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Gao Shiming: Understanding the World through the Eyes of Life, Understanding People through the Eyes of Nature
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Edited BY:He Jiabei

Understanding the World through the Eyes of Life

Understanding People through the Eyes of Nature


—Remarks at the "World Tree: 2024 China Academy of Art Graduation Season"


President of CAA, Vice President of China Artists Association

Gao Shiming

June 1, 2024


Esteemed guests, and colleagues from all sectors of society, welcome to the Night of CAA!


Dear teachers, thank you for your hard work and dedication. Your efforts have truly made a difference!


To the 2024 graduates, congratulations! Your works are absolutely stunning! Let's give them a big round of applause!


Friends, not far from here is the Archaeological Ruins of Liangzhu City, the cradle of the 5,000-year-old Chinese civilization. By drawing from the sources, we are connected to the subtle beginnings of creation, a gift of invaluable information from our ancient forebears.


Friends, over 5,000 light-years away from Earth, there exists a star. The light we observe today is but a distant glimpse that was cast towards Earth from this star at the very moment when civilization's dawn first broke 5,000 years ago. This is what we call our "Liangzhu Star."


Liangzhu offers us a chance and enlightenment, inspiring us to expand our perspectives and open our minds, enabling us to envision ourselves and comprehend the world through vast spatio-temporality. This has been my consistent encouragement, and it is a pleasing trend we have observed in recent years at our graduation exhibitions. Today's art youth possess broader perspectives, advanced knowledge, and freer spirits, and their creations are more diverse than ever. In the cultural soil of this new era, they thrive with vibrancy and vitality.


This year's graduation exhibition is centered around the theme "World Tree." Across every ancient culture's mythology, there stands a significant tree that crafts a mystical and exotic genealogy. Within this genealogy, we find world-sustaining trees such as Yggdrasil from Norse mythology, which connects nine worlds and spans past, present, and future. There are also trees that serve as conduits between heaven and earth, such as Jianmu, Fusang, and Ruomu from the Shan Hai Jing (or Classic of Mountains and Seas), and the Bronze Divine Tree from Sanxingdui, acting as celestial ladders.


Within this array of the World Tree, the Tree of Life, like the enormous Ashvattha described in the Bhagavad Gita, represents the eternal source of the cosmos, symbolizing the divine. It teaches us that while life flourishes and fades, its essence perpetually exists beyond temporal and spatial confines. Also present within this lineage is the Tree of Wisdom. The Bodhi Tree, under which Siddhartha Gautama achieved enlightenment, is perhaps the most celebrated, its branches and leaves fostering wisdom and compassion.


In modern times, the concept of the World Tree has thoroughly infiltrated youth culture and the anime world. In the video game Genshin Impact, the memories of all living beings are stored within the World Tree, cycling with the elements through the earth's veins, and providing nourishment for the next era of life in the cycle between the ley lines and the World Tree.


In the real world, the heart of many villages is marked by an ancient tree. Its life outlasts any human; its rings represent a chronicle of passing years, and its form, a code of the changing nature. This tree has borne witness to many generations' life cycles, the ebb and flow of family fortunes, and the comings and goings of many wanderers.


The annals of cultural history abound with the presence of great trees—Buddha achieved enlightenment beneath a tree; Confucius taught underneath a tree; Plato's Academy was nestled among trees; and Zen Buddhism monasteries were described as "forests" due to their dense trees. Even today, we continue to describe the noble vocation of education as "cultivating people," with every teacher acting as a gardener.


Over the past few years, we have all profoundly experienced how technology has redefined our sense of "reality" and posed challenges to the arts. From traditional woodblock printing to modern computer graphics, from the advent of photography to the development of AI technologies like GPT and Midjourney, cinema has evolved rapidly within just two generations. Now, entities like Sora and Suno have arisen as a response. In this age of digital intelligence, the traditional concept of a natural person has been utterly dismantled, transforming us into beings whose senses are integrated with technology. The "post-truth era" has spawned a "post-consensus era," where individuals are compartmentalized and amalgamated within the global networks of production and consumption, and manipulated and polarized through the emotional tactics of digital media. Today, in a world fraught with conflicts and diverging viewpoints, the need for collective compassion is unprecedented.


Friends, as we speak, the Arctic glaciers are melting, and thousands of species are on the verge of extinction. The human impact on the ecological balance has surpassed the planet's capacity for self-repair and regeneration. Nature is accelerating into a state of alienation and fast decline, a process directly resulting from human activities on the planet. In the 21st century, the relationships between humans and nature, between individuals and their own selves, and between humans and their creations have become severely unbalanced, leading us to lose our ancient connection between heaven and humanity.


Nevertheless, the "World Tree" has historically served as a bridge connecting the realms of heaven, earth, and humanity. Today, this ancient legend inspires us to revisit and understand the world through the eyes of life and to perceive humanity through the eyes of nature.


The poet Hermann Hesse, in his piece titled On Trees, observed, "In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves." In contrast to the trees praised by Hesse, the "World Tree" offers a grander canvas for imagination and more profound care: it is vibrant with life, its roots penetrate the world, its branches sustain the cosmos, and its leaves envelop both heaven and earth. It serves as the origin and vessel for all things in the universe. The emblem of the "World Tree" invokes a "shared responsibility"—we all have a duty to make this world a better place!


Friends, the "World Tree" tells us that our lives are always interconnected with countless others, our branches being connected to each other, growing entwined among the myriad things of the world, which is how one's personhood becomes enriched. This requires a broader mind and deeper care. We can combine two poems by Mr. Tao Xingzhi, from 1931 and 1946, to answer the call of the "World Tree":


The universe is our school,

Nature is our teacher,

All beings are our classmates,

Together we compose poems.


Fellow students, creation is the spring of life. It is not just giving; it itself is the reward. Only through creation can we achieve independence and autonomy; only through creation can we endeavor to establish consensus and foster empathy.


If you persist in a creator's life, I am confident that you will indeed grow to become great trees that underpin the world.


Friends, let us together hope:


May the Tree of the World thrive; May the Tree of Life always be evergreen!