“I’m beginning to realise that I can use the newest techniques to work with one of the oldest art forms.”
Born 1980, Shanghai. Lives and works between Shanghai and New York
A longtime student and devotee of shan shui, or landscape painting, Yang Yongliang has watched in dismay as a China hell-bent on modernisation tosses its traditions on the scrap heap. But there is no way to stop this anti-cultural revolution, he says—older art forms must change with the times or fade away. He hopes to save shanshui by retaining its essence while updating its style and content. Infinite Landscape (2011), one of his multilayered photo-video-“paintings” of boomtown Shanghai, replaces mountains with clusters of high-rise buildings, and streams with busy highways and construction sites. In Cigarette Ash Landscape (2013), the tip of a huge, part-smoked cigarette is formed by tightly furled prints of city towers. Unlike the tranquil landscapes of traditional art, these scenes are made up of manmade structures, from office blocks to aircraft and construction cranes. Their monochrome shades evoke both the ink used by classical painters and the grey clouds of smog that blanket most Chinese cities. They also reflect the “despair and sadness” Yang Yongliang feels when he thinks about what is being lost.