Manipulated Code: The Alienated Landscapes in Zhu Ligezi's Work
Humanity is approaching life in a fabricated "world," like in The Truman Show; the key was that the utopian town in which Truman lived was a giant film set built by other people. The world that Truman saw every day still required the substitution of material objects. In The Matrix, the substitution of physical objects gives way to digital code; the world in which Neo lives is not fabricated from an assemblage of physical objects. Instead, in the space of the matrix, everything in the world, all sensory perceptions, and even the world view that shapes all of this were the virtual creations of intangible digital codes. In The Truman Show, the subject is still constructed on a foundation of objectivity, but in The Matrix, the subject is constructed from subjectivity. Or one might say that Neo's subjective perceptions were defined by the system matrix. Despite this, the similar ways in which the producers who built the utopia and the generators of the matrix construct meaning are obvious. First, they are all-knowing and all-seeing, and they are a level above the subsystem that they have created. Therefore, the existence of the higher-level system can envelop that of the lower-level system, so in the existence of the subsystem, they are equivalent to the root directory. Deleting the root directory implies deleting all subsystems under it. Second, they are the creators of their creations, but they are also the manipulators of their creations. This process of manipulation is no longer confined to traditional violent means and administrative measures; this manipulation is transformed into symbols and codes, which are woven together to produce a logical system and ideology related to meaning.
This actually fits with Jean Baudrillard's theory of simulation and simulacra. In the grand typologies of contemporary society, simulations and simulacra have replaced the real and the original, and the world thereby becomes simulated. Baudrillard believed that "simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without original or reality." Baudrillard called this "hyperreality." Baudrillard's theory of simulations and simulacra is primarily a reflection of the role of the mass media in constructing post-modern society, but his theory still has a parallel application in an analysis of the alienated landscapes constructed of code in a post-modern social reality.
Zhu Lizige's work reveals the relationships between code, the manipulation of code, and truth in a post-modern "information-consumption" society. Traffic signs, striped building tarps, chain link fences, and tree trunks painted with limestone stripes are imposed visual elements. They cover, erase, or obliterate the relationship between "reality" and the truth, and form a new coding system for meaning, becoming something akin to Baudrillard's hyperreality. Various codes in post-modern society make up a system of meaning that can replace origins and realities, and these systems of meaning can make up common worldviews and values systems, thereby controlling the individual. The question is: who is manipulating the seemingly rational logic behind these codes? Is it the producer of that utopian town? Or the world inside the matrix? Perhaps all of this is not important; what is important is that they have already become the root directories that determine our existential meaning. Once these root directories are deleted, we become fragments of meaning floating in nothingness. Humanity has returned to the origin of that meaning. The origin becomes a simulacrum, illusion and reality are mixed, reality does not exist, and there is no concrete proof of real coordinates. Humanity does not know where it came from or where it is going…
We could still see Zhu Lizige's work as "landscape paintings" dependent on post-modern visions. However, the comparison to landscape painting is actually a bit harsh. Let us return to Baudrillard's theory. He set a coordinate system for post-modern culture; he believed that the first order process was counterfeiting, a leading model from the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution. This process follows "natural laws of value," and adopts the idea of mimesis that began with Aristotle. At this stage, counterfeiting intended to imitate, replicate, and reflect nature. This could correspond to the sentimental early capitalist depictions of mist and trees on the opposite shore and a girl in a white dress in the setting sun. The third order is a simulacrum, which is the leading model for a post-modern society governed by code. In this state, the simulacrum creates hyperreality. Traditional ways of expressing "reality" are broken, and models create reality. The result is the death of reality. That is to say, what Zhu Lizige presents is no longer a "natural" and "real" landscape; it is an artificial, symbolic, and alienated post-modern societal landscape.
This post-modern societal landscape is no longer an object independent of the subject; it's a mirror image of the subject, the objectification and codification of subjective will. In other words, when the subject becomes the objectification of a subjective consciousness, alienated landscapes become symbols of the collective unconscious of this era.
August 7, 2018, Beijing
(Wu Hong: Art critic, curator, editor-in-chief of Artintern.net, managing director of the Songzhuang Contemporary Art Archive, and a guest professor and graduate advisor at Jilin College of the Arts)
Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.