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《26》Project Description



1, Story of the project

The Second World War was by far the most fought and deadliest war in the world, resulting in many humanitarian disasters and tragedies and causing indelible trauma to many families. Many works of literature and art adapted from the war have recreated the circumstances of the war and warned future generations not to repeat the tragedy. The reason I chose to create artwork based on these veterans also stems from a story of my family with the Second World War. In the early 1990s, when I was still in primary school, I became curious about many things and had a clear memory of them. One day my mother took me back to my grandmother's house, saying that there was something very important. I entered and saw many people gathered around my grandmother, there was an uncle kneeling in front of her in the crowd crying bitterly and my grandmother was beating her chest, and I vaguely heard her saying something like, "My pathetic brother, I look forward to seeing you every day, but it's a pity that we didn't even get to see each other... ".

I later learned from my mother that this uncle, who had come all the way from Taiwan to find his family, was the eldest son of my grandmother's brother. During World War II, my grandmother's brother and many of his classmates were deceived and sold to Taiwan for military service by their high school headmaster in 1944 under the pretext of transferring schools, and those who did not comply were shot on the spot which is the Penghu July 13 Incident. When family visits between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait resumed in the early 1990s, his eldest son followed the information in the diary and found his hometown, which led to this tear-filled reunion.

In 2012, I went to Taiwan with my parents to visit my grandmother's brother's family and they took me to a military cemetery to commemorate this man who had never returned from his life. This visit also made me realise that there are many other veterans who are still alive and have their own stories, each with a life that is a remarkable memoir of the war. So, in 2013, I travelled to Taiwan again and visited over sixty veterans, recording them in ink portraits. Like Grandma's brother, none of these veterans ever imagined that a separation in 1944 would, for many of them, be an eternal goodbye. In 2014, I made two exhibitions of these portraits in Nanjing and Changsha, during which I met many associations that care for veterans and gradually learnt that many other veterans chose to stay in mainland China after the victory of the war against Japan. In particular, in the Huaihua area of Hunan Province, there were still some veterans of the war who were living in very difficult conditions, so I used the 30,000 yuan raised from the sale of my books at the exhibition to help ten veterans in the Huaihua area, each with 3,000 yuan, enough to cover their daily expenses for a whole year. The veterans' experiences in Taiwan and on the mainland made me realize the life-long and indelible impact of war on individual lives. Those who died in the war gave their young lives, while those who lived retired after their success, and most veterans still live in the memory of that war.

This sparked my concern for more marginalised groups, and I wanted to record more faces and stories in portraits. So, in the summer of 2016, I painted dozens of portraits of various ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, China; in 2018, I painted various faces of residents living in the Scottish region in Edinburgh, UK; in 2019, I painted various faces of worshippers in front of the Da Zhao Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet; in 2020, I painted various images of new immigrants in Ireland. The people living in these places, more or less defined at one time or another as a group of people with some specific common characteristics, also give rise to some conflicts and disconnections, even contradictions and wars with their surroundings due to different ideologies, cultural beliefs, customs and habits. Even though most individuals in social life aspire to a peaceful life, the result of war after conflicts have escalated will undoubtedly result in the separation and death of the people caught up in them. War is an armed struggle to achieve certain political and economic ends, a social phenomenon after the emergence of classes in human history, the highest form of contradictory struggle between classes, nations, states and political groups, reflecting political substance by violent means. The Second World War, the closest to us, was the first truly global war in human history, involving more than 60 countries and regions, spanning Asia, Europe, the Americas, Africa, Oceania and the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian and Arctic Oceans, covering an area of more than 22 million square kilometres, involving a population of about 1.7 billion people, or 80% of the world's population, and costing More than 50 million people were lost. The seemingly long-ago World War II has continued to affect the world even after its end, with local disputes still raging in various regions and increasingly intense political rivalries, with economic and political interests between countries, global resources and globalised markets becoming the focus of competition between nations. For example, the four Middle East wars between Afghanistan and Israel over territorial issues; the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan has also led to a prolonged war between the two countries; the territorial issues between China and Vietnam, China and the Soviet Union, and China and India have led to increasing tensions between neighbouring countries; the Crimea dispute between Russia and Ukrain; the territorial disputes between the various ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina; the dispute between Iran and the Arab countries over the three Gulf islands; The dispute over the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey, the dispute between Japan and South Korea over the Dokdo Islands, and the conflict between the countries surrounding the South China Sea and the location of the islands. In particular, the United States, by virtue of its superpower status, has pressed its position in the Middle East, starting or participating in a total of five regional wars: the Gulf War, the Kosovo War, the Afghanistan War, the Iraq War and the Libya War, and the Middle East has become a strategic focus for the United States to achieve global hegemony. In 2021, I embarked on an art project combining portraiture, documentary film and virtual reality representation of the last surviving veterans of the war in Huaihua, Hunan Province, centred on Zhijiang, the site of the Japanese surrender in China. Huaihua, Hunan province, was the site of the final surrender of the Japanese army in the Asian theatre of World War II and the final battle between China and Japan, the Battle of Xuefeng Mountain, where almost all the people once fought together in the national tragedy. More than half a century later, some of the Huxiang soldiers who lived through this tragic war and witnessed its final outcome are still living on the land they swore to defend, and I want to record their stories so that more people can understand the cruelty of war and the greatness of life. 2, Monumental Portraiture

Since the Second World War, advances in science and information technology have fostered development in many fields, and in the field of art, more creative possibilities have been opened up, with purely pictorial expressions becoming the so-called tradition among many forms. Traditional styles have taken on a new meaning in a new context. Shen Zongqian of the Qing dynasty said in his book, "The Art of Painting", that "there are many different kinds of painting, but the art of painting has been the most ancient". With a long history, Chinese portrait painting has been carrying the function of transmitting the spirit and leaving the descriptions. It is a record of historical images, which makes portraiture a visual art archive that accompanies the history of Chinese civilisation. The portraits were usually of royalty, aristocrats or people of merit, so they were elevated to the status of 'education and morals' and 'exhortation and exhortation'. I have used this traditional style of portrait painting to show the faces of these individuals, hoping to create a landmark image of them on the stage of history. The veterans have all had different experiences of war, and the 26 works present the faces of these resilient lives. Their difficult experiences have also cast every wrinkle, eye and expression on their faces. The in-depth capture of these details also continues to motivate me to complete each part of the work. To complete the portrayal of life and soul by understanding the stories behind the individuals is a ritualistic form of shaping that I want to express in my graphic portraits. The portraits are painted on silk using traditional Chinese portrait painting techniques, with 14 of the portraits being personally inscribed by the veterans themselves and framed in the form of a scroll. The portraits presented here are a framed representation of the object on a two-dimensional plane, not just a physical reproduction of the object's appearance captured at a certain point in time, but a grasp of the subject's life as a whole, after learning about his life. This presentation, combined with the way the pool is mounted on the vertical axis, is both a reproduction of the subject's temperament and an expression of my subjective emotions, hoping to give the viewer a sense of gravity and reverence for this period of history. 3, Plain narrative documentary

Portraiture is a static art form, which evokes the viewer's reverie for information beyond the picture through a two-dimensional still image. A documentary is a dynamic art form, which leads people into a constantly changing situation through constantly changing images and sound. The process of visiting the veterans was both a record of my creative process and a record of the precious images and moments of these veterans. There are heart-warming words and wonderful stories that cannot be expressed in a still painting, and are precisely the kind of information that the viewer wants to know beyond the painting when they see it. The portraits and the documentary are partners in such a moment, and together they present the spirit and life of these veterans. Some of the brave men and women who lived through the Second World War are still alive, and in a land that was once littered with corpses, there is no longer a battle between the dead and the living. This is what I convey through the documentary. 4, Virtual reality displays across time and space

Since the new epidemic, countries around the world have been affected to varying degrees, and many industries are facing a huge test, especially many traditional physical industries, which have to readjust to face the new situation. As a producer and exporter of artworks, I hope that my work will receive wider attention and that the physical exhibition space such as galleries and museums will be restricted. So I started from the work itself and thought about how to show it to more viewers. In terms of audience, my audience is not from a specific region; in terms of presentation, my work consists of traditional portraits and documentaries; in terms of subject matter, my work deals with World War II and post-war society. So how and where to do the exhibition is the question I have to face in this project. Most professional gallery spaces can hang paintings and show short films on various media and electronic devices, but this is not the 'only' way to present them. By unique, I mean irreplaceable, irreproducible as a display space. So I ask the question backwards: where do these works 'should' or 'must' appear, rather than where do they 'can' appear? So "where should the portraits and documentaries of these 26 veterans from the Huaihua region of Hunan appear most? I think it is where they are. They were born in the Huaihua region of Hunan, defended it to the death in their youth, and saw it at peace in the twilight of their lives. They witnessed the brutal warfare that World War II brought to this land, and they also witnessed the hard-won peace here. The wooden palace where the Japanese signed the surrender letter is located in the Huaihua Zhijiang area, where the last Japanese invasion of China took place, and has been preserved intact to this day. It is now known as the Chinese People's War of Resistance against Japan Victory Surrender Memorial Hall. Historically speaking, the victory was made possible by the sacrifice of young lives, and the peace that followed would not have been possible without the tragic sacrifice. In terms of display space, there are two displayable wooden walls and nine separate spaces between the windows, each with three paintings, just enough space for 26 works, leaving room for one painting, which I filled with a blank piece of silk paper The layout seems to be a coincidence; geographically speaking, the fearlessness of the veterans in the Huaihua area, the subject of my depiction, has also forged the situation where the Japanese army had difficulty in winning, where the Japanese army failed and surrendered, and it is the purpose of these local warriors going to their deaths that enables these local It is also the strength of the will of the people of this land that allows these local veterans to guard their homeland in a "portrait" of the surrendered space. On 8 January 2022, I received the full support and cooperation of the Anti-Japanese War Victory Surrender Memorial Hall and successfully completed the exhibition and data collection without damaging the original artefacts. There are still five war veterans alive in the Zhijiang area, two of whom are still able to walk. I have invited two veterans specifically in the hope that they will be able to come into this space, and as someone who lived through World War II, I look forward to such a reunion. One of the veterans, Mr Liu Daomin, was unable to travel due to the cold weather, and the other, Mr Wu Tinghai, accompanied by his family, came to the exhibition hall, and he became the only guest of the exhibition.

5 Conclusion In this project, I wanted to challenge the limits of time and space by extending the exhibition into 'perpetuity', breaking the geographical limits of the exhibition space and expanding the audience to various countries and regions in the present and future. So I used virtual reality technology to capture high-definition data from the entire venue and present it on the internet, so that the viewer can 'enter' the woodshop from anywhere in the world, click on different hotspots, watch the paintings and documentaries, and learn about the stories of different veterans and their lives, and all All viewers can browse through the messages regardless of time and space. Like these veterans, from the moment they went online, it is the opening and never ends.

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