468×315cm ( 52×35cm each）
The Fold-over of Guan Yin (front)
Macrophotograhy, giclee print
52 ×35cm（Edi: 1 ）; 130 ×87.5cm（Ed: 9 ）
The Fold-over of Guan Yin (back)
Macrophotograhy, giclee print
130 ×87.5cm（Ed: 9 ）
"To use" or "not to use" it? Why must one use it? "Use" has become out first thought when dealing with worldly possessions. I listed to my heart and placed it on a quiet corner, free from the contamination of the filthy body. I listened to my heart and chose not to cooperate with the artist, for I believe it can be "used" in different way. Although I am an infidel, I didn't have the heart to use it, even if it is a bar of ordinary soap.
－ Tang Sheng
"Take therefore no thought for the morrow: For the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Matthew 6 ：34)"
Before going to bed, a shower will expel a whole day's worries.
－ Liang Jinglin
I have converted to Buddhism in Daci Temple, Chengdu in June of 2009. After returning to my work in Shanghai, I seldom talk about religious beliefs with other people. I placed this "white jade statue" right next to the calendar on the cabinet near the door. The soap "wears out" itself in air and dust. It serves as a reminder for me each time I see it. This is a very personal experience and at the same time, knowing that more than a hundred people are using it makes me very pleased. I am in debt to the artist.
－ Lu Jing
We generally wash out hands after a whole day's work. That is when we are exhausted physically and mentally.
First "Guanyin" could "sit" on its own, then it had to lean against the back wall to "sit". Next, it "reclined" before its head parted with its body. Finally, its "head" was shaped like a severed finger and its "body" turned into an abstract ivory triangle.
－ Shang Yixin & Huang Lei
The Buddhist goddess Guanyin sat on the bookrack in the bathroom. One day while cleaning, I accidently hit it and it fell to the ground, beheaded.
－ Aenon Loo
When I brought Youyu's Guanyin shaped soap home, my mother who is a Buddhist was staying with me. I dare not explain to her that this Guanyin statue is actually a bar of soap used for hand-washing. One day while she was not at home, I threw the Guanyin shaped soap into the washing machine and did a full bucket of laundry. "Thank God", the Guanyin was still there, lying on the bottom of the bucket.
－ Wang Guangle
Guanyin, first exhibited in Beijing Hive Center for Contemporary Art, is probably the project that lasts the longest and with the largest number of participants for the time being. The preparation work, starting from the end of 2010, did not complete until all the paintings had been installed before the inauguration. For me, Guanyin has a special meaning. First, superficially this is the only work that I haven't laid my hands on so far. This seems paradoxical and contradictory to all my previous working methods and artistic stances, but the truth is, though I was not personally involved in any links of its creation process, I've continually tried hard to grasp the linguistic details and subtleness of this work as a whole. Compared to previous ways of creation, this time my hands only "extend longer". It is very interesting and more challengeable for me to direct the whole project (its control and expression) in a non-involved way.
The muse of Guanyin originates from my constant interest in Zen. Although not a Buddhist, I've spent decades loving Zen philosophy, which in a way has a profound impact on my thinking patterns. In the famous public record "Dan Xia Burns a Buddha", Chan Master Dan Xia Tian Ran of Tang dynasty was met with an extremely cold day while staying in Huilin Temple, so he burnt the enshrined wooden Buddha to keep out the cold. A monk, seeing this, thought it was a blasphemy and bitterly satirized Chan Master Dan Xia Tian Ran, who after hearing the accusation responded: "I'm burning it for Buddha's relics." The monk continued: "How can you find those in a wooden statue?" Dan Xia smiled: "Exactly, then why couldn't I burn it?" Normal people would say Chan Master Dan Xia Tian Ran committed a high treason, but actually, he only revealed a Zen philosophy through his words and gestures. He, not deceived by exterior appearance, sees a wooden Buddha as nothing but a piece of wood. Fundamentally, a wooden idol has no Buddha nature at all. Similar Zen cases are not rare and they all, from the perspective of dialectical philosophy, restore "image" to its "physical property".
It took my assistant some time to study the proportion and make experiment preparations before he finally duplicated over 160 statues of "Guanyin Soap" in the studio. Since last year, I've been giving them out to my families, artist friends, exhibition planners, writers, designers, teachers, common office workers, migrant workers, foreigners, tourists, Buddhists (including monks and lay Buddhists), people with other religious belief, handicapped people, children, etc. Many volunteers are totally strangers to us. We tried to select the participants from all walks of life and asked them to use (or not use) it according to their own will for some time before we finally took it back. We took a high-precision micro-spur picture of each side (front and back sides) of the recovered soaps and at last 81 pictures of various forms of Guanyin were chosen for the exhibition. The whole process is more like a social survey than making a regular artwork.
Therefore when I handed out all the Guanyin Soaps, I became a bystander. Hand-washing (bathing) is an ordinary part of a cleansing routine, but perhaps it is the Guanyin appearance that makes a whole lot of people refocus on their washing behavior, experience some conflicting complex or generate a ritual consciousness. While peoples' bodies are being baptized, Guanyin Soap changes its shape quietly: it is worn out to different extents and finally becomes an incomplete statue. This dissipation reminds me of Prince Maha SaQing's story of "scarifying himself to feed the tigress". Although the gist of Guanyin is not about religion, it is impossible to leave it out of our topic. I am more interested in the relationship between contemporary mundane individuals and religion than in the doctrines of a certain religious sect. Buddhism in my opinion is neither the idolatry of incense burning and kowtow nor complex and bulky classical scriptures. The real sutra, more than often, could not be to put down nor expressed by verbal words, that is to say the essence of Buddhist practice is to confine one's body and relax his/her mind. With the principle of "equality of all beings" in mind, Guanyin delivers all living creatures from torment unconditionally without any exceptions. Thus, each recovered Guanyin Soap bar is a unique surprise and the various abrasions and deformation, as well as the dust and hair stuck on the surface, are in fact, an excitement that one cannot obtain from linguistic texts. This information gives an all-sided reflection of participants' feelings, use habits or even living environment about this work, leaving audiences quite a lot of space to imagine.
In retrospect, I'm glad that I started this project before "thinking clearly". Over the last three years, I've gotten a lot of help and met many new friends with whom I carried out constant discussions and debates, enabling me to ponder over this work from different points of view and spurring me to read books that I once thought were beyond my ability. All these finally lead me to a more colorful world step by step. During the process, my team and I also studied ancient stone carvings on a special field trip to Dazu County, Chongqing and Anyue, Sichuan from which we've benefited a lot.
At the end of this book, I hereby give my heart-felt thanks to every friend participating in the project. Many participants recorded their use of the soap by taking pictures or by writing a short log, which together with everything else, make up the valuable documents behind this work. My gratitude also goes to the exhibition planner Chia Chi Jason Wang and all the employees in Hive Center for Contemporary Art whose endeavors and efforts promoted the publication of this work. I think, when the colossal Avalokitesvara statues are displayed, my unfinished words are all in those dusts.