M Art Center is honored to announce that on November 11th, we will present the solo exhibition “Lost in Forest” by artist FU Bailin. Curated by LU Mingjun, this exhibition will showcase FU Bailin’s distinctive visual style through a selection of his photos, installations, and video works.
The dense jungle and the trees are right there, flourishing and declining, unaffected by human observation. They don’t wait for our entry nor do they reject our steps. They remain forever mysterious and enchanting. “Lost in Forest” primarily features two series of works, “Tree” and “Latent Image”, showcasing a unique forest, an object landscape that highlights subjective cognition. “Tree” incorporates ink into images, creating hand-dyed works that not only contain the rich details that photography can capture but also present the charm of painting. The installation work “Latent Image” refers to the 19th-century animation device “Kaiser Panorama,” hinting at “tree holes,” “viewfinders,” and “slides,” reorienting the mode of viewing back into the heart of the jungle.
“Xuan” literally means black, which means mysterious in Chinese. The saying goes, “Profoundly mysterious(black), the gateway to all wonders.” FU Bailin skillfully uses black to create a rich and mysterious visual experience, forming a tension between objective imagery and the absolute subjectivity of image processing. This tension is also evident in the act of viewing: subtle and immersive tones come forward, distinct from ordinary recognition or scrutiny. It’s more like a whispering exchange between the viewer and the image.
As a “worshipper” of photography, FU Bailin is enamored with every step of the process, from capturing the image to printing it. He pays meticulous attention to every detail. It is precisely because of this, even after experimenting with almost every technique, he remained unsatisfied. This led him to venture into the realm of cross-media such as painting, installations, and imagery, marking a new phase of experimentation.
The rarely-trodden glaciers, deep forests, and vast wilderness have consistently been one of FU Bailin’s central themes in his creations. Over the past decade, he has carried his camera like a prehistoric anthropologist or archaeologist, venturing alone into various uninhabited terrains. From different perspectives, he captures the awe-inspiring landscapes and sceneries.
The deep forests and trees form the foundation of the “Tree” series. If photography is considered the first step in the artist’s creation, then the development process can be seen as a second phase of artistic endeavor. What sets FU Bailin apart is his use of the “bright room, darkroom” technique, which imparts a unique grayscale and texture to the images. He incorporates multi-layered ink diffusion and meticulous detailing, drawing inspiration from the brushwork of Song and Yuan Dynasty landscape paintings. This breaks the existing visual order, rendering the entire composition flatter, akin to a black montage rushing towards you. Yet, upon closer inspection, it seems to create a series of mysterious and profound realms, conveying a sense of scholarly composure and transcendence. Rather than expanding photography, one might argue that this is a return to the essence of photography itself. It’s worth noting that as early as the mid-19th century, shortly after the invention of photography, the Englishman William H. F. Talbot likened photography to a “photogenic drawing.” In other words, fundamentally, photography is also a form of painting.
Certainly, what photography as a form of painting offers us is not just a new “technique of depiction” and aesthetics, but also a new way of viewing. The image “Latent Image” “returns” or “restores” the state of egolessness that the artist experienced while photographing in the deep forest. The eponymous installation, through the capture of spiritual diffusion, attempts to immerse the viewer in the act of gazing. Although the latter draws reference from the 19th-century animation device “Kaiser Panorama,” FU Bailin’s diligent pursuit of immersion and contemplation—including painting in this context—is fundamentally anti-photographic and counter-image-essentialist. In this sense, this quietly accomplished series of cross-media practices is not only a visual archaeology of photography, but also a contemporary reconstruction of photography.
—— LU Mingjun