Friday, October 16, 2009

Chi Peng at Kiang

When I was an undergraduate back in the Early Pleistocene, the junior-year Asian Studies course everybody had to take included Arthur Waley's translation of Monkey, extracted from the monumental Chinese novel The Journey to the West. The novel is an episodic adventure based on the real-life journey of Hsuan Tsang (here known as Tripitaka) to India to acquire and translate the Buddhist scriptures that were lacking in China when the religion was first introduced.

This setup allowed for the invention of traveling companions and hazards that were the distant ancestors of the genres that evolved into today's Chinese action flicks.

I subsequently spent years wanting to know more about the real Hsuan Tsang (Arthur Waley's book on the topic was unavailable to me in those long-gone pre-internet days) and forgot about Monkey until my friend from college Larry Schulz translated the sequel novel The Tower of Myriad Mirrors, which had been written during the Ming Dynasty to explain how Tripitaka's ill-tempered companion the Monkey King could attain enlightenment while violating every credo of the Buddhist canon in his furious protection of the traveling monk.

This long digression explains why Larry and I are supposed to be among the discussants at 2 p.m. Saturday Oct 17 at Kiang Gallery, regarding Chi Peng's 21st-century photo update of The Journey to the West.

This much-discussed young Chinese artist has digitized satirical comments on today's journey to the West, with elaborate set-up scenarios in which Buddhist dialectics have been replaced by The Matrix (which of course is a Buddhist-inspired movie also dependent on the tropes and genre conventions of Chinese action flicks) and the internet has become the web of conditioned origination in which the commodity fetish...just as Marx said it, actually, I'm writing nonsense just to be mischievous, which is much in the spirit of Chi Peng's brilliant digital and thematic manipulations.

If you've seen one, you haven't seen them all, because the visual sources that are transmuted vary from the conventions of scroll painting to the conventions of moviemaking to...well, go and see.

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