Inflated Muscles of a Degenerating Time: Jiang Hai's Painting Author:Cheng Meixin Date: 2011-04-22 Size:
Jiang Hai’s painting is a strong visual representation of stump hallucination. Through pictorial composition with tension and color, it expresses the deeper level of pathological problems of a swiftly degenerating time period. With his insightful observations, the artist expresses an extreme anxiety over the fate of human beings, which is visualized in a convulsive way in the hope of reminding people of their life style and future.

Jiang Hai’s painting is a strong visual representation of stump hallucination. Through pictorial composition with tension and color, it expresses the deeper level of pathological problems of a swiftly degenerating time period. With his insightful observations, the artist expresses an extreme anxiety over the fate of human beings, which is visualized in a convulsive way in the hope of reminding people of their life style and future. The driving force of industrial civilization is no longer limited to primitive physical desire, but rather it is the utilitarianist mechanism that has abducted the fate and future of human beings. The split and contradiction of means and objective has pushed man near the edge of destructive degeneration. Modern materialism comes from man’s growing cognitive abilities. However, tools can never meet the demands of cultural desires. They could only result in nihilism. Psychological experiences of social values could be sustained only through physical materials. Wealth control and consumption promotion works as an exciting social game, which is as stimulating as fish-catching as compared to fish-eating. The post-capitalist time and the emergence of a middle class in China accelerate the process of materialization in human society, where the psychology of consumption has exceeded physical limits. This results in abusive use of tools and material resources, which in turn deteriorates social ecology and natural environment.

In his painting, Jiang Hai visualizes the degenerating muscles of our time and blurs the boundaries between biological bodies and dynamic machines, which represents in an uncompromising way the internal conflicts of the post-industrial era. His works thus displays a strong sense of criticism. Through shocking visual vocabulary, they invite concerns and reflections about man’s destination and living environment. It might be safe to say that human life has been entrapped in a wild status that is totally out of control. The way we are taking is no longer the wide open one on which we “use tools for the sake of life”. On the contrary, we have been captured and tied onto the wheels of death that could not stop moving in the wrong direction. Back in daily life, everything appears to be taken for granted as if all defensive strategic weapons should have the destructive power of attacking weapons. Human beings have long lost their faith in permanent natural values, as witnessed in economical and military competitions among nations and rivalry and hostility among social members. It seems that the existence of life could be sustained only by realizing instant pleasures. In the past time of material shortage, man used the help of religious beliefs in solving the limitations of life. In the present time, in comparison, a psychological balance of social existence could be secured only by means of physical materials. Otherwise, there is only utter nihilism. In order to avoid complete nihilism caused by materialism, modern people can only maximize the mechanical power to maintain the meaningfulness of the world, which unfortunately in turn accelerates the destructive process of degeneration.

In the Ball-like Objects series completed in the early 1990s, Jiang Hai is obviously obsessed with creating unique brushstrokes and rich expressions of extreme sentiments and emotions. Reflected in the series are the fragmented feelings of the illusory time. Similar artistic language is applied in works from the following years, such as The Red Sail, Burial, Tide, Bumps and Baffling, in which a narrative in emotional brushwork leads to a visual conflict of indifference and tension as well as fear and uncertainty brought by drastic changes of the time. In the Ball-like Objects series and Baffling series, the explosive and hysterical structures of consciousness constructed by piles of fragmented organs create a sense of pain from stump hallucination. Such a radically subjective visual language is a representation of the spiritual and life situation of a time period that is dominated by materialism and nihilism. This is a symptom of degeneration.

Since his 1995 series Alienated Space, Jiang Hai pays less attention on sentimental expressions through visual effects but more on his concerns about human destinations. His sensitivity is well demonstrated in the atmosphere of restlessness that dominates his painting. His strong feelings in many paintings can be interpreted as his disgust of post-industrial civilization, where consumerism is ubiquitous in the muscles alienated by sex and violence. In each painting from the Alienated Space, fragmented pieces that fill the picture surfaces are like fragmented lives that are completely crazy and out of control. Such scenes are representations of distorted lives that have been totally materialized. In his Urban Structures series of 1995-98, the artist purposefully places a bloody reality in the condition of mechanical movement, where muscles of the time are disintegrated in speedy desires. In each piece of the Alienated Spaces, for example, Comrades, Suspension, Scorching Heat and Fallen, the artist expresses his sympathy for human beings for their destination. Degenerated lives appear to be suspended in a chaotic universe of horror, helplessness, torture and loss. The atmosphere created by intense colors undoubtedly expresses the tremendous pains as if caused by stump hallucination. It is real reminder of the deteriorating ecological environment, loss of faith and distortion of human nature.

In Dynamics, Flying, Garbage, Shooting, Dining Table, Flying Bodies and Dancing from the Urban Structure series completed in 1996, Jiang Hai uses visual effects of explosive bodies to explore deep level structures of daily life. Implied in these paintings is his doubt and defiance of the consumerist values in the post-industrial era, and his call for a healthy life in harmony with nature. There is no doubt that the artist’s heavy criticism of post-industrial civilization is based on his absolute faith in healthy natural life and his concern about mankind’s destination itself. Industrial civilization is like an artificially made time accelerator, which not only increases man’s materialistic desires but also deepens human sense of nihility. This will eventually result in the destructive future of human life. The very tensive atmosphere fabricated in these paintings conveys a sense of desperate hopelessness. This is a reflection of the artist’s sentiment as well as his conscience, which offers this world a way of self-reflection and redemption.

In his recent works of the 21st century, Jiang Hai turns his attention more to issues of daily life. He seems to have put aside his pursuit of abstract textures and brushwork; instead he prefers using color as a means of penetrating into the alienated reality. A visually shocking scene of a hell-like world is created by the artist in his transition from Urban Structures-Big Vaulting Horse – a gigantic time muscle – to Close Customs and Fragmented Animals – degenerating species made by consumerism. Every life seems to have been turned into stupid and crazy distorted mechanical parts. In his Commentary on Man and Discussion of Literature and Commentary on Man and Appreciation of Characters, words and characters are arranged in order of bloody violence that is filled with power rituals of taming and controlling and a revelation of order structure of the self-abduction of human society. Similarly in such works as On the Edge of Vision and Forms of Objects, the artist is not only a director of colors, but also a critical philosopher. He translated his visual language into a live world of materialist violence and reveals the nihilistic essence of modern materialist civilization. Or in other words, Jiang Hai is the jigsaw player who put pictures of civilization along with those of destruction.

As a gift for his son Jiang Dongxian’s 20th birthday, Jiang Hai created the Son-Mask series, in which he expresses an apologetic uneasiness for a son by utilizing the five elements in traditional Chinese philosophy as reminders of genealogical order. The explosive mask of fragmented bodies that the son wears means that the father is not as able as his ancestors who could hand down an intact home to the descendents. In an environment whose time muscles are built by mechanical powers, the son could not get away from this real world, whether physically or psychologically: Commercial exchanges have become civilized rituals for existences of life; non-natural ingredients in physical bodies have been made part of blood and bones; insane desires have devastated the mother earth, who is becoming a crackled statue; purified spring water is being advertised with aesthetic effects, which covers up the fact that the spring of life is being intoxicated; artificial-hormone-made youth is the synonym of depression and boredom and impulse for radical violence; human beings who are on top of the food chain continues to dig into the murderous channels of self-destruction by new inventions. The descendents of humankind will face even more deteriorated environment for living and thus inevitably become part of the alienated mechanical muscular system, which they inherit from their already degenerated ancestors. In other words, Jiang Hai’s fear of human destination leads him spontaneously to his apologetic attitude to his son. The great function of art lies in its ability to inspire and to console, which makes it a requiem to the very ending of life and world. Art can give human beings the courage to face disaster and destruction but can not save this world from sinking down.

Nevertheless, with his talent and creativity, Jiang Hai describes for us a vista of an increasingly degenerating world. The time muscles that are tied to insane vehicles could realize their happiness only be self-dismantling. Degeneration and transformation happens at the very cost of society and nature. Any consciousness means suffering and pain from stump hallucination, which forces people to seek self-intoxication through materialization. If there were only one person left in this world, he would think of the startled expression of the figure in Edvard Munch’s painting and the demented muscles in the works of Jiang Hai. But this would be the time when history of civilization is at its very end.

[Editor] Elemy Liu