Eroded Strata 风化的石层

Zheng Chongbin 郑重宾, Eroded Strata 风化的石层.2015. Ink and acrylic on Chinese xuan paper; 177 x 184 cm.

Eroded Strata seems like spread-out pages within a book; two panels appear as if bound together with diagonal lines on both sides, drawing attention to the split in the middle. Where white acrylic and dark ink fuse into a gray shade, the surface below the paint seems like time-worn paper. At the bottom of the image, washes of ink bring a hint of unity between the two sides. Though the juxtaposition of light and dark in the left panel differentiates itself from the tundra-like white of the right, differences in colour combinations, intensity, and contrast resist any simple “reading” of the work. Rather than reach for the analogy of a book, then, let us instead consider the work as something else entirely, and treat it as a landscape; where the “variety” of parts that construct the “whole” of nature invites our gaze to roam between sections while contemplating the complete image (Jullien 2018, 10).

How, then, do we view Eroded Strata as a landscape? We might become aware of the fact that, despite the juxtaposition in colour and intensity, the diagonal lines in both panels are repetitions in design, as if we were looking at two satellite images capturing a view of an adulterated stretch of land from the upper limits of our atmosphere at two different times. Within the panels, ink-based maculations radiate from the top downwards, as if the canopy of a petrified forest were allowing inverted light to break through its emergent layer, or, in the opposite direction, as if lines of transportation routes were cutting up across a mountain range and letting their presence be felt through the pollution and exhaust left behind.

The central dividing line formed between the two panels, contrasted through exposed paper, swirls of ink and layers of acrylic, both reinforces and destabilizes the unity of this landscape. Between the two panels we see germinal connections through the mixing of colours, as if tiny microbial cultures are blooming and sprouting in the presence of one another, bridging the gap between the two panels through discreet, contained interaction and shading of colours. It is as if the two panels are living together as one.

Precisely because the work draws the viewer in and questions the boundaries of ideas like “landscape” and “variety,” there is no totality within the work. There is certainly constriction and controlled brushwork, but it is juxtaposed with what seems to be random spills of ink and variations in repetition; the imagined perspectives of what aspects constitute “landscape” are mediated through various layers of perception. These macro- and micro-level focal points are rendered through ink, white acrylic, and xuan paper, revealing to us just how much of ourselves we project onto the materials involved. From the multitude of possible levels and degrees of perspectives, we might become aware of the instability of our understanding of the environment, of how we see nature and ourselves as part of the pattern within it. We are left wondering, is Eroded Strata is a representation or a presentation of nature?

T.M. Mamos