Wolf Guenter Thiel is Author, Editor and Curator
Wolf Guenter Thiel: The setting of your models suggests a certain Asian background. What is your main root of tradition in the process of creating your models?
Yuan Shun: Mandala, Order of Operation and Battlefields, Sun Tzu or the Chinese Art of War, Chinese Landscape Paintings in terms of Journeys of the Mind in Space and the Tradition of Bonsai and the new city planning in China.
WGT: None of your models is a distanced, clean copy of what we could call reality. Why is it important for you to point out a transfigured atmosphere in your work?
YS: Using the idea of Mandala (circle in Sanskrit) for example is of Hindu origin, but is also used in Buddhist context, to refer to various tangible objects. In practice, mandala has become a generic term for any plan, chart, or geometric pattern which represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically, a microcosm of the universe from the human perspective. I like to work with this idea, because it refers to the “personal world” in which one lives, the various elements of the mandala being the activities and interests in which one engages, the most important being at the centre of the mandala, and the least important at the periphery. I also like the idea of the process in which I work to produce the work as a daily ritual of meditation and spiritualenlightenment and mind inventions.
WGT: We are showing your work in a context with three artists who are all working with models of “SOMETHING”. What type of “SOMETHING” does your model refer to?
YS: It refers to Natural Landscape, Cityscape and landscapes like the ones of the Moon or Mars. Landscape for example has a strong tradition in Chinese art. The Chinese paintings of the landscape, the landscape rarely exists as a setting for the depiction of human activity or as a veiled expression of human moods, spirituality and personalcharacters ; it exists for itself and it exists as an expression of the cosmos. We can, in fact, determine when a painting was made by the presence in it of human activity or the sense of the painting as an individualistic or subjective expression of the artist. So my expression of “Something” is the expression of my individual view of the world as I experience it.
WGT: What are the basic vertices for your work concerning the notion and the concept of MODELS?
YS: I studied at the art army university in Beijing from 1979 until 1983. There my daily routine were two things: training as a soldier and as a student studying art. After four years I regret in this university and worked as an officer in the army of the Peoples Republic of China. My life was inbetween being a soldier and being an artist, that was the reason to be interested in some philosophical ideas or strategic thinking. At this time I was studying Sun Tzu who was the author of The Art of War, an immensely influential ancient Chinese book on military strategy. He is also one of the earliest realists in international relations theory. The only surviving source on the life of Sun Tzu is the biography written in the 2nd century BCE by the historian Sima Qian, who describes him as a general who lived in the state of Wu in the 6th century BCE, and therefore a contemporary of one of the great Chinese thinkers of ancient times—Confucius. The Art of War is a Chinese military treatise written during the 6th century BC by Sun Tzu. It is one of the most famous studies of strategy and has had a huge influence on both military planning and beyond. Leaders as diverse as Mao Zedong has claimed to have drawn inspiration from the work. At this time I was using this book as a main source for my conceptual artworks and until today it one of the vertices of my work.
WGT: Do you think that the process of creating an artificial space is able to discuss MEDIALITY in art in general? What does this MEDIALITY mean to you in the context of SELF-REFERENCE?
YS: I think a model as an ambivalent figure shows its own mediality. It is a reference to the reality: to be a model of something and it is a reference to transfiguration - just being a model of something. In the process of creating a model an artist points out this ambiguity. Central to Neo-Confucianism is the belief that everything has a principle (li)-a principle of government, a principle of family relationships, a principle of the wind. The goal of study would thus be the goal of discovering the li or principle of everything in the universe. But this proved impossible, in part because these principles in some cases could only be grasped through intuition, rather than through scientific study, and in part because the idea of the world as a synthetic unity contradicted the type of analysis that breaks things into pieces and parts that would have been necessary to discover these principles. In painting, this leads to the belief that analysis of the texture and tonal quality of every element in nature could contradict the presentation of something thought of as the inner essence of a rock or a tree or a mountain. Realism had no place in the (Taoist) view of the world and everything in it as a unity, and the expression of this unified world in art.
WGT: The construction of the model always originates in a process of TIME. What does your model, a photograph or painting or film of it mean concerning TIME and PROCESS?
YS: I already explained the way of producing the model, as a spiritual, inspiring and meditative process of experience of activeenlightenment . The process itself is the main experience, the time puts no limits to the process of production. Time looses its meaning in the process as we find it in the material world of today as an indicator for efficiency and economic success. I recognize this process as a journey as one which has the goal of arriving at a distilled or purified essence of the universe.
WGT: Your films, paintings or photos which derive of the model show an astonishing power of UTOPIA. why is a UTOPIAN SPACE so important for your work?
YS: Until today this is the only way I can reach my wishes and realize my ambitions or create a world like I wish for. I create a space which I can never create above the reality of the model. Mind invention action I call my work.
WGT: Do you consciously deal with CULTURAL CODIFICATIONS in your work, or are they merely implicit?
YS: Yes! I refer to the codes as styles of traditional Chinese painting and even before. Styles of Chinese painting exist before artists began to paint the landscape. The flattened coil motif, the contorted bird/animal vessels, the involuted whiplash pattern of carved dragons-these objects which seem to be a combination of mythological and cosmological transformation are united by a rhythmic use of the line or the gesture of the creative action. The sweeping and involuted line is the source of the landscape painting, long before Chinese artists began to paint the landscape, which they don’t truly do until the end of the Han dynasty and the rise of Taoism with its focus on the natural world as the breath of the world in material form. So this style issurely also influencing my way of thinking and working.
WGT: If you think of Plato’s cave, your models represent the shadows that Plato describes. would you agree or disagree that the shadows, the models, even form a richer, a more fascinating REALITY than the reality which creates the shadows?
YS: Generally I think so. If you look at the Chinese painting tradition artists never did use the central perspective and the experiences of optical sciences for their painting, because they believed in the spiritual and existential experience of art as a sign for the art of memory, imagination or spiritual enlightment. The artists do not always succeed in conveying the forms of the landscape with that quality western artists have tried to identify as the essence or life-breath of the form, partly because the increased realism seems to work against capturing the essence, and partly because there is a density and rigidity to the forms. Therefore they like to think that the viewer follows not only their idea of spiritual and imaginative landscape, but follow their idea of a path through the painting the viewer should take, symbolically speaking, walk along in the landscape. This you can compare to the idea of Umberto Eco’s “La opera aperta” (“The open artwork”) the viewer always fulfills the artistic work with his or her personal imaginations or associations and complete with his or her reception.