Definition kills, say some, but without it we are lost jokers, roaming astray through a deck of numberless cards. A set of rules is necessary for any game, of course, but only because, within the set confines of a table, a chair, a candle – a stone, a stump, a cleared patch beneath the bodhi tree – too much freedom can be detrimental: little ‘constructive’ could get accomplished if, say, one player’s pachisi pieces are another player’s miniature dancers; if two players’ kings are a third player’s plebeians. Definition, in such instances, is specifically what is needed, and quick. On the other hand, some additional demarcation is required for what goes on outside such confines, for the life that continues apace: definitions of ‘freedom’, ‘constructive’, ‘accomplished’. When the game is running through the forest, who does such delineation help the most, the hunter or the hunted? When the game is open to anything, what rules need apply?
Htein Lin’s work offers a series of confined spaces that lead from and to infinite quarters. At one end of this spectrum, at the bottom, a resigned figure wastes away behind bars; at the other end, at the top, a series of windows open onto a thin strip of blue sky. The players in this particular game may not want to be playing; then again, they may not have much choice. One’s flexible definition, after all, is another’s knife-edged rule. But there is potential deliverance here. The detained figure, despite his diminished look, has indisputably grown in stature compared to the rest: he may be currently unable to continue moving through this particular space, but perhaps, in his enforced quiet and restfulness, he can most readily see the open windows, and their beckoning. What is he gaining from the frenzy of concentric energy immediately above him – and what are the others gaining from his staid example?
This is part of a regular series of Himal’s commentary on work by the Burmese artist Htein Lin. 61 x 61 cm, acrylic and collage on canvas.