I recently chanced upon the art exhibition, Splinters of Jade by Han Mengyun, while in China. It was one of those unplanned unfolding of the sequence of events that culminated with me entering the One Thousand Plateau Art Space. I am subject to this Deleuze effect, that I get drawn into certain things being perplexed and magnetically driven, with the simple muse of Deleuzian words. Encountering the works of Han Mengyun is an experience of a different magnitude, a reward that came free of anticipation.
In a rather small space, a thicket of totemic artworks filled the gallery. Consisting of a series of small cubical boxes that were perched atop metal stands, the resulting pieces were equal to my height, and each individual piece in the series of artworks shifts its appearance as the viewer approached closer. The immediate sense I had of the Splinters was of entering into manifold and endless forks within the Fold, as each art piece was circumscribed within box, delimiting space, that presented a total universe within itself. The way the exhibition worked added my visual perception to give dimensionality, but it was just a window to enforce what to expect, a multi-layered reality woven in the shades of grey, magically manifested with a single stroke of a traditional Chinese brush.
Mengyun, to me, appeared as the voice of modern China. These small pieces distilled the narratives that fused Daoist and Buddhist cultures from two millennia ago and became the pulsation of Imperial China. I could see in the unfolding of the brush the serenity of the Buddha combined with the simplicity of Dao. But the artwork itself is not located in the past; this is not a simulacra of some ancient maṇḍala. This rather is a voice of modernity that seeks to root itself in its cultural backdrop. Meticulous abstraction combined with shades of impression altered the perspective in looking into simple Buddha images or the scenes segmented and assembled again from the Chinese landscape. This is not yet the masterstroke that melted my subjectivity and transformed my being into the work of art. What I found intriguing was the way she has used these expressions as if some museum-works. Seeing the heads of the Buddha echoing from Gandhara or the torso of Buddha from some second century Buddhist shrine, I was teleported to some museum during my gaze upon the simple brush, accomplished all with the simple use of dark and grey, giving rise to a moment of transformation. This is at this moment of aesthetic transformation that I was introduced to the artist.
Both the polarity of the black and white and the use of empty space play central roles in the Daoist-Buddhist paradigm of the totality expressed within the dynamism of two opposite but complementary poles, and Shunyata or emptiness expressing the absolute. What is said, in this platform, is only the words that are never spoken. What is drawn, accordingly, is the empty horizon that speaks more loudly than the canvas that has been covered with ink. I believe Mengyun will build upon these accomplishments in the coming years, and the viewers like myself will be elevated to the highest experience, with or without any aesthetic gaze. And we all will encounter the simplicity of the empty space captured by the masterful stroke of Han Mengyun’s brush again.
Dr. Sthaneshwar Timalsina (Professor, San Diego State University) works in the areas of Hindu and Buddhist cultures and philosophies. In his research, he explores the cognitive scientific and philosophical aspects to the esoteric visual culture. His recent publications include Tantric Visual Culture: A Cognitive Approach, and Language of Images: Visualization and Meaning in Tantras.