"Appearances of Unmoving Suchness" Two Person Exhibition of Chen Jinchao and You Dongkun
Attaching to Appearances——Two Person Exhibition of Chen Jinchao and You Dongkun
“Attaching to appearances” is an approach, a method adopted by artists, to present their creativity. This phrase is quoted from “free from any attachment to appearances and keeping the mind in perfect tranquility” in The Diamond Sutra (1). “Attaching to” means to experience, persist and describe; “appearance”, opposite to “great essence”, indicates what is captured by senses, the presentation of appearances and processes. As the ancient saying goes, “Great essence is the shadow of a shade”, which means that the ultimate truth is obscure and hard to be found (2). To seek for the ultimate truth, philosophers and scientists approach “great essence” with rational logical reasoning and experimental exploring, during which they have trigged contemplations on the issues of “quantum entanglement” and “parallel universes”, etc. and tell us that the cognitive field is filled with uncertainty, both real and non-unique (3). Seemingly all the enthusiasm of cutting-edge thoughts has been dedicated to the domains “below 10-30 centimeters” or the ones “above 10 billion light years” (4). However, this does not deny the significance of sensitive understanding. Physical objects, different from the metaphysical ones, are preciously certain and we can sense to believe their existence. Such is art, and the function as well as advantage of art, but nothing else.
Even though every choice made during the cognitive process leads to infinite real and parallel worlds, only sensual perceptions and personal thoughts are exclusive to every individual experience. Coupled with human’s advanced thinking are some artists’ efforts to escape the traditional and simple stereotype of “expressing feelings and asserting aspirations” and to participate in the shared thinking about cognitive process. For artists from different eras and cultural backgrounds, “attaching to appearances” is a basic method to turn their sensitive understanding into personalized and creative expressions. They explore differently in terms of how to associate with their own eras and cultural genes. For the past century, the achievements of the fast-growing science and humanities both improve and “confuse” our ways to perceive things. “Improve” means the such achievements have provided much more theoretical bases and methods for the cognitive process, while “confuse” means people are required to review some existing methods and conclusions more carefully. Ever since the “post-modern age”, artists have become more active to experience and describe the complexity of cognitive methods and process and they have intentionally introduced the thinking into artistic expression. More and more artists have shifted their focus from delivering the results of cognitive experience to consciously exploring cognitive or artistic cognitive process in multiple angles, that is, the “attaching to” process. This is also a shift of emphasis from the “appearances” they have caught, to the experience they have during the “attaching to” process. Thus, two types of works are often associated with contemporary artists’ “attaching to appearances”: one reorganizes and represents the specific feelings about the outside world after filtered by sensitive perceptions, which is an orchestrated truth, an artificial beauty and a landscape of man’s mind. The other tends to convey the abstract expression about the cognitive process. A series of mature artworks have been seen to reflect the results of such complicated cognitive process. The ink paintings, oil paintings, mixed media works and installations, from Chen Jinchao’s series “Basic Element” and “Decoding”,
You Dongkun’s “In Perfect Tranquility” and “Reflection”, etc. exhibited in this show epitomize the features mentioned above.
You Dongkun’s “Reflection” series intentionally illustrate the mirroring relationship in the world of senses by depicting the scenarios up and down on the water. The corresponding reverse-image and mirror-image relationships can be directly perceived by our sense organs. The works demonstrate that the surface and undersurface of water have become mutual references with the introduction of light, and these reflection relationships are ubiquitous, either in big rivers and lakes, or in small ponds and puddles. The mountains and their shadows on the water, as material appearances, exist as correspondences, telling no differences between true or false, and obverse or reverse.
You Dongkun’s “In Perfect Tranquility” series combine the traditional and ancient cognitive appeal with contemporary descriptive context and blend in more contemporary expressions. The works guide us to experience lukewarm light in the dark and then maybe inspire us to lighten the road ahead through heavy fog. He tends to express appeal for reaching the truth in the other-shore by departing from the appearances in this shore. This is a cognitive state of “freeing from any attachment to appearances and keeping the mind in perfect tranquility” by remaining calm and constraining desires, also an enlightened cognitive process of seeking for truth after observing that emptiness is also empty. How the works present, proceed and advance seems to lead us along with him on the way to “attach to appearances”.
Several groups of Chen Jinchao’s installations utilize dried ink blocks and strokes that are closely related to Chinese traditional painting and calligraphy as basic elements of expression. The ink patterns, like the oncoming ink blocks in rows and lines and long ink strips, have obviously distanced “ink” from its function in traditional ink practices. Now the ink returns to its original state, where it does not need to be carried upon brush or water, to outline for the sake of painting and calligraphy, or to involve in any elaborations. Those ink blocks and strips are simply symbols, elements or starting points with extensions yet without connotations. Beyond ink there remains only blankness, or room for more. Anything is likely to be created, as luck would have it. This is featured by universal cultural meaning.
Chen Jinchao’s series works, such as “Basic Elements”, “Charm of Movements”, obviously manifest the philosophy of tracing to the origin. He deconstructs the Chinese characters stroke by stroke, each stroke with aesthetic features specific to Chinese characters, then repeatedly reorganizes them and lays them out in the painting to create impressive visual impressions. Chen Jinchao intends to criticize the criterion formed by inertia: it can either be a fixed pattern for classical beauty or restriction on future innovations. Human civilization itself is a process of cognitive automation, awareness, integration and transcendence, the staged fruition of which can either provide foundation for higher level development or limit the possibility of breakthrough and transcendence. Chen Jinchao’s disassociating, analyzing and deconstructing cultural elements does not only show his understanding of the cognitive process, but also his active participation in the cognitive mechanism.
We can conclude that You Dongkun and Chen Jinchao have found between their understandings of the physical world and of the abstract laws some new ways of expression: attaching to appearances, can reach sophistication by setting off from simplicity or vice versa, and their ways can continuously enrich the connotations of a stereotyped beauty, or sublimate it in the premise of negation. The reason why our cognitive experience can be sustainably enriched is that the figurative world we are faced with is constantly changing and the abstract laws behind it is constantly being understood and discovered. Today’s artists, are inevitably confronted with an age of ideological leaps, creative explosions, diversified cultures, creations and extensive appreciation subject matters, and extremely multiple art forms, as well as of aesthetic proposition facing the interdisciplinary and trans-boundary challenges. The artists of the new era should seize the opportunity granted by our time, bring new vitality to improve and enrich the existing system of art creation and theoretical criticism, and increase new possibilities for art ecology.
(1)It is quoted from Chapter 32 of The Diamond Sutra, “Subhuti, how can one explain this Sutra to others without holding in mind any arbitrary conception of forms or phenomena or spiritual truths? It can only be done, Subhuti, by keeping the mind in perfect tranquility and free from any attachment to appearances.” “So I say to you – This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world: Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream; Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream. So is all conditioned existence to be seen.”
(2)It is quoted from Chapter 41 of Tao Te Ching, “Its solid truth seems change to undergo; its largest square doth yet no corner show; A vessel great, it is the slowest made; Loud is its sound, but never word it said; An essence great, the shadow of a shade; The Tao is hidden, and has no name.”
(3) “Quantum entanglement” and “parallel universes” are contemporary cutting-edge theories of physics. The physical states they describe conflict with human’s common sense.
(4)It is quoted from what the physicist Yi Ding says in Liu Cixin’s book Ball Lightening, “I don’t care. What I study is with depth either below 10-30 centimeters or above 10 billion light years. Neither the Earth nor human matters when it comes to these two depths.” Ding Yi also plays an important role in Liu Cixin’s book series Three-body Problem.