“范” means rules, laws and models, and also means to follow the law; “沧桑” means that things are uncertain and constantly changing. To make with changes and change with making. -Jiang Zhi
Jiang Zhi never neglects to bring out the many psychological layers of an image. For him, an image isn't merely an object received by the mind, but a system to summon, inspire, grow, and activate the mind. His photography carries on an ancient pictorial tradition that existed before the advent of perspective and digital images. By separating objects from their context, or reversing the world we know, his richly pictorial works serve as a figurative tool to bring sensory perception into the present moment. Because of this, he connects the images to our memories and therefore to our bodies. Here, the image is not a representation of the world, but a manifestation of cognitive endeavours, which is precisely what we often forget in the daily life of our information-oriented society. At the same time abandoning the antagonism for the old-fashioned and having a deep respect for tangible sensory experiences, Jiang Zhi is aware of the power that the image has over individual consciousness and its capacity to alter collective imagination. Through the fictive certainties constructed in the photographs, he creates a magical bond between the individual and the societal.
Conversation Between the Artist and the Curator
Yuan Fuca: You previously mentioned the relationship between the three terms “One is All, All is One,” “Pre-destiny,” and “All,” which are also the names of three of your recent exhibitions. These three terms together can be read “All are pre-destined for one,” or “one is destined for all.” Can you talk about this relationship between humans and the world that you've emphasised? Jiang Zhi: These three exhibitions are all about the relationship between “the one” and “the world”; “all” is the world. In last year's exhibition at Magician Space I started with this concept of “Pre-destiny,” and in the video installation To Look and To Know, or Amor Fati (2016), the idea was how the object of perception is generated—the process of seeing and knowing—while at the same time observing the shaping and transformation of the perceived subject and its relationship to the rich physiological sensation. At an interview after the exhibition, a concept we talked a lot about was “as such” (如此) or “as one is” (如是); Pre-destiny is “as such,” and the world is “as such.” This is determined—this sort of “as” (如) has that sort of “such” or “is.” However, what I emphasis is that there isn't this sort of “such” waiting for us to “as”—rather, “such” comes when “as” appears. So, what I was just talking about—when we face the world or destiny and sometimes feel weak—this is the true experience because this sense of powerlessness lies in our current inability to surpass the inherent limitations of our perception (human limitations). On the other hand, we're also able to understand that the world is generated by ourselves. We possess limitless ambition, and this is a great power. As for to love the destiny, this is the approval and kind reception of the power of “as.” Perhaps we must accept this because this is what we should reach now, the destiny of “the us of the present,” we have to know it, know it clear, and to become the “new us,” undertake, and only then can the world change. We must explore where we are in this structure, and then we can begin to change ourselves from within—and from “the predetermined us” become “we who determine.” At my solo exhibition “All” at OCAT in Shenzhen, what I called “All” refers to “all things,” “the world,” “the present,” “psychology,” “concept,” etc.—all these things refer to “manifestation of everything,” just as “all is thus” expands on and describes the “pre-destiny” of the present. The exhibition in Taipei was a great opportunity to put forward the concept of “us” as well. Each “selfish” one cannot form the real “us,” only a "selfish" group, and this group of individuals has a terrible and even stronger power. The real "us" can only be composed of individuals who eliminates the self.
YF: This concept of "self" is relatively recent in the West. In the Middle Ages, the individual belonged to the systems of family, religion, class, and so on, and was rarely described separately. However, in the eastern tradition, such as in the philosophy of Chuang Tzu, you can see the relationship between the self and the world everywhere.
JZ: The “I” (我) in “to eliminate the self” (今者吾丧我) that Chuang Tzu talked about [distinct from the ancient “I” (吾)], could also be called “the smaller I,” but naturally it is composed of the system of family, religion, class and so on, and that “I” (吾) can be said to be without a self-conscious notion of the individual. I once hit on an inappropriate metaphor, the “the bigger I.” Still, it isn't the “the bigger I” that I had in mind, but this can be used to distinguish between the two. YF: Then could you say “I” (我) is actually a state that existed before the discovery of the self, or that “I” (我) pointed to the possibility of becoming “I” (吾). JZ: “I” (吾) was always there, it's not something that's able to become. The equivalent would be “the true self,” a void, which you cannot become. This is stated very well and clearly in Buddhism; Buddhism adopts the theory of consciousness-only, believing that the world is changed through consciousness; the “the smaller I” can be understood within the context of the doctrine's seventh consciousness manas-vijnana (末那识, “mind consciousness”). For example, the self, what is known as I, is what fundamentally determines all of our behaviour, but this is difficult to observe. In addition, “I” is constantly in the process of becoming.
YF: This sounds somewhat similar to the concept of “becoming” in Marxism, how to constantly understand ourselves within Chaos. Destiny may be fixed, but you need to exceed consciousness of yourself to face it. JZ: I don't really know much about western philosophy. When I say predestiny, it's in relation to how we go about “as” and “such.” For example, we can see this cup, and perceive it in the way that we were predetermined to, but on the other hand, the appearance of the cup that we “see” signifies that we are just people in our regular state. People who have used drugs all know that they change the generation of our perception, and when they look at this cup, they might be seeing a monster. YF: This is actually an argument for the opposite.
JZ: Yes, we humans all share a system of perception. But we are divided—the system of North Korean and South Koreans' perception of Kim Jong-un is certainly not the same, so they will see a very different Kim Jong-un.
YF: The equivalent of being able to surpass the material world comes from being able to understand our own existence.
JZ: Yes, so the young Wang Mingyang's “to study the underlying principle to acquire knowledge” (格物致知)—he studied bamboo, studied it for several days and nights, studied it to sickness and still didn't understand it at all—in the end the result was that studying the exterior objects was incorrect, to really study things you must study the heart of your own. For example, the perception of Kim Jong-un that we were just talking about could come from a variety of subjective conditions. In the view of a tiger, Kim Jong-un is a big piece of meat, definitely not the leader Kim, or a head of state—you can't go to the tiger and argue that he's the saviour of the universe rather than a pile of meat. In one system, he's just like a god. In another system, he's a despot, a tyrant. These two different perceptions are generated from different sets of circumstances—criticism and censure have no use, both will determine your perception. So we can't be sure of what we see, we need to parse out the reasons for what we're seeing, what sort of “heart” determines what kind of things we're seeing.
YF: However, when to reveal these cognitive systems, you still need to return to the apparatus of visual culture.
JZ: The artist is actually working on a platform of human perception which should not be confined to the visual; vision isn't just a singular existence—smell will also affect vision, and hearing will influence it as well, for example a movie with and without music is quite a different a thing.
YF: In the new series of works Emanations (2017), much of the scenery created or the posture is reminiscent of a particular aesthetic. When you were working on it did you involuntarily define or imagine what the final result would be?
JZ: The desire to define is natural to human beings. To define is to ensure the self. This type of desire is actually the most harmful. What I mean is you can give something a definition, but you need to know this is only temporary, things cannot be assigned a fixed definition; rather we must reflect on how the system of our own perception is fixed.
YF: Even if the definition of this desire seems to be splitting hairs, the instructions for how to adopt opposing means of clarification can be an effective way to bring about change. Many times this can be seen as the responsibility of the artist, but of course this sort of argument now seems unrealistic.
JZ: I don't think that it's the artist's job to define things; rather, I prefer them to be anti-definition. Changing reality isn't the artist's responsibility. I have always stressed that the artist can provide an opportunity to freshly observe reality, and this so-called re-observation is to crumble definition, and make us come up with a new perception together, a flow of unimpeded perception, and a definition is congealed. If we want to create a new reality, we must go beyond the idea of changing reality. The reality cannot be changed, because there isn’t a fixed reality, as an object, for you to change. Reality has always been something in the process of regeneration and shifting. Godard said there is no such thing as an independent reality that film can capture, and the reality on film is some sort of amalgamation. In my understanding, by breaking this original system of amalgamation of reality and extracting new perceptions, we create something anew. YF: Whether it's Among The Destined or Emanations, both are trying to create a new reality, but the previously-mentioned reality is made up of unfamiliar and distant elements, such as those from outer space; where in the latter works, you chose to use mundane images and things.
JZ: Creating a new image is a special task. Look at the sort of areas in which we can have a new discussion; as I see it, the behaviour of using a cell phone to take lots of new pictures every day and creating lots of new cell phones on an assembly line every day is more or less the same, both are in accordance with the rules of a certain system of fixed standards of production. There is no reason to complain about an overproduction of images because we are numb to those images. Why are we numb? Because our aesthetics have been ossified into dead sensors, the image is actually not the so-called old and new, our sensor is old. Well, I think we can try to refresh our use of these images. Beginning with our everyday images, we can go as far as to use readymade images directly, so the image is once again exposed. I use some images to create “flesh,” and realise their potential by drawing them into the three-dimensional world.
YF: As you said, using those “everyday” images, for instance the human skeleton, images of these sort of powerful symbols—decorative details, mountain peaks with lofty intentions, and even erotic photographs, using pop culture and the language of our visual culture to refresh the examination of our worldview, much like Hal Foster once said, “using leftovers from the capitalist garbage bucket” to oppose its powerful mechanism. At the same time, does using of the language of the general sense of sight overcome the image's commonness?
JZ: Yes, the meaning of these “common” things seems to be solidified there, their meaning has been achieved. Naturally, this is just one argument. Things do not need us to save them, to liberate them. What we should be saving and liberating is the powerful mechanism of systems of inherent meaning imprisoning our senses, which is what we are obeying and which gives birth to all these sorts of definitions of things. This isn't just about capitalism. I use a common image, images that have meaning to the public, which is easier for engaging public awareness.
YF: Earlier on you tackled turning the image to “flesh,” which was related to “the incarnation of materiality,” or linking the mechanism of the mind that produces, receive and remember the image. At the same time, this also gives rise to equally important questions, such can the “flesh” image be used to reshape aesthetics?
JZ: The image is not “the incarnation of materiality” or “flesh”; the image is the flesh of the mind—the image is of course linked to the mind. My work uses what's called “the flesh of the image,” which is actually a simple concept: the paper in the work, the triangular glass... within this framework, I added the use of physicality, not only using the image, and not only using the paper—your point of view is no longer just that image. Related to using the physicality of the image, we can actually use another different, but very convincing example, like how certain countries use human flesh to shape aesthetics—the design of the crowd in Nazi-era military parades, for example, a particular form of fascist aesthetics.
YF: Fascism could also be called the highest form of aesthetics.
JZ: The word aesthetics comes from the Greek “aesthesis,” which originally meant “the sensation of sensing.” German philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714-1762) first put forth the notion of aesthetics in Aesthetica, a book that marked aesthetics as an independent discipline. He believed aesthetics is the scientific study of emotion and the laws of perceiving. Sensing is the work of the platform of art, so aesthetics and art have a very intimate relationship. Sensing is the basis of human behaviour and thought, and of course the foundation of politics. People's emotional foundation determines what kind of political system they have.
YF: In the period before photographic art and drawing techniques, images weren't seen as realistic representations. I found out there's a word in Buddhism, “hua sheng”(化生，“metamorphosis”), and the emanations that we talk about are very similar, like in Christianity and the miraculous presence of the icon. This is also why the images at the time of the invention of photography 200 years ago were not regarded as models made by man, but an authentic presentations of things that actually exist. When we talk about the image, it's actually very difficult to avoid touching on the aforementioned religion and faith. Anti-idol systems (like Judaism or Islam) recognise the formidable power of the image to capture people's minds.
JZ: The image itself doesn't have the formidable power to capture the human mind—we are drawn in by our own perception and understanding of the image, and this perception is fundamentally formed by language systems. For example, when we spend more money to buy a cup with some kind of design on it, what we're actually buying is the design on the cup—in the end, we buy the sort of pattern that we like, isn't this a strange sort of behaviour? It's like if you don't buy the pattern on this cup, your life will become duller. You aren't aware that your preference for this pattern stems from visible or invisible propaganda stealthily planted in your heart. So, you want to buy a jade Buddha, or a pure gold Buddha—what does this have anything to do with the Buddha?
YF: There's a funny misreading of the word “image” in English, “I + mage.” Hans Belting points out that the process of recognising an image is a link between our mind image and the actual image.
JZ: That we can see is like magic itself. In fact, there is no images in the brain, and there is no actual image. Think about how the computer displays images, there is no image inside of the computer—we input the digits that the system understands, and it is decoded into an image. This is also the case with our system of perception. Grasp: desire occurs; Take: behaviour; Become: generating, according to the system's predetermined decoding; Image: actually, this includes all of the phrases. All that exists, Being: everything that is.
YF: This is a place where images can confuse and poison people's minds. In fact, digital images and images from the era of religious icons are exactly the same, even if many people are obsessed the word “new image.”
JZ: Digital images are also being "dominated" by various interest groups, so you could say, liberation is the new domination. The generation of images is a symbol of power. So, the most pressing matter at hand is not to produce images, but produce new ways of using images.