The Manipulated•Tremble

By:Yuan Yuan

In Jiang Zhi’s work, I saw the contemplation of a sensitive and thoughtful young man facing all sorts of contemporary indescribable emotions, situations and identities. This contemplation has not only been changed into personalized art expressions again and again, but also been deepened in different stages of his work serials. What’s more precious is that as an artist, Jiang Zhi always knows what he can and cannot do. Although good at theoretical thought, he has never been trapped in the swirls of thought or entangled in philosophical explorations. In the representation of concrete experiences, he has truly realized the identity of an artist. With childlike and playful feelings, he gave up the heaviness of all serious thoughts that aim to pursue frankness, but show us the helplessness, weakness and the eternal absurdity behind all of life’s decencies.

In the video installation, “Tremble”, which was shown in Attitude: Jiang Zhi Solo Exhibition in Shanghai, we are able to see that Jiang Zhi seem to break away from gravity, slip away to the back of this high-sounding world and make a ridiculous joke with everyone. In this video installation work, there are seven naked men and women on seven projection screens. “They all maintain a fixed expression or motion such as smiling while opening the arms, making a vow, reading a book, posturing like a model, playing cool (imitating Chinese entertainer Jay Zhou) and holding a knife; and they are all trembling.” These motions actually include the major contents of our daily life. For example: a smile is related to courtesy; making a vow is related to politics or cordiality; reading is related to the pursuit of knowledge; posturing as if one is in a fashion show is related to following popular trends; playing cool is related to rebellion; holding a knife is related to violence. In the video, these different motions have no relation with one another. What makes them gather and form a complete work is that everyone is trembling.

This tremble, which has absolute connection with the body, can undoubtedly cause much imagination and thinking. One common example is “Red Bean” written by Lin Xi and sung by Faye Wang: “If we tremble together, we can better understand what is tender.” Another artistic example is Spanish film master Pedro Almodovar’s famous piece “Carne Tremula”. And also, a critic associated “Tremble” with his idea of “Man-made Parkinson’s” [1]. As Jiang Zhi described in his work, a tremble is often related to an excited state: “Generally speaking, it is a kind of inability to control the body when the emotions reach a certain point of transition.” However, this “control-inability” is related to either the sentimental “tenderness” or some sort of “lust-carnival” with an extremely strong impact in the representation level of contemporary culture.

But in Jiang Zhi’s eyes, this seemingly passive “control-inability” tends to become a way of existence completely accepted by people. When we tremble, we don’t feel any pain, but feel free; and when we tremble, we have a daily life logic that is taken for granted——just like a Parkinson’s patient, who lacks some sort of chemical material, can only feel relaxed and free through trembling. Véronic mentioned this in his critical article for “Tremble”: in the cultural level of current society, the infatuation with trembling is the same as the sickly status of a Parkinson’s patient. “We are living in such a system that can lead us into an involuntary state of excitation by stimulating the sense. The artificial Parkinson seems spontaneous, but in fact is unnatural, despite how natural we deem it to be. It is about unavoidable playing to the gallery, compelled affection, inarticulate expression of one’s feelings via objects or the landscape, the pardonable spreading of misleading fallacies, anachronistic rebellion, or the ambiguous babble of children…We all tremble, ignoring the physical discomfort but pursuing the so-called peace of mind, because in this system there is something we are always sentimentally attached to, that is the illusion of freedom.”

Through the installation work of “Tremble”, what Jiang Zhi wants to emphasize is: the comfort sensed from trembling is absolutely not a natural state, but an illusion that we have been sentimentally attached to and an abnormal state that Parkinson’s patients have. Therefore, in this video installation, the most sparkling part with strong ironic meaning and black humor is the invisible vibrator. People in the video are doing all kinds of daily activities and showing a kind of unconscious normality, but we can see their tremble. It is just through setting the vibrators under those people’s feet that the artist realizes the revelation of manipulation. We can say that by making the visualization of manipulation, Jiang Zhi’s work reflects Foucault’s thought. It enables us to see the most shocking interpretation of dicipline, micro power and other important topics in our life.

The installation, video and performance have also formed a perfect entirety under Jiang Zhi’s direction. Together, the performances complete very complicated representation practices, which can develop an endless space for interpretation. On the contrary, those complicated entanglements of meaning and relationship have been taken on by an inspiring and excellent performance in Jiang Zhi’s work.

Lacan said: “The subject is some kind of self-deception.” Through all kinds of ideological devices, every single body has been interpellated into some kind of self-indentity and has been enjoying the illusions that we can choose freely as a subject. But this ideological device that produce illusions has set all sorts of obstacles for us to find itself, because of its delicacy, complication and invisibility. I have to say, in this work of Jiang Zhi, the vibrators under the people’s feet have offered a materialization presentation for the invisible ideological device, which enables us (who accept our self-identity under the interpellation of these ideological machines) to see clearly the position of the so-called subject under the representation of manipulation.

  The people in the video are naked, as if they were Adam or Eve in the Garden of Eden, without the differentiations of class, race and identity. Here, we can see that Chinese artists can finally escape from the nightmares where they can only use ancient, modern or contemporary Chinese symbols to make Chinese contemporary art. By this means, Jiang Zhi stands on the horizon of the mankind’s mutual fate. With his sharp eyesight that can pierce through all superficial images, Jiang Zhi carries out an experiment of playing God. His art explorations have created a space for people who think life seriously to meet with each other. Even if we cannot meet him in real life, when smiling at his work, we will be glad to find that life is not lonely. An artwork with solemn thought and refreshing expression can sparkles with a special light that illuminates our existence. Just as I first heard the name “The Manipulated Tremble” (after the artist’s careful consideration, it was changed to “Tremble”), I almost felt a kind of vibration like seeing the Benjamin’s “Aura”.

  In my opinion, only when human beings have the intelligence and ability to express their real situation in such a deep and seemingly relaxed way, can we really see the light of life in such a chaotic world, which, I think, maybe is the ultimate meaning of art, apart from self expression.

[1] Véronic: Artificial Parkionsons