The Lonely Spiritual Counteroffensive—Contemporary Art and Individual Survival
Source:Artintern Author:Wang Dongdong Date: 2014-05-05 Size:
We could only use the final spiritual counter-attack to change our perception of living and an un-compromising reality, Let the living in desperate times become permanent—artists can use their sensitive experiences, calm contemplation and thriving creativity to create powerful artworks...

Chen Youtong, An Ordered Space1, Installation, Materials Microorganism and Nutrition, Flexible Size, 2008

For human beings, survival always comes first. And since the early beginning humans have never tired of creating various lifestyles to ensure that life is more meaningful, and art is one of those meaningful methods. The meaningful is nothing more than joy and happiness, therefore, the ultimate pursuit of art, generally speaking, is for these. However, even though joy and happiness are basically humanity’s eternal ideals during the pursuit, or at least nobody could seize happiness steadily. Any reason that offers to give people joy and happiness still attracts many followers. But, it is not hard to give people feelings of joy and happiness, especially today when the entertainment industry is so developed. Although those artworks that aim to give people joy and happiness were once loved by the ordinary people, this kind of art obviously does not carry any artistic creativity. In an era of mass consumption that entertainment dominates, some art is to invoke happiness; even though the artists are sad they have to pretend to be happy. Some art is not for happiness; even though the artists are happy they have to pretend to be sad. I believe the latter is better than the former because happiness itself is an illusion, particularly in a social atmosphere shrouded by diverse ideologies.

Chen Youtong, An Ordered Space2, Installation, Materials Microorganism and Nutrition, Flexible Size, 2008

Since the birth of mankind, there have always been people who made promises to the world that they would give the world happiness. But in reality how many people in the world will smile and happily face death before they die? During the thousands of years of civilized history that can be dated, happiness has been an everlasting fantasy. There has been an invisible hand strengthening and stabilizing various realistic regulations and rules, continually making promises about happiness and putting it into dead ends, then calling on all the people to fight for them. People exerted all their strength to burn and loot. After experiencing all kinds of brutal means, happiness has become an eternal legend of the dead end. Nevertheless, the best hope for happiness is permanently sprinkled on the vast Earth. Although we can easily ask anybody, “are you happy?” how many people know that happiness is just a lie? Our current responsibility is to expose this lie and take efforts to fragment it.

Dai Fan, Coldness, Image, Flexible Size, 2013

In my opinion, there is no need to question whether art is for happiness or sadness because the answer is determined: sadness. Only art for sadness could touch the true meaning of joy and happiness—the concept of joy and happiness. Only by reaching this point could art lead to the ultimate questions. If art is for the pursuit of happiness, then the seemingly happier the more false it is; the more false it is, the sadder it is. Art is just a way of portraying the life that we have created. Even if we need to create the illusion of happiness purposely, why place art in a higher place? If so, we can completely abandon art. The content, language, form, method all seem so artificial. It is better to pursue the beauty of life than the beauty of art. For a long time, we have been living in hypocrisy and deception, and so has art. Art is either for good intentions or for power. It seems superior to living and yet enjoys second-handed treatment. When there is really art is at the time that art is about to disappear, and only at this time will we be aware of the redundancy of the art. But, in the face of dazzling reality, we still cannot give up the imagination of art. After all we are social people of flesh and blood. So, only by remodeling art can we let it come back to the right track.

Dai Fan, Ejection, Image, Flexible Size, 2013

The primary way for us to reach the truth is to restrain entertainment and stay calm in pleasure. Generally speaking, the entertainment in art mainly refers to ideological manipulation and emotional upheaval caused by mass consumption. Its representation is mainly reflected in excitement generated by thrills and relaxation led by temptation. Only artistic demands out of ideologies and mass consumption could possibly go up to a certain spiritual height (mainly reflected in cognitive aspects). High class art is always combating with reality. The conflicts often change according to the changes to the survival situations of human beings. And the struggle itself demonstrates the plight that people have throughout history. However, this plight also inspires the changes in the history of human thinking. The changes of art history are based on the changes in thinking history.

In ancient Greece, the greatest value of art was not the precise reproduction of ancient myths, but the accuracy of precise reproduction itself. This was a pure development of cognitive aspects, and the sublimation of subjective feelings. In medieval art, the focus on the precise reproduction of objects was diverted into the rendering of the mysterious color and spiritual atmosphere of the Gods. The value of art was no longer the perception of the real, but the dissemination of religious doctrine. The meaning of artistic language began to serve realistic demands. In real life, people’s belief in religion is mainly about ritual itself, and the excitement of the individual spirit brought about by this ritual still bears entertainment characteristics. And it just looks like organized entertainment. Only after Christianity began to be loose, and God was announced to be dead, did the artistic language begin to be liberated. Art gradually became the individual’s privilege. It no longer served gods and society, but became the declaration of independence of the individual spirit. Thus, after the 19th century, especially under the societal backgrounds such as industrial production, technological mutation, urban propagation, war continuation, capital monopoly, managerial modularity, and controlling stealth, art began to speak to itself or simply became a lonely cry. When individuals became wandering ghosts, the significant meaning of art was torn apart by history itself. After art was completely fragmented, art had the ability to abandon any historical authority. Art was pronounced dead. Actually, only after the original art was dead, would a more advanced art come into being. In this sense, contemporary art is a product of evolution, and formed in constant struggle. That’s why today we still emphasis the avant-garde sense of contemporary art. Of course, today’s avant-garde sense cannot be simply interpreted as a simple struggle of the spirit of social representation, but an inner mental energy.

All of human society is an ecosystem built up through rational thinking. And thinking has created all of humanity’s problems. Accordingly, people need more powerful thinking to solve problems. Contemporary art is the source of this powerful thinking. It is a kind of tragic power because its creation subject is powerful, but it doesn’t have any tradition to learn from, and there isn’t any hope for its future. Contemporary artists are aware that it is a lie to learn any tradition; it is self-deception to count on any future. Real existence is the mutiny of tradition and the complete loneness, hopelessness and heart-break of each next second’s un-foreseeability. They can only rely on their own physiological responses, such as metabolism, blood circulation and brain activities, to support their lonely spiritual counteroffensive. Therefore, the state of contemporary art reflects the primary needs of the sub-consciousness of contemporary people in a particular historical period.

I regard contemporary art as a new discipline with characteristics of both philosophy and science. It is neither simple logical mental activity nor for the sake of vision, but the “visual thinking” that takes actions. Contemporary art creation is a perfect combination of realistic experience, contemplation and creative experiments. It pays attention to penetrating vision while creating vision. In order to achieve this, the production process lies in vision and a realization of the boundless communication between human beings and objects, so that they could find a balance for the individual between society and the world. This requires contemporary art to have the ability to discern the world. For a long time, all the efforts we made were in vain, and they, at best, only bring temporary relief to the problem. However, the biggest reality of the whole world is an invisible force that restlessly presses from the abstract ideology to the real body. And contemporary art is using exactly this creativity to resolve the conflict, to realize the connection of the state and problems of the world, as well as the awareness of higher level. Of course, contemporary art is not to create a specific answer for the audience, but to create a passage for the current of awareness. Our understanding and actions regarding any problem are all based on the current period which has no history or future; thus to understand the current becomes very crucial.

Since the 20th century, with several revolutions in technology, and driven by the economy and information, the globe increasingly becomes integrated. A variety of doctrines and systems tend to overlap, although there would be different results if driven by different environments. Some places overlap the worst parts of history, while some places combine all the relatively better parts. However, these phenomena have the same function in our daily life such as individual rights, social distribution, historical memories, folk customs and religious beliefs. We don’t need to declare one social system more superior, but we all know that all behaviors using ideological manipulation and body controlling conducted for any reason are devastating. They are not only the destruction of the body but also of the rationale. The hope for the world is no more than to respect body and keep opening a door of logic for it. Only by doing this, will we survive. Today, with the flow of information, we don’t have to rush to make simple judgments towards any reality. Contemporary art should emphasize a kind of complex speculation to ensure the reconstruction of the subject.

Contemporary art pays attention to “visual thinking”, which is not only a rational summary of daily life, but also a process of self-seeking and self-verification. Nowadays, there will be no more earth-shattering new things happening; there will be no more great things for us to remember. And we don’t have to try our best to create unique art, although we could still maintain an exclusive determination. Nature has endowed each individual with this potential ability. The value of contemporary art is to develop this ability. After the processes from "fostering human ethics and achieving enlightenment" to “for forms”, art history unilaterally stressed content, form, language and method. These are all about daily narrative and not sufficient to involve the depth of thinking and the width of existing. “Visual thinking” must be special and cruel. It goes beyond vision, and is an extension of thinking, a high integration of comprehensive movement and stability. It overlaps different parts that are within control to achieve the form, language, method of content, and the content, language, method of form, and so on. They destroy each other in mutual interpenetration, in order to achieve daily experience and form extreme tension. This is both specific contemporary art practice and the most powerful realism touching on the individual’s living phenomena in a broader way. Living reality has changed our attitudes toward art. Contemporary art has become a way of an individual’s living reality. Because of this, contemporary art becomes meaningful. Of course, this meaning has surpassed the daily experience of pleasure such as joy and happiness, and has risen to philosophical thinking.

Obviously, contemporary art is neither a traditional art notion, nor a practice of daily experience. It is a high level of spiritual practice, to analyze and resolve problems from individual cognition to actions. Contemporary art neither serves the society, nor serves any individual or community. It only works for its creators, who then share their experiences and contemplation to the audience through various experimental results in order to achieve the philosophical reconstruction of individuals. Although in daily society, all social constructions of freedom, democracy, constitutionalism, regulations, are unfolded around this problem. The fatal issue of contemporary society is that the control over individuals becomes more and more invisible. We couldn’t resist the changes made to our physical environment. We could only use the final spiritual counter-attack to change our perception of living and an un-compromising reality, Let the living in desperate times become permanent—artists can use their sensitive experiences, calm contemplation and thriving creativity to create powerful artworks.

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[Editor] 孙雯