The Magician of
Stones and Rivers
This piece of writing was commissioned in response to Youjia Lu’s work ‘Time Experience No. 2’ (2018) on show as part of the group exhibition ‘RIFTS: Particulate Matter’, co-curated by Dr. Rachel Marsden and Kat Kohler at Testing Grounds, Melbourne, 4-14 July 2018 - an artistic research-based and interdisciplinary project responding to society’s relationship and growing tensions with the built and natural world as a result of environmental change.
Youjia Lu asks us to dive beneath the surface of things; to be carried across pictorial seas to see what we can see; to lose ourselves in the swell of the unconscious.
The flickering screen vibrates against the eye; it seeks an access point to dive deep into a well of perception and to find anchorage. From here, the movement of light ebbs like a current, washing across our present being. Our being is anchored in place so that the dictations of time and projected images wash over us – as the river does the stone. But what is our presence? Certainly, the anchored status of the stone demonstrates its sensitive and receptive nature because despite all its hardness and roughness, even the most patient rock can perform the slow act of transformation, allowing the repetitive and meditative act of waves and currents to smooth it out.
How can we be like the stone: A present and salient object resting at the bottom of the riverbed, allowing the ebb and flow of energy to transform us into a beautified and pure version of ourselves? As the daily course of rising suns and setting moons brings about them the orbital movement of experience and ritual, our daily acts and interactions inform our constructed existences and project our potential futures. Collectively, we build swells of unseen spatial environments mostly filled with lived, shared socio-emotional experiences. They stream thought and surge into creative action; a way to allow an imagined body of water to provide nourishment for us all where through this we are the river stones, with our collective expressions and emotive intelligence eddying about us. In his great work The Prophet, the Lebanese-American poet Kahil Gibran says of self-knowledge, ‘The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea; and the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.’
Our fluid emotional environments are, therefore, experienced through a set of quotidian and circadian rituals, each pertaining to “betterment and wishfulfillment”, and have been constructed through the architecture of the psyche. Often, these environments are experienced unconsciously, and it is here that we may find gaps in connectivity – connectivity within ourselves, connectivity with each other, connectivity with nature, with time, with experience itself. Ritual is a conduit through which we may transform the self and by allowing ritual to exist within our daily lives is to accord for time, place and space for liminal feeling.
Between the flickering of the images upon the screen there appear gaps, whereat Lu creates spaces alluding to emptiness or missing information. Like the blink of an eye, something is temporarily unseen, seemingly not experienced – empty. Perhaps these spaces are not void; like the whole world blinking at once, perhaps they pertain to something filled; fields filled with temporal, unknown experience just beyond our capacity and faculties. Upon felt phenomena, Victor Turner says ‘Liminality may perhaps be regarded as the nay to all positive structural assertions, but as in some sense the source of them all, and, more than that, as a realm of pure possibility whence novel configurations of ideas and relations may arise.’ Each liminal moment suggests transformation, with indefinite time lapse; the more often and repetitively they occur the more change may be fostered, which may bring about a sense of disorientation and ambiguity, as the dissolving of social order seeks to upturn hierarchies and shift currents. However it can also bring the possibility of new perspectives, creating new streams of thought that may lead to betterment and wellbeing.
The rifts between moments are like the peaks and the troughs of waves; they are the moments for mediation and patience; they are magic, because unbeknownst to us beneath the waves there is much at work. On rebalancing and healing, Alain de Botton suggests that ‘Art can put us in touch with concentrated doses of our missing disproportions, and thereby restore a measure of equilibrium to our listing inner selves.’
In Lu’s work, the strobe-like flickering of images demonstrates liminal moments where we are invited to dive into the ambiguous gaps between what is seen and what is discerned. It is within the tangents of these “videographed” currents that we may retrieve some information of our unconscious selves, like pearl divers retrieving some glimmering objects from beneath the surface. The work questions our assuredness of what we know and how we indemnify experience.
Within the video ocular frameworks are restructured, bringing about new ways in which we perceive through the eye. Lu presents an ambiguous figure, a liminal being, which is neither here nor there, yet betwixt and between. The figure exists more so in an imagined environment rather than anyone that we may directly encounter. The figure resides in the realm of the unconscious, however speaks more a felt, emotional environment, and alludes to apparitions of future tense. As Carl Jung unearths, ‘the unconscious is no mere depository of the past, but is also full of germs of future psychic situations […] in addition to memories from a long-distant conscious past, completely new thoughts and creative ideas can also present themselves from the unconscious – thoughts and ideas that have never been conscious before. They grow up from the dark depths of the mind like a lotus and form a most important part of the subliminal psyche.’This is also the nature of video art: a set of frames orchestrated one after another.
Through the codex of archetypes, the screened figure may be seen as a mythic projection of the magician who stands at the limen between the sacred realm and the profane. This archetype is revered as one who holds great intellect and secret knowledge, who has access to the unconscious and otherworldly realms; this archetype is a shape-shifter and brings about constant change between order and future. Like the stone in the river, this archetype is susceptible to the conditions of their environment, yet is capable of shifting societal and natural order.
Here, we must consider the natural and constructed environments within which we reside and the power and control we have about them: at the bottom of the riverbed, is it truly the stone that is softened by the water’s current, or is it the flow of the river that is influenced by the stone?
i. Gibran, K., The Prophet (1923), p.62.
ii. Turner, V., The Forest of Symbols (1967), p.97.
iii. Botton, A.d., Art as Therapy (2013), p.29.
iv. Jung, C.G., Man and His Symbols (1964), p.25.
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