by Charles-Arthur Boyer
“Writing reveals what you’re not so that in the end others may understand you.”
Just as journalist Mathieu Lindon points out in his latest book Je vous écris, Hervé Guibert concludes his L’Image fantôme by this mandate: “Secrets need to circulate. » and life, literature, photography are space for this outing of unveiled secrets, and for the circulation of words and images in general. From this point on in his life, in his books, in his graphics, secrets will reveal themselves to – literally so -, and be discovered – by the reader -, with no restraint whatsoever. And so, they will no longer be « sealed » but « revealed ». And so, they will be « given away » (often tossed, and cheekily so), « handed over ». Why? Precisely because life and the world circulate little – and certainly not enough – in texts and images today. Life with all its offerings for a man – whether he be a reporter, a writer, a photographer – pleasures, yearnings, delights, sorrows or defeats. And when absolutely nothing living will circulate in the representation, « phantoms take form » and haunt the territory of the real like that of our own lives.
The same often applies to the work of Marc Ming Chan. Work which alternatively takes form as books, posters, postcards, magazine illustrations, works displayed in bars, in shops or seen hung in French, American and Dutch art galleries.
Obviously, we have not yet exposed the content of these places and objects of multiple and differentiated circulation. Most often, they are sketches in black pencil, classic in form, frequently accompanied by words or phrases geared to the theme of gay men’s sexual habits today. Much as in a book or a photograph, little does it matter whether all this is reality or fiction, a report or staged, a fabric of accumulated experiences or a mere interpretation, all this expresses and makes an image. All this speaks to us and opens our eyes, no not as a truth but as the [in]expressible, [in]accessible, predictable.
How important is this in a world accused of being overly permissive and barraged by so many sexually explicit images? It is precisely because these last images represent nothing and re-present nothing of us. They are but layers or figments of clean, smooth, policed surfaces. They have no faculty of speech, they paint no portraits, nor do they give back anything to the manifest. Nothing from life or this world circulate therein. In contrast, however, anchored in this particular drawing technique which point by point, line by line, etches a figure out of the void of the blank page so that subject may acquire a re-presentation – a void which at any moment could suck it back into oblivion – the work of Marc Ming Chan on the one hand, and this is not the least important aspect, gives a vivid, active, sexualized reality to homosexuality which, not so long ago, dwelt underground. And, moves onward to lift its « veils », knocks off its « guards », frightens away its « phantoms », and sends its « secrets » scurrying by endowing it with a
word, a face, explicit and unswerving. Yet it stimulates the circulation of breath, blood, moans, tears, spit, sweat and sperm. Put in other terms, the ragged edges of the body, of yearning, of pleasure are shackled, fluids spill out; orgasm and suffering are its thrusts.
But while Marc Ming Chan’s drawings please and tease the eye, they are not simply pornographic images. How so? Because there is no chasm between his work and his life. What Marc reveals and what Marc shows us is nothing short of a visual representation of his own spurts of lust and spunk. Because the excessive realism that they exude never closes the images upon themselves, or never places it on the alter of perfection of the icon. On the contrary, it holds it there by the energy and the vibrant masterful stroke that shadows in and outlines flesh, muscles and cocks. Vivifying, man-ifesting, man-you-facturing!
It is as if the images were intended less for viewing than for feeling, sensing, absorbing, men-tally stripping back layer after layer of meanings.
« Giving requires knowing first. » (Mathieu Lindon)
Whether real life experiences, figments of his imagination, pure fantasy, sexual obsessions (satisfied or not), the scenes that Marc depicts have no less depth or truth than literary characters. Are not drawing and the written word twin forms of thought put to paper? The men who express them seem nevertheless to be our allies because they have turned sexuality, their sexuality, therefore their virility (some might say their masculinity), their pleasure (some might say their orgasms), into a key element of their routine, their day-to-day life.
And the secrets they divulge are not, as in some detective novel, the murderer certain to wind up locked up once the mystery has been solved and justice done. No, they are a way of life oozing with sexuality, with sexual rowdiness. Following the example of Sadist illustrations, if his drawings and those that they represent transgress the boundaries, then the « you » at
work in this transgression (you glance up, you stare, you feel him up, you kiss, you lick, you suck, you fuck) is all the more circulating, guilt-relieving, delivered, open, spilling over, singular and plural, customizable and divisible all at the same time.
As if one needed to eliminate, here again, the difference between seeing and touching, or lusting and fantasizing, identity and its sudden shift to the sexual. Likeness, in fact, is not the identical, nor resemblance a carbon copy. Such is the error of those who confuse commercial pornography with sexuality itself, those who de-grade the human body from its organs, its sex
drive, or its mental faculty on the pretext of glorifying it through representation, and who when engaging in the act do not see fleshly arousal, non-verbal exchange, transmission of the senses, exchange of bodily fluids (exchanges that can produce juices, spots, dirt, junk), the mark of a founding otherness, irrigating and circulative.
And so what if Marc’s work inspires us to jack off, to get our rocks off? Such is its aim. What a pleasure to imagine our humping and pounding mirroring theirs, our climax lining up with theirs, our jizz spilling out with theirs. All this to better pursue the intangible yearnings, the confrontations or the transformations of bodies reacting to the law of lust and the light of desire. In other words: changing the way the world turns, driving back our phantoms.
This book does not reproduce the original state of Marc Ming Chan’s drawings. Here they have been retouched, realigned, de-centered and re-centered, flipped, interlocked, superimposed. And the lines – like the bodies -circulate all the better. Words, phrases, entire sentences then come into play so as to tickle the viewer into re-examining them, quite like
slogans or speeches to teaming throngs inviting them to act, to respond. Make no mistake about it: their graphic and semantic proximity with Bauhaus esthetics, Russian constructivism and the principles behind propagandistic art are entirely intentional.
A driver’s education school in France recently used the following slogan: La maîtrise [de la route] conduit au plaisir. « Mastery brings pleasure to the ride. »
Digging deeper into Marc Ming Chan’s work can only begin by confronting this feeling of determination, uprightness, discipline, and power expressed by the characters and the words he uses which then underscore (without narrating) the action they depict. Take for instance this illustrated sentence: « All around me, I see individuals wasting their time trying to
stay young by wearing clothes that don’t suit them, and choosing ridiculously futile activities. But every once in a while I cross the path of a man who walks tall. A man who conscientiously follows his road, doubting perhaps, but determined to keep his eyes wide open as long as
possible. » An awakening that seems focused on enjoying everything to the hilt: life, pleasure, sex, but also human relationships where observation (the eyes), contact (the hands), domination or submission (a square-jawed or manly stance) are fundamental.
But more than being a manual on « how to cum », this book is an exhortation not so much as to accept relationships at face value as to feel them, to confront them, and to look them square on in the name of a principle of intensity and integrity rather than simplistic morality. As if we should (being slapped in the faced with reality, excitation and instant pleasure)
never cave in to diversions or entertainment that empty and dry out our bodies and minds, and cause us to lose all real contact with ourselves. As if we should view each drawing as a base unit, or an inhabited whole, and slurp it up body and soul like a survival strategy for the physical, mental and affective rather than as salvation. Feeling the presence of the limbs,
the flesh and muscles, the blood and then let lust play itself out. Being alive means taking risks. Exposing oneself. To one’s self. To others. No secrets.