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Green Blades. Transition process from a Starbucks plastic table knife to a pre-Qin knife coin

Article  /  Artists   Exhibiting   CriticalThinking
Published: 29.04.2021
Author:
Weiyi Li
Edited by:
The Closer Gallery
Edited at:
Beijing
Edited on:
2021
Weiyi Li. Piece: Green Blades, 2021. 3D printed resin, spray paint.. Weiyi Li
Piece: Green Blades, 2021
3D printed resin, spray paint.
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.

Intro
I intend to create a history of evolution that is so smooth that appears unnatural, as if every change between two objects looks like a frame drawn from a fast flashing film. That’s why I believe there is no better time than now for presenting this work. The time is perfect for everything, whether for the maturity and popularization of rhetorical metaphor, the frame-by-frame calculation in image technology, or the computer “forging” technology.

中文版 - Chinese version      View / hide description

I forged 100 “Green Blades” and semi-fictionalized the transition process from a Starbucks plastic table knife to a pre-Qin knife coin. To me, it doesn’t matter which of the two occupies an earlier time point in real history. What matters is “morphing”, the way of describing the change. I mentioned the plastic table knife before the pre-Qin knife coin, just because I would like to make this sequence start from a more familiar form.

 
The sequence of 100 "Green Blades" .


The Starbucks table knife is used for cutting, but it is made of plastic because of cost considerations. In order to increase its strength as a “knife”, it is edged with tiny serrations. The reason why the Starbucks table knife takes the green color is mainly to match the overall marketing and promotion strategies of the brand. Obviously, this knife is a part of the daily operations of a huge modern catering company.

The Yanyi knife of the pre-Qin Dynasty was made of hard metal, but it was not a tool that can be used for cutting. As a sort of currency, although it imitated the form of copper concave scraper used by nomads, it intended to realize the most abstract function in human society. Its color was not green originally – the patina we see at this moment is just a rusty color urged by time.

 
Starbucks table knife and Yanyi knife coin of the pre-Qin Dynasty.


From the perspective of the history of creation proposed by Kübler (1912-1996), all man-made objects are no more than a huge network woven from a sequence of forms. A certain specific form of a man-made object is passed, drifted, or lost in history, and this kind of change itself never stops. The form of man-made objects is ever-changing, whereas a certain object in our hands is just a moment taken out in this endless movement. The forms of many man-made objects, especially those extremely practical objects such as knives, have remained basically unchanged for thousands of years. Maybe this is because their forms fit too precisely with people’s needs. However, these stable forms of objects may infect other types of objects. The knife coin was originated from a sort of living utensil used by nomads around the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River. In fact, many of the earliest coinages in the world were originated from certain forms of man-made objects. There is a theory that the nomads once directly used the copper knife as physical currency, while the knife-shaped coin was only a conversion product of this custom. Regardless of whether this conjecture is correct or not, the knife had been converted into money. Or conversely, the form of currency was infected by the form of a knife. Just as thousands of years later, the desire for money and transaction was crushed into an emerald green color and incorporated into the form of a plastic table knife. The various form elements of man-made objects, such as size, shape, and color, always infect each other. In the sequence of forms constituted by blades and handles, the table knife and the knife coin must be the two that are shouting to each other from a distance.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the hybrids of a table knife and knife coin that I created constitute a “semi-fictional” sequence. The nonfictional part is precisely the relationship between them in terms of color, size, and structure, while the fictional part is the “deformation” process strictly derived by computer.

In the field of computer image processing, “deformation” is an interpolation technique used to create a series of continuously changing intermediate objects between two objects in order to achieve a smooth transition from the source to the target. I have always been fascinated by two questions: Why do we invent such an image processing technology? Why do we desire to fill in a smooth transition process between two images and two forms?




Before the advent of computer technology, the natural history painter Rudolf Zallinger (1919-1995) created the famous illustration “The March of Progress”, which was widely used to describe the theory of evolution. In a certain sense, this illustration is arguably the most famous scientific image in history. It has been copied, modified and parodied in large numbers, and has also attracted countless criticisms. Additional to those scientific facts that have been falsified, a lot of criticisms were aimed at the point of simplifying “evolution” into a linear process -- the beasts seem to be human beings as their ultimate goal, one after another, moving forward step by step. One of the most famous criticisms came from Stephen Gould (1941-2002): “But life is a copiously branching bush, continually pruned by the grim reaper of extinction, not a ladder of predictable progress.”

Let us turn our attention to the farther past, not only before the invention of computer technology but before the emergence of the entire scientific system. The Chavin site in the Peruvian Andes was formed around 1200 BC, where archaeologists discovered huge stone tenons embedded in the walls. Assuming nothing is missing, the sequence of more than 40 tenons depicts the process of a shaman’s transformation from a human face to a leopard god’s face: the position of the eyeballs gradually recedes, the nostrils turn up, and the fangs stick out. Perhaps Bataille’s (1897-1962) comments on the prehistoric humans depicted in the Lascaux petroglyphs are also applicable here. For people at that time, beasts were closer to gods than human beings, so they wanted to hide behind the masks of beasts. Ultimately, we are just “human beings who disguise themselves with the glory of beasts.”


Stone tenons from the Chavin site in the Peruvian Andes.


In these two examples, we can see an obvious common feature. The direction of progress described in the scientific illustration is to turn beasts into humans, while what the prehistoric, non-scientific statues describe is that humans must be re-naturalized to beasts in order to reach a higher level of existence. If we follow the deductive rules of the image, we can completely integrate the two into a closed loop of transformation between beasts and humans. What connects this closed loop is not a certain style of depiction, but the way of interpreting changes, the logic that we use to create images. We may think that the images rendered by this logic have grasped the world and the rules of its operation. Why do we have to find more “transitional species” between monkeys and humans to describe the process of “evolution” even if it may lead to false implications? Why does the process of a shaman transforming into a beast through hallucinogenic drug have to be depicted by more than 40 different images? Why do we desire to insert one or a series of imaginary intermediate forms between two different forms in order to create a smooth transition? The logic behind this resembles the reverse operation for Gestalt. What the Gestalt proves is that people can sense the connection in discontinuous forms. However, the way we describe objects is the opposite -- we are constantly making up; sometimes what we make up is more than what we need.
 
This is what I was thinking when I was creating these 100 Green Blades. I intend to create a history of evolution that is so smooth that appears unnatural, as if every change between two objects looks like a frame drawn from a fast flashing film. That’s why I believe there is no better time than now for presenting this work. The time is perfect for everything, whether for the maturity and popularization of rhetorical metaphor, the frame-by-frame calculation in image technology, or the computer “forging” technology.

 
Green Blades No.54, 2021, Weiyi Li. 3D printed resin, spray paint.


You can certainly refute the word “forge” I used in the first sentence of this article because I simply “printed” these 100 Green Blades using 3D printing technology. But I must point out that the way a 3D printer works is not so much like “printing”, but more like “forging”. Today, any entity simulated by 3D technology is essentially a cavity surrounded by a layer of film. This vacant place that does not exist in reality, this completely invisible interior to others, is a space that only belongs to the creators. This space existed before the advent of the computer. Ancient masons or potters might not be able to understand its existence, but those craftsmen who were making metal objects must have already discovered it long ago: in order to shape the hot copper liquid into a certain form, it was necessary to create an empty cavity exactly the same as the desired form in advance. I have been trying to explore this syntax for creating objects, and I think it is the most suitable tool for making my work. Thousands of years ago, the nomads living in the area north to the middle and lower reaches of the ancient Yellow River learned to forge knives and then learned to use the same method to forge coins. Today, I used the same method to forge the hybrid objects between two man-made objects that span thousands of years across history.


Exhibition: Green Blades at The Closer Gallery, Beijing
Dates: 30 Apr - 12 May 2021


 

About the author


Weiyi Li is an artist ​weiyi.li​, designer (w​eiyiandfriends.com)​, curator ​(bigbadgallery.com), publisher ​(re-publication.com​) and retailor ​(currently-available.com​) who lives and works between these five URLs.
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