Plants and Coincidence


Bingyi’s impressively scaled painting entitled”I Feel the Flowers Growing Over Me” contextualizes two mythical narratives in parallel. One alludes to a fictional character in The Strange Stories of a Chinese Studio (聊齋志异), named the “Lotus Fairy 荷花三娘子” depicting a romance between a lotus fairy, a fox, and a human, which is plagued with setbacks; the other one comes from the contemplation of John Keats in the last moment of his life. When Keats was nearing death, he felt “the flowers growing over me”. Why does the artist choose these two stories – one fictional and the other biographical – and weave them into one composition? Perhaps, these two stories share the themes of life, death and desire. In Bingyi’s pictorial world, life and death are challenging and cruel. Nonetheless they cast a beautiful sense of poetry onto the appropriated narrative and quoted prose. Bingyi succeeds in the virtualization of the cruelty of poetry. In cruelty painting converses with poetry passionately. This conversation gives rise to a harmonic dialectic, although it is saturated with melancholy, a melancholy that comforts the cruelty while dissolving the poetry. It rises gradually from the picture plain like a cloud and covers the image. Melancholy, however, is not treated as a syndrome of disease, but conceptualized into an aesthetic. These images are dominated by this aestheticized sentiment.

Where did this kind of aesthetics, in which melancholy eases cruelty in nature, come from? The image is filled with various vegetation and plants, painted in high-toned colors. These distinctive colors, such as red, green, blue and black compete with and set off one another, in layers, in forms, and in fragments. These intense hues create a mysterious world and make the stories even more ghostly. When the man and the woman make love, the female character explodes into bits of flesh; when the fairy gives birth, her legs disconnect from the body; in his waiting for his love, the man holds his liver on the lap; a Maggie Cheung-styled woman (the pronunciation of her name matches a plant-like romance well) in her golden age appears next to a skeleton; with blue flowers growing through the skull and human flesh floating in water. Plant, sky and human (the body blossoming and decaying) are three essential elements forming the flow of an illusive cosmos. If we view the painting carefully, these compositional elements do not seem to have any connection. However, there is a magical integrity threading through them. The characters in the image seem to be more or less skeleton-like, with little flesh or soft form, but they do not look horrific. They are the mildest skeletons that I have ever seen: they lie under the vast sky, embodying a quiet expression of death, rather than illustrating the cruelty and horror of death. In the bright sunlight, the fragrance of plants meanders through the bodies. Is this a tragedy? No. Life and death are not comedy and tragedy performed on the same stage, but two extremes that forms one aesthetic essay. The first page of this essay is love, which is the beginning of life; and the end of the essay is death, which is the end of life. Throughout this cycle, plants are flowering from the beginning to the end.

Why plants? Is life always entwined with flowers and trees? In this painting Bingyi comprehends the force of life from a unique perspective. Maybe it is the rich colors of these plants, maybe it is the meandering formalism of their forms, maybe it is the passive tranquility of trees, maybe it is the self-referential biography of the plants. Bingyi has found her own imagination through depicting these plants. Trees and flowers are the most effective metaphor embodying the notion of life: their fate is not determined by fundamental gain and loss; it is not defined by hidden functionalism, either of which belongs to the logic of animals. The idea of flora does not entail conflicts, aggression, or greed. Plant life is contained by a self-involved and formalistic growth and deterioration. It expands itself privately and powerfully. Its passion and the recession of such passion, its blossoming and fading away, both exist in the logic of selfness. Animals are quite the opposite. They migrate, compete, and function upon the impulse of aggression. Its passion is a passion for triumph, with a goal-orientated pragmatism. Trees are on the other hand persistent, gorgeous, and natural. Their functionalism is a natural-born formalism. In other words, trees and flowers represent an aestheticism that transcends mundane stylization and hence betrays a calculative realism. Moreover, plants are seasonal and recurring: They might live short lives and experience perpetual coming and disappearing. They might be eternal, for their blossoming and dying only represents the transformation of beauty. In their physical forms, there lies a ceaseless growth of beauty. If so, once we view plants as a metaphor of life, the intensity of its energy can be seen in the richness of colors, the spreading of its foliage, the continuous birth and death, and ultimately the flowering and decay of beauty. It is in this cycle that beauty overpowers cruelty and violence. Once approaching plant life in style, human life, fundamentally driven by animal impulse, will have a chance to defeat coincidence, which might be the only fatal struggle that plants have to survive.

By Wang Minan