By Chen Haiyan
I like Cao Xin’s “face” series at the first sight. I tend to gaze at faces. The ancient says:” Head and face is the toll controller of all parts of the body”. Besides, it is a self-readable book for ourselves. I especially appreciate that the Taiwanese transliterate Facebook into “脸书”. Ironically, I am sitting idle for long and feel difficult to write at this moment. Am I stuck in writing? My mind is empty. I look in the mirror unconsciously and find that my face twisted with emotions and sweat in a layer of dust. Gosh! It turns into one of the works.
Milan Kundera says in The Unbearable Lightness of Being: “we know that the beating in our chest is the heart and that the nose is the nozzle of a hose sticking out of the body to take oxygen to the lungs. The face is nothing but an instrument panelregistering all the physical process of eating, looking, hearing, breathing and thinking.” Then, he says through the heroine Arneis’s father’s mouth in Immortality: “The serial number of a human specimen is the face, the accidental and unrepeatable combination of features. It reflects neither character nor soul, what we call the self. The face is only the serial number of a specimen.” What he said is so sober and rational that surprises me. What also surprises me is Cao Xin who has received professional training of traditional Chinese painting and now studying for Master degree. I can hardly detect any traces of academic training in his works. All these make me curious. Perhaps simply following the individual consciousness and collective unconsciousness might be a good explanation.
According to the anatomic data, a face has 43 muscles which can make more than 10000 expressions. Of course, there are countless micro-expressions. Ergonomics indicates that the width of a face is 115-165 mm, the length is 62-12.2 mm, Zygomatic distance is 72–136 mm, nose bridge width is 20-45 mm and height is 8-27 mm …It’s obviously more precise than our traditional basic proportion of the ears, nose, mouth and eyes. However, the scientific conclusion hasn’t shaken my obsession and admiration toward our ancient theory that “the face is the index of the heart”, just like the superstitious people’s infatuation for fortune telling. Lu Xun says in A Brief View on Chinese Faces: “Our ancients seem never relaxed with their faces … There are two sides: One face shows one’s quality; the other tells the ups and downs of one’s past, present and future. From then on, the world was in turbulence and everyone began to study their faces with fear and care.” Therefore, when watching the “Face” series, I was studying my face and theirs cautiously and involuntarily like in an ecstasy. I attempt to perceive the real humanity and life under these faces although it may be in vain as I overestimate my ability. The 60s oil painter Liu Xiaodong once said: “There are no country’s people except Chinese who can survive the complicated living circumstances. Such difficulty writes on every Chinese face so that I would like to paint the Chinese faces because they are the most complicated.” The paintings of the most enduring human faces come from the spiritual call from art. The call originated from the remote dark Middle Ages. The greatness of Renaissance art lies in the attention and depiction about human, not only the God any more. If we leisurely read the long historical scroll of art, what’s the most touching and attractive may be still those fresh lively faces. They are the most favorite and essential content of art as well as the facebook written by our souls, which hence become the endorsement of history.
Cao Xin was born in Liaoning and now lives in Beijing like Liu Xiaodong. They share similar experiences and common attention but have different understanding and artistic ideas about realism. As the rising 80s artists, they have the most precious new power that makes us see new lives from the decayed traditional art through their works, spreading a kind of heavy, implied and blurry beauty. In my opinion, as a piece of “the serial number of a human specimen”, it at least doesn’t fall into the rotten scum and only for this the value of the work is brought out. The narration and expression is more relaxed using the Chinese ink technique. To paraphrase Zhang Ailing for some characters’ faces: “The five sense organs are so light that it would disappear with a wash of warm water.” It is such light “sketch” of seven emotions (joy, anger, melancholy, thought, grief, fear, and surprise) filled with different kind of dramatic and absurd expressive tension, that is exactly our real inner face. It seems like the nightmare emerging from the depth of our souls that we remember by accident when we wake up in the morning under the state of amnesia. These faces have neurotic strange expressions covered with a thick layer of dust that is hard to clean, exactly the faces we see among the people nowadays. The wash, strokes, blanks, scraping, mottles and the graffiti-like water stains remind me of what Lin Yutang said in the last century: “Chinese faces can be washed, slapped, abandoned, favored, earned and saved. Sometimes, earning face seems to be the most important thing in life, even a trade of all the fortune is worthwhile.” The national temperament is still the same after a hundred years.
As for the deep sociology meaning that revealed by face, I don’t care tonight; I only care about myself and American writer Saul Bellow’s opinion in his novel that one shall be responsible for each wart on the face once after 40. It astonished me when realized the metaphor and implication. But to disguise our plainness, we are desperately making up, using injection and cosmetic surgery to make a golden mask. Unfortunately, no matter how we succeed in changing our faces, we always resent the real and worried faces under that mask.
To this end, I should thank Cao Xin for giving me the opportunity to take down my thick facebook from the bookshelf of times to browse and read those extraordinary.
Translation: Fan Chen
About the exhibition
Dates: 1 Mar – 11 Apr 2014 10:00-18:00
Opening: 1 Mar 2014 Sat 16:00-18:00
Add: 2F, Building 13, 50 Moganshan Rd., Shanghai
Courtesy of the artist and ANART, for further informaiton please visit ofoto.pujunge.com.