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Journal | Why INK NOW proposes "Eastern Origin in Contemporary Expression"? | INK NOW 水墨現場
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Why INK NOW proposes "Eastern Origin in Contemporary Expression"?
INK NOW Editorial Team

The debut of INK NOW Art Journal was born with our vision of self-media and "More than Art Fair, More than Ink". Apart from issuing paper version of INK NOW Art Journal, we will run our own website -, a multifaceted art platform combines academic exchanges, collector's engagement, curated online exhibitions, and art journal. Integrating online and offline resources to promote ink art and ink-related culture.


INK NOW proposes a progressive discourse based on a historic perspective of development: “Eastern Origin in Contemporary Expression.” It is neither a passive reaction to current structure, nor a school of thought or a concept—concept has limits and probably does not suffice to explain certain events in the art world; a school of thought is also a product of a trend in a certain era and limited by historic task. On the contrary, a discourse can flow with contemporary art and the ink painting market. Each discourse has its historic background. What INK NOW tries to address is how to enhance the position of Eastern aesthetic values and Eastern aesthetics in the entire art ecosystem against the backdrop of a visual language in a global digital era, virtual economy and post-humanist social discourse. In other words, it is about the question of modernity in terms of Eastern aesthetics. “Eastern origin” is neither a narrow and obsolete cultural essentialism (or cultural conservatism), nor a narcissistic mentality that requires identification or a structural response of “universal aesthetics”. Rather, as a positioning principle, it is forward-looking, stressing future possibility and potential of development. “Contemporary expression” consists of interaction and collaboration among art, scholarship, collectors, galleries as well as the glocalised market, in order to move the whole art ecosystem forward. We will also distill brand new curatorial direction through ideas of architecture and space design, so the Expo will not only be a conceptual innovation but also a breakthrough in spatial employment.

Ink and the Contemporary
- Infinite Gravitation and Avant-garde

As a medium of painting, “ink” continues to move beyond constraints of traditional ideology. An ink drop forms a spot; it is dyed in water. Just like abstract art is a product of modernisation, ink is being renewed and reformed along with contexts of different eras. We have evolved from the Nowness of Being-There to the visual era of global digital age where “Language [is] the house of Being”. Ink assumes reality, fantasy as well as re-impact and reformation of the virtual world. “Ink and the contemporary” are two engines, two systems; one carries the weight of history, attracting us into the center of tradition like in a swirl, while the other keeps moving forward and ceaselessly seeking breakthrough and change. The following words from artist Wucius Wong adequately illustrate the relation between the contemporary and ink: “With water and ink, like water and ink, neither water nor ink - these are all possible paths of future ink painting”. Wucius Wong exhausted all the possible combinations of water and ink. “Contemporary” actually sums up multiple appearances. In the 19th century, Germany philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel summarised contemporary with his prophetic writing: “the appearance of the appearance is the truth”. In a century devoid of essence, taboo becomes impossible; the “contemporary” itself is an assemblage of trends of thought including structuralism, post-structuralism, postcolonialism, postmodernism, etc. In short, it is an age where signifier and signified keep on slipping - the only thing that remains is change itself. We have entered an era where calligraphy is applied to oil painting, ink painting no longer stresses the effect of dye, artists create works with notions of ink through explosions, and even any volume, form, dimension and medium can become ink works. It is all the more necessary to understand that behind these works beyond limits of medium and technique, there is a pillar that Pacifies the Oceans. Eastern aesthetic spirit, for which artistic expression will not amount to merely whimsical unconscious action, but works with artistic value.

The East and the Contemporary
- Doomed If You Are Trapped in the Dream of Others

As the anchoring point of our thinking, “Eastern Origin” is a pro-development perspective rather than a manifestation of conservative essentialism, since “the East” has never been a self-sufficient and complete concept. On the contrary, it is a diversified collective. In his Here in 'China' I Dwell : Reconstructing Historical Discourses of China for Our Time, Zhaoguang Ge talks about how the concept of the East was being torn apart during the Qing Dynasty, that within “the East,” meaning the eventual collapse of East Asian identification originally based on the Huaxia culture, there is such a gradual mutual foreignness, incarnating the internal immense split within “the East” which seems to be a single civilisation. From the Qing Dynasty to the Republic of China, the Modern China and today’s human community of shared destiny, “the East” has undergone a dialectic development from “sameness” to “difference”, and from “difference” to “sameness.” Until today, we once again find answers from tradition: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, tea ceremony, ceramics, garden, architecture, etc. But INK NOW believes “the East” will remain in a spiral dialectic sublimation - Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism do not necessarily exhaust the Eastern spirit since a concept certainly includes its absent opposite - “the West”. Understanding what the East is requires understanding what the West is while the latter itself is also in constant change. Currently, “the East” in our eyes means possessing our own Kungfu and a set of fighting skills which can be proudly and freely exerted in front of different occasions and cultures. However, confining ourselves to the oppositional thinking of “East/West” amounts to being trapped in a black/white dichotomous dream where “particulars were being observed without getting to know the full picture”. INK NOW believes the importance of having plural ways rather than merely a log bridge.

Origin and Expression
- A Pair of Linked Yet Different Concepts

Talking about “Origin” in the contemporary digital context where signifier and signified arbitrarily slip is like going against running water that never repeats the same course. Yet INK NOW believes origin-less forms and expressions are like castles in the air that, once being torn apart, become mere fragments. What we propose is neither “contemporary for the sake of contemporary,” nor “East for the sake of the East”. Rather, we insist on the internal connection between the two. Origin and expression are far from “old wine in a new bottle” with strategic implication, like “zhong ti xi yong”, “xi ti zhong yong”, but the expression of “view of the world, view of life, values” (three views) at a deeper level. Actually, each of past discussions and debates over “ink” and “Chinese painting” represents a manifestation of origin and expression. Early on, upon the emergence of literati painting, Dong Qichang discussed Northern and Southern schools; from the late Qing Dynasty to the Republic of China, Kang Youwei, Chen Duxiu, Lu Xun, Xu Beihong, Lin Fengmian and others began to be aware of the issue of “mutation of brushwork and ink”. In modern times, Wu Guanzhong proposed abstract beauty; Li Xiaoshan and Liu Kuo-Sung initiated nationwide discussion around the same time. Then, Gu Wenda and Xu Bing proposed a new wave of ink and wash, followed by “new literati painting”, “experimental ink and wash”, “abstract ink and wash”, “expressive ink and wash”, “pan ink and wash”, “contemporary ink and wash”, “new fine brushwork” and “new ink and wash” that overlapped and gradually took place. Into the contemporary era, there are various attempts in terms of concepts and theoretical frame, like “ink+” proposed by Ink Asia, Xia Kejun’s Inkness Art, “The Weight of Lightness” proposed by Lesley Wei-Chung Ma, Pi Daojian’s “present progressive tense”, etc.; all seek how Eastern Origin authentically manifests itself in the contemporary society.

Song XUE Plum, Orchid, Bamboo & Chrysanthemum Mixd Media on Canvas 208 x 106 cm 2016 (Loftyart Gallery)

In summary, “origin and expression” compose a pair of related yet different concepts. In his Borrowed Stone: Stephen Owen’s Selected Essays, sinologist Stephen Owen talks about how we do not have fixed texts or reliable source; we only possess a history filled with mutations, which we can interpret over and over. We ask ourselves how we come to take the current step; the answer is that: by each of our steps that are down-to-earth. In showing the future, we also, at times, look back at the steps trodden. The footprints we make are “origin” and the road we will walk out is “expression.” Calvin Hui, Founder and Chairman of INK NOW, said, “For thousands of years, in the cultural world of East Asia, ‘ink’ is not a simple medium of painting, but rather a cultural symbol and a material vehicle of ancient culture and tradition. It is integrated into Easterners’ aspects including our philosophy view of life, aesthetic awareness, etc. Into the modern era, the East made a shift toward modernisation, and ink as a mark of Eastern art field particularly confronted such impact. In fact, even today, such a historic turn has not totally ended.” “Contemporary expression” also contains part of the manifestation of Eastern aesthetics in contemporary society. The East is more fortunate than the West in that Eastern aesthetics and aesthetic views remain in the minds of contemporary artists working with ink. Traditional aesthetics of the West are about a forever lost paradise; contemporary art and such aesthetics is about rupture with the real rather than a curable imaginary wound. On the contrary, Eastern aesthetics manifests itself in the contemporary through the structure of Mobius strip; what comes before and after it are inseparable and the entire aesthetic tradition exists as a coherent whole. The “contemporary expression” advocated here also involves all cultural, commercial and academic collaborations. According to Calvin Hui, “We founded INK NOW by taking on three missions: first, our passion and responsibility in promoting the development of ink art; second, to establish an Art Expo business model–beyond the existing art fair format – through lining up year-round ink art events in Asia and Europe such as touring exhibitions and promotional activities, we can discover and share resources with our partners to achieve a win-win situation and third, our vision of providing an art platform that reflects a more concise presentation of Eastern culture to the global market. We should be open-minded enough to learn from the past while continuing the discussion of future development of Eastern aesthetics. This is the core concept of our foundation of ‘INK NOW’.” This is why, in addition to “Eastern Origin in Contemporary Expression,” we also assume another core idea: “More than Art Fair; More than Ink.”

If “contemporary expression” only exists on a theoretical level and does not touch on actual economic and societal operation, it falls into empty words, becomes a slogan and loses its internal value. “Contemporary expression” is not an academic periodisation and positioning concept, but a series of on-site actual operation, involving art expos, galleries, auction houses, collectors, foundations, etc., resulting from the contribution of commercial, cultural and academic exchanges. We not only ask “how to promote and create communication in Asia in the situation of a pro- Occidentalism cultural context,” but also question actual participation such as how to deepen the communication between Chinese galleries and foreign galleries, how to create promotion channels in China for ink painters overseas, etc.

Kuan JIA A Sunny Day Ink on Paper 70 x 215 cm 2018 (Xu Gallery)

Finally, the Dedication of INK NOW:
- Eastern Origin in Contemporary Expression

If we slightly reverse the logic of the discourse in a playful way and turn it into “Contemporary Origin in Eastern Expression,” we find the latter reflects the phenomenon better than “Eastern Origin in Contemporary Expression”. However, the nature behind a phenomenon always manifests in the form of negation of a negation. Like a cruise ship on an ink sea, a guiding idea - Eastern spirit – is necessary to avoid the loss of authenticity.

- NOW Is “Beyond Now”
In fact, we have already entered the era of “Eastern Origin in Contemporary Expression.” Due to the structure of our language, the meaning is always transmitted in a retrospective manner. A poem of Su Shi goes: “I cannot tell the true shape of Lu-shan, because I myself am in the mountain”. If we had not stepped into the era of “Eastern Origin in Contemporary Expression,” we simply could not have proposed such discourse. It is precisely for the rugged roads trodden by predecessors of ink painting that we can obtain a periodical conclusion and dedication. Interestingly, Su Shi also precisely marked the turn between Chinese realistic painting and literati painting, forming an interesting contrast to “Eastern Origin in Contemporary Expression”.

What is NOW”? NOW is the starting point of a time and space, a signifier signifying action. Beyond an exhibition venue and an institution; more than the East-West combination in Hong Kong, the process toward internalisation in the Mainland, or the ink culture in Taiwan and elsewhere, it means “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. What is “NOW”? NOW is “Beyond now”.

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