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Animalworks in China

Author: Meiling Cheng 2007-08-18

Liang Shaoji had been quietly toiling away since 1989 on his Ziran Xilie (Nature Series).

Liang has developed a philosophical outlook through his immersion in silkworm ecology.

Liang creates an artistic language as his foundation for a new "Silk Road". His specific choice of animal expressed his filial piety for his fatherland, reflecting as attitude consonant with China's post-Cultural Revolution nationalism and the more traditional Confucian morality.

Liang's take on the Lin Jie Dian of silkworm art, however, is more evyentric, and to me, more illuminating than his Sino-centric sentiments. As his text implies, the constitutive subject behind what Liang calls the "the limit point between biology and sociobiology, weaving and sculpting, installation and performance" is not the human artist, but the silkworms. To Liang, the silkworms are the weavers, sculptors, and performers making their own garments, dwellings, and communities. Thus, Liang's limit point may well be the angle where his vision and thought-his art and philosophy-converge, focusing on the entomological, bicultural power of silkworms. Liang locates his art within the microcosm of silkworms and willingly positions himself as the insects' disciple, a guest ear seeing.

In a set of notes retracing his silkworm discovery, Liang meditates that the egg-shaped cocoon is itself a fabric filed with vitality and meaning. The understanding inspired him to start breeding silkworms and studying their life cycles - from growing, spitting silk, forming cocoons, sprouting wings, laying eggs to hatching, and on again-as the basis of his art. So engrossed was he in the biology of silkworms that he moved the breeding farm into his bedroom and fell asleep contemplating the insects, only to find that upon waking, his head, neck, and shoulders had been bound by silky secretions. He had become a silkworm plowing through life with nothing but indomitable tenacity. From his silkworm gazing and cocoon philosophy, Liang derives his faith in the capacity. From his silkworm gazing and cocoon philosophy, Liang derives his faith in the capacity of silk to overpower steel. Such insights spur him on to "document the fourth dimension". That of the "weaving sculpture, time sculpture, life sculpture, nature sculpture".

Aligning his Nature Series with the contemporary inquiry into bioengineering, Liang seeks to elide the supposed barriers between "experiment, adventure, reverie fairy tale, and creativity". His poetic reflections, nevertheless, evoke a more ancient source. They hark back to the Daoist philosopher Zhuang Zho's butterfly dream, a Daoist koan often passed on orally by Chinese parents as folk wisdom: "Has Zhuang Zhou dreamed of the butterfly, or has the butterfly dreamed of Zhuang Zhou?" We may wonder: Has Liang Shaoji dreamed silkworms into his art, or have the silkworms dreamed into flesh and bone Liang Shaoji, a human artist, to do their bidding?

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