Episode 4. Shuffle The Cards, Shuffle the Mind

You can read the Chinese version below


Practicing calligraphy after class at the residency.

My name is Alex Kuhn and my Chinese name is 李阳明 (Li Yang Ming). I am a 25 year old mixed media artist from the United States of America and I grew up on the east coast of the US in a town not far from Philadelphia Pennsylvania.

If you’re reading this now, then you are just one person out of more than 7.5 billion people living on one of Earth’s seven continents in one of mankind’s 195 different countries. You probably live nearby one of the 4416 cities within these countries and your life has been heavily influenced by one or more of an immeasurable number of different cultures. It’s not wrong to say that there are a lot of things that separate us such as time, space, language, age, or belief, but there is one thing that connects us all -- Our human condition. Growing up in this world leads us all to have a certain belief system and pattern of thinking, regardless of where you live. This is just one part of what it means to be human and I believe that this day-to-day human experience is directly correlated with the way we each process information based on our unique life experiences.

"Jupiter" - - Pyrography and woodcarving on maple. - I researched the planet in the library and created a work that is 165cm x 122 cm on wood. using a soldering iron, and propane torch. I wanted to observe something in nature that was both realistic and abstract at the same time. The cloud patterns in jupiter captivated me.

Although I am still young, I have begun to notice that my mind has repetitive patterns within my mode of thinking -- always viewing new information in the same way. If a chain of thoughts is like a stack of playing cards. the top card would represent what we are thinking about now and the bottom card would represent the initial idea the lead us down this path of thinking. When contemplating this idea, I alway return to the same question, “Why are the ‘cards’ organized in this way, and is there a way to change it?” This is my life’s pursuit and I am using my artwork as a tool to illuminate the systems by which my mind constructs and examines our world’s information.

I believe that artwork has an immense and still yet fully explored power. This power is the ability to use simple stimuli in order to transmit a complex set of ideas to people regardless of language, ethnicity, age, gender, or differences in cultural experience. My goal in creating artwork is twofold - to deeply examine my own mode of thinking and to create a platform for others to do the same.

"Fire hydrant" - (Something that we never notice) - Pyrography, wood carving, acrylic acid and watercolor on cabinet grade maple plywood 122 x 81.2 x 3.175 cm

Growing up in the USA, I subconsciously adopted the fundamental perspective of strict dualities. Everything is always good or bad, left or right, black or white. In all things, either “I am” or “I am not.” This ideology has formed the substructure for my entire mode of thinking and has become the scaffolding responsible for building the thoughts which I use to engage with the world. To use a previous analogy, this black and white mentality has become the way that my mind’s “stack of playing cards” uniformly organizes itself.

This organization of mind happens both physically and metaphysically. The pathways within the brain which are used to create thought become reinforced over time, but the content, or “thoughts” that these neural pathways carry becomes reinforced as well. This relationship between the brain and the mind has always intrigued me and in college I studied Psychology, Art history, and took a special interest in Semiotics or the study signs and symbols in order to better understand how we as humans perceive, interpret, comprehend and communicate with the world around us. I was very interested in Semiotics because it allowed me a way to pair psychology and art history with one another.

Discussion with other residency artists and staff. A retrospective of previous works and goals for future works.

Over the past few years, these passions in psychology, art history, and semiotics only became more inflamed through creation and examination of my own artwork. My day to day ingestion of life experiences caused me to digest these moments and reinterpret my world through my artwork. But I found that two artists living in the same space might see the world through different lens’ and create two very different works of art. Because of this, I began to wonder how I was viewing the world, and how well my work reflected my inner canvas. “Was I just regurgitating signs and symbols that I saw, or was I creating work that referenced how my mode of thinking interpreted those symbols? The mechanism of my mind at work.” In order to find out, I needed find a way to reach the core of my way of thinking. A place just below the realm of language.

Shortly after college, I came to the realization that the creation of my way of thinking is cyclical and formed from a set of specific variables: Places, People, Experiences, and Language. Every day I meet people in various places and have experiences with them which sculpt my way of thinking, but it is language which allows me to interpret my experience and share it with others. Changing the people and the places changes the experience but if the mind is still running on a specific language then the experience will always be set within the framework of that mode of thinking and be stuck within the limits of that language. Language was the key. Because of this, I sought out a language that was the most different than English. Different in writing, different in sound, and different in logic. What I decided upon was that I would learn Chinese in an attempt to uproot English from the core of my mind and juxtapose it with another language, ultimately giving me a second means of understanding my experiences in order to get a more clear image into the substructure of how my mind sees the world.

Text - (I will never be able to fully understand you) Title - “但我會一直嘗試 - But I will always try to. - Model for a larger structure. Inspired by the feeling that using language allows us only a small doorway to really “see” or understand someone's true idea. When in fact, what is behind the language is vast and beautiful like an endless mountain landscape.

Over the past 3 years I have been teaching myself to read, write, and speak Mandarin Chinese. Although it started out as a simple curiosity, it turned into so much more. As I progress through the written language and practice my calligraphy, I realize that the written language itself is symbolic of a deep relationship with the natural world and because of this, it can potentially create a different framework by which Chinese people can engage with themselves. The separate parts of each word represent real world substance, yet together they become something greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Photo taken in Chongqing during the residence of artist. There is a house next to the tracks, surrounded by trees. This modern industry, living environment and natural environment integration

I believe learning Chinese will be a lifelong pursuit but my goal is to be fluent in the language within the next 7 years. I sought out an artist residency in China with the 十方艺术中心 10 Dimensions Art Center in Chongqing (DAC) not to further my language ability, but to use this ability as the bedrock of engagement with the local people and communities. My goal for this residency is to better understand the culture behind the language, and to think about the ever changing relationship between art, society, and experience. Beyond everything that I have experienced so far, I have come to notice that Chinese people don't seem to worry about small things as much as westerners do and that people tend to be more self aware. This type of communication with the self and with nature transcends language and and I believe it sits at the foundation of the chinese cultural ideology.

Already I have begun to design works based on the ability to communicate our unique experiences, how our mind state allows us to engage with the world, and how the loss or ruin of specific cultural spaces changes the way that we think.

My show based on my time in China will be opening at DAC on Dec. 22nd., 2018.

Thank you for reading. Warmly,

-Alex Kuhn

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Studio in Philadelphia, Pa