Miao Xiaochun - Discovering the New Within the Old
Source:Artintern Author:Siegfried Zielinski Date: 2008-08-05 Size:
Miao Xiaochun’s attitude towards art history is symbolic for the radical inversion of the boring thesis about the Old which has always been contained within the New.


Art critics as well as historians still have their problems with simulated worlds. While being used to the interchanging relations of mathematics with painting or sculpture for centuries, they still suspect the impudent surfaces generated from algorithms. Established art history tries to usurp the new phenomenon within international art with a trick by claiming that artists working with advanced technical products don’t really create something new, but dress up well known images. Paintings you can virtually dive into, virtual reality – what a ridiculous concept! Michelangelo Buonarroti thought about this in his ceiling fresco of Sistine Chapel at the Vatican half a millennium ago and made it perfectly!

This mainly serves art critics and historians as self-assertion. During the 1990ies they missed the experimental art, which passed them nearly unnoticed. Thus they fell behind. They just had had to cope with the fact that photography was accepted as an artistic medium. And now images were created, which in principle didn’t need any reference to the outer world, that didn’t even need any common material to be present for others. A monitor, a fleeting projection were sufficient. They tried to cope with the future by using old aids like propagating iconic turn or image science as a new master discipline responsible for all what is visible in two, three or four dimensions.

Art working with advanced media always has a discoursive character. It is always also about understanding art and its perception. (Just as every good film will always deal with cinema and will add to its current history.) This is also valid for Miao Xiaochun’s work. Therefore I added this extremely shortened remark on the present status of the new images and their reception as an introduction. THE LAST JUDGEMENT IN CYBERSPACE finds itself in the middle of this discourse.

The artist states already in the title that his artificial world has at least three programs in its references to time: it is obviously related to the high art of the late renaissance period and to one of the most prominent frescos in art history, THE LAST JUDGEMENT. Michelangelo worked eight years on this painting (1533—1541), nearly overexerting himself in the process. At the same time it operates truly within modern ideology and technology and also points to the future with a marked gesture.

Miao Xiaochun’s attitude towards art history is symbolic for the radical inversion of the boring thesis about the Old which has always been contained within the New. He found something new within the Old. The perfection of renaissance painting and architecture is a late addition to stage the vault of the Sistina. At the same time his interpretation is starting point for an idea of the subject which only started to develop during the 17th century with the beginning of modern times and the hegemony of natural sciences. Only on first sight the many figures populating the scene are well formed phenomena of variety. Michelangelo interprets the day of the last judgement as a day of revenge and anger. Dies irae, dies illa. The figures populating the scene are the desperate and the rejected. The unrelenting wheel of divine power (and its representatives on earth) didn’t make them new sovereigns but subjects in the literal sense of the word: those subjugated. About a hundred years later René Descartes states his concept of man as a divine automat. They are functioning and suffer incredibly in functioning, in an endless cycle of crime/sin and penance. It is no coincidence that during the last 130 years the new pope is elected at the foot of this painting behind the alter of the Sistine Chapel.

Measuring himself exactly and replacing every figure of Michelangelo’s painting with a calculated image of his own physiognomy – a kind of geometric physiogram – Miao Xiaochun radically sharpened the aspect of dissolving the renaissance ideal. There are no originals in a world of clones. Behind the masks of indifference there is only a hint to something identical with the self. Always the same, but never myself, you could say, inverting an advertisement slogan of the turn of the last century, used by Calvin Klein’s advertisement strategists for his bottled existentialism – and that for Kate Moss of all women, princess of the artificial paradise. The time after the subject realized that it never has been integral and supposes that it will never be completely integral. In Miao Xiaochun’s LAST JUDGEMENT only the possible relation of the individual clones is original, it can be changed at will by the artist in his machine. Originality has become relational, flexible, black and white, an abstraction.

Miao Xiaochun stages the complete dissolution of the classical subject in this process in a dimension he himself calls the dimension of the future. „Where will I go?“ is a necessary video part of his Last Judgement in Cyberspace, getting down to the heart of his work. The large size computer prints (C-prints) freeze time like a photograph. They are snap-shots basing of an extensive animation. This is actually a paradox for the computer which is a time machine par excellence. All you can see on a monitor is just happening, oscillating, is an image of time. You turn it off and it is gone. Art that understands itself as time art in such a way is at home in the media of the electronic video and even more the digital video. Also, in our perception the figures are existing only for short periods, they appear and disappear at the will of the artist. The space between them - enlarged into infinity – becomes a (machine-made) eternity, or aion as the Greek said, or GOD, as the fastest way from zero to infinite as the pataphysicist Alfred Jarry said.

Cyberspace isn’t any objective reality. It is a first person experience and has a completely subjective character. In order to move sensually in it we need aids, artificial limbs, just as Christian religion needed Jacob’s ladder to create an image of the human soul ascending from earth to heaven and the descend of the angels as God’s messengers. Miao Xiaochun’s floating figures lost their footing long ago. They also use crutches within the stepless space, the ladder, the cogwheel as master artefact of mechanics, a boat, a bundle of arrows, standing for the power of destruction as well as for the possibility of fertilization within the European Mythology and which can be found in numberless allegoric images of electricity, mainly during that time at the end of the 19th century when the new media were founded.

Miao Xiaochun’s unconventional adaptation of the Last Judgement is insolent. Impudently he presents to us our own (art) history and simultaneously opens it up for a possible future which in itself at the same time could have already been its past. Only an artistic personage from a deep-time culture like China and who – in spite of all European references – is still working in this knowledge, can afford to do something like this.

[Editor] Mark Lee