A Grand Image Has No Form
(The Invisible Elephant)
oil on two canvases
162 × 211 cm
The title "A Great Image Has No Form" is a quote by Laozi that became an idiomatic expression in Chinese. It echoes, through a parallelism, the idiom "A great sound is made of silence."
The intricacy and the garishness of the details are the opposite of the idea of “formlessness”, thus indicating (in contrast) that the "grand image" lies beyond the painting. (Or perhaps in the sleeping monk's dream?) Relatively, the huge, aphonic ritual instrument muyu (literally "wooden fish") symbolising wakefulness (as fishes never close their eyes) is an illustration to "a great sound is made of silence."
The subtitle "The Invisible Elephant" comes from a polysemous game in Chinese: the character 象 xiang means both "image" and "elephant." We find this association for example in the Buddhist iconography with the expression "washing the elephant" that means "sweeping illusions away," or with the expression "blind men touching an elephant" that expresses the idea that we can only access truth partially.
At the same time, the "invisible elephant" reminds people of the "elephant in the room" that is seen by everyone but turned a blind eye to (often used to suggest a political taboo). I've always felt that temples in contemporary China have an aesthetic similar to those of the Party and government offices. (Thus, the objects and their placement in the painting like the speaker and the power strip carry a precise sense of period). The glazed cage that protects and shuts away the Bodhisattva statue recalls the quarantine and the confinement during the Covid-19 epidemic, as I read that in China some temples were requisitioned to become temporary quarantine centres.
In order to point out this invisible elephant, I painted in the down left part a delicate embroidery of an elephant bearing a treasure bowl, only that the embroidery has skipped the elephant's body, leaving merely the thin trace of its outline.
I've attempted to faithfully depict and represent the images and textures of the carvings, painted crafts, colourful tiles and patchworks in order to express the inheritance and continuity of craftsmanship, as well as my own absorption and acceptance of folk aesthetics. Doing so allowed me to make the concept and implications of the work look less insubstantial and more implicit.