(preface for Ruan Qianrui’s design book Burned Blue Print)
On the last day of 2010, I was sleeping in a car. My phone rang. I heard the news that an old friend had died.
That night, I was looking down from a balcony on the 21st floor. I couldn’t stand the wind. I thought, “How can a person open his arms to accept the freezing before he jumps out of a building?” Not far downstairs was the sea. Before I set off, I thought about the words of Franz Kafka: “A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.” I imagined walking on the icy gravel, looking down on the grey and silent sea. I imagined seafood hotpot, roast lamb, red wine from different countries, a few (but not many) friends, the warm new year.
All of these wishes have come true. On the beach, the icy salt is like snow collecting in fluffy, drifting banks. The seawater streams over slowly, pushing the grey floating ice, shaking it, breaking it with the sound of tiny fractures. In the afternoon, there is nobody here. The golden tower from the carnival shines under the sun. The seashore is changing all the time… you can never hear the end of it. At night, no matter how hard you try, you can never see the sea level change. The sky and the sea are dark grey, mixed with fog. Now there is no fog, only wind against 85 percent printing ink.
On the beach, I walked past a tent that a fisherman used to live in. He sailed his boat around here and sold fish at the market to some of my friends. Not long ago, his wife had a cerebral hemorrhage. He spent all of his savings, but she died. Then the fisherman killed himself. Now his brother lives in the tent with his friend. They have inherited the boat and fishing net.
Before I went to the seaside, I planed to write two forewords: One for this book of Ruan Qianrui’s art, the other for my collection of essays. Now I feel these two are almost the same thing. Ruan, for me, is an emotional partner. He seems pale, seems to lack appetite, seems like an insomniac, but he has brilliant, flashing eyes. We always share secrets together, some plans about the future. He was the one to tell me the truth when I felt troubled and distressed. His existence made me get more radical in those dark times. I don’t care about loneliness anymore. We talk about loneliness, hunger artists, letting people face our music, the nature of the listener, satiety, becoming unaware of both the self and the outside world, subject and object. We shared the loss, and we think we need to hold on to the possibility of loss. At a dive cafe in 798, he asked me: “Where is the future of Sub Jam?” I said, “I don’t know, let’s go find it.” After that, we invented the future of Sub Jam.
We talked about Shan zhai, real estate, the Party and people.
We talked about hell and the end of the world, artistic youth falling down from their idealistic clouds. No one can save the others.
About the future: I think it will be invented soon. The age gap between Ruan and I will be reduced over time. In the end there’s nothing between us. I sometimes think he may actually be older than me. In a different sense of time, age means nothing. We can see and hear each other. The power of drugs and the internet are diminished by the intensity of our communication.
About Sub Jam: It used to be an indie label. You could say it still is. But we need more. The things we sell are not music, not sound. Music should be free. Sound should be created by the act of listening. Making a CD is a mode of working which connects us with people. People spend money to enjoy the little painful feeling the comes during communication. It’s painful because they care about money. A CD is a trigger for listening.
About live music: One day, I talked to Ruan about Waterland Kwanyin, the concert series that continued for 167 weeks. The people that came needed warmth. It had nothing to do with their job, their cultural background, their nationality or social class… we just met each other in the roar of noise. But we need more: leaving home, listening alone. A live concert is a mandala. We talked about alcoholics and shopaholics, and how to build a cult. We talked about Ruan’s poster exhibition: the exhibition time is the same as the length of the concert. 2 hours, then move out.
The funniest thing is we both have a stronger head than we did before.
Recently I’ve been reading my old articles, mainly about underground rock music. Some old friends: some dead, some mad, some stuck in time, some raising children, some keeping silent, some totally changed. They appeared during my reading again and again. I know I’m a survivor.
Ruan said about a concert that we both attended 10 years ago: Now, the people on the stage and under the stage, they have all gone. They’re still alive, living somewhere. But the thing disappeared.
While I write this foreword, the sea is freezing secretly. I use a telescope to see it. The ice block on the sea is locked there, it can not move. Putting down the telescope, watching it, we will see the weak wave moving from a far away land and disappearing on the seashore. I imagine the whisper of finely broken ice.
People mature faster. They try to forget it all. But all the things which disappear are still waving their arms. You don’t even know their struggle. We talked about this. We need to be responsible for it.
At least, we need to be responsible for something. We experienced a kind of hardened feeling, which I called “the desire of living.” Our design, writing, live concerts, they all include this kind of desire.
Please forgive me for telling this kind of story at the beginning. This is how we create our design, writing, concerts… everything that Ruan and I need to settle. He is not a professional designer, and I’m not a professional person, so we need to settle the sea.