The work of Jing He focuses on a need to explore an almost infinite tension within penultimate moments; a space between decision and action. Her paintings are intimate, suggesting movement yet frozen at a carefully deliberated point in a given act where the viewer can try and assume a predictable outcome…but is never rewarded with the fulfillment of their assumptions.
Looking at the series of detailed tableaux, from a depiction of hands in the act of removing a belt to a series of captured hand movements almost suggestive of sign language to a flock of exotic birds at rest, my reaction to these is one of initial calm. I take them in for their immediate representational value, examining the clarity of detail. The local color selection. The composition of shape.
But as I then pull away from my first impressions, I consider the almost gossamer surface treatment and solid wood framing around the silks. It is reminiscent of ‘cobweb paintings’ that in the last century were a brief novelty, popularly seen in “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!” museum collections. Paintings that challenged from their very namesake canvas material a delicacy, a fragility of moment in their own making even without taking into account the still life scenes they showed. The method actually dates back to the late 1700’s in Austria, as a royal indulgence to commission such difficult works.
I consider that element in looking at Jing’s paintings. That the strength of color and line is juxtaposed against a surface and framing that feels somehow undermined, precarious. Much as the moment in the images are at the threshold of change, of movement into the next gesture, the fragility of the moment becomes a physical embodiment in that stretched-looking, pale surface substrate, guardedly framed in the pale and rough wood.
Looking over her work and the inspirations she has drawn from artists like Peter Campus (“Three Transitions”), and the brief animations she has worked on in this same mentality, I cannot help but consider the classic conundrum of Zeno’s Paradox in the race between Achilles and the Tortoise.
The popular thought experiment argues that if a race is staged between a slow and a fast runner, with the slow runner allowed a headstart, the faster runner could never overtake the slower. In a classic reductio ad absurdum case, the explanation is that as the faster runner approaches the slower, the given distance between them can be represented as a given value. And since any given value can be halved, and halved again, and halved to infinite amounts, the runner who would need to cross these everinfinite depths can never theoretically reach that competing runner ahead of them.
Jing’s work feels somewhat like facing the gulf of that implied argumentative space; the endless halving into infinitesimal minutiae of examination. I can stare at each individual piece, or take them as a series, and feel there is a falling-in of the viewer. As if we are being demanded by Jing to look at these moments and beyond the simplicity
of their seeming mundane, everyday nature, realize that beyond that veneer is actually a perpetually-halved and falling wellspring of considerations. Moods, interpretations, variants of how far or shallow we can stand to look at a piece. All are available with each individual work.
The animations are not quite as successful in this regard. By default, an animation is ‘animate,’ and therefore movement–and linearity, with the consequences of its a-to-b-to-c chronological trappings–is imposed upon us so that we feel more ‘completed’ looking at a given piece. We can sense a beginning, middle and end to each brief narrative of activity. And so we have more a sense of completeness. In essence, the runner has caught up with the other, and the race is completed with the completion of the piece. Even if looped in an endless repeat, we nevertheless can reach a patience point of cutting ourselves loose from it, and not feel we have necessarily lost anything in the ending of our observation. Yet there is nevertheless still a worthwhile exploration of movements and gestures that never quite fully realize their assumed completions.
In future works, I would be excited to see a pulling back of the viewer camera for the silk surface paintings. To see if perhaps a larger setting of scene trapped in a penultimate moment would create greater potential interpretations. If, to borrow terms from quantum physics, more probabilities could be presented as potential possible outcomes but with none being collapsed into a complete wave of realized events.
One thing I wonder when I look upon Jing’s works is another aspect of scientific thinking. Mainly the classic ‘observer effect’ proposed by Heisenberg: that the viewer of a natural phenomenon is themselves a factor in the phenomenon unfolding, and therefore no natural event can be truly observed in situ whole and unadulterated. The observation act itself affects the entire scene.
With Jing’s work, however, we are an observer that is not a part of the scene being viewed. The phenomenon is detached from us, almost literally trapped within the silk and wood and lines.
We are asked to observe but we are–through the quirk of this art’s static nature–kept away from being a factor in this effect. So we are in a sense helpless non-entities, rendered so by this interaction in which we are asked to invest without any payoff of having an observer effect on these frozen moments or their potential outcomes. All the burden of interaction and interpretation is ultimately put to the viewer.
And, if one considers Jing’s stated ideas of exploring and examining the ‘moment before a moment,’ the energy charged of potential before an action realizes and expends it, then perhaps this is the best way that her work achieves that goal: the viewer themselves becomes charged with the energy of the vision before them, but cannot take any action or part in its fulfillment, and thus must inevitably leave the work having become in essence their own moment of pre-decision.
To learn more about Jing’s work and her process please visit https://jingheart.wordpress.com/
As part of the second-year graduates’ Thesis Projects I course, candidates were each assigned two of their cohort to review. As students begin writing their thesis papers and constructing artist statements, this review process proves to be beneficial twofold. Students not only exercise their written critique skills, but are able to read about their own project from other voices. Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting these reviews, so be sure to visit regularly for insights and photos of the second years’ progress!