Sigmund Freud defined the concept unconscious in the last century. According to him, it suggests a part of our consciousness that is always not actively under our control, such as dreams, the moment when you forget what to say merely before you say it, the unexpected emotions, unexplainable sentiment, or surging inspiration. Also, the déjà vu, the feeling that someone is like your old friend at the very first sight, and the feeling that you are falling into a trance, absent-minded, distracted, tuned out, or entranced. Our social characteristics, customs and culture, and life experiences have shaped our subjectivity, as well as our unconsciousness which we could never see through clearly. Therefore, to better understand our subjectivity, and break away from the shackles of unconsciousness, Freud introduced psychoanalytic theory based on his methodology and practices.
Of course, the psychoanalysis we talk about here is based on Freud’s practice, which have geographical, social, and cultural limitations of his time. And in the next ten decades, based on his practices, people continued to adapt the theory with local conditions. And now we know that psychoanalysis is not necessarily the only path leading us to the inside realm of subjectivity. However, today we could still learn from these experiences, and create opportunities to think and make dialogue.
The clinical methodology of Freud is not complicated at all: the analysand will be invited to lie on a lounge chair with a comfortable position, and the analyst will sit behind him at a place where he can observe but not be seen by the analysand. He will guide the analysand to speak out his thoughts freely and roam in his old memories, making connection with his daily life experience. While the analysand is "allowed" to speak freely, such daydream-like spiritual wandering of mind is purely subjective, which means it is impossible for the analysand to be absolutely "free". The past events could be jumbled in your memories in a very complicated way, even if the analysand tries his best to restore the past scenes, what emerges in their mind could not be their original appearance. Even if we carved notches on the boat when the sword fell into the water, it does not mean that with this notch the boat can sail back to where the sword fell successively.
As psychoanalysis has brought some many enlightenments to our history and our daily life, I would like to propose some processes that worth our further development under this framework. Hopefully this will offer a dimension for us to talk about Jian Zhi's art, and provide more possibilities of observation and imagination.
At the first level, it is the complex relationship between "observation", or "seeing", and "imagination" or "association". The point here is the dialectical existence between the subjective and objective world, as well as the description of the subjective and objective reality: Can we be associated with the objective world, without realizing our subjectivity? To go even further, if we cannot be absolutely objective, can we be fully aware of our subjective part? If the unconscious exists, how can we stay relatively objective, and be aware that what we see will fill our reverie later? The question that is half a glass of water half empty or half full is not a difficult question for us who are used to collective culture and dialectical thinking in the doctrine of "the Mean". The way we observe a matter, looking at it from different perspectives and dimensions, either as a collective whole or as separate individuals, or the way we discuss a matter, in a radical manner or in a conservative manner, are all the reflection on the relationship of subjectivity and objectivity. However, the contemporary society is more inclined to catalyze "paranoia", "extreme", "identity" and "black-and-white exclusivity and opposition". Meanwhile, the "self" and "vulnerable narcissism" brought by individualism make the "introspective dialogue" more difficult to realize. Therefore, when "observing" this world, we are more like observing a world that we "want to observe", seeing things we "want to see", and criticizing opponents that we "want to criticize", to bolster our subjectivity and self, for fear of the loss and alienation of "self" when not paying attention.
At the second level, it is looking at the past from a present perspective, and manifesting what lurks behind into the reality. If we agree that there is neither absolute objectivity nor absolute subjectivity in our world, then we need to admit that imagination is inevitable during observation, and our conscious or unconscious subjective imagination is subject to the past, the history and the experience. The development of many things will not change in line with our subjective willingness.
In the dialectics on what is "old" and "new", the most crystal-clear divide is between physical history and spiritual history, and objective history and subjective history, whose reference yet is not necessarily the same. For instance, in our consciousness, the old photos we have not seen before are "new", and yet we know that they are "old" as we recognized their objective historicity. Then, we have "nostalgia" and "revival", which means expressing the "old" in a "new" way, re-arranging the "old" fragments to reproduce and repeat them.
When you realize that there is objective history and subjective history, then you will notice that when things happen, there is an objective time and a subjective time, which have different frequency and speed.
For instance, when something happens, it is always carrying the influence of subjectivity, the shadow of the past, and the traces of the experience. The shape of the thing is therefore overlapped. It seems not difficult to understand. If we really have a strict divide of internal and external world, then we can classify such matter into the external world for now. It seems that the world of spiritual perception always comes afterwards, in front of our eyes and outside of our body. It is not until we see a familiar figure walking towards us that we realize the "event" of a familiar person approaching is happening. But if we do not have such "old" knowledge to refer to in our experience, will this "new" event really "happen"? Can we call something an "event" if we fail to perceive that it is "happening"? Therefore, how can we distinguish that is this "event" happening in the internal world, or actually in the external world?
Now let's look at "the other type of event"——the "internal event" as we can put it for now. For example, let's imagine a girl is walking towards us——also in front of our eyes and outside our body, but we know that this time, it is a fantasy. Even so, our body and emotion will respond all the same as if we experience the real thing. The neuroscientists tell us that, whether it is a fantasy or a reality, the same areas of the brain will be activated. When the fantasy ends, the "event" has "happened". But can we say that it has happened to us? Just like when we have a dream, no matter how absurd it is, we may feel just everything is too real.
Therefore, can we say that if this event is not happening "internally", then it is impossible for it to happen "externally"? Just as how Donald Winnicott pointed out, to let a baby realize that he is outside of his mother, that his mother is not part of him, and to recognize the existence of his "self", he should construct an internal mother in his mind before the advent of the real mother in the external world. In other words, a baby needs to "create" a mother first, and then to find his physical mother in the "external" world.
At the third level, it evolves from the internal and external occurrence of the event to your subjective acceptance of the event. The most plain yet profound task is how to face the "vanishing" of people and things that we have great attachment to. This is a test that everyone is experiencing all the time, because that as long as we "created" and "owned" something, we allow it to "exist" inside of us. Correspondently, as long as it exists, it will be in danger of disappearance, death and destruction. And to combat these threats, we seem to constantly internalize the things we love, fantasize and memorize them by imagining all kinds of possibilities in the future when we lose them yet they still "live" in our internal world. And the more we internalize them, the more they become "part" of us. Yet when we lose them, we are losing part of our "self ".
The more painful we feel for the loss, the more we want to externalize it and get rid of it from ourselves and our mind. However, if the pain is already part of the "self ", it will go back to our internal world like a boomerang in various forms all the way, even though it has been externalized or replaced. And then we may think that, no, it is not where the pain comes from. What causes all these troubles is not the thing you put emotion in, but the emotion itself. So, stopping putting in emotion, stopping the creation and returning to the moment when the creation happens could be the most extreme way to shake the suffer. Although it does not end a person's life, it has terminated part of his life moments.
The "vanishing-type narcissists" like this, as how André Green described, which refer to the person who can no longer put emotion in things, out of self-protection, is undoubtedly, and luckily, just a minority. Afterall, we are all strongly connected to and bounded with all kinds of living experiences as grow up, and face losses, changes and sublimation of things, and countless difficulties, setbacks, and frustrations at the same time. We are taught to deal with them and seek help from others. These vanishing people and things also include values, and opinion about value, such as ideals, hopes and pursuits. We are strongly attached to and connected with these abstract ideologies too. We may not able to always realize clearly the exact thing or person that is vanishing, as it could be transient or too common to be noticed. Sometimes, we may not even notice what we are losing, but only feel that part of "me" is dying away. Therefore, "vanishing" does not necessarily equal to an experience of getting "smaller" but could also be "bigger" or "stronger".
At last, since we have mentioned "accepting the suffer and pain" and "self-protection", it is worth emphasizing that "victim" is also a status worth of our consideration. Not every vanishing and pain will create a victim and victim mentality. It is true that accountability and fairness are what victim cares about, but sometimes we could also fall into the position of victim even though we do not know what we have lost and who shall be held accountable, as driven by a strong sense of unfairness. What is more, when we are not sure whom to be blamed, we tend to cruelly hold ourselves accountable, and thus blame ourselves. At this moment, the "self " is both the "victim" and the "responsible person". But generally speaking, these postures will do no good in helping us to "accept" or "make peace with" the event.
Unlike the individualist society, people living in a collective society are likely to act as, instead of a victim, but a person to stand the test, a hero, a doer, and someone who is endowed with mighty endeavor. The focus here is no longer the individual and subjective experience, but more on the collective reference. "Hang in there. It is OK. Look at how others got on with it." "You are being too sentimental. It can solve nothing." "Scraping the poison off the bone. Swallowing your eyeball if it is shot by arrow." All these discourses offer a reference frame of test and suffer for a person who wants to ger accepted by the collective which takes the scar as a medal and pain as a credential. However, what if the person cannot pass the "test"? Does that mean he will be expelled from the collective instead?
As Jiang Zhi wrote about "the man who carves the boat" in his article, the exhibition therefore begins with this topic. Undoubtedly, the "sword" is the key, as it is part of the "self ". In this story, the loss of the sword in the river is the "event", and our protagonist responses by carving a mark on the moving boat. It seems that the only thing he can do is to leave a notch as best as he could at where the sword was lost, which is the only vanishing subject he thought he could find. And for him, it could even be the clue to find his "vanishing self ", a retrospective path, even if it is a mistaken, useless and ridiculous reference in the eyes of others. Aren't we all sparing no efforts to search our lost "sword" and making notches on ourselves, so as to get ourselves to move on? For those things we cannot get over with, they are bound to happen again. And somehow we are also stuck in this cycle of casting a sword, dropping it in the river, and carving on where we lose it, thinking that we could search it with later in our spiritual world.
The exhibition talks about imagination in observation, and observation in imagination. The dialectic between the new and the old, the past and the present, the repetition and the difference. The internal and external occurrence of event. The subjective perception and acceptance of event. These are all the dimensions we can refer to when dialoguing with Jiang Zhi's works.
We can take the artistic creation of Jiang Zhi as medium for reflecting on externality and internality. When they are too close, the artist will pull them away and slow them down, by playing a trick of time and space. When they are too obvious, he will make them blur and vague. With his intervention, the public and private nature in his work are overlapped, integrated and intertwined. By leveraging the dynamics between society and psychology, he fully examined the relationship between "individual" and "collective", blurred the divide between "the past" and "the present", bound "true" and "false" feelings together, and harmonized "painfulness" and "happiness". The "light" wiped away the existence of things. The "record" blurred the memories. The "repetition" was performed to forget. The "loneliness" was here to celebrate. And, at last, he carved a mark on the least stable boat.