Metadocuments – Writing On and Writing In the Modern Chinese Painting
A particular bond between text and image is often seen as a distinctive characteristic of Chinese art. Many famous pre-modern works carry extensive colophons, while in contemporary art, the manipulation of the characters of the Chinese script is a powerful strand of postmodern artistic practice, whether in the unreadable ‘Book from the Sky’ of Xu Bing, or in the deconstructive ‘washing away’ of texts by Huang Yongping. But what happened to this relationship in the years from the fall of the imperial system in 1911 to the death of Mao Zedong in 1976? Then, Chinese artists produced a range of solutions to the problem of ‘modernity’ in art. The fact that artistic ‘modernity’ required a rigorous separation of word and image put particular difficulties in the way of Chinese painters. After 1949, Communist Party insistence on a clarity of meaning in any image disseminated to ‘The People’ produced further complexities. Through a close analysis of key images produced in China’s short twentieth century, this lecture will address the specifics of the word-image relationship in modern China, and ask whether the theoretical paradigms for understanding this relationship can indeed be understood as universals within the history of art.