works here

All phenomena in the world are pipe dream like dew and lightening. We shall regard everything in this way.
- The Diamond Sutra

Pipe Dream
Essay: Chen Haiyan

Once, Chai Yiming said: “I like seeing the world through goldfish bowl.” I was immediately captured by his word. When I mentioned this at our second meeting, he didn’t remember it, only leaving me confused, watching him through my glasses. This is Chai who always lives in the momentary stream of consciousness. There seems no link between the last second and the next, but people will be surprised or stunned by the casual flow of his stream of consciousness. As for me, looking at( Watching ) Chai’s painting is like facing a completely open Pandora’s Box. Reality and truth suddenly becomes ashes to ashes, conjuring up a surreal world in Chai’s painting. At this moment if we turn at him, he may already indulge in his own world and continue to paint The Classic of Mountains and Seas in his mind. In a sense, we are the people who see the world through a goldfish’s bowl. 

In 2009, Alain Jullien and Luo Yongjin accidentally saw patches of cloths for stitching soles that local people were airing in Peitian Village of Fujian. Those assorted colorful cloths pasted with rice milk attracted them with an unspeakable charm. They thought of using these patches otherwise than just for shoe soles. In the next year, Alain revisited Peitian and brought a batch of cloths to Luo Yongjin. They both expected that someday a talented person can turn the cloths into treasure. In 2013, Alain and Luo saw Chai’s solo exhibition “Discursive Narration” in Zhujiajiao and found that Chai is good at making use of different materials in different environments for his art recreation. They believed that Chai can handle with these “rags”.  When later Luo talked with Chai, he was pleased to accept it as expected. Soon after, we saw the “cloths” being “ravaged” over and over by Chai in his downtown studio. When we revisited him a few months later, the works were fundamentally changed. We discovered on the painting table two new quilted patches by his mother. Apparently he didn’t feel adequate with the pieces we provided. To Chai, painting is a life style and expressive desire. In his words, painting is like God sowing seeds, you take care of the places where seedling grows. If it dies by accident during growth, just wait for its rebirth. Chai only follows instinct. This is the way he always treats things, deliberately and randomly. The dreamy bubble from stream of consciousness is randomly fished out, dragged and aired, then selected, piled up, deleted, corrected and elaborated from Chai’s mysterious and over-frequently turning mind. To him, inspiration is self-generation and self-presentation of consciousness, not caught by external force or deliberately planned. It is the ability to take control when consciousness comes that counts. For example, for the choice of color types that the cloths demands, Chai has tried various kinds of textile dyestuff, ceramic pigment, glass pigment, pigment for Chinese painting, acrylic, oil paint, gouache, ink paint and even luminous pigment and twinkling eye shadow powder. Rice paper, gold foils, magazine pictures, lyrics and texts … the assembly process of material fragments is based on experienced experiment and hidden logic of subconscious. The essence of dreamy narration is a free-styled analysis of the real world. And following the instinct and using it freely is the only result of choice after all social practices, thus, reaching the truth straight from the world of chaos. 

First time in Chai’s studio, I was astonished at odds and ends filled up the big rooms. The substantial and oppressive feeling surrounded by “objects” can only take breath in the blank spaces that carefully arranged by Chai. The imagination gushed out that I might create by writing like Chai. This was the most extreme artist’s studio I’d ever seen. On the desk, more than a dozen of brushes on the pen rack stood by and the bottles and tubes were ready with pigments. I seemed to have entered into a laboratory by mistake where was firmly packed with books, plants, sundries, pigments and tools. I couldn’t help but think of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the protagonist of Das Parfüm by German writer Patrick Süskind. The weird genius from the kingdom of odor could easily make any kind of odor masterpiece by his talent and instinct, while he had no body odor himself. The difference is that Grenouille in the novel finally killed 25 girls and extracted their body note to make the perfect perfume, then self annihilated, while Chai is still struggling for Buddhism, self-sufficiency and free expression. Moreover, he can’t be like Grenouille “as tough as a resistant bacterium and as content as a tick sitting quietly on a tree and living off a tiny drop of blood plundered years before”, because Chai loves books, objects and any other possible things. He loves to focus and adjust his sense to feel the world’s past, present and future, and then enlighten himself in the darkness of his own world. 

The most frequent words that Chai uses are “lovely”, “coquettish” and “weird”. Watching his works is just like talking with him that his “Kung-fu” always makes me unable to respond. In my opinion, the theme and meaning of the work is not important to the audience. What’s important is that whether you can see the “lovely”, “coquettish” and “weird” in the painting. Congratulations if you see it, at least you can appreciate the motive and final display of this exhibition; more congratulations if you perceive more than the painting itself as you can read Chai’s unrestrained mystery book. If you are trying to understand the works by reading Chai’s scratched codes and my words of stream of consciousness, it’s obviously an illusion, even a big mistake. 

In front of Chai’s works, everyone wants to be an ideal reader, taking his misreading as the real interpretation and neglecting the existence of the works and the artist. However, the truth is as the Buddhist texts say that the creation is changeable because divinity is both natural and supernatural. After all, it is just a pipe dream like dew and lightening. 


Translation: Fan Chen
翻 译:范 晨