(Original language: Cantonese)
ZHENG GUOGU: Calligraphy is a fleeting form of expression. For instance, a piece in cursive script is written in one fell swoop. It may take less than one minute.
When we would get tipsy or drunk, we would lay something on the ground and write on it. This process made our art new and invigorating. The next day, we would see it and wonder, ‘Where did this come from?’ ‘Who wrote that?’ No one had any idea.
Writing calligraphy is something people usually do individually, not in groups. But we deliberately created a group—a calligraphy group. People might find us nonsensical. How do three people create one single calligraphy work? It is generally considered that we should stay within the boundaries of tradition and imitate our predecessors’ works. But for us, that’s inbreeding. It’s a deformed tradition, or a pseudo-tradition.
Chen Zaiyan is a walking calligraphy dictionary. From him, we can learn the history of calligraphy and the development of different schools and lineages. Sun Qinglin’s brushstrokes are vigorous, and I work with physical spaces. Together, we combine our three strengths. This combination might be new and interesting.
I can create a garden that embodies calligraphy, returning it [calligraphy] to nature. It is like pictographic Chinese characters. One would see something in nature, it would become part of collective memory, and a symbol would be made to represent it. We created this garden to return to the origin of the script.
There have been many works in the long river of calligraphy. Why have works from the Song period or earlier been handed down to this day? We have to think about what that means. Consider this: so many people in China write calligraphy every day. That practically makes it a sea of calligraphy. This imagery inspired me to let people add new works to this sea. That’s why we built an ancestral hall for calligraphy. Everyone can come and create it, and it has become a public space for calligraphy. But if you want to subvert this, how do you do that and create a work that can be widely known, or one that resonates and has enduring relevance?
Nowadays, calligraphy seems to have little practical meaning in society. But we are interested in finding out what role calligraphy can still play in society. If something has no more social significance, it should become obsolete. For us, it’s actually better if calligraphy becomes obsolete. That would make it a pure art form. Only those who love it would practice it.
Yangjiang Group’s calligraphy practice defies easy categorisation. The collective—founded by Zheng Guogu, Chen Zaiyan, and Sun Qinglin in 2002—is interested in challenging the notion of calligraphy as high culture. They incorporate calligraphy into large-scale installations, photographs, and performances. Their work both subverts and draws on the established rules of the practice.
Calligraphy Peach Blossom Garden (2004), for example, is a temporary garden installation. Calligraphy texts and Xuan paper have been transformed into a flowing river underneath a wooden bridge. The scene appears alongside fake peach trees and a wax waterfall. This meditative space subverts traditional methods of presenting calligraphy, reinventing the form through modern materials.
In this video interview, the three founders discuss how and why they started the collective, and their approach towards calligraphy as an art form.
This video was originally published on M+ Stories.
- Produced by
- M+ Curatorial Research
Pi Li, Isabella Tam, Ethan Cheng
- M+ Video Production
Chris Sullivan, Jaye Yau, Elaine Wong
- M+ Transcript and Closed Captions
LW Lam, Ellen Oredsson, Amy Leung