More than Nothing
Arts, especially contemporary arts, are always attached with interpretative meanings, educational enlightenment, inspiration of life, critic towards the society, political propaganda, and even the release of emotions. In a commercial society, arts are regarded as a guaranteed cure, applicable to any part of the body and to any disease, from product promotion to marketing. It sounds as if the association with arts can definitely add to its importance and push its price to a record high, no matter what substance it has to offer.
Nothing, indeed there is nothing. In the new media works by the two women artists, Wang Xin and Liang Yue, there is a poignant nothingness in terms of either visual effects or contents. In her Undefined Landscape #1, new media poetry work, Wang Xin recalls her experience of looking up a dictionary while studying in the US. She transforms her understanding of a language totally different from Chinese into a visual experience, and makes it an interactive, three-dimensional “landscape”. For Wang Xin, she does not care whether her work can have any impact on the audience, as “these English words are significant only to me.” Through interactive media, she hopes that all the meaning of the work can be created in the process of viewing by different individuals.
In her DV work Untitled, Liang Yue taps into the episodes she has randomly captured on her strolls and pieces them together. These sundry daily occurrences of our life, coupled with the impromptu—though meaningless to the audience—dialogues between the subjects, make for a work that lasts 34 minutes. The wobbling of the hand-held video-camera, the ambiguity of the dialogues due to its sub-professional audio standard, and the difference in shades due to the inconsistency of lighting all impress the audience as an amateur and unsorted record. Just like other Liang’s works, she once again exposes the insignificance of life and translates it into the insignificance of artistic expression. In the face of such insignificance, she creates an image subject to the understanding of the audience.
Wang’s another work, We sit and We talk, may be visually more interesting. With a dose of amazement, viewers approach an otherwise empty space except a wall whitewashed by a projector and two white stools. Only when a viewer or two sit on the stool that his/her own shade is cast on the wall and a canned dialogue begins. Like the dialogues in Liang Yue’s work, it is nothing but hollow talks, such as the illogic talks on dreams, meaningless topics that flash into one’s mind, and illusions coming from nowhere, leaving a sense of emptiness to the audience. The words of the talks are projected above the shade of the viewer and become an integral part of the image. When the viewer leaves, everything disappears and the blankness restores. In this silent work, Wang Xin presents to us silent wordings and monochromic shades. She expresses herself with the simplest visual idioms, echoing the nothingness in the Oriental philosophy. After experiencing silent words and meaningless images, everything ends in nothing.
Legend has it that Hui Neng, a disciple of the fifth patriarch who later became his successor, composed a famous verse: Neither is there a bodhi tree that is wise / Nor is there a mirror bright / Since nothing is out there / Whereon can dust alight? Over-interpretation of arts and over-attachment of meanings are comparable to dust that blocks our view and undermines the significance of art. The bodhi tree and the mirror can be referred to as the art works, while “nothing is out there” is the way artists treat themselves and the world. In these three works, both artists tap into daily subjects, sensitively make a record of these things, and explore their significance and value behind the seeming nothingness with state of the art media. Maybe the foregoing rhetoric elaboration also means nothing to these two artists.