Shuǐmò, or shuǐmòhuà (suiboku-ga in Japanese), is a type of East Asian ink wash painting that uses different concentrations of black ink to create an image. It first emerged in Tang dynasty China (618–907), before spreading to Japan (14th century), Korea and to India. Beside the use of black ink in place of colours, it is also marked by the emphasis of the brushwork to be on the perceived spirit or essence of the subject, rather than directly imitating its appearance.
It is also a form of art that has been quite marvellously brought to life by Second Life and physical world artist FionaFei as the basis of her latest art exhibition. This features a core element called Wo Men Dakai, which Fiona describes thus:
Wo Men Dakai (Chinese for “My Door Opens”) is an art installation I’ve created in the style of Chinese ink brush painting. The purpose of the space is for a role-play Firefly-based RP where my RP character YiLi graduates into a Registered Companion. However, the inspiration for the creation is from my own personal artistic journey in real life and in second life, and most of it really stems from who I am as an artist in both realities.
While not everyone might be familiar with Joss Whedon’s (too) short-lived science fiction TV series Firefly (from which I freely admit taking my first name in Second Life!), having such knowledge is not s prerequisite for any visit to, or appreciation of, this installation.
From the landing point, visitors are invited to walk along unrolled scrolls of xuan paper, the traditional material for Shuǐmò painting. On these are painted the Chinese symbols for Wo Men Dakai as they point the way to a pair of great red doors. When touched, these will slowly open (just give them time) to reveal the gallery space proper.
This is a spherical space that is the embodiment of shuǐmò; a Chinese water garden wherein all the major features are produced as ink wash images / pieces: the bridge, the lilies floating on the water, the rocks on which the art is displayed, the overhead rocks from which water falls in black-and-white lines to fill the pool of the water lily garden.
Shuǐmò might be described as an ancient Oriental form of what we in the west call impressionism; a form of art where – as noted above – the aim is to capture the essence, not imitate the physical.
So, for example, when painting an animal, the ink wash painter seeks to present the animal’s temperament, not is muscles, sinews and bone structure. And so it is with the gallery structures here: the form and essential essence of the bridge, the lilies and surrounding plants are provided, while the intrinsic details: complete railings on the bridge, the details veins on leaves and petals is not so relevant.
This contrasts strongly with the art displayed in the space. This takes the form of two marvellous – and themselves – contrasting – selections of art.
The first is a trio of 3D pieces, again in a traditional Chinese style bordering on shuǐmò, but which use add splashes of colour – red and green – that, together with the animations – bring a sense of life and vitalities to the pieces in an completely enticing manner.
The second is a beautiful set of charcoal on newsprint studies of the human body. These fourteen drawing offer the strongest contrast to the shuǐmò theme, presenting as they do a very western approach to anatomically detailed art featuring the human body, male or female – but which, through the use of charcoal in varying concentrations, nevertheless contain within them an echo of shuǐmò.
“I see life and my journey as a painting. It can be forever an evolving piece,” Fiona notes of her art. “At any given time, you think you’ve reached the end of it, but you can always add to it, layer it, and change it. In a sense, each brush stroke is like a footprint.”
In recognition of this, and as a part of the interactive nature of the exhibit, visitors are invited to take a selection of footprints (shoes, bare feet and paws), wear them, and leave their own marks (albeit temporary) as they “follow their own path” through the installation. There are also some koi carp gifts available at the landing point as well.
A truly marvellous exhibition by a wonderfully talented artist – but don’t just take my word for it. Go and see for yourself. My thanks to Pieni for the pointer!
- Shuǐmò (Dreams, rated: General)