It is the process, and not the result, of an artist's contemplation that marks the maturity of his style. This is because what is contemplated does not produce results in a given time span. Such thinking takes an open course; it generates new dynamics, with analytical, and possibly historical, significances.
We have become accustomed to smoothness in writings and images in our historical/empirical tradition, something like readability in the quality of translation. However, there are things that do not offer smoothness, especially as in the imageries produced by what has by-now become much avant-garde contemporary Chinese art. We may start off our criticism from either a psychological, historical, or logical, point of view, or from the ontology of art, and are still unable to combine phenomenology, semiotics and psychoanalysis into one critique. It is therefore impossible for our language to be smooth and readable.
Phenomenology has opened up a dimension which was not seen in Western languages ever before, such that even cultural gaps show up for the first time among the major languages of the West, and non-translatability between them has become a problem, not to mention between them and the vastly distant Chinese language and culture; semiotics has also pushed language to its extremity so that its innermost bone marrow is revealed in the form of thinking, mathematics and logic; whereas the developments in psychoanalysis have forced language to a corner and turned it into sickness. The languages and arts of the Western cultures have lost their familiar demeanor, lost their smoothness and their transparency. The multi-cultural phenomenon has become a major feature of the twentieth-century humanities.
Our language, the modern Chinese, for lack of the backing by a corresponding thought system, or preparation by a similar "thought revolution," has not seen an equivalent extension. This is an undisputable fact, one that is not affected by any value judgment; it comes as a result of the time and culture, and not to be faced independently by any individual cultural entity. Consequently, it should not be surprising that our analyses of individual artists may be scattered and unsystematic. What we can do is just picking up and listing only those valuable and significant processes to extents where possible, and linking them up so they become leads to our logic and imagination. These are nevertheless the key tasks and responsibilities of criticism.
Chen JiaGang's empirical world consists of a history and reality in which all of us contemporary intellectuals have shared. To discover the truth and substance within this world, we might want to devote more observation to his personality and his love...
Knowledge and experience are the basic passages through which the personality of our times is formed. No one can proudly claim his innocence from it. In this rapidly changing society, there are unlimited obtainable values and numerous and variable practicable ways to obtain them. Imageries in our times are displaying their magical powers and complexities that act on the society and on ourselves; they develop empirical relationships between variables, and construct the personality and love of our times.
With his "Third Front," Chen JiaGang started his empirical narrative, in vision. And then "Diseased City," "Temptation," "Smog City," "Diaoyutai" followed, till he turned to his "Trilogies." Intertwined in his empirical space are industrial history, social changes, sicknesses in the city, life and culture, power and politics, history and ideologies, nation and world, which altogether extend a grandiose vision of the world. The pathos and compassion contained are full of contemplation and observation. Historiography tells us that all forms of experience contain judgment. Ruins and wastes, filth and poverty, blankness and paleness, vacancy and pathetic flashiness, complexity and heaviness, mental and actual, these are all part of Chen's aesthetic lexicon, testimonies to his global generalities. They awaken our memories of the classic human personality: justness, bravery, compassion, and caution.
Intellectuals are paradoxical creatures, who can never be understood in their original form (though I do not take all artists as intellectuals). They practice their differentiating and reasoning in such artistic processes as "purifying, smoothing, gracing up, devising, being deft and crafty, being pious, contracting, extending, imitating, and creating," thus forming their own dialectic between their constructing and their constructed. With this framework, they are pitted against each other or they unite, or they contain each other, such that art as a whole comes to a standstill. The independence and salvation of the artists themselves conduct a kind of personality and emotions in their creative concepts.
An ontological analysis of Chen JiaGang's art easily reveals his bringing up in the humanities and background in architecture. Architect, writer, poet, and artist all in one, he combines the languages and forms of such diverse elements as architectural mass and weight, literary style and poetic sense, and image perspective, composition and color, into a unique image vocabulary, or visual lexicon. His "Trilogies," furthermore, link up visual languages with traditional Chinese philosophical concepts. Such value-imparting, analytical, creative and theoretically esthetic complex imagery opens up an all-new critical space and structure, and critically constructs an academic style in an independent Chinese prototype for imagery. As an offspring of photography, Chinese movie industry is almost westernized across the board; only photography itself is sticking up. It is this perseverance that produces such brand-new artistic practice in imagery, such as seen in Chen JiaGang. This, for world photography, is like when in dim light a formless hand gets in contact with a beautiful breast of a damsel, something that brings to one the underlying doubt, tension and conflict in a culture permeated with humanism. In such power is laden some independent Chinese thoughts and cultural values.
There has always lacked an effective liberalist tradition in China, a key element that differentiates the country's political history from that of Europe and other countries. Under such circumstances, we notice, if only the listener accepts it, it matters little if a statement is true to the fact. I always cherished wishes, though never had them granted; nevertheless, I am still longing for the blessings that are at the same time real and lacking.
Chengdu, August 25, 2011