摘要： 罗颖：叠山纪 艺术家出席酒会：2018年7月12日（周四）下午6至8时 展期：2018年7月12日至8月25日 汉雅轩：香港中环毕打街十二号毕打行四零一室 罗颖的世界寂静无人，这个世界莺飞草长，杂树生花，芙蓉出水，椿萱并茂。这个世界有桃之夭夭，有沅茝澧兰，有竹苞松茂，有棠棣之华，蕉鹿之梦，蓼莪之思…
汉雅轩：香港 中环 毕打街十二号 毕打行四零一室
The Slow Victory of Plants:On Luo Ying’s World of Flora
Quiescent and devoid of human presence, Luo Ying’s world is populated instead by orioles in flight, and a spectrum of trees and flowers: lotus rising from ponds, bamboo and pines, rose apples and cherry blossoms, all lush and flourishing. This is a land of peach blossoms, of angelica and orchids, a place where dreams of marvels and memories of past loves might flourish, where a rare deer might appear, or a simple plant reveals healing powers. Here duckweed floats untethered to the water’s surface, as rafts of reeds travel across the watery expanse, and perch swim freely for miles.
Over thousands of years, the roots of such plants have become deeply entwined in the souls of Chinese people. In Chinese art, trees and plants function as symbols and metaphor, they are objects on which we fix our gaze, and anchors that help us to ground our lives. In its earliest appearance in ancient oracle bone inscriptions, the character for art (yi) was represented by a running man carrying a plant in his hands. In later seal script, this plant now appeared implanted in the ground while the entire people kneels by its side, cultivating the earth. In the modern simplified character for art (艺) we can still clearly identify the kneeling leg and foot, while the plant, now at the top of the character, has multiplied. There are no other people so filled with a sense of worship and gratitude towards plants as the Chinese. For thousands of years it has been said that trees and plants alone can understand and reflect our true selves; in fact, the plant world has become a kind of community for the solitary and the lonely. Just as with plants themselves, the legacy of Chinese art is not characterized by slashing and uprooting, but rather by quiet and patient cultivation.
Using plants as material in building architectural structures, the Chinese people never placed their faith in the indestructability of the hard and the firm; rather they believed in the power of sustained endurance, and this is a power that plants have revealed to us. The supposedly indestructible palace of King Taihang fell to the ground in the face of the enduring strength of the Foolish Old Man and his descendants. In the face of a cataclysm, plants yield to the destruction of the axe, to the inevitability of falling and withering, and yet in their hearts they are waiting. When the storm passes, plants regenerate and bloom again. The tomb of a monarch eventually becomes a fertile ground where plants grow and flourish. The victory of plants is slow, and relentless.
And thus, the world of plants that traditional Chinese people—that traditional Chinese art have/has constructed, is replete with species imbued with characteristics that are valued and respected: the noble resignation of reeds in an autumn lake, the melancholy of harvested fields of millet and wheat, the cold harsh endurance of the alfalfa, and the hopelessness of the gathered thorn-ferns.[ Note: Many of Qiu Zhijie’s references to the emotional qualities associated with plants are paraphrases or direct quotations from Chinese classical texts, where a particular plant plays an emotive role in particular scenario. For example, the reference to the hopelessness of the gathered thorn-ferns is from the poem ‘Cai Wei’ (‘Gathering Thorn-Ferns’) in the Xiaoya section of the ancient text Book of Songs (Shijing). In this poem, soldiers fighting on the battlefield far from their homes long for their families while gathering thorn-ferns. Thus an allusion to ‘gathering thorn ferns’ indicates a separation from and deep longing for home. Many such quotations from classical texts have become sayings with which the majority of Chinese are familiar.-Trans.] The mulberry trees glow in the setting sun, and the spiciness of ginger increases with age. In Song and Yuan paintings there is a tradition of depicting ancient trees in winter forests: this is an image that has long become encapsulated in our lexicon. Only those who aspire to the life of an anonymous recluse may earn respect as a noble scholar. In this kind of world, both the person who does not suffer from loneliness and the tree that is not old and withered are ignominious. It is taken for granted that only the moral person can find comfort and make his dwelling in such bitter, indifferent and frigid conditions. These paintings of withered trees and wintry forests represent a cultural sensibility, and have gradually become a touchstone of our language; they have become the trademark of the moral scholar in the same way that the humble dish of Yuxiang shredded pork becomes the test that distinguishes a master chef.
Chinese painters today lounge behind their floor to ceiling windows, turn on their air conditioners, play recordings of ancient guqin music on their expensive stereo systems, and open bottles of fancy Bordeaux wine; and yet, which of them does not attempt to insert into their work some of those qualities of bitter, wintry desolation, of loneliness and world-weariness, that permeate those ancient paintings?
Luo Ying’s world of plants is not of the kind characterized by an enforced condition of bitter cold and desolation. To the contrary, her world is full of vitality and life-force, like the first plants formed on Earth, as the biologist Thomas Huxley described in his essay Evolution and Ethics:
The native grasses and weeds, the scattered patches of gorse, contended with one another for the scanty patches of surface soil; they fought against the droughts of summer, the frosts of winter…. One year with another, an average population, the floating balance of the unceasing struggle for existence among the indigenous plants, maintained itself.[ Quoted from Thomas H. Huxley, ‘Prologemena’, in Evolution and Ethics, (New York: 1896), pp. 1-2. ]
Here different species of plants are engaged in a constant life and death struggle. But Luo Ying’s world is not characterized by the typically western narrative of a battleground where the strong devour the weak and the law of the jungle prevails: rather, her summer plants are always lush and blooming, and her autumn leaves glow with a quiet beauty, each following in perfect order the seasons of the Earth.
Her world does not belong to the primordial plant world described in Evolution and Ethics, because her world is full of the traces of human existence: tiled floors, garden railings, a cluster of chairs, even gates and stairways, or an empty couch. Yet it is also not the world of the traditional Chinese scholar’s garden, where the frustrated court official could vent his woes, or where the rich and complacent could retire and enjoy the elegant props that allowed them to imagine themselves as roaming through a wilderness of mountains and forests. To the contrary, in Luo Ying’s world we actually find western-style outdoor furniture. The metal railings and chairs have a flavor of Art Nouveau, and even the architecture of the walkways and the style of the flower vases have a distinctly western flavor, complete with street lights and sun umbrellas—these are the kinds of accouterments we would expect to see in modern European art, in the paintings of a Duffy or a Matisse. These are the symbols of an era in which civilization was confident in its belief that it had conquered Nature, when the critique of the machine age was yet about to unfold. These objects are past symbols of the bourgeois and hedonistic lifestyle.
Coming to this point in our analysis, it appears we are on the verge of labeling Luo Ying as either a painter of urban life, or as a painter of contemporary gardens: her use of colour and of ink—the gorgeous effects of the pale pinks and soft greens juxtaposed with or melting into the light ink wash, and the way she integrates the boneless style of painting with calligraphic line—goes against traditional stylistic conventions of brushwork and is completely devoid of the spirit of sparseness and bitter wintry desolation of past masters. All of these details conspire to create an association in our minds with a kind of hedonistic spirit, a judgment which would at least make us feel comfortable that we know what we are dealing with here.
And yet, let’s not be too hasty: moving beyond the details to the overall composition, we find that it is telling us a very different story. Every inch of the composition is infused with a certain traditional Chinese sensibility. These are not the mountains and woodlands of a Chinese scholar-recluse; these are realms hidden within the structure of our city, and they bring with them a sense of unease. Of course, it is the plants—these are not the plants so carefully tended by the gardeners of the scholar-gentleman, they are infiltrators that were long hidden under the long cloak of traditional painting schools and have found their way into our contemporary world. Even now, when they silently appear alongside the streetlights, and the shadows of trees fall on quiet, empty streets, they have yet not forgotten that they once were celebrated in the ancient Book of Songs and Songs of Chu; and they have never abandoned their stature as symbols. They use wind and moonlight as secret codes, and are ready at any time to join together with the army of wild plants growing in the mountain fields on the outskirts of the city, poised to turn this city into a pleasure ground for plants.
In Luo Ying’s world, plants are paragons of patience, experts of waiting; they gather around empty corners of the city where people don’t go, growing higgledy-piggledy all over the place and ever ready to expand their territory. Why are there no people? Because these plants have taken on a human personality. They are not interested in invading the air-conditioned, glass window-protected space of some museum for literati art. They are agitated, because they are always prepared for the worst, to be cut down or uprooted here in the city. These are not the kind of plants accustomed to playing at world-weariness and resignation, these are plants prepared to face their destinies head on. This is the same destiny of traditional Chinese culture in a modern world where the law of the jungle prevails.
Whenever I think of the stench of Chinese farming villages, I feel so moved I want to weep. The reason for the continued use of foul-smelling cesspool pits in rural villages is not because Chinese people are too stupid to design underground sewer systems, it’s because the night soil in these pits is a valuable treasure, used to fertilize the soil to maintain its vitality. When I was a little boy I used to watch the people in my native village plant beans and astralagus in the period between seeding the early rice and harvesting the late rice; they looked like the purple alfalfa flowers that the ancient explorer Zhang Qian brought back from the Western Regions. Later, when I did some studying, I realized that both the stems and leaves of the bean plant and of the astralagus are the best material for fertilizing the fields. After thousands of years of farming, the nourishment of the soil in China’s limited farmland has not yet been exhausted: this soil still feeds such a huge population, which is reliant on just that way of life; and this way of life is the life of plants. Plants rely on the bees and the butterflies to transmit their love letters to each other, and then offer up their food to us.
The nature of Chinese people is the nature of plants.
And so we can empathize with both the unease and the vitality of Luo Ying’s world of plants. This is a struggle for a way of life. This is a statistical study of just how much tolerance there is for traditional Chinese people in this mundane world. This is where a light shines on the humblest thatched dwelling. This is where one cannot always distinguish the orchids from the wormwood. This is where every tree and bush conceals a warrior.
September 13, 2015
(Translation by Valerie C. Doran)
Qiu Zhijie is an artist and curator, and Dean and Professor of the School of Experimental Art at the Central Academy of Fine Arts.
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