Extract from: Beyond the Stage of Time, Volume I Realised Realms. The Master of the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat

46 47 But I shall persevere! So far, I’ve found that these ideas can be successfully applied to all the anomalies I see in the arts. Nothing I have discovered so far actually contra- dicts the theory, or makes nonsense of it—to me, that is! As yet, then, nothing has caused me to reconsider it. I am constantly re fi ning it, but mostly in how to express it rather than in what to express. G Your persistence is admirable, and invites the question of why you’re pursuing it so vigorously, why this theory is so important in the broader scheme of things? M Ah, I can almost hear you adding ‘It’s only art!’ to the end of that question! Art is not only art. As I’ve described, my theory proposes linking art to the evolution of consciousness, as religion, science and philosophy should also be. I’ve already suggested that art is the only one of these—I think of them as the Four Horsemen of Enlightenment, an antithetical group to their apocalyptic counterparts—that can subsume the other three, which in my view gives it the best chance, perhaps, of lead- ing to some sort of Th eory of Everything. Th at may or may not be possible, of course, depending on whether or not you take Gödel’s Incompleteness Th eorem to its logical conclusion. I believe that art is not limited by this. A major readjustment of theory in science can—and has—made an enormous impact in a very short time. You only have to look at Einstein’s theories of relativity, or the emergence of quantum mechanics, to see how quickly these para- digm shi ft s can become accepted by the scienti fi c community. Yet there is a lingering belief that art is a lightweight diversion from reality, or a medium for proselytisation of certain ideas or beliefs in an endless series of -isms. Today we take physical works of art very seriously, but we are not yet accustomed to seeing the process of art as being vital to the evolution of consciousness—and therefore to civilisation as a whole, and thus humanity itself. We’re still faced with serious existential threats from con fl icting ideologies armed to the teeth with enough destructive power to destroy our planet. It strikes me that any new approach or new perspective on what it means to be human might wise us up more quickly and e ffi ciently than any of the ideas that we’ve tried so far. In the absence of any other coherent way of understanding what humanity is, theories of art may not be just something we should take seriously; they may be an existential imperative. G Th at’s a pretty extraordinary claim. We seem to be straying into territory well o ff the art track now. M Or are fi nally on it, perhaps! G So you claimed in Th e Art of Understanding Art . But as you’ve also said, not everyone has bought into the theories you elaborated there. Do you feel that the ideas in that book could have been better expressed? Would you explain them di ff erently today if you could go back and rewrite it? M Th at is probably true of the vast majority of creative output. With further experi- ence comes further insight, and I think that most writers, artists and musicians have experienced some version of this. I’m the fi rst to admit that I am o ft en a bit too ready to rush to print. I get very wrapped up in these theories and ideas, and I tend to work them out as I go by writing about it. It’s a bit like my process of painting: I get stuck in without worrying too much about the rules or the outcome, and just see what happens. Th at may not be the optimal formula for a book or an essay, just as it may not be for a painting. Th e process of exploration is similarly exciting and inspiring for me, but I agree that it may not really encourage the long process of re fi nement that one might take over a more academic work. I probably don’t re fi ne and polish as much as I should; I prefer to move on to the next exploration. So I don’t think I laid out the ideas as well as I might have done. G How would you change it now? M I’d certainly change the order of the chapters, and in particular I’d start somewhere other than with the chapter on my experience of enlightenment. Crucial as that un- doubtedly was, I don’t think it was the best way to convince my intended audience— academics, critics, curators, etc., many of whom are highly intellectual—that this was a serious book. I was trying to get across some fairly radical ideas about art to a group of people who tend to be wary of anything beyond the capacity of the intellect to adequately explain. Experiences like mine are too o ft en associated with all sorts of occult mysti- cal nonsense, and are quickly dismissed as delusional. I have found that responses to the book fall into two main categories. Th e artists and scholars already steeped in Chinese culture—people who already understand Daoism and Buddhism, and the transcendent realm—typically said, ‘Er, sure, but why do you need to explain it? Isn’t it obvious?’ For those people, the Enlightenment chapter was super fl uous—perhaps entertaining, but not an essential premise. On the other side of the fence, the response from intellectuals wary of claims about mystical experiences tended to be, ‘Bullshit!’ Th ey quickly switched o ff , assum- ing that the rest of the book was also mystical hoo-hah. As a result, many of them didn’t get as far as the really important ideas. So in retrospect, it really didn’t help me with either constituency. G Speaking of mystical hoo-hah, I’m wondering if you have a natural inclination to stray into this territory. Your exhibition at the Hong Kong Arts Centre in May 2015 was entitled In the Alembic of Ink , and many of the inscriptions on your series of red strange-stone paintings refer to alchemy. Doesn’t alchemy fall under the de fi nition of suspiciously delusional occult practice? M Alchemy unquestionably sits on the cusp between the search for wisdom and occult nonsense, but it has held its sway over cultures globally since the ancient Egyptians for good reasons. Apart from anything else, it covers a great deal more ground than turning base metals into gold; that is, of course, as much a metaphor as an actual goal. Th ere are many other more practical applications for alchemy, but the metaphor is a powerful one. Its power rests in its transformational aim. Human brains have