Prophecies and Fragments 一 Journal Excerpts I
In recent years, it seems that we’ve been living in a persistent countdown; bombarded by apocalyptic prophecies, social media, social unrest, and the explosion of digital information. These bits and fragments have become the basic backdrop to survival. Amongst all the chaos, I spontaneously documented and compiled these fragments into over a hundred small paintings, each describing an individual story, and yet, relevant to each other. Someone once said, “Artists are thieves of time!” plucking bits and pieces from time, stealing moments of leisure from a tireless existence, creating culture – a non-physical product. Therefore, the underlying thesis of these works is leisurely art; produced from time, but not actually spending or taking up time. Leisure time is like empty space within a room. Painting becomes a means to kill time, to pass the time, from these small gaps within a lifetime, to gain freedom, knowledge, and vision for one’s mind and soul.
Once a painting has been painted, it becomes expression. Expressions always contain a certain relationship, they are the result of desire, but they are not merely a form of release. Expressions are a means to an end, and this implies that there needs to be an audience. I’ve always created artworks for “them”, but who are “they”? I don’t know. I’ve never expressed art for my own sake. In fact, I’ve put myself in the third person in order to express. Painting, then, is self-conscious of expression.
Sometimes, a place, event, or period of time encompasses a certain compelling aura, with a self-contained meaning. As time passes, these impressions inevitably emerge in the artworks.
Art is for art, and life is for life. These seemingly polar and separate as well as contradicting viewpoints ought to integrate and interact; we create art in order to live life, and because of life itself, and we live through art.
We live in a booming age that is also confusing and profound, and after all these years, when I focus on art, and the mini dramas and spurts of energy within the art world, I’ve found my own way to view, observe, criticize, and interact with it from a somewhat detached perspective; whether it’s something in which I’m directly involved, or just passing through.
Art is not only about feelings, but also about expression. If one fails to follow this guideline, even the most spectacular tale becomes lackluster and fallible.
As I touch my own image, there is only a sense of sadness and magnificence. In the dustbowl of humanity, who is caging whom? All that I know, all that’s left of me has become my ink. I can now write my own ruin.
The Debater 一 Journal Excerpts II
After less than a year and a half, I’m afraid I must bid farewell to this studio. In the 10 years since I’ve come to Beijing, I’ve moved into 4 different studios. In reality, witnessing and experiencing, time and again, a playing field that is supposedly glorified and the prestigious get torn down in an instant – this is the reality and vitality of art. From a more independent perspective, one that focuses on survival and creativity, there is never an easy, ideal solution. There’s no point in fighting over what property you once had. Put it behind you and hit the road. You can do it, because you’re passionate and full of energy. You can let go, because you’re free to walk to a higher place.
July 5, smoggy, 37 degrees, local polices and securities shown up right on time. The bulldozer leaves a dusty trail of debris where vacant studios once stood. It is as if the demolition crew is flexing their muscles for me to see. Over on the other side, art handlers with white gloves carefully wrap and pack away my works, to be sent to various prestigious institutions all over the world… the sign for Cuigecun Art and Culture Development Center casually towers above like it was any other day. Artists are like worker ants, covered in sweat, toiling away for their profession. Today’s scene is a harsh reality, bitter and ironic; the result of sudden and destructive policy changes. It is yet another reminder for this industry, which had just started feeling better about itself that the strong still rules over the weak nothing has changed. History repeats itself, again.
I am me. I am individual. I am subjective, intimate, private, unique, and honest. All that’s happened, happened to me. The landscapes I paint are just me. If you’re interested in birds, trees, or rivers, you can look them up in a book. I’m not a bird, tree, nor river that has been indexed. I am myself, registered.
The so-called misery is to be unhappy with yourself, and with the city in which you live. Sometimes, the city in which you live can seem oddly unfamiliar: the sky is always covered in smog, old familiar streets suddenly change color or simply vanish. I always pass by people, who seem to have been living in such a city for hundreds of years. They are saturated by the foul stench of the river, parks made of concrete, empty barren lots, power lines, billboards, poisonous foods; this city is like my soul, soon to be an empty void, filthy streets, a stench from uncovered trash bins, broken, uneven sidewalks. All this disorder, yet no one can afford to buy a property, nor risk going to the hospital, in a city filled with people pushing and shoving about, demolishers tearing things down, so much misery and the smog! I really wonder if this city is punishment for becoming part of this filthy and destructive world. Punishing me for being here, being a part of the chaos and depression. As sadness and this city’s misery melt together, we all begin to feel helplessly powerless. For a while now, I fail to see hope, only glimpses of the darkest, cruelest, agonizing, and reality engulfing the streets. I can almost smell it, like this city. The most attractive aspect of this city is the area that surrounds power and influence, with prosperity and fortunes sprawling, radiating outwards from a fictional center point. It is only the reliance and assumed convenience of this central point that draws people to this city. Within the food chain of this urban jungle, we are like zombies, lingering, moaning, and gasping.
Every year I pack my luggage and leave Beijing for my hometown before the bitter winter hits the city. However, this year, the winter in Beijing makes it harder to say goodbye. It is a warm, transparent and bright winter with occasional wind sweeping gently through tree branches. Dried golden leaves can still be seen holding on to the tree branches, casting shadows in sunshine on the canvas in my studio… After innumerable trials and tribulations, I finally got to move into the new studio and “To Kill A Blue Mockingbird” is the first painting I finished here. Vulnerable disadvantaged groups growing and struggling in desperation as always is a troublesome subject to discuss. Growth is a strange thing. Sometimes it is as gradual as a still flow of a singing creek, and sometimes it is as sudden as a torrential storm… the original work of the same name “To Kill a Mockingbird” is the only full-length novel of Harper Lee who is said to be one of the prototypes of the characters. The novel has become a classic of modern American literature and a film was shot based on the book. After the success of the novel, Harper Lee withdrew from the public and lived a peaceful life in seclusion in a small town in Alabama, rejecting all interviews. People asked her why she stopped writing and she answered, “After that, what’s left that is worth writing about?” I have realized that it is a great privilege and a real blessing for us to have some alone time, that’s why I have to say goodbye to the blank canvases in the studio with gratitude as well as guilt. I have to end my winter before Mother Nature does, because, in this fast-changing world, spring begins before winter does and we have become the people who live for tomorrow. I have checked my itinerary and it’s a list of journeys that lead to spring and sunshine. Before leaving, I received a gift from Mr. Yamamoto. Thank you! The robe you designed for me looks like a pair of wings. It will definitely make my trip home more joyful than it was going to be.
Whenever I’m in Dali, I’d gather some friends and students for excursions to the cedar forests in the mountains, to the discarded tea factories, to the rusty boats deserted by the lake, to the villages where only people who spend their whole lives here know about, to the tales we only read in poems. We enjoy these trips like innocent and curious children. It was after I turned fifty when I realized how much fun I’m having during these times… when I talk to people about literati and their descriptions for the beauty of small towns, there is always a voice inside of me, telling myself not to exaggerate, which is probably because I won’t admit that kind of beauty is absent from my own life. Writers, even media reporters, tend to think that the life in a beautiful place must be beautiful too. They extol the beauty of my Dali, writing fascinating stories about the life here, but the fact is none of them actually lives here. They prefer Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and the westernized life in these metropolitans. Maybe only people who do not actually live in Dali can praise her beauty or criticize her decline without feeling guilty, while I can never feel so detached as I have been connected to her with the same flesh and blood. Artists inspired by the history and desolation of a city will always feel haunted by the ghost of the city.
Translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO