Eternity and Rebirth
Everyone has his own way of using machines. As for Ma Shengzhe, computers are not computational devices. He is in constant confrontation with them, forcing them to the point of overload, burdening them with the pressure of massive quantities of data, until they collapse. His goal is to make the computers collapse. Their collapse forms a special kind of image. That is to say, collapse has its own language. The collapse itself carries a dialogue. And Ma Shengzhe captures the images of the moment of their collapse, manipulating them to the brink and then creating his works, bringing these images to the surface of the canvas. The images and language of the computers collapsing form the basis of Ma Shengzhe’s painting practice.
Here, the first problem we encounter is whether or not the work is produced by the machine or the artist? Or both together? What we’re seeing clearly is the disappearance of the author (artist). The machine is producing autonomously, while the author (artist) is recording passively. The artist is following the language of the machine to complete his artworks. The artist is restraining an assumed mythical creativity in favor of the machine’s fortuitous operations. Here, the usual order of human using machine as tool is interrupted, adversely allowing the machine to use the human: what is human becomes a tool for the machine. People are not talking through machines, but rather the language of machines is finding voice through humanity. Humans are speaking the language of machines. Thus, I am not the one painting, but rather, the painting has come to me, has arrived here, and I accept these paintings, passively painting these existent paintings, painting the paintings of machines. This is an event occurring in the field of painting, but isn’t it also an ordinary actuality of operating machines, a common event that is bound to happen? Will we not end up under the control of machines? Don’t we passively obey all sorts of machines? This control is not simply a linguistic control, but is also bound to the body. A plainly visible truth is that machines are not simply imitating humanity, but in fact, have permeated our bodies. The border between what is human and what is machine has begun to dissolve. Humans and machines are an increasingly inseparable unit; they are incapable of being divided.
The second problem we encounter is that Ma Shengzhe is evoking the language of machines at the moment of collapse, as when humans, already under enormous pressure, can accept no more and collapse. Machines also collapse. The language of human collapse achieved under enormous pressure is schizophrenic, a language insolvable to reason, a delirious language. Similarly, machines under enormous pressure also produce a crazed language, impossible for humans to understand. We are unable to make out any information from Ma Shengzhe’s images, whereas computers operating under normal circumstances are capable of supplying seemingly infinite streams of information to be analyzed. In fact, this is what normally gives computers their “meaning”. But once they collapse, “information” and “meaning” are thoroughly erased. In this sense, it might be more apt to say that the abstract paintings painted by Ma Shengzhe, while in all appearance seem like typical abstract paintings, are rather imaginings of a schizophrenic mind, that of a computer collapsed under immense pressure, its portrait at the time of collapse, a moment in its mind, its language of madness. As for Ma Shengzhe, the meaning of computers is precisely dependent on this collapse, precisely dependent on the moment they lose their average meaning and information. What he seeks to capture is a moment most try to avoid. That is to say, Ma Shengzhe is waiting for the moment of collapse, but not so that he may then set out to recover the computers, but rather to record their eternity, making this moment of collapse eternal.
This moment of collapse is also a chance moment—no one knows when a computer will collapse or what the limits its capabilities are. Just as no one can predict when a person will collapse. We are incapable of predicting what image a computer will produce once it collapses, just as we are incapable of predicting what a person will say once he collapses. Thus, the moment of collapse along with the image of that collapse both occur by chance. Thus, there is a duality that is becoming eternal. But how is one to make them eternal?
Ma Shengzhe copies them onto canvas and paper. Sometimes he follows the original to copy them, preserving their structure, contours, and color, using acrylic to draw them, thus, solidifying them, solidifying this moment and the representation of this moment. This singular moment and singular image, this singular extension of time can never be reproduced. Thus, copying it makes it achieve eternity, makes this singular moment and singular image eternal on the canvas. This singular image is fantastic. Its arrival, strange and miraculous. No one can predict or explain it. It has no logical source. Humans cannot even see its power. That is to say, its power is exactly the moment when a healthy computer loses its power. It assumes an unpredictable but concrete form to arrive in the world of humanity. This fantastic image, of course, does not bear the weight of any meaning. It is an image in itself, simply a mysterious image. But, Ma Shengzhe has solidified it onto the surface of the canvas. This, again, gives the unimaginable image an even more fantastic fate.
Sometimes Ma Shengzhe tries to change their color, turning them into different tones of blue. For this, he uses an old hand-printing technique, the Cyanotype, to achieve the color. This method is slow and lasts for an extended period of time, making these images appear as though they have been gradually growing. The image produced from this moment, this image, which lies beyond our expectations, uses an entirely slow method to form on paper, and the variation in the shades of blue form according to different physical environments. If, for instance, at the moment of collapse, the computer produces a dead image, then the work produced through the Cyanotype process gives new life to the image. They are placed back in the womb, and through water, air, and light, they gradually re-emerge and grow. Painting is like this, the process of reviving an image that has died. This is not a copy that preserves all aspects of the original, but rather is a process by which a dead image begins again and has new life. Painting achieves its temporal breadth and, thus, achieves life. A symbol of death produced from the collapse, if hijacked by the machine, does not necessarily exclude it from achieving a new life on canvas or paper capable of moving the human viewer. Thus, here, with Ma Shengzhe, the images produced by the collapse of computers find two fates: one is static and eternal, while the other is a new life full of movement.