Yang Yongliang presents the ancient tradition of Chinese landscape painting (shanshui) through a twenty-first-century, photographic lens. Similar to painters of the near and far past, Yang creates landscapes to reflect his view of the world, yet his photographic interpretations offer a critique of a dire reality. Nature, once revered and celebrated, is rapidly disappearing in the age of extreme urbanization and modernization, and Yang’s craggy mountains, covered in skyscrapers, cranes, and electrical power lines, are symbols of “progress.” In his newest video, Prevailing Winds (2017), urban sprawl has colonized a landscape reminiscent of idealized Song Dynasty (960–1238) landscapes that symbolized the well-ordered state of man’s rule. But, nature does not retreat quietly as the sound of wind and water gradually overwhelms the noise of traffic and human din.
In his photographs, light boxes, and videos, Yang also explores the materiality of the photographic medium. Digital photography is Yang’s ink, and editing software is his brush. Walking the streets of Shanghai and other rapidly growing Asian cities, Yang digitally photographs details of the urban environment. Then, at his desktop, he layers details of his photographs to compose a new yet reminiscent landscape. Yang’s images are powerful, raising urgent questions about our relationship with the earth and technology, while simultaneously interrogating artistic practice, challenging traditional techniques and blurring the lines between image and object, digital and physical, real and imagined.
Yang Yongliang will be the fourteenth artist in the UMFA’s salt series of contemporary art. This ongoing program of exhibitions showcases work by emerging artists from around the world. salt aims to reflect the impact of contemporary art, forging connections to the global and bringing new and diverse artwork to the city that shares the program’s name.
The salt series is made possible by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Additional support for salt 14 is made possible by the University of Utah Confucius Institute and the Rosaline Pao Chinese Forum.