Notes on Pin Zhuang

In Crash – a novel which attempts a cultured and therefore legitimated pornography – Ballard expresses the supremacy of image over experience and the fetishism of a technological landscape repository of power, speed and violence ghosts. For a world of masculine stereotypes, automobiles, motorcycles, airplanes - and anything that can be included in the sphere of the machine - symbolize a dominant sexuality in which libidinous bursts find their equivalent in moments of supreme tension, danger and death. In Crash, the pornographic does not lie so much in the explicit description of sexual urges, which are fundamentally a consequence of biology, but in the fact that the excitement and climax only occurs in the midst of the twisted metal after a violent collision. The svelte lines designed by the engineer break unpredictably in a mangled heap of shapes. The totemic machine is reduced (or elevated) to the category of sculpture, a transformed entity in which its fragments no longer play a functional role, but rather a symbolic one, they don’t long for efficiency, but aesthetics. Who didn’t have Ballard in mind when confronted with the destroyed Mercedes S-600 of Lady Di under the Alma Bridge in Paris? That Mercedes thrown at a frenetic speed, trying to escape aerodynamic laws rather than the paparazzi, represented a new morphology of that landscape after the battle. A battle between the ghosts of power, speed and violence: technology as entertainment.

Another form of paparazzi is the one constituted by satellites and spy-planes. Espionage is a sort of voyeurism dictated by political or military reasons: a satellite is just a panoptic device geared by remote control, a spy-plane is just a long distance eye. According to the press, the 1st of April (April Fool's Day), 2001, a north American EP-3E Aries II spy-plane which was violating the airspace of the People’s Republic of China collided in mid-flight with a Chinese F-8 fighter and had to conduct an emergency landing on the island of Hainan.

The twenty four American crew members were retained by Beijing’s Government for eleven days, while the Chinese fighter fell to the sea and the pilot, Wang Wei, was declared missing and was proclaimed a national hero. The truth is that Beijing’s authorities had not only captured an extremely sophisticated combat aircraft, but also something of much more symbolic value: the vigilant eye of the Western guardian, under which the spy-plane had been created. It was only after arduous diplomatic negotiations that the Chinese authorities gave their consent to the return of the device, but completely dismantled and in pieces: like pre-technological scrap.

In Chinese “Pin Zhuang” means precisely “dismantled”, “dismounted” or “puzzle”. The spy device was spied down to its last screw. The idea of disassembling and reassembling an object from its fragments takes us back to the childhood experience of “mecano” building and assembling models. But in this case, we are liberated from the obsession of making everything work in its place, we depart from the detailed plan marked in the assembling instructions and the mechanical laws (who hasn’t as a child torn apart a device to see its guts?) precisely to disobey those instructions and those laws. In such a way, the components of an airplane model will be recombined according to arbitrary sets of criteria, leaving them far away from a real morphological restitution of the original model and creating a faithful imitation of a technological “monster”. Through this symbolic gesture those technological wonders, which are paradigms of power and violence and which critically allude to the threatening “defense” programs (!) of the giant bellicose superpowers (“star wars”, “antimissile shields”, etc.), will be reduced to harmless objects, to poetic sculptures that simply pay tribute to science fiction aesthetics and to the realistic-fantastic illustration genre (Foss or Giger for instance). The final assemblage incorporates all the same information as the original, there’s not a single spare screw in them, but the mission of that collage-decollage dialectic in image, material and movement leads to the disfunctionment of the technological device, achieving through the random addition of all the pieces to create a structure which is useless for its initial bellicose intentions, transforming itself into a document of complaint and a monument of subversion.

Even more: those flying ready-mades don’t only illustrate an aesthetical process of shape combinations, but also activate the confrontation between authority and transgression, between order and dissidence, between rule and daring, between willingness and insubordination, between orthodoxy and invention, between discipline and liberty…

“To see things and beings in their separable parts. To isolate those parts. To make them independent in order to impose a new dependency on them. Fragmentation is indispensable if one wishes not to fall into representation” (Robert Bresson). The assembling, the articulation of the parts is a premise of all discourse and maybe because of it, fragmentation makes us choose between an ethic of shapes or an ethic of visibility. With Pin Zhuang, concludes Luis Francisco Pérez, you “force the determinism of the empiric reality into a diverse, different organizational rhythm and by doing so you force it to consider that every symbolic act (its alterations of value and hierarchy) is, in the end, the most high and noble act of subversion to which all artistic creation can and must aspire”.

Joan Fontcuberta
(translated from the Spanish by Maria Nicanor)

Powered by