Deep Calm Out of Chaos

[The following is the content of the introduction I gave at Alexander Zou‘s art exhibition on September 17th, 2016.]

When you sit down for a tea ceremony with Alex, you see on this table in front of you a very particularly arranged group of objects. There is a tea kettle and teapots, cloths, small fabrics, cups and of course tea—but also a slab of wood, pieces of bamboo, an old wooden carving, a piece of wood perfect for holding chopsticks…these are objects that have been lost and discarded because they no longer fulfilled their function.

In ZhuangZi there is what I think is a relevant passage:

The region of Jingshi in Song is perfect for catalpas, cypresses, and mulberry trees. Trees an arm’s length round are cut down to make monkey cages, three or four spans and they’re cut down to make roof beams for the homes of prominent men; if they grow to seven or eight spans, they’re cut down as side planks for the coffins of great merchants. So in the end they die by the blade of an ax or a hatchet before their natural years are up. This is the peril of being good lumbar. In rites of exorcism, the ox with a white patch on the forehead, the pig with a crooked-up snout, and the person with piles are all deemed unfit to sacrifice to the river spirits – they are all viewed as inauspicious, understood by every shaman and priest. And this is what the Sprit-like Man views as highly auspicious.

When just lying there, on the sand or in the street, such found objects are just rubbish meant to disintegrate back into the Earth. But now they have a second life, a new home, and a new meaning. Now they serve a decorative, symbolic, and deeply expressive purpose. They contribute to a uniquely calm and contemplative atmosphere. They make life more beautiful.

These necklaces of course have their own home as apparel for the artist. The material is always eye-catching against his dark clothing. One sees these metallic shapes extending out from their base; contemporary objects like computer parts, fragments of jewelry new and old, scraps of metal, stones from the inside of a cat’s water dish…The future is here, but it’s tired already.

This kind of eccentric creation comes from a place of deep calm.

The paintings around this room are like dreams to me. There are vibrant explosions of paint across the canvas, dots here and there, movement of a fluid-like substance sharing the space with inflexible lines.

One of my favorite thinkers liked to use the phrase “order out of chaos.” This is kind of like chaos out of order, and then reformed back into something entirely different.

It is both East and West; the tranquil Zen of the East and the transgressive energy of the West. They are inspired by artists like Rauschenberg and philosophers like Lao Zi.

Mostly I just see playfulness; the re-arrangement of stringent impersonal matter into style. Maybe someday people will walk around the ruins of Taichung, or Malaysia, or France or America…and among all the ruins they’ll spot one of these sculptures; the products of a child at play.

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2 thoughts on “Deep Calm Out of Chaos

  1. John, I really enjoyed reading this. You are such a good writer. Your descriptions and images evoked such a sense of peacefulness. I felt I could better understand Alexander Zou’s work.

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