What is Shan Shui?
Shan Shui (Chinese: 山水; pinyin: Shān Shuǐ; literally: “Mountain-Water”) refers to a style of traditional Chinese painting that involves or depicts scenery or natural landscapes, using a brush and ink rather than more conventional paints. Mountains, rivers and often waterfalls are prominent in this art form.
By the late Tang dynasty, landscape painting (i.e. Shan Shui) had evolved into an independent genre that embodied the universal longing of cultivated men to escape their quotidian world to commune with nature. As the Tang dynasty disintegrated, the concept of withdrawal into the natural world became a major thematic focus of poets and painters. During the early Song dynasty, visions of the natural hierarchy became metaphors for the well-regulated state.
Chinese artists of the era typically did not paint real places, but depicted imaginary, idealised landscapes. Painting was no longer about describing the visible world; it became a means of conveying the inner landscape of the artist’s heart and mind. It was not about presenting what they saw, but about what they thought. Rather than serving as an open window for viewer’s eye, it became an object for the viewer’s mind.
The previous version of “MOUNTAIN & WATER” is an interactive A.I. installation created by XRT, while the current exhibited version is a pre-rendered screen-based work compiled from video sources collected from a workshop hosted by the presenter.
In this work, we are studying how technology, especially A.I., changes the process of creating art, as well as how art reflects the different values of different eras, e.g. from individual to crowd creation. If traditional Chinese landscape painting is a personal expression, a “Mind Landscape” of the artist’s heart & mind, then MOUNTAIN & WATER provides insight into our collective subconsciousness as expressed through big data visualisation! In the context of Shan Shui, MOUNTAIN & WATER also raises the question of “Where is the Reality” in our culture. In Chinese traditional painting, we often encounter depictions of mountains, rivers, flowers & birds, but wars, poverty and riots are not commonly portrayed. So, if technology is to assist us, what would the audience draw if a machine invited them to sketch their reality?