Color of Memory
Lin Jing jing interview with Mi zhuang (2)
Mizhuang: Your work Color of Memory invited different people to enter into the artwork. Did you have any special criteria for the people you chose?
Lin: The people came from different backgrounds, different professions, different genders and different ages. I asked them the same three questions, all about their most painful memory.
Mizhuang: This is very interesting. You asked them to use a special way of recognizing and transferring their private memories.
Lin: Right. First they transform an abstract memory into a concrete object, then transform it into an abstract color.
Mizhuang: Their answers came to directly form the content and methods of your artwork.
Lin: Right. The narrative and transfer of information was theirs, and then I, as an observer, used the colors they described to paint an “object” that they described as having a close connection to their memory. I rendered and transformed their information.
Mizhuang: I noticed that you intentionally separated the sound and visuals in the narration videos. All of the people recounting their stories alone, when they stare into the camera and slowly speak; it feels calm and real, with no glossing over. The sound of their narratives is stiff; you rendered it into a staccato style, with each word being hammered out one at a time. To be honest, it really hit me.
Lin: Each segment is very severe, sorrowful and hesitant. The pain seems to belong to the speaker, and has been compressed into an unknown corner, where hidden wounds cause constant disruption. But in the recounting of this pain, it gradually separates and exists outside of the speaker, away from the pain of the experience. To recount the past is to create anew. Its realness shocks us, to the point that we almost don’t dare to face its realness. Pain can alter our normally numb state, but it can also make us grow number. This is a paradox. One person grew up under the shadow of his dead older brother. This brother, who he has never seen, perpetually hovers over every road he must cross. In the face of death, he is superfluous, imperfect, unreal. This painful memory has overshadowed him for thirty years, never fading away. When I asked him the second and third questions, he said: a medicine bottle full of pills. White, an extremely pale white. I believe that what shocks you is not the pain itself. Pain is not about individual experiences; it is about natural philosophy.
Mizhuang: Have you compared these different experiences?
Lin: I don’t look for the differences between these painful memories, I look for their commonalities. Extreme pain and grief are often caused by abandonment, sickness and death, or even abstract fear of one of the above, worry about potential danger and its unpredictable arrival. Through recognizing pain, we recognize all life, recognize our shared fears, desires, earnestness, control and balance. We face the fact that fear can never be truly avoided, face the fact that hopelessness can come out of nowhere, face the fact that pain magnifies our fears, doubts and weaknesses.
What matters is not what kind of pain we experienced. What matters is: what does that pain bring us? What does the most frightful pain we experience turn us into? When faced with enormous pain, what do freedom, dignity, even our lives mean?
But, what’s really interesting is that fear has always been a useful weapon in politics and power. Fear can spark unimaginable courage in people. Fear can drive people to die for nonexistent reasons.
Every day is filled with news of violence and disaster, constantly reminding us that sorrow and injustice are unfolding in every corner of the globe. A security-seeking mentality has become the mainstream. Fear has become a public sentiment, and its scope is continuing to expand, while trust is becoming a luxury. There will never be a book that better explains the pressures of modern life than the bestselling I’m Afraid, You’re Afraid: 448 Things to Fear and Why.
The pursuit of “lightning speed” is the goal of modern technology, as well as our spiritual support. New technology has altered our conception of time, our level of patience for processes and our level of caution in trust. In reality, education does not seem interested in these ideas. Today’s education has not effectively connected with today’s world.
Math education shouldn’t only focus on learning arithmetic. It should work to cultivate certain ways of thinking as it explains things. Geography and history shouldn’t be single, separate knowledge systems. Beyond telling young students what is happening and what there is in the world, we need them to learn how to think about what we all face in common. It will no longer be about gaining and accepting knowledge, but about categorizing, organizing and rearranging knowledge. The goal of receiving an education is not to gain knowledge, but to gain freedom through knowledge.
Mizhuang: Your work The Possible of the Impossible brings people who have no connection to art to take part in your artwork. What is your reasoning behind this?
Lin: In today’s so called highly effective life, on the one hand, we pursue speed and quantity. We want everything as fast as possible and as much as possible. We rely too much on objects and technology, while the spiritual side is growing diminished. Truth, sincerity and straightforwardness are tending towards impossibility. The Possible of the Impossible took place in the commercial space of a high end office building. In this space, the audience and I had a very natural (or serendipitous) relationship of influencing and watching each other. For the audience, a rather non-commercial activity is taking place in this commercial space with unclear motives, which is confusing and suspicious. For me, this in itself was my artwork. There’s no transition or boundary between the inside of the artwork and the outside.
Mizhuang: This is very interesting. This transcends the artwork in the normal sense, adding a series of uncertainties to the content. What were the results of the dialogue like?
Lin: To put it precisely, the dialogue is a process, a process of casting doubt, casting doubt on the rationality of everyday life, on the accuracy of accustomed ideas, on reasons for existence, on means of existence, on what is pressing, on what makes us fall silent, on how pressing matters become unimportant, on possible limits. We live in a brutal, heartless world that runs like a massive factory. We must find the possible in the impossible through skepticism.
Mizhuang: To find the possible in the impossible. It sounds quite paradoxical.
Lin: Right. Paradoxes are still what I am most interested in at this stage. Living in today’s paradox-filled world, technology has changed our ways of seeing the world and what we demand of ourselves. In the past, waiting may have led to more profound emotions, more anxiety-inducing ideas, but in this era of technology worship, waiting implies ignorance, backwardness and stupidity. There is now a direct relationship between waiting and anxiety. On one side of the world, the banning of information leads people out into the streets, demanding their right to information. In another corner of the globe, informational overload is increasing numbness and loneliness. Some people are fighting for freedom, while others have sunk into self harm because of too much freedom. Developing countries, facing all manner of difficulties, are struggling to control population growth, while developed countries are seeking emergency measures to respond to shrinking populations.
What are we really fighting for?
Confusion and multiple standards have become the evident traits of our society. In a time when measures of morality are facing constant challenges, how will we come to understand life, history and values, and how will we resist disasters, power structures and apathy? Today’s world is no more tolerant or easy to control than it was centuries ago, even though many people believe that. Our ancestors’ utopia was never realized. Instead, everything has become a commodity, including lies, violence, even death.
Mizhuang: Individual entertainment experiences have replaced philosophies of life to become the explanations of the world. Anxiety comes from the loss of a sense of security, from the uncertainty of existence. Your work …I... is more of a performance piece than an installation. You used corrective tape to cover up every word in books except the word “I”, leaving a bunch of “I’s” scattered randomly around the pages. Why books?
Lin: People always use persistent things to elaborate on transient things. Stones are erected over tombs to bear witness to the occurrence of fragile life. Printed materials are objects that give people material definition by establishing contact and exchange across time and space. Printed material is a testament to the imperative and desire for exchange, while erasure is a simple and rapid method for wiping out information. What printing transmits is a construct, a cultural bridge that establishes contact. It provides standards for judgment. Erasure and the covering of words are also the erasure of standards, the prevention of evaluation, inference and choices about the world, the erasure of the extension of time. It ignores and threatens, destroying trust and understanding, destroying the traces of existence that are decoded through experience, erasing the vigilance of life. It is like old incantations and sorcery accepted in exchange, which silently awaits the always soon-to-arrive prophecy. In this endless waiting, the world becomes an unimaginable thing outside of “I”.
Mizhuang: In these books, the only time is the independence of “I”. The impossibility of connecting between “I” and the world is the source of the sense of panic this work gives me.
Lin: Cutting the connections with the past and the world give us a sense that we no longer exist. Erasing the past leads us to doubt who we are. By turning the environment around us silent, the sounds of distant motors, even the shadows cast by lights in the night become suspicious. The world is silent, and that silence is tight and silent. It makes the endless series of“I’s” that remain appear so sudden, so tangible, solid, heartless, unfamiliar. It binds existence and destruction tightly together, making “I” incomprehensible, even intolerable. But who is it that is intolerable? It is the self that we have never recognized, the information of others that is exposed on ourselves. The term existence does not explain any meaning, but existence is an infinite concept. After erasure it is a lost infinity, a dangerous defense, an insecure security.
Mizhuang: It makes everything appear more impossible. It proposes the most primal questions: who am I? Where am I? Where am I going?
Lin: The quest for survival is instinctual, while confirming the meaning of existence is also an instinct. Our existence is a reason for reaching and entering the future. As we arduously struggle against the ruthless monopoly of disappearance over time, we are also moving into a state of anxious estrangement with the world, of accepting the fear of lost security, of accepting disappearance before it happens, accepting death before it happens, and all of the torment and hardship we have faced become absurd, just like existence.
Mizhuang: In your printed reader, those leftover punctuation marks are reminders, reminders of time that once took place, of time that once passed.
Lin: Right. It reminds us of our inextricable entanglement and instantaneous break with the world, reminds us that after the break, everything is cast out without direction.
If it is a shared history, the break comes from the serendipity of history. If it is a private story, what breaks is the meaning of existence, and within it, much frenzy, anxiety, distraction, bewilderment, emptiness, rage and hysteria as well as sequence, planning, order, unreasonableness, coldness, numbness, brutality and indifference.
Just as flying comes from the fear of falling and climbing comes from the fear of loneliness. We sleep with our bodies curled up in the darkness, unknowingly casting out our embrace in weakness and helplessness.
“I” am silent in the darkness, begging for an explanation in solitude. The erased world, because of the undeniable “I” left behind, is full of a sense of presence. The voice in the void sends out a resounding question, its attitude ambiguous and firm.
It burns in the hesitation, stands solid within the absurdity.