Deconstructing Reality in “Quasi-reality”
--On Wang Zun’s Paintings
March 22-24, 2011
For a long time painting has taken faithful depiction of the real world for its own task, therefore we had the record of Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomy of human bodies for precise knowledge about the characteristics of human structure, we had the description of Alberti’s and Dürer’s probe into perspective principles in architecture and painting, and even in ancient China we had such technical requirements for painting as "Describing objects as they are", “Coloring objects as they are” and “Replicating the paintings as they are” among Xiehe’s Six Methods Theory. It was not until the birth of camera, which could in a most lifelike way reflect the photographic image of real things in life that the long monopoly of painting as reflection of reality was changed. And this compelled people obsessed by it to begin pondering over painting’s own features and its way out. As a result, the self-discipline and self-consciousness of painting began to take shape, and artists came to realize that if painting was to survive and develop it should no longer only play the role of being the shadow of reality defined by Plato over 2000 years ago, instead we should let the “shadow” get free from the bondage of reality to dance its own way, and let this highest noumenon(thing-in-itself)—the “rational” “copy of the copy” start anew and create its own kind of reality. Undoubtedly this is another reality based on the concrete reality of the physical world while constructing its own reality beyond that, a non-real reality more of the spiritual level.
The young artist Wang Zun’s painting naturally develops on the way of making art non-reality that has been there for 150 years. He is surely also influenced by the revolutionary developing trend of art for its independent being which has broken away from the simple didacticism of political ideology since China’s open-door policy 30 years ago. Moreover, just like his contemporaries who started their creations in the first decade of this new century, he unbridledly matches and combines people and things in different times and spaces even though these creations have no counterparts in reality, even though this way of creation has been very much close to subjective assumption! He thus wrote in his artistic notebook recording his personal thoughts while creating the ten-meter-wide painting September Screen: “I want to adopt a relatively realistic way of expression to defy and deconstruct the actuality of the physical world—the world in which we exist. This actuality is much too real so that I don’t like it. I just want to supply a ‘quasi-reality’ screen to be a setting, to make it look as if once lived in our perceived world while being not so real.”
What is noteworthy is that he used a new concept of “quasi-reality” to describe his painted world. Because the world we are in is too real to him, he will seek other means in his painting to create a paradisical “peach blossom land” as aspired to in his notebook whose sky is dotted with “stars of ten thousand years ago”, a land where he could unconstrainedly soar across the skies like a heavenly steed and use his painting brush to express the voice of his heart. As far as I can see, this “quasi-reality” is much more than a painting of large screen size. In fact, the paintings drawn by Wang Zun in these years of classified styles and themes all attempt to build a more weird and mysterious reality than that in our physical world. Images of the painted things in this “quasi-reality” can be traced back to their associated things in the actual reality, while the environment where they take shape and exist transcends our daily empirical world. And it is no exaggeration at all to use “free non-intermittent alternation of time and space” to describe it.
Theoretically, just a few paintings could not possibly defy and deconstruct the powerful and boundless natural world of reality. What Wang Zun wants is to “use painting to dissolve what we perceived to be the reality.” “Reality” is unlikely to be resisted, but man’s conception and realization about it—“actuality” can be changed on the spiritual and conscious plane. Then, why is the physical world we are in much too real or over-real? Wang did not make a direct reference to it, nor did he give us any answer. Whereas, the various oddly-dressed men and weird objects, the forlorn and deserted environment of questionable origin, and the ghosts, spirits, strange creatures of vague images in his paintings all leave us in a state of strong apathy and aloofness from the actual world and the soberness of a spectator.
Maybe the world we’re living in today is covered and filled with so many artificial things that it has become an insurmountable high and heavy wall. Every individual’s daily toil is only to add more materialized burdens to the long-pressing and intolerable high materialistic wall. This materialistic and utilitarian desire is clinging to the brilliant and attractive appearance of the physical world, giving out the dazzling yet disgusting light of “reality”. To change and overcome the heavy “reality” on the plane of consciousness, we must find about the way and power through which we can deconstruct and defy it, we must create a sagacious and weird world in the painting as depicted in the ancient Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, which resorted to a ghostly world to deconstruct a real world full of contradictions.
Compared to his contemporaries, Wang Zun is among the few who is not only suspicious of the actuality of the perceived physical world, but also suspicious of the actuality of his own supposed “non-real” scenes. In his view, those “stars of ten thousand years ago” are actually the radiance of stars which already dimmed and died ten thousand years ago. Likewise, everything today we see will only become samples or specimen hundreds of thousands of years later. This conception of changed time and space leaves us in a melancholic mood and gives us a sense of emptiness.
Since reality of this physical world is over-real, nor is “quasi-reality” real, then what is the significance of this quasi-reality in artistic creations? Like many other aspiring “intellectuals” from childhood on, Wang was sure of the impossibility of this kind of creation yet he attempted it and tried hard at it. Red-crowned cranes thus became the messenger between man and spirit lately used in his painting world. But deep in his heart he does not elevate them to be anthropomorphic and of human morals as did our ancestors, because unlike ancients before him, he who is well equipped by modern science and civilization is keenly aware that there is no eternal reality and actuality. Although the “quasi-reality” in his art through which he defies and deconstructs the physical world is the other end for his spiritual dwelling and the source of half of his living means, it is short and transient. The real purpose for his setting the red-crowned crane as the “Other” in his painting is to seek and secure a relatively objective spectator for the over-real life of humans.
This is what an artist who aspires to be an intellectual can do—he realized that the “actuality” in the real world repressed and restrained all men including himself, so he used his brush to create a non-reality much like the real world despite that he knew fundamentally this quasi-reality is actually not real at all, but at least, he is searching and attempting to use one reality to substitute the other reality that has been problematic.
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