New Media Art after Self-articulation and the Search for Identity
The use of multimedia and the search for identity as well as self-articulation have been of great interest to contemporary artists, and has impelled them to explore and develop new media art. In the eyes of the artist, new media offers a randomness, liveliness and scope for interactivity that potentially make them ideal vehicles of dynamic and creative expression. As Michael Naimark stated in his research report, “Technology-based art has become increasingly of interest to both art and technology communities, as well as to the public at large. It has been adopted by art centres interested in technology and by research labs interested in art, places with different cultures and histories”.
Its adoption has indeed been such that new media art is verging on becoming the mainstream of contemporary art. Carl Cheng Chi Ming’s creative journey also seems to constitute one stream in this powerful current.
To appreciate Cheng’s work, we need to look back at his origins. He began to show an interest in art and design at an early age, but to fulfill family expectations, he subsequently chose to pursue the more ‘useful’ study of business administration in university. After graduation he dipped a toe into the creative realm by taking on freelance design assignments and eventually starting his own design company.
Running his own business did not mean Cheng’s wholesale conversion to glittering materialism. On the contrary, he became more determined to pursue pure art. For three years in the late 1990s he was a finalists in the Philippe Charriol Foundation Art Competition. Upon receiving his Master of Fine Art degree from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 2008, he began to devote even more of his time to contemporary art, and gradually became an active member of the local art community. Wearing the hats of artist, designer, curator and educator, Cheng himself resembles the multiple-discourse approach he frequently employs in his works.
Urban scenes and architecture are among Cheng’s favourite themes, and since his earlier works such as ‘Opposite’ (1996), ‘Doctrine of Bridge’ (1997) and ‘Blue City Blue’ (2001), his eye for visual detail and desire for perfection have become all the more apparent. The stack of square frames and the melancholic mood of his presentation were like a prelude to later installation works such as ‘End Game’ (2008) and ‘The Maze’ (2008).
Surely Cheng himself must have been mindful of the connections between the points of his creative journey – how one thing has led to another. He did, after all, choose Accumulation as the theme of his installation art exhibition at Flammer Gallery in 2008. As Alice Choi wrote in Lust Lies Under Dust, ‘accumulation’ in this case was a description of the endless architectural juxtapositions of a metropolis. It is an expression of the human ambition to transform the Earth, to becoming an embodiment of power, wealth and security.
I believe, however, that what is being accumulated is the thoughts and experiences of the artist. Although their mediums and materials are not the same, the thoughts and emotions of the artist are common threads in Cheng’s works, and these express a unique sentiment of the here and now. Accumulation denotes the relationship and the responses of the two elements. It also reflects Cheng’s rationality in his creative work, as well as his analytical and critical capabilities.
‘The Maze’ was Cheng’s first large-scale installation piece – a narrow passageway formed by large containers, flanked by stacks of long square wooden dowels that created mirror-like reflections. The frustration and helplessness of being trapped in a maze were strangely absent from ‘The Maze’: instead, a splash of romance was found in its light and shadows. This subverted the claustrophic uneasiness of real life in a concrete jungle.
Yet, if we are to stick to the theory of textualism, the presentation of an artwork is the culmination of linguistic symbols and forms. The dowels in ‘The Maze’ might be a symbol of urban architecture – a melody created by lines, lights and shadows – or even an urban sentiment of recording through knot-tying. But in reality, ‘The Maze’ was not about physical space; it was something creeping forward from the human heart.
Therefore, Cheng’s work started from the two-dimensional ‘Blue City Blue’ and the natural wood-toned ‘The Maze’, transformed into ‘End Game’, and still later evolved into ‘The Tao of Chinese Games’ (2009). While all show differences in form, media and materials, their essence and spirit remain more or less a constant. In my opinion, the key to ‘The Tao of Chinese Games’ is neither the arrangement of the chessboard nor the black-and-white order of it. It is, as the artist himself stated, “… the anticipation that someone can turn things around. No-one knows who the winner is until the last second. Challenging an unknown destiny awakens the most primitive desire”. Here, the sublimation of the libido is the real theme of the work. Excessive noise or words guidance would have undermined the beauty of the work’s understated tone.
Recently at the Coming Home – Art Container Project Documentation and Art Exhibition (2014), Cheng showcased ‘What is the Horizon’, in which embossed architectural images of varying height were showcased on a railroad track. This work strikes a fine balance between the artistic medium and artistic meaning. Notwithstanding its small scale, it is an excellent and delicate piece which lingers in fond memory.
Since ‘The Tao of Chinese Games’, more distinctively Chinese elements have permeated into Cheng’s work. Excerpts from Yang Ho in Confucian Analects were quoted to introduce the artist’s concept for the work, and one could also find images of the game of ‘Go’, Chinese chess, mahjong, and a chart of advancement for officials.
Cheng was also commissioned to create ‘Soaring Dragon’ (2014) for the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay in Singapore. The work was supposedly inspired by a chapter in The Book of Changes (I-Ching) and consists of 200 bamboo ladders. “‘Soaring Dragon’ suggests that people of greatness are now in the right places to lead others to success” with “the dragon [as] a symbol of greatness and the sky a symbol of transcendence”.
As well as reflecting Chinese cultural tradition, ‘Soaring Dragon’ also hints at a fundamental search for identity that – in one way or another – is a defining aspect of the modern post-colonial Hong Kong character. In ‘Soaring Dragon’, colonialism is regarded as something of a cultural ‘original sin’ – which usually makes this kind of ‘homecoming confession’ overtly explicit and pale.
Not only is this an issue of identity with Hong Kong artists; it is also a challenge of how to deepen and transform artistic elements and concepts to create lasting appeal. Some critics in Hong Kong consider the Zen ink art by Lui Shou Kwan as a mere adaptation of the style of abstract expressionist artist Adolph Gottlieb, using Chinese ink painting expressions while suffering an imbalance between the treatment of mediums and the connotation the artwork carries. Hence, the disadvantage of ‘post-colonial’ symbolic Chinese expression pointed out by Wang Nanming: “contemporary Chinese arts are still in the context of the Chinese nature of art and the artists being Chinese. It is easy to create art with Chinese symbols, yet the challenges in doing situational art on Chinese issues have been acknowledged by a number of Chinese artists in the forefront… participating in situational art on Chinese issues requires an acute insight and a compelling critique. There are also difficulties in exhibiting these works… ”.
As a post-colonial Hong Kong artist, to have an in-depth sense of transformation in Chinese cultural elements and connotations is an immense challenge. Yet it is also a topic worthy of local artists to ponder on, so as to express a flavour truly unique to Hong Kong.
Cheng is in his prime in terms of creativity. From his daring move from the relatively stable path of business administration and design to the rough terrain of fine art, it is evident that he is an artist who is confident and willing to embrace challenges. His new media work – after striking a balance with self-articulation and the search for identity – is worth waiting for.
Victor Lai Ming Hoi
Academy of Visual Arts, Hong Kong Baptist University
 Wang Nanming, The Rise of Critical Art: Chinese Problem Situation and Theories of Liberal Society
應用多元媒體，尋找身份認同與自我表述，大概已成為當代藝術家共同探究的重要範疇。新媒體藝術的隨機性、生活感和互動性，容易展示新一代藝術家的動感和創意，於是往往成為藝術家與觀者的趣味中心。正如麥克•奈瑪 （Michael Naimark）在他發表研究報告時寫道：「新媒體藝術已經逐漸成為藝術和科技社群乃至社會大眾的共同興趣所在。它既被對技術感興趣的藝術中心所採用，也為對藝術感興趣的實驗室所採用，儘管兩種機構具有不同文化和歷史。」 這種媒體主導的創作逐漸成為當代藝術的主流。鄭志明（Carl Cheng Chi Ming）的創作歷程也似乎處於這種主流系統。
「城市景象」與「建築群組」一直是鄭志明的探究主題。從早年《Opposite》（請以中文名稱替代英文，下同） （一九九六年）、《橋》《Doctrine of Bridge》 （一九九七年）及《藍城藍》《Blue City Blue》（二○○一年），可見他對畫面精細完美的追求。平面的方塊架疊和沉鬱調子的表現，已預示了他日後的《殘局》《End Game》（二○○八年）與《迷宮》（二○○八年）裝置藝術的意念系統。當然這種創作成長的關連，他自己肯定察覺得到，亦正因如此他於二○○八年在Flammer Gallery的裝置個展即以《積聚》（Accumulation）為題。雖然蔡穎思在《慾望，塵土下》〈Lust Lies Under Dust〉一文的介紹中，認為Accumulation的「積累」是用以形容大都會永無止境的建築架疊，藉此顯示人類改造大地的野心，並以此體現其權力、財富和安全感；筆者卻認為「積累」該是藝術家思維、媒介應用經驗和成長的「積累」。媒體及物料雖有不同，但藝術家的思考、情感卻連貫各作品，展現一時一地的情懷。這個展覽主題，明確標示兩者的關係和回應，亦反映鄭志明創作的理性和個人的分析和批判能力。
當中《迷宮》是他首個大型裝置作品。細長的木條堆疊，並置於窄長隧道管狀的建構箱形物，形成鏡像式的倒影，沒有造成「迷宮」式的困境、徬徨、無助感，卻在堆疊與光影的複合中，流灑一刻因隔離帶來的浪漫，顛覆了現實世界石屎森林的翳悶和不安。然而在文本主義 (textualism) 理論裏，藝術作品的表現是語言符號與形式的總合。條狀方木可以是城市建築的寓意，亦可以是形式化線條與光線明暗起伏的旋律，更可以是結繩記事式的都市情意，所以「迷宮」在人的心裏而非實體環境空間匍伏前行。因此鄭志明的作品，可以從《藍城藍》《Blue City Blue》的平面到原木色的《迷宮》，然後轉化成《殘局》《End Game》，及後更衍繹為《博弈》(二○○九年)，表現形式和媒材物料各異，精神卻極其相連一致。筆者看「博弈」不在棋盤布局、黑白相間的形式，而更重要的是藝術家所提：「讓人有逆轉翻盤的期待，不到最後一刻不知道誰勝誰負，這樣挑戰不可知的命運，激起人類好勝的原始慾望」。這種里比多 (libido) 的精神昇華才是作品的主題載體，過多的喧鬧或按圖索驥的旁白及演出，反而會削弱了作品的動人暗調。最近鄭志明在「回家了——藝術貨櫃計劃文獻展及藝術展覽」（二○一四年）中展出《地平線是什麼？》(What is the Horizon?)── 一列鐵路路軌上高低排列的浮雕建築圖像，在藝術載體和藝術語意的內涵均見動人的平衡。作品雖然屬於他的小品之作，卻是頗堪回味而耐看的佳作，似乎又重返他縈繞人心的細膩表現。
自從《博弈》開始，鄭志明的作品有較多中國元素的滲透。藝術家闡釋展覽立意的文字中加入《論語──陽貨篇》作論證，圖像媒體則刻意採用圍棋、象棋、麻將、升官圖等；另外他應邀為新加坡濱海藝術中心中央大廳特別製作的《飛龍在天》（二○一四年），更稱是依據《易經》其中一章而創作。作品以二百把現成製品的竹梯作裝置，其意在「象徵中國人的辛勤努力與通力合作，使得社會地位提升，經濟上也突顯成功。而神祕的生物『龍』，則象徵着偉人；『天』（含有高的意思）則是極限的比喻」。作品回應中國文化圖騰與傳統之餘，明顯展示了身份認同的依歸。然而香港經歷百多年的「殖民」洗禮，文化「原罪」往往令這些認祖歸宗的表白，容易變成濫情和蒼白。這不僅是香港藝術家的身份問題，也正是藝術表現中物質與觀念如何深度轉化、歷久不衰的藝術難題。正如香港部分藝評者認為呂壽琨所謂「禪畫」僅為轉借抽象表現主義藝術家Adolph Gottlieb的水墨表現，媒體的形式處理與承載的文化內涵並不平衡，故此王南溟曾指出「後殖民」的中國符號表現之弊在於：「中國當代藝術還是處於藝術的中國性和藝術家的中國身份的處境中。但做中國符號的藝術容易；而做中國問題情境藝術的困難已得到了一部分前沿的中國藝術家的認同……中國問題情境的藝術需要有敏銳的洞察力和批評的力度，而這樣的藝術都有展覽的困難……」 作為後殖民的香港藝術家，要深度轉化中國文化元素及其語意實在是個挑戰，這亦可成為本地藝術家深究的課題，從而展示香港藝術的獨特意味。