Jin Shan: Thoughts from the Cave

By Wang Xiaorui, Translated by Fiona He, Image Courtesy of bonacon Gallery

Jin Shan : The Cave

bonacon Gallery / Guangzhou 

17 March 2018 - 26 May 2018

Jin Shan’s exhibition expands from the subject of the “Cave”, projecting the state of his studio, where the walls are painted black that makes him feel “People are still living like beasts, who bites and lives like a wild dog.” This is the artist’s instinctive decision, because in the darkness where everything is hidden, all the social attributes in a person can be undone layer by layer, while the once concealed animal instincts are re-stimulated. This is perhaps the state of artistic practice Jin Shan aims for – to maintain an intimacy with life and one’s instincts. Returning to Hangzhou from Beijing, once his everyday pace slowed down, he restored a rather free and casual life. This allowed him to give up the kind of struggle and obtuse thinking, so he could be fully immersed in living life. He’s often preoccupied with the nuts and bots of things that often seems entirely illogical, and not at all profiteering. While his aimless and idle drawing and painting have proven to be the most comfortable way of being.

Then, when we look at his paintings, his forms and figurations are not a result of external stimulation, instead they come from the feelings and state of being close to his heart – what look like figures do not have distinct facial features, but vague contours of the torso and limbs. They look like the initial forms of life or perhaps shadows, or all unknown living beings. The artist calls it "man in the cave", the dim environment forces people to rely on senses other than their sight, which led to awakening the potential of touch and perception. As a result, this allows him to get closer to the restless essence of life. It marks the trace of life’s passing, perhaps it comes from the artist’s instinct, or a spring awakening in the dark, that stimulates the artist’s sensible nerves, urging him to visualize all of these impressions and memories through the way of painting. Therefore, the artist often challenges conventional practices by adopting surprising approaches. The impression of the paintings often conceals a certain destructive power on the brink of explosion, his process of building and destroying went hand in hand, often nipped in the bud while it works towards a certain direction. And on this path of attempting to get somewhere, random things appear like a reminder, so his performance practices continue to be centered on the body, rather than the paintings done on the basis of certain forms and figurations.

If we were to adopt conventional “theories” to analyze the artist’s practice, it would seem somewhat unnecessary. Just as Jin Shan mentioned, he once thought about certain atmosphere, or what darkness is, but now he thinks these kind of thing would make his painting seem dull and insipid, “Painting should be mysterious, one can’t give too much thoughts, or over discuss it, because eventually the art is the ambiguous things or shadows we leave on this earth.” Perhaps, no one has a distinct notion of what art is, every artist explores or expands this notion through one’s own practice, and Jin Shan’s practice has departed from any constrictions of the so-called systemic and rationale mindset. He is a self-claimed exile, who only does what he wants, and what feels comfortable to him, taking a natural course in this field by following a path unique to himself.

The video installation Immortal Body was inspired by the artist’s plaster cast measuring a 1.5 meter tall, weighing hundreds of pounds cubic square on the terrace of the artist’s studio, and slowly shaped a few lines and hollow spaces within the piece. Jin Shan hacked it with an ax everyday, borrowing an electric sow to work on it in the morning, moon and evening. He pauses from time to time, as if reflecting on something, other times he works continuously, eventually everything fails, although he’s used video to document these footage, to allow this sculpture to exist in a different medium. In other words, this process was far more meaningful to the artist than completing a piece of sculpture.

Immortal Body shares its characteristics with Jin Shan’s earlier work One Man’s Island. For the latter, the creative impulse can be construed as, what would one do once an individual fully break free from all social relations and responsibilities and becomes autonomous, then what would he do? Jin Shan documents one’s “boredom” through video and texts, while Immortal Body seemed to have a specific goal (to make a piece of sculpture), but in fact, his everyday “work” is to do things at random with different kind of tools, so his recording of the everyday was only to create a faux impression, while on the contrary, those performative works subtly expose the artist’s restlessness and anxiety from within.

Immortal Body is similar to a modern version of Sisyphus Prophecies – where the seemingly efforts spent day in and day out towards a certain direction and goal, are in fact ways by which to resist infinite time and life’s boredom, in order to prove to oneself that marks have been left behind. However, due to one’s dissatisfaction, these marks are being covered up and remade. Along these works, there are a number of performance pieces, where the artist rolls on the ground with his face painted black while hurling and screaming, as if he was trying to rip this endlessly boring life apart, and adopting the medium of the body was the most suitable mode to show this destructive will. Yet, in spite of one’s momentary eruption, when confronting a life that seems infinite, this act is like throwing stone into the sea. Death on the other hand can be equally daunting, so if one has an Immortal body, then it would be beyond redemption.

Art Frontier: The theme of this exhibition “The Cave”, has to a certain extent restored your state of work in the studio, where the walls are painted black that makes you feel, “People are still living like beasts, who bite and live like wild dogs.” This is almost the instinctive decision, which resonates with Plato’s “Caveman”, that refers to a series of thoughts about the truth, essence and etc., under this kind of condition, would your practice be any different if you were elsewhere? Does the space have a great impact on your art practice?

Jin Shan: Although I haven’t thought about Plato, but the studio space has a lot to do with the way I work. My understanding of a space should be where you are willing to spend time. Its influence may vary, which can be hard to explain.

Art Frontier: Over a period of time, you forced yourself to write everyday, why had you to be consistent with writing? In addition, in the course of your art practice, what is the relationship between writing and visual experiences?

Jin Shan: It was like painting. I did it because I wanted to. I haven’t thought about why, I liked it, something I relied on, so I can continue to live. I might have thought about the relationship between text and writing earlier on, and I couldn’t figure anything out, so I gave up. Because I realized, the more I thought the more insipid I became, which is not what I want.

Art Frontier: The way in which the video installation Immortal Body is presented in the exhibition is quite unique, where barrels and buckets are scattered in the space, next to children’s stacked up puzzles, as if to create a game or life scene, which becomes an indispensible part of the work, can you talk about your ideas for this presentation?

Jin Shan: That was not the way this work was about six months ago. Initially I played around with a piece of plaster and some objects on a terrace, where there was only one bucket, and I thought it looked nice. Then I bought a bunch of old iron buckets. These were all ideas I had on a whim. I try not to think in causal logic, many of my ideas are ethereal.

Art Frontier: Since the making of “Immortal Body” was not pre-planned, so in this sense, it was not a performance, but it is quite apparent that it’s not necessarily about the aspects of everyday life, but beyond its scope. In your view, what kind of state was it in, if you had to describe it in one state or a category, what would it be?

Jin Shan: This is the state of my life, the way I feel, so for me, it is not beyond the scope of my life. These are the things I am doing everyday, without any logic, scattered, and not profiteering. This is the way I like it and feel comfortable. I don’t need to think about how to be this way, because this is the way I am. It’s the same for painting, it’s completely aimless and idle, and this is how I live.

Art Frontier: Your painting has certain human-like forms, but the facial features and physique are often ambiguous. Chen Tong has used the term “mortal flesh” on multiple occasions, which seems like an appropriate description, and others have suggested that instilling fear. However, you might have not given many thoughts on your painting, but as an emotional release or a way towards an unknown direction. When you look at your completed works, can the process of making a work construed as working towards a kind of imagination, or did you have other possibilities?

Jin Shan: Earlier on, I would imagine certain kind of atmosphere, about darkness and etc. I despise this world, but now I think that’s not what painting should be like, because it would make the painting dull and insipid. A painting should be mysterious, for which the artist should not over think or discuss it. Because art is the ambiguous or shadow of what we will leave on this earth, rather than saying too much, it’s better to put them into actions.

Art Frontier: Both your video and paintings disclose a kind of naivete that removes any trace of rational thinking. Your works are sensible and willful. When you spoke about your writing, you used “biased with mistakes, colloquial, infantile phrases” which were important to you. Can this be understood that when confronted with sensibility and rationale, innocence and maturity, you chose an artistic path that is different from most people?

Jin Shan: I did not choose a path for my artistic practice, nor do I know what this path is. I am an exile, and I appreciate simple things, and I think everyone’s lifestyle should be suitable for his nature.

Art Frontier: As an autodidact artist, there are few confines and constrictions in your practice, this also implies that you have not followed any path to become an artist, can you talk about how you became an artist?

Jin Shan: I don’t think there should be any confinements. It was fate for me to become an artist, like others would become workers or a white-collar. It’s not any more special than any other job. As long as you like it, and you want to make stuff everyday, you would become an artist, and slowly you wouldn’t be able to do anything else.


Exhibition view of "Jin Shan : The Cave" at Bonacon Gallery, Guangzhou


Thinking in captivity, oil on canvas 120 × 160 cm 2017


Rascal, oil on canvas, 160 × 120 cm, 2017