A Sacrifice completed by art / Huang Zhuan / 2015
In real life Qin Jin is an obedient and well-behaved girl. She leaves her other side--rebellious, sensitive and passionate --to art. She burns objects, such as the wardrobe and clothes left behind by her mother and, in this way, enacts sacred ceremony in memorial for her mother. Similarly, she irons her own clothes over and over again until they become anxious, withered memories. Whether drawing as graffiti as part of an installation, Qin Jin likes to turn painting into an act of labour performed through time. While, her art has explored more of the subtle psychological boundary between danger and safety, comfort and despair, for example the photowork Bridal Veil 2006, the aura of danger-on-all-fronts is embedded in the 2011 installation Rocking Chair. A second installation Swing 2007 physically sways on the building, while myth and nightmare are intertwined in the photowork Last Supper, similar to the Wonderland into which the character of Alice descends. Creating unease seems to be the overriding motivation for Qin Jin, for she injects a kind of violent, maimed and disturbing quality to almost all the otherwise perfect, romantic, familiar things that appear in her work. It seems that incompleteness and unease are, for her, the best psychological state for understanding the world. The following Beckettian dialogue reflects the absurd nature of this anxiety and unease.
Mini 1 asks: Who are you? I don’t know you.
Mini 2 replies: I’m Mini.
Mini 1 asks: What do you want?
Mini 2 replies: I want to know you.
Mini1 asks: How do you know me?
Mini 2 replies: I’ll come to you, you, alone, standing in the middle of the square. Don’t leave. Someone is comingtowards you…
Mini 1 asks: What time is it?
Mini 2 replies: I don’t know.
Mini 1: Where am I?
Mini 2: In a room with two lamps on.
Mini 1 asks: In the evening?
Mini 2 replies: No, it’s in a hotel space called 1623.
This non-linear time period is the fundamental sensation of contemporary people, similar to that which resides in another writer’s novels, those of Franz Kafka. All the anxiety and unease of contemporary people result from the chaos, instability and loss of control caused by a total lack of belief or faith. Qin Jin use personal experience to describe this state:
“‘Haven’t grown up yet’ means that you are afforded the privilege of treating the world which you’re familiar as you like. This leads to a certain desultoriness which arises from not having a broader outlook on life. As we grow older, as we gain more power of control over our lives, the security barrier of remaining with the familiar gradually disappears. We build a personal space but can’t keep out the problems and doubts that come with experience (…) In the current era, all manner of tender feeling is made to feel inappropriate. In life, if we can accept that we carry death with us, then we can live a more resolute and fearless life."
If experiencing and creating unease is just one way for Qin Jin to know the world then desperately control unease has brought greater psychological charm to her art. The paradoxical characteristic in Qin Jin’s work has been described as “In many ways, Qin Jin’s approach to art is all about exerting control: control over what exists and what is extinguished, over what has life and that which is denied it… (The works) are an example of extreme control on the part
of the artist as she takes them to the brink of total destruction, but exercises control in holding them back by only a proverbial thread: the artist, high priestess of her chosen realm.”
This attempt to control unease is a further dimension of Qin Jin’s art: for primitive cultures, under the sway of myth and supernatural forces, sacrifice was a collectivized ceremony aimed at preserving security. This sacrifice, usually achieved using ritualized violence, was intended to assuage humans’ paradoxical reliance on God: in fear of God but also reliant on God. The desire to attain tranquility in modern society has acquired a more complex content; after abandoning God, humans have lost the right to pursue psychological tranquility through sacrifice. Now humans have to deal with the huge void left by God, and have tried myriad ways so to do; reconstructing the gods (Walter Benjamin), searching for memories (writer Marcel Proust), constructing labyrinths (Borges), exploring poetics (Heidegger), even cursing history (postmodernism). Thus far, it seems all efforts to exorcise modern humans of their sense of desolation or, rather, the trepidation of injecting happiness into desolation as in the writings of Milan Kundera, have failed.
Many of Qin Jin’s works are the result of a search for tranquility, but with When I am dead she seems to gather all the energy previously brought to creating and controlling unease to accomplish a sacrifice of individual life through images. This multi-screen video, which lasts just under 40 minutes, took Qin Jin nearly three years to complete. An approximately autobiographical work, When I am dead describes a story that contrasts three generations. These constitute a metaphorical time structure, composed of heartwarming scenes and fragments of memories, which are closely related but also don't seem to have any direct association. The voice-over of the daughter is a first-person narration, and the complex emotional relationships among the three generations are accomplished through a combination of allegorical images and spatial symbols (such as waves or moths, which symbolize the impermanence of life; the bed which symbolises tranquility and death). The arrangement of the montages is fragmental, anti-narrative. The stories are projected synchronously on three screens, which constitute a mirage-like temporal montage without beginning or end. Each sequence is independent. The pace is slow, quiet like a silent movie. The regularity of flashbacks and switching sequences demonstrate a confusion of memory and memory loss, which imbues the work with the same strangeness found in (the 1961 film) Last Year at Marienbad . For When I am Dead, the metaphorical imagery of “foam” (waves, water-drops, and bath suds) is not merely a visual symbol there to evoke memories, but deployed as a kind of metaphysical aspect intended to achieve a lingering sense of disillusionment, which lies at the heart of this work.
Apparently, the non-linear description of time and the addiction of memories are not the whole story that this work wants to tell. What it tries to expound is another more fundamental and urgent topic for the artist: what is control in the true sense of the term? Memory, reason, secular transcendence or some sort of ultimate apperception? Maybe the conclusion of this work comes as a bit of a shock; when one is facing aging and death control becomes possible. Compared with the blissful ignorance of childhood and the fearlessness of youth, the desirelessness in old age has a more essential meaning of “control”; control means the full understanding and mastering of life. It also implies a freedom beyond sensations and the body, so approaching to death means an approach to a fundamental control, which happens to hold the same view as Confucius’s conclusion “At seventy, I could follow what my heart desires, without transgressing what is right”.
Perhaps it is this paradoxical relationship between death and control forms the true theme of this poetic work (the English title of this work directly points out this theme: When I am dead), Qin Jin unifies these two themes of control and sacrifice which have run through her works in one organic whole, rather by telling the stories of daily life and personal experience than myths or religious stories, now, as for her, art is a kind of psychological ritual, which has become the only real way to guide her into tranquility, as she puts it: "For those who are superstitious, sacrifice is real."
2015, February 25