A Cooperation with Mr. Time


I hope my work is a landscape with spiritual depth. — Shao Wenhuan

What I saw in the studio of Shao Wenhuan was not only the other side of an artist's well-known creations, but also the other side of the fate of “artworks”. At rst they were just shelved pieces.

Was it due to good or bad judgment, to choice or hesitation, or even to a ash thought? Some things you might have expected as in the process of becoming “artworks” had been inde nitely shelved. They had not satis ed the artist's idea of an “artwork”, staying on simply as “material”. The pause was a false impression however as time marched slowly on, and with it deterioration.

The transformation was “out of the control” of the artist, but still based on his unique way of creating. Shao Wenhuan's well-known artworks have 'painting speci city' (rather than simply being 'pictorialism'), coming from simultaneous transfer, with two gelatin preparations – one from photographic media, the other from the pigment used in traditional Chinese painting. All erosion and deterioration occur on the layers of the blend, and what appears on the screen is not one speci c image, but “time traces” that are dif cult to de ne.

Perhaps there are two kinds of photography: one has time as the enemy, is about confrontation or control. The other is about cooperation with time. But the world is not benevolent, and people cannot actually work with time. Therefore the end result can only be waiting, and the best cooperation is always met by chance. People usually do not realize that some works just cannot be completed. While photography is shot in a short time and sealed for a long time, each time has its own powerful energy.

By comparison, all museums use vacuum, temperature control, and dehumidification, to isolate from the external world and help the “works” escape the passage of time. In refusing to cooperate with time, these artworks hope to become “timeless.”

Until today, these old “developing objects” didn't get a decent name or ending still. What interesting is the only thing clear artists face their own past uncertainty, about how to judge and promote work, and that choice isn't made any clearer but rather even more in a sort of trance. With these pictures, we can see that beyond judgment, choice and control, and beyond the narrow intentional “work”, lies the force of moving people. Although it is beyond the photographer's will, and seemingly unintentionally, it touches the depths of the essence of photography.

Photography has limitations for grasping time, as has any attempt to replicate nature. The real power of reincarnation is in the identity of the material, in time, re-entering nature, and accepting: time is the thickest form of "gelatin". You don't know when it will visit, leave the signs with the silently transforming, to prove although our awareness of its existence afterwards, we have already received its gift.

Liu Tian