Inspired by words from a strange encyclopedia titled “The Night Ferry” which was written by an ancient Chinese literati 300 years ago, artist Zhai Liang (CH, Shanxi, b.1983) creates a series of grids that explores the reversal of language’s evolution – where modern words are not only evolving from but reverting back towards their historical meanings - visualizing the web of complex logical formations that in aggregate become what we conceive of as language and knowledge. Liang takes words that are most often used or seen in the artists’ circle (often obscure words) then finds how they are classified in “The Night Ferry.” He then builds a table of paintings created at the intersection of these words and categories: e.g. writer (word) + alchemy (category). In using an ancient language as his pool of exploration, he dissects and reconstructs those relationships as a way of exploring the meanings of words in different settings. In transporting these dated but logical classification systems to the modern times through physical paint, Liang shows that this historical sense of order is connected in non-linear dimensions intertwined across the depths of time. However, he takes it one step further by using painting as the medium, which creates a visual dialogue between Eastern and Western cultural and artistic philosophies. Each piece is therefore somehow freed from the order that is represented by modern languages and returned to its unencumbered ancient roots.
For Liste 2020, Liang turns the entire wall to a large working grid - the horizontal and vertical axes respectively represent his own classification logic. His paintings become not only his tools for the continuous deconstruction of words and categories, but also the markers of semantic retrieval. As if a librarian would organize a bookshelf, Liang takes the cues from classical books and literature and adds his paintings to the grid onsite, gradually forming an inferential map of ancient and modern words.