- Detached in any case, they concern us/look at us, mouth agape, that is, mute, making or letting us chatter on, dumbstruck before those who make them speak (“Dieses hat gesprochen,” says one of the two great interlocutors) and who in reality are made to speak by them. They become as if sensitive to the comic aspect of the thing, sensitive to the point of imperturbably restrained hilarity. Faced with a procedure [demarche] that is so sure of itself, that cannot in its certainty be dismantled, the thing, pair or not, laughs.
- —Derrida, Truth in Painting
- Language speaks and asks:
- “Why am I beautiful?
- Because my master bathes me.”
- —Paul Eluard, Capitale de la Douleur(1926)
Actively or passively, the objects in Gao Ludi’s paintings respond to man’s movements, rendering them into various states of abandonment that are not easily identifiable, and in this process indirectly establish relations with men. On the other hand, men’s being there is no less ambiguous; since “there” is a suspended position, we cannot be perfectly certain whether she is “there” or not (and of course we will have to be, as we always are, cautious regarding the placement of quotation marks and parentheses).
The floating sofa, for instance, pertains to an absence Pink Sofa (2015): Be it the one who was here or the one who is about to come, there has to be a subject, specific and irreducible to a faceless figure, with whom the sofa establishes a relation. Although ownership or property is not the most manifest relation here, we will have to, as Heidegger or Shapiro did when they were dealing with Van Gogh’s still lifes of shoes, try to deduce the identity of the owner of the sofa. Or the lack of one.
This pink sofa is definitely not just one piece of furniture among many others. Obviously, its colour speaks before its other properties: Nobody should be owning a pink sofa, in any case. If we are suddenly to take up a conservative position (as so compelled by today’s problem with painting : Before today’s paintings, we can swing, one moment after another, from conservative to radical stances, from one extreme to another. Whether or not the history of painting is terminated, this should at least be part of the significance of the end of painting), we can even proclaim that the aesthetics is immoral, degenerate (what can stop us from using the language of the ethical and the political here?). The functionality of the sofa is enveloped and covered by its strange aesthetics, the hard lines and colour planes together cancelling its comfortability. By definition, comfortability of a sofa comes from its enveloping gesture, “in the sofa”: the state of being totally enveloped by this object, becoming one with it, confused, indefinite, chaotic (though these seemingly are not what Gao is interested in). The moment of the sofa is a moment when I cannot be too sure about my subjectivity, especially because this moment more often than not means other’s invasion into it as well. In this sense, the specific, pink sofa is uncanny – I should be inserting myself into it, making an en-trance, but am instead unwillingly enveloped by this object that comes towards me, and I am fearful of its enveloping movement. Nonetheless, we are reminded of the following message via a certain aspect found in both Gao’s paintings and Paul Eluard’s lines: The role of the owner is not simple, naive; it is also the master, the host, and in many cases, the creator. We are also reminded, at least indirectly, by Woody Allen or Samuel Beckett: The relation between the painting and the sofa is not insubstantial.
Owner, master, host as the creator. My relationship with the sofa is not confirmed on a later date, but is originary. I am the owner, master, host of the sofa, the sofa desires me, camouflages my presence, writes, on behalf of me, my will (“I want to be one with the sofa,” and envision that moment as one appropriate point at which “my” life is terminated) – only because I create out of the void this sofa; I create this thing (the previous relation between me and the thing), because I am the owner, master, host of the thing (the future relation between me and the thing). The opposite statement is not only more provocative (because it is counter-intuitive) but is also more reasonable: I will always be granted the identity of the creator, because of my identity as the owner, master, host.
This double identity alludes not only to Christianity (God’s relation with me). Discursively, we arrive at the Safe Safe (2015), when the problem is further complicated: Maybe we can still claim that I am the owner, master and host of the safe, but I cannot casually name myself the creator at work here anymore. This thing does not relate itself to handicrafts anymore (and thus is no longer even related to the idea of taste). This object is necessarily the result of mechanical reproduction, not of human craftsmanship – there is a difference between the two processes. More importantly, the no-less-colourful but empty safe desires not to keep, maintain or protect, but instead conveys a deserted state of abandonment and even expulsion of its contents (open door, hollow interior – Lao-Tzu’s bowl).
This safe does not desire as the sofa does. Interesting to the empty safe is apparently a movement of externalisation that is known chiefly as banishment. Said Dominique Laporte in History of Shit, “If that which is expelled inevitably returns, we must trace its circuitous path: Shit comes back and takes the place of that which is engendered by its return, but in a transfigured, incorruptible form. Once eliminated, waste is reinscribed in the cycle of production as gold.” In this sense, the possibility of maintenance and protection is secured by the second half of the circular movement: “expulsion”, “banishment”, and “sublimation”. From now on, regarding the framework of painting, we will have to imagine one that fits Gao’s work better than the typical rectangular frame: a circular framework. We can start imagining it now: Gao’s paintings are circular, and make circular movements.
These circular movements circulate the paintings, the manifest traces of such being the circles and round planes on the canvases. We see on the pink sofa two black dots (their presence making the sofa also look like a gas oven); on the safe a number of coloured round planes; many large round planes above the twelve skulls Twelve Skeletons (2015); a furious monkey standing by a large, oppressive coloured circle Monkey (2015); even a small red dot in the foreground of the forest Forest (2015). We can firstly confirm that the circles and round planes in the paintings function as purely geometrical forms. They are visual leads and cues, demarcating the centre of the painting from the margins, and balancing or unbalancing the overall visual effect of each picture. Unlike the numerous straight lines available in the paintings, the circles, dots, and round planes are definitely void of thematic significance. They don’t serve the painting thematically, in other words; the unidentifiable things in the picture could not be reduced via the circular movements to what they are in reality.
Gao seemingly agrees to this point (which point? A circular point?): The circular is to the artist “at hand”, familiar and easily accessible. In a specific but uncertain moment, Gao almost parallels Barthes’ discussion of the metaphor of the eye in the Story of the Eye: freely flowing and taking each other’s place.
In the Story of the Eye, Bataille speaks of the one-becoming-the-other of eyes, eggs, bull’s balls, and many other round things. To Barthes, this free, flat, and steady flow of the circular cannot make this famous novel “deeper” than it is; this is definitely not very “deep” literature. But what is important now is to point out that a similar flow of the circular works in and on the paintings of Gao’s. These circular forms not only disturb the meaning of the act of representation (for example, the cliché of Holbein’s skull, as that which does not belong to this world), but they also assume identities, incarnate in objects: the moon that stares at the panda (Big Panda, 2015), which is a good example of the selective distortion of reality: a “pure” white field that becomes gradually distorted for unknown reasons; the golf ball that is floating behind the player Golf (2015) (again, this is, in all aspects, unreal); the dark-skinned woman’s flashy green earring Female Vocalist (2015), which we will discuss right now); the single internal ball beneath the banana-ribs Banana-ribs (2016); the pink sphere that is simply otherworldly Pink Circle (2016); the two suns on the futurist airport (Airport, 2016); the two spheres in the painting of the purple crow that covers the feathers of the bird and grants the bird with vision – double light Purple Crow (2015): one coming from the sun, the other coming from within – and the comparison between the two portrays strangely the relation between the painting and its subject. These spheres are rendered materialist, bodily, fetishistic, and decorative.
And the decorative nature of the spheres – just as Derrida stated in the first chapter of The Truth In Painting – cannot be ignored. The purely decorative green earring is man-made – unlike the wild flower of Kant’s, which is natural (the background behind the dark-skinned woman, for this reason, becomes very interesting) – but it manages to bring our attention to the idea of internal frame: Starting from this delicate, disproportionately small green earring, to other planes (especially in the smaller paintings: The circular movements within those pieces are seemingly even freer. And, in passing, it should be pointed out that the intimate relation between the smaller paintings and the digital screens in general is another interesting topic), to Bataille and Barthes, we are speaking nothing other than a special trace that manages both to affirm and to cancel the independence and verisimilitude of the paintings. Internal frames and frames as they are conventionally defined regulate the paintings, and together they move to observe and guarantee the illusions and disillusions regarding paintings. Simply, and unexpectedly, the internal frames are circular.
Among the circular internal frames, one that deserves slow and careful examination is the bloody sun Bamboo Forest (2015). The sun is important to the Story of the Eye, and the sun here in the serene scene of the bamboo forest – who can say for certain that this sun, one that shed light on all but is not reflexive by definition, is not a crimson eye? This floating eye, circular as it is, ignores laws; even in the series of circular forms, it is irregular, abnormal, gouged out from its socket, “blind” – but if it were indeed staring at anything at all, it is probably us – the ones blinded by the paintings.