Traditional Landscapes With a Twist: Photographer Yao Lu Makes Mountains out of China's Rubble Heaps

yao lu kunming image

Yao Lu's "The Beauty of Kunming," 2010. Image: Istanbul Modern.

In photographer Yao Lu's "View of Waterfall with Rocks and Pines," two men stand underneath the spreading branches of a gnarled pine tree, aiming their cameras off in the distance, where cascades of water rush down -- between folds of green cloth, draped on mountains of rubble.From a distance, the prominent contemporary Chinese artist's "New Landscapes," on display at the Istanbul Modern Photography Gallery until May 22, look much the same as the bucolic traditional works on which they are based -- the green mountain and water paintings of the Song Dynasty a thousand years ago. But in Lu's works, those "mountains" are actually some of the heaps of garbage and debris, covered with protective green cloths, found at construction sites across fast-growing China.

yao lu cranes image

Yao Lu's "Cranes Squawking on the Deserted Hill," 2010. Image: Istanbul Modern.
Economy Over Environment
"Yao Lu's brilliant photographs reflect the hitherto neglected environmental 'material needs' of the Chinese people. His photographs can be interpreted as a constructive critique of the narrow, economy-centered policy of his country," Sinology Professor Harro Von Senger said in a commentary provided by the museum.

Mostly circular, fan-shaped, or scroll-like, Yao Lu's images in the series play off the same theme with many variations. Into his "landscapes" of shrouded debris, the artist digitally adds figures, buildings, snow, mist, and bodies of water. In "The Beauty of Kunming," a pagoda collapses sideways in a cloud of dust while construction cranes and smokestacks rise on a hill in the distance and children build sand heaps amid the rubble as if on the beach.

yao lu mount fuchun image

Yao Lu's "Dwelling in the Mount Fuchun," 2008. Image: Istanbul Modern.
A Return To The Past
Other images show birds picking from a garbage pile or perching on the bow of a beached rowboat; workers in hard hats tromping across the hills; plastic bags caught on tree branches; the Great Wall snaking over a pile of bricks; or a lonely figure ice skating on a patch of frozen river.

In an interview conducted by curator and critic Feng Boyi, the artist said he chose to work with traditional Chinese painting because there is "an aesthetic and poetic sense, while garbage is destructive and undesirable... I wanted to restore their beauty and poetic sense, to express my memory of the past."

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