The End of Accumulation | Carl Cheng Chi Ming

The fight for freedom lasts a lifetime

Animals do not need to fight for freedom. They already live freely under the laws of nature, and are likely incapable of doubting their own purpose or existence. Animals live free of worry about the future. Ruled by instinct, their existence is entirely focused on the moment and occupied by foraging and breeding.

Humans possess free will and the means to create what they needs to attain their aims. Their intelligence enables – and perhaps compels – them to investigate the order of the universe. And yet in spite of all their skill and talent, human beings have failed to achieve what animals already have: freedom.

 

Our attempts to extend our world have resulted in the exhaustion of our world’s resources. Our search for order in the universe has led to the development of a profusion of religions. No matter how ‘advanced’ our civilisation becomes, freedom seems to become more and more distant an ideal. Destiny is simply beyond our control.

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My art attempts to investigate the relationship between the human condition and the order of the universe.
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French astronomer Pierre-Simon Marquis de Laplace wrote, ‘If there were a genius who knew all forces driving nature and the location of each single planet, and such genius could analyse all these data, he could then include as macro as movements of the biggest planets in the cosmos to as micro as the atomic movements into one single principle. There would be nothing unpredictable to him. The future could be just the same as the past.’

 

What de Laplace was describing is ‘determinism’, a concept that holds that every event can be calculated and predicted in a world with order and discipline. Can people seize control of their fate (and freedom) if they manage to attain such vision? Or is it impossible for people to change anything even if they know everything? Is free will just hot air?

 

It is unfortunate that the human world is not subject to a set of definite fundamental laws akin to those of physics. Human nature is unpredictable and irrational. Even if we were equipped and informed of universal laws, the future would still be impossible to predict, simply because of the human factor. As Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born once said, randomness is a perception which is more fundamental than causality.

 

So how does randomness influence the nature of our lives?

 

Evolution attributes the diversity of life to randomness. Randomness provides the trigger for a primitive single cell to develop into an intelligent species. Certain random genetic mutations may benefit the organism by providing it with better survival and reproduction opportunities. Thus, the traits of randomness are kept in the gene pool. The characteristics of an organism are partly predetermined and partly dictated by chance, and that is why life in this world is so astonishingly complex and diverse.

 

Charles Darwin concluded in The Origin of Species that ‘… Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows… ’
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During my childhood I watched my mother carrying out all kinds of rituals: throwing moon blocks, drawing divination sticks, and even trying to communicate with the dead. For a long time I considered it as merely superstition, but now I see them as manifestations of a desire to control one’s own destiny within a universe that one does not completely understand.

 

In ancient times people used divination to delegate their right of decision making to a higher power. It was an expression of their respect and esteem to the order of the universe, as they believed the human race was a part of nature. Nowadays, people still seek divination as a means to control their own destinies, and they still seek help from the realm of the supernatural. Feng shui, horoscopes and gods are everywhere. All of them are end-products of fear.

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Fear of danger and death is inherent to both humans and animals. But while Man racks his brains to find ways to beat the odds, animals can only rely on their basic instincts to survive. From another perspective, Man will exhaust any and all means to gain a sense of safety, even if it means placing their bets on such artificial things like legends, myths, religions and feng shui.

 

Have we actually known all along where we came from, but got lost for some reason?
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Modern humans (homo sapiens) are the only remaining species of hominid. Like chimpanzees, gorillas and apes, humans belong to the primate family, but are characterised by their erect posture and advanced brain. Our brains give us the capability to reason logically and learn leanguages, develop mutually beneficial social bonds, and master skills of great complexity. Humans are thus able to originate different beliefs, legends, rituals and social norms, which set them apart from other animals.

 

It is obvious that Man’s creativity is on a different plane from the basic instincts of animals. Humans have developed a high level of civilisation and shaped their physical world through creative and social organisational power.

 

The question is, how did mankind manage to evolve the high-level civilisation we see today?
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Taking action is the beginning of knowing, knowing is the result of taking action.

Xing Zhi Xing by Tao Xingzhi

 

Standing erect was the tipping point for the development of the human race. As there is no need for a forelimb to support the body, both hands are free to develop further. The delicate and flexible fingers can touch and feel the world, investigating and receiving information just like an insect’s antennae. It was an evolutionary development that raised the possibility of creativity upon survival.

 

When humans first stood up, they found that they could use their hands to grasp food, to fight, to use rocks as tools. But while hands are crucial, I believe legs are the real crux of survival, since they give real support. Legs hold up the weight of our bodies to stand, to balance, to walk and to run.

 

For the Earth there were no roads at the beginning, but when many people pass that same way, a road is there.

Hometown by Lu Xun

 

Humans have moved to different places in the quest for a better living environment, and they created more civilised living conditions with their hands. Other organisms rely on basic instinct to survive, and do not possess the creativity to transcend its restraints. Unlike animals, humans can investigate, mimic, explore and create. All these activities cumulatively form the collective wisdom of the human race; ‘civilisation’.

 

Scholars have recognised the use of tools as a sign of intelligence. Tool use has also been theorised as the ‘spark’ which stimulated the evolution of mankind through continual expansion of the brain. But actually there has been definitive cue to explain the expansion of the human brain over the past millions of years. Nonetheless, researchers in general believe that Man developed his abilities to invent and use tools due to the pressure of evolution.
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In Greek mythology, Prometheus and Athena created mankind and passed knowledge onto them. Zeus prohibited humans from using fire, but Prometheus – who pitied Man for his hardships – stole fire from Olympus for them. Enraged, Zeus fastened Prometheus to a cliff in the Caucasus, where an eagle pecked at his liver every day. As soon as Prometheus’s liver healed, the eagle would return to tear at it again – into infinity.

 

Was was fire worth the risk to Prometheus?

 

The use of fire was indeed another tipping point for the development of human civilization. It indirectly stimulated Man to multiply. Fire can be used to cook food, and the protein and carbohydrates obtained from cooked food enabled better nutrition. Fire can also deliver warmth, which allowed Man to extend his activities into the night and the colder seasons. The light of a fire helped safeguard Man from nocturnal predators. In all these respects, fire drastically reshaped human behaviour.

 

Eventually Man also found that with the help of fire, materials could be moulded into different shapes and be hardened or softened, leading to the invention newer and better tools for hunting, living, and fighting.

 

So, humans evolved to standing erect, to using their hands for exploring and fashioning tools rather than for supporting themselves. The discovery of fire later enabled them to transform materials and improve their tools further. Their brains developed concurrently. Were these events predestined? Or were they random developments?
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‘Other than being content with the land, he is also good-natured and thus is able to love.’

Xi Ci

 

 

As Man hunted for food in the wilderness during the Stone Age, he was essentially nomadic, simply unable to live in one place for more than a short time. Only centuries later would the human race begin to cultivate food – a development which tied him to one dwelling. As his crops flourished, Man began to domesticate animals. Clay was used to make pottery. The development of agriculture ushered in a relatively stable phase in the history of Man.

 

But rather than sticking to farming for himself, Man was gradually drawn into commerce, starting businesses and moving into towns and cities. They did not like to rely on the earth for survival, and moved farther and farther away from its nurturing embrace.
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Cain has built a city. For God’s Eden he substitutes his own, for the goal given to his life by God, he substitutes a goal chosen by himself – just as he substituted his own security for God’s. Such is the act by which Cain takes his destiny on his own shoulders, refusing the hand of God in his life.

The Meaning of the City by Jacques Ellul  

 

In the Book of Genesis, Cain was exiled by God because he killed Abel, his brother. He then dwelt and farmed on his own and built a city he named after his own son, Enoch. His story reflects something fundamental about human nature – competition, jealousy and rebellion. From moving to settling down, civilisation evolved continuously and human beings established their supremacy over all other living things.

 

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and lime had they for mortar. And they said, Come, let us build us a city and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the children of men built. And the Lord said, Behold, the people are one and they have all one language, and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be withheld from them which they have imagined to do. Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off building the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel, because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Genesis 11:1-9

 

Three significant achievements of civilisation have been mentioned in this biblical story. First, Man had started to exert more effective control of transformational technologies and built improved dwellings. Second, they had acquired the vision to plan and develop a city in the plain of Shinar. Third, the architectural and civil engineering technologies required for the Tower of Babel revealed mankind’s capabilities at the time, and the fact that people had already been living in clusters for generations. Two dark traits of human nature are also exposed in this story: the tendencies to arrogance and decadence.

 

Those who live in cities today are inheritors of the same genes. The rise and fall of great cities from history were all the result of timing, location and people. When people find common goals – just like those who discovered the plain of Shinar and dreamt of building a city – many dreams can come true, but only on the condition that the timing, location and people are right. However, when humans are driven by arrogance, competitiveness and jealousy, destruction is the usual outcome.

 

As the knowledge and wisdom of Man kept growing, people began to transform natural materials to improve their lives – a mere piece of clay would be fashioned into a brick, and then an entire city. One might think that the development of technologies and industries would make people proud, yet as the Bible records, it did not satisfy them. They believed that they could take full control of their destinies and spread their name.

 

The result of their arrogance earned them a notorious reputation that has lasted to this day. They had also botched their once-balanced relationship with nature.

 

What will the future of our planet be like? In truth, the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that it can already be foreseen.

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As humans mastered more and more survival skills and exploited more and more commodities, they increasingly believed they had placed their destiny into their own hands. They wanted to enjoy what they gained, and then came hedonism. Food and sex were two basic components for survival, yet even an increased quantity of both failed to adequately satisfy. Thus, they invented various addictive things with which to indulge themselves. They began to forget the fundamentals of living, as well as the meaning of life. Acts like plundering and killing soon became commonplace.

 

Buddhism generalises the three ‘toxins’ of life: greed, hatred, and delusion. It is ironic that Man has forgotten about the great love of the earth because of his ‘advancement’. Our agony is the karma of their greed in the material world.

 

Man still fought for more. Newer and more efficient weapons were invented, and then there was more fighting and slaughter. People joined forces and fought for tribes, states and nations. There were also kings, officials and generals. These developments further refined the allocation of resources, the exchange of goods, and brought the rise of economies. There was also wealth, along with more and more indulgence. Tyrants rose to power and brutal wars were fought. As a result, there were slaves and poverty, which led to inequality, injustice and suffering.

 

Massive quantities of man-made commodities such as stoneware, pottery, bronzeware, weapons and even the ruins of cities could now be seen all over the Earth. All are traces of our history, testaments to the ‘greatness’ of the human race. Our experience, knowledge and intelligence is still growing, and our accomplishments have been so astonishing that our superiority to all other organisms is beyond question.

 

And yet what are all these to the Earth? Can the Earth endure them all?
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Living in a city might at first seem comfortable and liberal, but a closer look reveals it to be a stifling existence. The builders of cities have prioritised economic production, efficiency, convenience, expansion and profit in their works. There is little that is ‘human’ about these environments. The natural environment is sacrificed and the true goal of life go astray. Now, people are inculcated from birth to be competitive. They even pass this notion down through generations. It is a trend which is unlikely to end until the human race itself is exinct.

 

Nowadays refer to larger cities a ‘metropolis’, or as a ‘megapolis’ when they are even larger in scale. In these urban centres – which are also focal points of politics, economies, cultures, and often regional or international transportation as well – the population can be in the millions. Under globalisation, all these metropolises are competing to become megapolises each with over 10 millions citizens, and eventually be the ‘world capital’ where unbelievable manpower and financial resources will be centralised.

 

Nevertheless, all these metropolises operate on the principles of capitalism. With the convenience of transportation and high mobility of financial resources, the cities resemble each other more and more, high-rises become taller and taller, and chain shops of international brands have expanded to every corner of the world. People are living similar lifestyles and sharing the same values. Consumerism has become a global culture, undermining the historical and racial characteristics of different nations. The defects inherited from Cain – fear, selfishness, arrogance, greed, extravagance and jealousy – are essential to culture, and are thus spreading across the globe.
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In the acclaimed Japanese manga Parasyte, there was a conversation between the ‘parasytes’ discussing how to attack the humans. The parasyte leader reminded its companions, ‘You guys underestimate humans. As an individual every one of them is vulnerable, yet when they go hand-in-hand together, in their hundreds, thousands, or even millions, they will become a different organism. They will form an extra mega brain other than having their own heads. We are destined to fail if we try to rebel against that brain’. This observation reminds me of the digital communications technologies we have today.

 

The development of digital technologies and communications devices has redefined the distances between people. Computers, smartphones and the internet seem to have made communications easier. Yet while the frequency of communication is on the rise, a number of scholars hold the view that this form of communication has reverted people back to a primitive ‘village’ mode. News spreads widely and quickly without verification, and words are readily changed and commented on. Much ‘news’ takes the form of gossip, and simply adds unnecessary additional pressure to already over-pressurised people.

 

When I look back upon civilisation through the generations, one question inevitably comes to mind: why, in spite of all the efforts we have made to intelligently improve our quality of life, do our civilisations always fail? Putting aside natural disasters, the failures of civilisations seem to always come down to the repulsive conduct of Man. Is it an outcome of evolution? Are these behaviours rooted in human nature? Why can we overcome the environment but not our tendency to fight each other?
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I attempt to reflect on human nature through art.
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I once joined a retreat camp at Mount Davis which required participants to maintain silence. Perhaps one could find some enlightenment in such a tranquil environment. But one day, as I gazed across the harbour during my morning walk, I felt a deep sadness. Looking across to Kowloon, I suddenly felt the enormous loneliness of my city. After that I painted ‘Opposite’, the first in a series of artworks with the theme of urban development.

 

Painting – or just looking at a painting – can lead us to ecstasy. I was once addicted to Chinese landscape ink painting, such as Fan Huan’s ‘Mountain and Streams’, Huang Kung Wang’s ‘Fuchun Mountains’, and Li Ke-ran’s black landscape paintings. But as I later realised, I was only loitering outside the door of art. Art from both the West and the East were unreachable to me. I simply had no opportunity to learn about them. I self-taught for many years but failed to build up much confidence. I had no idea of my level relative to other artists. I even stopped painting altogether for a few years after the turn of the millennium.

 

A book by Dr Betty Edwards – Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain — provided a key moment in my career. Inspired by it, I flew to New York to learn the teaching approach from Edwards’ son, Brian Bomeisler. I reflected deeply on the meaning of art and was able to enjoy painting again. My dream of studying fine art was revived, and my sense of confidence was less and less overshadowed by my lack formal training.

 

The MFA programme at RMIT and the Hong Kong Art School requires students to work on context research and creative rationales. Both were difficult for me, a newcomer who had been immersed in the practical pursuit of art for a long time. Still, at the critical moment, I confirmed my direction by completing a series on urbanism – the idea for which had been hatched a decade before.

 

Though the determination to complete the series was there, it had been a long time since I’d last picked up my brushes, and I hardly knew where to start. How to strike the right note, the right tone? My supervisor from Australia recommended that I break the logjam by trying a different medium, but I was reluctant to do so as I’d received no formal training in photography and sculpture. Installation and other media were fresh concepts to me. It was during the beginning of the school term, and my mind was full of doubts about what I could achieve. Painting, I believed, was all I could do.

 

Nevertheless, I followed my supervisor’s suggestion. I bought some wood strips and rather unenthusiastically began to stack them. At the same time, I drafted concepts of some installations which received the approval of my supervisors during tutorials. My Australian supervisor suggested I do some research on related contemporary art movements and artists, and study theories linked to urbanism. All of a sudden, my creativity found new energy.

 

‘In Cold Blood’ was the installation displayed at the first year-end exhibition. It was something of a prototype for my own artistic syntax – a large quantity of materials in a limited space, and mirrors that produce an endless variety of images and illusions. Thereafter my creative concepts and direction were confirmed, and one of the foci is the study and application of materials.

 

During this early phase, I examined the construction materials used in urban development. Among them where such materials as rock and wood, which are directly extracting from nature. But even more of these materials – metal, glass and masonry – have to be manufactured. Each material has its own texture and aesthetic properties: wood, for example, exudes warmth, while stainless steel by contrast is hard and cold. The diversity of materials reflects the heterogeneity of metropolitan scenes and symbolises a kind of urban heredity. I used different materials to build up my installations to show the divergent forms of the metropolis.

 

My next step was to demonstrate the relationship between space and people as a means of investigating the high density of the city and the social distortions it creates. I created a large-scale installation called ‘A Maze’, which allowed the audience to literally walk inside the work to experience the squeeze. The audience could even participate with me in creating the work.

 

The MFA graduation solo show was a very significant and genuine creative experience. I displayed six installations, which were set to develop separately, yet were linked up linearly and simultaneously. The whole exhibition could be regarded as a kind of interrogation or dissertation. My contextual research had provided me with a creative direction in depth, and it turned out to be the approach I used for my works from that point onward. Frankly, it is a very rational and dispassionate approach, and the sober contextual research and material experimentation it requires are mundane and tedious. Yet it has been very effective for me.
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I learnt to establish my personalised methodology of artistic expression during the MFA study. Influenced by Paul Cézanne, futurism and constructionism, I deliberately created identical cityscapes devoid of people, in which geometric forms were employed rationally, to express my view on human nature. In developing my installation work, I used a minimalist form and craftsmanship as a reference, allowing myself to focus on the nature of materials and the relationship between people and space. I later included the concept of randomness in the creative process, and started the site-specific approach. The latter meant I would first search for a relevant venue, and then develop my work based on its geographical and historical characteristics.

 

I prepared for the MFA graduation solo show using the same approach. A friend kindly offered his loft and roof in a factory building as a venue. I could make use of its architectural spaces like staircases, corridors and the outdoor rooftop to display installations and showcase the metaphors of my work. For the first time, my own vocabulary of art was established.

 

I have employed this strategy to develop several more large-scale installations since then, and have received invitations to explore the humanity, geography and history of various districts with site-specific exhibitions. I injected regional elements into each of these works so that both the context and the means of expression could be enriched.

 

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We ‘bend at three months, sit at six months, and stand with help at nine months’. Man similarly tries his best to stand, and the metropolis we create mimic our efforts. Totems are popped up for worship, monuments are built to commemorate great achievements, and skyscrapers crown our urban developments. Last but not least, gravestones are laid for future generations to commemorate their ancestors. ‘Standing up’ is the alpha and omega of everything.

 

The blocks placed on a chessboard for the installation ‘End Game’ resembled the buildings of an urban development, but also gravestones in the future without humans. The opposite of ‘stand’ is ‘collapse’, and collapse is usually a result of an undesirable event such as being knocked down. Advanced ancient civilisations such as Babylon, Egypt and Maya all collapsed in adverse conditions, leaving only pyramids still standing – their headstones. Another artwork, ‘Collapsed’, installed along a corridor, actually represented such circumstances.

 

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Humans invented shoes so that they could walk farther, but their development has diversified since ancient times, from simple and functional to exaggerated and flaunting. Whatever they look like, they still support the weight of human bodies. Man had to learn to balance himself when he stood up and walked, and when he began wearing shoes, he had to learn all over again.

 

Walking is one of the essential elements of my art, because audiences can walk into most of my installations. An example is ‘A Maze’, which included the audience as a part of the work. I would like to engage the audience with my work, and hence I did an installation on the beach, with clogs fashioned from ready-made wooden blocks. Swimmers could wear them and trample freely within a specific area. The area with all the clogs-prints came to resemble the ruins of a city. I cast a small part of the ‘ruins’ with plaster before sunset, before the the tide washed it all away. The confrontation between Man and nature is endless. ‘Stepper City’ was my first interactive installation, and later on I extended the series with ‘Land Marker’ and ‘In Aggregate’ to explore the transformation of land and the aftermath of human activity.

 

Not only do shoes protect our feet, they also carry human desires. The rise and fall of the ancient civilisations testify to the consequences of human greed and desire. I articulated the issue of shoes, the action of stepping, and of different substances in the installation ‘Worn Out’. Nine iron plates signified the Earth, and a pair of iron shoes symbolised the development of cities. Scattered along a central line representing cities were magnetic blocks which attracted iron powder, which in turn represented human beings and different substances. The rusty surface of the plates signified the irreversible wounds made on the earth by the development of the cities. A video showed me wearing a pair of iron shoes with magnets were attached underneath. Whenever I took a step, iron powder stuck to the shoes, and I left a mark on the ground. After showing a few steps, the video rewound to the beginning, followed by scenes of lightning strikes and volcanic eruptions in reverse sequence, and ended with the image of the tides. It showed how the Earth regresses with the progress of human beings. In this installation, the same pair of iron shoes was placed at the edge of the iron plates in front of the wall, symbolising a dead-end. The Earth has regressed to its beginning, as shown in the video in a loop.

 

Human beings have taken for granted their control of the Earth. We trample across it without consideration, crushing everything into dust, and eventually to nothing.
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Tools, the apex products of Man’s intelligence, were consciously invented for practical everyday uses. They say much about our historical and ethnic culture, as well as artistic values. Yet people usually take them for granted, without giving much thought to their origins and how these reveal the basic needs and instincts of Man.

 

A ladder, for instance, enables to perform work at a literally higher level. For generations, the ladder’s structure and composition have been adjusted and modified. The Chinese prefer to make ladders out of bamboo, because it is durable yet lightweight, and because bamboo grows quickly, easily obtained. People use knives to cut bamboo into different parts, and hammer them together with mortises fastened to form the ladder. Such production is efficient and effective even only using hand-labour, and is the culmination of thousands of years of Chinese wisdom.

 

Indeed, the hollowness and firmness of bamboo symbolises a kind of nobility in Chinese culture, and the use of ready-made tools in the installation demonstrates the accumulated civilisation of Man. Inspired by the circumstances and analogies described in The Book of Changes (I-Ching), two of my largest installations – ‘Dragon in the Field’ and ‘Soaring Dragon’respectively feature 100 and over 200 bamboo ladders. The audience could walk inside both installations to experience and feel a space demonstrating the traditional Guangdong skill of bamboo tying.

 

Tools are usually physical and tactile, yet there also exist ‘virtual’ tools, such as spoken languages. Spoken languages serve as communication tools, and usually words can also be written on paper to record, communicate, and pass on to other recipients. The expansion of human civilisation has relied on the development of language together with the growth of brain cells. If you recall the story of the Tower of Babel, the price Man paid for his arrogance was the confusion of his spoken languages.

 

Languages and words are double-edged swords. On one hand, language can enrich civilization; on the other hand, the human race is split by verbal rivalries. With a box of dictionaries of different languages being cut, a bag of academic textbooks in concrete, and a Chinese almanac ‘cremated’ in a basin, the ‘Drifting Classrooms’ series aimed to explore the restriction of languages.
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More and more questions on contemporary art come to mind whenever I am thinking and working on it. Why do artists insist on creating works whose meanings are essentially impenetrable to the audience? Why not create things that are more readily understood? Should artists simply try something more traditional for a better chance of gaining popularity?

 

I keep working on art without regrets because I have the urge to express from my heart. I choose to reflect and express using visual arts, just as others may choose to write. Contemporary art simply suits me, as I like to work and explore freely on a platform that imposes few restrictions.

 

Like everyone, my mind is filled with thoughts. I always wait for positive feedback from the audience after creating an avant-garde work that I am pleased with. However, isn’t trying to understand more about the world my real artistic goal? I feel relieved whenever I reaffirm this conviction.
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The approach of my drawing lessons was inherited from the theory developed by Dr Betty Edwards in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. She had researched the perceptual abilities of the right brain for observation, the verbal and analytical abilities of the left brain, and the different outcomes that resulted from their application in drawing. She concluded that anyone could draw realistically if they used the right brain’s perceptual abilities.

 

After years of research and teaching, I myself have noticed that the abilities of other senses are diluted when we focus on using only one sense. For example, when we use our sense of sight to draw, our verbal and analytical abilities are temporarily diminished, while our spatial and analogical abilities are temporarily enhanced. Thus, drawing can be similar of Zen meditation: the hand-eye coordination is actually mechanical, akin to playing sports. If we analyse the visual elements there, we will find them geometric and abstract, rather like that of laserjet printing. Yet it is in fact the outcome of mankind when both left and right brains are operated interactively while cognition as well as consciousness are involved in the process.

 

My long experience in teaching and drawing have enabled me to obseve in-depth how people ‘see’ in the contemporary world. Photography by digital camera or smartphone seems convenient and almost cost-free. Everyone can shoot at any angle, anytime and anywhere, and then upload images to share with others. It has become a habit for countless people. We shoot to capture, save, and file all excessive visual data. We are just looking, but not really seeing, let alone intensively observing.

 

When it comes to drawing, long hours of observation and thinking are required, and one’s mentality and emotions are involved. In the process of expressing themselves, artists leave their personal traits on paper. It makes their drawings more valuable and enduring than any kind of visual created instantly by an electronic gadget.

 

Further examining the relationship between drawing and our mentality, Dr Edwards determined that personal strokes reflect people’s mental consciousness and character. If one draws with intuition or subconsciousness through exercising the right brain, the thoughts and the inner world of mind can be seen through the resulting work.

 

I backpacked around Europe for nearly three months during 1994 and 1995, drawing a visual diary during the trip, with the more realistic images found at the beginning. I continued to recorded my moods and emotions afterwards, and later on more accounts of the subconsciousness, intuition and abstract representation appeared. By means of just a few strokes, the visual diary reflected what I saw and felt, exactly as Dr Edwards’ research suggested. Unfortunately, this particular creative period did not last long.
* * *

 

I am rational when working on art, yet have always been sentimental in my personal relationships, particularly when I was young. During my twenties, ambition, relationships and religion profoundly influenced me. Affections and emotions were not far below the surface of my mind. I would draw and write poetry in my visual diary in the evenings to reflect on what I encountered during the day, and so many were just stream-of-conscious. My first urbanism themed painting, ‘The Opposite’, was also rooted in a sudden passion felt while gazing at Victoria Harbour.

 

My ‘passionate’ period in painting lasted for a few years, and then disappeared as my emotional life developed. My romantic sentiments vanished bit by bit. I was fortunate to rediscover my passion when I went back to school a decade later.

 

My mother passed away in the summer of 2013. The impact was almost overwhelming: I vividly witnessed life and death, and it was no longer something purely theoretical to me. Since then, I have been drawing in my visual diary again, once again with intuitive strokes and images filled with feeling and sentiment.

 

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Contemporary artist Cai Go Quang says he believes in feng shui but not fortune-telling. Feng shui is one of the ‘Five Arts’, and its physiognomy deals with the characteristics of geographical regions. Feng shui practice discusses architecture in metaphorical terms of ‘invisible forces’ that bind the universe, Earth and Man together. Historically, it has been widely applied in Oriental buildings for favourable influences, especially spiritually significant structures such as tombs and dwellings. Feng shui is specious and decidedly scientific, yet it has persisted for thousands of years, manipulating the relationship between humans and their environment. It can be viewed as a philosophical system of harmonising human existence with the laws of nature.

 

The striking differences between the long-term histories of peoples of the different continents have been due not to innate differences in the peoples themselves but to the differences in their environments.

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

 

Jared Diamond believes that Man is restrained from the conditions of his survival, of which the geographic environment is the most critical. The Chinese synthesise a system of laws that govern such spatial arrangements and call it ‘feng shui’. When geographic factors collide with humanity, there is the locus of site-specific art, and this is also one of the major foci of my art.

 

After my mother passed away, I thought again about the influence of my upbringing on my art. I was puzzled by my mother’s dependency on superstitious things, her reliance on moon blocks and divination. These types of superstition became a topic I wanted to address in my art. Site-specific installations ‘Mountain/ Shallow Bay/Three Hundred Coins’ and ‘Happiness/Bitterness’ were my explorations on the tension between human nature, the geographic environment, and fate.

 

I have always been especially interested in looking for suitable venues for site-specific art, and one I have found was Sik On Street in Wan Chai, where my home and studio were located for eight years. A year after leaving Sik On Street, I returned to create a series of works on anti-capitalism and urban gentrification for my solo show The Legends.

 

After finishing several series of installations, I also experimented with unstable materials. ‘Nowhere to be found’ – which used iron, magnets and iron powder – was the first result of these experiments. The influence of the magnetic field on the iron powder made for intriguing things to see and feel, adding equivocal associations to the rationales behind the work.
* * *

 

There is much I remember of the vicissitudes of my childhood in Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei. My parents worked in a mahjong parlour, and that was where I hung around during my spare time. I observed what people would do after a hectic workday. All these childhood memories and experiences have left their imprints on my art.

 

Yau Ma Tei is a down-to-earth place, and many of its residents make a living by labouring and hawking. Many gamble in their spare time, pursuing dreams of riches. As the saying goes, ‘there is still a chance as long as one keeps betting’. As such, to the people of Yau Ma Tei, mahjong is not merely an entertaining pastime, but also source of spiritual sustenance. I have revisited the fruit market there to observe its daily goings-on, and in one site-specific installation, combined its characteristics with those of mahjong and hawking with a typically modest Yau Ma Tei home setting. To create it, I collected 365 fruit boxes from the market, mounted them with prints of mahjong game sets, and put them inside an old container. The sounds of the fruit market played in the background. Audiences could experience the tensions of the market as they passed through the installation’s narrow aisle.

 

On the surface of the container there was the logo for ‘China Shipping’ containing the Chinese characters for ‘rich’”, ‘east’, ‘south’, ‘west’, ‘north’, ‘centre’, ‘heaven’, ‘Earth’, ‘super’ and ‘peace’, as with mahjong game sets. It also bore a resemblance to the secret bargaining codes used by fruit merchants. On the other side of the container there was another set of fruit boxes printed with winning mahjong game sets and Rubik’s Cubes, creating two Chinese characters meaning ‘10 million’. The whole assembly was placed on a wooden cart.

 

How many fruit boxes does one need to move, or how many mahjong games does one have to win, to get 10 million?
* * *

 

Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays.

On the Aesthetic Education of Man (1794) by Friedrich Schiller

 

Life can be considered as a game. People can relax only when they devote themselves fully in playing, possibly as a result of the focus on using their right brain instead of exercising the verbal and temporal abilities of the left brain. The worries of life can only be banished when our mental state has reached the point of selfless ecstacy.

 

In his book Les jeux et les hommes (Man, Play and Games), sociologist Roger Cailois defined a game as an activity that must have the following six characteristics:

 

Fun: The activity is chosen for its light-hearted character.

Separate (from the routine of life): It is circumscribed in time and place.

Uncertain: The outcome of the activity is unforeseeable.

Non-productive: Participation is not for producing anything.

Governed by rules: The activity has rules that are different from everyday life.

Fictitious: It is like being in a different reality.

 

Humans tend to reveal more of their true character when they play. In a fictitious setting where the outcome is unpredictable, all kinds of desires and emotions are on exhibition. While the content of the game is merely an imitation of reality, the players will reveal their true selves when they get involved. My art project ‘The Tao of Chinese Games’ was awarded and sponsored by the Bloomberg Emerging Artist Programme, and the exhibition reflected the cultural, social and political development of the Chinese through four Chinese games – go, Chinese chess, mahjong, and the chart of advancement in official circles.
** *

 

In my observation, contemporary art has diversified because of our globalised living conditions. The interactive component of art has also become more influential.

 

Digital technologies have greatly transformed our living conditions in our lifetimes. Modern children have access to far more images than I got to see at the same age. But it is not easy to touch the hearts of the young generation with images. They are looking for mind-blowing experiences, sensational content and interaction.

 

We use electronic devices daily and are used to keying in characters via keyboards and touchscreens. This generation touches things differently from previous ones. Before digital technologies, people would write with pens and were more accustomed to performing tasks with their hands. Now we gaze at screens for prolonged periods of time. Our eyes are always stimulated by moving images, but our senses are anaesthetised. Our minds are so occupied that there is little focused thinking or imagination.

 

Lao Zi stated in Tao Te Ching that ‘the five colours blind people, while the five sounds make people deaf’. Will Man progress or regress if he continues to be drawn into the illusions of virtual reality?

 

To deal with the emergence of digital technologies, contemporary art should re-examine its own innovative elements and influence so it may respond to the social paradigm. Art can be elevated through the inheritance of traditional skills while being innovative at the same time. I believe art should respond in timely fashion to our world, and we shall reflect on how people can be touched and inspired through the expressions and introspection brought by contemporary art.

 

Ideally, art should be timeless and quintessential. However, such classical notions may not be able to inspire future generations. Contemporary artists need to explore innovative mediums and presentations to allow the audience to understand and appreciate the connotations of visual arts.

 

History has proved that humans can develop their potential fully in a diverse and interactive environment.
* * *

… when visualising the future, they usually overlook the possibility of revolutionary new inventions. Every generation has seen startling technical advances and there is no reason to suppose that these will suddenly stop. On the contrary, they will almost certainly increase dramatically. Nothing is impossible. If we can imagine it, sooner or later we will be able to do it. But even when we make our mainframe computers look as primitive as clay tablets, we ourselves will still be no more than Naked Apes made of flesh and blood. Even if, in our relentless quest for progress, we have destroyed all our close animal relatives, we will remain as biological phenomena that are subject to biological rules.

1994 introduction to The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris
* * *

As I get into the core of art, I contemplate more about myself and the world, and hence gain a deeper understanding of both. I have been lost and found in my pursuit of art. Sometimes I get carried away. Sometimes I am full of passion but get rejected. I am confused and frustrated most of the time. I am afraid of stagnating, of losing any sense of cause. Fortunately, I have always been motivated by a voice deep in my heart which tells me to persist looking for the ultimate goal. It could be called ‘freedom’, I suppose.

 

累積的終極

鄭志明

Worn Out1_opt
人窮畢生去追求自由。

* * *

動物和昆蟲不必去追求自由,牠們安然自由地活在大自然規律之中。相信牠們沒有懷疑自身的存在,更不會憂慮未來。牠們活在當下,只管努力覓食生存和繁殖,天生天養。

人有自由意志,有靈巧的手去創造生活所需,有才智去思考宇宙萬物萬事的因緣,卻難以獲得自由。千古以來世人窮盡心力去開拓屬於人的世界,另又發展出各種形而上的宗教,從尋求宇宙間的律去追求心靈自由。無論人類的文明何等發達,人生自由卻看似越來越遠,人自身的命運越見難以掌握。

我的藝術正是探索人為和大自然規律之間的關係。

* * *

法國天文學家拉普拉斯(Pierre-Simon marquis de Laplace)曾寫道:如果有位智者在某個時刻知道了驅動自然的所有力量以及每一個星球份子的位置;如果這位智者還超級偉大,能分析這些數據,他就能包含大至宇宙最大星體的運動,小至最小原子的運動在同一個準則中。對他而言沒有任何東西是不確定的,而未來就像過去一樣呈現在他的眼前。

拉普拉斯所講的就是決定論,一個有規律有秩序的世界,其中的任何事情都能預見,都能計算,都能預測。人若得知此秩序的話,是否就能掌握命運,獲得自由?還是一切早已決定,人就算知道亦無法改變,自由意志根本是不成立的?

可惜人類的世界並不像物理學那樣有明確之基本定律法則,因為人性難以預測,並不理性。就算我們了解到法則,掌握了數據,其複雜程度還是難以推算出未來,如諾貝爾物理奬得主德國的猶太裔物理學家玻恩(Max Born)所說,機遇是比因果關係還要基本的概念。

那麼,機遇對生命的本質究竟有什麼影響?

從原始簡單生物演化成爲複雜有智慧的物種,演化論將觀察到的多樣性歸因於隨機突變。由於一些突變的基因帶給了擁有它們的個體更高的存活與繁衍機會,隨機突變之特質保留在基因庫中。生物體的特徵,在某種程度上是確定地發生的,在某種程度上是隨機發生的,可能正是這樣,世界上的生物可以如此複雜多變。

達爾文(Charles Darwin)在《物種起源》的結語中說: 「從大自然的戰爭,從饑荒和死亡,我們有能力構想的最崇高目標,即產生高等動物,是直接的結果。」

* * *

小時候目睹母親進行各種民間宗教儀式,如問杯、求籤甚至問米等,年少時的我認為這是迷信,但經深入思考,如今我認為這些是人對自然的律缺乏理解,而企圖掌控自己命運的人為程序。

古人問卜是將自己的抉擇權讓出給上天主宰,是對自然的律的尊崇及敬畏,相信天人合一。現今人們求神問卜是未能掌控自身命運,試圖透過依靠超自然的力量去得到幫助,於是風水星相滿天神佛,皆始於人性中之恐懼。

人和動物對危險及死亡產生恐懼感,乃與生俱來。動物只能用最原始的本能自救,人類卻以各種智慧去對抗;或換一個角度去看,人不擇手段去增加安全感,因此迷信各種怪力亂神。

是否人心底深處本來就知道我們來自何方,卻因什麼緣由迷失了?

* * *

生物學上人的學名為「智人」(拉丁文 homo爲「人」,sapiens即「聰明的」),是與黑猩猩、大猩猩、猩猩、長臂猿同屬人猿總科的靈長目動物。人類與其他靈長目動物的不同,在於人類直立的身體、高度發展的大腦,以及由高度發展的大腦而來的推理與語言能力。從行為學上來看,人類的特徵有:懂得使用語言、具有多種複雜的互助性社會組織,並且發展出複雜的技術。這些行為學上的差異也衍生出各種文化不同的信仰、傳說、儀式和社會規範。

與其他動物相比,人有超越動物本能的創造力。而人的創造力和社會組織力,發展了人的高度文明 ── 一個屬於人類的物質世界。

問題是:人類緣何發展成就現今的文明?

* * *

「行是知之始,知是行之成。」 ── 陶行知《行知行》

人類直立是關鍵的進步。前肢不用支撐沉重的身體,人類雙手得以進化,靈活幼細的手指就像昆蟲的觸角,偵探及接收不同訊息,認知與感覺這個世界,生存加上了創造的可能。

人類最初用雙腳站立行走,騰出雙手探索世界上各種新奇,可以用手拿着食物慢慢吃,可以用雙手拿起石頭互相敲擊,製成利器去處理食物,去狩獵,去戰鬥,雙手何其重要。而雙腳支撐着身體的重量,站起來,平衡,行走,然後跑。於我而言,直立行走比雙手更關鍵。

「其實地上本沒有路,走的人多了,也便成了路。」 ── 魯迅《故鄉》

人類用雙腳走到不同更合適的環境生存,跟着用雙手創造出屬於人類的生活。萬物憑本能生存,無法擁有超越本能的創造力。唯有人類用雙手探索、模仿、發掘及創造,人類的智慧從而產生及累積起來。

使用工具已被學者詮釋成一種智力的指標,而且學者提出理論,工具使用可能觸發了人類演化──腦持續擴張。目前依然未能解釋人腦經過數百萬年的擴張之原因,研究人員認為,早期人類是在演化壓力下,提高了他們創造和使用工具的能力。

* * *

希臘神話中,普羅米修斯與智慧女神雅典娜共同創造了人類,並教導人類很多知識。當時宙斯禁止人類用火,普羅米修斯看到人類生活困苦,便幫人類從奧林匹斯偷取火,因此觸怒了宙斯。宙斯將他鎖在高加索山的懸崖上,每天派一隻鷹去吃他的肝,又讓他的肝每天重新生長,使他日日承受被惡鷹啄食肝臟的痛苦。

火,真是那麼重要嗎?值得普羅米修斯為人類冒險嗎?

早期人類對火的使用,是人類文明進步的轉捩點,使人類繁衍。火的使用讓人類烹煮食物,並從加熱過的食物中攝取蛋白質和碳水化合物。火又提供溫暖,使人類在夜間,乃至寒冷的氣候中活動。火提供了天然光源外的另一選擇,也給予人類抵禦外來食肉動物入侵的能力。火的使用以及其伴隨而來的光亮,為人類的行為方式帶來了重大改變。

人類的活動不再受制於白晝的長短,開始更懂得發現和發明。火原來可以將物質轉化成不同形狀及硬度,於是人發明各種捕獵工具、日用品及武器,便利了生活,有助生存,卻也助長了殺戮。

人從直立行走,以手運用工具,到運用火將物質轉化,再激發腦擴張──這是命定還是隨機的演化?

* * *

「安土敦乎仁,故能愛。」 ──《易‧繫辭》

石器時代,人類在曠野遊走狩獵,難以安定。直至人類定居一地發展農業,定時有所收成,土地像是成了人的母親。五穀蔬果靠土地生長,牛羊牲畜吃土地青草長大,泥土可以用來製作陶器,土地猶如母親帶給人類安定的記憶,此謂大地之愛。人類的農業社會是歷史上最安定的一頁。

然而人類慢慢脫農營商,發展工商百業,人口遷移到城市,不再依賴泥土,再不那麼需要大地「母親」的愛了。

* * *

「該隱建造了一座城。他以自己所建的城,替代神的伊甸園;他為自己的人生定下目標,取代神給他的召命;他也以己力尋求安全感,取代神所賜予的平安。就這樣,該隱拒絕了神在他人生中所作的安排,把個人命運扛在自己的肩頭上。」

── 雅克‧埃呂爾 (Jacques Ellul)《城市的意義》

在聖經創世記中該隱殺了弟弟亞伯,被上帝逐出家園流放大地,於是他努力以一己之力去耕耘,發展了第一座城,以他長子之名「以諾」名之,透現出最原始的人性:競爭、嫉妒及叛逆。從遷徙到定居,文明穩定持續發展,人為萬物之靈的位置自我確立。

「那時,天下人的口音言語,都是一樣。他們往東邊遷移的時候,在示拿地遇見一片平原,就住在那裏。他們彼此商量說,來吧,我們要作磚,把磚燒透了。他們就拿磚當石頭,又拿石漆當灰泥。他們說,來吧,我們要建造一座城,和一座塔,塔頂通天,為要傳揚我們的名,免得我們分散在全地上。耶和華降臨要看看世人所建造的城和塔。耶和華說,看哪,他們成為一樣的人民,都是一樣的言語,如今既作起這事來,以後他們所要作的事,就沒有不成就的了。我們下去,在那裏變亂他們的口音,使他們的言語,彼此不通。於是耶和華使他們從那裏分散在全地上。他們就停工,不造那城了。因為耶和華在那裏變亂天下人的言語,使眾人分散在全地上,所以那城名叫巴別。」

── 創世記11:1-9(中文和合本)

此段聖經故事,展現了三項人類文明的重要里程:其一是對物質轉化技術的掌握,當時人已經能用火燒磚及運用石漆當灰泥,建築堅固的樓房,即人開始能安居於一地;他們於是在示拿這遼闊的平地發展城市,此其二;其三是巴別塔之建築所需的高超設計工程技術。建構巴別塔標誌着人類密集聚居一地能世代繼承,然而巴別塔的故事亦同時指出了惡劣的人性──驕傲和奢侈。

在城市成長的人無不繼承着以上幾種基因,在歷史上有名之城的起跌皆與天時、地利及人和不無關係。人和者於此乃人為着一共同目標協力,正如人們初到示拿地發現平原時萌生共同建城的理想,既有天時地利,加上人和便能成就。但正是成功後人性的驕傲、爭競及嫉妒造成破壞,而建造和破壞循環不息。

人的智慧於歷史中的某時某地,終於累積到可以將自然物質人工轉化,改變得合乎生活所需,由泥土到磚塊到城市,繼而發展到建築。科技及工業是人應該極其自豪的文明,但正如以上聖經文字所述,人自以為命運已經掌握在手,是時候傳揚自以為是之名,結果在歷史上一次又一次的敗壞。

敗壞的不但是人類的名聲,更壞的是人與自然的關係,這越走越遠的關係原本是平衡的,如今卻傾斜了。人和自然共存的地球在未來會如何,壞得到我們這一代已經看得見。

* * *

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人的生存能力強大了,物質生活豐富了,命運似乎在手裏,就想享受。「食色性也」,這兩種最關乎人類生存的原始行為,本來已是最能令人類享受的,但人安逸後更為放縱,發明各種令人沉迷的玩意,讓人忘記了生存的本質,以及生命的意義。於是,殺盜淫妄等惡業生,乃佛教所說人生的三毒:貪、瞋、痴。人忘記自然的大愛不就是因為人的「進步」?而煩惱是隨人造作的業障。

人為了得到更多,於是爭奪;於是發明武器;於是有了更多爭奪、更多殺戮;於是有人聯袂結合力量,有了部族、國家;於是有了皇帝、官僚、將軍;於是有了資源分配,有了交易,有了經濟;於是有了財富,有更多享受;於是有了暴君,有更多殘酷戰爭;於是有了奴隸,有了貧窮,人有了更多不平等、更多苦難。

於是世界累積了更多人生產的物質:出土的石器、陶器、青銅器、武器、遺城等。歷史告訴我們,人真的很偉大,偉大的痕跡遍滿全地。人的經驗、人的知識、人的智慧,是累積的,到了今天已極其偉大,但這一切人能承載得了嗎?地球能承載得了嗎?罪,也是會累積的。

* * *

城巿的生活表面看似豐裕舒適和自在,深入觀察卻是壓抑和不自由。這全因為城市建造者所追逐的經濟生產、效率、便捷及擴張等價值,令人過度營役,忽略了人際細膩的關係,為各種權力、利益和享受犧牲了自然環境,最終亦失去了人生目標。現今於城市生活的人一出生就開始各方面的競爭,至死方休,甚至不由自主世代相傳。

當代稱大城市為大都會,甚至超級都會,指核心市區所住人口最少過百萬,大多亦同時是政治、經濟及文化中心,部分則更是地區及國際交通樞紐。在全球一體化之大趨勢下,世界各地的大都會都爭相競逐為超級都會,上千萬的人口住在市區及擴展的市郊,發展成為吸引無盡人才及資金的世界首都。

然而全球化下的超級都會皆奉資本市場主義為發展原則,加上交通及資金的高度流通,城市之間越來越相似,樓群越來越密集,而且越來越高。國際品牌商店在世界各地皆見,人們的生活摸式、習慣甚至文化更為單一。文化從具獨特民族性格變成極端消費主義,正繼承創世記中該隱的遺傳──不安、恐懼、自私、驕傲、貪婪、奢侈和嫉妒等,原原本本不斷在當今的城市裏無止境地膨脹。

* * *

日本漫畫《寄生獸》其中一段經典對白,來自一群寄生獸討論如何對付人類,當中領袖這樣忠告同伴:「你們太小看人類了。雖然以單一個體來看,人類的確是非常脆弱的動物,就是幾十幾百幾萬幾十萬的人類聚集在一起,結成一個生物。但人類除了自己的頭以外,還有另外一個巨大的腦,如果違抗這個腦的話,寄生生物注定失敗。」這段落令我想到現今電子通訊科技。

科技及通訊的發展將人與人之間的距離重新定義,電腦、互聯網及智能手機應用在日常生活中,似乎可以增進人們的溝通。社交網、短訊及微博等方便易用,已經成為很多城市人的生活習慣。人們的溝通確是緊密了,有學者卻認為這種方便令城市人的溝通變得農村化,訊息流傳廣泛及快速,但未必經核實真確,當中單向及簡短的溝通容易產生誤會,亦易於改動和評論,正是蜚短流長,生活壓力又深一層。

客觀地檢視從古至今人類的文明發展,讓我不斷思考一個問題:人既能以智慧去克服惡劣的環境生存,更能改變改善生活條件,文明為何一次又一次的滅亡?除了天災之外,人為的敗壞如戰爭等,是否源出於自然演化?是否因為人的原始本性?人能克服環境,為何不能克服人好戰之本性?

* * *

我正是透過藝術創作思考人的本性。

* * *

一九九六年我在摩星嶺退修數日,修院要求住客不說話。有時候,人就是在平靜的環境中有所覺悟。一天晨早散步,遠眺對岸的九龍,心中忽然湧起一股莫名的悲哀,感到眼前熟悉的城市是如此孤寂,及後回家不久便創作了第一幅以城市為命題的《彼岸》。

繪畫是一種令人忘我的活動,觀賞亦同樣讓人投入。我在中學期間曾經沉迷山水畫,從范寬的《谿山行旅圖》、黃公望的《富春山居圖》到李可染的黑山黑水,皆令我神遊,只可惜我苦無機會學藝,在東西方藝術大門內外徘徊,一路上自我尋索,卻一直缺乏自信,未能明確知悉如何評價自己和別人的藝術水平,二○○○年後數年甚至因各種原因停止創作。

轉捩點是一本書《像藝術家一樣思考》──我遠赴美國拜師學習教學方法,同時亦讓我反思藝術的意義,我想重新享受繪畫,重燃正式修讀藝術的理想,彌補我因缺乏正統藝術訓練的自信心不足。

而在香港藝術學院修讀藝術碩士時始發現,課程要求學生鑽研藝術理念和創作的脈絡,這對於在創作路上迷失的我甚是艱難,但那一刻我卻肯定了一個方向,我仍然希望完成十年前有關城市的一系列作品。

重新思量,驚覺於畫面上我對城市為主軸的創作無從入手,澳洲派來的導師提議我嘗試用其他媒介,而我卻只懂繪畫,未曾學習攝影、雕塑,對裝置及新媒體更感陌生,甚至抗拒。那雖然是學期初,但患得患失的感覺令我對創作有所懷疑,只好跟着導師的建議去試試,買了一些木方堆砌,漫無目的,卻於繪畫日誌上構思了幾種裝置意念,跟導師們分享後得到認同。澳洲的導師要求我深入硏究一些相關的當代藝術流派及藝術家,以及閲讀一些與城市相關的理論,我的創作力量突然似給注入了一股生氣。

《冷血》是第一個學年終的展覽作品,屬於我個人的藝術語言已見雛形,在有限的空間累積極大量的物質,並運用鏡子對照反映出無盡影像,製造出無限無止之假像。我從此確定了自己的藝術方向和概念,物料的硏究和運用成為了其中一項核心。

初期我探究城市建築的物料,有直接從大自然來的,如石和木;有更多是人工提煉的,如磚、金屬、玻璃等。不同的物料各有其美感及歷史內容,也有不同觸感,例如相對於不銹鋼的堅固冰冷,木自然的紋理給人溫暖感,各種物質反咉了不同的城市景觀感覺,也象徵着不同的都市基因。我將不同物料運用於裝置中,表現城市不同的狀態。

再進一步的發展,在於以作品演繹空間與人的關係──探討城市的高密度,以及其扭曲了人生活的空間。結果是構思了一系列大型裝置《迷宮》,讓觀者進入我的裝置作品中,親身體會及感受空間,甚至一同創造。

藝術碩士畢業的個人展覽,是一次非常重要和純粹的藝術創作經驗。在不斷反覆鑽研中,我嘗試透過於同一個展覽中展出六組作品,各自闡述,並以線性連繫出課題脈絡,讓整個展覽結構成一種詰問或論述,這個方向亦漸漸成為日後固定的創作模式。課題脈絡的硏究除提供了創作方向,亦讓創作更有深度。這種創作手法誠然非常理性及冷靜,當中有大量的課題硏究,而物料試驗枯燥費時,但於我而言卻十分有效,是困而知之。

* * *

從藝術碩士硏習開始建立屬於自己的藝術表達方法,初期受塞尚、未來主義及構成主義影響,幾何塊面在畫面上佔極大比重,理性冷靜抽離,我刻意營造冷漠無人之境,表達我對人性的看法。發展到裝置時,我參考了極限主義的形式手段,刻意剔除裝飾及手工,專注強調物料本質及人與空間的關係,並在創作過程引入隨機的概念,和開始有了場地特定的創作模式──先有了展示場地,再依據場地環境特點及歷史去創作。

我的畢業創作展正是如此籌備,借用好友的工廠大廈頂樓連天台,利用了樓梯、走廊及天台戶外等具建築空間特色及寓意的場地去設計裝置,首次成功地建立了一套屬於自己的藝術詞彙。

及後我有很多創作,特別是大型的裝置作品,均是依此方向去創作,並有更多機會去考察場地的人文、地理及歷史,然後將這些元素放進創作,擴展了內容及表達方式。

* * *

人不輕易爬或跪下。三曲六坐九扶離,三個月大的嬰兒嘗試爬起來,六個月可以坐直身子,九個月能依靠身邊的東西站起來,不久便急不及待的行走,可以走到周圍玩了。挺起身站立是人堅持的,人類創造的城市也紀念着這個姿態。雕刻圖騰崇拜、立碑紀念豐功偉績、高廈聳立發展城市,甚至人死後也要立墓碑存留到後世,「立」成了萬事之始終。《殘局》裝置中棋盤上放的方塊,立之於地,看似大廈立之於城,也似一座座墓碑,存留到後世無人之境。企立之反面為倒塌,而原本企立的倒塌,就如人在不得已的情況下跌倒──高度的文明,如巴比倫、古埃及和瑪雅等文明,也在不情願的情況下倒塌,留下了不倒的金字塔屹立,猶如墓碑。於長廊的簡約裝置《倒塌》正是要表達如此境況。

千里之行始於足下。為了行得更遠,人發明了鞋。鞋是人用以行走之工具,為保護人的腳足,自古有多元的發展,從簡陋實用到現在的浮誇炫耀,皆承載了人身體的重量。人赤足站立行走自有平衡,但穿了鞋之後卻又要以不同姿態平衡身體才能行走。行走是我創作上重要的元素,我大部分的裝置都讓觀眾步入。早期的《迷宮》系列,步入的觀眾不自覺地成了作品的部分。後來為了讓觀眾更主動參與其中,我用現成積木玩具組合了類比城市的木屐,放在沙灘上讓泳客穿上,在指定的區域自由踐踏,慢慢構成了看似廢墟的一片。在日落前我用石膏倒模了小部分「廢墟」,跟着潮汐便沖走了所有人為的痕跡,人類和自然的對抗,日復日無休無止。《踏城》正是我首個互動裝置,跟着我以此模式創作了《創地標》和《集印城市》,嘗試探索不同的人為活動模式對土地之改動,及其遺下之印記。

鞋也承載着人的慾望。文明城市的興衰,見證着人類貪婪及慾望所帶來的結果,而我以鞋、踐踏及物質加以演繹。《踏破》中九塊鐵板象徵全方位的大地,鐵鞋象徵人類的城市文明發展,在中軸踏過的軌跡散佈了象徵城市的磁石,大小不一的磁石吸引着象徵人和物質的鐵粉,鏽漬象徵城市發展在大地留下了不可挽回的破壞。錄像拍攝我穿着裝有磁石的鐵鞋在滿佈鐵粉的大地上步行,踏出每步磁石都把地上的鐵粉吸着,不能自拔地跟隨鐵鞋前行,在大地上留痕。踏出數步後錄像倒回原位,畫面倒述播出火山爆發及行雷閃電,直到最後以潮水終結,象徵發展到盡頭,大地亦退步為原始。

人自恃大地在腳下,無知踐踏,直至踏破,化為塵土回歸大地。

* * *

日常的工具有其出現的實用原因,是人類累積的智慧,亦藏有不同的歷史及民族文化,本來已經有相當高的藝術成分。只是現代人對於日用工具看得太理所當然,若認真反省它們的發明原由及生產方法,便更能體會人的本能及人性。例如梯子用於爬高取物或工作,其造型及用料經過歷代千錘百煉,而中國人喜用竹製,因竹粗生而堅韌,亦輕便,以刀破開成不同部件入榫,整個過程就算以人手製作也不太困難,當中實在載有中國人的千年智慧。加上竹在中國的象徵──中通外直的君子風骨,寓意深遠。我以工具作為現成物運用於裝置中,展示人類累積的文明,再加上易經卦象所述及的狀況,我創作了《見龍在田》及《飛龍在天》兩個大型裝置,觀眾可以步入以傳統廣東扎棚技術構建的竹梯陣內欣賞和感受。

工具有實也有虛,語言也是工具,語言作人類相互溝通之用,而文字能書寫記錄、傳達及保存,更有利流傳,這些是人類腦擴張的發展成果,令人類文明得以強大的進步。還記得巴別塔的故事嗎?人類驕傲的代價是口音變亂。語言和文字是兩刃刀,一方面令人類更強大,也令人類分裂衝突。《漂流教室》系列中有切碎了的各種語文字典及用混凝土固定了的學術書籍,甚至將中國人的通書火化,正是為了探索語言及文字的限制。

* * *

更多去接觸及思考當代藝術發展,更多問題浮現眼前──有很多觀眾看不明白作品,為何藝術家仍然堅持用這種方式去創作?何不用較大眾化或較傳統的模式?對此我有深刻的反思。

我繼續創作是因為心裏有話要說,正如有人選擇寫作,而我選擇了以視覺藝術創作去思考和表達。當代藝術的形式比較適合我,因我喜愛以更自由和沒有限制的平台去探索。

當然我也是一般尋常百姓,內心充滿矛盾,自以為前衞地創作卻又忐忑,期待觀眾的正面評價。但創作的目標不也為了思考磨練嗎?反正自己不是只追求回報。於是心踏實了,更肯定自己對創作可以本着純粹的動機。

* * *

peaceful world_opt

我教授素描是傳承美國貝蒂‧愛德華茲博士的右腦繪畫理論,她硏究人如何運用右腦感知能力的觀察、左腦語言及分析能力在觀察當中的擾亂,以及其呈現於畫面的結果之差異。她的硏究結論是:任何人只要掌握觀察感知的步驟,便能繪出寫實的畫面。從理論和教學實踐,我慢慢發現觀察先由五感開始,精神集中時其他沒有運用的感覺會減弱,左腦的語言分析等能力亦減弱,右腦的空間及類比等能力便更有效發揮,將眼前所見的點線及其比例角度等空間關係,冷靜及客觀地判斷,結果便能把所觀景象用筆呈現在紙上。觀察期間之精神狀態和禪修相似,繪畫時手眼協調的運動其實很機械化,亦和體育運動的身體協調類似;而畫面所產生的筆觸若獨立分析,其實十分幾何及抽象,可以說跟電腦操作掃描及打印沒有分別,不同的是這屬人左右腦互動期間的認知和意識影響下所作之判斷。

正是這經年的教學體會,加上自身的繪畫經驗,令我對當代的觀看模式很有感觸。數碼及智能手機攝影看似近乎免費,運作簡易便利,於是幾近全民皆攝,生活全方位拍攝,然後上載網上分享,已成生活習慣,不知不覺間我們忙於拍攝記錄然後存取及整理資料,我們是看,並非觀察,更講不上深刻。

繪畫期間所作長時間的觀察及思考,甚至情緒等皆是連心的,即畫者將自己所觀察得來的以個人特質表達。這正好確定了繪畫在當下科技無遠弗屆的情況下更有存在價值,其藝術涵義更顯恆久獨特。

貝蒂‧愛德華茲更進一步硏究繪畫及精神意識的關係,認為個人的筆劃反映其精神意識及性情,若能投入右腦模式以直覺或潛意識繪畫,其作品能反映出畫者的思想及內心。

我於一九九四年底到一九九五年初遊歷歐洲近三個月,其間開始繪畫日誌。初期以寫實為主,踏入社會工作後開始以日誌描寫心境、情感,及後更多的是無意識、直覺和抽象的內容。正如貝蒂所硏究的,日誌寥寥數筆所畫的正好反映了我的所見所思所感,接連我的內心深處,可惜這些日子不長。

* * *

創作上我是屬於理性的,情感上我是偏向感性的,尤其是二十來歲時那些正值年青的日子,理想、愛情、信仰等衝擊着生活,心思意念盡皆情,日有所遇所思,晚間就於日誌繪畫賦詩,創作帶意識流,甚至第一幅以城巿作主題的創作《彼岸》,也是於凝望維港時生出一股難言感動下衝動所成。

這種感性帶動的創作衝動維持了兩三年,隨着工作上的營役和感情生活上的成長,年青時那青澀浪漫的情感不知何時失去了。跟着正如前述,有幸在進修路上重拾藝術創作熱情。

二○一三年我正躊躇着運用新創作手法的時候,母親於夏天病逝,對我是很大的衝擊。生死之事並不再是停留於思想層面,是歷歷在目。屬於直覺的情感再貫注在創作之中,我再次投入繪畫日誌,亦出現更多直接的筆觸和意象。

* * *

中國當代藝術家蔡國強說他信風水不信算命。風水學,為五術之一的相術中的相地之術,即臨場校察地理的方法,叫地相,古代稱堪輿術。目的是為宮殿、村落選址,也涉及墓地建設等的方法及原則。風水之說似是而非,看似不甚科學,然而千古以來其來有自。科學地看風水,是人與地理環境的關係,是人與自然的律的關係,體現人在這宇宙中的融合和位置,順應自然。

「各大洲上的族群,有截然不同的大歷史,原因不在人,而在環境。」 ──賈德‧戴蒙《槍炮、病菌與鋼鐵》

賈德‧戴蒙認為人所受的限制在其生存條件,而地理環境乃最決定性的一項。中國人歸納這些元素稱為風水。地理環境特質再加上人文歷史,正是在地場域特定藝術的主軸,亦是我創作的重要方向。

母親的離去讓我思索創作和我成長的關係。我自小從旁目睹母親對民間信仰的迷信依賴,求神問杯及祭祀等,常令我疑惑又反思命運這個課題。《芙蓉山‧月兒灣灣‧三百錢》和《苦落‧樂府》皆是我對人性、地理環境及命運之間的張力之探索。

因此我特別喜歡尋找有意思的場地去創作,例如讓我安居樂業的灣仔適安街,我的家和畫室位於此隱閉樓梯街八年之久,我便特別回到此地創作了一系列反思資本主義及都市仕紳化問題的場域特定作品,在地的構成了個展《傳說》。

我對不穩定的物料亦越來越感興趣。最初的接觸是創作《無覓處》時運用了磁石及鐵粉,磁場自然規劃了鐵粉的形態,無論於視覺上或觸感上都耐人尋味,為背後的理性思維增添了曖昧聯想。其後,我探索磁石及鐵粉的變化、鐵粉的自然聚合;水、二氧化碳令肥皂及泡沫的形成;還有採煙成墨等運用不同物質,加上人為轉化與隨機發展得出的結果,這些正反映了我部分的世界觀。

* * *

小時候家在油蔴地廟街,所接觸的人生百態,以及出入父母工作的麻雀館所觀察到的草根市民,這種種兒時的生活印象,經過半生歷練,都成了我現在的創作源頭。

油蔴地基層都踏實地生活,靠勞動或擺賣為生,對未來未必有什麼偉大憧憬,但公餘每每透過賭博寄託「發達夢」。「麻雀」耍樂不單是油蔴地平民娛樂,更是他們的精神寄託,正所謂「有賭未為輸」。我曾造訪果欄觀察其日常營運,加上麻雀耍樂及擺賣等地道特色,透過場域特定裝置呈現油蔴地平民的實在生活。我從果欄收集了三百六十五個生果箱,拓印上麻雀牌局運入貨櫃,聲音裝置播放果欄營運時的聲音,觀眾如親歷其境。生果箱推滿貨櫃,只剩下一條窄路,讓觀眾感覺壓迫的蹣跚通過。

貨櫃外拓印上的麻雀牌局拼成「發東南西北,中天下太平」, 模仿果欄商人討價還價密碼,重疊在貨櫃的原有商標「China Shipping」上。觀眾走出貨櫃,有拓印上正「叫糊」牌局的二十七個生果箱,加上「扭計骰」拼成「千萬」放於木製手推車上。

小市民究竟要搬多少生果箱,贏多少麻雀牌局,才可賺到「千萬」?平民百姓究竟期待怎樣的勞動成果?還是只能發橫財夢?

* * *

「只有當人成為完全的人時,他才遊戲,也只有當人遊戲的時候,他才完全是人。」 ──弗里德里希‧席勒

遊戲人生──其實人大部分時候投入遊戲時才感到自由,這可能是因為人專注於運用右腦時,語言及時間等左腦思維能力減弱,精神狀態進入了忘我境界,人生煩惱於此盡去。

法國社會學家凱窪為遊戲作為一種活動下了六項定義:

好玩──活動有一個輕鬆愉快的特質;獨立──活動發生在抽離的時間和地點;不確定性──活動的結果是不可準確預測的;非生產性──參與該活動並不是為了生產;規則──活動有着與日常生活不同的規則;虛構──參與該活動的意識在一個不同的現實。

據我觀察,人在遊戲時易於流露本性。六慾七情,在不可準確預測結果的虛構環境中,較易輕鬆地於玩樂時放大。遊戲中的策略、競爭、權力、溝通、運氣等皆是人生的模擬,玩者投入時便不自覺流露本性。二○○九年我以四種中國遊戲圍棋、象棋、麻雀及升官圖中的策略、競爭、溝通和運氣為課題脈絡,獲得Bloomberg Emerging Artist Programme贊助舉辦個人展覽《博弈》,以中國遊戲比喻古今中國人及社會的民族性格。

* * *

我相信當代藝術創作隨着全球化生活的改變而更趨多元,其中藝術的互動元素也變得更重要。

數碼科技已經大大改變世人生活,生活在現今世代的小朋友一天所接觸的圖像,比我還是小學時代多太多了,平面圖象藝術難以打動新一代的觀眾。新一代需要更多更深的經驗、觸覺、互動去體會。

現代人在日常生活中多運用數碼科技,用鍵盤輸入文字或運用輕觸式螢幕,手指的動作及接觸跟上一代有極大分別。數碼科技出現才不過數十年,在此之前人還是多用筆寫字的,還有很多日常的手作要專注去做,不像現在的人會同一時間分心工作。現今人們長時間近距離面對螢幕,眼睛經常給流動影像刺激,大量的聲色不斷麻醉人的感官,令人更疏於思考及幻想。

老子在《道德經》裏早説:「五色令人目盲,五音令人耳聾。」沉溺於虛擬世界中聲色官能的享樂,人類會進化還是退化?

藝術要面對當下數碼科技時代帶來的文化衝擊,就必須反思其創造及影響力。藝術可以傳承技術而有所昇華,藝術可以追求創新,而我個人就較認同藝術應回應當代,亦應反思藝術的思維及表達上如何讓當代人有所感動和啓迪。

恆久雋永的藝術誠然可貴,但這並不一定能刺激新一代的觀眾去思想,因此當代藝術家有需要以新穎的媒體及表現形式去開拓觀眾群,深入淺出地讓觀眾欣賞藝術的內涵。

大歷史印證了人類心智在多元互動的環境中更能發揮潛力。

* * *

「……當他們構想未來的畫面時,他們通常忽略了革命性的新發明。每一代人都見證了驚人的技術進步,我們沒有理由假定,技術進步會戛然止步。相反,技術進步總是會戲劇性地增長。沒有什麼是不可能的。只要我們能夠想到,我們早晚也能夠做到。然而,即使我們造出的中央處理機和古人的楔形文字泥版一樣古樸,我們也不過是裸猿而已。即使我們在無情追求進步的過程中毀滅了我們最親近的親屬物種,我們仍然是大千世界裏的生物學現象,我們仍將受制於生物學規律。」 ──德斯蒙德‧莫利斯《裸猿》1994年序 (1996)

* * *

我是從藝術創作中思考自己,思考世界,然後認識自己,認識世界。在藝術路上尋覓,有時候得意忘形;有時候熱情滿載卻到處碰壁;有時候看不清想不通,心中迷惘;更多時候是怕停滯下來,心中總有聲音叫自己邁步向前,似要找到一個終極目標為止。我猜,那叫自由。

 

 

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