VMPEA: Zhenru Zhou
“Configuring A Vertical Field: Multi-Level Buddhist Cave-Temples in Dunhuang and beyond”
Zhenru Zhou, PhD candidate, Department of Art History
Discussant: Jiayi Zhu, PhD student, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Abstract: The colossal Buddha image is one of the major visual elements in the Buddhist landscape across South, Central and East Asia. The Northern Colossal Image (beidaxiang 北大像) of the Mogao Caves (Dunhuang, Gansu), created in 695 CE, is often regarded as such a production of “the Second International Buddhist Style” whose other name is “the Imperial Style of Tang China”. This paper, however, complicates this static view by asking what the Mogao Colossal has visually, physically, and conceptually evolved into since the Tibetan (781-850) and the Guiyijun periods (851-1036). It investigates the ways in which the Mogao Colossal has engaged with the spectacles of Buddhist caves and auspicious images (ruixiang 瑞像) at regional and local scales—namely, along the Hexi or Gansu Corridor, at the Mogao complex, and in the vicinity of the Mogao Colossal. I argue that the Mogao Colossal, as the production of a series of image-making and story-telling, was remade for the purpose of reviving and relocating the legendary Buddhist landscape from the ancient Liangzhou (present-day Wuwei, Gansu) to the contemporary Dunhuang. This study examines a variety of visual materials, ranging from medieval and modern visual representations of Buddhist caves and landscapes, to archaeological evidences at the Mogao Caves and the Tiantishan Caves (Wuwei) that were excavated or published at the turn of the 21st century. By critically and creatively engaging with these materials, this study hopes to shed new light on the coming-into-being of the elaborate architectural traditions of the Mogao Caves, as the Mogao Colossal is now more popularly known as “the Nine-Story Pavilion” (jiuceng lou 九层楼).
About VMPEA: The Visual and Material Perspectives on East Asia Workshop is oriented toward the study of visual and material objects, built environments, and the relationship between text and image from East Asia. It explores a plethora of visual and textual materials across a variety of historical periods and geographic locations in order to understand socio-political, cultural, and historical aspects of China, Japan, and Korea. While being based in art history, the Workshop is committed to interdisciplinary inquiries and perspectives, including but not limited to archaeology, anthropology, architecture, literature, religion studies, cinema and media studies, and museum studies. With visual evidence as the basis of our inquiries, our workshops are opportunities for collaborative examination and discussion of these vital materials. As such, we offer speakers the opportunity for open-ended exploration and discussions of the presented materials, in addition to the traditional formats of pre-circulating papers and respondents. This kind of collaborative “thinking through materials” is crucial to visual and object-based study, and we are renowned even among scholars outside of the University for our rigorous discussion sessions. While the Workshop invites outside speakers as an opportunity to encourage intellectual exchanges between students and established scholars, graduate students from the University are prioritized in our program. Recent visitors have included Stanley Abe, Zhang Jianyu, Huiping Pang, Yukio Lippit, Corey Byrnes, Deng Fei, Noriko Murai. In addition, the Workshop is a forum for joint-workshops, interdisciplinary and cultural events related to East Asian topics.