“I’m beginning to realise that I can use the newest techniques to work with one of the oldest art forms.”
Born Shanghai, 1980
A longtime student and devotee of shanshui, or landscape painting, Yang Yongliang has watched in dismay as a China hell-bent on modernisation tosses its traditions on the scrap heap. But there is no way to stop this 21st-century anticultural revolution, he says—older art forms must keep up with the changing times or fade away. Yang Yongliang’s approach to saving shanshui is based on retaining its inner essence while updating its subjects and media. His multilayered photo-video-“paintings” of boomtown Shanghai replace mountains with clusters of high-rise buildings, and streams with busy highways. Unlike the tranquil landscapes of old China, these urban scenes are in constant motion, crisscrossed by cars, aircraft, and the arms of giant construction cranes. Their monochrome shades simultaneously evoke the diluted black ink of traditional painters and the grey clouds of smog that blanket the city. They also parallel the “despair and sadness” Yang Yongliang feels when he contemplates what is being lost as Shanghai erupts into the 21st century.