It Finally Made “Me” Malfunction

by He Wenzhao



… …


Here the ellipsis is a confession, showing the author is in an awkward predicament. He doesn’t know where to start with and words seem to be frozen on his lips. He hesitates and begins to stammer: “… …”— That’s true. When I think I heard some special sound from his work and fully catch the meaning of it, when I felt so confident and am about to write the essay, all of a sudden I find Jiang Zhi makes me headache, speechless and even nervous. The severity and duration of such symptom even make me doubt if I am actually the most unsuitable candidate to comment on this artist.

After numerous times of revisions, deletions and start-overs, I finally decided to go back to the origin. Once again, I chose the original title that emerged in my mind: It Finally Made “Me” Malfunction. That’s right. It can be seen as a confession by someone with asymbolia. But it also contains another layer of meaning. I want to prove that such a “confession”, a show of “weakness” in a sense, originated from Jiang Zhi’s work.


Except Everything is So Perfect (photography series, 2007), the other two sets of works put on display were exhibited elsewhere before. Light of Transience (video, Dec, 2011) was exhibited in Guanxi: Contemporary Chinese Art twice. Some pieces of the oil paintings series (2010-2011) were exhibited in two group shows this year under the name of Untitled. – Apparently they didn’t cause any anxiety or confusion back then. Light of Transience features Jiang Zhi’s all time subtle and sensitive expression of time and light, and Untitled is a straightforward representation of abstract painting. Things take place as a matter of course.

Then, what makes me feel it so difficult that I finally malfunctioned and was not able to get rid of such an awkward state?

The problem may lie in the fact that I fail to convince myself to fully accept any fixed concept of pure artwork. AnEdenstructure is not tolerable. I’m inclined to put the “me” as a viewer at the position Roland Barthes put forward. Art can manifest any possibilities in its form as freely as it wants even at the furthest margin of the world. Nevertheless, its content would remain in the blank until it meets “me”. The “me” would gradually take the position of “history of psyche” and finally integrate seamlessly into the form manifested by art. – Obviously, some frustration showed up at this point. Jiang Zhi used to entitle the oil painting series Untitled. But later he gave them specific names (Pathetic, Content Control; Void, Try Now; and Page Not Found, Even Darker, etc.) These paintings combated the presence of “me”, making “me” unable to find the position that theoretically, was supposed to pop up. Moreover, as the artist didn’t consider them as abstract paintings, and in fact, they were not abstract paintings indeed, the way of escape for “me” to resort to certain chapters of art history was also cut off.

It’s inevitable that things didn’t take place as a matter of course.


Before the creation of this series, whether it was poetic imagery, straightforward desires, sharp sarcasm about politics and consumer culture or fables alluding to the reality, Jiang Zhi had always engaged himself in the writing of visual prose teeming with power and his signature personal style. In other words, without strong internal force to push him to make a new move, he had every reason to continue and further his exploration in his original visual prose. – If that’s the case, we probably won’t see this recent oil painting series. The “me” of artist is the same as the “me” of viewer: when there’s no obstacle or challenge, self-content is an easily accessible comfort zone.

The changes in the titles of these oil paintings show that the “me” of the artist sank into a state of anxiety and upset. The idea to make such a series originated from the artist’s attention to the problem of overlapping images on his malfunctioned computer. It was the implication he saw from such overlapping images rather than the form or pattern that had caught his attention. To him, such images could be seen as a break, a pause and a protest to those who made the request. In a sense, it’s like a surrender. It was better to acknowledge that to the world I see and even to myself, “I” had no reign. To give in to the state of ownerlessness was a sensible choice to make.

Based on such understanding, now it’s safe for us to say that what Jiang Zhi presents is not “painting”. – Those on the canvas are different aspects of “me”: the exhausted “me”, the distressed “me”, the vacant “me” and ultimately, the malfunctioned “me”.


All that used to be featured in Jiang Zhi’s art, such as light and poetic sense, seems to go into hiding in this new series of oil paintings. The brilliant colors, various lines and maze-like composition all reflect what “I” think about. In a sense, he was both an artist and a viewer during the creation process. The works show what he saw instead of what he created. Page Not Found, Even Darker and Silence, More Search Entries and the like all fall into this category.


As I mentioned before, Jiang Zhi’s art practice can always attract wide attention and stimulate discussion among a wide range of viewers. He’s good at creating a field of discourse, within which his sensitivity and creative representation of “light” is the most eye-catching. Through his years of consistent efforts, he has captured almost all possible properties of light: violent, redemptive, dramatic, poetic, natural and aesthetic…

Compared to Light of Transience, his previous works tended to emphasize more on the sense of interference and experiment. However, the powerful and even somewhat aggressive “me” of the artist is nowhere to be found in the 37-minute video. It gives out a kind of reserved anxiety. In the video, light is no longer an object in the aesthetic sense. Instead, it is represented as a marker of fleeting time. Transient as it is, it helps people to witness in person the existing and yet invisible force.

The video was filmed at the artist’s house. The trajectory of natural light (through a reflection of a piece of glassine) gradually changed as time went by. Sometimes, it looked so beautiful. Sometimes, it looked so complicated. The artist didn’t endue the image with any intentional implication. Neither did he do that to the orchid at the corner. Viewers may sympathize with the subtle and yet inevitable changes, but the video neither encourages nor inhabits such an impulse.

Nothing but the sense of time and its silent endurance is highlighted in the video. Under an intense gaze, the “me” turns to be weak and dim, as if it is running out of sense of existence. Ambience teeming with unspeakable grief and unstableness overwhelms the image, turning any gaze upon it into a kind of transitory trace.


At this point, it seems both the “me” of the artist and the “me” of the viewer show signs of regaining their vitality, which can also be confirmed in Everything is So Perfect. Then it leads us to ask the following questions: What makes Jiang Zhi willing to present the oil painting series that has been kept from public attention for four years? If the “me” inside the artist doesn’t encounter some kind of unprecedented frustration, does he need to put forward another possibility of his art?

Featuring needles and a table (which looks like a piece of canvas), the photography series gives out a sense of order and perfection. Just as the title indicates: Everything is So Perfect. For the first time, the unique poetic sense and intelligence of the artist are embodied in a simple and crisp way.

Needles (3 at the maximum and 1 at the minimum) are ordered in different but simple configurations at the same place of the table and photos are taken from the same angle. If seen separately, the six photos taken this way are six little poems. If seen collectively, they construct a simple and yet elegant prose (featuring more than one narrative). These needles can be deemed as metaphor of human beings. The different configurations of needles correspond to different types of interpersonal relationship. Any changes to the order of the photos would lead to completely different interpretations of relationship. If people are interested in ordered series of numbers, these images can offer them a landscape featuring mathematical logic. If seen from the perspective of abstraction, the right angles, diagonals, straight lines, color blocks, sense of volume and shadows will change according to different types of reading and will lead viewers into utterly different worlds. – Nevertheless, all these complicated orders and possibilities can be restored to a beautiful picture anytime.

The sentimental and poetic sense revealed in the image is both warm and detached. Most importantly, it is colloquial and doesn’t have any grand narrative ambition. Hence, the body movement required to put everything into order becomes a kind of unique grammar at the artist’s disposal and it becomes traceable within the gaze of viewers. Following such movement, viewers gradually feel the presence of “me”, the “me” as an “object”.

Transient as it is, the “me” is present.

And then what? As poet Gu Cheng wrote in Last Words:

Life is simple

Death is simple

Fall into the water

Grow on the trees



He Wenzhao