One day in the middle of the nineteenth century, a new machine came shrieking through, tearing open the once complete world of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Goya, Delacroix, and Rubens; the once complete world of agriculture. The steam engine came ripping through, leaving in its wake: A new black hole.
The light emanating through this hole then illuminated the canvases of Monet, Cezanne, Degas, Miro, Renoir, and Seurat, painters using vibrant colors to deftly depict the new world of the hole with peaceful dawns, quiet vases on table tops, beautiful women amidst afternoon bouquets, and the beach of La Grand Jatte. Before their very eyes a new capitalist world is drawn in by the steam engine, and the miracles of material objects are spawned by capitalism. The Impressionists are like children frolicking in the sun, a light in which even the occasional twinge of despair is spectacular: sunflowers of van Gough. Only one painter among them is truly aware: Paul Gauguin. Gauguin feels the irresistible pull of the steam engine. Instead of giving in, however, he opts to escape — in 1865 the painter flees to the emerald blue waters of the island of Tahiti.
Without a station or a terminal point, the flight of the steam engine is much like human desire itself. In a mere one hundred years this black hole swallows up two thousand years of material culture, and in its rampage Kandinsky, Munch, Magritte, and Duchamps gradually begin to open bewildered and consternated eyes. The Kandinskian lines and patterns form a kind of restrictive force endeavoring to obstruct the unbridled drive of the steam engine; Duchamps creates installation art in an effort to toss tangible objects across the path of this unstoppable progress; and the lonely Munch stands all alone beside the tracks hopelessly calling out: “Stop! insatiable inhumanity!”
A black hole.
World War I ….
World War II ….
A mushroom cloud in the sky above Guam ….
The pain of the wound in 1949 finally overflows the heart of Picasso, so that even he can no longer twist out his enraged forms. The crushed people of “Guernica” are the people smashed in the path of the steam engine, the very bodies rent asunder by the dog eat dog desires of humanity.
Spilling into this space is no longer oil, but now heroin, as the slowing steam engine celebrates its wild ride like the coming of the end of the world. The pain of the wound finally numbs Dali, whose hallucinatory canvases more than any other manifest the fragments of a world torn to bits under the wheels of the steam engine.
Goodness is in pain.
Truth is in pain.
Beauty extends pain.
And now, all around we see a wounded world. In the year 2000, after having been baptized in the experience of cruel American capitalism, Yan Li is one truly aware. He moves, however, in a direction opposite of Paul Gauguin; Yan Li returns to his country of origin, a place in which the steam engine’s destruction has only just begun. On an afternoon of a thousand sighs, a determined Yan Li raises his brush, and starts patching our world full of scars, healing our wounds one by one.
And you, do you still feel the pain?
originally published Coquette
June 1, 2004
text by Mo Mo
translation by Paul Manfredi