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Notes on my art

A correspondence to Mr. Greg Thomas during the process of his preparation for the exhibition – Global Roots

Dear Greg,

 A few months ago, I received a letter from a friend from Taiwan, in which she addressed her sympathy to my present experiences of cultural diversity.  She thought I was passively forced into a situation of cultural confrontation, a pathetically dilemma that naturally occurs for anyone who lives in a foreign country.  Coincidentally, one of my American friends recently criticized my confused personality. “You had such a difficult life that made you run from one place to the other, if you had grown up in a stable and protected environment, you wouldn’t be an insecure person today.”  Sighing, with a tone of salvation, the person continued, “I really feel sorry for you.”  Suddenly, I felt I was out of touch from the hand of mercy, and descending into a swamp of unreachable depth.

The reason I take the criticism seriously is because both of these friends are quite straightforward.  It shows the originality of their thought, no superficiality, not what they have been told, which I appreciate.  However, both of them miss that the reality of cultural displacement is the physical and psychological roots that have formed who I am.  If there is a dilemma, life is the organism of dilemmas; it is I who chose to live in it.  For whatever advantage or disadvantage of the situation that I am fortunately able to catch up with, I am grateful to have my own unique life and art, from which I feel both content and challenged.  I believe it makes no difference; nevertheless, I am not the only person living in this world of dilemma.

There often is a misunderstanding of my work.  It seems that people would somehow like to see my work as an effort of pursuing multi-cultural communication, or ‘harmony’, a nice and positive political tendency, and very correct in these days.  I found many writings about my art rely on the very appearance of my work and portray me as an artist who has an idealistic ideology.  I was from a state where propaganda of ideology used to be the only function of art, which I am sick of.  I personally don’t believe in the term political ideology.  It locks humanity in the prison of social geometry, and prevents humanity from seeing its own light; maybe not the glorious one, but a unique light.  The propaganda of art, as far as I can see, pushes political ideology to the worst end of humanity, and has done countless inhuman activities throughout our history.

From our talk in my studio while you were in New York, I said that my art is more about my questioning and trying to see the present reality through personal experience.  I am interested in multi-cultural issues; my focus is very much on cultural difference as a form of communication, and confrontation as a pattern.  I am fascinated by today’s reality, in which layers of cultural linearity become transparent and overlap one another.

By delineating the forms of cultural juxtaposition, rather than focusing on the large scope of the structure of reality, my work will, hopefully, prompt questions about the traditional form of society: the notion of the individual, the ontological self, and the justification of our physical and psychological being, our attachment and detachment.  I am fascinated with seeing our naked human selves, which have been subjected intellectually, through history and to the present, to being physically singled out and suspended within this transparent web-world.

After all, through the form of art, not just my music making, but my visual art as well, I do not know why I have arrived at the idea of trying to piece all of these questions through the structure of fugue, a musical form created during the Baroque time.  In the fugue, polyphonic parallel lines provide a counter point to one another, and self-generate various alternatives from a simple motif.  I see the similarity of parallel juxtapositions in my art to that of the fugue, except I discard the vertical relationship of accuracy, a miracle that classical fugue has.  It is a great loss, yet it is a reasonable loss, too. In consequence, I shall put my art as: a reality in the form of juxtaposition of dis-counter-point.

Finally, for the best description of my work, I would like to quote a short paragraph from “OMNIZONE – Mapping Perspectives in Digital Culture,” an article about recent technology and digital culture; beautiful imagery written by my friends Stephen Pusey and Yu Yeon Kim. (Published in Intelligent Agent – May 1998)

“To conjure a visual model that might serve to illustrate the layered complexity of online culture that has developed within just the last few years – imagine that you are examining, within an advanced VRML space, a transparent Babel Tower – its diaphanous walls etched with both genius and trivia in every language.  Viewed laterally, the Tower is an open matrix of corridors of informational exchange, spiraling inwards and outwards, a multiplex of data streams in digital space, alive with the light of electrons dancing in frenzied transmission.  Select ‘slide’ on your control panel so that you are looking from above, and what you might see is a glass disk with the inscriptions of each floor visible through the other; as a palimpsest of the iconography of our cultures melded as an equivalent array.  Such a configuration would allow us to understand our histories not so much as a vertical osmosis, through which the ideas of the past percolate to posterity, but more as a compete saturation of the present by its own infrastructure – functioning as a delivery-and-exchange network of cultural packages.”

All the best,


Paradise Lost *  

When Bill Moyers asked an Italian historian why   Renaissance music feels sad, the experts smiled: It was not easy to live in the air of freedom at the   time, he said: you think about what happened during   the medieval period, and aftermath of the glorious aspect of physical matter in the Renaissance. It was   the feeling of loss that made Renaissance music   haunted.  

It seemed both the question and the answer were quite off the point in the particular context of the   conversation, but I thought it was an inspirational   dialogue that went beyond historical accuracy and   music theory of the time.

If we take musical form from the Renaissance to the   Classical period in the Western history of music, we   see how the form of the massive multi-linear  structure, through Baroque period, gradually gives   away to singular hierarchical linear form of pyramid   that entitled as Classical style. It is quite   obvious,   particularly from period of later Baroque and   earlier   Classical, music form has constructed down to a   hierarchical arrangement of triads based on the   natural harmonics or overtone of a note,  a   triangular   and an exclusive circle that carry on from beginning   to the end, in which tonality lies in the center of   the fluid structure. It was the golden age in the   history of Western music. The triads of tonic,   mediant, and dominant; major and minor scale   constructed a form in which a perfect balance is   established upon the modulation between balance and   unbalance. It creates a feeling of going to the goal   and coming back home. It is a comfortable, moving   position of symmetry which seems very similar, not   only to the tonality of the human ear, but to the   gravity of human physical nature and social behavior   as well.  

Different from Classical music, Renaissance, and Baroque music show asymmetrical form that the   polyphonic structure and multi-linear layers going   parallel on their own destinations. The independent   lines are overlapped by contrapuntal harmonic   resonance but not triad-based tonality. The heavily   chromatic passage is going through along the time,   in   which nothing is in dominant. It gives us the   feeling   of no beginning and end. 

In contemporary music, the structure of polyphonic form has revived, yet is cast in a very different light from its ascendant. On the surface it seems there is the historical retrogression of the past, however, from Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Die Soldaten to Glenn Gould's Idea of North and John Cage's Europera, it is evident that multi-layers of thinking goes beyond the polyphonic music structure to the conscious concept that is reflected from the contemporary social environment.   While it used to be well protected by its exclusive structure, traditional society now is constantly challenged by many "foreign elements" that are forced to re-adjust, in order to be balanced with the other "exclusive structures". Therefore, the layers of organic, interwoven relationship inevitably become today’s social phenomena.  In this relevant organic universe, the feeling of being lost, like an old hunted shadow, has been creeping back into our life like tiny pious radium that imbed for future explosion in the name of human's political and scientific triumph over our own past. Only the context is different. While the different traditional values are forced to overlap against each other, the structure that contains these values has to be reformed. Present cultural phenomena are very much like the structure of a transparent web where cultural fragmentations are etched and interwoven into one of another. The world is moving without much sense of gravity and direction. Quantities of overlapped hierarchical centers make the singular center obscure.     

It is interesting that this formation is very   similar   to today's web technology.  However, I personally   don't believe the web technology is the crucial   element determining recent social change. The   gradations of social change came long before the   innovation of the new technology. Web technology is   one very much needed element.  Or, it may be   considered one of the best representations of   destructive force to the traditional social   structure.    I often think the clean-ness of technology will   play   an important role in human society only when our   vulnerable humanity becomes involved. It is human   who   creates technology of purity and percolates it as   venerable and interesting as human. New technology   is   not the presentation of today's reality but only the   result of present reality. For this case the most   exciting thing may not be the creation of the   technology but the reflective effects created   through   human intervention. It may bring us to the moment in   which we can no longer clearly define what is   `creation' next to what is the result of our own   creation, and may result in a combination of them   both.  

As in my other works, in Polyphonic Realities, I am not   interested in the representation of facts in   reality,   but in the form of a parallel multi-linear   structure.   This seems to be a result of the diversity of   cultural   experiences I have lived within.  I am often   surprised   to see how an art form relates to its relevant   social   structure. As with today's social environment, I am   fascinated that layers of cultural linearity become   transparent and overlap one another.   Once again, the world comes to a place where the   quantity of individuality and the massive   subjective   freedom within it, are demolishing the subjective   foundations of the traditional system of a social,   hierarchical pyramid. We are bouncing in infinite   space where there is neither ground nor gravity to be relied upon; there is no shade and no high light, either, just transparency.  We are lost as “we” and are forced to deal with “I”, as a Zen Buddhist facing and infinite blank wall.  This is a quite hard reality to live in, but it is exciting, isn’t it?


*The article I wrote for the project of Polyphonic Realities, a web related installation at Lehman College / 1998