Genesis/ Plato/ Peter Pan – The Trinity of Chi Chien’s Theatre of the Century


Written by Liu Yao-Chung 

Genesis 1:3 says “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” God has what He wants, and the first thing He asks for is “light.”  Indeed, if not for light, we would not have had darkness.  In other words, light means shadow.  You can imagine that “illumination” symbolizes two totally opposite concepts.  As observers, we seem to stand in-between the two to search for the origin and the destination of light.  Precisely speaking, when God says “Let there be light,” He not only creates shadow but also language and object.  He uses the words “L-I-G-H-T” to refer to the idea of “light.”  Through the illuminated, its opposite comparison is born from the void.

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the person who escapes from the cave returns and tells the others that “The Truth Is Out There.”[1]  Here, for Plato, the shadow on the wall is merely the projection of the Truth.  Such a cause-and-effect relationship makes shadow an illusionary attachment which is subject to the real “Subject.”  However, if it were really the case, Sir James Matthew Barrie’s Peter Pan in Peter Pan: The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up would not have his own shadow cut off by the closing window and then makes great effort to find it back.  It proves that the shadow of Peter Pan has the same solid existence as its Subject.  They share the similar shape as well as an interactive existence which allows them to have their own free movements.

“Light” has always been an important theme in Chi Chien’s artworks. The penetration of light suggests the difference between the surface and the interior.  Meanwhile, illumination symbolically leads us to civilization/order.  As we pass the light God creates, Plato’s cave, and Peter Pan’s shadow, we will see how light is transformed from an element to an event in Chi Chien’s Theatre of the Century.  A state of being on the canvas, an object, and the shadow of it exist on the same plane at the same time.  Sometimes, it is accompanied by the light source (light bulb), reminding us of the famous artwork “One and Three Chairs” by the conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth.  However, Theatre of the Century is different from Kosuth’s artworks for that it removes the differences among the various materials, adopting the method of collage to capture the linguistic symbols in a more truthful way.  When we examine an image like this, the light source we see is not illuminated on the hand puppet while the shadow is not resulted from it.  The composition of the image challenges our pre-existing logical understanding of light and shadow.  They thus become two different existences which share the same shape.  It can be further traced back to the surrealistic works such as Max Ernst’s “The Hat Makes the Man.” René François Ghislain Magritte’s “Euclidean Walks” and the deconstructed image/language in “It Is Not a Pipe” are particularly close to the artistic idea of Theatre of the Century.   

As its title suggests, Chi Chien’s Theatre of the Century freezes the beginning and the end at the present moment, where light, shadow, and language take place simultaneously.  Since cause and effect have been removed, the moment of seeing brings us back to the initiation of world, offering us another possibility to build up a new world.

[1] It is a famous quote from The X-files, an American science fiction drama television series.