H22 × W22 × D42
1988 (720 days)
Completed over nearly two years, “Man or Butterfly?” is also a representative part of the Butterfly Series of works. During the process of creation, I often made use of practicing Zen Buddhism and meditation to collect my state of mind and achieve a state of integrated mind and body before I was able to sculpt such a minute and delicate work. Even I could not distinguish whether the inspiration for this work came from practicing Zen or the creation of this work induced the Zen state of mind.
At the time when I was doing this piece, the renowned writer Gao Xinjiang came to see my creation and after viewing “Dreaming of Butterflies”, felt that the feeling of emptiness in the head was great. He then asked, whether it was possible to carve a completely transparent head. I immediately shared with him my work, “Man or Butterfly?” which was about half done. Although it was incomplete, the sense of openness quietly emitted endless vitality! Now when I behold it, I think of my friend Gao Xinjiang who has since passed away and am all the more cognizant of the evanesce of all things.
Another time, prominent painter and writer Lei Xiang came to visit. With great imagination regarding its disposition, he suggested that “If this work were placed in a large open space up in the mountains and light from a large mountain projected on the transparent scull of this work “Man or Butterfly?”, it would indeed engender an earthshaking feeling!” It is a pity that this work has never gone far from home, let alone been hauled up a great mountain. The value of artistic life has never had much to do with size or space. “Though the pavilion may be tiny, it has access to many mountains. The broadminded forget how narrow the earth is.” This is the inspiration for understanding life. Whether it is man or butterfly requires no profound search for an answer!
“Man or Butterfly?” is one of Wu Ching’s major philosophical creations. From a block of boxwood 1000 Taiwanese catties in weight, which is about 35 kg, he carved out a transparent abstract skull, with half concrete butterflies flitting to and fro from therein. With each carving stroke he practiced Buddhist meditation, settling down his mind with each carving mark and clearing it of stray thoughts so that it did not wander off on tangents but concentrated completely on wood carving, making it seem as if time had stopped. When the work was done, it was very light, with only about one catty of weight left. This work, thinner than two sheets of newsprint, was nevertheless very weighty in significance and importance. Look at the accurate and minute technique, and how its layout makes it appear as if it were slightly moving, then notice the positive energy conveyed behind the work. Can we let go of the unbearable lightness in life and deftly face it with the ease with which a butterfly flits?
＊ October 1992‒1993 Wu Ching Exhibition, Apollo Art Gallery
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