“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. He hopes to save shanshui by retaining its essence while updating its style and content. Infinite Landscape (2011), one of his multilayered photo-video-“paintings” of boomtown Shanghai, replaces mountains with clusters of high-rise buildings, and streams with busy highways. In Cigarette Ash Landscape (2013), the tip of a huge, part-smoked cigarette is formed by closely wrapped serrated prints of a crowded cityscape; a pile of urban “ash” lies below it on the ground. Unlike the tranquil landscapes of old China, these urban scenes are packed with manmade structures, from office blocks to aircraft and construction cranes. Their monochrome shades simultaneously evoke the diluted black ink of traditional painters and the grey clouds of smog that blanket most Chinese cities. They also parallel the “despair and sadness” Yang Yongliang feels when he contemplates what is being lost as Shanghai erupts into the 21st century.