Zhang Wenxin: Two Passages into the Caves

Zhang Wenxin’s video project Two Passages into the Caves cotains two works, HOGEN and illusion, which are both comprised of text and video. 


The first work is HOGEN.

The cave is one of the most well-known metaphors in classical philosophy; it is a liminal place that allows us to distinguish the fabricated from the real. In Book VII of The Republic, there is a passageway behind the trapped people that connects the entire cave. 

In HOGEN, the cave is like an apparatus that links reservoirs, karst caverns, Daoist temples, mountain forests, and cities, passing through complex concealed topographies. As the cave continues to adjust focus, Zhang’s inquiries into topology, biology, spelunking, archeology, and Daoist grotto-heavens dissolve into vague and even directionless memories and visions. Compared to the Platonic moment of awakening, entering the cave passageway is more like a series of visual poems that constantly evade definition or a string of concise Zen koans. Zhang notes, “It’s meaningless and leads nowhere; it simply invites you to enter, and constantly fall down.”


The second work, illusion, which is a joint piece by Zhang Wenxin and Wang Hongzhe.

Pores or gaps are generally understood in the context of the repression of urbanization; they are related to issues of inequality, informality, sustainability, and the agency of those who have been deprived of their rights. The flexible and contradictory natures of these chaotic gaps blend utopian hopes and dystopian anxieties about their latent dangers. Pores are embodiments of rationality, efficiency, and instrumentality, such as concrete buildings and city sewers, but they also represent open structures and continuous, infinite transitions, such as harbors and limestone caves. An efficient, continuous conception of porous spaces more easily fits with the latter, and resists or destroys the former, corroding city structures and creating social spaces.

In illusion, a series of porous spaces connect ideology, infrastructure, pop culture, novels about ancient tombs, ant colonies, and the practices of immortals from the Wei and Jin dynasties. Collapsed geographical and temporal memories are connected, insinuated, and remolded, appearing on cave cliffs or city screens. This hallucinatory journey shows us the future prospects of these pores; if pores are mediums, they constantly absorb materials, and through pores, materials can play a role in larger organisms.




The camera is the place where light signals turn into electrical signals. 

The eye is the place where light signals turn into chemical signals. 

A cave is the process of organic matter turning into inorganic matter. 


In a mountain forest punctured with apertures, the consciousness of the earth was first decomposed into a series of landscapes, then into the animals and plants in the landscapes, and then into the microorganisms and inorganic matter. The people in the caves followed the non-human eyes back to the world’s aperture memories and identified the patterns of variations in living things within those visceral, primeval seas. 

Our ancestors buried their relatives in caves, which were comprised of calcium carbonate from the little creatures of the primeval seas. Water flowing over the earth etched shifting patterns, plants engaged in networked communication via mycorrhizae, and animals hid in the crevices in the forest, vibrating at different frequencies. 

The people in the caves opened their eyes, and the light from the tops of the caves shone into the lens, projecting moist images into their visual cortices. The optic nerve sent chemical signals along a labyrinthine path into the cave-like areas of the brain, and the signals were then transformed and stored in different ways. When people closed their eyes, visions and dreams were awakened, and they could simply be understood as holographic projections that initiated by the neurons. In the moment they entered the caves, memories shook off linear time; they resided among light and organisms, enjoying the temperature and humidity. They morphed, split, absorbed, and communicated with their surroundings like an amoeba in the primeval seas. 

The inorganic phantoms of the modern world, as well as their millions of accomplices linked by spectral fibers, were born in the small caves before your eyes, which we call cameras. After leaving the mountain forest, these mechanical caves forgot the primeval seas and existed entirely in dry form. Made to be integrated and absorbed into any circumstance, they naturally synchronize with accelerating modern time. They ceaselessly iterate themselves, spreading exponentially as they were nurtured by the human gaze. 

You looked at these mechanical caves with the moist eyes of a terrestrial biota. Recalling how they once and again  identified you as an active life form, this time, you wanted it in reverse. You want to penetrate the cave passage that lead to where they came from, in order to pinpoint their earliest desires. 

Descending along the cave, you saw that the caves that left the mountain forest and all of their brethren who had lost the outside world were trapped in a revolving time and space. They tirelessly ingested information on life. Such forced repetition is like animal stereotypic behaviour. Being locked in a cage. After a mental breakdown, mammals would pace tirelessly in dry spaces of poured cement, but this still was not the deepest part of the mechanical caves. 

The mammals incarnated from the caves perceived your existence and raised their heads to look at you. A spiraling memory sequence burst out of the periphery where your gazes met, and you knew that they had already permitted you to dive into their eyes. You entered their deepest part, where those primal memories lived. Like the sea creatures eons ago that had not yet deposited into limestone caves, these primal memories had not yet deposited into a mechanical cave through technical languages. 

Day in and day out, bodiless primal memories stood underneath the vast whirlwind of life; they intermediate between light and inorganic matter, and void of temperature or humidity. They stemmed from the last great emergence of complex systems of the primate brain, and they extended along linear time since then. In the moment of their birth, the first memories shot out like a ray of golden sunlight, resolutely manufacturing linear time. However, from then on, they had lost the capacity to die since they had forgotten the primeval seas. 

Every day, those primal memories gazed at life in the bottom of the mechanical cave of revolving time and space, eager to complete the transformation from life to death in that heavenly passageway by obtaining the seeds that contained the way to death. 

The primal memories longed to go back to the mountain forest, bury the seeds in the warm humus, close their eyes, and quietly wait for the warm currents of the primeval seas to envelop them. 


Text by Zhang Wenxin




The entrance to the labyrinth made me anxious.

Does it only have one solution?

Does it require me to wander every corner?

Does a parallel universe need to collapse?

Am I flying in the air?

Or am I suspended at the cave mouth of time?

Has time started?


We are not flying into a twentieth-century labyrinth;

We are falling into a conversation tree of Cold War history.

A collapsible waterway is hiding

In the vast cave of scene-writing.


Groundwater flows are not controlled by gravity;

They are guided by trend extrapolation.

Expert systems direct water flows.

Trickle-down effects

Accumulate into stalactites.

They are the road signs of time.


Has the game started?

Journey to the Center of the Earth version 0.8

The sixth beta

The entrance is a cooling tower in northeastern China.


In “Naples” (1925), Walter Benjamin wrote that

The architecture of Naples

Was porous, 

Like its rocky coastline.

Relaxing in these pores

Is so full of 

Chance encounters and pleasant surprises,

Openness and merriment.



Can modern cities be porous?

Based on the calculations of statistical mechanics, 

Can concrete irrigate a highly porous city?

Or introduce wormhole theory?

Through a front-loading washing machine,

I arrived in a post-Fallout underground bunker city.

Radiation does not follow solid rules.

For radiation, 

The world has no pores.


But energy (qi) creates pores.

Gravity is not the first principle of the universe.

Energy is.

Which came first: qigong breathwork or energy meridians?

Was energy nurtured in the meridians?

Or does the movement of energy generate the meridians?

I am wandering in the energy meridians.

Am I energy?


This question seems unimportant,

Because, regardless of how I think about it, 

It generates certain structures in the sulci of my brain,

And my brain once again connects to the folds in my digestive tract.

Where is the labyrinth really being built?

In my brain or in my gut?

If intelligence is a labyrinth comprised of a series of neural pathways,

Then the labyrinths are building labyrinths.


When I enter the bloodstream, 

What am I?

Am I a blood platelet?

Or a red blood cell?

What decides which capillary branch a red blood cell is pumped into?

Can a red blood cell step into the same river twice?

What about white blood cells and macrophages?

Can they follow the signs forward?

Or do they simply arrive at the battlefield by traversing the entire bloodstream?

Energy does not need to travel that way,

But blood does. 

Artificial lungs can filter the entire network. 


I picked up a camera and

Took a picture at every fork in the road.

The game could be saved

But it could only be saved at a fork in the road. 

To open the file, I needed to return to the previous fork. 




After opening the file, I entered an information hub,

A product of the time in which China Netcom controlled broadband and

A remnant of an earlier time on the internet.

It was a digital ghost city.

Most of these websites have a tree-like branched structure.

Scattered across cities in central and western China,

They are the early nodes in China’s ARPANET.


Third Front development changed the porosity of central and western China.

Large mountains became sea sponges.

These porous animals nurtured space flight and the electronics industry,

And Guizhou-Cloud Big Data.

I dug into these caves

To find that the Easter eggs carved on the walls

Were the manifestos of socialists,

Or blueprints for machines that could expand and contract time and space.


I read a slogan on the wall:

After dedicating my youth [to my work], I have devoted my life to my family.


I immediately fell into a distorted fault line in time and space.

Pressing the green button would not let me exit,

And I was caught up in obsessive repetition.

In autumn 1976, they repeatedly performed

Bats dancing through the sky

And flowers falling gracefully. 




When I reawakened,

I was lost and

Tortured by amnesia. 

I couldn’t remember who I was or

How I entered the labyrinth.

All of my saved games had been erased.

History was like an archive covered in dust.

I could only reconstruct my memories through a criminal investigation.

I wanted to re-trace all of my conversation trees and

Re-examine all of the rooms,

Until I arrived at the primary crime scene: 

The hotel room.


It didn’t seem like a terrible crime had taken place.

At the end of the secret room,

I just saw my own reflection

And an unknown face,

A mysterious person hurrying to leave.


The TV inexplicably turned on,

Playing the 1990 dubbed version of Beauty and the Beast.

This was my only reminder to escape the secret room.

I had to go through the 1990s sewer

And open the cover

To enter the mine.

I followed the veins of ore generated over many thousands of years, 

And moved even deeper into the Earth.


“It was almost too cramped at first to afford him passage,

But when he had taken a few dozen steps, he emerged into the open light of day.”[i]

It was a completely different world.


The Tomb of the Living Dead

Lies at the foot of Zhongnan Mountain.

Martial arts cannot exist without a Daoist paradise.

The cultivation of a warrior

A place of seclusion

The masters of the Ancient Tomb Sect 

Are not among the Three Worlds.

Entering a cave is an escape from suffering. 

For Daoists, 

The end of the cave is not a cage;

It is a new heaven.

Daoists are amateurs;

The man from Wuling mistakenly entered the utopia of the Peach Blossom Spring.

In The Forest of Records (Zhilin), Yu Xi of the Eastern Jin wrote,

“When a day passes in a cave,

A millennium passes on Earth.”

He was writing about gamers getting offline,

And returning to reality.


Peach Valley is the world of Cthulhu.

Peach trees can cultivate themselves into Daoist immortals.

The Six Immortals of Peach Valley are neither man nor tree.

They are energy.

At the bottom of Passionless Valley,

Eating whitefish 

From Cold Pond every day 

Greatly increases your skill.


The secret passage from Passionless Valley connects to Brightness Peak.

“Burn my wretched body

On a raging sacred fire.”

This was the high point of the 

Global influence of Eurasian Zoroastrianism.

Secret ceremonies from the mountain plateaus

Followed the waterways and connected with the ancient world.

“When a day passes in a cave,

A millennium passes on Earth.”


Caves came from the Near East.

Cappadocia holds clues to a prehistoric nuclear war.

A porous bunker city

A square underground city

Why do humans like cube-shaped structures?

Bees prefer hexagons.

Caves do not need to be cubic.

No ant colony is a cube.

There are no 90-degree angles in an ant’s world.

How are ant colonies made?

Does the labyrinth of an ant’s genes contain the topology of an ant colony?

Do mycorrhizae grow like veins of ore or ant colonies?

Are the root systems of any plant like scale-free structures?

Do fungi and seed plants share the same set of energetic rules?

Is it pure mathematics, statistical mechanics, or the Dao?


In different grammars of labyrinths,

Eastern immortal grottos

Are transformed into Western dungeons.

I finally found a treasure chest,

But before I opened it, I had to save my game.

At first, the treasure chest was also a fork in the road,

An attractive path to

Reward or death.

It’s ok, 

No one really dies in games.

Dying just means you return to your last saved game.

The collapsed universe restarts.




Opening the saved game one last time.

Dungeons and Dragons.

I’ve returned to the prototype for all dungeon games:

Moria, the city of the Dwarves,

Which came from J.R.R. Tolkien’s childhood in Sarehole

And memories of Swiss mountain journeys.


A watermill in central Scotland

Unexpectedly connects to a donkey-pulled millstone on the Baoding Plains.

The war to control the Ring has moved.

Tunnel warfare


Tunnel warfare

The Hobbits a.k.a. an anti-Japanese guerilla squad


Fortunately, we have sphere theory.

Peter Sloterdijk said that

All globalization 

Comes from this game of spheres.

The cave is connected.

The bubble has burst.



The memories have returned,

Blade Runner is online.

There’s only one chance.

I sailed against the current from the lower reaches of the Yangtze

Toward an air-raid shelter in Chongqing.

It killed my only copy.


In autumn 1976,

A peach tree

Came back to life in the Kowloon Walled City.


Wang Hongzhe

June 22-23, 2021

Wanliu Apartment, Peking University


[i] Tao Qian, “Peach Blossom Spring,” in Anthology of Chinese Literature, Volume I: From Early Times to the Fourteenth Century, ed. Cyril Birch (New York: Grove Press, 1965), 167.


About the Artist

"I see myself as a land surveyor. The maps I make are not only recreations of landscapes and wonders, they depict another kind of terrain, from the human mind that shapes the physical and spiritual world. I use images, writing, and soundscapes as mapping tools. These porous maps welcome the viewer to fall off the plane of the everyday and into liminal space-time. By moving through the physical and spiritual worlds, the maps are superimposed on the viewer's perceptions, merging into a cascading waterfall or a climbing bonfire, growing into a medium that connects techne and magic."

— Zhang Wenxin


Wang Hongzhe (b. Anshan, Liaoning province)

Scholar of media history and associate professor at Peking University


The Macalline Center of Art (MACA) is a non-profit art institution located in the 798 Art District of Beijing and officially inaugurated its space on January 15, 2022. Occupying a two-story building with a total area of 900 square meters, MACA unites artists, curators, and other art and cultural practitioners from around the world. Through its diverse, ongoing, and collaborative approaches, the Center establishes a new site on the contemporary art scene. Guided by the “work of artists” and backed by interdisciplinary research, the Center aims to bring together a community passionate about art and devoted to the “contemporary” moment so as to respond proactively to our rapidly evolving times.