Tale of The Green Herring

Recreating the folktale with contemporary art

By CAFA Art Museum

The Thousand-year-old Shapeshifting Herring (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

“The Green Herring Case” is the prequel of the famous folktale “Legend of the White Snake”. Artist Wu Jian’an recreated a new myth with contemporary interpretation. Through seven large colorful collages, Wu Jian’an hopes to assume a rationale for the storyline that the Buddhists will keep captive of the White Snake, and create a new ending for the ancient story.

The Thousand-year-old Shapeshifting Herring (details) (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

The story begins with a herring’s cultivation, and the process of the green herring’s transformation according to Taosit methods is realized with freeze-frame images:

Herring Transforms into a Human Face with Glowing Eyes (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

Herring started its transformation from its face, it grew into a human face with glowing eyes;

Herring Transforms into a Human Face with Glowing Eyes (details) (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

Herring Grows Two Arms and Becomes Half-human, Half-fish (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

and then grew hands and feet;

Herring Grows Two Arms and Becomes Half-human, Half-fish (details) (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

Herring Acquires Human Form and Becomes Nearly Immortal (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

However, not content with merely having human features,

Herring Acquires Human Form and Becomes Nearly Immortal (details) (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

Herring Attempts to transform into Garuda, Revealing a Mix of Human, Fish and Bird Forms (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

it attempted to magically grow wings and become the Garuda, one of the eight Buddhist demi-gods, so that it could be worshiped along with Buddha in the Mahavira Hall by followers.

Herring Attempts to transform into Garuda, Revealing a Mix of Human, Fish and Bird Forms (details) (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

Snake Escapes from the Mouth of Garuda Who is Biting to Kill Herring (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

This “unconventional” way of cultivation would not be accepted by the “official way”, so in the last two frames of the Tale of the Green Herring, the real Garuda appeared and caught this “fake” one.

Snake Escapes from the Mouth of Garuda Who is Biting to Kill Herring (details) (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

The White Snake Escapes and Hides Itself (details) (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

However, a giant snake escaped from Garuda’s mouth.

The White Snake Escapes and Hides Itself (details) (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

In the Buddhist scripture “Dīrgha Āgama-Nineteenth Volume," it is said that the Garuda consumed a giant snake and 500 small snakes daily. On the day that the Garuda ate the green herring, the giant snake who escaped from the Garuda’s beak was the White Snake in the follow up story and the only witness of this case.

The White Snake Escapes and Hides Itself (details) (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

Therefore, in the Legend of the White Snake, Lady White Snake was constantly being chased by the Buddhists and helped by the Immortals. After having the joys and sorrows of the human world, Lady White Snake was imprisoned under the Leifeng Pagoda by the West Lake, forever.

Herring Transforms into a Human Face with Glowing Eyes (details) (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

In the Green Herring Case, all the 7 large images are made of countless small characters. There are 186 kinds of characters in total, each has its own name and identity. They either derived from religious classics or legends, or represent well known characters in historical events, or refer to certain state of life or social behavior...

Herring Grows Two Arms and Becomes Half-human, Half-fish (details) (2015) by Wu Jian’anOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

The 186 characters created by the artist with his imagination carry various historical and cultural information, just like cells. Then they are collaged into 7 complete images of the same kind but different forms.

Transformation: A Tale of Contemporary art and Intangible Cultural HeritageOriginal Source: Courtesy the artist Wu Jian'an

Wu Jian’an draws his inspiration from local and traditional Chinese sources, injected into them modern cultural concepts and artistic expression. Connotatively, stylistically and visually, he establishes a multi-faceted connection between contemporary art and local traditions. While he expresses Chinese culture through contemporary art, he helps to propagate ancient folk culture and traditions.

Credits: Story

Wu Jian'an- Contemporary artist, Professor at CAFA.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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