The fragrance of the plum blossom wanes, a new red smear appears on the Chinese flowering crabapple, as I smell the fragrance of the roseleaf raspberry in full bloom and break through a wall of berries --from “Wandering in a Small Garden in Late Spring” by Wang Chi
The roseleaf raspberry blooms in late spring and has attracted much comment from poets through the ages. Su Shih wrote: “The roseleaf raspberry does not vie for spring, blooming alone the latest of all spring flowers.” It has also been said: “The roseleaf raspberry is the last flower to bloom in spring, white with its own light fragrance. Once it has bloomed summer is at an end, there will be no more bright and brilliant flowers and because of this people have come to recognize the blooming of the roseleaf raspberry as the end of the season of flowers.”
During a drinker’s wager game described in the chapter “Girl’s Evening Birthday Banquet at Yihung” in the literary classic Dream of Red Mansions, She Yue draws the “roseleaf raspberry – pinnacle of vitality” card. On the back is written: “A roseleaf raspberry in full bloom.” The phrase “pinnacle of vitality” refers to the fact that the flower has reached its natural peak, after which it naturally withers. It just so happens that the roseleaf raspberry is the last flower to bloom in spring and the author, Tsao Hsueh-chin, has She Yue picking this bamboo divination slip because she is the last character in Dream of Red Mansions to leave. After the decline of the Chia Family, the young maids go their separate ways and Hsi Jen marries Chiang Yu-han, only She Yue remains. The meaning here is very similar to that contained in “Kai Dao Tu Mi.”
What is meant by “Kai Dao Tu Mi”(開到荼靡) is that as soon as resplendent beauty is achieved its decline begins. In recent years my creative work has focused on representations that appear to be rich, beautiful and extravagant, using my understanding to reveal their inherent absurdity, reinterpreting the expressive art forms the public finds easiest to accept. What I mean by this are those themes in art history that can be discussed independently, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say those works of art that most people find not only easy to accept but would be willing to hang on the wall of their own home, even if they are just reproductions.The two works currently exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, were both based on this thinking. Firstly, in the piece Material Paradise I selected a classical Western still life painting because still life painting is an introductory class for Western art studies, but it is also highly approachable. Realism and aesthetics are seemingly the expressive forms most people find easiest to accept and understand.
“During the 17th Century most collectors of still life paintings belonged to the ranks of the middle classes. They wanted paintings to be sumptuous and decorative as a way of proving their mastery of the material world and self-awareness of life, as if they were members of the nobility or aristocracy. Members of the aristocracy on the other hand collected still life paintings only to shine a light on their own wealth, power and learning. In the 21st Century the endless stream of reproductions and decorations maintain this article of faith in “aesthetics” caught between reality and virtuality. My series of works make use of the power of complete objects to conduct a dialogue with reproductions, in an attempt to find the harmony of conflict. This helps us to consider the way in which people identify with vanity and appreciation of the beautiful, the lack of clarity in popular collective consciousness regarding a “sense of beauty” and a reconsideration of the functionality of art” (excerpt from the Taipei Fine Art Award Catalogue 2002, P34).
Kai Dao Tu Mi(開到荼蘼靡) is similarly based on ideas concerning the reinterpretation of expressive forms of art regarded as normal and approachable by the general public. I have deliberately chosen the sort of bird and flower paintings that most people would be willing to display in their own homes. Beyond the Western style still life painting in Material Paradise it is also my intention to use the work to speak to people of contemporary issues. I then remove the use of ink from these randomly selected bird and flower works from the imperial palace collection, adding color in a patterned and graphic way, while experimenting with the concept of the three dimensional festive lantern.
Students of Chinese painting generally undertake a program where they learn to
imitate the style of master painters and produce realist works, before moving on to realize their own creative ideas. “In Chinese the word used for imitating a painting or calligraphy is ‘Lin-Mo’ – ‘Lin’ involves placing the object directly in front of the picture, observing and copying its outward appearance. As such it can be difficult to retain form but easy to capture spiritual essence. ‘Mo’ on the other hand involves placing the object on paper by depicting its form. This makes it easy to capture form but difficult to retain its spirit…Imitating a painting requires the artist be loyal to the spirit of the original and very much aware of what lies behind the piece. This involves much more than painting what is shown or a mechanical reproduction” (excerpt from Chinese Ink Painting, Chan Chien-Yu, P194-195, 1991). In the same way Kai Dao Tu Mi can also be seen as something of an impertinent imitation.
In this exhibition I have not tried to compare the different ways nature is interpreted in the east and west, I have also not discussed the development or future of Chinese traditional painting. It has been my intention to combine western still life painting and eastern bird and flower painting, in an attempt to produce a footnote and potential dialogue more in keeping with contemporary life. Perhaps the greatest shared characteristic between these two works is that behind all the showy resplendence there lies nothingness.