Roaming Alone by the Solitary Peak

Writing/Lu Mingjun

Part and parcel to the literati’s cultural system, calligraphy was not only the vehicle that carried forth the personal spirituality of the generations of intellectuals, but also the cultural history of materials of a time and place. Calligraphy before the Ming Dynasty was primarily used for personal writing and exchange of correspondence, hence, there were few large-dimensional hanging scrolls or couplets. At the time, almost all writings were done on small-dimensional album leaves or handscrolls. Since the emergence of decorating the front hall of a residence and the demand for related items on display, large-dimensional calligraphy gradually entered people’s sight. Evidently, those have been the earliest model of exhibiting calligraphy. The visualization of calligraphy began with the transformation of format. Format hence became a critical component for the materiality of calligraphy. To a certain extent, the format determines the social function of calligraphic work. Scholars have discovered early on that in order to meet the renewed model of exhibition and way of seeing, some people have altered the original format of earlier works. For instance, some have adapted screens into hanging scrolls or turning handscroll into album leaves, etc. This is a component of the historical materiality of calligraphy. Furthermore, this practice in itself has shaped the history of calligraphy through a unique perspective.

In 1952, Wang Shan-Ching immigrated from Chongqing to Taiwan with his mother. In the early sixties, still in his early 20s, Wang began to study calligraphy and painting from ancient China through replication, and ever since, he tied an inseparable fate to the traditional visual forms. At the time, the “Fifth Moon Group” initiated by Liu Kuo-Sung has set a seismic movement of “Ink revolution” in Taiwan, who advocated “the modernization of Chinese painting”, by radically proposing “emulating new genres should not replace the replication of former forms; appropriating the West should neither replace those from ‘China’ nor ‘reform the middle peak’”. Not only was Wang Shan-Ching unaffected by this movement but he became more determined to explore the traditional. As he familiarized with ancient painting and calligraphy, he gradually realized that the true revolution was not to abandon the ink and brush but to conceive the medium from a modern perspective. This conception requires both repetitious emulations of traditional painting and calligraphic techniques, diving into the internal construct of the classical texts, and attention paid to the material elements and conditions that constitute such literary form. Wang Shan-Ching’s later practice to a large extent, extended from these two paths, with the attempt to further integrate them. For him, it’s an investigative reconstruction rather than the post-modern deconstruction.

For a long time, Wang Shan-Ching’s primary engagement was in emulating and restoring ancient paintings and calligraphy, for which he paid close attention to the brush, ink, paper, and inkstone, etc., for instance, to the kind of brush, ink, paper was used for Huaisu’s Autobiography for the work to exhibit such fluidity. The formation of a style was certainly a consequence of the artist’s techniques and practice, but to a greater degree, it also relied on the essential conditions of the materials. Of course, Wang Shan-Ching’s goal was not to restore these conditions but to translate them into his approach and impetus. For which, he replaced the ink with wax, and created the effects of the inscription on tablet where “the writing and space are inverted”, the direction of the characters became his prerogative. He adopted collage to dissolve the depth of narrative in calligraphy by willfully piecing together the various fragments; he uses different types and colors of paper, as well as different genres of calligraphy and painting as the pictorial subject, that engendered unique structure compositions and spatial relationships. The material conditions are no longer the tools of writing or complementary method, but the essential language of his artwork. For which, he would use newspaper to replace rice paper, and at times, pasting a few images from the mass culture that has nothing to do with calligraphy, which resonates with his attitude towards rejecting the fundamentalism of calligraphy, and the decentralization of literati culture. For this very reason, the subjects through which he adopted his techniques were not confined to the classical texts in the history of calligraphy, as the bits and pieces from folk calligraphy have also entered his line of vision. Without distinguishing the elite from the commonplace, the historical from the contemporary, or the separation of Eastern and Western cultures… these productions grounded on traditional forms of writing, willful collage and other approaches are comparable to a game of the visible and invisible, or a mutated type of graffiti, with a certain semblance of the “big-character posters”, with their montage qualities, adding certain revolutionary force to the quotidian politics. 

Wang Shan-Ching’s radical experiments over decades have provided us a unique calligraphic sample. It reminds me of the controversial trends of calligraphy at the end of the last century in Mainland China – between the contending forces of “the academic” and “the folk style” – one that created quite a stir at the time but has since faded from people’s memories. “The academics”, who also adopted collage as its primary approach aimed at visual effects, and the “folk style”, advocated to reject the elitist way of writing and decentralization of literati culture, seemingly had shared little difference from Wang Shan-Ching’s practice, which embodied the post-modern features and profanity. In spite of their formal semblance, Wang Shan-Ching’s practice is more barbaric, impudent, and absolutely lawless. 

“Roaming alone by the solitary peak” is perhaps the most appropriate commentary to describe Wang Shan-Ching’s artistic practice. Because from the get-go, it was meant to be a lonesome path.

Roaming Alone by the Solitary Peak

Artist: Wang Shan-Ching

Curator: Lu Mingjun


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