Shi Jing


“Buddhist Time” Series

Consisting of portraits of Galileo, Einstein and Buddhist master Mencuo, his “Buddhist Time” series takes a cross cultural approach to our understanding of time. Though it is often presented in mythic terms, Buddhist approaches to time encompass both the minute and the gargantuan. For instance there is the idea of the “ksana” which roughly corresponds to 1/75th of a second and within that brief glimpse of time there are thought to be 900 instances of arising and ceasing. The rebirth and passing is echoed in the concept of “Buddhist time” or “Dharma Time.” Buddhist time refers to three stages after the passing of Buddha during which his teaching and influence slowly decline until he has absolutely no power and the next Buddha is born to save humanity.

While Dharma time is represented by Mencuo, Galileo symbolizes the brining about of a paradigm shift in European thinking from a religious and mystical understanding of the cosmos to a black inky space governed by the laws of science. Galileo was of course imprisoned for his belief that the earth moved around the sun, and was also known for his own theory of relativity which states that the laws of physics remain the same in any situation where things are moving at a constant speed. Using the example of a ship travelling at a constant velocity on a smooth sea, he explains that in such a situation, passengers on the lower deck would have no understanding of whether the boat was moving or still — just as we do not feel the fact that the earth is orbiting the sun at 108,000 km per hour, because that speed is constant.

Einstein’s general theory of relativity examined the impact of gravity on notions of space and time. . . for instance gravitational time dilation — the fact that atomic clocks placed at different altitudes will eventually start to show different times. Another example would be gravitational lensing whereby a galaxy cluster or black hole — something with a serious gravitational pull — distorts the appearance of stars behind it by blocking or refracting the light. When the observer, the black hole and the star behind it are perfectly in line, the effect produced, an “Einstein ring” looks similar to an eclipse. Meanwhile if the observer, black hole and star are not exactly lined up the effect produced, the “Einstein Cross,” may look more like viewing an object through a prism where there are multiple copies of the same object all appearing at once.

Employing a similar brand of trickery, Shi Jing embodies these concepts in his paintings by using frame-mounted LED lights to create the effect of three different images. As the observer changes their physical position, different colors of light take up residency in the grooves of the paint and a new image is revealed. “Darma Time” is translated as “three times” in Chinese and the three different positions reveal very different images of the figures of Galileo, Mencuo and Einstein. We can see them transforming from robust, to slightly tired, to almost invisible as if their influences has diminished in the way of the Buddha.

So from the religious to the scientific theorists, Shi Jing then moves to the era of space exploration where the astronauts and scientists have a chance to prove these theories — for instance the Hubble spacecraft produced excellent photos of lensed galaxies and quasars — distorted by gravitational pull. “Crescent Moon” and “From Yuri Gagarin to Yang Liwei,” reference this era of space travel and human ambition and the shattering of any vestiges of the idea that the heavens were populated with gods.

Rather they are the home to inert pieces of rock or burning balls of fire. Shi Jing like these symbols for their ability to conjure up ideas of impermanence. The moon for instance is constantly waxing and waning while the asteroids are constantly changing — by the second we’ve captured them on film, they are already occupying a radically different position in the universe, due to the great speeds at which they travel. There is also the idea of catastrophe embodied in the soul of those dangerous rocks — the possibility that they will slam into the earth and bring about a Mesozoic-era style extinction. All of this brings us back to the central interest of Shi Jing’s work, which is that despite the achievements of scientific progress, the questions of man’s existence will always be left to the philosophers.

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