A perspective on multidimensional sequences——Recent work by Huang Zhiyang
Battle Drills and Strategizing
The arrangement of the numerous terra cotta figures of warriors and horses buried with the Emperor Qin Shihuang were set out according to actual plans for the battle array of his times. Credit for the Qin dynasty's ability to unite the country (or, as they saw it, the tianxia, the world) lie with its outstanding deployment of its military forces. Huang Zhiyang's recent works seem to have originated in these ancient battle formations; (his) armies loom from the paper in as they engage each other in dazzling tactical transformations.
Change arises from and through opposition. Huang Zhiyang arranges his elements [to this principle]: horizontal to vertical, face to face, back to back. A slight variation in the sequence produces a blurring, just as on the field of battle: attack, retreat, outflank. In this disposition of forces, the outcome is already before us: a city attacked, land seized.
Dugu Ji of the Tang recorded the Yellow Emperor's Eight Array Schema. His record gives a very vivid picture of the power of the ancient battle array. These arrays are as nimble and flexible as a war chariot in the hands of a skilled driver: [Railings to the outside; axle through the center; as the chariot moves wind and dust rise around it.] Here the war chariot is a symbol of the array of troops: Like the railings on the outside of a war chariot, some troops are arrayed along the peripherals of a formation to fend off enemy charges, while others are kept like an axle through the center. As the army advances, it kicks up wind and dust around it.
In the Yellow Emperor's Eight Array Schema, columns of chariots are further divided into four types of combat array, termed Tiger, Snake, Dragon and Bird [Such formation also resembles a fleet of beasts: The vanguards leap forward like winged tigers; the snake encroaches on the enemy; and the bird and dragon alternate along the sides/flanks.]
These four are separated into ranks, with the tiger at the head, then the snake, with the dragon and bird assisting from the sides; one main force, but with three allies.
The tiger, snake, dragon and bird images concretize very precisely the state of kinesis or the capability for kinesis. The vanguard has a tiger's redoubled power, rendering it invincible; the rear guard is entrenched, like the snake, ready to slither forward at a moment's notice. The left and right flanks, dragon and bird, protect the main force, redoubling its power. In actual fact, it is just one soldier after another; yet within the maneuvers of the tactical deployment, these soldier-elements shape a trend or situation; they form energy. Huang Zhiyang's work is like troops in their rank and file, it has the postures of irresistibility, entrenchment, cheering, pillaging, and in its forward march there is a marvelous balance. A blow to the head elicits a response in the tail, a blow to the left flank brings a response from the right flank; upper, lower, left, right, the grey snake in the grass stratagem, a long line of soldiers in ambush.
Tiger, snake, dragon, bird are actually different combat functions produced by the battle array. The placement of each soldier depends on the role he is to play, tiger or snake, all decided according to the battle plan. Japan's art of war/ military strategies and tactics also includes the fenglin huoshan (Fūrinkazan; Wind, Forest, Fire, Mountain), meaning fast as the wind, silent as a forest, ferocious as fire and immovable as a mountain. This Japanese approach is more oriented toward the spiritual level, but in fact also emerges from the differing battle functions of the battle order. From this perspective, we can see in the imagery in Huang Zhiyang's work-the blowing wind, the ordered forest, the bonfires, the solidity but we also see the sense, within this relaxed picture, of a scene taught with inner tension.
The Eight Gates (of Divination)
shang [injury], du [stop], jing [prospect], si [death], jing [surprise], kai [relax], xiu [rest], sheng [birth]
His works also are like real world mazes, where we pick up a broken thread to tidy the path [we are following] and consequently discover the entrance to another real space. This is making use of the disorder or divergences within the orderly, creating a rapid turning point, taking us out of our "normal" orbit and into the whirlpool. The Yijing (Book of Changes) has eight kinds of "stalled states": injury, stop, prospect, death, surprise, relax, rest and birth. These are eight gates. Simply put, disorderly conduct that is confrontational or extrusive sets off waves. The curveball this forms heads straight for a black hole and into another space. One of Huang Zhiyang's works is the land art piece Nest, clusters of oyster shells that resemble wind chimes and vibrate when disturbed with the frequency of the ocean. On the real earth this opens the way to an extra dimensional space. It may be coincidental but this land art piece displays an extra moon that continually sheds torrents of rain.
The eight anomalous frequencies of the Eight Gates can only be discovered by those skilled in careful comparison. Huang Zhiyang makes use of an elusive disorder to create a new order.
In the kunqu opera "The Peony Pavilion," the beautiful maiden Du has spring fever, living a stagnant life amid beautiful scenery. The author Tang Xianzu uses this frequency anomaly of a maiden pining for love to weave an exceedingly sentimental romance. The use of the eight "peculiar" velocities summed up by the Book of Changes emerge throughout literature. Perhaps these are similar to what chaos theory terms "strange attractors." An element in motion will always be attracted to two central points, and its orbit [between the two] will form the numeral 8. If a wave has a crest, there is a trough; if there is a male, there is a female. The Eight Gates are actually organized in twos: birth and death, rest and prospect, relax and stop, surprise and injury. As for how the orbits between the points of each pair take shape, to use the simplest metaphor, the twenty-four hours of our days, move between two hubs, one is our place of work, the other our home, or to put it vulgarly, "A lion at home, a mouse [doufu] abroad," a facetious yet serious description of human life.
The aborigines of the South Pacific can trace the crests and troughs of waves thrown up by these two foci, and perhaps when they reach a strange island in the boundless ocean, their fantastic exploit has found success through the use the two foci "open" and "stop."
Explicit and Implicit Opposition Daily Repetition
Sequences give people a sense of continuity. The calligraphic lines of Chinese in themselves offer an impression of continuity. Huang Zhiyang habitually creates with brush on xuan paper, saying he resembles an ancient general, always using his accustomed weapons. Being versed in all forms results in being master of none; he would rather be proficient in one form, but constantly producing new moves (martial or operatic) out of that familiarity.
He also feels that [Chinese] tradition feeds him much more than [the latest] Western trends. He is especially fond of two great "systems"-Chinese celadon ware and white porcelain (blanc de chine). He gains a great deal of insight from the glazes with their crackles and veins. He also shifts the component parts of the character yin (hidden) left to right to create the new character xian (appear), meaning by this: all that is hidden will be revealed. An invisible, subtle magnetic field does indeed exist, if one is sensitive enough to grasp it.
The texture stroke (cunfa), a painting technique for representing irregular surfaces, is a traditional Chinese mark, but used as fine smooth lines to depict the spirit of mountains. In his early years Huang Zhiyang painted distorted figures, using a texture stroke of his own invention to show the madness of modern humans. The work leans toward sensual indulgence and this is an experiment in modern brush and ink, stemming from automatic writing. It looks like an EKG. It seems as if everything human can be indicated by the tick marks that measure vibration.
Perhaps [the work] expresses the Freudian theory of the release of repressed energy, the artist revealing the inner demons of the subconscious, which then [create] an underlying physical disturbance in the microcosmos, sending a phosphorescent current along the nerve endings, altering human behavior, cilia, fluctuations, feathers, petals … an offal mash that becomes slices of someone's memory, a black/white contrast effect, like photographic film or a CT scan.
This early indulgent, relaxed brushwork and the stringent constraints of the array-style strokes in his current work seem like two extremes. In terms of the Eight Gates, the first is xiu (song, relaxed) and the second jing (jin, tightened). As if after a night of confused dreams, things have returned to normal in the light of day; it looks like two worlds, yet there is interpenetration between them. But in fact, whatever stage he is in, Huang Zhiyang has mastered the dynamic interplay between the representational and the abstract, coherent movement, the yin and yang balance in art.
The mutual dependence and repulsion born of the yin-yang duality permeates Chinese literature and art. Obvious examples are pianwen (parallel prose), lüshi (eight-line regulated verse) and duilian (antithetical couplets). Actually it is just as true of Chinese characters themselves and of design. This duality echoes through before and after, left and right, above and below, etc. The marks in Huang Zhiyang's work are a lively exploration of the delights or transformations produced by this duality of yin and yang.
"Slanting bamboo shadows, drifting lotus fragrance." Snippets of natural phenomena, seen with this dual perspective, can become beautiful poetry. The viewer can hardly take in the multiple sequential layers such imagery gives rise to as they metamorphose from the ethereal to the real, from dynamic to static aesthetic perceptions. We try to immerse ourselves in the flowers and plants, conduct our scrutiny of the flowers and the space between them and in a flash we seem to find ourselves in a cosmic starscape. In the language of the Eight Gates, this is a situation of shang (hurt) and jing (surprise). When you change your point of view (when you stop and fall onto the flower-covered ground) you will be amazed to find beauty as you have never seen it unfold before you. Just like the man from Wuling who slipped through a narrow cavern and entered paradise (taohua yuan): suddenly a new world beckons. When Huang Zhiyang squats down to do his paintings on paper, they are like pictographic notes giving us the way out of the maze.
A Mold's Eye View: Busy Bacteria
Huang Zhiyang once spent a year making a dozen "video art" films, shooting the process of the bacterial decomposition of food. On microscopic slides magnified by a thousand times, multitudes of microbes bustle about, conscientiously performing the tasks of survival. A thin space contains two or three strata, and under a layer of small microbes, there is a layer of even smaller germs hard at work. It is all very similar to the earth's ecosystem (food chain).
From mutual interaction between opposites, to mutual contact between upper and lower layers, it is hard to imagine the immense complexity of the sequence variation. Why do we say a tree does not a forest make when, with an increase in the number of trees, biodiversity increases exponentially, and multiple points of interaction shape an extremely complex world.
The Book of Changes calls interaction of two central points "intercourse." Intercourse causes a plane to become three-dimensional, the sparse to become abundant. Human interaction is the same. When we cast off the sole center (point) of the self, and come to understand selflessness, "him/her before me", these two form an interaction around two foci and human life immediately becomes more three-dimensional and much richer.
In the Lovers' Library series, the artist "borrows the other's shape", painting his own mark on it in exchange. The piece, in sweet romantic style, is his initial step toward "intercourse." In the images of "Orderly Formations," "Luminous Waters," "Mystical Mountains," and "Divergence/Convergence" from his Three Marks series, Huang's thinking has matured to the point where he is considering multi-center exchanges.
In the natural world, when schools of fish and flocks of birds encounter an enemy they are able to rapidly change formation, diverting with ease. This is the standard mode of interaction, basically it means the way an adjacent two "come into contact," when it is expanded, the pressure of numbers increases, but there is no brushing against or colliding, making one exclaim in awe over the profound laws of the "living space" (Lebensraum).
Ranks and Stages Traverse the Eight Gates (Battle Formation/Array)
The multi-dimensional sequence is founded on interaction, what the Book of Changes calls yao(line), which is actually the state of two foci/central points generating interaction. At the character's inception it was clearly recorded as the sign of two centers.
The Book of Change used six yao to form one gua (trigram/hexagram). This structure can be understood as "three words and two beats." The six-line hexagram is composed of two three-line trigrams placed one above the other, representing two phases (two beats). Furthermore, the three-line trigram is the meaning of the "three words". The three words completed in the past become part of the later three words. Therefore, one hexagram (gua) contains both three-word sequences, the early and the later.
The Book of Changes terms [the components of] these two series chu (beginning), two, three; four, five, shang (upper/above/superior). The names chu and shang suggest that a gua contains the two qualities of time (chu) and space (shang), thus each gua is both a time sequence and a space sequence.
Huang Zhiyang Three Marks paintings invariably use three units to compose a group of marks, two layers are pasted together to form two stages: explicit and implicit. These can be said to be subtly coincidental with the Book of Changes. Nearly all life has two stages, childhood and adulthood. On this model, Freud posited that many behaviors of adulthood could be traced to childhood. Even for insects with entirely different larval and adult stages, for cicadas, for example, the larvae in the earth become the insects in trees. Huang Zhiyang's three units composing a group of marks are, at first sight, like those larval cicadas that struggle to break from the earth, and they are also like the cicadas that flap their wings and scold in the trees. The sound of them breaking through the dirt, the sound of their tree-borne disputes both are recorded as high frequency marks that stand out as showing endless oscillation.
If we are careful to understand this oscillation, we can experience the implied meaning of its message. In fact every life form, every event, even every substance contains a message. Even in the more fact-based textbooks, we cannot ignore feeling and meaning, or students will reject [what the text says]. Each unit is a structure of meaning; this turns dry marks into lively ones.
The Three Marks imply the atmosphere of "three words, two beats," that allow the marks to take on life. Huang Zhiyang's battle array marks, perhaps like the hexagram lines in the Book of Change, are densely packed "three word" units, oriented in or away from confrontation (two beats). Huang constantly changes their structure (whether of the part or the whole). He places every unit firmly in position, where it will not create disorder of its own volition, will not stumble or lose ground.
For this kind of heterogeneous cell interpenetration in a homogenous series, the Book of Changes uses the hexagram fu (complex, one yang encountering five yin) indicating its structure and connotations. Here it might be helpful to reference the following:
Fu, Return (The Turning Point)
Above, the trigram Kun, the Receptive, EarthBelow, the trigram Chen, the Arousing, Thunder.
Nine (a yang line) at the beginning (chu) means:
Slight digressions from the good cannot be avoided, but one must turn back in time before going to far.
Six (a yin line) in the second place means:
Return always calls for a decision and is an act of self-mastery. It is made easier if a man is in good company.
Six (a yin line) in the third place means:
There are people of a certain inner instability who feel a constant urge to reverse themselves.
Six (a yin line) in the in the fourth place means:
A man is in a society composed of inferior people, but is connected spiritually with a strong and good friend, and this makes him turn back alone.
Six (a yin line) in the fifth place means:
When time for return has come, a man should not take shelter in trivial excuses, but should look within and examine himself.
Six (a yin line) at the top (shang) means:
If a man misses the right time for return, he meets with misfortune. The misfortune has its inner cause in a wrong attitude towards the world.
All these signs, as they progress, continuously change composition, and range through all sorts of different corners, forming yuan fu (not going , far without returning), xiu fu (rest and return), pin fu (time and again repeated), du fu (following the center way, solitary repetition), dun fu (sincere, repeated exploration), mi fu (losing one's bearings, repeatedly exploring). They move through cycles and categories with characteristics of both time and spatial sequences. Engaging them is like traversing the Eight Gates, like fireworks exploding into eight patterns-instant, incredible changes.