On the morning of May 19, 2018, the opening ceremony of the fourth Suzhou Jinji Lake Biennale Exhibition was held in Suzhou Centre, with the theme of “inheritance and reinvention” with the aim being to explore in depth the historical and contemporary significance of Chinese traditional culture, particularly Eastern Wu culture. Three thematic exhibitions on sculpture, painting and design will be presented. From the Canglang Pavilion, which is the second in the series since the From the Peony Pavilion in 2016, is one of the three major exhibitions on this theme. It starts with the classical garden spirit that the Canglang Pavilion belongs to, and makes a new exploration of traditional Chinese humanism and the aesthetics of life.
This time, Wu Hongliang, Curator for From the Canglang Pavilion, Qiu Ting, representative of the participating artists and Professor of the Department of Chinese Painting from the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, and Zhu Qiang, Chief Curator of the Jinji Lake Art Museum were invited by CAFA to retell stories of From the Canglang Pavilion from curator’s, artist’s and organizer’s perspectives, sharing with readers how to explore this unique art from the Canglang Pavilion, how to craft an exhibition and combine space with the exhibition theme, what they see as the classical garden, the contemporary value of the human spirit and artistic creation.
Interview time: 2018/5/19-21
Location: Suzhou Jinji Lake Art Museum
Journalists: Zhu Li, Zhang Yizhi
Translated by Wei Yuluo and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO
CAFA ART INFO × Curator Wu Hongliang: “With the idea of a garden as the entrance, we look for a place of peace of mind for the audience”
CAFA ART INFO: The fourth Suzhou Biennale in 2018 identifies “inheritance and reinvention” as the theme. How do you draw concepts from such a big theme in the contemporary art exhibition From the Canglang Pavilion? Could you tell us the source that started this whole story?
Wu Hongliang: My relationship with Suzhou began two years ago at the From the Peony Pavilion. I did some simple research, and presented my opinions on the Kunqu Opera through that exhibition. There surprisingly resulted in a lot of good comments from the audience. It was said to be the most visited exhibition since the Jinji Lake Art Museum was established. So we started looking for new partnerships. This time the Suzhou Jinji Lake Biennale is the beginning of a new phase.
When it comes to fate in regards the Suzhou Garden, it’s about my growing experience. I grew up near the Summer Palace in Beijing, which is an imperial garden and the former Yuan Ming Yuan, there are many ways of thinking they got from the Suzhou Garden. I always love gardens, and I want to express my feelings in my own way. So I’ve been coming back and forth to Suzhou, asking the experts in the gardens for advice and researching. In this process, I also found that the garden is not only the place where the “body”lives, but also where the “mind” is placed. From my own experience of growing up, to the opportunity to collaborate at the Biennale, and to the love and study of the garden, it became the beginning of this exhibition.
CAFA ART INFO: Canglang Pavilion, Lion Forest Garden, Humble Adminstrator’s Garden and Lingering Garden are listed as the four great Suzhou gardens from Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasty. The contemporary art painting exhibition From the Canglang Pavilion revolves around the theme of art heritage and innovation, and draws on the painting as the base point through the Canglang Pavilion with typical cultural characteristics as the site and model. What are the factors that you chose for the Canglang Pavilion from the Northern Song Dynasty?
Wu Hongliang: It’s about how to define a more detailed concept, or a new topic to explain the way we want to express the spirit of the garden. Then naturally, we found the earliest garden, Canglang Pavilion in Suzhou. The garden was founded on the doctrine “be the surging wave that cleans, it washes my hat; be the surging wave that is dirty, it washes my feet.” What it implies is the relationship between “withdrawal and engagement” in the world. So in this contradictory logic, “Canglang” becomes the best experience.
Additionally, unlike the very popular gardens, Canglang Pavilion is not the most visited Suzhou Garden. I thought it would be quieter. It has stability and self-esteem, so we completed a two-year research project on this as a topic. Later, the garden’s Director Xue repeatedly took me to walk around the garden, including views of spring, summer, fall and winter. This time in the snow, I stood on the waves to feel what the state of water was in winter. From such logic, I generally found ideas around the curation. As information began to emerge, it began to connect with the artists who wanted to express it, and even some of the artists’ works were created there in the Canglang Pavilion. For example, Zhou Jingxin’s sketches, Lin Haizhong’s Four Seasons of Canglang, and so on.
CAFA ART INFO: Path, Purify, Insight and Peace is a slow-walking route for the exhibition, and you hope to “open up a travel in time and space in this exhibition, ” and start a journey to find where your mind is. There seems to be some dramatic consideration here. Could you tell us more about the construction of the live exhibition?
Wu Hongliang: After the construction, no particularly strong thread was found to support the exhibition. Then it happened to coincide with Wang Dongling’s exhibition of the Bamboo Path in Shenzhen, as the original Canglang Pavilion was built with bamboo shadows as light. Thus the first part Path takes the audience into the garden through the Bamboo Path, and gradually develops the story.
In addition, the exhibition invited the famous Czech space artist Jiri Prihoda to design the layout. It is not a streamlined one way, and one might feel a sense of bewilderment that doesn’t know where to look. It’s a garden to experience, like an exploratory process. You can see things from here, though some things can be seen but cannot be touched; can be smelt but cannot be reached. It just shows all that information that the garden has introduced to us. There are many other works that are experimental. We had guests who had come to see the exhibition today and suggested that many of the works were very different from each other. This is a pleasant surprise that the gardens offer us: lots of things are unexpected.
For example, Song Dong’s work doing it is better than ignoring it; doing it is no better than not doing so; despite it, one has to do it even if it is in vain(不做白不做，做了也白作，白做也得做) is actually a work he called as “done in vain”(白做了). There are a lot of art issues that you can dive into here. Art is doing useless things, and the useless things are precisely related to the spirituality of Chinese people as well as humanities and cultural systems of the world. Art is always related to spirit. The so-called “spiritual” things may be exactly the same as they seem to be useless. Therefore, in this exhibition, we hope to raise some more interesting thoughts for the audience.
CAFA ART INFO × Artist Qiu Ting: “Just like there is a Peach Blossom in everyone’s mind, so it is also a Peach Blossom.”
CAFA ART INFO: Hello, Mr. Qiu, can you give a brief introduction to your work and your understanding of the theme of this exhibition?
Qiu Ting: I have two artworks in this exhibition. The big one is Shuiquan Courtyard. It is not about Canglang Pavilion but Biyun Temple from Fragrant Hills, which is also a representative of Chinese courtyards. It was the place where the elders of Biyun Temple meditated in seclusion. The space is very quiet and isolated, and has very few visitors. I felt that it really had a sense of being withdrawn from the world as soon as I entered the space, a feeling of complete isolation from the world. I used to drink tea there. There were no tourists. The water was good. Then I had an idea that I wanted to visualize this real thing. The painting had been created since 2011, and been tweaked at each exhibition. It has many layers of colour. The trees in this painting have real objects. I drew a lot of sketches, so it took me many months to paint this work and I lost five or six pounds.
CAFA ART INFO: We really like this series of album you created. It gives people a very comfortable feeling. Could you introduce your work to us and what was the opportunity to start this small album of painting?
Qiu Ting: Of course. In fact, my painting state is relatively relaxed. Because I’ve done a lot of sketching, traveling, and drawing. I’ve been exploring how to present myself. It’s probably one of the most central pursuits of an ink painter. I wanted to do this work in a very relaxed way. People’s emotional expression is a state, the expression of feeling. So I drew this painting without a blueprint. It is the garden, mountains and water in my imagination. It’s the landscape I want to draw. I want to keep drawing. There will be a hundred drawings, one hundred and eight drawings, and so on.
First of all, albums are particularly interesting in the Chinese form. The difficulty of making albums is that you have to draw each page in a different way. Each page is not in the same pattern. Of course it is an ancient tradition. The album is a very important criterion to judge a painter’s proficiency. So in this album I would like to be able to present different locations of landscape, mountains and rivers from the north and the south, and the gardens in this great land, presenting them with a sense of intention.
CAFA ART INFO: So what do you think of the theme of From the Canglang Pavilion?
Qiu Ting: In fact, I think what Canglang Pavilion implies that there is a state of “withdrawal and engagement” with the world. Canglang Pavilion have been restored many times from Song dynasty to Ming and Qing. But its context and spirit have always been there. It is a very mountainous and wooded garden in the Suzhou Garden at present, and its base stones, Huangshi and Taihu stones are very varied and dramatic. Its stenciling window is the most abundant among Suzhou Gardens. Scenes are ever changing in the different openings, forms, and patterns. I think this garden is particularly readable. These things allow you to imagine the situation, which is the most comfortable combination of the hidden Chinese landscape and literati heart.
The exhibition is called From the Canglang Pavilion. It actually uses the best accumulation of Suzhou’s own urban texts, interacting with contemporary art in the context of these accumulations. This is how the theme of the exhibition is. Just like everyone has a Peach Blossom in their heart, it is also a Peach Blossom.
CAFA ART INFO × Chief Curator Zhu Qiang: “We hope to present the contemporary meaning of the classical essence through the art museum.”
CAFA ART INFO: The Biennale is the highest-level exhibition of contemporary visual arts at an international level. It is an important window for the emergence of new artistic achievements in famous cities and also an important art festival popular among local people. The most well-known and historic exhibition is the “Water City” La Biennale di Venezia, which was founded 123 years ago and remains popular today. In addition to this, there are a number of international biennales in the world, such as the Whitney Biennial in America, Liverpool Biennial, and the Shanghai Biennale in China. What do you think is the biggest feature of the Jinji Lake Biennale? Does it have something to do with the city?
Zhu Qiang: Suzhou is actually an ancient city, but as we all know, the industrial park of Suzhou is a very modern urban area. So how modern cities relate to art and how they relate to current trends, how to transform the relationship with traditional culture are issues that we have been concerned about. I think this biennial is a good illustration of this. For example, the concept of From the Canglang Pavilion is actually a representation of how our traditions relate to contemporary grafting. There are three major exhibitions in this Biennale, plus 22 external exhibits. The so-called exhibition selection, title of the projects, they are both around the concept of a modern city. Our subsequent seminar, called “Glimpse of the City’s Spirit”, is to explore the relationship between the traditional and the future, the moment and the avant-garde in a modern city.
CAFA ART INFO: In preparation for the exhibition last year, you introduced a lot of information about From the Canglang Pavilion. Could you tell us more about the exhibition from your point of view?
Zhu Qiang: We are involved in this exhibition to find out where people’s “home of the heart” is. As we visit one exhibition after another, we start to think, “Why do people visit exhibitions? Why do people go to opera? Why do people listen to musicals?” etc. What people seek is the psychological placement. So we talked to the curator Wu Hongliang, who was very thoughtful. We wanted to be able to intersperse the traditional elements, including the garden itself and Suzhou’s traditions, the traditional humanistic spirit, their own life aesthetics, artworks and so on together, and then combine them for presentation, hoping the audience does not just see the exhibition, but may eventually be able to find their own inner sense of tranquility.
For the exhibition, we also invited the psychologist Liu Zhengkui to produce some psychological equipment in order to record the changes in audience attitudes during the exhibition by collecting data from the visitors who wear the equipment, then combine with Chen Qi’s work to create a work of art. So that everyone can get a picture of their own inner “sound of Canglang”. Visitors see an exhibition and get something, which is also a great thing about this exhibition. This is the meaning of From the Canglang Pavilion: Where are we from, and where are we going.
CAFA ART INFO: From your perspective, what do you think of the artistic value and social impact of Suzhou’s largest-ever art feast Suzhou Jinji Lake Biennale and From the Canglang Pavilion?
Zhu Qiang: I think from the museum’s aspect, doing this exhibition is actually pretty in line with the idea and brand that we have always advocated. I have always wanted to build it on traditions and show it to the world, through the platform of an art museum, our discussions on the traditional and the present. Whether it’s about living, time, gardens, or Kunqu Opera, to let people see the contemporary representation with a classical essence. First of all, people born in the 1960s, 70s or earlier know more about traditional classics such as Kunqu Opera, but today’s children are completely ignorant of it. So through art forms, we have created a new understanding of tradition to people. This is a big benefit. Secondly, why are there three main exhibitions plus 20~30 exhibitions? Because this is the new industrial park in Suzhou. We hope to bring welfare to the local people here and to tourists from all over the country. Suzhou itself is an attractive place where common people come to visit Pingjiang Road and the gardens. They can also visit contemporary art exhibitions. Cultural development should not rely solely on a museum or an art museum, we also should build the awareness of combining the traditional with the modern, and make a habit of it. Then common people and even the whole country may come to Suzhou in May. This is the value and significance of holding From the Canglang Pavilion and the Suzhou Biennale.