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Yuan Su (the Elements) – Selected photographs of Long Chin-San

Long Chin-San

Sep 7, 2019 ~ Nov 30

M Art Center is proud to present the Long Chin-San Photography Exhibition we have been preparing for many years on September 7, 2019: Yuan Su (Elements). The exhibition includes dozens of works provided by Ms. Long Yuwen, the daughter of Long Chin-San. The time frame of these works spans from 1919 to 1980, and the works include original silver photography, platinum prints and limited reproductions. This is the first time ever for an art gallery of mainland China to exhibit a collection of works provided directly by the family of Long Chin-San, apart from several museum exhibitions.
The curator Liu Tian took the meaning of “Yuan Heng Li Zhen” from traditional Chinese classic Book of Changesand. “Hui Shi Hou Su” from Analects of Confucius and named the exhibition Yuan Su (Elements). Through the analysis and display of Long Chin-San’s creation and visual image, the exhibition will present a brand new interpretation of the elements construction in Long Chin-San’s classic “Composite Picture”. And it is implicitly contrasted with the Euclid’s Elements and the “element” worldview contained in modern chemistry, in response to the long-lasting ideology of “Chinese in essence, Western in practice” behind the work of Long Chin-San which is still active today.

Yuan Su (Elements)
– Selected photographs of Long Chin-San

“Yuan Heng Li Zhen”, a term in the Book of Changes, represents four stages of life from birth to maturity; “Hui Shi Hou Su”, a saying from Analects of Confucius, means a painting done on plain white silk.

Mr. Long Chin-San (1892-1995) spanned the 19th and 20th centuries in his life. However, the main focus of holding an exhibition selecting the works of this legendary figure in the 21st century, does not lie in its grand scale or detailed histories, but in its visions and perspectives, beyond “reviewing” and “up-looking”.

In Chinese, “Yuan” means start or beginning and “Su” means plain silk that has not been dyed yet. While in western culture, “Yuan Su” – Elements, is the ancient Greek Euclid’s Stoicheia, and also the basic understanding of matter in modern science (chemical elements). But, in Mr. Long Chin-San’s lifelong work of “Composite Picture”, we are able to see the “elements” in other aspects of the living universe: clouds, mountains, trees, fog, buildings, boats, water, roads, people, moon, flowers, birds, vases, branches, shadows, deer… They are all meticulously selected from a “graffiti of Cosmos” and put together in a dark room to realize the state of enlightenment. The harmony among elements, connected by the blank space, creates a unique atmosphere on the paper. Shi Tao writes in Friar Bitter-melon on Painting, “accumulates all precipitous peaks (the elements) to make a painting draft”, this philosophy mirrors the very method employed by Long Chin-San.

Mr. Long once wrote: “Photography is just like painting and drawing” (Preface from Guilin’s Landscape). The integration of these elements is not based on the system of axioms or the laws of physics, but on the so-called “Six Canons” in Gu Hua Pin Lu (Classified Record of Ancient Paintings) by Hsieh Ho (500-535): Premeditated Design and Composition of the Painting, Modeling on Classical Patterns by Clever Translation. And the “painting on plain white silk” resembles printing on blank photo paper. “The methods and designs were first shown in advertisement and photography.”(from Techniques in Composite Picture-Making ). As China’s first generation of photojournalists, Mr. Long was the former advertising director in the business department of Shen Bao newspaper, and later founded the “Chin-San Advertising Agency”.

From the very beginning of its invention, photo-graphy, as its name suggests, has the meaning of “graphing with light” (unlike the general understanding of “painting”). But “Pictorial Photography” implies “painting prior to film”: photography here does not directly points towards nature, but more towards the nature expressed through the painting patterns of those predecessors. Shi Tao In Enlightening Remarks on Painting articulates: “Landscape is the form and momentum of Universe”, and “painting is the essence of Landscapes.” The relationship of dialectical evolution among “Universe – Landscape – Sketch – Essence” is still worth pondering today: if the picture fails to reflect the wider world, then the way of painting falls into petty achievement; if the photography takes painting as its criterion for illustrating the world, how will it break through the barriers of painting itself?

Those well-managed elements were once “characters” in ancient poetry, as well as strokes in Chinese paintings; they exist both within and outside the life of traditional Chinese people; meanwhile transcend beyond life. Long Chin-San’s works and creations emerged in an era when Chinese civilization was under the turbulence caused by Western Culture. It was a time of “the change happened unprecedentedly in past 3,000 years” (said by Li Hongzhang, the prime minister in Qing Dynasty) when traditional Chinese culture collided with the axiom system led by Euclidean geometry, which was born more than 2000 years ago and is still being commonly employed today. “Yuan” (original) and “Su” (fundamental) combine together to form “Yuan Su” (Elements) is the symbol of the strategy of “Chinese in essence, Western in practice” which generated after this culture collision. It serves not only as the background of Long Chin-San’s works, but also as the framework of his thought and practice at the time. In Encouraging Learning, its author Zhang Zhidong, an official and scholar in late Qing Dynasty, wrote, “Chinese knowledge shall always be the most crucial when solving problems, and Western one shall always be our assistance only; the cultivation of both the mind and body shall always lie in Chinese knowledge, while the Western can only help with dealing with human affairs.” This rationale can still be found and is being applied unconsciously in today’s digital era, where people are still dealing with this collision of the Chinese culture and the Western one, and new strategies remain to be discovered.

Today Long Chin-San’s works are demonstrating greater importance to us than years ago since the series of questions contained within are expanding: the continuation of traditional resources, the invention of vision and aesthetics (photography-painting and “world”), the rebirth and renaissance of civilization and the establishment of self-image… This may require a longer period of attentive work: to break down the works into elements, methods, techniques and formats; to explore the problems, circumstances and difficulties the creator faced with based on the principle where we set civilization as coordinate system and locate every piece of work as an “element” within an enormous spiritual construction. In this way, the evaluation of any work shall not be restrained to a certain cultural image or the entanglement of a specific person or event. We shall know that the creator can be viewed as the local experimenter and explorer at the time, and that every person is just the “element” and “fulcrum” leading to the evolution of higher civilization.

It shall take a long journey: we need to transform “classics” into “elements”, and re-enchanted the ordinariness, to reveal the original (Yuan) and the fundamental (Su). And the task and energy of this exhibition are to cast “movements” to the images that have been “photographed” or even standardized through spatial “arrangement”. Every piece of the photograph shall be viewed as a “lenses”, a vast “frame” cut from “time-photograph” paradigm. It should be confined to both iconography and montage. Here, the space blank enables us to look back at the trajectory that has been formed behind the actual elements bouncing through every “lenses” and sharing the same “circumstance” and “momentum” to finally recede and fuse with the mountains and rivers.

This exhibition selects the image “Standing alone” (1965) as the poster and the last image of the exhibition site: before the background of the smeared sky and soil, faint road, trees and houses, and slightly cluttered telephone poles,the green pine is stands alone but toughly. This is an atypical work of Long, not only to get rid of the stereotypes, but also to present its atmosphere that may coincide with the “Zeitgeist” of the world today.

Liu Tian

Sep, 2019