Motherland and Cultural Heritage - Classical and Spiritual
Source:Artintern Author:Jia Fangzhou Date: 2005-11-30 Size:
Today's China seldom has the chance to witness to an influence as big as the one effected by Cai Zhisong's series of sculptures: “Motherland”. Regardless Cai has been awarded with the highest prize in the Paris Autumn Saloon, his works still continue to be misinterpreted by the masses and criticized by all the media in Internet, which explains the great success of the artist.

 Cai Zhisong, Ode to Motherland No.5,  glass - fiber reinforced resin   copperplate   brass wires, 2003,  160x70x90cm

Today's China seldom has the chance to witness to an influence as big as the one effected by Cai Zhisong's series of sculptures: “Motherland”. Regardless Cai has been awarded with the highest prize in the Paris Autumn Saloon, his works still continue to be misinterpreted by the masses and criticized by all the media in Internet, which explains the great success of the artist. His triumph derives not only from his prizes, but also from the great interest that he has drawn in many different ways. Approval and criticism all derive from the same shocking feeling that his art is provocative. Wherever his works are displayed, the viewers look at them but they do not see, they remain indifferent, jumping to the conclusion that these works do not bring any new element which is worth paying attention to.

It is therefore not accidental that Cai Zhisong's series of sculptures “Motherland” provoked such a resonance. Cai Zhisong, besides having knowledge of the East and the West sculpture's historical evolution, he has also a sober understanding of the immediate location of sculpture in a cultural environment; “Motherland” represents his choice of individualization in the historical and contemporary latitude. Following a certain line of history, he went ahead pursuing his realistic description, from a contemporary perspective. He has also confirmed the coordinates of the solid cultural bases of his motherland. Despite the fact that this view of Cai Zhisong may look pretty conservative, it comes, as a matter of fact, from an extremely wise and careful consideration, because in times of globalization unrest, he soberly sees the problems of the inevitable resistance of every regional culture to annexation.

Trying to overlook things from a positive point of view, a globalized cultural environment is intended to be a cultural environment where different elements coexist and interact and not necessarily where the west plays the central role and the strong bullies the weak. Among different cultures, we should not only seek the chance of linking up and exchange but also, should stick to our artistic explaining ability and the judging standard. The attitude toward globalization should not be only of resistance but also as a way to create mutual relations. Globalization should be seen as a development of local culture and as a turning point in the communication between different cultures. We coexist on a star where many different cultures intersect at the same time. Conflicts can be between different cultures, and even in such situation, there are possibilities of exchanges and links. To excessively emphasize the conflict between different cultures is counterproductive towards cultural exchanges themselves. If we want to help our own culture to be worldwide spread we first have to ponder on how to effectively create cultural exchanges, the first step to achieve this is definitely not to fight off the opposite party but, on the contrary, to find a good way to approach it. And this process actually translates into understanding and incorporating and at the same time permeating with the opposite party. Nowadays, nobody has been able to isolate the cultural practice outside of the globalization. If we decide to neither follow the trail of the mighty western culture and neither have we wanted take up the anti-globalization kind of attitude, we need in order to stay within the heterogeneous culture compatibility to preserve our own cultural status, and establish the spiritual pivot in our own cultural context. Cai Zhisong's series “Motherland” comes out to the surface in a cultural background and that is where he tries drawing people's focus.

The type of professional training that Cai Zhisong received at the academy was basically to outsource from western sculpture practical language but his series “Motherland”, regardless of whether it is in physical structure design or modeling space processing, it all spreads out with the western culture. The characters within “Motherland” have no narration, and no adaptation, they do not belong to any specific time,neither are they some concrete historical personage or mythological characters like Greek sculpture where characters derive from mythological gods, the characters modeled by Cai Zhisong are humanized, emblematic, generalized. His idea does not display some specific time some historical characters or facts, but it is to assure some ethnical group's distinctive spiritual features to a higher level. Therefore, we can look at “Motherland” as an attempt to symbolize the personality of the Chinese nation as a community and as a symbol of the spirit of Chinese culture. What we see in “Motherland” is “cultural heritage”, a nation's history and culture, a nation intrinsic temperament and vitality.

Cai Zhisong, through his entire series,bring us back to Chinese nation's ancient civilization. “Motherland” consists of three parts “Custom”, “Refinement”, “Ode” and an external part called “behavior experiment”. These three parts derive from the “Book of Songs” 's three major parts (“Refinement” is divided into “Small Refinement” and “Big Refinement”).

The two parts “Refinement” and “Ode” are composed respectively by a group of characters. In “Refinement”,the identity of the characters' social status (servants and literates) appears in the adornments and in the dynamic. In “Ode” (where no reference is made to the warrior's costumes), the characters are manifested through the human body dynamic structure. And before and after linking up the two groups of characters in “Refinement”, through some symbolic objects (bamboo slips, reels, screen), completes his work. His passing through a red gate has been added to experiment his behavior and makes this series appear full in richness and integrity.

The feeling that “Motherland” transmits to me is that of an attempt of depicting an image of Ancient China that has something in common with Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt, the fascination of history. For this reason, although he employs the pure sculpture and material language, it is by employing a kind of “cultural narration” and spiritual indication that he attempts transcending the concept of time and space in history. It is through sculpture's distinctive form, space and structure that he tries to elucidate these “sublime words with profound meaning”, containing the profound understanding of life, humanity and “race”. This kind of understanding is undoubtedly individualistic as he said: “I entered the six Confucian classics and not the six Confucian classics entered me”. Therefore, as far as it concerns the understanding of the works, ambiguity in significance is also a normal component.

Cai Zhisong's symbolism in “Motherland” could also lead to an interpretation as “ancient China” and in my opinion it is accurate, discreet and deep. This overall look based in the intrinsic spiritual assurance, has left out many shallow points and bluffs. What people in the network define as “humpback without thorax” and “kneels down” has raised a lot of questions because they seemingly look at it like someone who throws away his chest to be able to represent our nationality. As a matter of fact, this seems to me like a very simplistic and superficial way to see things. China has always been regarded at as a “country of etiquette” and “aggressive”, “militant”, expansionistic and risky are not part of the Chinese natural disposition. The Great Wall, since the Qin dynasty, has always been under restoration and this could be seen as a proof of this attitude. This big courtyard wall exists only for protecting the country from aggression and is not a symbol of expansion. Gu Hong Ming in his book “The Spirit of China” or “The Principle of Righteousness of Spring and Autumn” uses the term “gentle” to describe Chinese people's main characteristics and for leaving space for overall impressions: “What I called gentle,does not mean spiritless or weak obedience”. Mai Jiawen expressed a similar concept a while ago: The gentleness of Chinese does not mean a lack of spirit or being docile because castrated. Cai Zhisong in his Motherland series, through characters modeling, physical structure and the hairstyle gives us this kind of model. Through these “ancient people” he describes a sort of antiquity and an “ancient country” which definitely belong to the past.

And probably, we hardly could ever explain from a specific modeling point of view how to adopt these body shapes, (like “Custom to Motherland No.1” and “Custom to Motherland No.2”) and the posture of “kneeling” and “worship”, “Refinement to Motherland No. 2”, and “Ode to Motherland No. 1”. But these body postures like “bow” are typical of the humble. And it is even the kind of posture that all high ranked could have, besides of course the emperor. They symbolize submission or obeisance, what in ancient times we would refer to as “docile people”. We cannot possibly know to whom these postures that we see in “Refinement to Motherland No. 2” like that of kneeling down or forfeiting his honor is addressed to. It is just a kind of etiquette,and it is also a prostration to show admiration. It is an act whose aim is to show the counterpart the due respect, admiration (like to a father, ancestor, emperor, or to the gods), worship, and even awe. The warrior kneeling position in “Ode to Motherland No.1” has therefore a completely different connotation. It is obviously not a movement in life,and the expression does not fit that specific situation. The spatial rhythm produced by bending the lower limb and the opening of the upper limb is unique and expresses one kind of dignified feeling as well as the sacred feeling.

Another reason for Cai Zhisong's Motherland series success is the development and the creation of his own language of materials. Not in the borrowing of new materials and one can hardly guarantee his moral character's uniqueness, novelty and classical “cultural narration”. Copperplate, copper wire, lead plate, lead sheath, lead wire, steel plate cloth and hemp, not only have surpassed the traditional lumber, the stone material and the cast copper, but it has moreover fully demonstrated these materials language's special characteristics. When he sticks those sheets of copper one by one,we not only notice it is rich skin texture, but also the order and the cultural and historical accumulation. When he uses the lead sheath, the lead plate to produce a reel, the bamboo slips, the steel plate to make the screen,he transmits us the great significance of the transformation produced by the use of these materials. These resembling embodied objects no longer possess their original “sense of reality”; but it incorporates also the material transformation of the ideal in a cultural symbol.

[Editor] Zhang Shuo