Binary System

By Sun Dongdong

Crossroads are always appearing before Jiang Zhi. This is the curse of reality that is inescapable for virtually every Chinese contemporary artist. Excitement, distraction, fear, dejection and a frequently rising state of alarm are what drive Jiang Zhi to struggle his way out of the chaotic Chinese context that surrounds him and allow his artworks to retreat back into the mortal world. “Out” and “in”, this siege-like paradox, conceals Jiang Zhi’s doubts about the creative system in Chinese contemporary art. “Yes” and “no” – the everlasting binary system – pushes Jiang Zhi to turn his individual knowledge construct into a standpoint, another reference for assessment of value in Chinese contemporary art.

The only problem is, how can a posture based on a low and silent chant withstand strikes from the bellicose notes of reality’s curse? The abundance of the mortal world has been spirited away to the top of the massive rock of reality. It looks so secure up there, enough to dash the spirits. For this reason, repetition and relays accompany Jiang Zhi’s sense of alarm: when art’s determination to attain authority is unable to stand on equal footing with social reality, he envisions his “self” as “life”, and uses “life” to seduce reality, using a shady perceptivity to carry the charm that flows out of reality, so that the crossroads ahead spontaneously turns into a reason for becoming “himself”.

This mortal coil is hazy, and is always leading us to conjecture. Though the admonition, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is always fresh in our minds, our predestined end cannot stop our body’s yearning for the mortal world or our mind’s probing of it. Once the dust settles with deathly stillness, there will be no life, much less a need for art. Art is a process in progress, one that must follow in the footsteps of “life”. Shakespeare said that the world is a stage, and that some people had just taken the stage, and some had just left it. Every person is both an audience-member and an actor – obviously, “watcher” and “watched” are a single entity, one that can’t help but hide from the light of reality. That is because watching makes us the subject, allows us to take the proactive position, allows us to be clear about our position and direction, and allows us to “add value” to our vision. This seizure is constantly taking place. Though shared glances can ceremoniously bring two subjects to the same level, we still often have force ourselves to cast our eyes away from some anonymous gaze. Just as it activates our self-preservation system, it also allows us to become the subject of observation, an object being looked at. Being “watched” is the most shapeless pressure and burden given to us by the mortal coil, while “watching” is a way to find our doubles in this kind of “unhappy” experience.

Jiang Zhi is one of us. One of his social identities – that of an artist – entails being more sensitive to the logical cycle between “watch” and “watched” than we are. Of course, this sensitivity can be viewed as a professional achievement. But if art were just a linguistic game, an assembly of visual methodologies in action, then why should we place so much emphasis on “her”? It would appear that among the many clauses and sub-clauses that lie beneath the halo of “art”, there is surely one particular clause – that art allows us to “watch” the “watched”, and it is able to preserve its “secrets” without so much as lifting a finger. Through the passage of time, it will gradually become an indescribable “weakness”.

The flipside of weakness should be “strength”. To this day, people still remember Jiang Zhi’s Mumu. She began like a romantic fairytale. Like an ignorant acquaintance, she had illusions that were out of touch with reality. She always wanted to roam the world, but her inability to escape the beatings of reality turned her into a fable. Though Jiang Zhi turned “Mumu” from a cute puppet into a real person dressed as “Mumu”, the artist does not hold her fate in his hands; her fate has been turned over to life, and all that remains for Jiang Zhi is Mumu’s silhouette, the same as we have. The difference here is that some people learn to forget in an effort to gain strength, but Jiang Zhi looks back with fondness.

This fondness demonstrates that there is a weak spot in Jiang Zhi’s heart. She was wedged into the cornerstone of his life a long time ago. She cannot be removed, only shaken around here and there. It is weakness that brings a sense of pressure to our lives, and it is because of this weakness that the pressure can come to life. At least that’s the case with Jiang Zhi – he cares about time’s corrosive effect on life, and pays attention to his transformation within that, placing himself in the role of others to observe and narrate. That is why there is no Jiang Zhi in Jiang Zhi’s artworks, just a Jiang Zhi styled narrative. He is an authority on life – just as we are – and he can’t face life directly. Once one has been drifting through the currents of reality for a while, he will definitely want to rise to the surface and catch a breath. This might be the narrative motive behind Jiang Zhi’s On The White. Though this new batch of works follows the old Jiang Zhi style narrative, this time it is obviously not a serendipitous moment of inspiration, but a set of conclusions about a phase of his own life experience, a pile of everyday discourse that has been accumulating for a long time and was finally brewed by the artist into a well ordered and serious script.

“Gender” is a property that is innate to all of us, an inescapable identity. Whether it is physiological gender or the social gender as it’s been rewritten, it is directly observable and quotidian. All topics regarding “men” and “women” must first set out from “gender”. It begins with the body, and eventually lands on the social and cultural structure system. It could be said that “gender” is one motif in our narration of life. It created the first schism in human history, one that can never be rectified. Once our “gender awareness” is awakened, another type of person appears before our eyes – either men or women. And now the door to the mortal world slowly begins to open, waiting only for the body to raise its last piece behind us – the omitted origin of On The White

The body tries to take the lead role in life by taking control of its fate, but it lost out to the ceremony of the color white – the legend deduced from life. When the body is covered in white, a shady outline, we can only deduce the “male” or “female” identity. The body had originally meant to struggle out of the frame of convention and welcome a feast of the flesh, but instead it landed into another conventional framework. Consolation and assistance, as well as unease, scheming and vanity all play out under the color white. All of it follows the rules of space and the plans of destiny. At this moment, the body has left the scene, having been molded in time, and identity is nothing more than some faint traces in white. This is when the black curtain falls, and our stares can never again attain peace, because we have clearly captured the suspense, which once again sparks our desire to see behind the curtain. On The White is a big step forward in Jiang Zhi’s artistic practice; he has truly turned the body into the leading role in his artwork, allowing it to escape from the attachments of special identities and contexts and turn into a universal indicator, which he uses to craft a linguistic form that imitates the “binary system”1 . Though the body naturally maintains independent traits that resemble 0’s and 1’s, and Jiang Zhi is only pushing at the possibilities the body has for imitating 0’s and 1’s in virtual reality method, this is just like the way that 0’s and 1’s are arranged to thoroughly thaw out in the virtual world. “Men” and “women” are just there to “live”, and we are only thinking about “life”.

As far as art is concerned, On The White truly counts as a perfect narrative. But this is not because of its cold and calculated tone of voice, or its total lack of superfluous depictions. It is because it fabricates an aloof vision that only time is equipped with. When we see Jiang Zhi’s portrait of the “exiled” Pushkin on a white wall, please do not overlook the pile of dust below the portrait. That is the embodiment of time. All of everything needs the help of time, including the hope that is imbedded in If By Life You Were Deceived, and the continuity of life. Life is the passage of time. We do not fear life, only time. Jiang Zhi at least understands this


The binary system is a number system devised by the great German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm von Liebniz (1646-1716). There are historical documents showing that Liebniz derived his idea from the Latin translation of the Book of Changes (I Ching), which was sent to him by the China-based missionary Joachim Bouvet. In it, he read of the structure of the eight trigrams, where he discovered a system based on the most basic numbers, 0 and 1, or as they’re referred to in the Book of Changes, Yin and Yang, which progressed in a binary system. He once said of the binary system that 0 and 1 were the mysterious source of all numbers, and the secret pattern of the creator, because everything comes from the Lord. The numbers 0 and 1 are easily digitized: 1 refers to the presence of a current, and 0, the absence thereof. The entirety of modern computing technology is based on this fundamental principle. We can see that the binary system is a logic of numbers derived directly from nature, a universal and perfect logical language.