Making Current Problems Clearer – Yuan Gong’s “Memory”

Du Xiyun

As a natural person, human has the peculiarity of creature, which can’t be changed. As a social man, human is affected by the extremely concrete political system, economic model and cultural atmosphere, and such influence is almost everywhere, but humans will accept or refuse it to the various extents, so as to expand their freedom degree in the tension relations between the constructed order and anti-order.

Happiness, to the large extent, means the satisfaction degree produced in the inter-comparison among humans and is largely affected by the society. The pursuit of happiness is almost a behavior of every minute, which is reflected by each instant and specific desire and appeal of humans. When comparing the current desires and appeals with the past ones, humans can realize “happiness” much clearer.

From 1949 to current time, the intense and frequent social upheavals happened to China mainland constantly. Yuan Gong experienced the Great Cultural Revolution and initial stage of Reform and Opening-up in his adolescence. The “happiness” in this stage was obviously produced and molded by the society, but to the individual development, its influence was very great, and even could be transformed into the major part of happiness standard unconsciously to measure the politics, economy and culture in the future. 

At the present time with such rapid changes, Yuan Gong has experienced rich people, objects and matters, and he could also adjust and alter himself at any time during such process, so as to adapt himself to the current situations. However, his teenage life experience still remained fresh in his memory. Different from the conceptualized thinking, life consists of countless details, and the life experience is a specific, subtle and exquisite perception for the subject and varies from person to person. To some people, current time counts the most, and what’s past is past; a lot of things will fade from their memories during the process of responding to the current situations. Besides, once something becomes the past event, it will inevitably become obscure or twisted because of the current experience and thought when recalled.

But to Yuan Gong, the process of experiencing the world is also a process of recognizing himself, and recalling the past is a good method for recognizing the current time clearly. When the large amount of past experience is diluted or replaced by the numerous and complicated current world with constantly changing conditions, what can be remembered clearly is something absorbed by heart. Discovering and facing squarely these deep-rooted memories is the first beginning of facing up to oneself, current society and newly formed concepts. In the shuttle and comparison between the current time and past, a lot of unknown problems begin to be touched, opened and increasingly clear. To this point, Yuan Gong narrated by himself like this, “I’m always interested in those memories and disappeared past and their extended problems.”

Yuan Gong shows special preference to the biscuit boxes from the late 1970s to 1980s. In that era short of materials and with information closed, the biscuits are rare delicacies and enjoy the “happiness” sign value implying richness, superiority, etc. The biscuit boxes made of tinplate have relatively simple modeling and images from the perspective of current idea. However, in the extremely closed social atmosphere at that time, these images were equipped with strong power in terms of guiding or producing people’s view of happiness. If all words were about brainwashing, the single utterance of closed society would take effect most easily.

But from another point of view, the happiness caused by the closed society and single utterance could always make people intoxicated and was intense and pure just like belief. At that time, the enforceability of politics was still very high, so the single political utterance and traditional thinking model had the governing power in the whole society, and the view of happiness conveyed by these images wakened the suppressed and distorted humanity, so as to guide people to long for the peaceful, happy and free life, but they didn’t make the desires overflow to a state of thorough anomie. When the liberalistic economy and consumerist culture began to enter comprehensively in 1990s, the political system growing together with it was refused. The consumerist culture put emphasis on the desire releasing and consuming competition, and it had many denounced problems originally, especially at current time with the increasingly severe ecological problems. When the consumerism culture was combined with Chinese political system, the original social norms were dispelled rapidly, and new standards were hard to build. People competed, consumed and pursued the satisfaction of desire in the so-called “crony capitalist” context, and then felt lost and depressed because of being unable to break through all potential barriers. The new and old problems superimposed and permeated mutually, and then people would not believe anything and tacitly approved the vicious circle under the hedonism. At this time, under the presentation of super appreciation of the beauty and multiple selections, there existed a great many specious, hypocritical and severe problems, which made people lack the basic sense of stability, security and an expectable and much better future, so the “happiness” would be discounted heavily. Here, when the individual experiencing the era which just revived and produced full of expectations and without losing the simplicity cherished the memory and recalled “disappearance” in comparison, it not only was a kind of recollection but also could clarify the current problems.

The recalling to the life experience before thirty to forty years is in the social context of “new China”. Beside, what bears in many Chinese people’s mind constantly is the native tradition lasting for thousands of years. Many people still cherished the glory of this long-standing tradition in the former days and recalled the “happiness” of ancient people, although there is a mingling of good and bad in this tradition, and the acceptance and digestion to the different culture have never stopped. To Chinese people, the native tradition is a context, and people who live in this culture can’t thoroughly get rid of or break with such tradition, so it is an important fact which people have to face up. But nowadays, with the global integration, it has many unmatchable and compatible points with current life, and they have to be abandoned or transformed. Ignoring the existence and effect of native tradition is not real, but exaggerating or even making it as a myth is also very delusive in front of the current reality. As for the native tradition, Yuan Gong’s reluctance is much weaker, and he is much like a calm doctor and dissects and incises traditions with the scalpel. Such kind of behavior is not accepted greatly by people with great passion for traditions, but if such giving-up or transition is a rational behavior to respond to the realistic situation, people have to face up and accept.

People have too many things to deal with at current time, and when Yuan Gong picks up “memories” again at present, we can’t eliminate the nostalgic composition, but the aim is to make the current problems emerge clearer. The past “happiness” also has many problems, or it can’t be replaced, but because he once experienced it by himself, he can conduct the vivid and reliable reference. He is quite familiar with the visual language, so he can select the means of expression, including the embezzlement, collage and stack of the images on the biscuit boxes before thirty to forty years, images on the current consumer goods and traditional ancient images, and also painting by hands, polishing, printing, drawing, sculpture, device, behavior, video, etc. easily and freely. During the process of encountering the concepts and media, his visual expressing behaviors have materialized as one after another works with different forms.