for a mode that would act as a conceptual model for image
making, I happened upon an essay by Ernest Fenollosa, titled
"The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry."
found in the visual way Chinese characters are read, a model
for creating poetry. I believe the perceptual way Chinese
characters are recognized provides a model for creating images
that convey both internal and external processes.
Chinese character is used as a means of writing for all of
East Asia. There are over 30,000 Chinese characters. About
one quarter of these characters still maintain their original
pictorial qualities. Most have been reworked and reconfigured.
In their abstracted state they have become symbols for phonetic
sounds much as our standard of Arabic letters form symbols
for phonetic sounds. As such, they must be read in sequence
to derive any meaning. Because of the pictorial quality still
evidenced in one fourth of the characters, it is still possible,
in spite of the linguistic differences throughout Asia, to
recognize certain words or conceptual meanings no matter what
Asian language you may speak.
his 1936 essay, Ernest Fenollosa waxes eloquently on the poetic
virtues of Chinese characters. He states "that his subject
is poetry, not language," and goes on to say "the roots of
poetry are in language."
interest is in the nature of the Chinese character as an ideogram,
a visual symbol and a conceptual model of ideas, objects,
and graphic symbols which represent phonetic sounds, to create
images that are multi-dimensional in interpretative associations.
the character for "man sees horse."
man has legs; so he is capable of standing, he must therefore
be alive. The man is followed by an eye outfitted with a pair
of legs; the eye is capable of movement and, one may conclude,
part of a living organism. The eye is followed by a horse.
The horse has four legs; again movement is suggested. If the
ability to stand and move is equated with being alive, then
we sense that as the man stands, his eye and perhaps his head
move as they follow the horse, which also stands or perhaps
gallops across his field of vision. We are not only aware
of the character-object association; we also experience the
appear to be three levels, at which Chinese characters are
As an ideogram which represents gesture, movement, or
life: free from expressing a particular form or phrase;
the experience of concepts rather than words describing
As a symbolic representation of a visual nature: what
we actually see; in this instance, in the character signifying
"man sees horse," we see the man, the eye and
As a graphic representation of phonetic sounds: in this
example, the sounds for man, eye, and horse.
third level of graphic representation is an abstraction of
the previous two. To recognize the characters as phonetic
sounds it is not necessary to experience the man standing,
the eye turning or the horse galloping. You only need to equate
the phonetic sound to the graphic symbol. This level of perception
is the most absolute as a form of communication. Many see
"horse" and understand only an abstraction of the complete
experience. The abstracted form provides immediate gratification.
We do not have to invest any time questioning, redefining,
or rethinking. Our one-dimensional experience is a complete
and effortless closure.
we are to experience and understand the complexities of that
experience a complete narrative is necessary. A complete narrative
being one that provides an insight to the processes that lead
to the outcome, simultaneously including internalized processes,
external visual experiences and conceptual narrative.
own experience that led to an awareness of the necessity of
simultaneous inclusion of the three levels of perception occurred
when I was a dancer. As a dancer, my experience of dance was
internalized by memorizing the physical movement and position
of dance steps. Memory locked in the body is not made up of
images; it is however a reality, an awareness, a nonverbal,
nonpictorial awareness which we all share. The world I saw
as I danced was one that was in constant motion. Concentration
was dislocated as points for spotting were re-established.
I saw my first ballet from an audience's point of view, I
was astounded at the differences in experience between performer
and observer. There is a marked difference between the physical
sense of awareness within the body's cognizance of movement
or pose, and what is actually seen from the outside observer's
point of view. I was impressed with the importance of the
simultaneity of internalized and external processes to accurately
communicate the totality of an experience.
camera, however, only documents the outer visual experience.
It just hints at the internalized processes. Though, we may
be consciously aware of the medium's limitations, we, nonetheless,
trust its accuracy and we are inspired by its abstract, simplified
singularity of representation, a form of representation that
has been effective in creating a body of single dimensional
are those moments, that are so complete, that we can succinctly
identify the origin, nature and effect of an influence. Often
we are conscious of a change or transition, but we are more
likely to sense the change as an intuitive awareness. As in
waking from a dream, where the images are lost, yet we are
mindful of the experience. It floats in our consciousness
as a sense, not an image or a thought. The effect of this
awareness cannot be empirically measured, yet it cannot be
Chinese character provides a conceptual model for creating
images that can include complexities of personality, experiences
and issues. These images then can re-configure the basis on
which representation takes place, and in so doing, serve to
unsettle and dissolve more established, dominating forces.
Memories From the Department of Amnesia, the aftermath
of my mother's death left me in what I can best describe as
a time vacuum and emotional chaos. Past and present seemed
to collide with the surreal and remembered.
intent was to recreate the reality of chaos and confusion
in a way that the viewer could also experience it. How do
you visually create a time vacuum and emotional chaos?
would of course be easy to have a person actually recount
what had happened and say, "I am in a time vacuum and experiencing
emotional chaos." However, this abstraction would fall short
in communicating the visceral impact of the total experience.
the physical dislocation, the confusion was so acute that
when I was spoken to, I only heard gibberish or what sounded
like a foreign language. I found that I could not retain anything
I read. I could not remember people's names. This very disconcerting
sensation seemed to last ad infinitum. How do you visually
recreate this lengthy confusion? A wind up toy bumping into
walls and falling off the edge of a table?
is then followed by poignant images darting out of some well-guarded
amnesiac part of the brain. Although the duration of these
images was barely a millisecond, the residual impressions
left felt like a lifetime. How do you convey this microscopic
is possible to say I've just experienced a flashback, while
projecting a flashback on the screen. And although this would
suffice to define an internal reality, it would not adequately
convey the process, or the turmoil these flashbacks created.
sadness and pain have a limited life as grief and sorrow evolve
into comedic absurdity. How can this be represented? A dozen
large crying clowns climbing out of a tiny VW?
stepping through the previous processes of confusion, pain,
and absurdity, I was able to move through another point of
entry and able to see my mother not as a parent, but as a
complex, whole, human being, struggling to survive under circumstances
over which she had little or no control. I felt both closer
to her and further apart from her. How could I convey the
complexity of her personality and my evolving empathic postmortem
bonding? A shot of a hand placing flowers on a grave?
rhetorically answered my own questions with common images;
an interpretation that falls short of conveying any real sense
of my original experience.
Memories..., a diner, a hand mudra of a diner customer,
a glass of water appearing and disappearing, being over-filled
and slowly falling, an empty white space, the overlapping
audio tracks, are used to represent and evoke the contradictory
and overlapping qualities of Eastern and Western philosophies.
Flashes of photos left on the screen just long enough to be
recognizable as family photos, but not long enough to be stereotyped,
are symbols used to evoke a sense of a shared reality placed
within a different cultural context. In this manner, the viewer
is plopped into an alien environment without memory or any
recognition of the surroundings and must vicariously live
the experience of an unfamiliar culture by collecting/recollecting
objects of familiarity. These objects exist within my memories
and are suffixed to the larger film within this conceptual
although the structure within each verse, or chapter or vignette
adopts a structure that is nonlinear in format, the overall
framework is a series of vignettes that are linearly edited
together. A total experience is contained within each vignette.
Each vignette relates to the one preceding and following it,
and it is the subject of this linear framework that conceptually
ties each vignette to the other.