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Yergens 1 Molly Yergens Laurel Sparks AIB MFA Semester 1 1 April 2011 Floating Perspective: Adventures in Landscape and

Culture Uninhibited by conventions of perspective, Tsai Chias Landscape with Scholar Viewing a Waterfall of 1777 (Figure 1) and Tony Berlants Mountain Journey of 1991 (Figure 2) provide similar opportunities for the eye to explore the imposing scale and unusual presentation of space and place shared by both works. Berlants Mountain Journey pays tribute to traditional Chinese landscape painting by amplifying its colossal scale, its eccentric presentation of space, and the abstraction of its interlocking shapes, introducing a new cultural and historical context. Berlant creates a visual remix of old ideas, the contemporary interpretation shedding new light onto a traditional style. Tsai Chias Landscape with Scholar Viewing a Waterfall, is at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in a dimly lit room full of traditional hanging scrolls. Its size and the presence of both meticulous detail and playful abstraction command attention. A figure sits in the foreground, perched peacefully in the foliage on a throne-like rock. The title suggests that the figure, enjoying his time with the waterfall, is harmoniously pondering intelligent and significant thoughts.

Yergens 2 Not unlike many traditional Chinese landscape paintings, its composition reflects Taoist philosophies regarding humanity and our relationship with nature. The scale dwarfs the figure but he appears to be quite content, in harmony with his immense and imposing natural surroundings (Figure 3). The distance between the figure and a tiny residence on the mountainside is great, an overt visual suggestion of human insignificance, which illustrates an important aspect of Taoist aesthetics typical of Chinese landscape paintings. The landscape becomes progressively less detailed and increasingly fantastical from bottom to top. For instance, the rocks near the scholar are intricately painted, solidly nestled in the earth and the rocks in the upper portion of the scroll lack detail and visual weight. Waterfalls seem to pour into pools of clouds. Fog shapes and water shapes become less easily distinguishable as the altitude increases. The roots of the trees clutch the rocky land with anthropomorphic intensity. Visually wandering through the landscape is time consuming and challenging. Spectacularly rendered detail and complex paths ensure that there are no quick and direct visual routes through this landscape. The viewer embarks on a contemplative journey into the vast expanse of craggy land, delighting in a harmonious connection with wilderness rooted in Taoist thought. A keen sensitivity of ones natural surroundings is believed to be the first step to inner tranquility and balanced living. In Michael Sullivans book The Arts of China, he explains that what the Chinese artist records is not a single visual confrontation but an accumulation of experience touched off perhaps by one moments exaltation before the beauty of nature.(Sullivan 156). He continues to describe Chinese landscape painting as a symbolic language through which the painter may

Yergens 3 express not a relative, particularized aspect of nature seen from a given viewpoint, but a general truth, beyond time and place(Sullivan 97). About 700 years before Tsai Chia painted Landscape with Scholar Viewing a Waterfall, Guo Xi, a very influential landscape painter from the Northern Song Dynasty, described this floating perspective of presenting multiple viewpoints in one painting, calling it the angle of totality. This approach gives the viewer the opportunity to visually explore a painting, embarking on personal imagined journeys rather than experiencing a scene from one point of view. The landscape is revealed little by little as the eye wanders through it. Down the hall from the Asian scrolls near the entrance of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is Tony Berlants Mountain Journey, a collage of found metal standing 431 feet tall. Its scale is remarkable, filling a three story slice of a wall from floor to ceiling. With the exception of its vertical, scroll-like format, the patchwork of colorful, abstract metal shapes seems at first to have very little in common with traditional Chinese landscape painting. Installed in the museums vestibule, it would theoretically be one of the first things one sees upon entering, but Berlants Mountain Journey is far more effective as an epilogue for a visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. In other words, the piece is a bold and edgy reiteration of the quiet significance found in the Chinese landscape paintings a few steps away in the museums Asian art collection. The Berlant piece is a site-specific commissioned installation created with these hanging scroll paintings in mind. The large red, tent-like shape in the lower portion of Mountain Journey suggests a scholarly presence in the landscape, despite no depiction of a human figure in the piece. The intricately assembled metal shapes are fastened with steel brads and vary in shape, color and

Yergens 4 texture. Some shapes are solid color, the surface of other shapes feature abstract expressionist gestures and others are portions of photographic representations of wildlife and landscape such as wood grain, hazy snowcapped peaks, seaweed, tree bark and grapevines. (Figure 4) The floating perspective of Tony Berlants metal collage and Tsai Chias painting provides similar journeys. Guo Xis concept of the angle of totality is exemplified in both artworks. The eye wanders on unlikely paths, pausing at times to examine rich detail and impressive craftsmanship and straining the next moment to make sense of peculiar and puzzling juxtapositions. In Mountain Journey the collaged photographic elements add actual glimpses of foliage and animals within the abstract composition, inserting trees and creatures into a viewers visual wanderings. Standing at the base of the Mountain Journey the viewer is swallowed by an invented world. Areas of the composition become obscured by reflected light and extreme distances render intricate textures and shapes uniform and nondescript. One must venture up to the third floor to view the upper portion of the piece through a window overlooking the museum vestibule. A gray and black form resembling falling water, akin to the waterfalls found in Chinese hanging scrolls, can be discovered only by drastically changing ones vantage point. Landscape with Scholar Viewing a Waterfall stimulates ones curiosity in the same way; the distance between the eye and the upper portion of the ten foot tall scroll makes it difficult for the viewer to experience the distant world intimately. In both Berlants and Chias pieces, the puzzle patchwork of rock shapes, cloud shapes and indeterminate negative shapes is disorienting and compelling.

Yergens 5 The process of creating a traditional Chinese landscape painting is an expression of a particular culture and historical context, implying an undeniably Taoist approach. Meticulous, formulaic brushwork, a neutral color palette, and a series of patient ink washes indicate quiet, meditative methods. In contrast, the construction of Berlants installation was comparatively physically rigorous in nature, complete with the loud hammering of steel fasteners and the clanking and cutting of metal sheets. I imagine the process of creating Mountain Journey was nothing like a scholars peaceful, meditative experience by the waterfall. The graphic nature of Bertlants composition, its saturated color, the overt grandiosity of its scale, and the rigidity of its industrial materiality reflect a modern context. Mountain Journey provides a modern Taoist retreat for the viewer to explore, redefining wilderness in an unexpected way; a juxtaposition of traditional subject matter and bold and brash contemporary aesthetics. By employing contemporary materials and methods, Berlants installation mimics a specific art historical canon serving to both recontextualize the landscape and deepen the viewers appreciation for traditional Chinese painting. Both Mountain Journey and Landscape with Scholar Viewing a Waterfall invite the viewer to wander and explore, along the way discovering more than landscape, also immersing oneself in culture.

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Yergens 7 Works Cited Berlant, Tony. Mountain Journey. 1991. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis. 12 Mar. 2011. Cahill, James. The Compelling Image: Nature and Style in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Painting. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982. Chia, Tsai. Landscape with Scholar Viewing a Waterfall. 1777. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis. 12 Mar. 2011. Galassi, Peter. Jeff Wall. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2007. Lee, Sherman E. Chinese Landscape Painting. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1971. Sullivan, Michael. The Arts of China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.