The Art of Chen Yun’s paintings and memories
英國文藝復興時期的思想博學者佛洛德（Robert Fludd, 1574-1637）以神秘學以及對於世界觀所持有的特殊看法而聞名於世，他在對於人們如何對記憶的技術有著特別關乎於藝術圖像的看法，在《兩個世界的歷史》(History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm)一書中，提到「圓的藝術」最能夠表達一個自然的世界觀，從黃道十二宮以至於天文地理學上而言，圓形是自然的架構，相對地，「方的藝術」是種人為的形態。
「增進記憶只能靠技巧方法，或藉藥物，或藉想像力，在圓的藝術中對概念的運作，或透過方的藝術中的有形事物影像。」– 佛洛德 （Robert Fludd）
Gently pursuing memories, and then profoundly describing the dreams – The Art of Chen Yun’s paintings and memories
Text: Wang Seam
Many people have experienced a substantial difference in the perception of time inside and outside the realm of dreams. When we wake up from a dream it seems as if numerous days or even years have passed by. So there is a well-known dichotomy of time: objectively quantified time, such as the clock scale, and the time of sensibility. For instance, when people experience extreme pressure, they always feel that time travels very slowly. As a matter of fact painting is the most concrete testimony of time. From the moment you start painting to the end of a work, the traces of the paintings all show the time trajectory on the painting canvas. It can be stated that the main trait of any painting is the condensation of time.
The first time I saw Chen Yun’s paintings, I remember the most impressive trait was the sense of time created by the technique. The layers of painting and the way they are juxtaposed and added to each other create a parallel to the way time is perceived by human beings. Chen Yun’s paintings might seem figurative art but at the same time they are also like a process of pursuing a story or recalling a situation. There is no conclusion because no conclusion is needed. Time is the trait d’union between the technical representation on the canvas and the motif, evoking our resonance with the memory of the characters within the picture itself.
Painting images often happen to be fictitious. Sometimes it is simply impossible to verify whether these images are authentic or not. The relationship between images and the real world is often reproduced through memory. This gives a major role to people in interpreting the event inside the painting. Images thus take on a mysterious existence of their own. Artists (or creators who have been interested in image symbolism throughout history), in the sense of a human community with no significant activity, are reminiscent of the historical 17th century European Rosicrucianism. They have a mysterious and firm worldview, as well as mysterious philosophies involving many fields of science and art. Even the actual operation of such societies is quite controversial. The influence of Rosicrucianism back in its age was very tangible. Nowadays, artists’ collective imagery and production methods are similar; in a certain sense all forms have their special and mysterious meanings. For creators, creation can be seen as an artist’s mysterious way to study and investigate the world. Chen Yun does not completely resort to reason; however, she projects her artist’s mind onto the world. The essence of images no longer solely relies on their illustrative purposes: paintings take on a mystical characteristic, bearing a connection between art and memory, thus providing human people with the ability to imagine. Memory is a mysterious existence. People may have biases as for how memory expresses itself; however, the deviation of memory is often the beginning of imagination. Art is often an alternative path to world observation. What we know is the source of art, but what it expresses often remains a mystery. It is like recalling a dream. People often have this kind of experience. When they wake up from a dream, they don’t have memories of what they actually dreamt, but they only remember having a dream. Or maybe we can even remember the content of the dream, but who can confirm every detail of the content of what one has dreamed in a completely scientific and empirical way? Yet a deeper question could be, can a person’s dream be completely experienced by another person in a sensory manner?
In Chen Yun’s paintings, many images are pieced together, which seem to come from the artist’s union of memory and dreams. In these seemingly imaginative paintings, because the composition is not story-like, and the picture is like a montage, her figurative style presents some changes. The specific images become thus independent and the whole work becomes a fragmentary state worthy of playful investigation, and the abstractive relationship between images and memories becomes the possibility of active participation of the viewers. The viewers must use their own mental activities to connect these stories together. Just like dreams grafts often forms one’s memories after waking up, and it is thanks to these memories that we get to know ourselves. It is exactly in the process of knowing ourselves that we realize that, in our memories, time is scattered and not continuous. Actually at times our memories are even timeless. Chen Yun’s paintings use a memory technique sweeping past time, and this connection between Chen Yun’s art and the use of time and memory is a peculiar aspect of her art. Can we actually turn memory into quantifiable and concrete objects? Or is painting just a preservation of memory?
Robert Fludd, a British Renaissance scholar (1574-1637) is known for his occultism and his special worldview. He has a special view on how people have a memory image. His view on artistic images is really interesting when it comes to the techniques how people memorize things. In his book History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm, Fludd describes two arts of memory: the “round art,” similar to the occult use of astrology and images symbolizing the zodiac, and the “square art,” more like the medieval system of using images of “corporeal things” like men and animals placed in memory rooms.
“To improve memory one can rely on skill methods, or medication, or on imagination, the operation of concepts in round art, or through the tangible things in square art”.-Robert Fludd
Fludd’s perception of memory actually stems from the book Ad Herrenium around the first century BC, which describes memory techniques by way of using images of corporeal things like men and animals placed in cabinets and rooms. Through these square tangible objects, it is easy to locate and categorize our memories; hence through the use of images it is possible to make our memories clear and unforgettable.
Therefore, memory (even dreams) needs specific forms to support, which is also the accumulation of experience of human wisdom. Painting is also expressed in the accumulation of human wisdom (paintings that are not somehow linked to the wisdom of human mind in any specific time in history often have no long-term value). There are several easy-to-recognize forms in Chen Yun’s works: the piecing together of the represented objects, the polished and condensed coloring in all its layers, the overflowing of the seemingly unembellished pigments, and many representations which seem to have a sculptural thickness to them, yet clean. There are also many combinations of square paintings. These forms, which can be seen frequently in her works, have also become an expression of how she masters art and captures memories and rational thinking.
The artist transforms apprehension into a magnificent tableau
Mysterious things have the ability to attract people because we seem to understand something about them or be somehow acquainted with them but we cannot truly and genuinely understand their true nature. Memories are like dreams; they create a sense of déjà-vu. It’s like when you wake up from a dream, you seem to have a vague memory of it, the same thing happens with works of art. These images, which cannot be fully understood but are still pursued, are like the kites pursued by literature and art. When the wind blows, the kite initially drifts away but then it is held still by people, until it no longer risks flying away, in a way the same thing happens with art and literature, which through solid and detailed dexterity, transforms a worrisome canvas into a magnificent tableau.
This characteristic can also be found in Chen Yun’s works: thanks to the painting skills, the artist transforms her works of art in a fine piece of literature, without excessive rhetoric. It is like a description of how memories drift from one place to another, and painting is thus converted into a vocabulary of memory. In the two pieces composing Pouring. Possession of this life soaked in flowers，the gray color flowing down from the upper piece is a hint of the time axis. The pigment flowing down is the vertical axis of time, and the bright subject of the lower part is like a concealed analogy of people’s youthful image and femininity. In the main body of the character, the image is not completely emphasized, and the peduncle in the body of the character is scattered, which gives the memory fragment a sense of being cursory. We see Chen Yun’s familiarity with image vocabulary. When light and shadow become a painting, the works are the external witness of the value of individual creators. The abstract imagination traits have become the sublimation result of concrete image painting, and this testimony has often become a sorrowful beauty that can be sensed and which instead seems to become magnificent and resplendent. In Chen Yun’s paintings, the way in which painting becomes a memory image is also related to the use of painting techniques. The original dreams and memories, such as the three-dimensional space, become the color plane in which layers of pigments are juxtaposed one on top of another. In the painting Companion. Smeared faces comforting one another, leaning upon each other, the upper and the lower part of the work of art both use techniques conveying a flat sense of space. It seems to be flat, but when one looks at it closely, one can see a thickness and subtle texture retention. In other words, at first sight it seems to be thin but it actually has a thick multi-layered treatment, so that the picture space is no longer flat. The viewer can meander through its different layers, just as in a dream abyss. In this way, the author can clearly express the symbology behind the painting. The two distinct square pieces comprising the painting seem to convey a sense of a broken, speechless, and mysterious story. The face of the female subject in the picture is covered by the brushstrokes and color blocks. The painting is not only a means to express the characteristics of its color, but rather becomes a sorrowful yet charming literary square field.
There is a common saying that many people agree with: good literature always has some sadness and even tragic qualities to it. Perhaps this is because we understand the imperfections in the world; these imperfections are like the pursuit of good memories, which is a fairly complicated process. It is multi-level, and it requires a constant savoring of the process itself; indeed, it may be the most enjoyable place for people: we can’t repeat the past feelings in the current time and space, but the painting can provide a true sense of here and now through the artist’s mysterious research and pursuit, like a memory technique which evokes our shared emotions as well as an indescribable sense of intimacy and sympathy. Chen Yun’s works let us see the possibility that painting can make memories and can give expression to things that would otherwise be ungraspable, such as sad memories and the way paintings convey these memories. This mysterious process of pursuing memories transforms ungraspable dreams into a pragmatic and practical delight.