Jiang Qi 3 explores the theme of craftsmanship in the third edition of a two-year collaboration by artists Li Hongbo, Wei Ming, Wang Lei, and Ye Sen. In line with the practice of these four artists, the comment is often made that it is their “spirit of crafting” that creates bubbles of meaningful and lyrical tracery in the muddied pond of contemporary culture. The “artisan” or “craftsman” is often excluded from the lofty realms of High Art where it is deemed that works of art are “intellectual” products and that artists should never serve as the slaves of technology or technique. This attitude should indeed serve as a warning about the vital signs of civilization; it is the low-key common man living at the grassroots level who tends to believe that craft is imbued with spirit and that pantheistic forces fill the world, and that it is only by not being separated from practice that people with ideas can preserve the momentum and dynamic of life.
Qi (Spirit), in the general sense, has no fixed shape or volume and is free to disperse itself through objects, so the spirit of craft has no prescribed style, like high floating clouds that can eddy down, catch up-draughts from the earth, moisten all living things within a traditional local folk culture, and generate an entire micro-climate. Modernization and urbanization have today left the land exhausted and the flowers drained of fragrance, but these clouds do no hang over the spirit of crafting. Art proclaims the self and concepts, transgressing to find innovation; artists are locked in a frantic struggle to tease out strategies and cleverness, to be proclaimed as the most prescient philosophers of culture. At times it seems that it is only when one looks at a crafted object that one can breathe fresh mountain air and feel that one is looking at something real in this world of illusion.
Unpretentious and at the same time still on a rising curve, these four guys - Li Hongbo, Wei Ming, Wang Lei, and Ye Sen – are hard at work, totally absorbed – emotionally, manually, visually, intellectually, and physically – encompassing the technical, visual, and intellectual, as they strive to complete their specific tasks today that draw on their ingenuity and craftsmanship, at the same time as they cultivate self-transcendent confidence.
I remember many years ago when I saw the acute concentration on the face of an old lady in northern Sha’anxi as she made paper-cuts for a window, seemingly oblivious to the reality around her and I couldn’t resist asking, “What are you thinking about as you do this?” It took her a long time to answer slowly as she thought about the question: “I’m not thinking about anything. There is nothing going on in my head”. She laughed. Then I realized: It’s the crafting skill of action that can at one and the same time empty out reality while accepting an ideal and throwing all mental and physical energies and feelings into creating an empty space inside the heart and mind so that the craftsman holds within himself a new world or universe. Why look elsewhere for any other explanation?
June 9, 2014