Sunday, June 07, 2009

Chen Zhen on Transexperience

Chen Zhen’s interview on Transexperiences was an insightful look into the discussions and debates of cross cultural experiences and conflicting consequences that may emerge out of a newly interconnected world. Chen explains that a “’Spiritual running-away’ is the most profound experience one can have in life. One should learn to break out of one’s own “cocoon” and be courageous enough to break away from one’s own self and to abandon one’s own cultural context…..[this is when] creative capacity has reached the most active zenith.” This “self-sought loneliness” via moving about and engaging with transexperiences reminds me a lot of Thoreau’s escape to Walden. I was also reminded of all our students’ experiences studying abroad and traveling—Chen’s words relate precisely to our own experiences being here in Shanghai and away from our safety zones, “our cocoons”. In this light, Chen encourages the movement of the art world to encompass artists’ experiences that include both the perspectives of home and away from home, both literally and figuratively. Chen also illustrates that “to immerse oneself in life, to blend and identify oneself with others” is a foundational concept of art, and transexperiences help us to recognize this. He goes on further to say “You have me in you, and I have you in me.”

Chen also talks about what is familiar to us in relation to what is “the other” or what is foreign to us. Chen says that in a “Multi-other world…the center will be left totally blank. This is my revision of the definition of “Others””. Cultural protection, going back to the roots, rediscovering and rebirthing the classics in Chinese philosophy and way of life has been a recent reaction to the imitation of the West. Some Chinese feel they’ve lost their own country’s distinctions and special cultural traits, because the country is trying so hard to modernize and with that, they look towards the West. Chen adds, “Those that are in power suffer from a major paradox: being ideologically conservative, they worship nonetheless whatever is foreign. It is the same disease they’ve been having over the last hundred years.” Therefore, Chen wants us to realize that transexperiences help us to find perspective and balance between the familiar and the other: “A long spell of separation leads to reunion, and a long spell of reunion leads to separation” is no other than a principle of dealing with the world and its people….its called “the self-sought loneliness of opening-up and moving-about”. He also suggests a new way of looking at cultures, not as foreign and conflicting or contrasting, but rather Chen says, “I pay more attention to the psychological processes of their culture.” And therein lies the key to understanding different cultures and peoples as well as applying those new ways of thinking to contemporary art that is fresh, original, revitalizing, and engaging.

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