The distance between an individual and the Truth is traversed by cultural codes. The cultural codes may influence an individual’s perception and behavior onward pursuing the Truth. When an individual has learned the methodology of categorization based on one’s own cultural experiences or very often cherished prejudices, the gap between one and the Truth deepens.
The undifferentiated continuum, hence, has been marred, divided and remodeled by one’s single-pointed cultural perceptions. Ironically, we, human beings, as a cultural animal with incredible malleability, our competence and readiness for culture’s remolding have created the crisis of deformation. We know something is wrong, but still keep on developing various systems to sever ourselves from the Wholeness. During the process, no matter how malleable we are, pathos emerges. I have been attempting to reexamine the culture’s constitution by retouching natural wood and stone, with simple hand tools and a “sophisticated” mind to try to make tangible the spiritual sensations of our time.
What will be the spiritual sensations of our epoch? What will be the differences between my carving and the work of our ancestors at the time when cultures were just being formed? I started carving with these naïve ideas and hoped that during the process of contacting with natural materials, something beyond my mundane experiences might be revealed. I am not interested in imitating our Neolithic ancestors’ art forms or creating more mysterious symbols in my work, but instead, trying to retrieve a poetic touch, to put in psychological language, represents the unconscious factors that determine our humanness . In today’s cyberworld this poetic touch has been disappearing, and the poetic sensation in us has been demolishing by the optimism of the achievements of science and technology, more specifically, by human patriarchal domination on both Nature and his own feminine nature.
When our ancestors were surrounded by the unseen, when they encountered the unexplainable phenomena, the feeling of “ shock and awe” is imaginable. Like them, we, people of the modern times still harbor the same desires to locate our position, to relieve the fear of being surrounded by the unknown, to assuage the anxiety of facing death—the supreme unknown, and to express the unspeakable joys of life. And the most expedient way to substantiate these abstract emotions is through a medium--- religion. The emergence of various religions then meets the practical needs of different people; hence, under the roof of security promised by the supreme deities, devotees no longer need to quest the unquestionable, all they have to do is to follow the doctrines of the religion set by prophets –the mediator between human and gods, and believe in them wholeheartedly. Except scriptures and hymns, one of the most efficient ways to invoke and summon the followers is using the methodology of art. Any form of art, to some level, carries the power of hypnotization and can conjure up the viewers’ imaginations. The interplay of religion and art has been active since the very moment our ancestors picked up tools to express their emotions toward the unknown power in Nature; and the substantial existence of Nature ---stone and wood , had a highly symbolic meaning for our forbears. These materials were thought to be sacred and believed to be the dwelling places of spirits. Objects made from these materials often served as objects of religious homage. By carving natural materials, which was once a sacred ritual, the spirit of a rock or a tree then was transformed into a recognizable form through the artists ---very often, the form of human figure.
The reflection of our own image on sacred objects might indicate human’s consciousness of self, which is an inborn characteristic of egoistic orientation; but it also demonstrates another important point, that is, we could share the divine nature. The only difference is that the supreme deities are more powerful than we are. Human’s pursuit of divinity and yearning for immortality anticipate the evolution of cultures and civilization. The diversity of cultures enriches the mortal life of human species. Each culture has its own incomparable unique ways to approach the Truth in its own perception through constrained angle and carries flaws. If we could achieve a hybridization of all cultures, a less-flawed Wholeness might be perceived. Since human’s innate egoistic orientation, to put it more explicitly in Social Darwinism, “ the fittest survives,” the human nature has to be dominated by patriarchal paradigms so that someone can overpower the others and play the role of an awesome supreme deity. The feminine quality in us has been regarded as less powerful and should be oppressed or even eliminated. Thus, the fittest and the strongest actually are the ones with the least balanced selves, which often present the most distorted perception toward the Truth.
Scientific achievement helps us to see the unseen, to uncover the mysterious, and to lift taboos created by superstition and ignorance. Unfortunately it is when the strongest tooled with more scientific achievement, the crisis of human’s self-destruction magnified. We have been trained to accept the views projected from the distorted minds of those pseudo- prophets. “ For the other people’s own good” has been used to justify the essence of masculine aggressiveness of the strong, the self-righteous vision that blinds the Truth. The worst thought of our times has been in the political systems that still indulge in the fantasy that a select people would keep a reliable watch over the needs of all of us. The biggest irony is that the vested interests accuse the suppressed of being indifferent to the environmental deterioration. The saddest fact is that the cultures used to be congenial with nature, have become short-sighted exploiters. The irredeemable harm caused by human greed and insatiable desire seems yet to be fully comprehended.
People today prone to the belief that science and technology will improve our lives and solve all the existent troubles. The strongest are creating another new religion in the era of iconoclasm. The superstitions of this cult is that the new wings attached to humankind will never be melted down by the heat of the sun. We have to fly higher and higher, to excel boundlessly to get the goal. What goal? The goal to fathom the limit of humankind or to break the bondages of being mortal so that divinity could be reached? All of us are forced to drift in the vast emptiness conforming to the canons set by the pseudo-prophets who assume the image of gods. When we look around from the emptiness, we are disoriented again, the feeling of being lost relapses, anxiety exasperates. Once again we are surrounded by the unknown, the advanced science fails to answer the doubt of the meaning of life, the eternal request of humankind is still there. No wonder the appeal of old religions now is in vogue. The concept of the Absolute God really makes life easier, the heretics and atheists must be converted or eradicated, for the benefit of all mankind. The homogeneous paradise on the earth—the Eden, is for the fittest. To be the fittest, one doesn’t have to compete with the strongest, you only distort yourself to fit into the cultural frame ready for you, then you will be protected or even promised with a future haven. Is there any possible way that an individual, a people, or even a religion can free from the danger of being bent ( distorted ?) by any form of canons set by the “non-human” prophets—the real trouble makers? Is a balanced state of mind so hard to be achieved? As long as the human cultures haven’t been homogenized by a certain dominant culture, we still have the chance to behold the Truth.
For reasons that we still do not entirely understand, all the chief religions developed along parallel lines. Generally speaking, eastern cultures are prone to be introversive and inclusive. Their philosophies and religions were designed to control the unbridled desires of human; very often they did not attempt to explain or give answers to philosophical questions. Instead, they tried to help people to agree upon the wonders and pathos of being. For instance, to original Indian Buddhists, life comprised only suffering--- pessimism which was possibly derived from the closed atmosphere of the Caste system. There was a hope to get released from the painful cycles of life---that is through attaining the Nirvana which means “ extinction” or “going out”- the end of pain. This form of religion creates a culture which has been indifferent to life’s sensual pleasures, but stresses on the pessimistic aspects of existence and comes to terms with the predestined fate one gets. When Buddhism was introduced to China, it was accepted by Chinese intellectuals, and became widespread in very short time, since part of its philosophical argument or metaphysics was similar to that of the Taoism. Taoism was advanced by Lao Tze around 6th century B.C.E., about the time when Siddhartha, the revolutionist of Brahmanism, became Buddha. Taoists were romantic spiritual loafers, who extolled the life of simplicity and sincerity, how to live a life conforming to nature was the most important thing to them. They abhorred any artificial rules against nature. Human cultures and civilization, according to Lao Tze, are the initiation of a regressive humanness. To a certain extent, Taoists were anti-government, anti-intellectual, and anti-religion. At the same time, from the golden age of Chinese philosophy, another semi-atheist with great mundane wisdom, Confucius, gave us an alternate thinking and suggested a life of moderation. Confucius never wasted time on discussing the unexplainable. His doctrines seemed to prepare an accurate, pragmatic while simultaneously flexible path for every one to follow. We don’t need a supreme deity to show us the way, since the true Way is in Nature naturally. Any linguistic interpretations will only distort the Truth; therefore, there shouldn’t be any “ prophecy” misrepresenting the Truth. There is neither hell nor heaven can punish or compensate one’s behavior, for both Confucianism and Taoism stress on the innate power of sincerity in human nature . Sincerity likened to mercy and compassion which is also suggested by Buddhism, is a feminine power, an inborn divinity, which poetic sensation distinguishes us from the other animals, and that is humanness.
Is it possible for us to live a simple and sincere life under such a complicated
societal system? Can we exempt ourselves from the deceiving view of the strong and the awry obedience of being the fittest? Can we retrieve the poetic sensation in this mechanical world? Can’t we just slow down and ruminate on what is really good for our soul and body without being interfered by the higher end and the supreme order? Being an artist, the mediator between Nature and culture, I have no intention to incorporate the postmodern strategies of hybridizing the morbid chaos represented by the masculine cultures, nor am I enchanted by the purity of esthetics declared by some high-browed, for example, the Japanese Zen etiquette inspired by Chinese Taoism and Chan Buddhism. Japanese Zen has developed itself as an extremely exclusive culture dedicating to the appreciation of the seemly untarnished man-made “pure-chance”, no matter how subtle, actually this form of esthetics reveals a dominant human will on nature.
My sculptures seem to be antagonistic to Taoism’s assertion, since the time and energy consuming carving demonstrates the complex activity of mind and body, I twisted nature’s will. While during the process of carving, my will is gradually taken over by the will of the living materials little by little. I encountered many unexpected difficulties created by them, gave up my original design, and followed the dictates of the materials from Nature. The interplay of my will and the will of the natural substances has indicated that I could never be able to manipulate nature totally. I have to conform to its grain. At this point, my work does present part of Taoist’s beliefs.
The human body in Taoism is the microcosm of Nature. Unlike monotheism’s body/soul dualism and the promise of eternal life, Taoism suggests that we should take care of our own bodies by avoiding the harm caused by going against the grain of Nature so that we can enjoy the life of this world. To Lao Tze the most harmful thing is human desire, for he said “ from cradle to tomb, men live by ‘the three and ten’ (four limbs and nine openings) and die of them. A person since his birth has had ‘the thirteen’ in operation and will do so until his death. How does his death come? Because he is for a luxurious life at the sacrifice of his constitution” and “ Avoid temptation and prevent temptation from invading your senses, and you won’t be sick while living. Otherwise you will be miserable.” The original Taoism never promised a life after death, or focus on the negative aspects of life, or the senses of human body are for the enjoyment. Unlike Cartesian dualism and Epicurean sensual hedonism, Taoist’s sensationalism is the suggestion of living a simple and sincere life to keep one’s mind clear, and the natural pleasure sets in naturally all the time.
One might question Taoism’s anti-intellectualism, one needs wisdom to distinguish the true intelligence from the false one.“ It is appreciated that one knows looks ignorant, while it is sickening that one who is ignorant pretends to know. One will not get sick if he sickens about sickness. Sages do not fall sick. This is because they are sick of sickness” said Lao Tze. Fake intelligence exasperates the distortion of mind and the deformation of body, which is against the grain of nature and will cause premature death.
Most of us were born beautifully with supple skin and clear eyes, but very often, we grow and age into murderous bigots with crumpled skin and vicious eyes. Though no one can be exempt from perishing just like the other species coexisting on the earth; however, we are able to choose a more elegant and peaceful way of decaying, since we are intellectual beings. Unfortunately, our intelligence embraces complexity, we are predestined to undergo a more complicated and sinuous way to pursue the true wisdom that can be easily discovered in a drop of dew shimmering on a single blade of grass.
It would be futile to attempt to differentiate human from nature or to execute an out-of-body journey by pursuing the purity of spirit only; an astral body needs to reside in Nature’s womb, so its being can be recognized. How to transcend the false dichotomies (e.g. body/soul, masculine/feminine, human/body….etc.) which have been established according to the patriarchal paradigms? I am not capable of providing the answer. Nevertheless there is a message that I have been trying to convey in my art works--- to retrieve a sincere poetic sensation which is associated with the aspects of the cycle of life, death, and regeneration. This sincere model asserted by Lao Tze’s Taoism is so different from the masculine cultures which have been dominating almost all societies. Compassion, tenderness, sincerity, and honesty… these feminine natures in us have been suppressing and jettisoning so that we can survive “well” as the strongest and the fittest in the artificial societies. Life becomes a water torture, we are losing the precious water of trust and love drop by drop, we are muffling ourselves with liquid of hatred until we fall on a bleak desert. Most of us die spiritually young, we have to become lifeless and tractable enough so as to fit into the frame.
When the danger of premature death is being conceived, we then can start searching for a safer space that allows us to grow and stretch happily and healthily without worrying about to be harmed or to hurt others. Once again I agree with Lao Tze’s observation of nature and his suggestion of using feminine power. He said “ Man, while alive, are soft and tender, and, if dead, wither up. The hard and strong are those that are destined to die, while the soft and tender are those that are living.” I try to use art not only to remind myself but, hopefully, also those who care how to live the life well in this transient world. We own the ability inside us to transform the inborn feminine power to outgrow the harmful frames enforced on us. By displaying my works on this web gallery, though the physical journey is absent, I attempt to invite the spectators to look upon my works as spiritual nourishment and to imagine that you are walking among the sculptures and paintings. Perhaps someone will get my message and begin the process of self-reexamination by looking into the mirror in our hearts to see what have we done to ourselves.
Chang, Francis F. Y. Lao-Tze. Taipei: Francis F.Y.Chang, 1984.
 1 Francis F.Y. Chang, Lao-Tze in English Version From The Chinese ( Taipei: Francis F.Y. Chang, 1984), p.50.