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CHEN, Danqing

To embed television and its images into the creation of oil painting is a typical question raised by Yunpeng Weng about ten years ago: When watching the “National News” every day, did we see “TV”?

Now, Weng transplanted televised images into digital pictures – including the subtitles on the screen – his question turns out to be: When we turn on TV every day, was the real interpretation taking place?

People like Benjamin, Barthes, Mcluhan, Postman and Baudrillard should be greatly interested in Weng’s works and would accordingly revise their theories about image and watching. Unfortunately, the mentioned sages were gone; however, human beings will not stop to think about the warning of those great thinkers but continue to watch TV day in and day out. The increasing TV programs now are metamorphous – DVDs as well as VCDs intrude into market with few rational limitations, and at the meantime it is readily available to find out innumerable videos through Internet, all of which intend to lure our greedy desire for watching.

Weng’s digital pictures were all taken directly from TV screen, in this way the moving images have changed into still images, and the rolling captions were split into some separated sentence that seems like a report to Mcluhan -- “Yes, you are right. Media are information.” Besides, Neil Postman might supplement that “Do not care about what kind of information or how significant it is; the whole intention of TV is to gaze.”

It is a batch of images that need not to be observed in detail or even not to be understood at all, but these pictures in fact intrigue us and convey persuasive claims. Mussolini, Saddam, couples on bed, fire on 911, Iraqis, Jesus, warship, church, kids … and charming parts of famous paintings, according to the “Punctum” theory of Barthes, are all attracting our attention and stimulating our consciousness, especially when viewers encounter with an incomprehensive sentence or have difficulties in identifying the correlation between text and image. In the moving video, captions and images are narrating synchronically. At this time Weng made the dual narrative to pause and stand still, so “Puntum” – though I am not sure whether this can be called “Puntum” or not – emerged: some captions coincide with images and effectively conduct the explanation between image and text, whereas the majority of subtitles frozen by shutter are rest, dull, irrelevant, abrupt, funny, but pretending to be serious. We start to laugh, just as Postman cited the warning from Huxley’s Brave New World: The gist in entertainment era is to let us smile without any reason and in fact we do not want to know it at all.

The reason is that there is no meaning, because the meanings are offset by each other. Because so many images are continuously dumping meaning to us, and because people do not know how to follow the so-called meaning, the final result is to laugh.

Nevertheless, Weng’s inadvertent humor reflects the real second of TV program and our collective life experience: Nowadays, TV programs and disk videos are all captions attached with detailed explanation, and the words on screen are a little bit chattering. Of course, the choice to keep watching and reading or not is up to us. When the shutter was pressed – maybe 1/1000 second? – the speed of transformation, just as we change TV channel by a single press on the remote, disappeared suddenly, and appeared unexpectedly. We were used to these arbitrary experiences of watching, which have already shaped and controlled every person sitting in front of the TV set.

The collection, screening, classification and combination seems like playing game and to some extent like carrying coals to Newcastle, but the information is straightforward and indisputable. The captions displaced with image seem to have profound meaning, and these subtitles imply the context, but are absolutely isolated. Captions and images constitute grotesque correspondence or irrelevance. Who scripted these captions? They sound like motto -- consistent, well-rounded, rhetorical and logical -- which can be even taken as aphorism. Of course, we will not for this reason turn out to be more stupid or smarter. Postman’s dichotomy into reading era and drawing time is responded anecdotally by Weng’s works: We are idiots of image, however verbal reading has not quit from “watching” experience. When contemporary people are accepting piles of visualized information and reading uncountable text and words, the experiences are different from reading books or any printed materials, but similar to synchronic interpretation all the time with no pause -- glancing quickly, knowing fast, waiting for the next frame and next sentence. Therefore, after Weng pressed the shutter, with the effect of prevention or interruption, our sights are frozen like fixed images. Subsequently he presented this sampled cultural survey and micro report, both of which successfully incite reading and at the same time block off reading.

This is a set of absolute experiences, which, however, came from absolute common life as well as digital images – TV screen and digital camera – by absolutely accurate and justified technical procedure. In searching images and captions, Weng not only has to choose a certain image but also to quickly select the sentence from captions -- suddenly, an image was separated from the consecutive TV narrative, and both the image and the selected caption were displaced, fixed and becoming a single piece of work -- a lost segment stripped from narrative line and meaning source. For example, under the image of glorious statue of Jesus, there are clear words in both Chinese and English -- ”That is not true”; or on tens of images of Stalin with same gesture and same location, each image has different subtitle… It is not a post hoc processing and he has no necessity to do so, for that all the images had been processed by the director and what Weng need to do is to press shutter. He was not simply clipping frame or revising narrative. In fact, his work is to challenge our dual trust on TV and literacy. Miracles emerged! That is, we found without ambiguity that the fact was fiddled by itself but still factual, and that the narrative was interrupted but still narrating. The caption on the image of Jesus is wholly true: “That is not true.”

Now, the relation between us and visualized media is not a matter of trust or distrust. We give us to multimedia and correspondingly live in a visualized world. For a long time, Weng has been focusing on images. Seemingly, he insists to clarify what indeed TV is doing, and how human can deal with TV. From the TV set on his former oil painting, we turn back to the surroundings of our mundane life. These works of images, just like the light reflecting from the screen of TV, help us to see ourselves and our situation of reading. On Weng’s canvas, the TV set is not “factual,” is merely “picture”. Now the question is: Are these images that faithfully repeat images “factual”?

From paintbrush to digital camera, from canvas to image duplication, trying to extricate out of visual logic, Weng had shifted his focus to the outside of TV. He uses brush to depict the messy surroundings. Recently, he aimed digital camera towards the content within the TV screen and started to scan the encyclopedic televised programs. Suddenly, on the upper and lower sides of video, he “discovered” the babbling words of explanation.

So far, I have not seen such absolute works of image. By duplicating the duplication, Weng employs the illusion of images to reveal the truth of TV, and this delicate truth facilitates his creation of these works, upon which we can hardly tell what is fact and what is false. If touched by these undistinguished images, when turning on TV we may have some new kind of sights.

On the trip to Istanbul, April 8, 2009