Chen Zhe: Flaneuse at Dusk

Jenny Feng, translated by Fiona He
July 2018

How can time be gauged and documented?

With the increasing possibilities to observe time/landscape due to its acceleration (sped up communication devices), remote observation (achievement in space travel), the possibility to compress images (technologies in image processing and compression), text repetitions and discussions from multiple perspectives, and the application of virtual reality and etc., all of which have placed man’s vision from a linear progression to an integrated space in the VR world. On this basis, the discussion about this unique subject, in Chen Zhe’s case, “dusk”, turns an artistic practice into an experience of wandering - like the “wonders” in Alice in Wonderland - where the artist discusses the visual, literary aspect of dusk in order to build a curio cabinet with unique perspectives.

Wandering is a notion that further manifests Chen Zhe’s continuous works, for which she collected, organized, tested and experimented a large amount of material. On the one hand, it indefinitely delays the end of time, on the other increases its variables and randomness. Towards Evenings: The Clock (2017) visualizes this work process through an installation. The reflections projected from the copper-plated discs, represent a series of unfinished works, and the chapter works on display, with the overall series moving forward, the documentation of time illuminates and transforms into a sun ablaze.

As one wanders, one is likely to meet various unpredictable encounters. For Chen Zhe, she adopted them into the materials by which to portray the evening, like a dropped anchor that would momentarily halt the boat. Entre Chien et Loup (2017), she used the pattern on the slate, and placed seven different texts onto these pieces that co-exist-yet-conflicting with dusk. This work appropriates Zhu Tianwei’s literary description of “Entre Chien et Loup”, “Ah the dusk between dog and wolf, a Magic Hour, as it was said in ancient Hebrew, ‘People cannot distinguish the hour between the dog and wolf’, it’s a time when the day transitions into night, during this magic time of eight to nine minutes.” On the cusp of dusk, it comes to a still on the slate, just like how we experience it. Things are ambiguous and indistinct, and one has to rely on former experiences and speculations to describe the contour of things. When the spectator reads text on these slates with difficulties, the moment of dusk would have already departed.

A constellation rising from the earth’s orbits

Other than the work Entre Chien et Loup, many of Chen Zhe’s works references rich and diverse literary materials, so the ephemerality of dusk is captured through photographic and moving-images. Through which, Chen expounds on the “disquiet” with the melancholy of the poet, the inquiry of a theorist observation, allowing text and form to interact and transform each other. In her work, A Study of a Poem by Rainer Maria Rilke (2016), Chen adopted Rilke’s Sunset to turn the riddle into a labyrinth of text and images, where the theme and solution become the interpretations of dusk.

Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth.

In addition, his last phrase states, “One moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.” This turning point is drawn from a disastrous outcome in the artist’s childhood game. The stones left on the ground turned into constellations, while the stars at a distance switched perspective and turned into the earth, thereon the notion of dusk became an important vantage point to connect the illumination from outer space and the shadows rose on earth. This work earnestly documented the gauging and the flashing aura through rewriting, pausing one’s thinking, and random images that transgress between text and images, bearing witness to the cycles of constellation and the earth through formal representations, and the in between, near and far, weight and lightness, upwards and downward, expansion and constrictions.

Dusk, a moment in the eternal pause

Once Chen Zhe has wandered, experienced the infinite cycle of things, and returned to the curio cabinet where the essence of dusk is preserved. The Only Question is how to endure – viewing (2017), in which Chen Zhe installed the notions of “Immersing”, “Resisting”, “Seizing the Moment”, “Understanding Eternity” into its four compartments through the form of a novella, for which she paired them with four different texts. The structure of the curiosity cabinet disperses certain messages, that all visible things will be shown and used, to become a bridge for related knowledge. The subtext of this artwork, are synonymous to the categories that divide books (and knowledge) in a library, with which the spectator can access the thoughts of the artist.  

Immersing” and “Resisting” represent two paradoxical psychological states: one shows the ease in dealing with things, the other implies a conscious expounding, questioning and resisting. Putting these two states together and revealing them to the public, rips open a gap in perception - a gap that helps us to discuss the subject of “dusk”, about all that is on the cusp, including all theories that existed at a certain moment, all within one’s thinking. “Seizing the Moment” and “Understanding Eternity” become the conclusions for natural occurrence. An eternal pause at a given moment to a certain extent shapes our perception and leads us into the understanding of the new world. As John Berger once stated, “Meaning and enigma come hand in hand, they are inseparable, both are products of time. Firmly determined or relinquished to the moment, while skepticism and questioning demand time, and meaning, is in fact the outcome of the two coming together.”

If we were to recall Chen Zhe’s earlier work Bees (2010-2012) and The Bearable (2007-2010), both took many years to complete. With her tolerance and acceptance of time, she lived through her own darkness and illumination, hurt and healing. And above her personal experiences in the context of our time, her works project efforts towards the perception of one’s body/spirit, the self and one’s environment. This process was likely filled with self-harm, for Chen used pain as an evidence for one’s existence, while the self-harm in Towards Evenings: Six Chapters focuses on the ebbs and flows of hesitation, rift and infinity.

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