The Wood of "Yun Gen", is it Heavy or is it Light?

Author: Liang Shaoji 2020

My studio is located in the mountains of Tiantai County, East Zhejiang Province. When I open the window, I can see endless clouds and mist-shrouded mountains. Tiantai Mountain is a famous place of Buddhism and Taoism. Both Chinese Buddhism Tiantai Sect and Southern Taoism originated here. Tiantai has a reputation of "The Road of Tang Poetry" since ancient times, which has made countless poets fascinated. Li Bai also has the poem " I want to fly to Tiantai Mountain, rather than living in a distinguished pavilion". During the experiment of sericulture in my studio in Tiantai Mountain, I found that the silkworms spin silk like clouds, and I realized that clouds are the breath of nature, life, and history, as well as an ever-changing movement. Therefore, "cloud" has become an important topic in the "Nature Series" that I created with silkworm's lifecycle as the medium, interaction with nature as the feature, and time and life as the core. I first created "Cloud Mirror", "Patching of Sky", "Cloud above Cloud" and other works, then created "Heavy Clouds".

In the atmosphere of the Tiantai culture known as "Reclusion", I got to know "Yun Gen". The hermits in the Tang Dynasty, Xiang Rong and Wang Mo, who were pioneers in the history of Chinese landscape painting done with splashes of ink and have a niche in the history of painting, were both layman Buddhists in Tiantai. The "Yun Gen" in the work "Heavy Clouds" is not only the "place where the clouds rise in the deep mountains" and the place where the monks seclude themselves, but also the aggregation of mountains, water, woods and stones that hold the spirit of the universe with lively charm. The static, heavy wood and stone of high-density in the work also complete the conversion between heaviness and lightness, creating an elegant, free, and cyclic "tendency (Shi)" and "field (Chang)". The "Gen (root)" in "Yun Gen" has the meanings of "oneness" and "origin", while placing the word "cloud (Yun)" in front of the word "Gen" conveys motion at times in tranquility, "The root and origin are supreme vacant and still; but the still and vacant origin gestates new, huge life and motivity." In the face of new historical conditions, Chinese ideology and culture also face new challenges and tests at any time. More than a decade ago, I found the remains of an iconic towering ancient tree at the entrance of a village in Shuinan Village, Tiantai County, the largest village community in Zhejiang. This piece of camphor tree in the Tang dynasty was ruthlessly deconstructed in the movement of rural urbanization, and was left in the bamboo bushes. The wind and wood were sad and made me locked in deep contemplation. From the intricate roots and vigorous branches, I read that history is vast and desolate ... So a lingering thought gradually haunted my heart, and I decided to follow the trace of the millennial ancient camphor tree scattered around and combine them once again.

From the early creation of silkworm and industrial metal materials such as iron to the ancient woods as historical relics, the changes reflect my concern for social change. During the period of great social changes in the 1980s and 1990s, Chinese and Western cultures collided and accommodated, and as Chinese society strode from post-agricultural civilization and pre-industrial civilization to modern culture, people ’s confusion and anxiety drove me to create by placing silkworms on metal materials (iron thorns and industrial production remnants), showing the will of life and the alienation of life in the confrontation between the two. Nowadays, in the face of globalization, another kind of mania is stirred up - loss of faith, fetish for wealth, historical nihilism, destruction of nature - prompting me to see and explore the “Silkism” from a new perspective.

Therefore, the ancient trees that are easily worn away in time and engraved with memories of history have provided new possibilities for my creation. Throughout the long years, I searched for scattered fragments of ancient camphor wood. After more than ten years of conception, creation and production, I finally completed "Heavy Clouds". Since silkworms show different silk-spinning behaviors at different biological-clock stages, I have studied and become familiar with silkworm's characteristics, and used its sensitivity to light, humidity, and odor to realize the concept of the work. The production of each piece of "Heavy Clouds" requires 3-5 silkworm periods. In order to observe the interaction among silkworms, I often work overnight.

The work "Heavy Clouds" consists of silkworms that are selected from more than 20,000 healthy silkworms, and is created by making them spin and wrap around three pieces of ancient camphor trees. The silk spun by the silkworms contains a large amount of silk protein, an amino acid that nourishes life. When the silk covers the remains of the camphor tree, the element of life penetrates it, and become a life ritual of healing, solace, self-salvation and birth. This piece of "Heavy Clouds", a heavy white cloud lifting lightly, is the current manifestation of being and  beings.


Liang Shaoji
11 January, 2020

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