Essay on Cascade


A long tradition in Chinese art views sacred mountains as the embodiment of the Dao and thus the most revered subject of representation, a means through which the artist immerses him or herself with nature and divine wisdom. Thus Zong Bing wrote in his Instruction to Painting Landscape in the fifth century: “I respond to the wilderness where grottoed peaks tower on high and cloudy forests mass in the depths. The sages and virtuous men shed light from the distant past, and a myriad delights are fused into their spirits and thoughts. What then should I do? Freely expand my spirit, that is all. What could be placed above that which expands the spirit?” When his infirmities no longer allowed him to meditate in real landscapes, Zong traveled in his mind through painted scenery by meditating in front of landscape images. It is said that on the walls in his chamber he painted all the sacred mountains that he had visited. He told his friends: “I strum my lute with such force because I want all the mountains to resound.”

Sixteen hundred years later Bingyi has created her Cascade in the same spirit. Arguably the largest ink painting ever made, it expresses a contemporary artist’s communion with nature. Painted in a small village amidst the Yellow mountains—one of the most beautiful scenic sites in China—it does not portray real vistas literally, but expresses the artist’s inner vision of a sacred landscape: a giant waterfall flowing backward from earth to heaven. Nothing in the painting is still. Instead images keep moving and transforming, spreading across the painting and into its depths. The artist imagines the concave space where the painting is installed as a great cavern which can also symbolize a cosmic sphere of infinite dimensions. Standing in front it we seem to hear the sounds of wind and water arising from the rich tonality of ink; and we can imagine that we are taking a spiritual journey, both embracing and being embraced by the metamorphic images and sound. Situated in the discourse on today’s artistic practice, this is truly a work of contemporary Chinese art that employs traditional Chinese aesthetics to enrich the definition and language of contemporary artistic expression.

Wu Hung, Curator