PETER NELSONExtensions of a No-Place (Wen Zhengming), 2013, still from five-screen video: 2 min 28 sec. Courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong. 

Grids and Stones: Landscapes As Cultural Self-Portrait

Hanart TZ Gallery
Hong Kong Taiwan Australia

PETER NELSONExtensions of a No-Place (Wen Zhengming), 2013, still from five-screen video: 2 min 28 sec. Courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong. 

For its first show of the year, Hong Kong’s Hanart TZ Gallery presented “Grids and Stones,” a group exhibition organized by Australian multidisciplinary artist and curator Peter Nelson. Featuring Nelson’s own artworks alongside that of three other artists, the exhibition attempts to configure the idea of “landscape as cultural self-portrait.” The expansive gallery space is divided into two rooms, displaying a mixed array of techniques employed by the artists. Together, they develop a cross-cultural dialogue revolved around contemporary interpretations of traditional Chinese landscape paintings.

Exploring landscapes through videos, sculptures, 3D animation and drawings, Nelson’s works immediately pique the viewer’s interest. His five-screen video animation, entitled Extensions of a No-Place (Wen Zhengming) (2013), is a digital reconstruction of Chinese painter Wen Zhengming’s (1470–1559) 16th-century handscroll, Imitating Zhao Bosu’s Illustration of the Latter Red Cliff. Nelson’s work focuses on displacing traditional elements that are found in Chinese literati painting by mixing together Eastern and Western imagery. Produced during his six-month residency at Taipei Artist Village in 2013, the scenery in Nelson’s videos mimic the virtual plane of computer games. On this virtual field, the artist inserts himself as a digitized character called the “Lost Man,” who appears intermittently within the gridded, barren landscape and occasionally encounters clones of himself and another avatar.

Similarly taking inspiration from traditional handscroll paintings, particularly those from the Song dynasty (960–1279), are the works of MAP Office, a multidisciplinary artist–architect duo. The vertical isometric drawing Extended Territories (2008), displayed in the second room of the gallery, continues the overarching exhibition theme of Chinese landscape painting. Repetitive and universal elements—factories, hotels, dormitories and construction sites—are dispersed between highways and canals that represent the growing Pearl River Delta region in southern China. Scattered across the printed scroll drawing are depictions of ordinary people—a policeman, a man with an umbrella, a cyclist. The portrayal of everyday scenes, such as leaves on the ground and clothes drying on roofs and cafes, helps this imagery of a rapidly developing urban environment retain a sense of humanity.

MAP OfficeExtended Territory (detail), 2008, drawing printed on paper, 240 × 70 cm. Courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong. 

In contrast to the printed images of MAP Office are the ink paintings of Leung Kui-ting. A renowned painter who studied under Lui Shou-kwan (1919–75), one of Hong Kong’s leading modern artists, Leung is a key figure of the local New Ink Painting Movement. He also has a background in graphic design, which is evident in his art. Leung experiments with classical ink-painting techniques and motifs that are often found in historical literati paintings—such as rocks, trees and mountains—and approaches them with a modern twist, including the use of broken lines and geometric forms. Landscape and Geometric Structures No. 3 and Landscape and Geometric Structures No. (both 2008–14) both demonstrate the union of cultures and styles that has become a signature for the artist. Interestingly, Leung admits that such a contemporary take on Chinese landscape painting may not have been a style approved by his late teacher.

LEUNG KUI-TINGLandscape and Geometric Structures No. 3, 2008–14, ink on paper, 84 × 153 cm. Courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong.

The final artist featured in the show is Taiwanese painter Hsu Yu-jen, a graduate of the National Taiwan Academy of Arts. After abandoning ink painting for oil in art school many years earlier, Hsu has since reverted back to the traditional medium, and his work at Hanart TZ Gallery are exemplary of the skills and techniques he has gained. Rivers Mountains Reflections (2008) is immediately visible within the gallery, dominating in presence with its nearly four meters of white paper. Its light ink markings bestow a sense of transparency to the space and objects depicted in the work. The piece is hung vertically to resemble literati scroll paintings, and it exudes a sense of fragility, as though the weight of the paper alone could cause it to rip. A sense of traditionality is maintained in the work, but it is combined with the modernity of the artist’s unique style of representation.

“Grids and Stones” brings together a group of artists whose idiosyncratic styles illustrate diverse interpretations of Chinese landscape paintings, presenting instead a combination of old and new, Eastern and Western—which is perhaps a more fitting depiction of our world today.


“Grids and Stones: Landscapes as Cultural Self-Portrait” is on view at Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong, until February 28, 2015.