TV or Not TV: Two Chinese Artists With An Existential Question

“I don’t know the meaning of being a man; I don’t know what the assholes are doing. They always think they’ve got the way to get themselves high. I think the most important thing for a woman is a plump bottom, so that I can smell something nice when I lick her ass. Her bottom will dance like a poem when we have sex––the rhythm, the sound, the space… Ok, I went too far.”

I randomly found the above lines when I opened a manuscript accompanying a video installation by Chinese artist Jin Shan. No, those are not Jin Shan’s words but rather the soliloquy of a certain spotted deer, which artist has quoted in said manuscript. Confused? I was too. But also intrigued.

Jin Shan and Ma Ke are the artists behind the dual exhibition “Odyssey – One Man’s Journey,” a collaborative effort between the Chinese gallery Platfrom China and Berlin’s very own Mindpirates. Jin Shan has brought his video installation “One Man’s Island (2010),” a collection of fifty video fragments recorded by the artist in the privacy of his studio and living space, while Ma Ke has crowded the walls with a selection of oil paintings and works on paper.

Artist Jin Shan with the accompanying manuscript of "One Man's Island." Photo: Chris Phillips

The videos of Jin Shan read like the pages of his diary; they’re obscure, vaguely humorous and are lit by a light that flickers between meaning and non-meaning. It is the artist performing seemingly random, impractical tasks––for example, holding a mop between his thighs, repeatedly hitting a blank wall as if to hump it. It appears to be the effort of a man attempting to extract meaning from what is, by all practicality, meaningless. The solitary empty space of his studio has allowed Jin Shan to explore the self as if it were a deserted island: locating its perimeters, exploring the corners where truth echoes and leaving marks here and there for anyone that may happen upon them, as if communicating his existence via smoke signals.

I asked the artist if he were to ever find himself in a deserted island, would he still create works of art. Despite finding inspiration in solitude, his response was a solid, “no.” He tells me there wouldn’t be a point since art, for one, comes with a long history behind it and has always served as a means of communication; there’s no point in communicating when nobody is around to communicate something to.

Some of Ma Ke's paintings on display at Mindpirates. Photo courtesy of the gallery

Ma Ke’s highly expressive and personal paintings, sometimes appearing ghastly and other times highly poetic, play a similar tune. He depicts specific moments of human interaction; sometimes lone characters in space facing the crisis of a particular situation, never completely figurative and always strikingly symbolic.

BAPs:  Why paint? (Psychologically and personally: why create?)

Ma Ke: I paint because painting expressed my dreams and wishes. Since I was a kid I was surrounded by magazines and books about art. My parents love painting and painting was also a way, in those years, to escape the sorrows from the troublesome political situation in China. Oil painting is something that has always fascinated me as it is not traditionally a technique coming from my country but it’s taken from the West. I thus found a new way to try and experience and express myself.

Oil painting by Ma Ke, the best way he knows to express himself. Photo: Chris Phillips

BAPs:  If your paintings were not paintings, what would they be?––mirrors (where to see the self), windows (where to see others), hammers (tools for change) , love letters (expressions of emotion) or what?

Ma Ke: I am not sure what else I could use other than painting. Recently I am into WuShu martial arts and maybe that’s another way to express myself. However, painting is what expresses me better.

BAPs: If you had to paint today, for whatever reason, your last painting ever… what would you chose to paint?

Ma Ke: If that was the case of my very last painting then I would not paint at all; there would be no reason for me to paint! 

​​Article by Jovanny Varela-Ferreyra