「Don’t Ask Anything Else to the Forests」
Three Shadows Photography Art Centre is honored to present the exhibition "Don’t Ask Anything Else to the Forests" of artist duo Wu Yumo & Zhang Zeyangping, from October 7th to December 4th, 2022. The exhibition will showcase over fifty works created during their residency in Monthey, Switzerland in 2021, including photography, cyanotype, sound and video works, etc.
Spending three months in Switzerland, Wu Yumo & Zhang Zeyangping created in response to the topic "Challenges of the Mountains". After presenting two exhibitions "Don’t Ask Anything Else to the Forests" (Crochetan Theatre, 2022) and "Natural Whisper" (the 25th Bieler Fototage, 2022) in Switzerland, the artists will present their final show in Three Shadows, in which the artists invite the audiences to have a glimpse of the mountains, forests and streams in Switzerland.
The exhibition title "Don’t Ask Anything Else to the Forests" was quoted from a poem by Victor Hugo. During their residency, the artists allowed their creation to grow spotaneously, without imposing limitations on the environment they encountered or the materials they came by. In the mountains, by the streams, or in any other spaces during the trip, the artists let the paper and canvas be soaked in mist, leaves, and streams. As their exploration of Monthey went deeper, their works started to show more and more botanical forms, colors and tactile sensations. Compared with traditional photography, Yumo and Yangping’s creation incorporates more physical and material practices, including large-scale cyanotype piece, handmade books, as well as the collection of foliage and environmental sounds. The longer time they spent in the forests, the more meditative their state of mind became. And their creation became more intimate with the nature.
Through interdisciplinary art creation, Yumo and Yangping are intended to extend viewer’s sensory perception of photography, in terms of visual, acoustic, and tactile association. In Sound Envelope, the artists made paper rubbings of natural materials and living spaces and invited Passepartout Duo (sound artist duo) to create sound pieces accordingly. Sketch-like lines and textures, the fine-grained leaves and coarse-grained images due to the uneven surface of rubbings, evoke people's imagination of touching nature: hand stroking the trunk of a tree, or the sharp edges of the leaves. Sound Envelope was also printed in the form of postcards, and the artists hoped that Sound Envelope could transcend the exhibition and be passed on to people far away, forming a "location chain connected by music, people and travel."
Instead of intervening the nature, Yumo and Yangping would rather let the nature take the lead. The creation of Natural Whisper series started from the moment they embarked on their journey to Switzerland. They carried a stack of paper that had been soaked in light-sensitive liquid. During their journey, the image on paper changed due to the exposure to the physical environment and air. These changes are reflected in Natural Whisper 1-10, ten cyanotype works shwoing in chronological order. The fragile paper subtly reflects the color and texture changes that nature imposed on it. In the video works from same series, the artists placed the camera under the fallen leaves to capture sounds and scenery of the forest from a non-human perspective, attempting to transcend the human-centric perspective and openning up a dialogue with nature. During their residency, Yumo and Yangping often took walks in the forest. They placed papers randomly in the forests and allowed them to be moved by the wind, covered by fallen leaves, or even picked up by passerbys. This process was recorded in the "Scenes", "Diary", and "Development" from Natural Whisper series. Less control makes the development of the images full of unpredictable randomness.
As an old technique of camera-less photography, cyanotype can present different colours instead of uniform blue due to changes in weather, water quality, seasons and other factors in practice. So, in Developing Time, you can see colors such as algal green and yellowish-brown that distinguished from other works. Variation of plant species and climates cannot be observed directly by human eyes, yet the uniqueness of air and water in Monthey area are well-preserved in these cyanotype works. Yumo and Yangping also pay attention to the variety and balance of their creative materials. They create on fibre papers, canvas, cashmere and other materials, and thus the color and texture of images also change accordingly. These subtle changes created by nature always remind us to be amazed by the nature with humble hearts.
DON’T ASK ANYTHING ELSE TO THE FORESTS
At all times, but particularly during this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is fundamental to maintain a harmonious relationship with nature. Thus, almost every day during their three-month residency as part of the SMArt program in Monthey (CH), Wu Yumo and Zhang Zeyangping immersed themselves in the nearby forest, embarking on spontaneous long walks to discover their surroundings. At home in China, they became accustomed to taking advantage of those magical moments when just by moving a little foliage one can experience the depth of the canopy, celebrate the aromas of the undergrowth and the incredible shapes of the countless plants. During other residences in Australia and Iceland, they also had the chance to have a taste of the vast, dreamlike wilderness.
Considering ‘active contemplation’ as their fundamental principle, their meditative artistic work advocates a return to nature that allows them to connect the infinitely small to the infinitely large. The harmony that emanates from the surprising contours, the dialogue between the materials and the balance between the different scales never cease to feed their creativity.
Initially, Wu Yumo and Zhang Zeyangping created an artist's book ‘on-site’, handcrafted in China from mulberry bark fibres, to support their physical and inner journeys, before sharing it with us. In this delicate travel diary, the pages are freely woven together and feature poetic collages of flowers and leaves that retrace the story of their harvest and serve as a source of inspiration. Their collection has become an herbarium adorned with great delicacy. By keeping track of their exploration, this serves as a complement to their imaginations as their creations have progressed. The two artists have tried to restore the ‘palette’ of the forest which evolves according to the weather: vibrant under the sun and wind, shining before the waves and sparkling beneath the storm.
With great care, they picked many leaves; they then presented these offerings of nature in fifty compositions. Their working method is meticulous; first they choose their samples and then carry out original research for their arrangement. With extreme care for detail, they place the fruits of their foraging, selected for their unique curls and unusual structure, on white supports. The plant then becomes a pretext for purely formal compositions, whose organic, even geometric patterns have obvious ornamental potential. Fascinated by the grain of the plants, their fine hair, their rigidity or, on the contrary, their flexibility, Wu Yumo and Zhang Zeyangping enhance the structure, texture, veins, folds, designs and patterns specific to each species. By offering us such closeness with the tiniest details, they invite us to touch these finely chiselled, rough, young, smooth materials, while instilling in us a meditative approach. We contemplate the complexity of these sophisticated ‘architectures’. Like scales, fibrous or stringy crusts, the collected leaves sometimes resemble the inside of the palm. We think of skins, rice paddies, arid and cracked soil or intractable labyrinths. These serrated patterns offer us an infinity of extraordinary visions oscillating between microcosm and macrocosm. We perceive energy and substance through this journey as an extension of our physicality.
Alongside the sophistication of the structures, the sumptuous palette of foliage is like a chromatic ‘symphony’ in which yellows, oranges, and reds mingle with soft and deep greens. In a spellbinding way, these golden, flamboyant colours contrast with brown, almost black, hues.
In their imaginary herbarium, Wu Yumo and Zhang Zeyangping also use broken, damaged leaves to create cracks. They don’t hesitate in showing all the signs of the fragility of nature; cracks, flaws and faults which reflect the fragile balance of threatened biodiversity.
As an ode to the passing of time, the two artists chose the cyanotype technique to pay tribute to nature. The mysterious flair of this creative process makes it inestimably valuable. In the digital age, Wu Yumo and Zhang Zeyangping prefer this ancient method that connects us to the tangible, at the expense of incessant, timebound expectations. The prospect of ideal light conditions and the surprising revelation of the image invite us to cultivate patience and accept the unexpected.
Nurturing the nostalgia of our memories, this monochrome printing mode allows them to capture, from the pre-coated leaves of photosensitive materials, the imprint of the collected plants on a Prussian blue background with old-fashioned charm. They make their herbarium ‘plates’ in photogram, by placing the collected leaves, flowers, and seeds directly on to the photosensitized surface, only sometimes deliberately retaining a random trace. Beyond the technical aspects, the artists have opted for cyanotypes because they change our view of what surrounds us, freezing what usually escapes our eyes in a multitude of bluish shades. Driven by the poetry that naturally animates them, they highlight the wonderful details to which we do not always pay attention.
By positioning themselves as closely as possible to the substance and natural structures, Wu Yumo and Zhang Zeyangping also developed the practice of rubbing, an expression of a physical experience immersed in the green realm. This treatment, applied to the different leaves (ferns, etc.) or bark marked with irregular reliefs, allows us to see the fluidity of the sap which flows with strength, materializing the power of nature. Their footprints taken from the heart of the plant keep in memory this vital phenomenon. They thus maintain a sensual relationship with the world and their environment, like Giuseppe Penone, as if they wanted to restore the sensation of touching the landscape as intimately as possible.
Convinced that the experience of nature offers the ideal space to rethink man's relationship with the world and to art, Wu Yumo and Zhang Zeyangping restore the importance to listen to the plant kingdom, considering it as a living being we must take care of with the greatest respect.
Doctor in History of Art and Exhibition Curator