當代人是用Google Map在認識世界，Google Map讓我們身體越來越小。從前交通不方便，若要去新營，我們的移動很身體感，辛苦到達新營後又需要重新去認識那個地方。可是，今天我們對新營非常陌生時會上Google Map，或是上網搜尋新營的歷史、新聞，就已經先認識了新營。當我們去到那邊，沒辦法像過去一樣用身體去觀看，因為現在我們認識世界的方式已經跟過去不太一樣了。
We Are All Creating Gods
───────── Shu-kai Lin
Time: July 16, 2015
Interviewee: Shu-kai Lin
Interviewers and Guests: Jow-jiun Gong, Hsin Chen, Mirr Lo, Guan-jhang Chen, Juliet Lin
Location: Lin’s studio
Compiled by Yu-kuan Ho Translated by Wen-ting Lan
From “Totem Islanders,” “Balcony City” to Field Research
In recent two to three years, most of my research reflects on islander culture and urban topics. The series “Floating Island and Totem Islanders” has reached its fifth or sixth year, and that of “The Civilization of Balcony City” is welcoming the third year.
In the series “The Civilization of Balcony City,” I was confronted with the impact modern cities had exerted on me. I think everyone living in the city possesses a space about the size of a balcony, using computers, Facebook, and blogs to connect with the outside world in her or his space, and a city seems to be piled up with many balconies.
Before the interview, I rarely talk about why I shift my topic from “Floating Island and Totem Islanders” to “The Civilization of Balcony City.” In fact, it is because I did not want to say it clearly, I wanted to hide the sorrow or heavy part in the painting. My family has been living in an old community which has existed since the Japanese rule. In the past, there were not laws and regulations governing buildings. Therefore, people built their houses as they wanted. My family’s house has been built for more than thirty years, but since the law came into effect, the house has been considered an illegal building and required to be torn down. If the court orders to demolish the house, we have to tear down parts of the main structure, which means to demolish the whole building. I have lived here since I was a child; I have never really left my home except going to Taipei for study. After I realized the fact, suddenly I felt I could not continue the series “The Floating Island and Totem Islanders” that was still under development for life came to me in such a realistic way, and all I could do was go back to face the reality and start to develop the series “The Civilization of Balcony City.”
When I was a student, I was pretty idealistic, always living in my own world. When I studied at Taipei National University of the Arts, people talked about art every day, and my family provided me with the cost of living. Occasionally I did some part-time jobs, but it was to labor for some artists. I did not work in a company, neither did I have to face the problems of building a career in the society. So when I was confronted with the fact that my house was to be torn down, that I had to beg others, got bullied and humiliated, I was in a complete shock. I suddenly realized that all these things were very different from what I had thought. So for the two series I created in a row, the earlier series can be considered a world of Utopia and fairy tales, while the later one depicts a world that seems to be ideal at first glance, but behind it lies a world clashing with the reality.
In “The Civilization of Balcony City,” I use lots of repetitive lines to draw the city because the bricks and piled structures in the city are actually piled up by people cocooned in urban buildings. With these repetitive lines, I imitate how modern people live in the city. They repeat the same routines, or walk down the same streets, speak the same words every day. I imitate the feelings and the mental state of modern people, and then pile up these feelings to reshape a world of my own imagination. You will not find any people or animals in the paintings, because people in the real world are cocooned in the buildings. We do not always walk down the streets. We go outside because we want to go into another building. While living in the city, people want to be cocooned by the buildings. Therefore, I transform people into symbols, and the whole painting is the mental state of the city.
Nowadays, people use Google Map to see the world, but Google Map is making our body smaller. In the past, transportation was not convenient. If we wanted to go to another place, say Xinying, we could sense the physical movement, and we have to know the place after a tiring journey. But nowadays, if we are a total stranger to Xinying, we use Google Map or go online to research its history and news. Then we know Xinying before we are actually there. When we really arrive at the place, we will not be able to experience the place through our body as we used to for the way we get to know a place is different from that in the past.
I believe every artist has different senses of body. I feel the body when I paint, it is a sense of labor, a spiritual feeling. In contrast, some artists keep going out to do field research on the seaside. They have to navigate the seaside physically, talk to the residents, or even connect with certain people. I, however, put myself in a space to feel it, like being in a state of spiritual practice. I choose to build connections through painting so as to return to myself.
The concept of “The Civilization of Balcony City” is more complete. Unlike paintings in a frame, it is like Google Map formed by different blocks that can extend outward. For example, if I want to search Madou District, the map will show me lots of separate blocks that interconnect with each other to form a large map. Currently, I have an ongoing project of city drawing. I will utilize the essence of historical development or stories about the community, transforming them into my own stories or legends. It will take many years to complete my project. The current plan is to start from Tainan, a place with more stories and alleys. Every corner of the city has a main god to worship. The unique communal structure and culture contain a wealth of stories. I will love to make the city drawings a published book and slowly expand the project to the whole Taiwan and then to the world.
The reason why I investigate is because I want to go outside with my own body. I want to change my regular way of painting or the way I see the world. I do not plan to rely on field research, which is slightly different from the creating process. We have many feelings to transform, and the descriptions do not have to be authentic. The reason of doing field research is to use our own language to say something about others. After the field research, there will be more room for discussion. People who are not in the art field are sure to see things differently. Sometimes when I go to a community to interview an elder man, I find many unexpected possibilities during our conversation, which will become the nutrients for my creation in the future. I rarely use words to describe because the painting itself is a symbol. So the way I handle it is to hide in the painting the things that appear to be words or symbols at first glance. I read my project from different aspects, that is, to describe the city or legends in my imagination through simple images and symbols.
Temple Building Project That Combines Religion and Creation
I have been visiting temples and participating religious events, such as pilgrimage parades, for a long time. That is why I find out that while combining religion and creation, artists are actually creating gods.
When I create, I constantly feel depressed, agonized and nervous. I can find relief and salvation in sensing the physical pain. The same examples can be found in Christianity and Buddhism. Jesus Christ is the son of God, but he was crucified on a cross to bear the sins of all men. Buddha understood the state of the world through spiritual practicing and physical suffering. Both of them went through the physical suffering to attain spiritual relief and awakening. I think jitong (乩童), the spirit medium originated from Taoism, also seeks spiritual relief through physical suffering. It is because of the suffering that I can have a stronger expression when I participate in the temple building project.
Taoism and Buddhism are placed in two different contexts in Taiwan, and their concerns are also very different. I came to realize a key point in Taoism: Before the gods gain their divinity they are the mortal, so Taoism involves many spirits or folklores. That is why I think Taoism is closer to people’s understanding. On the other hand, my creation is more like a response to the environment or the universe, some metaphysical concepts that others cannot concretize. But artists create. They can expand their imaginations to the infinity. That is why I say all artists are actually creating gods and building temples. The temples refer to their own small universe and small world. They have unlimited imagination and different perspectives of the world.
Each religion or god stands for a different perspective of the world. However, that world is intangible. When we step inside a temple, we do not know how the world looks like in the eyes of gods. I think the imagination of the world comes from the hands of artists and their perspectives of the universe, from which we create an ideal state or express our feelings about the unknown world. This talent is very animal-like to me. Animals can feel a change of the environment or a forthcoming natural disaster, which makes me wonder why human beings, obviously a higher-ranking kind of animal, fail to sense that.
In “The Civilization of Balcony City,” you see lots of antennas and symbols because people in this era have cellular phones and satellites to receive information. If you pull away people’s antennas, that is, their ability to sense, they return to animals. When I walk into a temple today, I find out it is not just a religious center, it is also a base station gathering people’s energy and transmits it outwards. I will also focus on this concept when working on the temple building project in the future. Because I know we should think temples not only from the religious viewpoint, but also from those of the contemporary, the scientific and human instincts. If so, a temple is surely like a base station, which receives signals from different people, or becomes a platform transmitting information outward, so everyone can communicate and connect. If we do not have a religious center, people are independent individuals, but when people enter a temple, they will be involved and become one. When we leave a temple, we still keep our own subjectivity. Next time when we go into the temple, it is a base station again, and many signals are received there to be transmitted.
I am pretty interested in the concept recently because few people talk about it when it comes to religion. The social structure is more like a cluster. Unlike most people who can join the cluster easily, I always have difficulty blending-in. That is why I stay in my own world to create and it allows me to have better control on the media or the issues I am concerned about. Usually I am pretty self-enclosed because I spend most of the time in the studio, claiming that I am creating gods, building temples, and establishing my small universe. When I connect and communicate with other artists, it is the same as participating in a pilgrimage. Temples in Tainan are more like a community center. They all have a main god who visits communities in a pilgrimage parade. I sometimes attend an opening or visit artists’ studios, this is like a pilgrimage to me. When an artist connects to the outside world, he focuses more on how to exchange, to communicate and to make this process an event with effects.
I plan to propose my ideas about a temple to involve more people in my temple building project. If in the future more people are involved, it will be like a festival that can meet the demands of various people from different times. The spirituality and the state of mind found only in a festival can eliminate all the dissatisfaction and frustration. It is also the feeling I have been searching for.
If we discuss an artist from a contemporary point of view, we only see the surface, but if we discuss him/her from the viewpoint of religion or civilization, we see what has defined the artist in different contexts, that is, in a comprehensive perspective. I do not equal belief to religion or superstition; instead, I think of belief from people’s point of view: people rely on belief to remain detached so as to examine themselves.
In the temple building project, I will explain why artists create gods.
I think the fact that artists want to create gods is very interesting. We artists are not like stars or idols, who attract many fans by singing popular songs. Artists dedicated to art may stay in certain spiritual state for their entire life. Even if they are unnoticed, they return to their spiritual world anyway. This is more like a religious practice. One has to keep improving him- or herself. The practice or the body sensation mentioned in Theravada Buddhism resonates to my body sensation or experiences. The different experiences I have had and people I have met since I was a child all build up the way I see the world.
Another reason I want to go to temples or start my temple building project is because I think there are lots of interesting stories and legends. For example, Ting-ting Chang is quite well-known now, so I will create an image for her and write a story about her as a response to the people, incidents and things I have seen, and further transform them into a legend. Or I will gather gossips from neighbors to create a legend. So in my temple there will be a main god, and in this world I create, different images or stories will be connected together, just like The Investiture of the Gods in which many different gods are created.
Although I have not got a prototype of the temple, I have a general picture of it based not on investigation or study of temple structure. but on the fact that all artists create gods. I do not draft so I am not sure what the temple will look like. A dozen years ago, no one knew there would be Electric-Techno Neon Gods (電音三太子 a dance performance combining Taiwanese folk dance and pop music). The interesting part about Taoist sacrificial ceremonies or temple fairs is that you never know what to expect next year. My idea of a religion or a temple changes in accordance with the different situations and different feelings I experience. I may be ready now, but there is more than one year ahead, so I do not know what experience or change I will have in this period of time.
I have been praying in temples lately. If something is not going well, I will talk to gods. For me, a god is like an elder. I am closest to Jade Emperor and frequent Tiangong Temple or Alter to find him. I think Jade Emperor becomes the leader of all gods because he has seen the most, and he can understand whatever I tell him. Although the emperor cannot answer my questions or physically help me, I just keep going to him when I do something wrong or when I have setbacks. Every time I leave the temple, I feel a sense of comfort and relaxed. It is very straightforward, so I go to the temple regularly and start to get interested in temple buildings. The main goal of the project is to propose a message and a signal for discussion and involve more people. The act to present or build a temple will definitely draw people’s discussion, and I will keep sending “signals”. It is very abstract, but it will involve more people to discuss and make connections in the future. Regardless of its context of creation or the material I choose, I believe the project will reach out and make some connections.