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Memoir in Southern Anhui

2015/8/9 — 12:36

Liu Chuanhong visited Yi County for the first time in 2012. He did not let me know nor stayed in a hostel. He brought tent and sleeping bag, camped in town, and even made up to Yellow Mountain. In this small town of visitors and ninety thousand residents he disappeared – nobody knew where he was – like a chivalrous errand who practices invisibility, with a pair of alerted eyes shimmering beneath a cap. Liu Chuanhong came here for fieldwork and history investigation upon my invitation for him to attend Bishan Harvestival. Unfortunately, that year’s event failed to happen. But what he witnessed here in Yi County urged and inspired him to produce; after more than two years’ preparation, finally gave birth to this huge and intricate art project, Memoir in Southern Anhui. 

Memoir in Southern Anhui first came to life in 2014 at A Thousand Plateaus Art Space. Through 14 sets of works that made up by 38 pieces of scene and still oil paintings, and a hundred of freehand textual sketches describing traveling diaries, military maps, attacking plans, arms diagrams, Kung Fu charts, and local social research journals, Liu Chuanhong creates a story where a “bandit leader” character named “Mr. Liu” journeyed around Japanese-occupied Southern Anhui area between 1940 and 1942 .He commanded combats, robbing the rich to save the poor; or conducted businesses, rolling up fortunes and power; or hided away into mountains, read and meditated. Such a grandiose and sensitive visual narrative is truly rare to contemporary Chinese art.

Despite the works is fictional, Liu Chuanghong has been scrutinizing and strict about the credibility of its historical details. In the libraries in Changchun and Chongqing, at the street vendors in Yi County, from Kongfz vintage book site, he collected enormous amount of resources and materials that are dated back to the Republican Period. He trimmed down history fragments found in local annals and matched into the narration’s textual fabric. For the transitional narration, he sewed together the detailing through imitating Republican Period’s writing style. For the natural and social sceneries recorded during his investigation, he turned them into a visual materiality that is seemingly worn out in the bath of time. He altered Republican Period’s charts of Kung Fu methods and fitted into the martial style of “Mr. Liu,” a lower-class intellectual. And based on the oil-print tactic books of People’s Liberation Army from post-1949, he fabricated the civilian forces’ unprofessional tactics …


Memoir in Southern Anhui revolutionizes the ideology and methods for contemporary paintings: It shares the same blood with a literary writing, but through the means of painting. If published as book, it would be a “Graphic Novel;” if filmed as movie, it would be an “Auteur Film.” It’s a literary narrative developed and created out of fieldwork and historical investigation, and intertwined through a progressive structure and a multiplicity composition of drawings. Yet the drawings stand alone from each other, and belittle an emphasizing on the continuation between scenes and stories as that of a comic strip or of a movie montage. Besides natural sceneries and characters, numbers of charts, diagrams, documentations, and books compose a major part of the paintings. These “paintings,” however, are not merely mimicries of “historical legacy.” They are also the results of the artist’s personal reflection and social prospection based on the factual situation. 

This so-called “Mr. Liu” is actually an anonym of Liu Chuanhong himself. Since 2002, He has been secluded himself for years, woodworking, farming, and painting daily at Taohuadong Villiage in Mount Taihang area of Ling County, Henan Province. His early works, Journals and Illustrations of Villagers, Mountain and Forest Sketchbook, Journey to the West, Xu Wenqiang: My Friend, etc.,have already demonstrated the prototype of this self-referencing based on historical settings, which later is found in Memoir in Southern Anhui. Before “Mr. Liu,” a “Mr. Liu San” has already existed in his works. And they are both Liu Chuanhong’s autobiographic figures from his different phrases of creating. Hided away and lived seclusively in mountains, or drown in and self-reflected to the river of history, they both imply the artist’s attitude about the real life.


In real life, Liu Chuanhong was born in an intellectual family in Changchun, Jiling Province. When little, he disliked going to school and always hided at home to read his father’s books. He went studying at Changchun School of Arts and at the fine art department of Hebei Normal University, but both ended up in quitting. He favors the rural lifestyle: besides living in Taohuadong Village, he has also been farming, plumbing, and reading at Shifang Zen Garden away in Mount Tianping of Henan, been frescoing for villagers in Lashi Lake’s village in Yunnan. Yet he never refuses the urban: in his later-written additional journals for Memoir in Southern Anhui, “Mr Liu” also has a journey widely around the cosmopolitan cities like Shanghai and Nanjing. Liu Chuanhong likes to dream in places where reality meets dead-end, and dreams about an ancient version of him wandering on the edge of reality.

In “Mr. Liu” one can find the shadow of an ancient Chinese “Chivalrous Confucian”. “Chivalrous Confucian”, are those intellectuals who are both chivalrous and knowledgeable. In the long tradition of Chivalrous Confucian’s spirit, Warring States Period’s assassinators, Western Han Dynasty’s gallants, and Eastern Han Dynasty’s Danggu Confucian Scholars – a group of Confucian scholars were framed as an opposition political party – all have contributed to its development. In Sima Qian’s writings, Jing Ke, the assassinator, “takes reading and fencing as habits;” “mingles with drinkers, yet stays reliable and knowledgeable; travels through all the States, and always meets with the wise and the honorable.” And for this “Mr Liu” and his adventurous life in Southern Anhui, one can find in his journal: “February the seventeenth. Inside news: Four Japanese arms trucks filled with military supplies between Nanling and Xuan City. Will pass Hanting in seventeen days. Starting from last night the weather has been windy, clear, and cold. All day windy and sandy, continued until around six p.m. when the winds stopped. Camped and been reading for the whole day.”

Liu Chuanhong sets the stories of “Mr. Liu” in the Republican Period. It was a period of turmoil from both inside and outside: The Japanese invaded the country; Central Government broke up; bandits ganged up with the lack of governing. The intellectuals had ambitions yet failed to have decent living space, and therefore they could only walk on edge and became “bandits”. While wandering through mountains and jungles, in between life and death, they never forget searching for a peaceful space to settle their spiritual life.“Mr. Liu,” reads while marching, listened to the radio habitually, and pays close attention to the state’s affairs. He has been missing his old favors back in the big cities, and the Confucian ideal in the peacetime: self-cultivation, regulating the family, country, and the world. Just as what Liu Chuanhong says about Memoir in Southern Anhui, “there is only a single line between this kind of traveling bandit and a revolutionist.”

This art project has been deepening and developing up till now. This year Liu Chuanhong further produced thirty thousand words journal for “Mr. Liu.” And based on his impression on Yellow Mountain in 2012, he created Retreat to White Goose Ridge document series. At the same time, The “Mr. Liu San” on the other hand has finished shooting for a fictional movie with Na Yingyu, where Liu Chuanhong himself acted for the protagonist. “Mr. Liu San” and “Mr. Liu” share overlapping identities, as they are both the character come out of Liu Chuanhong’s fantasy. He has been to Yi County for twice, and each time he would confront with his own fantasy. “What’s loaded in real life needs imaginations,” Liu Chuanghong says, “I would like to stay alone, and give myself a chance to be adventurous. I am gentle, but I am obsessed with the Heroism.”