Verse 2 – Recognise Beauty and Ugliness is Born

Verse E02.jpg

When the world speaks of beauty as being beautiful, ugliness is at once defined.

(Walter Gorn Old)

Here we learn that everything is relative – that there are no absolutes. It’s only in describing something as easy that the idea of difficult is created. And we’re told that by recognising this fact, and moving away from our subjective viewpoints, we’re able to employ ‘Non-action’ - the Daoist concept of ‘action without action’ or ‘effortless doing’.

Non-action (wu-wei 无为 in Chinese) is often erroneously understood as passivity. However, its better understood as taking just the right action at just the right time. Stephen Mitchell writes:

A good athlete can enter a state of body-awareness in which the right stroke or the right movement happens by itself, effortlessly, without any interference of the conscious will. This is a paradigm for non-action: the purest and most effective form of action. The game plays the game; the poem writes the poem; we can't tell the dancer from the dance.

Through non-action, we allow things run their course, trusting in the natural processes that govern all things; and thereby moving closer to serenity and ultimately yielding the benefits our striving minds would have had us take miscalculated action to try and achieve.

I was inspired to create this piece in response to verse two when I came across an abandoned painting that had ended up in my apartment building’s waste area. It reminded me immediately of a different translation of the opening lines, which reads:

When all the world recognizes beauty as beauty, this in itself is ugliness.

(John C. H. Wu)

In this reading of the ancient characters, a universal aesthetic standard is condemned, and beauty can be defined not by a common ugliness, but by a myriad of other individual definitions of beauty.

I decided to take action by hanging the painting on the wall of the dump where it was found. In doing so I like to think I’ve subtly re-evaluated its and the dump’s beauty, in some way.

tip painting07web.jpg

第二章 - 斯恶已


有时候,人们把“无为”误解为一个过分被动、懦弱、不能采取任何行为的概念。但它更加是指随时能够采取最合适的行为来面对事情的一种意识的状态。翻译家史蒂芬·米切尔(Stephen Mitchell)形容“无为”如下:




 When all the world recognizes beauty as beauty, this in itself is ugliness.


译:John C. H. Wu



Verse 1 - The Door to All Essence

第一章 - 众妙之门 中文在下面

Verse E01.jpg

The first two verses of the Dao De Jing have been described as an introduction to the text as a whole, and there are a lot of ideas presented in this first verse.

Immediately, a key concept in Daoist thought is put forth – the disconnect between the universe itself and the words we use to describe it.

The Tao that can be stated is not the Eternal Tao. The name that can be named
is not the Eternal Name.

(Henry Wei)

Dao is described as the mother of all things, an eternal force that existed before the creation of the universe.

Another common theme is also put forth - the necessity to rid oneself of desire if one is to observe the wonders of the universe.

But I took the starting point for this first work from the last line. I loved the imagery of ‘[a] door to all essence’ (John C.H. Wu); ‘[a] gate of all mystery’ (Gong, Tienzen); ‘[a] gateway to all understanding’ (Kiyoashi). 

It alludes to the grandness and incomprehensibility of the forces that created the universe. And I thought it would be interesting to play with our human desire to open that door, and another lesson in the first verse which states: ‘rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets’ (D. C. Lau).

And so for this first work I created a video intervention where animations of the universe are partly visible through a projected half-opened door. Deep booming voices can be heard reading the first full verse in Chinese and English over a humming, other-worldly soundtrack.

Video 视频

Daodejing Verse 1 Chinese.jpg

第一章 - 众妙之门