The rich imagination of man in his childhood is born of his ignorance of science.
When faced with the thunder, lightning, floods, tsunami, forest beasts, exotic flowers and rare herbs of the nature—the fear and the scares in the deep heart of human beings are obvious. They revere the roar, the warmth and what was given by the nature. Therefore, the ancient witchcraft and myths became prevalent, and the ancestors considered the totem symbols as the power and spiritual beliefs.
In Greek Mythology, Perseus was sent to fetch Medusa's head and found her covered with scales, hairless and coiled with poisonous snakes. She had boars’ tusks, iron hands, and golden wings.Demigods are not uncommon in mythologies. In ancient Egyptian frescoes, Gods were often depicted as creatures with beast heads and human bodies, like Anubis, who protected the mummies.The most magical story is the Chinese bestiary, Classic of Mountains and Seas. Open the book, and you will see the mountains, the rivers, trees and flowers, without exception, and a half-human-half-monster beast, commandeering the important base. "Four hundred miles east, there is a hill called Ling Qiu, which is full of fires but flowers and trees. On the south side of the hill is a valley called Zhong Gu, from which the northeast wind blows. There is a bird called Yong, with the shape of an owl, the face of human, four eyes and ears. Its cry is its name. When it appears, there are droughts." "The God of the south, Zhu Rong, who has the monster body and the human face, rides two dragons."
Interestingly, the western mythologies are often about love, incest, war and conquest, while Classic of Mountains and Seas is aboutthe mysteries of the relationship between man and nature. The monsters that guard the village have their own unique skills (subdue the dragon and tame the rain) with a benefit of resisting diseases by eating them, which is enough to show the ancient ancestors' fear for nature and their vision for blessing and health.
The above quotations are all for backing to the paintings. Since the dawn of human painting, there has been a proliferation of half-human and half-animal works, especially the modern Dutch painter, Jeroen Bosch,who is one of the best. Since this kind of themes is not very new, and why did Zhang Chi enjoy immersing himself, for more than 10 years, in painting those insect-human and animal-human hybrids subjects? What on earth was he looking for? What is he trying to tell us?
From Zhang Chi's works in 2010, Embrace is the Reflection of Love, Alienation - Animals in Water and Virgin Land, we can see some clues. 10 years ago, when I first saw Virgin Land, I was overwhelmed by the graceful spots and the gorgeous but chaotic images. In the lush grass of Abram tigers, sisal hemps, locusts, lizards, scorpions and people each take up a space to mate with abandon. Those spots, which are blurred by the rubbing brush, are sprinkled on the bodies of plants and animals. The feeling makes people fidgety and uneasy as if the cicadas chirping together on the summer trees. When you look closely, the blurred spots look like ulcerated skin under a microscope, spreading like viruses. Right!
It's a festering beauty. This detail is undoubtedly the key to explaining the work. At the beginning of biological erosion, creatures will always emit a kind of evil beauty (spots) and the core of hybridization is genetic modification (insect man), which coincides with all kinds of strange anecdotes about the struggles between industry and nature, and the genetic biology. Later, we communicated and had several long conversations.
Zhang Chi said in his essay Over Evolution, "In biological evolution, every species will have a genetic mutation when it breeds the next generation. If the mutation is beneficial to the species survival, then the beneficial mutation is preserved as 'the Survival of the Fittest' through environmental screening. However, at present, the global ecology is facing more and more damage, the internal allocation mechanism of various elements of the natural environment is out of balance, and the environmental quality is deteriorating. To adapt to a rapidly deteriorating environment, species must undergo excessive variation."
From 2013 to 2014, in No Road to Celestial Mountain and Yaksha, there were pagodas, Buddha’s light appearing one after another, making an interesting contrast in the picture. Buddhism teaches that life, age, illness and death are all suffering. The root of suffering is human's desire. To practice hard and to be short of everything is to reach the "heaven".However, in the painting, it is the carnival of all beings under the radiance and hyperactivity of the senses that dominate the body. Therefore, the flourish on the surface seems more false, making it less true. I think this is the spiritual intention that the author is trying to convey.
In 2010, we had a talk, and seven years had passed since Dolly the sheep was cloned. 24 years had passed since the accident at Chernobyl. The tragedy left those who were still alive in such pain that Chernobyl has become a ghost town. That was followed in 2011 by the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, when radioactive material went directly into the sea and floated into the air. It is said that several years later, there were fish in the sea with two heads and crabs having more than eight legs. Of course, this is just hearsay. But it is true that since then there have been nobody living there with the grass wantonly growing and tykes crying.
Many reports have confirmed that the growth of animals and plants has long been unable to meet the need of the market due to the increasing demand of human beings. Therefore, growth hormones, hormones, antibiotics and other factors have become important formulas for the production of animals and plants, which is a myth in the post-industrial age.
Classical mythology is the imagination and fiction of the universe, but painting is to use the fiction to reflect reality. This is the charm of painting.
Therefore, Zhang Chi's artistic practice has its own logic and reasons. Although the half-man and half-beast and the creatures’ hybrids are an ancient mythical subject, humans are making myths today as well. However, the difference is that today's myth is based on high technology and industrial profitability, but runs counter to nature. And the context of the subject has changed fundamentally, which is the meaning of Zhang Chi's works.
In the past 10 years, the language of Zhang Chi's works has also changed a little quietly. In No Road to Celestial Mountain (2013), the Buddhist pagodas and in Yaksha (2014), the Buddha's light on the head of the meditating insect man, both indicate that he began to integrate into the Buddhist thoughts. The pictures are somewhat of Thang-ga. Meanwhile, from Birds Know the Answers to Life (series 2015), we can see the moulage of Chinese Flower-and-Bird Paintings as well as the chromosomes under the micro view of laser. In Goddess (2017), the goddess and the poisonous snakes hold the genitalia and spray the semen either by hand or by tongue. The goddess has the Buddha's light on her head. All these pictures are colorful and glaring. The color technique reminds me of some characteristics of Chinese folk craft-bright red and green, and the big peonies. It is not surprising that Zhang Chi is from the northeast, and the northern han people have a natural preference for bright red and green.
From these experiments, it is easy to figure out that he is working on fusing various artistic languages around the theme. He is trying to "one-pot boiling" (mix) the genes of modern western, Chinese folk, Buddhist and traditional paintings. The hybridization of his language is just like the hybridization of plants and animals in his works, especially the folk style. With different dialects and neither fish nor flesh, the difficulty of language lies in how the vulgarity in life becomes the beauty in art and how it is refined.
In recent years, Zhang Chi has done a lot of experimental work on language. He said that sometimes he was excited in the process, but more often he felt confused, depressed and lonely. This is a state of creation that hints at the possibilities of language changes as well as gives us hopes.
Loneliness may be a mission.