Landscaping at its peak

Seeing the bamboo scaffolding erected outside M+ Pavillon, recent visitors might think the gallery is undergoing renovations. But artist Liang Shuo would like you to know that it’s actually a Chinese landscape painting.

One of six shortlisted artists for the Sigg Prize this year, Liang built the site-specific large-scale artwork In the Peak as a visual and spatial connection between Victoria Peak and the M+ building.

The Sigg Prize, a biennial award open to artists born or working in the Greater China region and whose work is closely tied to the region, is holding the exhibition until April 13 to showcase submissions.

Liang believes his works present corresponding forms in different environments and motivate people to consider the relationship between themselves and the environment. He has three rules: make use of materials available on-site, create site-specific installations and encourage people to experience it physically.

Despite coming up with the concept in 2006, it was not until The Story of Beginning, his exhibition for the Space Station gallery in Beijing in 2014, that Liang had the idea of “taking the exhibition site as a starting point for art creation.”

In the exhibition’s only artwork, Liang transformed the white floor of the exhibition hall into a prehistoric Earth, soaked in a vast expanse of muddy water.

Mud trails were built close to the walls to allow the viewer to move, while a depiction of the myth Nuwa Creating Mankind was spread out along the paths.

Visitors had to lower their heads to focus on the narrow and uneven mud path to navigate the artwork.

While Nuwa in Chinese mythology created humans with mud, in the artwork, her “creations” may be trampled on by visitors and return to the mud. Placed in an intermediate state between the subject and the environment, mud is both the world we depend on and ourselves – a poetic and allegorical statement.

The mud traces on the pink wall resembled the distant mountains in Chinese landscape paintings – a concept that can also be seen in Liang’s later works.

In his Distant Tantamount Mountain exhibition held in Germany in 2017, he restored the topography of the site on which the venue, the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, was built.

“As there was no way we could verify the original landscape, I relied on my imagination and my exploration of the surrounding natural landscape to create a structure inside the museum,” said Liang.

Using scrap wood, he built a structure to imitate the classical technique cun, a brushstroke in Chinese landscape painting achieved by filling space with dry and light ink after outlining.

Visitors could climb up and down the artificial landscape and move through the different exhibition spaces as if touring in a Chinese landscape painting.

Located in the valley of the Black Forest in Baden Baden, the museum’s interior was isolated from its natural surroundings, leaving the viewer unaware of its relationship to the hillside topography and offering a new way of understanding the relationship between humankind and space.

The relationship between interior and exterior is an essential element in Chinese landscape architecture, said Liang.

An architect will consider what is outside the courtyard walls as well as the view from windows and from the top of the building – a typical technique in Chinese landscape architecture called “view borrowing.”

When you walk into his Sigg Prize submission work, In The Peak, you may be nervous because the bamboo structure is full of gaps. You have to hold on to a bamboo handrail to avoid falling.

Making use of the scenery of Victoria Peak and the M+ building, Liang accommodates the view of distant and near in the structure, which is randomly covered with peach blossoms and maple leaves – just like the road to the peach blossom spring, an ethereal utopia described by ancient Chinese poets.

“Site-specific installations often demonstrate a phenomenon of creating something from nothing, turning existence into non-existence, and exploring how an object previously existed,” said Liang.

“Obstacles lie between reality and an ideal, and the ways in which we deal with them is an opportunity for art creation.”

(This article was published at The Standard on March 20, 2020: Weekend Glitz: Landscaping at its peak )

200320 Landscaping at its peak

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