On the Works of Carl Cheng Chi Ming
Through the window: hard-edge congestion, climbing for an eroded sky.
He scavenges the city to build a town.
They do not go to Church
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
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
Your crooked domination
– You say Never
And reach for two feet higher
Black loses its liberty
White does not answer
A game of Go between
And glass walls
Left hand right hand
The Four Horsemen
Heralded by the Four Horsemen
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
The tower tilts
Who jumps the line
Notes: On the Games
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 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 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 （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.
On the Works of Carl Cheng Chi Ming
I don’t know what to say about Carl’s works. They are self-explanatory.
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:
Chinese original written in 2009 for the artist’s solo exhibition, The Tao of Chinese Games, at ArtisTree
English version, 2014
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。