Subject, objects and background

In terms of the non-representational way, the meaning is unknown but could emerge from the practical process. We cannot determine what the unconscious space is at first, but we can explore what the 'unconscious' and 'space' means. The unconscious, in my previous statements based on Kozyreva, is a way to fill the uncertainty, and a horizontal dimension that connects past and present without making this past an explicit object of observation. It is an absence in present, an unperceived in perceived. By this I mean, the unconscious is a kind of past experience sedimented in a person’s personality, which may be presented through the way of painting within the personal understanding and experience. It is not a conscious attempt to represent something, but a reverse ability to understand a person's definition of space through what the painting presents. Then, what the space means in terms of the unconscious space?

“There are as many spaces as there are distinct spatially lived experiences” (Merleau-Ponty 2013, 305) Painting is a tool for me to explore the unconscious space, that is why my painting always keeps the spatial structure. Since I did not paint with reference to any picture, nor did I create a space according to my dreams and memories, my painting was not a representation in any sense, but an arbitrary, random and uncertain creation. The only certain thing is that I always consciously divide the picture into two parts: the obvious abstract object and the background. To my understanding, space is the relation between objects, which is reflected in the relation between the wall and the ground, the holes in the wall and the ground, and the non-existent objects climbing or standing in my painting. However, I found that from 2017 to 2020, the objects in my paintings (see following pictures) gradually developed from figurative objects (i.e., chair) to abstract, minimalist objects (i.e., tangled lines). Whether the object has a clear shape and outline is no longer important. The lines and points formed by the brush strokes appear here as an object, they are still connected with the background, and they are still situated or located in this space no matter what shape changes. The colors, shapes, thicknesses, and materials of these abstract objects are the objects themselves, not their properties. In other words, the object in the painting changes from “what it looks like” to “what it is.”

When the object is not a representation of reality, what else can it be? Merleau-Ponty has stated, “The perceived is not necessarily an object present in front of me as a term to be known, it might be a ‘unit of value’ that is only present to me in practice” Thus, “All things are concretions of a milieu, and every explicit perception of a thing is sustained by a previous communication with a certain atmosphere.” (Meleau-Ponty 2013, 334) It is not the abstract object itself that creates an atmosphere, but the object relation creates an environment as the atmosphere. In my painting, I considered the object is nothing but the embodiment of some unknowable atmosphere in my past experiences, memories and dreams.

In addition, the subject is inhabited in objects. It is the relation not “I” as subject to perceive the object, but the object itself appears as an embodiment of “what I perceived”. In the physical world, “the thing can never be separated from someone who perceives it…because it is posited at the end of a gaze or at the conclusion of a sensory exploration that invests it with humanity.” (Meleau-Ponty 2013, 334) However, in the painting, the thing itself is the synthesis of feelings. The subject and the object are no longer a kind of detached relationship, but exist together in such a kind of dwelling and atmosphere.

Similarly, in dreams and memories, what we recall is not the properties of concrete objects, but objects with strong emotions, with private meanings. For example, I had a dream about a window that was half-open, and it scared me, I thought maybe someone had just broken into my room from the outside. I do not really remember what the window and the room looked like, but I do remember the fear it gave me. It is not that windows are scary, it is that my unconscious makes me think a half-open window is scary. Therefore, in my painting, the space generated by the relationship between the object and the background contains my subjective emotion, which is unconscious, but can be exposed through the content, materials and techniques of the painting. For example, the following painting (see the following pictures) is clearly made up of a pink background and thread mixture of red, white and pink. It is not that the lines are disturbing, but the different shades of red create a superimposed depth and thickness, the rough texture of the oil pastels itself, the density between the lines, the irregular shapes and the overall red hue of the painting are disturbing.


Merleau-Ponty, M., & Landes, D. A. (2013). Phenomenology of perception. London: Routledge.