--History of the Present
“There are no old time and no present; no beginning and no ending.”
--Zhuangzi, Knowledge Rambling in the North
“Before the beginning and after the end.”
-- T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets
The ancient Greeks had two words for time: one is “Chronos”, which refers to linear, constantly flowing time; the other is “Kairos”, which indicates an opportune point in time that only appears by chance. Similar to a concept in The Book of Changes, “Ji means a subtle omen of change”, “Kairos” describes an in-between state of existence and nonexistence where changes have happened but the result have not yet appeared.
From the perspective of modern physics, the speed of light is limited, so everything we see is in the past. Albert Einstein once wrote: People like us who believe in physics know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion. However, in quantum theory, two entangled particles can share the same "present" regardless of distance. Just like the Schrödinger's Cat theory, you can't know all the details about the “present”. Once you sneak a peek, the “present” falls into the “past”.
In infinite space and time everything develops. “Only present dharmas have efficacy (karitra)” (Verses on the Treasury of Abhidharma or Abhidharmakosa-sastra). The “present”, as the apparent and functional “existence”, implies more unrealized potentials. In 2021, in a world radically reshaped by COVID-19 and in an era driven by technology and capital, the “History of the Present” invites us to think about the meaning of time from more dimensions, to pay attention to the untapped potentials in the “present”, and to usher in the future of possibilities denoted by the “present”.
“History of the Present” is the theme of the 3rd Zhijiang International Youth Art Festival; it is a rethinking of the theme “Living Together” in the last season. We are living in this era together, and we are also shaping history and reality together. We did not really include “present” in the large amounts of records and articles about the present. “Present” is not really there in a “real-time” and “synchronized” reality driven by unprecedented computing power. Amidst the hype of social media, we can’t recognize each other. In a world full of noises, we can’t hear the echo of existence.
Although everything is interconnected, all beings are alone. We are experiencing the loss and crisis of the global epidemic together, and we are also facing the new propositions and challenges of ethics of life in the digital age.
The teachings are gradually becoming obsolete as the world keeps moving forward. The techniques taught by the school used to be the classical resolutions by the predecessors to deal with real life problems, but they are not a “silver bullet” to the current circumstance. We should re-examine our crafts and memories, and turn them into creativity and opportunities for restart.
The linear perspective on history adopted by Western culture has encountered a deadlock of “modernity”. To this day, it is said that we are still continuing the unfinished cause of modernity. This linear view of history and its underlying world view were brought into the art world and became the concept and infrastructure of the so-called “contemporary art”. However, this concept is outdated for too long, and this infrastructure has been idle for too long.
History is not an endless straight line, but an endless sea, and the “contemporary era” is nothing but the ever-changing surface of the sea. Let us dive into this ocean to retrieve knowledge and crafts from the past generations. We will enlighten our “Art Moment” --- an emerging and sprouting “present”--- with inspirations from different worlds, oracle bone inscriptions and VR, classic and contemporary…When the present is no longer ready-made, it can be manifested; when the present is a manifestation of now, it can be written in history.