Essay | Stepahnie Cheung Wai Ting

Aggregated4_opt

On the Works of Carl Cheng Chi Ming

I

The View
Through the window: hard-edge congestion, climbing for an eroded sky.
He scavenges the city to build a town.

Babel
They do not go to Church
They know
The full story
They built with pride
Higher than heaven
The bricks were fired
Concrete is immortal, so they thought
He smashed it in a split second
(Isn’t a pyramid disintegrating soil?)
You hold onto it
On a cracking pedestal
(Do you shine the glass every day?)
Ever since that day
You don’t understand
A word of mine
Because we speak different languages

Rubbles of a Labyrinth
‘Deadly’ is too explicit
If we see
Blood per square foot
It’s always stainless
One hundred times one hundred and eighty-three
Sweatshirts have no place
Except in terra incognita
There’s not even room
For resurrection
‘It’s hallucinatory
Says one hundred to one hundred and forty-three:
You won’t find your way
You can’t even catch your breath
It’s so beyond me
You won’t be smashed in a split second
I am your bystander; you
Rot
Weather
Your crooked domination
Will collapse’
– You say Never
And reach for two feet higher
Nonchalantly unshaken

Endgame
Black loses its liberty
White does not answer
A game of Go between
Asphalt
And glass walls
Who’s playing?
Left hand right hand

The Four Horsemen
Apocalypse
Heralded by the Four Horsemen
Hunger
Sickness
War
Mass destruction
Awaiting Apocalypse
The Four Horsemen play chess to kill time:
The overfed throws the dice
(let’s see who is the lucky one?)
The sick stacks it up
War progresses
The tower tilts
Who jumps the line
For precariousness?

II
Notes: On the Games 


Go
Once upon a time, Emperor Yao had a problem with his naughty son Danzhu. He then invented the game of Go: on a chessboard with a 19×19 grid, black and white stones compete to claim territory. The infinite variations of this simple game kept the child occupied. Through the game, Emperor Yao also wanted to teach the young prince lessons of patience, concentration and moderation.

Go is a gentlemanly contest. It is a fair game to begin with: the chessboard contains nothing at the onset; the blacks and the whites are equal. Players refer to others’ strategies for timely moves. One anticipates, and also improvises. Once a move is made, it cannot be retracted. The finest games are those won with the fewest moves.

Go is a game of rigour. Luck is not a factor. A wrong move can lead to total loss.

Chess
Chess is played in many countries. The rules differ, but the principles are constant: it is a hierarchical, regulated, unequal battle among the chess pieces.

The origin of chess is uncertain. Some say it was invented in India, some say China. Chinese chess is called xianqi (象棋). In one legend, the name is attributed to Xian Jing (《象經》The Book of Xian), written by Emperor Zhouwu in the North-South dynasties (220-589) to record cosmic phenomena. Another story alludes to Huang Buzhi’s  Guangxiang Zhantu (《廣象戰圖》The Elephant Battle) from the Northern Song dynasty: when the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi) was fighting Chiyou, a squad of beasts and elephants were used for their strength. Possibly imaginative inventions, these accounts pinpoint the connection between chess and ancient civilisation. Cosmology and military tactics were so central to traditional Chinese thoughts.

The evolution of Chinese chess is intricately linked to the country’s history. In the Northern Song dynasty, Sima Guang invented ‘seven-country chess’. Seven players could form allies to expand their sphere of influence or reclaim lost land. His idea was to inspire countrymen to support the attempted restoration of power. A game, however, is just a game, and the version soon became obsolete. Recently, there has been an online version of ‘Chinese missiles chess’. Among the pieces are fighter jets and missiles. When not blocked by other pieces, a ‘missile’ can blow everything up.

Mahjong
Mahjong is also known as zhuzhan (竹戰 bamboo battle). The elegant name is related to Wang Huizhi, son of renowned calligrapher Wang Xizhi, who was in love with bamboo. ‘How can I miss you for a day?’ This was borrowed by those who called mahjong zhulin xi (竹林戲 game in the bamboo grove), comparing people’s addition to the game with Wang’s passion.

As a game, mahjong is influenced by the players’ mentality and interactions. Players have different motivations. Some want to win, some just want to have fun, and some lose deliberately to gain something else. With all these variables multiplied by a table of four, mahjong is a lot more than rational calculation.

Shengguantu
Shengguantu (升官圖), also known as xuanguantu (選官圖), is a kind of roll-and-move game. At a time when scholars aspired to become government officials, moving forward in the game was overlaid with a narrative of bureaucratic advancement.

There are many versions of shengguantu, all invented by scholars obsessed with gaining a place in the bureaucracy. According to Guierji (《貴耳集》) by Zhang Duanyi (Song dynasty), at the time of Emperor Gaozong, an extremely poor junior official had a shengguantu by his side when he had his meals, and filled his stomach with the fantasy of promotion. Later, some disappointed scholars set up gambling stalls with shengguantu, and made a fortune out of such dreams.

Movements in shengguantu are decided at a throw of the dice. Song dynasty writer Kong Pingzhong evinced in Xuanguantu Yougan (《選官圖有感》Thoughts on xuanguantu), “Some plummet from heights of power, some rise from the bottom.”(已貴翻投裔,將薨卻上天) Playing a similar game with his friends by the Dongting Lake, a late Tang dynasty scholar also acknowledges that “your glory lasts for a few years; my happiness lasts for a while.” (彼真為貴者,乃數年之榮耳;吾今貴者,亦數刻之樂耳。) The game is an allegory of all governments.

Reference: Shi Liangzhao 史良昭, Boyi youzi rensheng: Zhongguoren de shenghuo yishi 《博弈遊戲人生:中國人的生活藝術》(Games and Life: The Chinese Art of Living), Hong Kong: Commercial Press: 1992.

III
On the Works of Carl Cheng Chi Ming

I don’t know what to say about Carl’s works. They are self-explanatory.
Therefore:
I responses;
II notes.

Carl’s work is not private. It does not come from out of the blue. He illustrates his points with unequivocal signs: concrete for construction, chequers for a chessboard; noise is noise, mahjong is mahjong. Words tell the context. After discussing his concepts behind this series, he asked, ‘Do you get it?’ and I thought, ‘Why not?’

Carl is not interested in guessing games. He speaks openly about his creative process. For instance, as an extension of his earlier urban series, this exhibition probes into Chinese traditions; the frequent use of regularity, repetition, balance and contrast is conditioned by his background in graphic design; 27 mahjong tables bring together 108 people (referring to the 108 characters in the Chinese classic Outlaws of the Marsh); the colours of a Rubik’s Cube can be mapped out with digital computation. He makes everything clear.

The only possible supplement is something personal: he grew up in a mahjong parlour, in one of the densest parts of the city. I can imagine what he saw there.

He makes it very clear, ‘All these feelings, need an expression… ’

I recall an earlier work of his, ‘Aggregated’, also about the city. Let me respond with notes:

Sediments

Metamorphic

Lucidly transparent

Refraction

Chinese original written in 2009 for the artist’s solo exhibition, The Tao of Chinese Games, at ArtisTree

English version, 2014

Stephanie Cheung

———————————————————————————————————————————————–

Horsemen2_opt

寫鄭志明的作品

〈一〉觀城

一個人看見窗外的城市,高樓密集,硬線條,攀向早被遮蓋了的天。

他開始用城市中偶拾,築起微觀的城。

巴別

他們是不上教堂的信徒

他們知道

故事的始末

自大的人

建比天還要高的高樓吧!

用火燒的磚

自以為不朽的土

有人要它在千分之一秒間粉碎

(金字塔也不過是風化中的黃土)

你卻珍而重之的

把枯萎放在高台上

(有每天擦玻璃嗎?)

你不明白我說甚麼

因為自那天起

我們說不同的語言

冷血的迷宮塌下來

說冷血大露骨了吧

如果我們也看見

在每方呎流過的血

血不留痕

今天

一百乘一百零八十三層

將陽台上漂黃了的汗衣

壓到地心不見天日處

連伸手把它挑出來的罅隙

都不留

“別妄想

一百和一百零四十三層說:

“你連路也找不到

“連氣也喘不到

我沒有那個人的能力

你不會在分秒間粉碎

我冷眼

你其實會被蟲蛀

你其實挨不過三年的春雨

你其實不過是一種傾斜的倚仗

你會塌下來

﹣﹣你不信

再攀高兩尺筆直

甚至沒有冷笑

殘局

黑子進

白子不退

玻璃閃爍

和瀝青

比賽

哪個人在下棋

左手對右手

四騎士

預告的未日

由四騎士預告

會吃不飽

會生病

會打仗

會滅亡

四騎士

未預告未日

先下一盤棋

打發時間

想吃飽的拿起骰

(碰碰運氣也好)

病繼續積疊

戰爭打下一子

塔傾斜

誰人還恐後爭先

覬覦下墜的磚瓦?

〈二〉註腳:有關遊戲

圍棋
相傳,堯王的孩子丹朱頑皮頂透。堯王於是發明了一個遊戲,縱橫十九乘十九方格,黑子白子,誰圍到誰就贏。規則簡單,變化無窮,可耗去頑童很多的精力和時間。堯王還想借遊戲教孩子做人的道理,例如耐性、專注,還有平衡。

圍棋是兩個人之間的君子角力。棋盤本無一物,黑子白子對等,一開始,誰不比誰佔優勢。下弈者可以參考前人謀略,但總得因時制宜。可連橫,可離間。可以不留餘地,可以留活口。按章下棋,也要出奇制勝。洞釋先機之餘,也須隨機應變。最怕舉棋不定,最好不戰而屈人。

圍棋的輸贏,完全取決於實力。沒運氣可言。一子錯,滿盤落索。

象棋
象棋在多個國家也流行,玩法各異,原理相同,都是有階級、有規則,棋子間不平等的廝殺。

象棋的起源不確定,有說它來自印度,也有說它源自中國。中國的象棋之所以稱為象棋,也有多種說法。一說南北朝時,後周武帝制《象經》,記日月星辰之象,象棋的名稱由此而來。另一種說法,記載於北宋晃补之的《廣象戰圖》:黃帝大戰蚩尤,以猛囑獸佈陣,“象為獸之雄,是以象戰為兵戰”。相傳的歷史可能是後設的,但點出了象棋和古代文明的交疊。天象物象、行兵使計,都是中國傳統思想的核心。

中國象棋的變化,和國情關係微妙。北宋時,司馬光發明了“七國象戰”,七人混戰,可連橫合縱,擴版圖收失地,“藉以激發人心,尊朝延而復彊土”;可惜紙上談兵,終被淘汰。近年,網上推出了“中國飛彈象棋”,多了“戰機”和“飛彈”兩種棋子;只要中間沒其它棋子阻擋,“飛彈”可以横冲直撞,攻佔整個棋盤。

麻將
麻將叫“竹戰”,源自一個幽雅的典故:王羲之的兒子王徽之愛竹,“何可一日無此君?”後人斷章取義,以“竹林戲”比喻人對麻將樂此不彼。

麻將的變化,受心理和人與人之間的互動影響。人們打麻將的動機不同,有的只管胡牌,有的隨便玩玩,有的刻意輸一局,贏別的甚麼。變數乘四個人,麻將是最拿不準的遊戲。

升官圖
升官圖(又稱“選官圖”)是那些胡亂擲骰子,然後按點數前進或後退的棋盤遊戲。在讀書為考功名的社會,套上了升官的名目。

歷代升官圖有多個不同的版本,發明者都是儒生。科舉制度下,讀書人連玩樂也渴望高中。宋代張端義《貴耳集》中記載,宋高宗時有一個侍郎,在極窮困時以升官圖佐飯,用幻想填滿吃不館的肚。其後,又有些潦倒書生用升官圖開賭,發升官的夢時,也發升官圖的財。

升官圖上的升貶,取決於隨機的骰子。 在最底層的有機會扶搖直上。僥幸做到大官,又可能隨時倒下來。 宋代孔平仲撰《選官圖有感》,感嘆:“已貴翻投裔,將薨卻上天”。晚唐一進士在洞庭湖畔和友人玩類似的骰子遊戲,亦自知:“彼真為貴者,乃數年的榮耳;吾今貴者,亦數刻之樂耳。”遊戲的設計大概是官場的參照。

參考資料:史良昭,《博弈遊戲人生:中國人的生活藝術》,香港:商務印書館,1992。

〈三〉寫鄭志明的作品

想不到怎樣寫鄭志明的作品。因為它們self-explanatory。

所以:

〈一〉是回應;

〈二〉是註腳。

鄭志明的作品題材不私人,內容也不是甚麼天方夜談的想法,更不是自己也茫無頭緒的模棱兩可。他選擇用很清晰、理智的符號:建築用水泥,棋譜用方格,吵是吵,麻將是麻將,還有文字交代作品的背景。寫這篇文字前到過他的工作室,形容完作品的構思,他問:“明不明白?”我想:“怎會不明白?”

鄭志明不跟觀眾玩猜謎,也不介意說自己怎樣創作,例如相比於早前總括城市的系列,這個展覽的作品強調中國人社會的文化脈絡;又例如,形式上經常出現的規律性、重複、平衡及對比,和他曾經從事平面設計有關。 二十七檯麻將即是一百零八個好漢,扭計骰的顏色分佈可以用電腦計算,他也實話直說。

還要補充的,只可以是看作品看不見的事:他成長的地方是城中最很密雜處和麻將館。你可以想像他看過的擠壓,和麻將桌上的咀臉。

鄭志明和他的作品都說穿了:“一直有很多感受,要說出來……”

我想起他年前的作品《積壓》,作品說的是城市。這裡斷章取義:瓦碎塵土儲起來,轉化成透明的玻璃,折射著潛藏的境狀,分明清晰。

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