Hang Mingzhi: Landscape against Landscape
by Hai Jie
Whether we accept or not, Hang Mingzhi’s works directly show the visual conflict caused by the new landscape movement. Even though we think it is a living must, it can’t stop all sorts of discomfort and anxiety of landscape that we feel when watching the works.

The artistic identity of landscape is multiply directional in the 21st century.On the one hand, it relies on the nature and various landscapes, providing the audience with an independent watching method and harmonious relationship. For example, the beautiful landscapes and other pleasant objects give us an aesthetic interest and charm. On the other hand, since a series performance of post-industrial society such as the arrival of the urbanization and consumerism, the landscape has dramatically changed. The original landscape has disappeared and replaced with artificial scenes catering to the need of consumerism. At this moment, these disappearing landscapes would use other landscapes to resist the latter artificial scenes. In terms of photography, we can see the efforts of cold landscape photography, which is in full blossom in the present China. While there are not so many outstanding artists who use traditional landscape composition to reveal the social problems nowadays.

We have seen the landscape scroll made up by the messy crowded modern city rising steeply like Chinese ink painting in Yang Yongliang’s works before. The carefully arranged images look like misty landscape brushwork from far distance, but if we look closely, we will find those hidden shock and anxiety. Besides, in Yao Lu’s work New Landscapes, those cement wastes at the construction site have been recreated into new landscapes. The scattered personal stamps are everywhere in the picture. Obviously, Yao Lu places the expression context completely in the context of traditional landscape painting. The two artists both bring photography as medium into contemporary art.

While Hangzhou photographer Hang Mingzhi is one of the few practitioners who bring such landscape into photography noumenon. His earlier work Moving Mountains presents the mining site. The patchwork of photos show his mature control of the photography language. And the name “Moving Mountains” borrows the fairy tale of “Mr. Fool Wants to Move the Mountain” to satirize and exclaim the mountain disappearing process caused by the modern means.

In the 21st century, new landscape movement falls and rises. The reckless change and damage of the original landscape structure directly causes the new landscape to emerge: the rapid rise of highly-concentrated giant buildings and endless wanton destruction scenes repeatedly happen. Therefore, new landscape narration comes into being and becomes the effective strength for photography to cope with this landscape movement. In the early time, photography is long indulged in depiction of landscape and whitewash of political discourse and power.

In Hang Mingzhi’s new series Gong Wang, the edge exposed in Moving Mountain has been restrained. Gong Wang started in 2010 and still continues. The photographer chooses a suitable weather (mostly rainy days) to shoot and swings tilt-shift lens of digital camera for macro effect, and then joints the images.

Meanwhile, Hang Mingzhi chooses a special route along the river: Hangzhou, Fuyang, Tonglu, Jiande Anderson and Chunan. This is a humanistic river route, from the Yuan Dynasty painter Huang Gongwang who lived in Hangzhou in his later years to the five scholars of Xie family’s three generations with remarkable literary achievements, from Ye Qianyu who is good at figure painting and flower-and-bird painting to the dramatist Li Yu and later the writer Yu Dafu from Fuyang…all are closely related to this route. The culture and artistic landscape born in the exquisite elegance of Jiangnan (regions south of the Yangtze River) are particularly impressive on this route. In Huang Gongwang’s masterpiece Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, Fuchun River in Tonglu is the creation background. The image is extraordinary with the sentimental attachment of Jiangnan. The landscape has clear levels and unique style. The landscape at that time can create such humanistic character. And later Yu Dafu was also enamored of discovering landscapes. The significance is that “he is at the ‘landscape discovery’ site of modern Chinese literature. On the one hand, Yu Dafu created the earliest landscape description in his Chen Lun and other novels of the early May 4th. Movement among modern Chinese novels; on the other hand, Yu Dafu’s landscape travel notes were the most typical landscape prose by modern writes. It was Yu Dafu’s significant contribution that the landscape of Zhejiang could be shown to the nation in those years. In the 1930s, Yu Dafu claimed that he had been to 60%-70% of the landscapes of Zhejiang and published a travel collection book Ji Hen Chu Chu.” (Landscape of Simulacrum by Wu Xiaodong)

After knowing such landscape background, we can feel the importance of Hang Mingzhi’s shooting route when we study on his work Gong Wang by this route. Watching at the works, the audience will find that luckily the primitive spirit of landscape at that time still exists, but what’s uncomfortable is that something gets mixed into it. They are skyscrapers, villas, excavation sites, large sand carriers and giant crane jibs...These lurking or openly invading uninvited guests are still irresistible.

It is one necessity that Hang Mingzhi uses tilt-shift lens to deal with these scenes. Because to the landscape narration at this moment, the model effect by tilt-shift swing can evade the discomfort from harsh artificial landscapes to the audience, which allow the audience to possibly enter the accessible aesthetic interest. Another necessity is that the modeling processing makes the audiences avoid the numb artificial landscape in a game context to get familiar with the scenes and enter the landscape narration trap of Hang Mingzhi.

Thus, the presented landscape scenes skillfully show two landscape systems: one is natural landscape since ancient times; the other is artificial landscape forcibly entering into natural landscape scene. The two landscapes confront each other immediately that the artificial buildings and adherent rubbish blooming in the beautiful landscape cause many inharmonious elements. These dazzling landscapes disturb our usual viewing experience and we are extremely disappointed: fog fills the air and luxurious villas suddenly embed in the green fresh mountains; The main landscape mostly of trees are scattering among the buildings as ornaments; Two mountains are separated by a row of jagged buildings and lose the rolling ranges...The strategy of such picture makes us back to some realistic propositions. For example, we have to look indifferently at the result of “livable” claims. The desperate real estate is like a trapped beast.

The reason why the photographer entitles his work Gong Wang implies a kind of helplessness. He may expect help from Huang Gongwang and arouses the public attention for the breakout of landscape.

The American art critic W.J.T Mitchell quotes Kenneth Clark’s words of Landscape into Art at the beginning of his book Imperial Landscape, “we are surrounded by natural things with different lives and structures from us: tree, flower, grass, river, mountain and cloud. They have inspired our curiosity and awe for centuries as the pleasant objects. We remold them in our imagination to reflect emotions. Then we begin to regard them as the contribution of ‘nature’...The rise and development of nature concept is like a cycle since the Middle Ages. In this cycle, the human spiritual attempt recreates an environmental harmony.”

Obviously, it is a dream. The destiny of landscape is unpredictable.

The destiny of landscape is the destiny of human being.

Apr.20th, 2012 Beijing

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