2007年4月28日 星期六

Spatial Poetry – Su Hsin-Tien

Spatial Poetry – Su Hsin-Tien
Consolidating Multiple Imaginary Worlds Through Non-Linear Macro-Perspective
Tien Kuang-Fu, 2007/01/23
Since ancient times the continuous cycle of the sun, the moon and all the stars appearing and reappearing high in the night sky as heavenly orbs has been the paradigm of mankind’s contemplation of the eternal. Although these heavenly orbs appear static they are nonetheless locked in an endless cycle of highly symmetrical rotation, revolution and reflection. The natural world often manifests itself in static round forms, such as a drop of water, the sun, the moon, tree trunks or a cat that curls itself into a furry ball to stay warm. When confronted with danger porcupines and armadillos will curl themselves into a ball as a defense mechanism – another display of the static. All round forms obliquely suggest that they have been wrapped around a central core.
Mankind has been smart in discerning the value of the round form, creating the wheel, round vessels and round tables, freeing them from the need to lift such things and affording a universal means of transport by rolling them from place to place. Mankind has also created three-dimensional round forms of varying sizes – spherical and cylindrical – to more easily transport such heavy items as large stones. And in weaponry, ropes have been secured to stones so that a circular motion can be used to generate greater speed in hurling the stone toward its target, such as with the mace. In the martial arts, the circular forms the core concept that has been passed down through generations of Tai Chi masters. At any of its various points, the round form is non-sectional, non-directional so that it may roll along unimpeded.
As to the movement of celestial bodies, although the ancients could never fully prove their hypothesis that the sun and the moon revolved around the Earth in circular orbits, they could only conclude that those orbits were indeed circular. Once they understood that the perfect circle has a central point, people naturally began to form a kind of “centralist” philosophy. These concepts began with the ancient Greeks and continued until Sir Isaac Newton’s Inverse Square Law of Gravity eventually explained that the orbits involved all “two body problems” were conic sections, namely elliptical parabolic and hyperbolic curves and straight lines. Only then were “centralist” theories of celestial motion, with a given center of the universe, discarded.
In other words, in the celestial scheme of behavior, the sun and the Earth were “concentric, each with its own focal point.” Their orbits in space are conical most commonly elliptical, hence with two loci, rather than circular with a single center. Taking it a step further to consider the dynamics among three celestial bodies is known as the “three body problem,” which to this day has yet to be solved. Celestial bodies are sometimes referred to as “heavenly bodies,” suggesting that their movements are determined by God or gods. But application of the understanding of the laws of gravity has allowed mankind to peep into the secrets of the motions of celestial bodies, permitting us, for example, to accurately predict the time of the sun and moon eclipses, in advance or in the past.
Back to our original subject. Further use of and research into the circular form led mankind to even more firmly believe in the perfection of the circular of spherical form, and thus in the circular, cyclical nature of destiny. Even the German juvenile education theorist Flaubert (circa the Beethoven era) suggested that people hang three-dimensional spherical, square and cylindrical shapes – such as soft, fuzzy pink balls – over their babies’ cribs, the spheres representing unbound, free motion; the squares and rectangles representing the man-made world such as buildings and roads and the cylindrical represents the accommodation between man and nature of freedom for the sake of construction.
Contrasted with the more circular paths pursued by the celestial bodies, ancient people nonetheless believed the Earth and its seas were flat and stretched on without limit until the reaches of hell on the one hand and heaven on the other. The general belief was that the Earth and the seas were flat, with no bend or curvature (with the exception of the brilliant Egyptian mathematician Eratosthenes, who upon hearing in 300 B.C. that the noon sun at summer solstice shone straight down into the bottom of a water well in the ancient Egyptian town of eclipses, in today’s Aswan Dam region, while 900 km away north in Alexandria a port of Mediterranean on the same day at the same time the sun did not shine down to the bottom of a well, decided to investigate, concluding that the Earth was spherical and eventually calculating its radius at 6000 km.). Within the relatively narrow and limited spatial experience life then afforded in the Mediterranean, the Greeks naturally developed Euclidean Geometry, also around 300 B.C., with concepts of the flat, the straight and the parallel forming the basis of the world view and spatial view. But the aesthetic appeal of the logic and order of Euclid’s geometric theories only reinforced people’s belief in the flatness of the cosmos and straightness is the nature of space and a straight line originating at any point traveling in any direction would continue forever and never intersect with another straight line originating from the same point in traveling in another direction nor return to the point of origin. Furthermore, the world was perceived as centralized around a central core that projected outward in radial linear fashion. For example, with the self or individual at its center, people became even more determined to project the domain of the religious and political center of Rome over the entire Earth, also further developing lineally projected flat visualization.
Additionally, over a period of more than a thousand years a perfectionist mankind continually refined the theories and facts behind parallelism, ultimately resulting in a firm belief that linear parallelism was not merely a human hypothesis but an immutable law of the cosmos! But in the end mankind conversely found that non-Euclidean geometric theories could actually also be independently established, that is to say non-Euclidean theories were an admission that linear parallelism was no more than a hypothesis and not a law of nature.
So people seized upon the narrow concept of the “true straight” line as the “best path”, elevating it to the metaphysical(1), and consequently discovering broader spatial and geometric truths and more significant varieties of geometry. Among them, the most familiar and best understood by most people are hyperbolic and spherical geometry and the later-developed topology. Naturally, during the course of inquiry it was widely understood after Columbus’ voyage that the Earth was, in fact, spherical and thus spherical geometry slowly began to develop. So how does Euclidean and non-Euclidean spherical geometry differ? Imagine that you and someone next to you are holding laser beams and point them straight ahead, “parallel or in the same direction,” into an opposing perpendicular wall. You and the person next to you will hit two different points on the wall and the light beams will not intersect.
However, if both of you were to move along the straight lines on the floor perpendicular to each one of you standing, and guided continuously by laser beam in such rooms such way, both of you would find that the two laser beams would gradually become closer and eventually intersect, violating the fifth axiom of Euclidean geometry. This is, of course, because the Earth is spherical and the two floor lines perpendicular to each of you are not lines but actually two great circles of earth. Locally in each room we perceive the two lines of the floor you move along to be flat, straight and parallel. This flat, straight continual worldview and conceptualization of space is Euclidean. It is characterized by a kind of “micro-view” with “people as little as ants,” and then project our limited physical experience outward to a belief that the entire world our universe and space as an infinite flat, straight expanse as this small and local experience.
But if we adopt a vastly broader view in regarding the Earth, the Milky Way Galaxy and the universe, this is a cosmic view and worldview of the universe, the theory of Relativity in which all things may shed another concepts of our world, our universe. The best path for all objects in motion including transmission of light, the factor of the gravitational field in the outer space is indispensable. Of course, linearity is merely another variant of the curved or zero curvature. This perspective perhaps dovetails with Lao Tzu’s adage: “The greatest straightness is among the curvy.” Viewing the world from the grand perspective, the straight, on a massive scale, is actually curved and the possibility of actual true straight is, conversely, zero.
Artist Su Hsin-Tien embraces non-Euclidean geometry and the theory of relativity in his comprehensive worldview, forming a rational foundation for his art with painting and imagination and integrating, depicting the vast and then tiny mysterious worlds, that is at once evolutionary and solid. But science is not art and, as the public is peripherally aware, the mathematical structure of geometry and the conclusions of theoretical physics are alone an insufficient impetus for artistic creation. Artistic creation most certainly arises as some extension of irrepressible human emotion. Emotions have scale and a separation or marriage of the sublime and the grandiose! Whatever the emotion some proper spatial concept is required within which to integrate and express it. To avoid logical dissection of argument, space itself may naturally be the source of emotional outpouring.
It is in this respect in my conversations with Su Hsin-Tien, and in listening to him speak with others, that I have discovered in him a fascinating though seldom seen deep and abiding creative spirit. When discoursing on how a curved spatial and cosmic outlook enlightened him to look beyond the centralized linear theories of perspective to new interpretations, structure and composition, his voice gradually rises with the passion as he eagerly seek to share with the listener this most primeval “creative fount” and spatial theory technique. You may have found that quite a number of listeners always find it difficult to escape from the stain of linear Euclidean notions of space and painting perspective.
Although Brother Su’s passion is undeniable like pouring showers of falling pedals of spring flowers onto the flowing water, the audiences responded like the calmness of the water surface, often mistakenly shown with blunt faces and numb ears. However, the strange thing is everyone feels the vast dimensional expanses of space within his paintings, some immediately feel dizziness; never experienced in any Chinese style landscape painting! This is precisely the fundamental point! Actually, chatting privately with viewers they all obliquely reveal that they are drawn to the paintings due to the vastness of the spaces depicted in it! Some people do their best timing to grasp his unique statements on infinity through a most fundamental question: “Why paint this?” But they never stop to inquire as to why the space depicted in the painting feels so vast. His answer may cause surprises.
Su says within each painting there is a great “dissatisfaction.” With regard to the question, it would seem “dissatisfaction” is the creative source of Su’s paintings. You got that? Due to dissatisfaction? I closely examined the paintings toward which he pointed. No way, I said. Where is the dissatisfaction? I was looking at a number of upbeat works. Aside from their disported spatial depictions, they were all very positive! They all exhibited a warm and pleasing aesthetic, although a few had a somewhat cooler feel. The use of color in some of the paintings was charmingly poetic and most beautiful. Where’s the dissatisfaction?
Because really, these paintings showed no dissatisfaction. Well, with the surreal portion even if he puts a chicken egg up in the sky or deliberately provokes myriad illusions, don’t we still in the end remark “hmmmm, interesting” or “happy?” Where’s the dissatisfaction?
Whereupon I took the opposing tack to this thread and ultimately find the source of confirmation. Su’s most grandiose works in the end stem from an extreme sense of humility and modesty. His inner emotional world is surprisingly opposite to that expressed in his paintings; the dissatisfaction deep within his heart pours forth through his imagination to be expressed effortlessly in his paintings.
He is profoundly unsettled and perplexed by the incomprehensibility of life and the universe. As a small boy near the seaside, his uncle would come back from sea resolutely and with great persuasiveness tell him that the “seas are truly horizontally straight.” Upon later learning in a natural science textbook that the Earth was round he was greatly suspicious and distressed with this information.
In his later years the problem of an interconnected linear universe would similarly vex him. Su customarily creates a rough sketch with numerous folds or creased surfaces and edges, that is to say a number of “Z-shaped” figures. This is also quite an interesting “essential element in the artistic process.” Perhaps it represents some kind of philosophical symbol like the seemingly constant struggles of cars emerging and receding into the uphill mountain pass or perhaps it’s a symbolic expression of various painful inner demons.
Similarly the folds and creases can also change form and can change orientation, with the top becoming the bottom. This is an essential element of painting. Looking back at the Western abstract painters of the 20th century they quite simply did not transcend the linear.
Even where curves are emphasized, such as in Chinese “xie yi” painting or “cursive style ” calligraphy, which in the end are considerably smooth and rounded, to state that it is merely a mutated form of linear painting style would not be an overstatement. So if we want to discuss avant-garde here, Su Hsin-Tien’s paintings are genuinely, obstinately, earnestly and absolutely in the creative vanguard.
The lines may seem simple but they delineate a “complex space,” creating a four-dimensional universe composed of a continuum of several multifaceted worlds in space-time – all within the confines of a two-dimensional canvas!
His expansive style reflects his sincere commitment and passion; and in each of his paintings his refuses to allow the portrayed rivers, mountain ranges or freeways (there are no railroads) to vanish simply into a horizon within the canvas. Rather he “inserts” them into another world or flips them up onto the top of the canvas where they may stretch on without end and are stunning to contemplate. Some say that Taiwan is so tiny, whither the expansiveness?
Behind this kind of thinking are notions of the relative size of quantifiable sums in political, military, economic or land area terms; it is a “non-artistic” state of mind. In celebration of the freely creative spirit, Su Tung-Po (Chien Chi Pi Fu) said: “It is only the breeze on the rivers, lingering moonlight among the mountains that afford ears as sound and colors for eyes! One can reap without any limitations, partake without exhaustion” The inspiration of the romantic is without size, time or space and may be partaken of to one’s heart’s desire, depending upon one’s appetite or imagination; this is a distinguishing characteristic of art reality.
Let’s use our imaginations to consider the size of Taiwan. Taiwan is big. The sky around Taiwan is big, as big as anywhere inside a continental plain, the land area being but a tiny denominator of which. If we say the ocean is huge pa rapport to the sky then our denominator Taiwan becomes even tinier.
Once the numerator and denominator are executed by arithmetic division, we can perceive the outcome enormous, bigger than Japan, bigger than Korea, bigger than the Philippines and, yes, definitely bigger than China. Looking out east, north or southeast from Hualien at the vast endless expanse of space it’s difficult not be moved by the greatness of the ocean and sky, let alone drop to one’s knee’s in awe! Naturally, the perspective from Taiwan’s tiny isolated islands in the South China Sea is no different.
Although Su says his visual bending theories are no more than an earnest examination of the deceptions within the micro-view of flat perspective, the trees, land, stones, clouds, skies, seascapes, river scenes and freeways depicted in his paintings are all composed within a central theme of a continuous cycle, using textured and creeping color details to produce an appealing feeling of motion, everything moves. Providing people with a sound combination of the philosophical and the rational is the most difficult, challenging and crucial aspect of artistic creation. The feelings, ideals and natural circumstances are undeniably evident.
When an artist is struck with fiery passion, without the appropriate spatial depth, compositional structure, technique and theory within which to frame it, the passion continually drains away, this is the most troubling of creative disasters. The philosophical requires the artist’s own innate ability while the rational relies the artist’s judicious professionalism and ability to meticulously manipulate the chosen media. One cannot be a truly capable artist without combining both of these traits. The primary characteristic of artistic painting is that the artist must place these pressing demands within the confines of a flat, two-dimensional canvas.
Only the two-dimensional canvas can be “squeezed” to release emotions to form a most dazzling radiance. With sculpture or other three-dimensional media the effect is lost as however people view it they will examine it with the very possibility of physical existence. This is because we are too familiar with three-dimensional space. Only on the two-dimensional canvas is the human brain capable of accepting the leap from common logic to allow the imagination race unbridled through the space-time and gravitational field of the cosmos. I think this is a useful approach for appreciating Su Hsin-Tien’s works.
Finally, I’d like to briefly discuss Su and the “Möbius band.” A common maxim once held that one should be “consistent in one’s conduct inside and out.” That is to say, people have an external and an internal side to them. Although two sides of the same coin, they are nonetheless two sides. A fascination with the Möbius band led to Su’s obsession with the notion of two sides being actually one. From the external to the internal, outer and inner exist in the same single-sided spatial world. I think as a person, he reflects this; the internal and the external are as one. But this may be a question for him, no? Without his research into the Möbius band or the illusionary painting techniques of M.C. Escher, there would have been no way for him to compose his multi-spatial imagery.
“Metaphysical” refers to the notion that a “line” was once a specific object. We began in-depth investigation into the characteristics of the line and its associated space, further formulating its specific elemental concepts and extrapolating those to every other circumstance. For example, the shortest distance between any two points in a given plane is a “straight” line. Anyone with a piece of rope knows this. But in spherical space, the shortest distance between two points is an arc of the circle that passes through them, such as with a rubber band around a ball. On a curved surface, excluding beneath, there are no straight lines to be used. Hence we began to consider that between two points the “shortest whatever line” might not in fact be a “straight” line. Whether or not the line is straight is determined in consideration of the associated space in which the two points exist.
Möbius band: The insignificant natural world is unable to see its natural existence. But occasionally in their haste in the early mornings people twist their belts when putting them on, with the inside surface becoming the outside. The front and back sides of the belt have now become joined to form a curved surface with no front and no back. If the circle is the classic natural shape it is due to its continuous nature. In other words, any given part of a circle is the same as any other part. So circles and spheres are closed and have defined internal and an external elements. The same holds true for the cylindrical. If that’s the case, then isn’t the Möbius band even closer to perfect. After all, it has only one surface that cannot even be differentiated between the internal or the external!
Cyclical space, considered from a mathematical point of view, is of two varieties, one as oriented the other non-oriented. Other than that, there is non-cyclical space. The Möbius band is non-oriented. The universe is not necessarily being oriented.
(Translator: Brian Kennedy)