The Binding of Fictions
by Fan Lin
Despite the bounty of images available to us today, images of this nature are rare. The reason lies in how these photographs affect our basic understanding of photography. In these pictures, the vaguely distinguishable objects are outward manifestations in support of allegories. The deeper significance of the images clearly surpasses the visual description in itself.

Certainly, the implicit significance of these images may be identified only with an intense inspection. Most importantly, the understanding of the image is based on the artist’s assumption of the viewer’s awareness of traditional Chinese culture.

In these pictures, we find physical images belonging to the well-known folklore of ancient times. The dragon, the phoenix and the auspicious cloud are of the greatest symbolic significance, followed by the carp, the bat and the coin. This series of works, also contain indispensable bronze objects, urban structures in the style of the Shangzhou vessels, made by the artist. These objects are by no means the contemporary versions of such sacrificial vessels. These images of the structures borrow from present-day urban civilization’s ‘highest’ attributes. The skyscrapers’ segments emerge, ingeniously constructing a point where space and time are dislocated.

In the image entitled Dragon, through guesswork, we are able to match up the ideas into idiomatic pairs:
Qīnglóng xì zhū ( The dragon playing with a pearl).
Duōzǐ duō sūn (Many sons and grandsons).
Zǎo shēng guìzǐ (The desire to have sons early in marriage).
Zǎo lì zǐ (The hope that a child will grow up and establish themselves quickly).
Fú cóng tiān jiàng (Heaven-born luck).
Yì fān fēng shùn (Bon voyage).
Liánnián yǒu yú (Plentiful life year after year).
Lián shēng guìzǐ (To wish for the birth of a succession of sons).
Yúlóng biànhuà (The transformation of the fish to the dragon; a change for the better).
Qīngyún dé lù (Rapid advancement on the road to success).
Lóng fēi zài tiān (The dragon flying through the Heavens; power and freedom).
Yīpǐn qīnglián (Incorruptible figures in positions of power).
Xǐ zài Yǎnqián (Happiness within reach).
Guī shòu qiānnián (The longevity of the tortoise).
Cháng shēng bù lǎo (Longing for immortality).
Fùguì yǒuyú (Bountiful wealth and honour).
Hé qīng hǎi yàn (The Yellow River is clear and the sea is calm; the world is at peace).
Fēng tiáo yǔ shùn (Seasonable weather for crop raising).
Xǐ cóng tiān jiàng (Heaven-sent good fortune).

All Chinese people understand these words and expressions, weighted with the significance of inherited desires and dreams. Detailed images comprising a specific anagram fill the picture, emphasizing the existence of universal desires for humanity. The same logic can be applied to the remaining three works in the series; Dog, Fish and Phoenix. These images target and ironize our reality, quantified by desires, and seek to remind us of the existence of our most basic feelings.

In fact, we have already left behind our intimacy with the objects and animals like the birds, beasts, insects and fish described in ancient books. In the present-day, our associations with these entities are necessarily of a superficial nature. Few of us now care about the meaning of the reeds, the Chinese peony or the wild goose in real space and time. The beauty and freshness of the Chinese language is destroyed by advertising language and tampered with solely to stimulate desire. In this era, the sentiments of ‘joy without wantonness’ and ‘plaintiveness without grievance’ are often despised.

In recent years the world of photography has developed post-objective approaches and there are some photographers who simply piece together symbols in the hope of producing profound meanings. Luo Yongjin borrows traditional images in order to weave fictions with direct relevance to real-life. These delicate hand-scrolls will, without doubt, advance our collective outlook. However, they cannot shelter us from the sense of grief which we feel after deciphering the works.

Translated by Nicola Kielty

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