One Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains
Juxtaposingancient and modern landscapes, nature with urbanization, and ancient culture with modernity, this work incorporates a contemporary urban landscape within Wang Ximeng’s 12th century hand scroll painting One Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains. The encounter between medieval and contemporary art constitutes a unique dialogue between the hundreds of years between 12th and 21st-century China.
At the tender age of 18, in the year 1113, Wang Ximeng painted One Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains. This painting is the only surviving work by Wang, who died at 23. The phrase “one thousand li” (qianli) refers, metaphorically, to something that is extremely long or expansive.
Scenes from both the north and south of the country are included in this nearly twelve meters long image. The painting is roughly divided into six sections, and depicts detailed imagery of rural China including boats, bridges, cottages, figures, lakes, and pavilions, against the backdrop of striking mountains.
Wang’s masterpiece is impossible to take in all at once. Standing too far away, one loses its fine details. Getting too close, one misses its grandeur. Instead, viewers are rewarded for careful observation at multiple points and distances. Karp offers a contemporary reading of the painting, transforming it into a nocturnal scene and filling the empty spaces with cityscapes, leaving the rest to the viewer’s imagination.