As an artworld phenomenon, the inspiration brought by Guo Fengyi to the contemporary comes from her completely unique world view that lies beyond the “modern”, which is to say that the cultural parameters accepted as orthodox by the dominant system have already classified these types of works as being grounded in a traditional recognition of the universe, completely “otherizing” them as spectacles residing outside of “normal” culture. Confronted with the drawings by Guo Fengyi, viewers cannot return to the original understanding from which the creator’s response arose, but can only resort to the arena of art to search for a position founded on “creativity” for this type of phenomenon.
A seemingly obvious choice in attempting to define Guo Fengyi from the annals of modern art would be the term “outsider” or “naive” art carved out by the Western art world in hopes of enumerating and separating out artistic creation which lies beyond the circle of orthodox art history, which is based upon Dubuffet’s collection of works from “naive” artists in Laussane, Switzerland. These nineteen classical “outsider” artists have all been listed as psychologically dysfunctional or even psychologically ill. Several of these notable artists spent their lives in mental asylums, with their works being used as research material for the study of psychological disorders. “Outsider” artists without psychological disorders is also not without its examples. A major characteristic of “outsider” art is the construction of an elusive and esoteric private world, which strongly reveals the truth of existence suppressed by the ordinary parameters of life; using the language of a symbolic world to expose their natural talents. Therefore, aside from the internal reflection that – the perspective of art – brought by “outsider” art through abstraction, the works are also able to grasp a truth about the everyday world that is undetectable. The more tightly knit the structure of this inner world, the more mysterious and indiscernible, then the more value it possesses as “outsider art.” From this perspective, the drawings by Guo Fengyi can be defined within the structure of “outsider” art.
In respect to her social position and her techniques of creation, Guo Fengyi is an “outsider” artist. Her drawings do not have any relation to the artworld, and nor is there any form of dissemblance directed at the art world. It was only after the art project the “Long March” sought her out that she became an artist, and to this day, it remains her only interest in the art world. Guo Fengyi uses Qi Gong to conduct her drawings. In a state of spiritual response, she depicts the world that she sees and studies. This world comes from the traditional concepts preserved in the public realm which her actions unearth. In terms of form, she has already developed a series of depictive patterns and stylistic principles. Her drawings are tenebrous and supernatural, with aspects that frightens and haunts. The themes selected by the artist are primarily about spirits, history, astronomy and treatment, with the result that the drawings intrinsically have an added layer of cultural analysis, becoming a diagram of a realm of spirits. These are all reasons why Guo Fengyi is defined as an “outsider”, a phenomenon separate from the art world.
Therefore, to affirm the drawings by Guo Fengyi from the perspective of art is clear. Her works are full of different types of infectiousness: the images are energetic; the forms of expression though simple are consistent with her topics and throughout her work; the mysteriousness of her work, and the cultural world that she appropriates is sufficient to absorb people’s interest. These can all be evaluated from the perspective of art appreciation. However, from the perspective of the artist, or from the “alternative world” of an “outsider” artist, the value of the work is not simply for art, but is dependent upon its cultural and academic value. Therefore, the work’s value cannot but be contingent upon its “reality.”
From a psychiatric perspective, the “reality” of Guo Fengyi is contingent upon her presentation of a completely symbolic world that is itself dependent upon the description of a suitable inner world. However, for Guo Fengyi herself, the reality she depicts is objective whilst concrete, albeit the images she creates are based upon the information she receives while in a state of afflatus. A first set of works created in the summer of 1989 deal completely the tombs and palaces of ancient emperors within the region around her home of Xi’an. As drawing, these works have their unique appearance. However, as derivative of a Qi Gong state, the works seem to involve the truthfulness or falseness of its contents. If the results from her test prove to be true, than the layout of the tombs accord with her drawings. However, the works then become a proof of a special ability, and the terms “outsider” art and fine arts can both be done without. If the opening of the tombs were to reveal that the layout was not in accordance with the drawings, then one can retreat into saying that it is a diagram of its aura, something that cannot be proved through an archeological investigation. Forwarding ahead a few more years, Guo Fengyi, in a Qi Gong state, continued to draw a series of drawings dealing with traditional medicine and the philosophy of the I-Ching (Book of Changes). These images made with tracing lines report upon the composition of internal physiology. Using a similar method, she creates a complementary numerical chart to express the hexagram images of the I-Ching. The titles of these works are like such: “September 23, 1990; 2:50-3:49pm afternoon. Guo Fengyi draws shishangxiang Hexagram 12.” It is apparent that the artist is objectively recording her personal subjective experiences, performing a diagnostic on the philosophical concepts that she is familiar with. It does not matter if this is according to or discrepant from the theories of traditional medicine and geography, it is unable to disallow for Guo Fengyi’s experience and state of Qigong. This method of making presence felt is able to perform another use, because Guo Fengyi often accepts peoples’ requests to help them diagnose illness or tell their fortune, therefore, her drawings are a production and understanding of an objective world, and not just an hallucination of the heavens or a result of psychological disturbances.
The position of “outsider” art for Guo Fengyi is suddenly not the same as she intended. This is because within our modern cultural system, there is no way for us to find a way to define this type of person. Her Qi Gong experiences can only fall into the realm of psychology. However, psychology is unable to deal with the issues regarding her geomancy, hexagrams, and fate as topics for academic consideration. What is more is that in the field of “geomancy” and fortune telling, her ideas are seen as heterodoxy. The definition of non-orthodox artist is perhaps the description that Guo Fengyi would agree with most. As an “outsider” artist, the peculiar creation by Guo Fengyi, including her dealing with mythical figures such as the Yellow Emperor, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, and Fuxi all have their appreciative qualities. For a new generation of Chinese people, the world that she is directing at is both familiar and distant. From blood vessels to fortune telling, from the 3 sage kings and 5 emperors, to tombs of successive emperors, from geomancy and the hexagram diagrams to fortune telling, these mutually buttoned concepts can be simply dismissed with one word “superstition.” Therefore, by putting Guo Fengyi, this chaotic mysterious character under the category of art has a very positive meaning. From Guo Fengyi, we are not only able to see the pitiful state of existence of the old world perspective in our lives today, it also offers a peak at the period before “science” where man and heaven were connected, and also bringing history into the present greater public self-confidence. As an artist, Guo Fengyi is able to provide even more meaning to the art world. When the self-reference has become the only content in mainstream art today, then there is a need to open a new window. In this regard, Guo Fengyi’s latent implications for the culture of the public realm should be even more belong within the center of new art and cultural research.