Preguntas al cielo
Liang Shaoji explora el impacto de la vida y la humanidad en la sociedad y la cultura mediante la creación de una interacción única entre el hombre y la naturaleza.
La obra de Liang Shaoji ha estado representada en la Bienal de Venecia (1999), en la Bienal de Estambul (1999) y en la Bienal de Shanghai (2000-2006). Ha sido ganador del Premio Prince Claus Awards en 2010, tanto por sus obras como por su calidad como artista que indiferente a la fama y a la riqueza, se ha comprometido de todo corazón con la práctica del arte, explorando con mucho esfuerzo la conexión hombre-naturaleza.
—in «Preguntas al cielo», de Liang Shaoji, en Gao Magee Gallery. PAC
For nearly 27 years, Liang has been indulged in the interdisciplinary creation in terms of art and biology, installation and sculpture, new media and textile. His Nature Series sees the life process of silkworms as creation medium, the interaction in the natural world as his artistic language, time and life as the essential idea. His works are fulfilled with a sense of meditation, philosophy, and poetry while illustrating the inherent beauty of silk.
From silkworms to Tao
The Chinese artist Liang Shaoji has been working intensively with silkworms for almost 30 years. His abundant art practices under the Nature Series have become a unique phenomenon in Chinese contemporary art. Liang was awarded the Chinese Contemporary Art Award (CCAA) in 2002 and the Prince Claus Award in 2009. In this conversation, he discusses how he has transformed the life process of the silkworm into an artistic language to explore the relationship between human beings and non-human life. He also articulated the association between the Nature Series and philosophy, history, and culture, highlighting the integrity of ecology and culture, an idea which has traditionally been highly valued in Chinese culture and art.
Yang Jing: Good morning, Mr. Liang. You once mentioned that you first got the idea of using the silkworm as an artistic medium in 1988 when you were working on your installation series Yi. In that work, you used dried cocoons. From using dried cocoons to using the silkworm’s spinning process, how did the transformation happen?
Liang Shaoji: The series installation Yi was created in 1988. I used the silk and dried cocoon to make the hexagram symbols of the I Ching. One day when this work was put in the exhibition hall of the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, the rain just stopped and the light was shed on the silk tissue, the shadow in the dark space making a hazy and surreal feeling. The dried cocoon and their shadows looked to be overlapping and slighting moving. It reminded me of what Lao Tzu said in Tao Te Ching: Indistinct and shadowy, yet within it is an image; shadowy and indistinct, yet within it is a substance. I was enlightened by such an illustration of the essence of Eastern aesthetics. From that moment, the idea of using living silkworms came to my mind.
Yang Jing: Before the Yi, did you even have experience with silk or other natural materials? Had you ever thought of using a living organism for making artworks?
Liang Shaoji: The inspiration I received from the Yi series was a direct reason. But to choose the living silkworm as a medium was never an accidental consequence. It lies in my past experience. When I was studying at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, I was fond of German expressionism and expressionist art was deeply inspired by primitivism. At that time, the Romanian artist Eugen Popa was teaching in this school. The young students showed great interest in his teaching and the works he made. Meanwhile, I liked the works by Shu Chuanxi and Pan Tianshou. The expressionist style in Shu’s work and the constructivist characteristics of Pan’s work interested me deeply. This school founded by Lin Fengmian has always advocated combining Chinese and Western art. So even though I was trained under the Chistyakov system, the influence I received there made me not totally follow the Russian socialist realist art.
—in Pursuit for the Tao through the Silkworm: A Conversation with Liang Shaoji
© Yang & University of Jyväskylä, 2018.
by Zoe Zhang Bing
Last October, when Liang Shaoji’s exhibition Back to Origin was on show at ShanghART Gallery in Shanghai, I was coincidentally reading Catching the Big Fish (2006), David Lynch’s book on meditation and creativity. In it, the American film director says: ‘Ideas are like fish… if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper.’ Over the past 25 years, Liang has spent his life living in a temple on Mount Tiantai in central Zhejiang Province, leading a life as simple as a monk’s: reading, meditating and searching for spiritual enlightenment. But he has also devoted himself to the study and practice of silkworm farming. And rooted in this real-life – as opposed to artistic – discipline, his art (which often deploys silkworms as a medium) manages both to describe a relationship between mankind and nature, and to reflect a cultural and historical understanding of ‘life’ through a personal perspective.
Lynch was born in 1946, in Montana, USA; Liang was born in 1945, in Shanghai, China. Despite their similar ages, the two artists’ lives are as distant as their birthplaces: as with parallel lines, there are no obvious intersections. And yet, just as Lynch’s movies generally come across as not easy to access for the uninitiated, any true understanding of Liang’s work requires some insight into traditional Eastern philosophies. Still, Lynch is widely hailed as a wizard of filmmaking, just as, in the Chinese contemporary art scene, Liang has a similar reputation: often described as the ‘holy hermit’ or ‘reclusive master’.
In his younger years, Liang studied traditional weaving techniques and design and was subsequently influenced by Marin Varbanov, a Bulgarian textile artist who studied at the Central Academy of Art and Design in Beijing (graduating in 1959) and who combined Western and Chinese techniques to introduce modern art tapestry to China. During the 1980s Varbanov, together with his Chinese followers, established the ‘Soft Sculpture’ movement. Since 1988, deploying a combination of biology, sociology, traditional eremitic culture, and Zen philosophy, Liang has managed to integrate silk spinning with contemporary art forms like installation, performance, video and sound art. More precisely, Liang’s art practice has centered on silk farming and the silkworm – a creature normally seen as the symbol of rebirth and reincarnation. From its living habits to its life cycle, Liang knows everything there is to know about the creature and has even developed a unique technique that allows him to ‘direct’ silkworms to spin silk on and around a variety of surfaces and objects, rather than producing their usual cocoons. Through the manipulation of sound, music, light, temperature, manmade materials, and smell, he manages to guide, alter and even transform the paths by which silkworms spin, and create the sculptural forms he envisages by twining and piling up their threads.