely what others will realize in the comparatively remote future.” This is the revelation Zhang Yu learned from French artist guru Milo. The revelation made clear the original intention Zhang Yu had when he started to press/push finger imprints, and it also brought Zhang Yu creative subjectivity lie in the spiritual pursue, and who create with all their life and might.

The New Agenda of Artistic Language

From the angle of creative mediums, there also is concealed a tranquil tradition of literati paintings obsession of the material purity in Zhang Yu’s “Fingerprints” . The appreciation and criticism on ink and wash art in literati paintings has turned into the appreciation for the materials of the scholar’s four jewels—writing brush, ink stick, paper, and ink stone, during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Most of the art history studies would criticize this time as a period of “mindless fetishism” that fiercely severed the manner and ambition of literati from their tradition. However, if examined from an utterly western language of art, the “pen/brush delight and ink and wash verve” seems to be a pure understanding that has never occurred in Chinese art history. Ink and wash art could no longer serve to help in building an illustration for any landscape or flowers and plants with birds. Ink and wash can be ink and wash itself, if it continues to be a pure art language that keeps its own entity as an independent character. Due to certain innovation in art history, this progress of art, a period that has lasted for almost 4oo years, is thus justifiably redressed for the miscarriage and reinterpreted as “a non-feeble century”( WAN Qingli). In that sense, the intrinsic spirit of Zhang Yu’s “Fingerprints” has not only completed a format that erased the image of tableau to square one, but has included the understanding of the art materials that have been passed down from such tradition.

For a ink and wash painter, proceeding with a new creativity featured with modern idiosyncrasy has without doubt opened up a way out for the near stagnation of traditional ink and wash art. Speaking from the fundamental standpoint that turned its back on tradition and was confronted with the future, in the realm of ink and wash art there was hardly anyone who discovered the problem of “material” per se in the past. The delight and interest of conventional materials have no quality for cultural expression for the contemporary. That is to say, no matter how we set out from ink and wash art to explore the new possibility for its future, it will not change the fact that pen/brush ink and wash has lost its cultural standpoint in the Chinese contemporary art scene. Therefore, establishing of a new art language has become a crucial issue of vital interest, and that is the cultural mission Zhang Yu strives to accomplish through his ”Fingerprints”.

What is worth our attention is that, whether participants of art history, art theory or even as artists, they all seemed to inertly recognize the feature that the ink and wash materials have in the various effects of the interaction among pen/brush, paper, water, and ink. Whether it is the conventional skills of chap, scrub, speck, and dye, thick smear and effusive spread, or the modern techniques of wrinkle, wipe, rub, and wash, and glue, paste, print, and imprint—all of them are attempts to present an innovative art style on the basis of visual delight and interests. However, as a matter of fact, the new expression and the most unique material of the world of art that those people have taken for granted for the long term, are nothing but a wandering in the realm of modernism. Even taking “abstract ink and wash” as the theme and applying “contemporary pen/brush ink and wash” as an interpretation, the basic art language and the vessel of the art do not change at all. It is but another modernized description of the same traditional ink and wash art context. Nevertheless, through the creation of “Fingerprints”, Zhang Yu has dug out a new possibility of Xuan paper that has never been found by anyone else, an utterly self-voicing possibility that belongs to Xuan paper per se without pen/brush, water, and ink. The emerging of this new possibility is closely associated with the press and push finger imprinting technique of Zhang Yu.

When standing in front of “Fingerprints”, we will at most see bumps and hollows within the very dense white hideouts without traces of pen/brush and inks. In fact, Zhang Yu not only pressed and pushed dots with water dips, he “draws in” the pressed tiny hideouts with his “Qi”, his metaphysical strength, and eventually completed the bumpy hills we witness. Such an experience is without question extremely amazing and wondrous for general viewers like us. Therefore, we can assume that, besides spirituality related to Zen, the asceticism of “Fingerprints” practiced by Zhang Yu, his “pressing” and “drawing in” manipulation of Qi strength during his creative process has to do with Tai Chi and its infusion of Ying and Yang, and the symbiosis of true and false, actual and hollow. Such an unprecedented way of interaction and exchange between Qi strength and Xuan paper material is definitely not the common application of Xuan paper that emphasizes on the effect of the tableau and the embodiment of literati charisma would ever discover. After expelling the cross reference between pen/brush and ink and wash, Zhang Yu has proposed a new feature of Xuan paper material that is solely of the material itself. Such as new art language that passes down from the development of material has utterly embodied the ultimate ideal of Manifesto of Experimental Ink and Wash, that is, “originating from the root and vein of traditional art, but varying from the formative language of conventional painting.”

From the discourse above, it is not difficult to figure out that “Fingerprints” is not a simple art creation, but the inclusion of the vigor of style a Chinese artist must perform for his age. “Experimental ink and wash art is our cultural attitude and standpoint.” The view of art and the cultural standpoint Zhang Yu exclaims through Manifesto of Experimental Ink and Wash has gone far beyond the realm of any artist’s concern for art affairs. It is the high representation of traditional literati charisma and manner. The status of multiple complexity art language of “Fingerprints”, if synopsizing in the language of ink and wash, is without doubt a demolishing and reconstructing act for tradition. Such a discourse method would have a powerful impact on the Taiwanese ink and wash art scene. There are certain limitations talking about Zhang Yu and his “Fingerprints” series while setting off from the fundamental standpoint of Taiwanese art circumstances. Yet within all these cannot-helps, we are provided with a chance to retrospect upon our own culture, and such a basic departure point is still meaningful in a positive way.

Zhang Yu,  Manifesto of Experimental Ink and Wash(1999.6.26), Experimental ink and wash Art in China 1993-2003. Hei Long Jiang Art Publishing, 2003.

Zhang Yu quoted this passage from Sir Roland Penrose’s work Miro(Hu Nan Fine Art Publishing, 1987)as the introduction to the article ink and wash, A Spiritual Significance in Art History and Linguistic Feature of Contemporary Experimental ink and wash Art  to manifest its meaning.

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