The Metaphysics of Language
Words are visible forms, not objects that can be described with other words. Of course, words have metaphorical meanings that constitute language, describe objects, and establish communication. Early abstract discussions of words are inflexibly material, and ordinary people only care about words because they are concrete. However, this has nothing to do with me. My words convey form, and stop at form.
Form is the earliest imagination of a word. All human wisdom stems from form and becomes solidified over the course of its evolution. For pictographic words, the evolution is obvious. This is also true for alphabetic words, but the difference is simply the extent to which the forms and symbols have been translated. At times, I have been unconsciously dragged into philology, but I just wanted to return to the original ideas that inspired the birth of words, and similar ideas are needed for creation of art.
The visual space of a text is the site of its original meaning, even if that original meaning is increasingly distant from us. Almost as confirmation of the necessity of this distance, we have entered an era of simulated words and information.
This is simply the most visible (or visual) era, which can be viewed through the digital formats of words. These words are no longer unreal or considered. They support themselves; they are obedient words that can be quantified by political power and economic interests. They are anti-words.
The harsh reality is that anti-words have become even more powerful and full of positive energy. Eggs cannot collide with stones and remain intact, but I can say that my words are anti-words.
I begin working from characters because I am familiar with them. Chinese characters have evolved over time, but they are still descended from the most ancient pictographic words. My work reflects the spatial plasticity and temporal tolerance of Chinese characters, especially in an historical era that is painstakingly attempting to destroy words. However, this fact also shows that original words are irreplaceable.
The space and time of words produce organic relationships and deep structures. They can be elevated to language and the amazing texts of poetry and literature. However, the basic material of Chinese characters is visual. The poet Wang Wei once wrote,
“In the vast desert, the smoke ascends straight to the sky, / Above the long river, the setting sun appears so round.”
With the gravity of time, space expands, and words become temporal memory. However, when we read the passage backwards:
“The round sun sets into the long river, and smoke ascends in the vast desert.”
The landscape still exists, but time has been fixed in a philosophical context.
This example shows that the height (or breadth, or depth) of words can only be measured using space. Therefore, words are metaphysical in a visual sense.
My words sculpture, Straight, Round, draws on the words of this poem. In a reversed space, I wanted to express the ideas behind the poem: extension, revolution, intersection, and combination.
These are my anti-words, and the metaphysics of words determine form.
The Three Dimensional Forms of The I-Ching
I have studied The I-Ching since the early 1980s,and I have played games with The I-Ching in painting and sculpture. The I-Ching has been my constant companion. After more than 30 years, I still don’t really understand it, but it has opened old loves and new knowledge for me.
If there were no I-Ching, there would be no Language-Form.
More than 30 years ago, I annotated my copy of The I-Ching based on an understanding of the visual realm and creative methods inspired by feeling. I know that the argument of The I-Ching is very simple, but it is also very rich.
The I-Ching is the holy book of nature, and the holy book of I-Ching is not religious.
The Chinese have been recording and circulating The I-Ching for at least 3,000 years, and so contain very old ideas, perhaps too old. However, the philosophical logic of The I-Ching, means that it is always new. Yesterday is new, today is new, and tomorrow is new. If you think about The I-Ching, it will renew in your thoughts. The basic concept behind the text is that it continually renews your thinking.
For 3,000 years, many smart people have written scholarly works about The I-Ching, providing millions of explanations and interpretations, but The I-Ching described with words is simply fortune-telling, primitive divination, or the revival of dead stories. Here, speaking is better than reading, seeing is better than speaking, and doing is better than speaking; this is the essence of The I-Ching.
I want to engage with the basic logic behind Language-Form through The I-Ching, using the following methods:
1. The top of the form stretches towards the floor, returning to the earth. The bottom of the form extends towards the sky, opening to the outside. Simply put, I’ve turned it upside down.
2. By diminishing the meaning of the words, I create space for visual imagination. Simply put, I daydream.
3. I comingle gravity and movement. Simply put, I confuse right and wrong.
The eight trigrams of The I-Ching each contain three horizontal lines. Yin is two short lines, and yang is one long line. In each trigram, one line is for heaven, one is for earth, and one is for man, representing the unity of heaven, earth, and man. This is a natural relationship within the universe. These are the basic elements that humans first used to create things.
These three lines link the realm of the eye and vision to the realm of the mind and thought to the realm of the earth and civilization.
Yours and mine, male and female, earth and universe all have these three lines.
Woman and Woman
Woman, womanly, women, and Woman.
For me, woman is a sex, but also a material, a model, a space, and a creation.
In The I-Ching, women existed before God did.
Because woman is a material, the hands can touch it. Because woman is a model, the eyes can see it. Because woman is space, movements can expand and contract.
The continuous seduction of women comes from the above three states. The temptations of the heart, hands, and eyes are the cause and effect of movement. I happily welcome the temptations of women, and I answer them in a state of movement that conveys temptation. After working for a long time, I have obtained rather a lot of space, a space that belongs to women and to art.
If not for women, would art still be a temptation and a motivation? Would two-dimensional and three-dimensional art still exist? There is not simply one answer.
As I have said, we exist simply as half a body, which slants toward the other half. The movement of this hemisphere is synchronized with the earth. Everyone is like this, but it is especially true of artists and other creators. Sex, sexiness, and sexual desire are essentially movements away from the self. Speaking more absolutely, artistic creation is an imitative activity, a game with women. But this is only half of it; the other half is the eternal space of the woman.
In 2006, I created my first clear Language-Formwork, which I called Woman. As I was making the piece, I jotted down a few thoughts:
Woman is a structural work that obeys new rules.
Woman comes directly from words, just as Chinese characters come from pictograms. This is a form of visual memory.
Woman is the synthesis of a deconstructed Chinese character and physical form.
Woman is a unique artwork constructed of welded steel plate that is simultaneously two-dimensional, sculptural, and installation.
Woman is just like a real woman. She can move, spin, make sounds, stand still, and listen to replies. She begins and end without revealing her feelings.
Woman develops in various ways, just like women inspire desire in various places. In words, women are very individual and unique subjects. By chance, this piece stems from a word, and directly expresses changes in space within the course of time.
Womanc an meet an audience any time using her body. Paired with music at a specific time, Woman performs with professional dancers, playing out another possibility for performance art. This is an experiment with the intersections of three-dimensional works and time.
Woman s a beginning, and she waits for art to take place within the artwork.
The Gate to All Mystery
One day in the winter of 1982-1983, Ah Cheng told me about this quote by Lao Zi:
“The Dao that can be told is not the eternal Dao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name.”
Two simple words move toward opposite extremes, like two straight lines rising from the horizon. I was stunned. The Dao as a name is an affirmation, but “not the eternal Dao” is a negation. The name as Dao is an affirmation, but “not the eternal name” is a negation. There is no boundary between affirmation and negation. There is a link between abstraction and figuration, so nothingness can be present. If it was you, what would you think?
The passage continues with:
“The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth. The named is the mother of ten thousand things. Ever desire-less, one can see the mystery. Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations. These two spring from the same source but differ in name; this appears as darkness. Darkness within darkness. The gate to all mystery.”
More than 30 years later, I am writing this passage for Language-Form. When I reconstructed the meaning of these words, I attempted to keep close to Lao Zi’s era. Even if I can’t approach Lao Zi’s grand ideas, I can approach his limited vision. Therefore, I take apart single words, and the meanings of these components can become like slides placed in a slide projector, reflecting an ancient civilization.
The nameless have a “beginning,” and the named have a “mother.” The character for “beginning” can be divided into the words for “woman” and “platform,” and the original pictogram was a cross between a fetus and pregnancy. Everything begins with pregnancy, and mothers are simply women who have already grown. This passage reflects the process from pregnancy to growth.
The Chinese character for “mystery” in “the gate to all mystery” can be broken into two characters, which produce the word for “young woman” when recombined. The gate to a young woman is her vagina.
Therefore, there is darkness within darkness, and mystery becomes even more mysterious. This is a profound realm that is not easy to enter.
By saying this, I may have become an “instigator of indecency.” (I can say this boldly, but I can only say it now, because a fairly evolved society does not punish indecency of thought. In the Maoist era, I could have received a bullet for this crime.)
However, the mystery and the gate only provide inspiration. Like me, many men fantasize before they go to bed or just after waking up, and these fantasies have a clear distance from reality, but these thoughts are also a consideration of beauty. Although beauty appears before your eyes, it often manifests as an uncertain longing. Beauty does not belong to one person, and beauty and your body move along invisible parallel lines. Beauty and mystery are often linked, and the most wonderful word is actually a combination of the two. Beauty is a profound yet absent object of our respect.
I want to return to that state of “ever desire-less,” so that I “can see the mystery.” When we break the character for “see” apart, we get the words for “heron” and “see.” The heron is a beautiful migratory bird that does not like people. Now, in this character, is the person seeing the heron, or is the heron seeing the person? Salvador Dalí said, “Seeing is invention.” Though this statement might be something of a leap, it does tie into these discussions.
When we break apart “mystery,” we obtain woman and young, and we envision a young woman who has become dizzy while dancing. To be desire-less is to see, and with a clear mind, we can see the dancing young woman. The impression of seeing the mystery is profound; it is a memory that lingers in the mind.
“Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.” Here, the ancients interpreted the word “manifestations” as a locked heart. What is good and visible about a locked heart? I also broke apart this character into the words meaning two people, white, square, and word. You know the words written by the masses when you see them; they reflect knowledge, traditions, or rules. When you add desire, it is a sustained effort.
If we combine the two sentences, they imply clear open perception and incontrovertible theoretical logic. When they come together, they are “darkness,” mysterious and profound.
Since there is this clear creative methodology, why would you want darkness? The character for “darkness” looks like a small snake that has been trapped, alone, under a lid. It represents the double danger of antagonism and resistance. The depth of the darkness implies stepping into no-man’s land. This is a spiritual rule for maintaining independent creativity in a secular environment, finding the light with a pair of black eyes.
This is an arrow that has been shot, motivated by spirit and will. In ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’, Jia Baoyu is tied to this kind of arrow, propelled by evil and ignorance. Who can reach the gate to all mystery? Just take a look at the fates of generation after generation of Chinese masters!
For Lao Zi, darkness had a correct and necessary place. “Know its lightness, but maintain its darkness.” Darkness, negative elements, and reversals are suited for movement. This is all consistent with The I-Ching.
Creativity begins with reverse action, and this is an irrefutable truth of the course of civilization.
I do not intend to propagate Lao Zi’s aesthetics, but I do want to return to a primal truth. Even today, Lao Zi’s aesthetics have been imprisoned by the Chinese tradition. Regardless, Lao Zi is delighted by this imprisonment, and he feels wonderful about anti-imprisonment. What else can we learn from Lao Zi? Isn’t this the embodiment of the darkness within darkness and the gate to all mystery?
(The gate to all mystery is often locked. In order to imprison the source of anti-imprisonment, a paternalistic society first imprisons women. With this imprisonment, men are half people with anti-imprisonment tendencies. They have a holy book or true knowledge: “the gate to the only mystery.”)
In the winter of 1984, I rented a rice storehouse on the outskirts of Nara and used it as a studio. The door was made of wood, and then encased in a layer of steel. Like the traditional doors of many Japanese households, this door opens from the side and has a built-in lock. Japanese people call this type of door “genkan,” or “dark closure.”
At the time, I was busy creating my Space and Space-Structure series, and Lao Zi’s aesthetics supported me, motivating me to work even as I often went hungry. I nicknamed my studio the Dark Cottage.
February 26, 2015