Maybe there’s light.
Contemporary Artist’s Journey of the Concealed Earth

Duration:2018.03.03(sat) ~ 2018.04.15(sun)

Opening Conference:2018.03.10 (sat) 15:00

Curator:LIAO Jen I, LIU Pi Hsu

Artists :CHU Wei Bor, HO Kan, HSIAO Chin, LAI Chi Man , SUNG Hsi Te,

,TUNG Hsin Ru, LO Jui Lin

Journey: Epiphany and Discovery
“Maybe there’s light” is a line from Peach Blossom Spring by Eastern Jin dynasty poet T’AO Ch’ien. The passage was: “During the T’ai-yuan years of the Chin Dynasty, there was a man in Wu-ling who caught fish for a living. One day he went up a stream, and soon didn’t know how far he’d gone. Suddenly, he came upon a peach orchard in full bloom. For hundreds of feet, there was nothing but peach trees crowding in over the banks. And in the confusion of fallen petals, there were lovely scented flowers. The fisherman was amazed. Wanting to see how far the orchard went, he continued on. The trees ended at the foot of a mountain, where a spring fed the stream from a small cave. It seemed as if there might be a light inside, so the fisher man left his boat and stepped in.”[1]

 

From a literary history perspective, this passage might have expressed the poet’s disagreement with the society in which he lives while yearning for a society that existed in seclusion from the rest of the world, but when removed from its original historical context, multiple layers of interpretation can be discerned.

 

On a literary level, this passage uses a lexicon of realism in its description of sights and sounds, on a journey from one place to another. Ostensibly both describe concrete scenes, except that one was war-torn and in chaos, and the other is a place of joy and contentment. In other words, one is a location of realism, and the other is one of poetry.

 

On a philosophical level, in addition to illustrating the Taoist influences on the Wei and Jing dynasties, this passage also conveys the “heaven eternal, earth everlasting” in Chapter 7 of LAO Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. Apparently a description of scaling mountains and crossing waters, it also reveals an epiphany from the ephemeral to the eternal.

 

On an aesthetic level, this passage of text lays out a shift in a certain aesthetical stance. “Didn’t know how far he’d gone” signifies a departure from the existing sensory active domain toward a domain external to sensory activity. In the words of LAO Tzu, this transformation is precisely the shift from “the five colors confuse the eye” and “the five sounds dull the ear” to “The Great Sound can not be heard” and “The Great Image has no form ”; furthermore, this transformation is also a shift from forgetting to discovery: forgetting the daily hubbub, and discovering quietude; and this discovery hinges on “Maybe there’s light”.

 

The phrase “Maybe there’s light” speaks to an aesthetical dimension that transcends the existing experiential framework. We can call this aesthetical dimension a “mental vista” (jingjei 境界) of awakening.[2]

 

Mental Vista: Landscapes and Mindscapes

 

The concept of the “mental vista” originated in the ancient Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophies of China, subsequently influencing Asian thoughts on life and aesthetics, which has now become an important concept in understanding and interpreting Asian artistic thought. The concept of the awakened mental vista is not only manifested in Asian practices of religious and philosophical cultivation, it has also become an aesthetic orientation that is expressed in the practice of artistic creation. As such, its influence on the conceptualization of sound in literature and music is not merely at the auditory level, just as its influence on the stylistic contemplation of painting and sculpture does not merely remain at the visual level.

 

There is abundant literature since ancient times regarding the concept of the awakened mental vista in numerous theories on literature, music, and painting. The most prolific mention of this can be found in Remarks on the Song Lyric and the Human Condition by WANG Guo Wei of the late-Qing, early Ming period. Although the main thrust of the text is a discussion on lyric poetry (cí) rather than on literary theory, its perspectives are applicable in discussions of other artistic disciplines as well. For instance, it opens with “The mental vista is elevated to the highest in . When the mental vista is present, eminence and renown naturally ensue.” This is applicable to other genres of artistic endeavor. In other words, the mental vista occupies a prominent position in the appreciation of literature or visual art, and works that evoke the mental vista are the most sublime.

 

What is an awakened mental vista? We call the mental vista an aesthetic orientation precisely because an aesthetic orientation points to an aesthetic stance and perspective, not limited by the actions of the aesthetic subject, nor restricted to the categories of the aesthetic object. The mental vista can refer to a visual experience, a conceptual path, or to the aesthetic subject, for instance: space, time, shape, color, sound, or rhythm. To quote WANG Guo Wei, “The vista is does not refer to a landscape. Happiness, anger, sorrow, and joy are all vistas of the human heart. Those who can depict true scenes and real emotions have a mental vista; otherwise, they do not.” On the whole, the mental vista can emerge from the landscape, or arise from a mindscape.

 

Hence, the mental vista might be regarded as an attitude and perspective rather than as a location. It is not at a distance, but in the mind’s eye. Similarly, it may appear in the visual, but is not limited to the visual. The mental vista is in the mortal realm, but exists in a corner of human existence that is without coordinates or markings.

 

Art: Mental Vista and Abstraction

 

The notion of “jingjei” is not a product of Western culture, nor are there words in the Western lexicon to fully convey its nuances. Though Western religions also emphasizes a spiritual orientation, this orientation is based on the traditional polemic of the body and mind; hence what is emphasized as the kingdom of God would not be present in the human world, and the human world is limited to sensory activities. Exploration into the spiritual dimension attenuated as Western philosophy gradually diverged from the era of theology and metaphysics in the direction of epistemology.

 

This development has also influenced the overdependence of aesthetics and art on the conceptual frameworks of the natural sciences. We tend to regard impressionism as an artistic trend with a renewed emphasis on the spiritual dimension, when in actuality it is a school of thought that was born of positivism. The source of this ideology can be understood once we realize the conviction in positivism expressed by its theorist Emile Zola. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that the emergence of abstract art, especially German abstract art with its theosophical influences, was apparently regarded as a reinvigoration of the spiritual dimension. Undeniably, Wassily Kandisky also emphasized the spiritual orientation of art, however, we can still clearly see that Western abstract art was constructed on a foundation of early modern epistemology, and this early modern epistemology was in turn based on a foundation of classical metaphysics. In classical metaphysical theory, “abstraction” refers to the act of organizing an individual sensory experience into a universal rational idea. This concept has influenced Western philosophy, aesthetics, and artistic thought throughout history to the present, and hence, abstract art implies an ideological path for the conversion from a sensory activity to a rational activity.

 

This declaration of the ideological context of Western abstract art is not a value judgment. Our intent is to explain that this artistic school of thought established on the soil of Western culture originates in a metaphysical tradition with an emphasis on rational activity. Though within this school of thought there were also advocates for an emphasis on spiritual and emotional dimensions, this is virtually negligible relative to similar concepts of the mental vista developed through the Asian aesthetic tradition, and significant differences exist between the two.

 

Works of Art : concealed vista and apparent vista

Whether informed by Western aesthetics, or with a foothold in Eastern aesthetics, the emergence of Taiwan’s near-modern art possess unique characteristics and brilliance. Our purpose is not to emphasize differences between the East and West, but to underscore that “abstracism” is a concept of Western art. It has its own metaphysical traditions that may not necessarily be suited to explaining the Eastern concepts of the mental vista.

 

We are in the habit of claiming that “abstract art” began to flourish in Taiwan in the 1950s, and according to Western definitions and classification, these can be divided into figurative abstract art and non-figurative abstract art; and non-figurative abstract can be further categorized as geometric abstract and lyrical abstract. This explanation is reasonable from the historical context of Western abstract art, but strictly speaking, this explanation does not necessarily apply to art works with the aesthetic orientation of the mental vista. In reality, the Eastern Painting Society had already similar assertions and expressions. They might have applied Western artistic media and techniques, but the composition and styling clearly originated in Eastern philosophy and aesthetics. Their perspectives were especially unfettered by the abstract concepts of the rational from sensory, but rather take another path to emphasize a direct gaze of the mental vista, a discovery of the mental vista, and revelation of the mental vista. This awakening from exploring the mental vista was strengthened rather than diminished by the academic atmosphere of contemporary art with its emphasis on the conceptual and behavioral, because art works with the jingjie mental vista aesthetic as a foundation not only discovers its point of view in its own culture and location, but also expresses an elevated contemplation of revelation through observation of all objects and beings.

 

The mental vistas within the works by these artists are often expressed in attitude and perspective. This mental vista will neither necessarily leave the world nor resist visuality. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger is possibly one among few Western thinkers who understood the concept of the mental vista. He broke away from Western traditional metaphysic to redefine works of art, and believed that works of art have nothing to do with scientific truth, but establish poetic truths. Hence artists transform the concealed earth into the unconcealed word through truths unveiled by their work. Works of art are the light that reveal hidden vistas and create a world from the earth.

 

The line “Maybe there’s light” revealed that T’AO Ch’ien’s mental vista exists not in another land, but in the faint lights at the base of the mountain. When our artists transform their personal journeys through mental vistas into art works, they are not expressing how they once saw a faint light at the base of the mountain, but rather they are allowing all of us to embark on a journey through their work into the mental vista “Maybe there’s light”

 

 

[1] Weinberger, Eliot, The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry (Manchester: Carcanet Press Ltd. 2007), p. 29.

[2] Rojas, Carlos and Bachner, Andrea, The Oxford Handbook of Modern Chinese Literatures (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), p. 601.