I think it’s time for another piece.
We are in a blurry sphere of massive unknowns. Or it certainly feels that way.
But my partner and I have been hiding away in the worlds of games and Avatar the last airbender. I have been additionally hiding in massive amount of tutorials on 5 million different 3D softwares.
When I finally finished watching Avatar Aang, I was really sad. I don’t know why.
Let me try to work it out here.
Maybe the avatar world is so engrossing that I felt by the end when Avatar and his friends save their world, I was hindleg kicked out and thrown back into my own real world of chaos. Protests, covid. Injustices, Insincerities, obliviousness. Every time I walk out the door, I’m sure to be upset by another human being.
Today is June 23rd.
We have been in forced lockdown plus self-chosen lockdown for almost 4 months. We have witnessed political catastrophe one after another spurting from the core of one nation, then from the core of another. I want to look away, erase my identity completely. Not just national identity, but human identity altogether. That’s how ashamed I feel.
But, I have to move forward.
So in the physical things that I’m doing. A large part has been experimenting with the digital art world. Seeing what others are making. Trying out different tools. An existential question emerged last night: do I like games in my own right, or is it influenced by people around me?
Why do I like game as a new contemporary art form?
What do I want to achieve with it? To work?
Do I just want to sculpt a creature?
Do I just want to concept design an environment?
Do I just want to rig and animate?
Or do I actually want to be the person that create that entire interactive experience, yes, with coding included?
But will it be in the game commercial format where expectations are becoming constraints
Or am I here to understand all the expectations, so that I can break them?
But how, I am just one.
I signed myself up for the true undergraduate degree that I had always wanted, and not what society wanted.
I am an artist. I was educated by the Metropolitan Museum, as well as all my travels (all four nations). I understood from my other undergraduate school how vain the world can be.
It feels like betrayal to just learn game art to get a job and serve the commercial hunger of digital capitalism
I can’t let the silicon valley spirit take me over either.
If I define game art as an art form that I relate to in my own right, how do I want to grow it, or grow with it
I can’t turn back on the philosophical self that I had been, that’s what had gotten me to where I am today. The introspection and endless questioning, and taking action upon those questions
If I can bend one thing, what would that be
I know it’s ringing in my ear, arrrrt teeeech, +++++
Fuse them, release
Let humans experience, in some way impactful enough, that I no longer would feel ashamed behind human..
Let me contemplate further on this this summer
I’ll come back in the Fall with some new thoughts
(i had an incredible liking towards Dolphin atari 2600 game. the face of da vinci also lurked in my fuzzy brain recently. Maybe it's saying something. Don't say no to tech, use whatever you can to get whatever the contemporary experience is needed to deliver)
Last year, I experienced a full spectrum of human possibility. On one end of the spectrum, to me, it’s the emotional existence - accessing a painting, a literary work, or a play in its totality and reacting to it. I lied mostly on this side of the spectrum before.
On the other end, it’s the ability to mechanically break down a problem/object, single out pieces where actions can be assigned to the fragments. The latter I finally understood through “Classical Dynamics,” a graduate aerospace engineering course. I was not fluent in Newtonian Mechanics. I never took undergraduate physics/statics/dynamics. My only applicable knowledge was Ordinary Differential Equations I took last summer. I braved on.
Here’s what I did: breaking an object (e.g.table) down to points, planes, lines, and mimic movement according to the object’s pre-defined axis. I wrote endless complex equations on the translation and rotation of particles/axis of bodies. Vector calculus, Lagrangian methods were all utilized. I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel extremes of human emotions - anger, despair, fluttery love, outrageous excitement. Just tons of pulling my hair out trying to represent an intuitive action into Greek-symboled equations.
During quarter break-Thanksgiving-I went to NYC with family, and watched many plays. “To Kill a Mockingbird (TKM)” and “Network” both touched heavily on the current American identity and frustrations. Looking at the impossible mob mentality that condemned Tom Robinson (TKM), and the brainwashing effects of Media (Network), I couldn’t sit through either with a dry face. I cried endlessly, reveled in despair of how to fix America’s numerous problems.
This ability to access the whole spectrum fascinates me. I want to explore more. How might these two ends come together. Do they even need to? Should they be considered two “opposite” ends?
Breaking an object down to points, planes and lines, and mimic movement according to axises, and the translation and rotation of particles / axis of bodies
Extremely complex, mind boggling, but at the end of the day, I go to a Joypolis theme park in a mall, and the swing circle machine goes wooooo
I’m no longer a kid. But I desperately wanted to experience the rate of angular velocity, and momentum.
As I entered the art world in 2012, the idea of “contemporary” “conceptual” rained on me like how Christianity didn’t let anyone go in the 13th century.
What would attract the eye of the audience, what is my “philosophy,” what do I want to poke at. It’s got to be something riveting, poignant, controversial. I see textual art of Adam Pendleton and Hank Willis Thomas, carefully researched photographs of Taryn Simon.. Identity, race, gender, politics. My Peruvian artist friend who’s digitally reconstructing the ancient site of Chavin tells me, “Art must generate social change, art is not pure, but a device to induce critical attitude, I prefer the Greek word for art: τέχνη (TEkNe).”
Ok, fine, fine, world! I’m angry at how humans had overtaken animal space, property, sovereignty, and dignity. And now animals are going to re-invade us.
Thus forward, I went nuts around the world taking photographs of human constructs, only to insert animals into them later, either painterly or digitally. I put elephants in Italian drawing rooms. Hippos eating up nutcrackers. Black panthers on Brooklyn roofs, Hong Kong streets during Occupy Central. Led bisons into the Brooklyn botanical garden on a late March rainy afternoon, when cherry petals flooded the grounds. I 3D-printed a double-headed bison, and rammed its multiples into the Holy Church of Sepulcher. Shall we have the red communist bear invade Buenos Aires public square too? Definitely!
Yet, the most magical need for painting I felt was being amidst the forest in the middle of Pocono Trail in Yosemite. I read a lot of John Muir for years before moving to California. I snapped his quotes into my permanent life philosophy at his birth museum in Dunbar, Scotland. I hiked his hometown trail there too. In the middle of the forest on Pocono Trail, there was a foggy drizzle, that I knew will for sure turn into a storm. I would be stranded if I didn’t hurry. But I dwelled. The smell, the shingling mist, the uninterrupted chirping of the birds, the moss on the trees, and occasional rustling in the woods: I knew this very moment would never ever occur again in the future. If I came back to Pocono Trail next week, and hiked to this very spot, it would be entirely different. I felt immensely nostalgic about the present moment as I was in it. I can’t let this go, I thought. I have to “save” it, somehow. Be able to come back, as often as I wish.
So, I painted the very moment. After I returned to my studio, I recollected my feelings, sketches wrinkled from the rain, photographic references. I labored on this painting day after day after day until I was convinced that it was the place of how I remembered and felt it. If I choose to go back, I would just look at this painting: an infinitesimal moment in time and the feelings of that moment, that no photograph, video, writing, can re-produce. But personal painting, can.
Wait. What is more important? Personal fancies? Just a moment on a hiking trail, pretty please? Or being a preacher of one of the millions of things that we have to care about?
A recent event shed some light towards this question. A month earlier, I made a date with myself to paint outdoors on November 9th. Yet I woke up to a local world filled with smoke. I rarely cancel dates with myself. So I wrapped a silk scarf on my face, a ninja in fleece jacket, and headed out to look for something. I drove into an empty Foothills Park. The feel of the sky was unprecedented. I plotted my vertical canvas leaning against my jeep. I got real physical with my paints. Brushes, hands. Arm muscles that I built at the gym. In my 3 hours of en plein air at Foothills Park, facing Paradise, along with all the inhaled smoke, I felt the two were fused, in a genuine way. I did love every moment of painting the scenery itself. The scene was cathartically accessed through painting. Yet the scene I painted live is historical, is place-based, and reels me into the California identity, news, and tragedy, whether I want it or not. And I recognized the Coyote bush, because a local photographer/ecologist told me about it. I would have by-passed it were I a tourist, and never made it central in a painting. This plant will live and propagate, even with fire.
I took this painting and many others to a dinner party the following night soliciting critique on my recent works. And the majority picked out this one as their favorite without knowing what it was about. “It looks just like my drive home, I’m just passing exactly these hills and hills.” A seasoned art historian alerts, “Ah wait, wait, this one, what is this about? This one stands out.” Why did it stand out? I don’t know. I became more fixated on: Why did my 50+ hours deliberation of the Peruvian jungle with the jaguar NOT?
Every time I paint an “idea,” I feel constrained. Like recently, my friend challenged me to paint the Chinese character 鏖(ào).” It has the character deer on top, and gold at the bottom. So I devised an image of a Canadian Elk on top of a pile of gold bars. I’m illustrating a concept, sure. But it felt nowhere cathartic.
In a similar timeline that day, a few adult boys of our relations gathered to play Mario Party the switch video-game. I whipped out a 3 by 6 feet canvas, painted quickly to capture them “en plein air.” Mood. Mood. I reprimanded myself. Don’t worry about the facial features. Don’t get lost in the details. Capture the mood that a photograph can’t. I had a wild time. I joined the “silly” Mario party later and understood some of the expressions they were making and the mood they conveyed. It’s almost as if I jumped into the painting itself.
Best of all, I noticed the cushions. As if for the first time in my life. And really, yes, for the first time of my life: I noticed how the cushions were manipulated by human butts, weight, and positioning of the body. If I captured the cushions, it was as if I captured the human mark of action as well. Portrait of a cushion, anyone?
One of my long time painting mentors, who paints conceptually, often remarks to me, “I am so jealous of how you can just paint.” Why can’t You? I’d ask. Many reasons. Perhaps we can’t break unfettered from academia, or “the market.” In this thus long monologuish query, I don’t have final answers. I take a solid stance in painting, yet I’m open to experiments: eager to try kinetic sculpture, printmaking in the MFA program. I am eager to revisit my earlier experiments with abstractions, digital sculpture, photography and video. Maybe even text from a screenplay I’d write.
But, a huge many but’s:
Notice the cushions or deliver a message to “change the world?”: which is more important?
Can painting from the heart, from accidental life, be fused with an important message / concept?
Is it wrong to just feel high about the cushions? The ephemeral forest? Male bodies?
What is the meaning and power of painting?
How should painting be related to other subjects? Tools? ancient-ness? Modernity? iPads, Maya? Anthropology?
Must a painting forcibly convey political, racial, gender, socioeconomic blabbers? Or do we let the brushstroke speak of its own injustice or freedom? Where is the place of painting in our contemporary world? What is primal about painting? What can we not lose in a painting? de-French the idea of “en plein air” painting? What is the American attitude of just being out there? Plop a canvas next to a jeep? To what certain point that a piece of work is no longer a painting?
Response to prof. nemerov's book on pearl harbor:
Sometimes, my heart races when reading a “truth” I identify with written by a dead author
Sometimes, I’m wowed by a distant living person who wrote a nonfiction book on Math, or how geography influenced the power dynamic of our current world
But none has incurred so much personal recalls , and even more heart racings, thank god it wasn’t as bad as my altitude sickness
The attribution may be to the fact that the author is living and that I had conversed with him in a relaxed setting, not in a “here, author, sign this book please” kind of way.
I think of my grandfather
And fluent in Japanese
I climbed small mountains with him all the time, maybe why now my indulgence in the trees and forests
He’s a product of the Japanese invasion
Of soviet “better suck my dick” attitude towards China
Then of Nixon’s opening dialogue with China
Resulting in the transformed English professor that tried hard to forget his “native” Japanese and “Native” Russian, as those languages were later banned
And in his paralyzed state, sometimes he murmurs Japanese
To my uncle that is fed up with taking care of him
I think of the 70 year old sushi chef in New York at Kura
Who genuinely thought my 13 year-old sister is the cutest person, because she hides away every piece of raw sushi under the bar table, sometimes on my knees bringing me into the crime , and then turns around and tells the old man that she thought it was “Great” and would laugh
She hates raw fish
He started torching every piece of fish for her
She still turns around to me and go,” is this food?”
The step beyond the required superficial appreciation for sushi for both of them took all of us into a conversation that rarely occurs in a serious sushi environment
He said he got yelled at on the street in Michigan (he lived there for 15 years) because he wore Ohio State Tees, Ohio, where my immediate family lives. He marveled at our hometown in China being so close to Japan. He likes that place.
He was a chef in Tokyo
But he likes the US better.
Chef Jiro would shake his head at him, I bet. For he innovates too much in his nigri deliveries.
And in the back of our minds, me, my father, mother, there’s definitely images of Japanese invasion and tortures of the Chinese people , drilled into our minds through propaganda films that monopolize all prime entertainment channels
Yet in my sister’s mind, young and born in Ohio, none of those images turned up
It’s just raw fish
I think of another documentary I watched, Of Ishigu NOkiro and how he tried to belong there but couldn’t about Japanese in US concentration camps. And silently I was brought to tears. The sense of not belonging, much shared hiding my tears, I quickly told my friend to keep going at his pace in the gallery
At the noguschi museum
Now I think again, what was I sad for? Sad for humanity ? sad for the Japanese? Sad for all misunderstandings?
The back of your book triggered my own talk once about the 19 year old boys in All Quiet on the Western Front. They barely had time to pursue lust, desire, failure, to THINK. And now they rush into jaded..
I look at the publisher notes, of course I have “Ramblings of a Wannabe Painter by Paul Gaugin” in blue
And then I’m here on a porch in Menlo Park, a random suburban place, reading prose about a crashed plane
And for those moments where I often thought my life meant nothing, my existence meant nada in the whole scope of the universe
At least at this moment, I feel my existence cemented. Solidly verified. This ability to connect
So what if the next moment I fall apart again.
And with all these, I took up my brush
The connection is carried forth now into a physical mark
The ambience that now the hand partakes into inevitably got influenced
In the small duration of that space, he mentioned his father more than a dozen times. It’s always with him. I wonder what his passing away meant for him.
The garden was massive.
There’s always a fluidity to his speech.
Often the conversational atmosphere is imbued with a light touch of melancholy
The University has no soul.
My father taught them how to invent this seed
There’s a general sense of melancholy. It’s not in the words. It’s in his mindset / bodyset.
When did I ever see him superbly elated and proud, confident?
It was in those Peruvian lectures, when he touched on a specific point. It triggered a particular memory of true adventure. Of a unbelievable alignment of thoughts that led to a conclusion of a possible “discovery.”
When he talked about the underground channels / galleries of Chavin, and showing the digitalized renditions.
When he showed his wife afar in the prehistoric caves out there
Back then, there was hope , before we are 60 , we always perhaps have hope that we can find something, make something, have a turn of events that changes how we are remembered
But I think he has reached a point
And perhaps many of us will reach that point that we lucidly know
With each passing day, that possibility diminishes by a tremendous lot
I learned that day that Grapefruits can hang on top of the tree for two years without rotting.
Ethan and I shared a citrus from the “Citron” tree or that Orange/Graperfruit hybrid that kind of edges on the look of a young pomelo .
I liked how the sourness was eliminated through the exchange of genes. Not too sweet.
Peppers can be quite promiscuous. One of the few humorous moments that the Professor shared.
Rosa even showed us the dig’s bills and logistical things she’s got to do, and along with each sentence there’s a huge sigh or sound of annoyance. There’s a fierce Latin American attitude to it.
“She’s fed up with it.”
“If I don’t discover anything in the next two years, and I’ve been excavating for 30 years, then it really is it for me. “
For how long do we hang on, to finally let ourselves go?
All the entrepreneurs, mid-level managers, parents even, who are out there.
He admired his father for almost everything. And one of them is being a workaholic and often taking the kids together onto field searches for new varieties of plants.
He carries on his father’s story. And yet when I try to search for this inspirational man on Google through references to UC Davis, to botany. Nothing returns. There are no digital traces of him. His papers / books may lie somewhere deep in a library. But I can’t just simply search Rick’s father. I’ll have to really know his name, his work. And it could be a hundred years before anyone take a serious look at what he had done.
It might will be a nonfiction writer, hoping to make his own name out there 100 years from now, who wants to cover about seed inventions. Plants. Maybe at a point when most original seeds are forgotten. All that’s left will be laboratory concocted seeds. All we’ll be eating will be none that the earth was “born” with.
“How did you get them into powder form? Any special way? Stone slab grinder”
“Haha. No. Coffee grinder.”
It tasted like dissolvable coffee in terms of texture.
For a brief moment, I seem to be more at ease with myself. More ok with my lack of accomplishments.
Any statement made here should be considered ephemeral
Don’t trust it after it’s been written
The statement only applies (may only) to the period of 2016 – 2017
This serves as a note to myself. Your presence makes this diary entry a witnessed one, I suppose.
For four years prior to 2017, I had been fascinated with mammals, especially four legged wild beasts (jaguars and any sorts of large cats, rhinos, elephants, hyenas, grizzlies, even ancient ones like mammoths). To learn about them, often the only resort was to capture their movements, behaviors, on camera. Then later, refer to the images.
National geographic images, Pinterest, DK science illustrations, “The Prehistoric” were all references that I would cling onto.
I wanted to understand them perhaps because I thought I wasn’t one of them. I wanted to experience forms that wasn’t me.
I studied them, drew them, drew references of them, learned from the renditions of beasts from artists before me like Eugene Delacroix, George Stubbs.
Slowly, I began to realize my departure from real life engagements. In the same scope, as I traversed art shows, I noticed few expressions today are based off of a live object / subject only in front of the author. Artists engage in references after references, the layers of references add to our artificial grasp with the world that we currently indulge in.
When I plein aired some sessions, in observing nature, I found that all is lost when it’s fixated to pixels . it’s not my memory I captured , they were codes of the image, unrelated to my being, my way of perceiving. Layers of greens never reaching what my eyes or body really experienced. Depth of view, and angles of view, all trapped.
My first act of determination to change was after my several visits to Bronx zoo where I had only brought sketch paper and fancy camera. I decided to bring a real life size linen on aluminum canvas to the site.
On a high wind day, gray, and pre-storm in the autumn, I tied a 56 inch by 36 inch large canvas to the bars that stopped the grizzlies from roaming the zoo, so that the canvas won’t fall to the ground. The canvas already has two nudes on it that I did a few days prior with professional models in my new York studio.
I didn’t take any photos of the grizzlies. I followed their actions and moves with my brush and pinned down where I saw them. My live interaction with them was stressful, changeful, unpredictable. They can screw up my composition in segments of 15 seconds. How do I process that information? How do I commemorate their being? They wouldn’t sit still for me
From this painting onward, I changed my practice .
It was all about animals invading human spaces. Manmade spaces.
Perhaps I didn’t understand the deep desire of why I wanted that so bad “invading manmade spaces” the natural invading the artifice
Was I fascinated by the animal forms?
It’s frustrating at first, because to have the language to paint fluidly within a constraint of time where your subjects can only be in front of you for such a short time, means I have to get real good with depicting anything with precision and details
Male nudes became my first fascination to interact with live. They are also a species I am not, and I long to understand. Then I moved my interest to couples, and now perhaps back to animal forms and trees. The central moving force is about the ephemeral.
Now, really a variation on the same theme:
The ephemeral is invading the permanent.
The live is invading the artificial.
The time seized me or I seized time?
No stroke is the same
I am limited by the subject and time as well as the subject is limited . For the Ben & Emily painting, the couple said that they were locked in time. They are “forced” to look at each other, be with each other, and that aroused them. For David, he was “forced” to focus on writing his comedy sketch. The live painting sessions forced all subjects to remove all their distractions, to focus on what ‘s in front of the, and truly what at the moment only and really matters. Challenging our modern behaviors and addictions to machines, artifice, manmade rules?
Interacting with an alive subject. My subject and I being there in that short duration, minutes or hours, will never again replicate. Even if we reconvene at some point in the future, I’ll be in a different state, they will be too. We will be in another set of amalgamated skills and thoughts and flesh (cells).
Free , fluid, in the moment. Once it’s over, we are done. We don’t revisit the past. I don’t enjoy to. Keeping the free and fluid strokes alive is like keeping some untainted part of yourself alive. It’s very easy to lose it. To be tampered with authority, rules, painting rules, conceptual art rules, contemporary art rules.
Another thing about me, I enjoy taking information from many different disciplines , living real lives of a modern man to understand it, I don’t like to be stuck in the art world nor any particular world. My thoughts rest on contemplations way beyond the painting stroke, YET, it all comes back to the stroke, to the way layers of paint react with each other, which colors are chosen, splashed first, dabbled second, the energy the serendipity , the vivacity
The stroke is the mark of existence. It all comes back to making amark about that existence. So what is it a mark of?
It’s not really for you to not forget me
It’s more for me to not forget me
Reencountering earlier me(s) is rather fun
Odele E. Zhang as of August 15th, 2017 (what kind of time is this anyway, perhaps we run in a loop , instead of linear time)