Forest Theorem
        - One | Works

Unproven Fallacy
        - Works

Can AI have Imagination?
        - Congrats X, the Y is in another Z.
        - Chasing in the Fog of War
        - I Have Seen You Scared in the Rain


Do Androids Dream of
Electric Cows

        - Artist Statement
        - Images
        - Essay

De Shan Shui
        - Works
        - Essay

Unsynchronized Memoirs
        - Work
        - Artist Statement

Old Works <-

Bio & CV
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De Shan Shui: Landscape After Landscape
- Lyle Rexer

The images of Baoyang Chen’s De Shan Shui are the witness to pure speed, the vertiginous acceleration of cultural change in China. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution and its immediate aftermath, there has been so much trafficking with the past in Chinese art, so many acts of recovery, appropriation and rejection of tradition, even at the level of language itself – the written character, the ideogrammatic element – that time seems to circle on itself. The dream of the caterpillar is to be a butterfly, but the butterfly also dreams, of the time it was a caterpillar. With De shan Shui, Baoyang Chen has attempted to swallow whole the most important tradition of image-making for China, and, in digesting it, to leave the past decisively behind. No more butterfly dreams.

Shan shui refers to landscape painting, or “mountain and stream” painting, whose practice is millennia old. Depending on which scholar you read, the apex of this tradition was achieved around 1000 AD during the Sung dynasty. The approaches and techniques were based on inherited ideas and practices, and the notion of innovation and novelty as virtues was foreign. Perfection was to be discovered in the study of prior forms, subjects and attitudes – and in following rules. Appropriation by imitation. As articulated by artists such as Guo Xi, the rules often exhibit a Taoist cast:

“When planning to paint, you must first balance heaven and earth.”
“A mountain without haze and clouds is like spring without flowers.”
“The painter’s attitude should be one of indifference to all common anxieties.”

Baoyang Chen has transformed the genre by following a new set of rules. The importance of this project is not in the application of photography and digital technology to painting, an encounter that has become familiar through the work of Gerhard Richter, Wade Guyton and many others. Instead, he has substituted the operations of this technology for an historical practice, stripped it of its spirituality, and elevated chance to the level of perfection. Baoyang Chen’s “manual” of painting practice, his rules, are a set of algorithms. These specify operations the computer will carry out on photographic images the artist has made of details from Shan Shui paintings – and on the seal that identifies the artist or owner of the painting. The results embody a novel form of process art and recall the work not only of composer John Cage but also of conceptual artists from the 1970s and 80s.

In their colliding forms, indecipherable perspectives, and often intricate tonal and textural shifts, these new “paintings” revise landscape representation – including photographic representation – for the twenty-first century. They uncouple it from all prior expectations in order to open this genre (and the fact of its long history) to contemplation. If any single feature embeds this work in Chinese cultural experience it may be this emphasis on contemplation. Guo Xi wrote: “But are the longing for forests and streams, and the companionship of mists and vapors, then to be experienced only in dreams and denied to the waking senses?”

De Shan Shui reconvenes the landscape as an experience of force and energy, of perspective and mood, of convention and its rupture, of order and chaos, and of the ultimate benefit and motive, the recognition of beauty. To quote Guo Xi a final time: “It is with this in mind that painter should create and critic should examine.”

Lyle Rexer is a New York–based independent writer and critic. His previous books include Photography’s Antiquarian Avant-Garde (2002) and How to Look at Outsider Art (2005); he contributed an interview with Chuck Close and Bob Holman to A Couple of Ways of Doing Something (Aperture, 2006), and is the author of Edge of Vision (Aperture, 2010.)