Gao Xingjian, Writer

Born in 1940, Gao Xingjian is a writer, painter, photographer, screenwriter and film director who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000. His book of fiction, Soul Mountain, 1989, was singled out in his Nobel Prize citation. His work is considered experimental, avant-garde and at times absurdist, and his translations of Samuel Beckett – another of Wilson’s cultural inspiration points – are acclaimed. In 1987 Gao Xingjian emigrated from China and now lives in France, and since that time his subject matter has been more universal in nature. His underpinning references include classical Chinese opera, folk culture and twentieth-century European drama. Wilson’s portrait offers a mesmerising meditation on language and human thought. The text La Solitude est un condition necessaire de la liberte is a quote from French existentialist writer Jean Paul Sartre.

One of the synchronous works alongside Gao Xingjian, Writer is a scroll by Japanese artist Sōko Gesshū, a Zen Buddhist teacher from mid-seventeenth-century Kyoto. Nothingness (mu 無) alludes to a state of mind when nothing occupies the thoughts – enabling an openness to all possibilities, including enlightenment. Sōko Gesshū integrated his understanding of nothingness and reduced the calligraphic kanji mu to an abstract character, quickly written in three brushstrokes in a focused meditation to transcend the limitations of the rational mind. The other work, Mask, with radiating headdress (hudoq) is from East Kalimantan, Indonesia, and was created last century. The mask was intended for use in shaman spirit-possession rituals and ceremonial dances held in the communal longhouses of the Iban, Kenyah and Kayan peoples on the island of Borneo at rice-planting festivals, weddings and funerals.