Natasha Lushetich

Xu Bing, A Book from the Sky, 1988

In traditional European thought the term ‘chaos’ is associated with darkness, disorder, confusion and discord. By contrast, the Chinese term ‘hun-dun’ (which is an attributive adjective, not a noun) designates anything with the characteristics of turbulence. While ‘hun-dun’ implies something physically, psychologically and metaphysically impenetrable, it is (traditionally) considered positive and not threatening or negative.

This paper focuses on two sets of practices: 1. Tristan Tzara’s, György Ligeti and John Cage’s use of positive chaos or ‘hun-dun’ as an artistic methodology for creating unpredictability (and in this way destabilising the traditional European/North American bias towards order, teleology and linear progression); and 2. Xu Bing’s, Wang Luyan’s, Qiu Zhijie’s and Yin Xiuzhen’s use of serial repetition and ‘chaotics’ to de-stabilise traditional Chinese notions of constancy and cyclicity. In reflecting on the porous and interpenetrative nature of such concepts as ‘cyclicity’, ‘linearity’, ‘design’ and ‘randomness’, I argue for a contradictory identity of innovation and conservation whose closest methodological match is the string theory.

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