Drifting Omens

Interpreting   Jiang Zhi’s   Solo Exhibition Neurosis and Prattle

By  Li Jianchun

This year’s series of events have coincidentally broadened the background of a supposedly individualistic exhibition. All of the works for Neurosis and Prattle were made before the Wenchuan earthquake. Looking back at it now, they are somewhat indicative, like the wind before the arrival of a storm – signs of struggle and perdition, the daydreams of a paranoid, his observations while waiting for an omen, the psyche of neurosis… Since our civilization has contracted the new crimes of modernity, artists usually intervene in their artwork by learning about their personal situation in order to understand the condition of the times. As it is suggested in I Am Your Poetry, through conceptual purification and “peeling” art, the capillaries that Jiang Zhi exposes are intertwined with the pause of times. Illusions and absurdity are found throughout his work. He is used to the abstract from his individual existence, and designs certain images accordingly, from which he expands, broadening the area covered in order to complete a series. Only until he has entered the greater absurdity of reality does he then come to a sudden stop. In fact, he tamed his imagination long ago, although he likes to pretend he is unaware of this fact because if ready-made objects are not marked by illusions, they would not be considered his art. The Light Series is a good example (Things Would Trun…Once They Happened). The series originated from an idea, for which he experimented with the confrontation of blinding light, making it into performance art. Then, the artist made further conceptual developments by replacing certain scenarios according to the unique images that he captured as he documented the performance, allows him to explore various possibilities and be interpretive of coincidental incidences that were offered. Jiang Zhi documented the feelings of being shone on: no direct eye contact, and once you’ve been hit, your mind is blind, submissive, and fearful when confronted with such powerful presence. One’s existence becomes that between “normality” and the legitimacy of skepticism. Things Would Trun…Once They Happened  (An “insider scoop” at the most reported “stubborn nail household in history”), “fantasies found in reality” makes the designed fantasy seem inadequate, marking its time to conclude. In the process of exploring ideas, the role of the light exceeds the changes that the artist predicted: a head on confrontation with violence, it ascends everyday miracles by illuminating the desolate places, saviors, and the indispensable through its approach to reality – precisely what we often call the beauty of visual thinking. The works made of silicon or works on “rainbow” are conclusive works for each respective series, in which the artist associates metaphors to expand upon the ontological meanings in order to demonstrate different variations on the artist’s original concept.

Skin: surface, sensation, phenomenon, gratification, rejecting depth, the anti-essential, enjoyment, photographs.

Skin with exposed capillaries or nerves: flesh, essence, shock, sexual turn-off, true love, examining essence based on phenomenon, anti-photography, anxiety.

 The audience is only allowed to perceive a single aspect of the model, in other words the “fresco,” known as the ultimate limit for photography. It is not difficult to render a three-dimensional work because the difficulty resides in transcending the artist’s true feelings. Once the conceptual delirium is shown, it becomes difficult to resume – Jiang Zhi’s eyes and experiences are, strictly speaking, his lens, and he is not yet ready to give up the role of being the photographer. Therefore, the artwork must be as lucid as the developing film for which the texture of the silicon would also be as effective. The capillaries made of red wool fibers were in fact spread out casually, looking real – an effect that provided technical possibilities for absurd appearances on the skins of the pigs, sheep and dogs. The content for I Am Your Poetry No. 1-10, is quite complex. Besides No. 5 being the skin of a vehicle, the rest are byproducts of the body. The artist made the body into a sample of pseudo-science, purposefully creating a research atmosphere in order to dissolve the cruel effect of the conceptual. Yet the vehicle itself carries scientific qualities, therefore only the “surface of the vehicle” needs to be three-dimensional and site specific. Because the vehicle is an extension of the body with a “skin” (a fear of traffic accidents) – some vehicles could be more afraid of pain than people: because people only have one life, once a person is dead, he is dead. Whereas a vehicle has a social life, and once it’s dead, it can be revived; complex indeed. I Am Your Poetry is inevitably immersed in an atmosphere of death and remorse, revealing similarities between fetishism and morbidity. NO.9 sampled the sexy parts on female bodies, cut them off and adored them separately. The three new works for this exhibition have completely abandoned the inhumane characteristics of pseudo-science, but surprisingly entered into the realm of hope.

 Pig: Dumb, fat, fleshy, consumable, symbols of post-modernism. “In God We Trust” is printed on the U.S. dollar, becoming an omen in Jiang Zhi’s art – an experience of confronting blinding illumination.

Sheep: An animal perceived as a positive image in most cultures, glutinous, docile, righteous, and representing belief.

Dog: Loyal, snobbish, intelligent, often controlled by certain power, nationalism, boycotting French goods, longing for the “natural course of history”.

 The formation of this work came into being when the bubbles in the real estate business and the stock market burst, reflecting the psyche of many owners of stock and real estate. It was completed after the earthquake, and will be exhibited before the Olympic games. The context it has entered and the meaning it has obtained is involuntary.

 In a time of instability, there are many omens. Much historical turmoil in China had something to do with superstition. At the end of the Yuan dynasty, there was a farmers uprising along the Yellow River. “A look by the stone man, caused the uprising along the Yellow River,” a phrase that summarized the last straw on the camel’s back. Prophetic reenactment has shown the artist’s command of the surreal experience of the Chinese masses (using phrases of Christian significance as an “omen”, the writer believes it to be rough. Anthropology and semiotics tend to “associate” the research on religion and superstition that the artist also agrees with). As for how to construct a rationale for the spirit of the masses, the three statements regarding the pig, sheep and dog can be read backwards, forward, or as a rhyme – reading it backwards is for its ideology, reading it as is for its truth, although the truth is also a kind of ideology – the interesting aspect of an “omen” is its inescapable fate. Media violence and extreme nationalism is none other than the outcome of spiritual slavery and continuous enslavement. The information behind the “omen” is in fact rather realistic. “In God We Trust” as a sign appearing on the pigskin is a metaphor for global currency – believing in the US dollar is not necessarily good news for the RMB, and the current inflation began with raising prices on pork. All publicity on “I Want To Believe” and highly stylistic news are in essence protection for our own safety (how fragile is this safety); as docile as a sheep, before one turns on the News and opens up the front page of a newspaper, a slight finger movement in mid-air has already clicked on “agree” (virtual agreement in a forum). As to “The Inflection Point Is Coming,” it comforts the farmers and laid-off workers and the mass stockowners. In effect, the beliefs of the Chinese intellectuals are also revealed, or what is so-called unrelenting. The critic Zhu Dake pointed out in his popularly circulated text Who killed our children – reflecting and probing on Wenchuan earthquake that after each major earthquake, Chinese history arrives at an inflection point believed by the writer, “After the 1966 Xingtai earthquake, the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution erupted; after the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, political changes were evoked in Beijing, causing the Mao clique to surrender and the Cultural Revolution to conclude. If the two previous earthquakes had give rise to political change, then the long-term outcome of this earthquake is yet to be determined. However, it had already sparked an intense spiritual awakening. It forced us to reflect systematically upon and improve structural abuse practices. Meanwhile, it will also become a type of cultural memory, and its theme is none other than allowing the Chinese to discover the humanity in themselves over the last half century.”

 Jiang Zhi’s interest has been shifted from imagery to semiotics. In the aforementioned work using silicon, a light, soft, and semi-transparent material is often used to mask the effect of human flesh – a wisdom that has not been mastered by just any artist learnt from the adult shops. It engenders a tension in I Am Your Poetry between the toss off “goose bumps” and morbid pseudo-scientific “sample”. The red woolen fiber looks like capillaries or nerves. In the process of masking the real, the artist discovered other possibilities for “juggling things”. If life has deceived you, either ontologically or visually, with Home Sick, from the exhibition point of view, seems quite sentimental. However, using gray earth as its “tone” callously positions romantic sentiments into the meaningless and boring realm. The melancholic attitude often found in art history or literary history often “engrains” the sentimental object into the heart, the material or tone used not necessarily can storm the erosion of time in order to attain “eternity”. In Jiang Zhi’s view, this is entirely self-indulgent. He allows Home Sick to masturbate at the corner – a self-portrait of extreme nationalism and nativism. Without the earth in indigenous or native land, how can conceptual seeds be planted, and how could “the zero form of sexuality” (appropriating Lacon’s concept) come to fruition? The earth is sacred, and dust is meaningless, which is essentially the same. Microscopically, Jiang Zhi’s work can be meticulous, which is entirely projected visually.

  Perhaps most people’s idea of a sponge is “soft”, “comfort”, “absorbing”, “moist”, as well as the spongy body in the penis. The work on sponge in this exhibition enters from the conceivable impression in setting up its maze. As it is said previously, enticing the audience into a contextual trap is Jiang Zhi’s usual approach. Enjoyment and idleness implies certain spiritual handicap, and more professional knowledge on the sponge also verifies such a danger: mad cow disease for instance, is a mutation of the sponge body of the human brain nerves, and excessive intake of drugs will also lead to such outcome. The audience is directed from the blissful sensual imagination, until they encounter sickness recklessly – the steps in the “attraction” in art follow the same course as in reality. Infatuated with Your Flirty Angel’s Hair shows a badminton implanted on a sponge – this is no longer “the zero form of sexuality”, one can already see the penetration of concepts, and it is quite problematic. Badminton is a sport most Chinese people enjoy, just like ping-pong during the 70s, if one also recalls the very popular ping-pong politics between China and the U.S. Tying sports to the fate of a nation, or even global political structure is what the state and the masses await for the upcoming Olympic games, even though their expectations are different (another inflection point). Let me get back on track. Hair – the practicality in their application and modification, as well as its associated Foucaultian crime and punishment and etc., are all rather interesting: hairdressing cannot escape from a specific cultural and political context. The axiom of “keeping the hair to lose one’s life or keeping one’s life and abandoning his hair”, to the late Qing revolutionary action of cutting the queue, to the farmer and worker hairdo after the liberation, to religious requirements, hip-hop styles … one’s attitude on the body and hair can be seen as an expression of his ideology. Flirty Angel’s Hair is amorous and “promiscuous”. That’s Right, Infatuated with Your Flirty Angel’s Hair has a slit on the sponge, where it is stuffed with duck and goose feathers.  Jiang Zhi claims, “This an honor or reenactment to the infamous Italian artist Lucio Fontana’s series using a sharp pen to slit the canvas done in the 1950s.” Lucio Fontana found greater artistic space by “breaking the space on canvas”, he published the “White Manifesto”, and was named the “the master on spatialism”, and is a forefather for minimalism. Jiang Zhi is influenced from minimalism and formalism (which are in fact secondary aspects in conceptual art, because conceptual art is essentially “hyper-style” – referring to Jiang Zhi’s writing Original Photography and Hyper-Style for an young artist, Zheng Guogu), therefore, this work revealed the artist’s dual attitudes of revering and satirizing the former master. Perhaps there is a more realistic background: because Neurosis and its Prattle is a solo exhibition hosted by an Italian Gallery in China, Jiang Zhi’s plot met with the existing one, subconsciously conducting a distant discourse.

 In terms of inheriting semiotics, from the lightness of dust to the drifting of the feathers, meaning deepens. Dust denies self-pity, the enclosed condition for “parthenogenesis reproduction”, where feather reveals the ambiguous and superfluous relationship with others. “Loneliness” cannot find the sense of existence, and “communication” cannot guarantee spiritual maturation. In fact, it would be great if one could truly enjoy himself. Yet Jiang Zhi had to “peel off” the superficiality, therefore, Flirty Angel became unreliable. “To Live” is like this (the title of Yu Hua’s novel, key term for contemporary cynicism), is like walking on soft sand. Walls in a mental hospital are often covered with sponge in order to prevent suicide. The existentialist “banging one’s head on the wall” scrutinizes the purpose of existence, however, in our planned “prosperous society” (Jean Baudrillard’s term), discounted freedom – consumption has already dissolved the metaphysical passion, and the necessity to bang on the wall is abolished. The sponge is also often used to isolate or insulate sound – your scream would only be heard by yourself, but unable to traveling any further.

 Day After Day, Fast Dairy, done in 2004, has accurately portrayed the unique information consumption on dissolving individual discourse in an internet generated era. Andy Warhol had once said, each person would only get 15 minutes of fame. The most common motion in reading online is to drag the mouse down. From breaking news to gossip on self-promotion, or even on the electronic version of classics, or new works by contemporary writers, the reader only has to lightly click, and drag down. I wonder if Andy Warhol had lived to this day, what would be his comment? Online diaries, or blogs, as a publicized personal discourse (very few are truly part of the circle), would be honored to be viewed, and would be a blessing to scroll down on the page. This is the background for Diary in the era of technology.

 Avant-garde artists’ requirement for material and techniques are different from the others: the material needs to be unique, because the artwork most likely to be expressive through the material used; the techniques applied needs to be common, which implies for its expected startling effect by using this technique, in other word, its effectiveness. Jiang Zhi has separated the content of the diary into one character per shot, and 25 shots per second screening speed, in order to show is “normalcy” in such form of reading. Therefore, the paradox in the outcome is entirely due to the personal mistake of the diary writer, others would not have to take responsibilities. Subsequently, the thousands of words, endless discussions of personal sentiments or narration of life becomes a beautiful dance of Chinese characters. Of course, they show the voyeuristic “personal news” that are inconceivable with ineffective communications. However, from another perspective, it is clear – the act of the diary writer using words to perform the dance of the spirit is successfully achieved. With this “view”, the outcome would be the same as switching the content or the author of the diary. Is it because “personal news” is meaningless? Or is it because the spiritual life of the individual in this era has been homogenized? The Shakespearian play Macbeth writes, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” William Faulkner had written a famous novel The Sound and The Fury. Jiang Zhi had only used a three minutes short video to express similar concept (although the meaning expressed is not comparable), who has fully expressed the intelligence and beauty of media art. We cannot ascertain the psychological condition of author of the diary, where “prattle” is strictly speaking not the tragedy of a person, but the tragedy of the medium. After Xu Bing’s Book from the Sky, many have involved Chinese characters as part of their artwork, although I haven’t seen anyone who’s done this well.

 According to Genesis in the Holy Bible, as Noah’s ark sailed out and offered sacrifice to the Lord, God blessed Noah’s family and rescued the lives on earth, and decided not to curse the ground because of man “even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood”. (Genesis8:21). He used the rainbow to mark his covenant. Rainbow thus signifies promise, hope and tolerance, and most people who have been influenced by western culture share similar concepts. However, in ancient China, the significance of the rainbow is entirely different. Notice that the character for “rainbow” has the “insect” radical, where in the Book of Songs recorded “rainbow” as didong (literally, rainbow), or larva. The Chinese in ancient times believed, if one used his finger to point at the rainbow at the head, would make him swell in pain. Guofeng includes a poem depicting a man and a woman eloping entitled didong, “didong is in the east, no one dares to point at it.” The interpreter believed, the rainbow is an outcome of disharmony between yin and yang, signifies illegitimate desire, therefore it’s inauspicious. Jiang Zhi’s rainbow”, began with the significance of “promise”, and ends with the symbolism of “inauspiciousness” and “enticement”, a great combination between the east and west. Rainbow has been the projection on the “golden way” but has become the totem of consumerism – the endless enticement of insatiable desires, marking the coherent relationship between enticing and the enticed.

 This extensive series began in 2005. Jiang Zhi calls it Work of Satirizing Fairytale. In Between WorldsRainbow video installation (2007) has restored the ontological meaning of the rainbow into the era of planned economy. The artist has collected various old photographs from the Cultural Revolutionary era. Every photograph presents a brainwashed smile in full revolutionary vigor. Jiang Zhi has skillfully printed the rainbow over it without any hesitation, allowing utopia to be visualized on these memorabilia – on the interior, set up the spotty bathroom walls the audience is familiar with, the old style radiator, and one could almost smell the vacuous moisture; outside the window, “Rainbow of Time” is playing, of course that is the vital act. This rainbow is synthesized with neon lights: myriads of lights flashing in forming for one rainbow, like a possessed atmosphere that suddenly shines over the city, making people fearful. The two opposing spirits of the two era exposed the same commonality in this exhibition: both are “ rainbows in between worklds”, both are utopia on earth – according to mainstream and legal perspective, the latter can also be the “preliminary stage” of the former. Then, what would the “superior stage” be?

 The photography aspect made “possessed atmosphere” – the monster ancient Chinese were afraid to point at – added onto the different “service area” of different settings. In fact, nothing has been added, only allowing the neon lights banners to be placed “where it supposed to be” (“neon light” also underlines the relationship between “light” and “neon”). These prolific fragments of the rainbow manipulate the desire of the contemporary becoming rightly the “mark of the covenant”: consumerism has made the entire land into a venue for consumption, and seems to feel the need to emphasize it at all times and all places that “God will not punish us again” (which reveals its internal anxiety). In the exhibition of Neurosis and Prattle, the “superior stage” arrived ahead of time. Two photographs of Rainbow Out Of The Service Area, shows one rainbow above the sea, crossing the blue water; the other depicts Luobupo, the desolate scene after a nuclear experimentation, where the “rainbow” still rises. However, the planet is already empty (all consumed?), the prosperous city is unseen, and so are people. Who is to be enticed by this “possessed atmosphere”? “Come on! Buy me! ” is lit on the deadly scene – hopefully this is only the artist’s “neurosis”.

June, 2008