中文English

No.8 – Freedom is the Liberation of One’s Meridians

Ruijun Shen (RJS)

in conversation with

Zheng Guogu (ZGG)

 

 

Recorded: 28 June, 2018

Location: Seven Condos

 

Ruijun Shen (abbreviated as RJS):

Why did you make My Teacher?

 

Zheng Guogu (abbreviated as ZGG):

I was simply attracted by his abnormal behaviour, which is very close to the image of teacher in my mind. I think if I was taught by a teacher like him when I was in art school, I would become a different person. That’s why I recorded it and titled it My Teacher.

 

 

Zheng Guogu

My Teacher

Photography, 1993

Courtesy of the artist

 

 

RJS:

What’s so different about him?

 

ZGG:

It’s a state of frenzy and rapture, something jumps out at me from the crowd. Even his eating behaviour is against human immune system. He would just rummage for a boxed lunch in the bin and started eating happily, disregarded the yellow and green mould. I thought I would not see him again, but he could still cheerfully do a somersault the next day. It made me wonder if their immune system is different from ours. We would definitely end up in hospital if we eat those food in bins, yet he was totally fine. I think art should also be like these kinds of abnormal behaviours. I think this is a manifesto – I found my teacher. He is the real guide on the road of art.

 

RJS:

Take a different path?

 

ZGG:

Should be like that, like free bodies independent of the society. Everything can be in his hand, isn’t this a free expression independent of the society?

 

RJS:

What’s your opinion of consciousness of independence? How to cultivate this sense? I think this is a thread connecting your works of different stages.

 

ZGG:

It’s to get away from inertia. It’s not loneliness. Independence is transnational. You can cooperate with many things, but also maintain a clear head; you are not supervised by anything, but take responsibility for yourself, and not inclined to change with the others. A very independent and clear-headed individual.

 

RJS:

How to obtain such clear head?

 

ZGG:

Take a look at art trends. A sense of alarm will automatically emerge at the right moment. For me, I will definitely jump out of it if the alarm rings. Jump out of the inertia, and return to be an independent individual, express freely. Most of the time, I jump automatically.

 

RJS:

What do you think is the biggest problem of inertia?

 

ZGG:

It’s the insensitivity. It cannot make people feel moved.

 

RJS:

You are expressing the same thing when creating the Yangjiang Youth. For example, when I see you guys holding guns and long knives, I can feel a spirit of lawless.

 

ZGG:

I think it’s full of vitality. But youth culture is still a kind of subculture, parents still play a leading role. In the days of my youth, my parents worried every day that I would do something wrong. But relationships with friends, and our experience in the society were full of surprises and accidents. Recording and enjoying ourselves to the utmost, being alternative, and the embarrassing state of being supervised by the last generation, these portray the art world of that time. Young people didn’t have opportunities to express, but they secretly kept away from parents, and performed acts like taking liberties with girls, fighting, and so on. These all seem so dangerous, yet I think these riotous behaviours characterize youth of that time.

 

 

Zheng Guogu

The Vagarious Life of Yangjiang Youth – Taking Liberties With Girls

Photography, 1996

Courtesy of the artist

 

 

 

RJS:

We just talked about the relationship between the youth and their parents. They did these partly out of rebellious character. ‘Rebellion’ actually means what one doesn’t want to follow in his parents, what one hopes to create by himself. Parents or authority are the objects of resistance. How can one leave the ‘others’, and reach an absolutely free state?

 

ZGG:

It doesn’t matter, since whatever you do all seems riotous in your parents’ eyes. You can only get rid of the supervision of ‘others’ by creating estrangement. Young people’s rebellion is for the sake of searching out for a state of rising, full of vitality, and become the one in their generation who can express freely.

 

RJS:

Then why did you make Age of Empires?

 

ZGG:

Just for fun. I think the most ideal architecture is the one without Party A. It happened in 2000, I found a piece of land only 10 minutes away from Yangjiang, and the game Age of Empires was also in fashion at that time. Why couldn’t I realize this virtual world in the real world? I could do very personal architecture, urban design, I could do it very freely. That’s the moment when I came up with the idea of real-life Age of Empires.

 

RJS:

What’s your opinion of ‘border’ and ‘control’? When you are making the Age of Empires, you mentioned you only obtained that land after many negotiations with the government. You just said that your initial idea was to build a free kingdom, but I believe the process was not that easy.

 

ZGG:

There exists various and infinite possibilities in the development of reality. According to which, law always revises its rigid borderline. So you should soften this rigidity in real life, which means, you pay fines to make the law tacitly approve you, and continue to allow you to walk on the legitimate road.

 

RJS:

You mean there are law and regulations, but you still have an approach to deal with them, and transform them into your own stuff.

 

ZGG:

I mean there’s space for negotiation in regards to law’s application in reality, as it takes a few years to revise a word in the law. But if something well exists, it cannot be illegitimate, so the law can only tacitly approve its existence until the revision happens. Law is not dead, it continuously changes over time. So there’s this buffering zone for negotiations, which is also the approach I found.

 

RJS:

Then, do you think that as this is the reality of a small city, of China, where the legal system is not perfect, so we can deal with it in this way? Or is it also possible to negotiate in different ways in other systems?

 

ZGG:

At that time, we all noticed that small-scale revolution is only possible in small places. It was around 2000, and the possibility is due to the rather loose policy in small cities. Actually, I prefer the informal settlements made by the last generation in the 1980s, those freely-constructed houses, which is called ‘village-in-the city’ now. But you can only find monotonous commercial districts nowadays.

 

RJS:

Isn’t this the outcome of modern large-scale production lines? That’s what most real estate companies do now.

 

ZGG:

But there are also people like us who hate that, and want to speak out. A lot of buildings seem really weird. We’ve never been colonized, yet there are so many western style buildings. They like those styles, hence decide to build everything in that way, which makes us appear to be colonized. They even pulled down traditional architecture for those new buildings.

 

RJS:

I think this is capitalism’s colonization.

 

ZGG:

Kind of. Although those buildings look pretty nice in most people’s eyes, marble inside and out.

 

RJS:

So this is quite interesting. It seems we have much freedom to buy this and that, capitalism offers us a lot of choice. In fact, it gives us no choice, we can only choose what it gives us.

 

ZGG:

This will never bring freedom, as freedom is the liberation of one’s meridians. For example, politics is a type of system, and systems are physical limitations. Our bodies are restricted at the moment, and we cannot even deal with this system. How can we ask for freedom if our own restrictions are not liberated yet? A free individual’s internal meridians are clear and smooth, without any knots. If one is really that free, then nothing can restrict him. Rather than blaming on the social system and how it makes one feel annoyed, freedom should be a liberation of the internal system. Moods emerge when one of the organs becomes dysfunctional. It’s possible to find the source. For example, when one feels bored and fed up, there must be something wrong with his body; if one gets angry quite easily, his liver is in heat. He may think it’s something external that irritates him, but actually it’s because something internal has changed.

 

RJS:

In Chinese tradition, to talk about ‘freedom’ is actually to refer to ‘carefree’, the two concepts are interrelated. I also wonder that, being a Chinese, is your thought influenced by this particular cultural context?

 

ZGG:

Probably. The carefree one in Chinese tradition is called zhenren (spiritual master, 真人), whose meridian system is completely clear. What I’m longing for is an unhindered internal system, so that it’s possible to improve the mind and discover the beauty that exists in itself.

     

RJS:

You often talk about using the body to measure, and you just mentioned the clear system inside the body. How do you understand body as measurement? Why do you emphasize this so much?

 

ZGG:

Using the body to test is to use the body to perceive. Perception is the most direct response of the body. To perceive is not to think with the brain. Thoughts are self-righteous judgments, not the truth of things. The first reaction of the body is a hint that comes from the general vibration of things. I emphasize this because all chance comes ahead of time.

 

RJS:

To digress for a moment, the works you did with Yangjiang Group, like drinking and gambling, are they also related to the body?

 

ZGG:

All artworks, including mine, are measured by the body. The same goes with written words, tea, I’ve measured all of them with my body. I only share what I think is good. For example, when I drink a tea that makes me really comfortable, I wonder if my experience only belongs to myself. I care about how other people feel when I share with them. Mostly, the feelings are very similar, they also find the tea very relaxed.

 

RJS:

What’s the difference between drinking tea and alcohol?

 

ZGG:

It’s surely different. Tea connects with ‘water meridian’, which is milder and locates on the right side of the body. Alcohol agitates the blood meridian, which is on the left. I think it’s best to keep a balance of the two, to merge them into an organic whole. In either art or politics, there are the radical and the conservative left and right wings. Actually these two sides are united in the body by the middle meridian, which transforms the water and the blood meridians into a kind of yuanqi (元气,the original state of Qi). I think this is interesting, this is the existential emptiness. Judgments are only accurate when they are made in this way.

 

RJS:

You mentioned before that you would enter into a different state after drinking, that you could write really good calligraphy. Do you think this post-drinking state, this system is valid?

 

ZGG:

I will enter into a state of blackout, and automatically get rid of many rules. For example, after you study art, a lot of masterpieces, or works you think are excellent will be a hindrance to you for the whole life. Things you believe are divine can never be surpassed, and will live in your heart forever. When you marvel at something, ‘wow, it’s so great’, then you are doomed. It’s so difficult to be better than what is already inscribed in your mind. But when you are drunk, you enter into a state of unconsciousness, so nothing is there any more, everything is emptied. What you express then is not interfered with any spatial hindrance. I think that’s a moment of freedom. On the next day, I cannot believe I did that calligraphy. I only got to know this state of unconsciousness when the whole process was recorded several times later. This state is the right one, sometimes if I drank too much, I just fell asleep on the floor, with brushes in my hand.

 
 


 

Yangjiang Group

Seven Greeces are Evaporated in China in One Day

Photography

150 x 300 cm, 2015

Courtesy of the artist

 

RJS:

How do you understand the ‘“controllable’ and the ‘uncontrollable’? A lot of things get uncontrollable when you are drunk.

 

ZGG:

When I drink just the right amount of alcohol, I’ll have a feeling of fulfillment. My unconscious expressions coincide with that point of reality. But when I drink too much, these two points will separate.

 

RJS:

Maybe you worry too much when you are sober, so it’s unreliable. But when you are drunk, it’s more direct, you can pass if you want.

 

ZGG:

Perhaps another more sensitive body is taking effect. Without any rules of the reality, everything passes swiftly, and directly hits the bull’s eye.

 
 


 

Zheng Guogu

Liao Garden

Architecture, 2001

Courtesy of the artist

 

 

RJS:

You just said that you wanted to build a free kingdom when making Age of Empires. Why it becomes Liao Garden later? I think the two are conceptually connected, yet there’s something distinct. I saw Liao Garden yesterday, the layout and structure are actually quite different. What’s the idea behind this transformation?

 

ZGG:

In around 2011, I noticed that nobody played Age of Empires any more. When a very popular game, played by millions of people before, suddenly went downhill, it’s because another new game has replaced it. So I thought this game’s life has declined, I needed to give the same thing a new name. Here came the change of Age of Empires to Liao Garden. There’s a transition period. Before, people need Age of Empires, so when I mentioned that I’m making this artwork called Age of Empires, they immediately understood, as so many are playing this game. There’s Doppler (advertising) effect. But it’s been a long while, and I think I should give it singularity by making it into a garden. I researched a lot on gardens, and found that their names are all very simple and straightforward. Then I searched ‘Liao Garden’, and no garden has ever been given this name, so I decided to call it Liao Garden.

 

RJS:

Then why do you think ‘garden’ is something very important to us at this moment?

 

ZGG:

Because our connection with gardens are disrupted due to the influence of the West, so I hope to reconnect this link.

 

RJS:

You made a Thang-ga museum at home. Does it have any relation with your practice?

 

ZGG:

I was researching on the relationship between Thang-ga and contemporary painting in 2011, when I was not drinking and had some free time. I found that there are many schools of Thang-ga, almost parallel to those of the secular painting, yet they do not meet. I use my new design to segregate this spiritual space in the Seven Condos. For example, there’s a space for female Buddhas, so I found some ‘Usnisavijaya’, ‘Guanyin with four arms’, ‘Sitatapatra’, etc. I put these women of wisdom into the same space.

 

RJS:

Why are you combining Thang-Ka and contemporary art?

 

ZGG:

I found a lot of valuable essentials in Thang-Ka that can be absorbed in the contemporary. Or it might be more interesting to combine the two.

 

RJS:

What are these?

 

ZGG:

It is the reversal combination of the mirror images of this world and the world beyond. Thang-Ka can provide a dimension that contemporary art cannot achieve. When you look at a contemporary work, or a work of a great artist, no image close to your heart will appear, yet when you look at a Thang-ga, which is like a mirror, your heart is activated and reflected. So only by combining the two can we obtain a whole.

 

RJS:

It is because a lot of paintings are expressions, so their function is to tell you a message, and not to let you return to your inner. In your opinion, how can Thang-Ka achieve this effect?

 

ZGG:

The patterns of Thang-Ka originate in the patterns of yoga from ancient India. It uses mineral pigments, which are highly energetic, and will thus activate energy centres inside your body. They correspond with each other. People of ancient times understood how to use raw materials to develop the body. The first Thang-Ka I saw is the  ‘Ajna’ of White Tara. Strangely, the spot between my eyebrows kept trembling after I saw it. It never happened before when I saw other paintings. So I started researching on that. This phenomenon was automatically activated. So I don’t need to explain anything for Thang-Ka, when you see it, your energy centres will definitely be activated, like entangled quantum. I saw someone whose ‘anahata’ was activated, when she smiled, any resentment, moods and animosity were put aside. Simply through a Thang-Ka, she reached the stage of happiness. So I think it’s a need to incorporate elements of Thang-Ka into contemporary paintings.

 

RJS:

Let’s go back to your observations of life. You’ve been living in Yangjiang all the time. Life here should be quite different from other places, like Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, or cities abroad. What you draw from life should be quite important to you. As your works have connected different places in the world, how are you able to start from this small place, and extend it to a bigger range?

 

ZGG:

I stayed simply because I found life here easier and more convenient. I just try to grasp the pulse of the era here.

 

RJS:

How can you do that?

 

ZGG:

Just keep an eye of my surrounding environment. When the world changes, my pulse rate will also follow.

 

RJS:

For example, the changes happening in Yangjiang now might already happened in Guangzhou a decade ago. It lags behind. How can you solve this problem?

 

ZGG:

It only lags behind technically. For example, I will find big cities more advantageous when making videos, as I can’t even find a computer for editing here in Yangjiang. But small cities also have something unique. For creators, inspirations are equally located, there won’t be more in the big cities, nor fewer in small cities.

 

RJS:

In your practice, both traditional or spiritual parts as well as consumerist and popular-culture-related parts exist. What’s the relationship between these two aspects?

 

ZGG:

A relationship of symbiosis.

 

RJS:

I remember that you’ve also made some wood bottles, and gardens. How come these things appear in your practice? And you’ve done a pretty impressive job.

 

ZGG:

Gardens are also consumerist…

 

RJS:

Exactly, it’s so strange that someone loves spending suddenly returns to the nature. It’s hard to imagine if I didn’t visit Liao Yuan

 

ZGG:

Liao Yuan is the place that integrates all my interests. Flowers, birds, fish, insects, trees, space, as well as an ideal kingdom. I believe my mind will reach a perfect state in a natural space, which then leads to eruption of ideas. Many people don’t believe in inspirations, but I still want to say, they only appear when mind reaches perfect balance. Those who don’t believe them should think if they have ever reached that state.

 

RJS:

They erupts when that state is reached, otherwise…

 

ZGG:

Right. How can one talk about inspirations when his/her mind is not even balanced? One doesn’t believe in inspirations because he/she has never reached that state, yet it’s undeniable that many people haven’t.

 

RJS:

But in artists’ practice, for example in painting, creativity takes off when a particular state is achieved. Different people have different approaches to do that. To summarise, in every time dimension, there are different ‘ideal republics’. In the time of no consumerism, consumption would bring diversity.

 

ZGG:

Yes, yet it’s just a change of lifestyle. There should still be inner impetus that slides along certain tracks, like a satellite that automatically orbits the Earth to scan and survey after it is launched into the space, and sends back observations to the headquarter…

 

 

Artist Zheng Guogu (left) and curator of ‘Making with Time’ Ruijun Shen (right) .

 

Zheng Guogu was born in 1970 in Yangjiang, Guangdong. In 1992, He graduated from the printmaking department of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. He lives and works in Yangjiang now. In recent years, his art practice has cut off from conventions of conceptual art, attempting to turn to Eastern philosophy. In this regard, binary speculations are transformed into response to and transmogrification of cosmic energetics. In his view, there exists various ways to explore aspects of life, which all link to local contexts. What humans can do is precisely to react and respond to the currents; therefore, art practice gradually becomes a procedure to investigate space, body and soul.