The Shanghai-based artist questions our contemporary ideology of nature, profoundly altered by unbridled urbanization and industrialization, while also building on the traditional Chinese pictorial heritage. Inspired by shanshui, classical paintings of mountains and waters, the overall vision of Yang Yongliang’s work is reminiscent of landscapes. But a careful examination reveals complex superpositions of metal lattice towers, skyscrapers in ruins, electricity pylons and other man-made forms. While the ancients sought to convey the feeling of the immutability of nature through the stroke of the brush, Yang Yongliang endeavors to express in his digital landscapes this cycle of demolition and construction that is perpetuated before his eyes, and notoriously in Shanghai, his hometown. The result is a work in which the seductive appeal of urban modernity is simultaneously accompanied by an awareness of its fragility.
With the new series Imagined Landscape, Yang Yongliang continues to develop a critical approach to reality parallel to a kind of personal utopia that evokes the multi-millennial history of his country. Produced during the COVID-19 pandemic, the eight photographs in the series mark a break in the artist’s practice, distinguishing themselves from his iconic black and white landscapes by the use of a new color palette, charming, delightful and more delicate. Each work in the series contains a solitary human or animal: a monkey clings desperately to a rock, three rabbits stand in a state of alert on the edge of a creek, a flock of geese flies away… While human figures such as wandering scholars or hermits were often included in the classical paintings of the Song dynasty, symbolizing the harmonious relationship between humanity and nature in Taoist cosmology, Yang’s figures stand out as the only survivors of an environmental disaster. To borrow the words of the artist himself, this series is dedicated to those who remain hopeful moving forward, in an ever changing world.
The exhibition will also feature new video installations, including Glows in the Arctic, 2022, a two-channel 4K video. Here, Yang brings together in one animation various urban landscapes, including views of New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Paris, London and Tokyo. Conceived at a time, that of COVID-19, when travel is made difficult or even impossible, the artwork takes us on a journey, canceling the physical and psychological distance that separates us from each other. Recently introduced into Yang’s practice, video is a medium that helps to accentuate the dramatic quality of his digital compositions, providing dynamism.
Born in Shanghai in 1980, he studied traditional Chinese painting with the calligraphy master Yang Yang for ten years. Photographer, painter, videographer and visual artist, he graduated from the Shanghai Institute of Design and the China Academy of Arts in the fields of visual communication and design. He is now a professor at the Shanghai Institute of Visual Art.