• Fu Qiumeng Fine Art is pleased to announce the solo exhibition of works by Chinese artist Fung Ming Chip (b....

    Fung Ming Chip, "黑白心經 / Section Script," Ink on Paper, 2010, 27 x 27 in. 

     

    Fu Qiumeng Fine Art is pleased to announce the solo exhibition of works by Chinese artist Fung Ming Chip (b. 1951) The Null Set .

     

    Fung mainly works with calligraphy and seal carving, reframing both through his conceptualization of space, time, and lines. By inventing scripts and writing procedures from ground up, Fung invites viewers to expand their understanding of calligraphy on various fronts. The writing of Fung’s scripts sometimes involves the use of new tools not traditionally associated with calligraphy; it sometimes requires Fung to rearrange the tools and materials of writing. In most of Fung’s calligraphic pieces, the characters verge between emergence and disappearance, veering in and out of the relief-like space demarcated by the xuan paper. 

     

    “My work is largely about examining the various possibilities of calligraphy.” Fung thus characterized his calligraphic practice. Based on studies of traditional practice, Fung sees calligraphy as a spatial-temporal continuum demarcated by the beginning of the first stroke of the first word and the last stroke of the last word. Through the invention of scripts, Fung reconfigures the relationship between this continuum and the xuan paper. In this sense, his scripts can be compared to scientific experiments for their exploratory character. 

     

    The Null Set  will be on view at 65 East 80th Street from January 11th to February 21st, 2020, with an opening reception on January 10th 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. Artist Talk will happen at 3 P.M.- 4 P.M. Saturday, January 11th. A full-color brochure will accompany the exhibition.

  • 三萬順時字 / Time Script, 馮明秋 Fung Ming Chip, Ink on Paper, 24 x72 inch, 2019
  • Calligraphy through the Lens of Moving Perspective

    Author: Xinran Guo

    Analyzing Fung’s artworks can be a daunting task for people used to formal analysis. This is not due to a lack of formal attributes; rather, it stems from the fact that the artist works with numerous styles. Since 1996, Fung has invented more than one hundred scripts, all featuring distinct techniques and styles. Among the myriad forms of writing, one can hardly discern a signature mark or chronological evolvements. To write about Fung’s work, as I learned, requires one to adopt a new way of thinking, one quite different from existing stylistic categorization. “Moving perspective”(动观)—words inscribed on one of the seals that Fung frequently uses—aptly describes Fung’s approach to calligraphy. Fung’s work invites viewers to expand their understanding of calligraphy on various fronts, including time, space, lines, and conceptual framings.

  • “I’m facing infinity.”

  • “I’m facing infinity,” Fung wrote this down when talking about the endless possibilities he envisioned for his experiments with scripts. When Fung initially practiced calligraphy in the mid-1980s, he was mainly devoting himself to seal carving. He held the view that seals should be an art form independent from its impression-making function. To free seal carving from its functional use, Fung transformed the structure of characters, the surface texture of carved woodblocks, and the materials he worked with. At that time, Fung’s innovations of calligraphic language were more or less spontaneous. It was not until ten years later that Fung developed an epistemological basis for his work. “Suddenly the space between the lines sparkled to show where calligraphy belonged. It felt like lightening in a dark room, allowing me to see the entire space and the furniture clearly,” he recalled in an article titled “Calligraphy Sutra” written for a solo exhibition in 2015.

     

    What Fung realized at that moment is that his experiments are based on a re-conceptualization of calligraphy as a medium independent from its practical use as a form of communication. Instead of lines and characters, Fung sees calligraphy as a spatial-temporal continuum demarcated by the beginning of the first stroke of the first word and the last stroke of the last word. The temporal-spatial construct of calligraphy finds its visual expression in the written characters as well as in the space between the lines. Quoting theorist Xiong Bingming, Fung positioned the white ground as a relief-like space: “Writing is the manipulation of black lines, but it must also heed to the White Ground. White Ground is neither two-dimensional nor three-dimensional. It resembles the space in murals that exists between the two and three-dimensional space.” He reframed lines as the material trace of the calligrapher’s movement in the relief-like space. “Lines act as a video tape…” he wrote in “Calligraphy Sutra”, “We are like a video player, as we follow the prose and verse to restore the stroke order in the act of writing.” Back in 1996, it was in the reconfiguration of this continuum that Fung located his calligraphic practice.

  • Among works of contemporary ink, it is not rare to see works that radically challenge the traditional conception of pictorial...

    Among works of contemporary ink, it is not rare to see works that radically challenge the traditional conception of pictorial space. One well-known example is Yang Jiecang’s 100 Layers of Ink series (1989–1999). When creating the piece, the artist kept applying ink to paper repetitively day after day, until the paper became completely saturated and the surface turned luminescent. In this way, Yang radically transformed the pictorial space. He eliminated negative space in his work, transforming the paper into a three-dimensional object.

     

    In comparison, Fung’s works engage with pre-existing ideals and practice of calligraphy in the form of critical examination and reconfiguration, rather than resistance. The artist’s re-conception of the picture plane is derived from studies of and his reflections upon traditional calligraphy. This explains why Fung’s pieces do not look essentially different from typical calligraphic works. The characters are mostly recognizable; Fung always writes with brush and ink on xuan paper; the texts are excerpts from Fung’s poems or Buddhist texts. The lyricism, the format, and the materiality of traditional calligraphy remain the same. While people tend to associate Chinese contemporary art with challenges to tradition, Fung’s work treads a third path between the bifurcated concepts of the contemporary and the traditional.

  • “A mad scientist”,
    fig. 1 Raindrops Script, Heart Sutra 心经雨点字, 2012. Ink on paper. 91.4 x 91.4 cm.

    “A mad scientist”

    “My work is largely about examining the various possibilities of calligraphy,” he told me. Through the scripts he invented, Fung visualized the aesthetic possibilities brought about by this new conception of calligraphic space. “A mad scientist” is how Fung describes his working self. His scripts can be compared to scientific experiments for their rather complex working procedures that require precise execution. This sometimes involves the use of new tools not traditionally associated with calligraphy; it sometimes requires Fung to rearrange the tools, materials, and procedures associated with calligraphy. For example, when creating raindrops script, Fung first brushed ink on a sheet of plastic paper (fig. 1). The non-absorbent plastic left the ink forming drips on the surface. He then wrote sentences drawn from the Buddhist text Heart Sutra on the sheet with a dry brush, which created lines by absorbing the ink drops. Finally he placed the xuan paper on top of the plastic sheet, whereby he printed the lines on the plastic sheet to the paper.

  • Quite different from scientific experiments, Fung’s projects do not follow a particular order and are mostly parallel to each other. The process is largely intuitive, rather than determined by a scheme or aim. This means that every time he creates a new script, he works from ground up. The development of each set of working procedures can take the artist years and numerous trials. For the abovementioned raindrops script, Fung initially envisioned the visual effect when he saw raindrops on a car in 2001. It was not until two years later that he came up with the working procedures for the script. When creating music script, Fung developed four types of writing between 1998 and 2011 (fig. 2, fig. 3, fig. 4, fig. 5). He adjusted the width of lines, the size of the image, and the spatial arrangement of the characters to achieve a satisfactory visual effect. While it is still possible to discern the traditional handling of brushwork in the first version of music script, Fung made his lines and dots more schematic in the later versions, de-familiarizing viewers with the visual language he created.

  • The One and the Many

    Fung’s work requires one to pick up an alternative lens, or alternative lenses—ones that are quite different from how people commonly read calligraphy. Through these lenses, the immaterial aspects—Fung’s conceptualization of calligraphic space and his effort in designing the working procedures—are as important as the visual language. This may be an obvious fact given that tastes, intellectual erudition, and thoughts have always been indispensable parts of calligraphy. In Theoretical Systems of Chinese Calligraphy, Xiong Bingming theorized six schools of thoughts. While calligraphers each map their practice differently, each highest artistic ideal stems from one of the six bodies of thoughts, Xiong wrote. Fung’s conceptual framing of his works diverges from Xiong’s delineation of the six schools in its emphasis on the picture plane. Most of the schools, such as Buddhism, Moralism, and Taoism, find their roots in the intellectual and spiritual realm. Even for the school “Pure Plastic Form,” the emphasis mainly concerns the written characters and the handling of brush, rather than the conception of pictorial space. Fung’s conceptual framework, in comparison, hinges upon the redefinition of the picture plane, which involves not only the written, but also the blank.

     

    Despite Fung’s continuous effort in inventing new visual language, he put particular emphasis on not confining himself to a particular style. During my studio visit, he drew a tree diagram to explain this. At the bottom of the diagram, he wrote down “trademark”, “scheme”, and “style”, words that describe people’s use of visual language. On top of the diagram, he wrote “life,” which he saw as antecedent to stylization. He stressed that it is the freedom he cherishes the most in calligraphy. “Unless one breaks away from style, one does not achieve freedom.” he said.

  • Fung’s work strikes a chord with conceptual art in its stress on immaterial aspects of art making. Despite multiple, even opposing, approaches, conceptual artists of the 1960s shared an interest in working beyond traditional stylistic inclinations. In order to work against the commercializing tendency in contemporary art, they de-emphasized visuality and foregrounded intellectual and social underpinnings of artworks. Given the artist’s stay in New York from 1977 to 1986, he was well aware of the pursuit of conceptualists.

     

    The lens of conceptual art can be a skewed one, for conceptualists, in general, eschewed from the perfection of visual language and created their artworks according to plans devised beforehand. Sol LeWitt, in a widely circulated article published on Artforum in 1967, situated this at the center of conceptual art, “In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair.” Quite unlike conceptualists, Fung rarely conceives a clearly delineated scheme ahead of time. He constantly adjusts the technical procedures and his visual language during the working process. And these adjustments are geared towards the perfection of visual language. Fung’s understanding of calligraphy serves as the epistemological base for his work, though the former does not necessarily determine the latter. He synthesizes theoretical views through his work, rather than the other way around. “Theory is a by-product of artistic creation,” he wrote in “Calligraphy Sutra”.

  • It is precisely through Fung’s visual expression that he conveys his re-conception of calligraphy. Some of Fung’s scripts manifest the...
    Fig. 6, Fung Ming Chip, Transparent Script (The Heart Sutra) 心经透字, 2010. Ink on paper, 471/2 x 471/2 inches.
     

    It is precisely through Fung’s visual expression that he conveys his re-conception of calligraphy. Some of Fung’s scripts manifest the relief-like quality of calligraphic space. His Transparent Script (The Heart Sutra) (2010), for instance, features characters that are seemingly emerging from behind a frost glass (fig. 6). His Hollow Script, Heart Sutra (2014)conjures the opposite effect (fig. 7). Delineating only the characters’ contours, it looks as if the work visualizes the absence of words. At times, Fung’s invention of a script involves the transformation of the materiality of the calligraphic space. Fung’s God/Demon (1998)now in the collection of Philadelphia Museum of Art, highlights the materiality of the xuan paper. To make the piece, Fung first wrote a poem with a brush dipped in water. Then he rinsed the paper with ink, which was only partially absorbed in places where the water of the written characters had saturated the paper. The characters thus floated atop the background after the ink dried up. The work captures a moment when the characters seem to be looming or disappearing in the shadows. In most of Fung’s calligraphic pieces, the characters verge between emergence and disappearance, veering in and out of the relief-like space demarcated by the xuan paper.

  • In different ways, the paper indexes the spatial-temporal continuum of Fung’s calligraphy. Even within one piece, the paper may carry on multiple roles. In works such as Hollow Script, Post Marijuana (2015), blank space plays the dual role of the space inside a character and the white ground between the lines (fig. 9). In Ribbon Script, Reborn Series (2019), a white stripe in the mid-section dissects the picture plane in two halves (fig. 10). This piece is part of the series called Rebirth, which involves the artist painting over his calligraphic pieces. For Ribbon Script, Reborn Series, Fung first created a narrow fold in the middle of the paper. This left the folded space blank while Fung was writing. When brushing the lines on top of the written characters, Fung folded the narrow stripe again. This time some of the ink seeped through the paper, creating a black stroke at the right end of the stripe. The white ground in this piece carries on multiple roles at once. It points to the physical quality of the paper, the space left blank in a calligraphic piece, as well as the illusory character of the lines painted on top of the calligraphy.

  • Moving perspective (动观), the word inscribed on one of Fung’s seals, offers a key to reading his calligraphic works. Moving perspective entails one approaching a subject from shifting viewpoints. Reading Fung’s work requires viewers to move between distinct scripts, as well as to move beyond the visual into the realm of the technical and the conceptual. To some degree, the lens of moving perspective is indispensable, as there is hardly any vantage point that adequately captures the complexity of Fung’s pursuit.

     

    The idea of moving perspective reverberates with the Buddhist belief of oneness, which sees all beings as interconnected. According to this belief, the one is embodied by the many; and it is through a myriad of unique individualities that one sees oneness. Fung’s calligraphy can be approached in a similar manner. The artist’s reconceptualization of the picture plane materializes in multiple scripts; and his scripts all expand the aesthetic boundary made possible by this new conception.

  • ABOUT AUTHOR

    Xinran Guo is the art director of Fu Qiumeng Fine Art. She lives and works in Tianjin and Beijing. Guo holds a doctoral degree in art history from Northwestern University, a master’s degree in East Asian Studies from Stanford University, and a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Peking University. Her writings have appeared on Artforum and artforum.cn.

  • Fung Ming Chip