Back The Anxiety and Entertainment Between Reality and Virtuality By Yin Shuangxi

In the early 1990s, Deng Jianjin has had great impacts on Chinese contemporary art. His oil paintings keeps the relatively stable image of subject and has gradually deepened changes in the aspect of formal language, from anxiety to smooth, from obscurity to fluency, and from dazzle to steadiness. It is noted that Deng Jianjin has crossed the personal self-publicity early, and laid the basic of humanistic orientation for his art that is the concern of the existence of the modern people. This concern is not taking the macro-vision and collectivism value as base, but it is taking the experience and situation of individual in the social reality as background. Some people may wonder why Deng Jianjin generates the uneasy sense of crisis inGuangzhou, such a comfortable and calm civilian city where people is honest working to earn money and enjoying life. It makes him alternative in the group ofGuangzhoubased artists. The tendency of violence and sadism/masochism in his paintings is in sharp contrast with his thin figure and kind character. In his early works, the strangers suddenly visiting at late night breaks people’s calm and orderly life, implying the violation and hurt that an unexpected force constructs on personal living space. In fact, Deng Jianjin keenly felt some features of the rapidly developed era by his sensitive artistic soul. The most important point is the unknown quality of life and future. In other words, it’s more and more difficult for people to handle their fates. If we say that in the past era of collectivism and planned economy, people don’t have selfness , sacrifice everything to the party and live an easy life arranged by the country, then now their life is like a boat floating in the choppy sea. In fact, this attitude of not knowing tomorrow, and the anxiety of the confidence-lack on the future of individual, family and society, have become a common psychological symptom of the social community. It is a clear point of observation for us to interpret the degeneration of human nature, such as selfishness, quick success and instant benefits, speculative market skills, and murder for money. It also can be a powerful starting point that analyze the modern diseases such as corruption, environment damage by poor corporation, fake and shoddy goods of food and drugs, the boom of speculation in the stock market, and the gambling as a trend.

Today, the idea that individuals have to subject to the collective provisions has been broken. The process of a highly personalized society has promoted and practiced a value advocating subjective specificity and individuality.  People start to pursue absolute selfness and the entertainment life with strong color of personalized ideology. Consumer revolution leads to the change of life way, which encourages the development of individual power and desire. In the contemporary view, none of the social and cultural realities is meaningless and none of the powers and desires is unreasonable, therefore one can live free and always choose his own living style. The belief and pursue to the future become weak. No one still believes the bright tomorrow of progress and revolution.  Only the immediate enjoyment of life is what people want. In this society, there’s neither idol nor taboo. Temptation is therefore included into the consumer of products and virtual symbols. Sex, violence, and even disaster become a kind of bait. This bait, through the use of hedonism, information and sense of responsibility, media, consumer goods and sex, makes everyone can interpret his own nature and realize his own profits, managing and consuming one’s own capital of aesthetics, sentiment, body and sex in the way of self-selection.


Deng Jianjin’s description of his creative motivation is almost a footnote of this social situation: “When the break of the critical point is attached to the human spirit deviating from the track, drugs, eroticism and violence will emerge and the percentage of the trend will significantly increase. For example, it starts from the abnormally pornographic pictures, and gradually produces the sexual fantasies, and then extends to abuse, violence and dark hallucination. Of course, its emergence also shows the negative effects behind industrial revolution and electronic revolution that is a phenomenon of alienation in human nature. From this point of view, we see the psychological activities bred out of the deep human nature which is irrational, subconscious or behavioristic. It is also a split phenomenon of human nature wandering between reality and hallucination…I am painting to express the embarrassment and contradiction exists between the existing crimes in society and the non-criminal activities in human nature. This is also one aspect of biological feelings triggered by “life experience”. The descriptions of sex, violence and disaster in his works, as same as the sex, violence and disaster arousing the imagination of the artist, are always naked without cover, also naked full of pain.


InRegarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag once explored the pictures about pain in the history of Western art. She thinks that the pain most often seen as worthy of performance is always understood as the products of god or human anger. But the people’s appetite on the images of suffering body seems no less than the desire of nude images. Therefore, when we watch Deng Jianjing’s images about pain, what we experience is not only the pain rendered by the artist. Meanwhile, it seems that we also gain some kind of satisfaction and joy in this experience or in the gaze of others’ uneasy fates. Of course, Deng Jianjin is not always displaying the suffering in his works. He also demonstrates hotness, obsession, confusion and helplessness in life cycle especially adolescence. He shows the consume and outburst of life in front of us, blooming rapidly the life flowers, making us to taste the rapid release of passion and desire, therefore the infinite attachment to life is generated in the emptiness.


Deng Jianjin’s oil paintings are much like the traditional Chinese painting with attention to the use of stroke. From his paintings, we can see the speed and direction of the strokes. In this regard, Li Xianting’s conclusion is very vivid: “the artist paints all of the images using the strokes of knots. It just relies on the synaesthesia between the knots and the heart knots that the artist can express his pent-up emotion by the strokes of knots. Li Xiangting also pointed out that Deng Jianjin frequently uses the raw, fierce, scorched colors lack of moisture and transparency, giving a sense of nausea to express the unexplainable oppressed thirst and desire.


In Deng Jianjin’s pictures, the objects have been moved back to a secondary position. The colors he painted by the means of knots and decorative strokes become the interpretive media for the subjectivity of screen. Although they are colorful and wealthy, they are not for filling the pre-drawn outlines but for describing and shaping 3-D, and constructing their own sense of volume. The expressive colors are full of the touch-sense of entities. The objects in his works sometimes are outlined by colors but not without detailed descriptions, making the screen has a new painting quality. In Deng Jianjing’s works, the smoothness or stagnancy of strokes, and the brightness or obscurity of colors depend on his state of mind and consciousness wandering on the canvas. Regardless of the visible images in his paintings, in fact, his works have the abstract structures and the passion of expressionism. Although we can faintly see the figures in his paintings, actually they are the symbolic signs of life.


In the description Deng Jianjin has to his intention of creation, we can see everywhere the anxiety the artist has between the real world and the virtual world: Like numerous shadows endlessly fighting in the darkness, or the inflated balloon of sexual desire about to burst, this is the extension of the gorgeous and dark scene with romance and terror… Here records the artist’s understandings of the connotation behind privacy, sex and violence (The Dream Records about the Witness). This helpless and anxious “selfness” in the reality is finally handing firearms in sleepwalking towards the “dark fantasy” of abuse, violence and crime. In the virtual world of image, he completes his narrative of the aesthetics of violence and go beyond the controlled oppression in “Adolescent” describing sexual desire and disturbance. It might be due to the increase of age and life experience that the violence retired in the seriesWhy Does the Sunset Make Us So Beautifulsince 2001 and romantic erotica appeared in his screen. Although a touch of sadness and helplessness are hidden behind the beauty and luxury, the illusion is after all of the floating Eros. This Eros is different from the romance, decadent, laziness of “Adolescent”, but we still can see the violence, the hidden bloodiness and the uneasy emotions still wandering in the screen like ghosts.


In art history, the self-portraits of artists are not rare, but the most important is that, for Duerer, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Egon Schiele, their self-portraits are not for leaving self-images, but for autobiography recording their own lives and discovering themselves. When the painters observe and describe themselves, the self-images they described, regardless of the postures or emotions, the audiences can recognize them, because their images in mirror are consistent with themselves. For Deng Jianjin who is also eager for self-portrait, inChinawhere is without the tradition of self-portrait, it seems strange. But in fact, he is as same as these masters having self-obessin as well as finding the other self in the pictures.


Deng Jianjin’s paintings make the audiences close to anxiety. All of the backgrounds and details have been removed. Everything is of the anxious atmosphere. It’s strange that his anxiety is always associated with eroticism of body. It’s the anxiety of eroticism. In general, as long as there are descriptions of human body, no matter what the moral meaning or theme the screens have, as long as the description is about bodies full of temptations, then the works are pornographic to a certain extent. The knot-like bodies Deng Jianjin described are offensive due to their knot-shape, but because the knots are of bodies or covered bodies, the colors are cold and romantic, and the postures are filled with desire, so they are still full of temptations. The abnormal psychology of disgust and temptation in fact comes from the artist’s inner conflict.


Early in 1888, the philosopher shouting “God is dead” describes the modern artists: “the physiology of modern artists are closest to hysteria. Their characters are like the symptoms of this disease… their system has a ridiculous irritability which can turn various experiences into crises and add “dramatic quality” into the accidental trivia of life. Therefore, he is hard to predict: they are not individuals but the collection of people. Sometimes they are this person and sometime they are that person, displaying with shameless confidence. Therefore, the modern artists are like the great artists; for all of these miserable people without will, when the doctors research them from the vicinity, they will be astonished by the ever-changing facial expressions, the instant deformations and the capability of being any roles.”


In my view, rather than the similarity between the modern artists described by Nietzsche and Deng Jianjin, the figures in his paintings have the performance of physical and mental input act as if there is no one else present. In Deng Jianjin’s paintings, all of the character, whether joyful or pain, are always staring a pair of nervous eyes like “the eyes of the great actors” described by Nietzsche. They are staring at the audience. Even if it’s unpleasant, no one can escape it. Their anxiety and joy reflect the anxiety and joy in the modern society extending from real world to virtual world. Therefore, Deng Jianjin becomes the important artist with the characteristic of psychological analysis in the development of Chinese contemporary art. He reminds me of the 19th century French painter Lautrec. Deng Jianjin’s keen insight of this era and urban individual, as well as his easy expression on canvas will leave us unforgettable screens with a mark of the times.


June 1, 2006