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Candles (Sacrifice)

Author: Liang Shaoji Translator: Lu Jiang 2009

I always believe that it is not necessary for conceptual art to completely dematerialize, devisualize, and reject all artistic empathy. Nevertheless, artists also should not apply materials and symbols in a superficial way. Instead, we should take the understanding of materials’ textural structure and physical properties as the exploration of nature, life, society, history, science and human soul.

“Till the end of life a silkworm keeps spinning silk. Till burning itself out a candle goes on lighting us.” (春蚕到死丝方尽,蜡炬成灰泪始干。) This is an eternal verse in China. Its touching artistic conception prompted me to visualize it and to reconstruct the tradition with contemporary language. According to Heidegger’s theory, instead of destroying the traditions, we should regard the traditional ontology as the spectrum of “philosophical thinking” and deconstruct it as “reductive construction”. With the help of poetic language, material science and thermodynamics, I was able to imagine freely about my work. In traditional Chinese culture, silkworm is a sign of devotion, while candles symbolize the sacrifice of oneself for the benefit of others. Additionally, “bamboo” (zhú), a homophone to “candle” (zhú), implies uprightness and moral integrity. Bamboo, especially the charcoal bamboo, also has the function of purifying air and water. Hence, I combined these three motifs together to construct a scene, where the candle wax drips onto the bamboo and the candle-drop-like silk cocoons are placed on the bamboo. In this way, I formed a divine altar to evoke the sublime spirit that was currently missing from all human-beings. Not long after this work was exhibited in Madrid on 9 May 2008, I was shocked to learn about the Wenchuan Earthquake in China. This work thus became a unique memorial for the heroes who died in the disaster.

Martin Heidegger once said, “Poem is a form of measuring; returning home is the poets’ bounden duty.” I would like to add that “Silk is a form of measuring; silk is a way of returning home.” Only when we return to the origin of all-beings, to nature, and to humanity, can we penetrate the material, transform it, and present the inner beauty.

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