马永峰的博客

Apr 15
Passages: China at the Crossroads

A Talk & Video Screening—Curated by Maya Kóvskaya
                            
http://www.openeyeddreams.com/chinaFilm/index.htm

A passage is sometimes a corridor or thoroughfare that leads from one place to another; at other times, it is a rite or a Rubicon or a moment where one state is exchanged for another. Most of all, it is a journey, a process of being underway and on the road. As the passage of major historical change is being undergone and carried out in everyday life, economics, society, politics and culture in China, Chinese contemporary art has reached a nexus of crossroads. In the early and mid-1990s, easily digestible, foreigner-pleasing formulas from China, such as Political Pop and Cynical Realism, captured the international art community's imagination. By the late 90s, however, growing numbers of Chinese artists, many born in the 70s, were unwilling to bow to foreign fetishes in order to follow the previous generation's path to easy success.

Images of a country attempting to carry out unprecedented and rapid economic "modernization" by political fiat have overtaken the old creative canons, bringing a more diverse generation of new Chinese contemporary art to the international stage. The video art and performance art documenta in Passages: China at the Crossroadsshow various ways in which China is undergoing dramatic changes in almost every facet of life during this era of localized globalization, and so-called "modernization." This new generation of contemporary art in China rejects neat labels and gimcrack gimmicks in favor of the messy, quotidian world.

In Cui Xiuwen’s “Drifting Lantern,” we see a classic symbol of traditional Chinese culture undergoing a tenuous journey through the darkness. The glowing vermillion lantern bobs and sways in the dark, following a pattern that is hard to predict. At times it feels as if the movements of the lantern are both random and governed by an invisible, unknowable force—much like the experiences of ordinary people in the face of these massive changes transforming today’s China, who often feel that they are being taken on a path they cannot see, and know not where it leads. There are moments, however, with the human hands behind these driving forces are revealed and we realize that these huge, global processes that push and pull us are wholly human creations. In the video as well, we catch glimpses of the human bearer of this light—a hand holding the bright orb aloft, a leg tentatively stepping onward in the darkness.

“Missing/Gone Astray,” is a landmark work by Dai Guangyu, a leading figure of the Southwestern public action art and environmental art movements, who is known for his daring political critiques, brilliant performance interventions and inventive use of ink wash. This performance took place on June 4th, 1999, exactly 10 years after the tragic and sanguinary denouement of the student movement in Tiananmen Square. Dai Guangyu and a friend don masks and attire that make them appear de-individualized and uniform. They take to the streets of Chengdu. Their journey through the city is accompanied by ongoing references to Tiananmen and the power arrangement that keeps the anniversary unutterable in public discourse. Motifs of complicity and absence permeate the work. The masked men pass through the city reading the newspapers, which have no news about the anniversary, of course, and engage in bizarre repertoire of familiar everyday postures, which appear absurd because they are taken out of context. Clapping to show approval, raising hands to vote assent, and cringing as if to ward off blows, are all normal behaviors one frequently encounters in life. But the settings for these, such as speeches by leaders, party meetings, and confrontations with violence, are conspicuously removed from the scenarios enacted here, and thus are highlighted by their very absence. And by considering these behaviors outside their normal context, we are forced to recognize the performative function they fulfill—to underscore, support, perpetuate and reinforce existing power arrangements and the status quo order of things. These behaviors speak volumes: “we consent, we approve, we will not fight back.” Power, in the post-totalitarian era is not grounded in true belief so much as the public, collective expression of such complicit conformity, which serves to sustain the system in place and tacitly affirm its “rightness.”

In “Buttocks, 123,” Hei Yue – Jishengli tackles questions of authority from a different angle. Using a humorous, cheeky method to make a serious point, he dons the “split pants” of Chinese childhood, and spanks himself in public, often in front of symbols of tradition and authority or dominant values and notions of propriety. Wearing pants specially designed to reveal his butt, Hei Yue appears before various symbols of power, authority and tradition, and spanks himself repeatedly—Chinese policemen, Buddhist monks, Japanese fishermen in traditional (and more notably, butt-revealing) garb, and more. By spanking himself like this in public, he poses the question, who has the right to discipline and punish—and he answers it in turn by reclaiming the sovereign right for himself alone and rejecting the claims of a higher authority to mete out punishment.

Qing Qing’s “End of the Century Ambiguity” video work also employs a humorous device to make a cutting critique about contemporary masculinity, gender relations and the self-satisfied, complacent culture of consumptive excess and leisure idolized by the Chinese nouveau riche, and enjoyed disproportionately by men. If the sex trade—symbolized by massage and karaoke singing—has long been a rite of passage supplies the lubricant of political and business deal-brokering, taking place in settings in which women can have but one role, the meaning of former Traditional Chinese Medical doctor Qing Qing’s metaphorical send-up of the massage, by substituting and pig for the man, can hardly be misinterpreted.

In “Beijing Zoological Garden,” Ma Yongfeng also brings animals into his work, albeit in a different way. Here the passage is from a naïve childhood orientation towards nature, in which fantasies of the great and vast natural world are fueled by trips to the zoo, to a knowing adult complicity with the confining, cruel arrangements that place the human being in a hierarchical relationship to nature. Placing the pitiful images of the Beijing Zoo in the classical Chinese round frame, echoing Song Dynasty paintings, the aestheticization of routine suffering is brought to the fore. As we watch the animals attempting some semblance of a “life” in their cramped and miserable cement “habitats,” we learn more about ourselves than we do about these creatures. Nature exists here as rendered by the human imagination, and the poverty of vision and compassion that makes such conditions possible is what is inscribed most visibly in these scenes.

For the past decade Han Bing has engaged in an ongoing public performative intervention—“The Walking the Cabbage Project.” In this series of social intervention performance, video and photography works, Han Bing walks a Chinese cabbage on a leash in public places, inverting an ordinary practice to provoke debate and critical thinking. “Walking the Cabbage” is a playful twist on a serious subject—the way our everyday practices serve to constitute "normalcy" and our identities are often constituted by the act of claiming objects as our possessions. A quintessentially Chinese symbol of sustenance and comfort for poor Chinese turned upside down, Han Bing's cabbage on a leash offers a visual interrogation of contemporary social values. If a full stock of cabbage for the winter was once a symbol of material well-being in China, nowadays the nouveau riche have cast aside modest (monotonous) winters of cabbage in favor of ostentatious gluttony in fancy restaurants where waste signifies status. They flaunt "name brand" pooches, demonstrating how they no longer rely on the lowly cabbage, and can not only fatten themselves to obesity, but also pamper a pedigreed pet. Yet, for the poor and struggling, the realities of cabbage as a subsistence bottom line have not changed—what's changed is the value structure that dictates what—and who—is valuable or worthless in Chinese society. Han Bing's social intervention performance art practice has been conducted in a vast array in public spaces and quotidian social settings ranging from tiny rural villages to cosmopolitan metropolises across the globe; from flourishing downtown bastions of the white-collar consumer elite to the agricultural fields of the salt-of-the-earth rural laborers; from the Great Wall to the Mississippi River; from Miami Beach to the Champs Elysees; from Harajuku to Haight-Ashbury; from Tiananmen to Times Square.

This ongoing journey of Han Bing and his cabbage, mirrors, in many ways, the larger journey of China—from uniform poverty to an explosion of wealth for a few; from rural villages to massive megacities filled with hope and desperation; from the humble cabbage as a bottom line source of sustenance for ordinary people to the pedigreed lapdogs of the new rich—China is on the road and undergoing the difficult passage from one kind of society to another. But, as Han Bing’s work makes clear, this is not an unambiguous, teleological process from benighted backwardness to uplifted progress. Far from it, while the vast majority of people continue to struggle, and the reality is that the current order will not fulfill the dreams of most, it is the meretricious allure of the superficial new value system that keeps people pinning their hopes on a system that often works against their own interests.

We live in fragmented times, times that need an art that offers not only a mirror in which to see the status quo, but also transforms our understandings of ourselves, giving us new ways of seeing who we are and can be. Explorations of the everyday lived connections between the individual and the social, the micro and the macro, and the local and global realities that we all, increasingly face in this rapidly changing world, imbue this new generation of Chinese art with unprecedented global relevance.

©2009, Maya Kovskaya



CUI Xiuwen
Born in the 70s in China's Northeast, multidisciplinary artist Cui Xiuwen rose to fame in the late 90s with her provocative video, Lady's, featuring "ladies of the night" filmed in the liminal space—both public and private—of the Lady's Room in a karaoke hall. Her video and photography has been shown widely at major museums and galleries including, China Under Construction at Deborah Colton Gallery (USA, 2007); Dragon's Evolution exhibition, China Square, New York (USA, 2007); Engagements and Estrangements (Canada, 2006); P.S.1 (USA, 2006); Victoria and Albert Museum, (UK, 2005); Body Temperature (Denmark, 2005); “Untitied: Julia Loktev. Julika. Cui Xiuwen," Tate Modern (UK, 2004); “Alors. la China ? ” Center Pompidou (France, 2003); “Prague Biennale 1” (Czech, 2003); The first Guangzhou Triennial ” (PRC, 2002). Recent solo shows at venues including Marella, Beijing (PRC 2005); Marella (Italy, 2006) DF2 (USA, 2007); Florence Museum (Italy, 2007).

DAI Guangyu
Trailblazing leader of the Sichuanese performance art movement since the '85 New Art Wave, multidisciplinary artist Dai Guangyu (1955—) is internationally acclaimed for his contemporary reinventions of Chinese traditional ink wash and his pathbreaking contributions to China's public art, performance art and environmental art movements. Major exhibitions include “Made in China", Louisiana Museum (Denmark, 2007); China Under Construction at Deborah Colton Gallery (USA, 2007); "Inward Gazes - Performance Art in China - Exhibition by Invitation", Macau Art Museum, (Macau, 2005); "In Honour of '85", Duolun Modern Art Museum, Shanghai, (PRC, 2005); "The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art", China Millennium Monument Art Museum, Beijing (PRC, 2005); Dashanzi International Art Festival (PRC, 2004, 2005); "First Chinese Art Triennial", Guangzhou Art Museum (PRC, 2002);"China!", Museum of Modern Art, Bonn (Germany, 1996); the watershed "China Avant-Garde Art Exhibition", Chinese National Art Museum, (PRC, 1989); "Itinerary Exhibition of Modern Chinese Art", Bonn, Bremen, Frankfurt (Germany, 1987). Recent solo exhibitions include shows at Red Star Gallery at 798 Factory (PRC, 2007) and 10 Chancery Lane (Hong Kong, 2008).

HAN Bing
Han Bing (1974- ) grew up in an impoverished village in rural China. After studying painting in college, he undertook Advanced Studies at the Chinese Central Academy of Art. Exploring the struggles and desires of ordinary people in China's "theater of modernization," he employs photography, video, multimedia installation and performance, and his works invert quotidian practice, reinvent everyday objects and ask us to rethink the order of things. Han Bing's work has been shown worldwide at10th Annual Open International Performance Art Festival (PRC, 2009); MoNA Museum of New Art, Detroit (USA, 2009); New Art Gallery in Walsalle (UK, 2009); Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery in Vancouver (Canada, 2009); theCentre Pompidou (France, 2008); Asia Triennial Manchester (UK, 2008); Rencontres d'Arles Photography Festival (France, 2007); Columbia Museum of Art (USA, 2007); Fotographie Museum of Amsterdam (2005, Netherlands); DashanziInternational Art Festival DIAF (PRC, 2005, 2006; Pingyao Photography Festival (PRC, 2002); noteworthy group shows include China Under Construction: Contemporary Art from the People's Republic at Deborah Colton Gallery (USA, 2007); Dragon's Evolution: Chinese Contemporary Photography at the NYC China Square Art Center (USA, 2007), Beyond Experience: New China exhibition at Arario Beijing (PRC, 2006), LOVE Expo, Barcelona-Pekin-Paris, and Proyecto Generos at Espace Cultural Ample (Spain, 2006-2007), and many more. Solo shows include a joint solo show with Orimoto Tatsumi, Quotidian Iconic—Quotidian Holy Mother, Jing Art Gallery (PRC, 2006); Age of Big Construction, at Beijing New Art Projects (PRC, 2007), Love in the Age of Big Construction at UC Berkeley (USA, 2006), The Other Shore of Desire at UCLA (USA, 2006); Everyday Desire in the Theater of Chinese Modernization at Beursschouwburg Art Center (Belgium, 2007); and The Fatalistic Language of Things at the Columbia Art Museum (USA, 2007) and a solo show at Espace Cultural Ample (Spain, 2008).

HEI Yue ·JI Shengli
Born in Qinghai Province, Hei Yue·Ji Shengli graduated from Qinghai Pedagogic College and moved to Beijing in 1991. When he adopted the name "Black Moon" (Hei Yue), back in the heyday of the Yuanmingyuan artist colony, he could hardly have known the intimate connections in English between the verb "to moon" and the performance art that would bring him fame, using his buttocks. "123 Buttocks" is the title of Hei Yue’s ongoing performance art and video, photography and painting series, acclaimed in the US and China, as well as Japan. His work has been featured across Asia at the Macao Museum of Art, Dashanzi International Art Festival in China, the Nippon Performance Art Festival in Japan, the Korean International Performance Art Festival, the Taiwan International Performance Art Festival; in Hungary at the International Media Festival, and at the Estonian Documentary Film Festival, and at the Ethan Cohen Gallery in New York. This year his solo exhibition at the Rain Gallery at 798 unveiled his new series of oil paintings.

MA Yongfeng
Hailing from Shanxi, China, Ma Yongfeng (1971—) is known for his video and medium-large format photography works. Investigating "scientific" typologies, taxonomies and conceptions on "Nature" and the "natural world," his work reflects his preoccupations with the social construction of knowledge and aesthetic systems. China Under Construction at Deborah Colton Gallery (USA, 2007); Fractured Visions: Chinese Video Art, Center for Asian Studies, University of South Carolina, USA; ), Dragon's Evolution, at China Square in New York (USA, 2007); The Thirteen: Chinese Video Now, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center at MOMA, New York & Platform China Contemporary Art Institute, Beijing (USA, PRC, 2006); VideoZone3: The 3rd International Video-Art Biennial in Israel, The Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv (Israel, 2006); China Action 1-2, Centre chorégraphique national de Tours (France, 2005); Videonale 10 , Kunstmuseum Bonn (Germany, 2005); How Can You Resist? Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (USA, 2004). Solo exhibitions include, Becoming Landscape, Platform China Contemporary Art Institute, Beijing (PRC, 2006) and The Cretaceous Period, Artsway, Hampshire (UK, 2007).


Qing Qing
Beijing-born Qing Qing gained international recognition for her diorama installations and hemp fiber "artificial artifacts." Her unique visual language engages a symbolic universe that plays lightly on the ugly ironies of the contemporary world. Group exhibitions include, China Under Construction, Deborah Colton Gallery, (USA, 2007); Beyond Experience: The New China, Arario Beijing (PRC, 2006); Floating – New Generation of Art in China, Seoul (Korea, 2007); Documentation of Chinese Avant-Garde Art in 90s, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, (Japan, 2001). Solo exhibitions include shows at Gallery Wort und Bild, Vienna (Austria, 1997); AAL-Gallery Karl Strobe, Vienna (Austria, 1999); Red Gate Gallery, Beijing (PRC, 1999); Chinese Contemporary, London (UK, 2000) Red Gate Gallery, Beijing (PRC, 2002);Today Art Museum, Beijing, (PRC, 2002); 798 Dashanzi Art District, Beijing (PRC, 2004); Tokyo Gallery (Japan, 2005); Ullen's Center Dayaolu Space, 798 Dashanzi Art District, Beijing, (PRC, 2005).


Curator Bio

Maya Kóvskaya is a Beijing-based art critic and curator with over a decade in China. She has curated numerous exhibitions including Love in the Age of Big Construction (PRC and USA, 2006), Quotidian Iconic (co-curated, PRC, 2006), The Other Shore of Desire (USA, 2006) Estrangements and Engagements (Canada, 2006), Misalignments (USA, 2006), Other Modernities (USA, 2006), The Fatalistic Language of Things (USA, 2007), and The Fragmented Gaze (USA, 2007), China Under Construction (USA, 2007) and others. Her writing has appeared in numerous art catalogues, academic volumes, and magazines, including Contemporary, Yishu: Journal Chinese Contemporary Art, Flash Art, Art Post, Art iT, Eyemazing: International Contemporary Photography Magazine and positions: east asia cultures critique. She is currently writing a book on Chinese contemporary art.

Works Screened by:
CUI Xiuwen
DAI Guangyu
HAN Bing
HEI Yue
Ji Shengli
MA Yongfeng
Qing Qing
Dec 15
点击在新窗口中浏览此图片
Art critic and curator Maya Kóvskaya discusses the new pathways of Chinese contemporary art as seen in the works of the new generation of artists who are exploring video and performance art in a China passing through momentous changes.

The concept of passage is a polyvalent term. A passage is sometimes a corridor or thoroughfare that leads from one place to another; at other times, it is a rite or a Rubicon or a symbolic moment in which one state is transcend and another initiated. Most commonly, a passage it is a journey, a process of being underway and on the road. As the passage of major historical change is being undergone and carried out in everyday life, economics, society, politics and culture in China, Chinese contemporary art has reached a nexus of crossroads. In the early and mid-1990s, easily digestible, foreigner-pleasing formulas from China, such as Political Pop and Cynical Realism, captured the international art community's imagination. By the late 90s, however, growing numbers of Chinese artists, many born in the 70s, were unwilling to bow to foreign fetishes in order to follow the previous generation's path to easy success.

Images of a country attempting to carry out unprecedented and rapid economic "modernisation" by political fiat have overtaken the old creative canons, bringing a more diverse generation of new Chinese contemporary art to the international stage. In China, the concept of generation is not necessarily limited to an age cohort, but rather a group that comes of age together, united less by age than by the sharing certain crucial formative experiences that have shaped the central preoccupations in their works. The video art and performance art documentary videos in ‘Passages: China at the Crossroads,’ an exhibition I recently curated at the OED Gallery in Kochi, show various ways in which China is undergoing dramatic changes in almost every facet of life during this era of localised globalisation, and so-called “modernisation.” This new generation of contemporary art in China, exemplified here by works from Cui Xiuwen, Dai Guangyu, Hei Yue – Jishengli, Qing Qing, Ma Yongfeng and Han Bing, rejects neat labels and gimcrack gimmicks in favor of the messy, quotidian world, offering glimpses of a rich diversity that outstrips the tired iconic ‘big head’ oil paintings of the current auction house darlings, who are often seen as leading representatives of Chinese contemporary art.

Born in the 70s in China's Northeast, multidisciplinary artist Cui Xiuwen rose to international prominence in the late 90s with her provocative video work, ‘Lady’s,’ featuring ‘ladies of the night’ filmed in the ambiguous, fraught space—both public and private—of the Lady's Room in a karaoke hall. In her video ‘Drifting Lantern’ (2005), we see a classic symbol of traditional Chinese culture undergoing a tenuous journey through the darkness. The glowing vermillion lantern bobs and sways in the dark, following a pattern that is hard to predict. At times it feels as if the movements of the lantern are both random and governed by an invisible, unknowable force—much like the experiences of ordinary people in the face of these massive changes transforming today’s China, who often feel that they are being taken on a path they cannot see, and know not where it leads. There are moments, however, with the human hands behind these driving forces are revealed and we realise that these huge, global processes that push and pull us are wholly human creations. In the video as well, we catch glimpses of the human bearer of this light – a hand holding the bright orb aloft, a leg tentatively stepping onward in the darkness.

‘Missing/Gone Astray,’ (1999) is a landmark work by Dai Guangyu, a leading figure of the Southwestern public action art and environmental art movements, who is known for his daring political critiques, brilliant performance interventions and inventive use of ink wash. This performance took place on June 4th, 1999, exactly 10 years after the tragic denouement of the student movement in Tiananmen Square. Dai Guangyu and a friend don masks and attire that make them appear de-individualised and uniform. They take to the streets of Chengdu. Their journey through the city is accompanied by ongoing references to Tiananmen and the power arrangement that keeps the anniversary unutterable in public discourse. Motifs of complicity and absence permeate the work. The masked men pass through the city reading the newspapers, which have no news about the anniversary, of course, and engage in bizarre repertoire of familiar everyday postures, which appear absurd because they are taken out of context. Clapping to show approval, raising hands to vote assent, and cringing as if to ward off blows, are all normal behaviors one frequently encounters in everyday life. But the settings for these, such as speeches by leaders, party meetings, and confrontations with violence, are conspicuously removed from the scenarios enacted here, and thus are highlighted by their absence. And by considering these behaviors outside their normal context, we are forced to recognise the performative function they fulfill – to underscore, support, perpetuate and reinforce existing power arrangements and the status quo order of things. These behaviors speak volumes: “we consent, we approve, we will not fight back.” Power, in the post-totalitarian era is not grounded in true belief so much as the public, collective expression of such complicit conformity, which serves to sustain the system in place and tacitly affirm its ‘rightness.’

Born in Qinghai Province, Hei Yue·Ji Shengli graduated from Qinghai Pedagogical College and moved to Beijing in 1991. When he adopted the name ‘Black Moon’ (Hei Yue), back in the heyday of the Yuanmingyuan artist colony, he could hardly have known the intimate connections in English between the verb ‘to moon’ and the performance art that would bring him fame, using his buttocks. ‘123 Buttocks’ is the title of Hei Yue’s ongoing performance art and video, photography and painting series (2002 – present). In ‘Buttocks, 123,’ Hei Yue – Jishengli tackles questions of authority from a different angle. Using a humorous, cheeky method to make a serious point, he dons the ‘split pants’ of Chinese childhood, and spanks himself in public, often in front of symbols of tradition and authority or dominant values and notions of propriety. Wearing pants specially designed to reveal his butt, Hei Yue appears before various symbols of power, authority and tradition, and spanks himself repeatedly – Chinese policemen, Buddhist monks, Japanese fishermen in traditional (and more notably, butt-revealing) garb, and more. By spanking himself like this in public, he poses the question, who has the right to discipline and punish – and he answers it in turn by reclaiming the sovereign right for himself alone and rejecting the claims of a higher authority to mete out punishment.

Beijing-born Qing Qing gained international recognition for her diorama installations and hemp fiber ‘artificial artifacts.’ Her unique visual language engages a symbolic universe that plays lightly on the ugly ironies of the contemporary world. Her ‘End of the Century Ambiguity’ (2003) performance video work also employs a humorous device to make a cutting critique of contemporary masculinity, gender relations and the self-satisfied, complacent culture of consumptive excess and leisure idolised by the Chinese nouveau riche, and enjoyed disproportionately by men. If the sex trade –  symbolised by massage and karaoke singing – has long been a rite of passage supplies the lubricant of political and business deal-brokering, taking place in settings in which women can have but one role, the meaning of former Traditional Chinese Medical doctor Qing Qing’s metaphorical send-up of the massage, by substituting a pig for the man, can hardly be misinterpreted.

Hailing from Shanxi, China, Ma Yongfeng is known for his video and medium-large format photography works. Investigating ‘scientific’ typologies, taxonomies and conceptions on ‘Nature’ and the ‘natural world,’ his work reflects his preoccupations with the social construction of knowledge and aesthetic systems. In ‘Beijing Zoological Garden’ (2004), Ma Yongfeng also brings animals into his work, albeit in a different way. Here the passage is from a naïve childhood orientation towards nature, in which fantasies of the great and vast natural world are fueled by trips to the zoo, to a knowing adult complicity with the confining, cruel arrangements that place the human being in a hierarchical relationship to nature. Placing the pitiful images of the Beijing Zoo in the round classical Chinese frame, visually echoing Song Dynasty painting, the aestheticisation of routine suffering is brought to the fore. As we watch the animals attempting some semblance of a ‘life’ in their cramped and miserable cement ‘habitats,’ we learn more about ourselves than we do about these creatures. Nature exists here as rendered by the human imagination, and the poverty of vision and compassion that makes such conditions possible is what is inscribed most visibly in these scenes.

Han Bing grew up in an impoverished village in rural China in the 70s, but went on to study at the Chinese Central Academy of Fine Art. Exploring the struggles and desires of ordinary people in China's ‘theater of modernisation,’ he employs photography, video, multimedia installation and performance, and his works invert quotidian practice, reinvent everyday objects and ask us to rethink the order of things. For the past decade Han Bing has engaged in an ongoing public performative intervention – ‘The Walking the Cabbage Project,’ (2000 – present). In this series of social intervention performance, video and photography works, Han Bing walks a Chinese cabbage on a leash in public places, inverting an ordinary practice to provoke debate and critical thinking. ‘Walking the Cabbage’ is a playful twist on a serious subject – the way our everyday practices serve to constitute ‘normalcy’ and our identities are often constituted by the act of claiming objects as our possessions. A quintessentially Chinese symbol of sustenance and comfort for poor Chinese turned upside down, Han Bing's cabbage on a leash offers a visual interrogation of contemporary social values. If a full stock of cabbage for the winter was once a symbol of material well-being in China, nowadays the nouveau riche have cast aside modest (monotonous) winters of cabbage in favor of ostentatious gluttony in fancy restaurants where waste signifies status. They flaunt ‘name brand’ pooches, demonstrating how they no longer rely on the lowly cabbage, and can not only fatten themselves to obesity, but also pamper a pedigreed pet. Yet, for the poor and struggling, the realities of cabbage as a subsistence bottom line have not changed – what's changed is the value structure that dictates what – and who – is valuable or worthless in Chinese society. Han Bing’s social intervention performance art practice has been conducted in a vast array in public spaces and quotidian social settings ranging from tiny rural villages to cosmopolitan metropolises across the globe; from flourishing downtown bastions of the white-collar consumer elite to the agricultural fields of the salt-of-the-earth rural labourers; from the Great Wall to the Mississippi River; from Miami Beach to the Champs Elysees; from Harajuku to Haight-Ashbury; from Tiananmen to Times Square.

This ongoing journey of Han Bing and his cabbage, mirrors, in many ways, the larger journey of China – from uniform poverty to an explosion of wealth for a few; from rural villages to massive megacities filled with hope and desperation; from the humble cabbage as a bottom line source of sustenance for ordinary people to the pedigreed lapdogs of the new rich – China is on the road and undergoing the difficult passage from one kind of society to another. But, as Han Bing’s work makes clear, this is not an unambiguous, teleological process from benighted backwardness to uplifted progress. Far from it, while the vast majority of people continue to struggle, and the reality is that the current order will not fulfill the dreams of most, it is the meretricious allure of the superficial new value system that keeps people pinning their hopes on a system that often works against their own interests.

We live in fragmented times, times that need an art that offers not only a mirror in which to see the status quo, but also transforms our understandings of ourselves, giving us new ways of seeing who we are and can be. Explorations of the everyday lived connections between the individual and the social, the micro and the macro, and the local and global realities that we all, increasingly face in this rapidly changing world, imbue this new generation of Chinese art with unprecedented global relevance.

(Maya Kóvskaya is a Delhi and Beijing-based writer, art critic, curator, translator, scholar and consultant with over a decade of experience in China. She has curated numerous exhibitions, in China, the USA, India, and Europe, and her art criticism appears regularly in art catalogues, international art magazines and academic journals. Her book, ‘China Under Construction: Contemporary Art from the People’s Republic’ (2007), is available in bookstores worldwide. Email: mayakovskaya@gmail.com)

©2009, Maya Kovskaya

http://artconcerns.com/html/article2_passages.htm
Jul 19
Maya Kóvskaya, PhD

Theorist David Harvey argues that the condition of post-modernity can be best understood in terms of its expression in the dramatic reorganization of spatio-temporal relations and fragmentation. "Space-time compression," refers to the process by which distances are functionally shorted by the temporal accelerations of social and economic processes made possible by new technologies, particularly those of information and communication. As a result of this condition, increasingly, we live in turbulent, rapidly changing, often bewildering world, where old roles and ways of being no longer function to provide stability and old unifying myths no longer condense our complex realities in convincing ways. In these fragmented times, now more than ever, we need an art that offers not only a mirror in which to see the perplexing and polyvalent status quo, but also transforms our understandings of ourselves, giving us new ways to visualize who we are and can be. Explorations of the lived quotidian connections between the social and the individual, the macro and the micro, and the global and the local, are the sorts of inquiries that characterize the most important contemporary art in today’s China.

Much ado has been made in recent years about trendy auction house darlings such as Big Head oil paintings that range from the "Cynical Realism" and "Political Pop" of the 1990s and the tacky cartoonish images of drooling cutesy girls and exaggerated, stylized icons that facilitate commercial branding strategies for galleries and artists alike. Critics in China have also often made their names by coining catchy labels for so-called art movements or trends, such as Cartoon Generation, Gaudy Art, Hurt Art, as well as those named above. Indeed, the Chinese contemporary art forms most familiar to Westerners are the genres such as that often consciously manipulate foreigners' desire for a "sexy" Chinese art that hints at disaffectation, using the same tired Cultural Revolution imagery, pretty exoticized "Oriental Girls," and slick, stylized figures, stock symbols and "big heads" ad nauseam. Yet this sort of iconography fails to offer critical optics for understanding the human condition, at best reflecting vulgar contemporary realities rather than critiquing and questioning them.

Offering an alternative to the easy labels and empty categories, the most relevant and interesting art in China today scrutinizes the complex, fragmented and multifaceted nature of contemporary China as the nation and its people undergo profound transformation. The art works presented in the exhibition Fade to Black (黑屏) reject simple 1+1 visual slogans and easy formulas. They were selected not only for their visual and aesthetic appeal, but also for their breadth and scope. Long after yesterday's fads have given way to tomorrow's trends, it will be the rich and varied works that speak to the fragmentation and disorientating predicaments of our time will have lasting value and relevance. Works that have the power to illuminate facets of the human condition, giving us visual and conceptual tools for understanding not just China as a nation, but also for interrogating the place of us human beings ourselves in this world of rapid and destabilizing transmutation, are the works that will ultimately last and matter.

Through works by He Yunchang, Ma Yongfeng, Shao Yinong & Mu Chen, Wu Chengdian, and Wang Qingsong, Fade to Black rejecting neat labels, pat answers and gimcrack gimmicks in favor of complexity, richness and diversity in this era of transnational flows of people, culture and capital, localized globalization, and so-called "modernization.”

He Yunchang

One major form of fragmentation from which we are suffering is the rupture of our relationship to nature. He Yunchang's (Ah Chang) performance art work and performance photography, take meditations on self-making through our engagement with the nature or humanly made constructions to extremes. While many have interpreted his works to be exercises in corporeal endurance, the more powerful aspect of his work involves his joyful acts of will in the world. Combining aspects of Quixotic struggle to "fight the unbeatable foe," he grapples with our nature and the limits of our powers, and expresses a joie de vive and life-embracing ethos in the process of attempting the impossible. Noteworthy performances include his attempts to move mountains, by literally hitching himself to the earth and pulling in the direction of its rotation for a specified time, his famous phone call to tomorrow, or attempt to out-drink a hundred people in a row.

Particularly salient are his signature pieces Beyond Tianshan (Beyond Mountains and Sky), "Dialogue with Water" and "Golden Sunshine." In the “Beyond Tianshan,” he quixotically tries to push a huge concrete structure that is in the process of exploding. In “Dialogue” he is hung upside down from a crane over the river in Yunnan. His shoulders have been sliced open and he is bleeding. He holds a knife made of ice and for twenty-some minutes he communicates with the water, seemingly imposing his will on nature by "cutting the river in half." Of course the irony and beauty is that, as the river reclaims the melting knife, we see the futility of this attempt and the resilient power of the natural world in the face of our attempts to subjugate it to our will. There is a kind of reverence for that power in this work that calls upon our humility.

In Golden Sunshine, once again hung from a crane, this time painted yellow, Ah Chang brought light to a place where it was needed—a prison wall. After painting the wall the color of sunshine, he used a mirror to deflect rays of light, as he followed the path of the sun, onto the places on the prison wall where the sun did not shine. The love in this gesture reminds us that there are ways in which our presence in the world can fundamentally alter the environment around us and make use of nature's resources without violence or exploitation.

In a recent major performance piece, A Stone’s Journey, He Yunchang engaged in a remarkable journey around the coastline of English with a stone in hand. The endurance he performed in this piece was more subtle than some of his exercises in enduring pain or confinement, and this return to a dialogue with nature, marks an important continuity in his language and expressive forms.

Ma Yongfeng

Ma Yongfeng’s work engages the condition of postmodernity by interrogating the signs we use to represent who we are to ourselves as well as our simulacra of nature. Exploring how the artifacts representing the "natural" world can tell us more about ourselves than about that putative “nature,” Ma Yongfeng's works examine our relationship to and discourses about nature. He deftly shows how the artifacts representing the "natural" world can teach us about ourselves—perhaps more so even than about nature. With his meticulous photographic and video reconstructions of a variety of scientific models—such as cells, fossils, habitats, storms and the like—he shows how our relationships to "nature" and the "natural" world play a role in constituting how we understand ourselves and our society. His video Beijing Zoological Garden uses the round-frame of traditional Chinese Song Dynasty "bird and flower" palace paintings, to both aestheticize and criticize the suffering of animals kept in captivity for human entertainment. The zoo is a site of dislocation for its inhabitants and extreme power inequality between the keepers and their animal charges. These disturbing and hypnotic pieces expose routinized, aestheticized violence and suffering, the casual objectification and wanton abuse of other lives, and reveal a sense of estranged agency, as well as hinting at the futility of resistance in our contemporary society.

By highlighting the difficulty, or even futility of resistance to processes that seem to control our lives, Ma Yongfeng’s video work, The Swirl, critiques society by indirection. Examining the apparent power of exogenous "forces" or seemingly "autonomous processes" to move us and our lives to rhythms beyond our will, he presents a disturbing scene in order to provoke us to think about the order of things, and the limits of our powers within it. The Swirl has generated controversy over its use of six live goldfish, Chinese symbols of fertility and prosperity, which are subjected to a brutal 15-minute wash cycle in an upright washing machine. The work has prompted much discussion (mainly outside of China) about the ethical implications of the callous abuse of animals in the name of art. And perhaps, inciting such controversy was part of the artist's agenda, asking us to rethink our relationships to the natural world.

In Ma Yongfeng's photography series, Origin of the Species, he photographed the fake "natural habitats" created for birds, monkeys and other animals at the zoo. These with sad spaces are either empty or house only the skeletons of their former inhabitants. The painted waterfalls on concrete (painted for whom, we might ask, but the visitors at the zoo themselves) and dry sticks that serve as branches so the birds can perch, the artist has removed all traces of the animals themselves. This artistic fiat that has emptied the cages, foregrounds the invisible hands that have built these miserable spaces, these shabby simulacra of habitats—they are our hands. These spaces were built for us, as part of the collective narratives we tell ourselves about who we are and our place in the world. By removing the animals, our true motives are presented without euphemism. Without the animals to animate these spaces with their gay colors and lively movements, the meagerness of our own representations and simulacra of nature is laid bare, and the skeletons of monkeys swinging on a tree, leave us with a chilling feeling. They could just as easily be us.


Shao Minong & Mu Chen

A way of life is irretrievably passing, as the conditions of postmodernity bring with bewildering changes. Long before people have a chance to react to these changes, to catch up, to make sense of the nature of the new world being formed around them, that world has changed once again. And so, collective memories, old ways of life, sets of roles and socially constructed identities begin to fade. Professions, identities and social roles are shaken from the solid foundations. Social and geographic mobility, along with changing economic fortunes, break down the traditional structure of family life and erode old forms of association and collective membership.

Using a wide selection of family photos, old and new, such as snapshots from home, typical studio portraits, Shao Yinong and Mu Chen create a richly nuanced, intertextual visual narrative about the vicissitudes of the family in contemporary China as it undergoes great social change. In the Red Childhood works, they offer poignant portraits of school children, their faces and attire rendered in overly bright colors. In Childhood Impressions (2001), naked, innocent children are photoshopped onto backgrounds of iconic edifices that symbolize various moments in China’s history.

In their Family Register (2000), we see the diversity and fragmentation of postmodernity, as well as the impact of space-time compression on the everyday lives and identities of lives of ordinary family members. Using the form of a traditional scroll to present the genealogy of the Shao family, the work documents over 100 members of the Shao family, set against the backdrop of the larger historical changes in Chinese society, from the Cultural Revolution to Reform and Opening, and onward to the dawn of the new millennium. These images, also powerfully explore how memory is constituted through practices that endow certain artifacts of a family’s past with condensed, sedimented meaning. Images become compact visual points of entry into complex lives and relationships, and these images both draw us in to certain narratives as well as lead us away from others, that is, the serve the function of both revealing and concealing simultaneously. In these and many of their other images, the juxtaposition of the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, functions to show how the passage of time leaves its marks on the lives of ordinary people. Unlike the static images, that freeze a single moment in time and elevate that image to the status of representation of some aspect of that a human life, real, actual lives are always in flux, under way and in transit.

In a different way, their Assembly Hall series documents a similar set of changes at a time when these once central spaces have lost their original power and significance, victims of the changing times. By photographing these iconic meeting places where so much history has taken place—from the grandiose, stirring spaces resounding with the propaganda of various eras and campaigns, to sites of brutal and humiliating struggle sessions—long after the fact, we see in stark relief how out of sync with the tenor of our times these spaces and their activities now seem, making them icons of the historical dislocations and ruptures that characterize this postmodern era.

Wang Qingsong

Wang Qingsong examines the condition of postmodernity in his dramatic and restaging of significant cultural phenomena, and his time-lapse video of urbanization in progress. The conceptual genealogy in Wang Qingsong’s work is evident from his first modest explorations that used simple Photoshop techniques to surround various personae he play with icons of capitalist consumer culture. In his early works, Coke cans formed the bars of a prison, the McDonald's logo a brand on his chest while he mediated. This consistent grounding in the visual vernacular of local Chinese realities as they undergo sometimes bizarre permutations permeates his work through the present. He mediates on a Chinese cabbage, Western products—Marlboro cigarettes, CDs, cell phones, Kodak film—are grasped in his multiple arms like a consumerist Bodhisattva on a globalized shopping spree, with dollars alongside RMB and the Chinese flag fluttering above.

More than simply bemoaning Western cultural imperialism, Wang Qingsong’s optic deconstructs China's complicity in the fraught construction of its superficial new "face." In Follow Me (2003), which broke records at Sotheby's last year, Wang Qingsong poses as a typical English teacher inculcating his students with nationalist Chinglish embodied in the phrase on his blackboard: "Let China walks towards the world! Let the world learns about China!" Disguising himself in the trappings of a variety of prevalent social roles—consumer, beggar, press attaché, pedicab driver hauling a fat white man, wounded soldier crawling through barbed wire to storm a hill crowned with a huge McDonald's sign—he signifies the active agency of Chinese in assimilating outside culture, instead of treating China as a passive victim.

His latest works—elegant, elaborate, staged productions, are a darker take on contemporary cultural realities with greater complexity and ambiguity. In Dream of Migrant (2005), Wang Qingsong's face is hidden behind the camera, but the rich array of local actors present his vision of the ramshackle life of China's millions of migrants. In The Glory of Hope (2007), his meditation on China's national "face," embodied in its hosting of the 2008 Olympic Games, does not require us to see the artist's face at all: we see him from the back, hobbled on crutches alongside his family, mired together in mud trying to catch a glimpse of the sun (rising or setting it's hard to tell) on the horizon. In the foreground, the Olympic Rings are etched in the mud, oozing with dank water.

In Wang Qingsong’s recent foray into video art, he captures the pith of China’s overnight transformation in Skyscraper (2008). Morning dawns on a sub-urban, sub-rural area in China, and we watch blue sky grow marred by billowing smoke, coiling in puffs from the smokestacks of low, ramshackle pingfang dwellings. The massive cloud that converges in the firmament above is a hulking harbinger of China’s impending change. Over the course of the next five minutes or so, we watch the landscape transformed as the scaffolding for a gargantuan skyscraper erupts from the earth and thrusts its way towards the heavens—instantiating the logic of postmodern space-time compression in the process. A building of massive proportions appears before our eyes as if overnight, followed by jubilant fireworks, illuminating the darkness to the tune of Silent Night, sung in a syrupy Mandarin. In this work, Wang Qingsong offers this singular edifice as an icon of the larger process of urban construction and the fireworks frame the piece as a celebrated feat of nation-building, in which the dominant paradigm of modernity qua urbanism is unquestioned and feted with much fanfare as a meaningful sign that China’s time has arrived.

Wu Chengdian

Since the onset of Reform and Opening, China’s struggle to construct a viable modernity has been intimately bound up with the dual processes of industrialization and urbanization. The city is a site of desire, and a space in which the vastness of its scope offers an anonymous stage upon which people can remake their identities. At the same time, the postmodern city is also a site of dislocation and alienation. The same conditions that make it possible to disappear into the enormous grid and engage in flexible strategies of self-making, also make it difficult to find one’s bearings, and to know one’s place in the ever-shifting world that is constantly undergoing profound shocks and transformation. Old routines, roles and rules are all thrown into question, and while this is liberating for some, it is also terrifying and fraught with the possibility of failure as well. Even as the city, as an idea is invested with the semantic weight of the desires that its sojourners and inhabitants bring to it, it is also an unyielding, unforgiving behemoth that sprawls beyond the control of any individual. Thus the city and its signifiers are fraught with multiple meanings. Among the most prevalent signifiers of urban modernity, massive “modern” buildings play an extraordinary role in the signification of the city and all that, for which the city has come to stand.

Wu Chengdian’s recent photography works address these conditions of postmodernity in a number of ways. The most salient way his work engages this discourse and this discourse, likewise, informs his creative language is in his use of urban structures in works that span a variety of media.

In one recent series, Wu Chengdian selected a number of iconic structures in Beijing, which represent the idea of the New Beijing. The concept of the New Beijing came into currency after China was awarded the privilege of hosting the 2008 Olympics. In honor of that privilege, China invested untold sums of capital and expended vast human resources in the service of constructing a hypermodern cityscape to give the nation the ultimate “face” when Beijing became the focal point of the international attention during the Olympic Games in 2008. Buildings such as the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium, the Aquatic Cube, came to symbolize the officially championed aspirations of the nation—to be affluent, powerful, impressive and seen as cutting edge by the rest of the world. Wu Chengdian’s photography cleverly deconstructs these symbolic structures by refusing to grant them a totalizing presence that transcends discrete perspective. Instead of the sort of portraits that are used to accentuate and affirm the importance of an iconic structure or edifice, he composes a whole image out of hundreds upon hundreds of fragments. Each photograph that joins the larger tableau represents a finite perspective on the structure. This technique serves to cut these gargantuan structures down to size, by deconstructing their status in contemporary Chinese society. Wu Chengdian does the same with images taken from IKEA, which has come to signify the dream of bourgeois domesticity in China.

In his site-specific installation work for Fade to Black, Wu Chengdian explores the theme of alienation within the city, the commodification of sex and desire, as well as the superficial values of the current era. Using life-sized plastic blow-up dolly sex toys, he stages scenes of estrangement and alienation. The image of a blow-up sex doll curled in a ragged hole in the wall, back facing the world outside, leaves a poignant reminder of the human damage that the city and urban modernity can inflict.

Conclusion

Chinese contemporary art has reached a turning point, bringing this diverse generation of Chinese contemporary art to the international stage and acclaim. As rapid urbanization and globalization propel China into a state of postmodern flux, the experiences of the new era are more fragmented and diverse than ever before and the most relevant and progressive art coming out of China reflects and comments upon the diverse and fragmented conditions of postmodernity in ways that illuminate the human condition for us all.
Jul 18
文/迈涯博士(Maya Kóvskaya, PhD)

理论家大卫•哈维(David Harvey)主张,后现代环境只有根据其在时空关系戏剧化重组和分裂中的表现才能得到充分理解。“时空压缩”指的是距离因为新技术,特别是信息和通讯技术而造成的社会和经济过程在时间上的加速度而被大大缩短了。作为这一状况的结果,我们越发生活在躁动而飞速变化、往往令人眼花缭乱的世界里,旧的生存角色和方式已无法再提供稳定,旧有的一统神话也无法再以可信的方式让我们复杂的现实社会变得简单。在这些支离破碎的时光中,我们现在比以前任何时候都需要一种艺术:它不仅提供了一面镜子,让我们看到令人困惑而多重的现状,而且改变了我们对自身的理解,赋予我们新的方法,去设想我们究竟是谁,可能成为什么。探寻社会与个体、微观与宏观以及全球与地方之间活生生的寻常联系,是今天中国最重要的当代艺术所特有的一种质问。

近年来,围绕时髦拍卖行的宠儿一直忙碌异常,例如1990年代“玩世写实主义”和“政治波普”的大头油画、扭捏作态的少女一类低俗卡通形象以及夸张而程式化的人物等等,促进了画廊以及艺术家们的商业品牌战略。中国的批评家也往往因为给所谓艺术运动或趋势贴上朗朗上口的标签而打出自己的名气,例如“卡通一代”、“艳俗艺术”、“伤害艺术”以及前述的各种趋向。的确,最为西方人所熟知的中国当代艺术形式,其实不过是那种往往有意迎合外国人对所谓“时髦”中国艺术的渴望的风格体裁,它们利用过时的文革形象、漂亮醒目的“东方女郎”以及平庸而程式化人物形象、现成符号和令人作呕的“大头”,从而暗示出某种不满。然而,对于理解人类的现状,充分反映庸俗的当代现实而不是批判和质疑而言,这种造像术无法提供关键的视角。

今天中国最具实质性的、最有趣的艺术作品,为那种随意贴上的标签和空洞的分类提供了一种另类抉择;它们审视当代中国整个国家和人民在经历巨大变革的过程中复杂、支离破碎和多重的本质。本次《黑屏》展中的艺术作品,摒绝了简单的一加一式的视觉口号和信手拈来的公式。选择这些作品,不仅是因为它们的视觉和审美感染力,还因为它们的恢宏视野。在昨天的一时流行已让位给明天的潮流之后,只有那些说出我们时代的支离破碎以及迷境的丰富多样的作品,才具有永久的价值和重要意义。那些作品能够阐明人类现状的方方面面,为我们提供视觉和观念的工具,使我们不仅理解作为一个国家的中国,而且也探寻人类在这个快速而不稳定地变化的世界中所处的地位,这样的作品最终才将是持久而重要的。

在这个人口、文化和资本跨国流动、本地化全球化以及所谓“现代化”的时代里,《黑屏》展通过何云昌、马永峰、邵逸农与幕辰、吴承典和王庆松的作品,摒弃了简单的标签、恰到好处的解答和华而不实的噱头,崇尚复杂性、丰富性与多样性。

何云昌

我们不幸遭遇的一种主要的支离破碎,就是我们同自然之间关系的割裂。何云昌(阿昌)的行为艺术作品和行为艺术摄影,将那种通过我们融入自然或人造构筑物而对自为所作的思索进行到极致。尽管很多人解释说,他的作品是在运用人类身体的忍耐力,但是他的作品最有力的一面,恰是他在这个世界上快乐的意动。他结合了唐吉诃德式的“对抗一个无法击败的敌人”的奋争,与我们的天性以及我们能力的局限较力,在尝试不可能之事的过程中,表现出生活的乐趣以及拥抱生命的性格来。他的一些重要的行为作品包括:试图移山(实际上是将自己捆在地上,按地球自转方向拉扯一段时间),最著名的预约明天,或者是试图击败站成一排的一百个人。

其中尤为突出的是他的经典之作《天山外》、《与水对话》和《金色阳光》。在《天山外》中,他不切实际地试图推动一座正在爆炸的水泥构筑物。而在《与水对话》中,他从一台吊车上倒吊在云南的一条河上。他的双臂被切开两道口子,一直在留着血。他抓着一只用冰制成的刀,与水交流了二十多分钟,似乎通过“一刀将河水分为两半”而把自己的意志强加给大自然。的确,具有讽刺意味和美感的是,当河水回收了溶化的冰刀时,我们看到了这一尝试的无效,以及大自然在面对我们努力要让它降服于我们的意志时那种不屈不挠的力量。在这件唤起我们自卑感的作品中,其实有着对这一力量的某种敬畏。

在《金色阳光》中,他再一次从吊车上吊起来,浑身涂满了黄色油漆,为一个需要阳光的地方——监狱的墙——带去阳光。在为墙面涂上了阳光的颜色后,他用一面镜子折射光线,沿着太阳的轨迹,将光线投射到狱墙上阳光照不到的地方。这一姿态让我们想到了,我们可以用很多种方式存在于这个世界上,能够从根本上改善了周遭环境,不必暴力盘剥般地利用自然资源。

在最近的一个大型行为艺术作品《石头英国漫游记》中,何云昌手拿一块石头,开始了不同寻常的环英国海岸线之旅。他在这件作品中演绎出的那种耐力,比在那些忍受痛苦或禁闭的作品中更加微妙,而这又回归到与自然的对话中,标志着他的语言和表现形式的一个重要延续。

马永峰

通过质询我们用于向自己表明我们是谁以及我们对大自然的表现和模仿的符号,马永峰的作品着眼于后现代的现状。他探索了代表“自然”世界的人造器物如何能够告诉我们更多关于我们自己而非那一假定的“自然”,审视我们与自然的关系以及有关自然的话语。他驾轻就熟地展示了代表“自然”世界的器物何以能教给我们关乎我们自己——也许多过关乎自然。他用一丝不苟的摄影和录像手法重建种种科学模型——比如细胞、化石、栖息地、暴风雨等等——指出了我们同“大自然”以及“自然”世界之间的关系如何在构建我们对自身及社会的理解中发挥作用。他的录像作品《北京动物园》采用了中国宋代传统宫廷花鸟画的圆形画面,既为那些为人类的娱乐而遭囚禁的动物们所遭受的痛苦赋予美感,同时也提出了批判。由于其中的居住者以及饲养员与其饲养的动物之间权力的极端不平等,动物园成为一个错位的场所。这些令人不安、具有催眠作用的作品,揭示了常规化的、具有美感的暴力和痛苦,对其他生命的随意对象化和肆意滥用,显示出一种疏远隔绝的力量,同时也暗示了在我们当代社会中的抵抗是无效的。

马永峰突出强调了这一困境,甚至是抵御看似主宰我们生活的诸多进程的毫无效用,其录像作品《旋涡》简洁地批判了社会。他审视了将我们和我们的生活推向超出我们自身意志之外的节奏的那种外力或表面上似乎“自主过程”的明显强力,他展现了一个令人不安的场景,以便激发我们思考万物的秩序,以及我们自身的力量在其中的局限。《旋涡》因为动用了六条活金鱼而引起了争议,因为金鱼在中国是丰饶兴旺的象征,却在一个立式洗衣机里受到十五分钟的残忍洗涤。这部作品已引发了有关以艺术的名义无情地滥用动物的道德问题大讨论(主要是在国外)。也许煽动起这样的争议恰恰是艺术家刻意安排的一部分,要求我们重新思索我们与自然世界的关系。

在马永峰的摄影系列作品《物种起源》中,他拍摄了公园里为鸟类、猴子以及其他动物营造的假“自然栖息地”。这些略显凄凉的空间要么是空的,要么仅仅收藏着先前居住者的骨架。画在水泥上的瀑布(我们也许会问,除了动物园里的游客,这又是画给谁的呢)以及充当树杈以便鸟儿栖息的枯枝,艺术家清除了动物的一切痕迹。他腾空了笼子,将建造这些低劣空间、这些自然栖息地的拙劣仿制品的那双看不见的手摆在突出的位置上——其实那是我们自己的双手。这些空间其实是为我们自己而造,是我们告诉自己究竟是谁以及我们在这世界上占据何种地位的集体叙事的组成部分。将动物彻底清除出去,我们自己真正的动机便被毫不婉转地昭示出来。没有动物以自己欢快的色彩和充满生机的活动为这些空间赋予活力,我们自己对大自然的表现和拙劣模仿是多么苍白无力,猴子的骨架在一棵树上摇摆,给我们留下了一种可怖的感觉。它们可能多半就是我们。


邵逸农和慕晨

随着后现代环境带来了令人困惑的变化,一种生活方式无可挽回地成为了过去。早在人们有机会对这些变化作出反应,迎头赶上,弄懂周遭形成的新世界的本质之前,这个世界已再一次改变了。所以,集体的记忆、旧的生活方式、种种角色以及由社会所构建的身份,一一开始消失。职业、身份和社会角色的稳固根基被撼动了。社会和地理意义上的流动性,连同不断变化的经济命运,打破了传统家庭生活的结构,侵蚀了旧式的社会交往和集体从属关系。

利用广泛挑选的家庭照,无论新旧,例如家庭快照和典型的影室肖像,邵逸农和慕晨创造出一种在经历了巨大社会变革的中国社会里当代家庭变迁的差别细微、具有互文性的视觉叙事。在《红色童年》中,他们展示了学生们生动的肖像,他们的面孔和服装都被渲染了一层过分鲜亮的色彩。在《童年留影》(2001年)中,赤裸而天真的儿童用软件处理到象征中国历史上不同时期的标志性建筑物背景上。

在《家族图谱》(2000年)中,我们看到后现代的多样性和支离破碎,以及时空压缩对于日常生活和普通家庭成员生活的个性特征造成的影响。作品采用了传统卷轴形式,再现了邵氏家族图谱,记录了一百多位邵氏家族成员,将其置于中国社会历史大变革的背景之下,从文化大革命到改革开放,进而到新千年破晓。同时这些影像还通过为一个家庭过去的物品赋予浓缩沉淀的含义这一做法,从而有效地探讨了记忆是如何组成的。影像成为进入复杂生活和关系的浓缩了的视觉起点,而且这些影像既为我们勾勒了某些叙事,又带我们远离了他人,也就是说,同时充当了揭示和掩盖的职能。在这些以及他们的其他许多影像中,新与旧、传统与现代并置在一起,作用在于指出时光的流逝如何在普通人的生活中留下印记。与那种将时间的某一瞬间凝固下来,将这一影像提高到表现人类生活某些方面的高度上来的静态影像不同,现实生活总是不断变化的,始终不断地变化。

他们的《大礼堂》系列则从一个不同的侧面,记录了一系列类似的变化:这些过去的核心空间现在已经失去其原有的力量和意义,成了时间流逝的牺牲品。通过拍摄这些具有标志性的会议场所——毕竟重大历史事件曾在这里发生过——从周围满是各个时代、不同运动的宣传标语的壮怀激烈的空间,到野蛮而令人羞辱的批斗会现场——事实上,我们全然轻松地看到这些空间和其中的活动现在看起来与我们时代的潮流已无法同步,使它们成为标志这一后现代时代的历史混乱和支离破碎的标志。

王庆松

王庆松以其对重大文化现象进行戏剧化重演的手法以及慢速拍摄的城市化进程的录像作品,审视着后现代的环境。王庆松作品的观念体系,显然来自他最初朴实的探索,运用简单的Photoshop技巧来围绕不同人物,从而把玩资本主义消费文化的符号标志。在他的早期作品里,可口可乐罐构成了监狱的栅墙,在他冥想的时候,麦当劳标志成为他胸前的烙印。这一切都始终一贯地扎根于中国当地现实的视觉话语,而这些话语有时经历了怪诞的重新改造,遍布在他至今为止的作品中。他在一棵中国圆白菜上冥想,而西方的产品——万宝路香烟、CD、手提电话、柯达胶卷——被牢牢抓在他众多的手掌中,就像是参加全球化购物狂欢一位菩萨消费者,人民币旁边有美元,上面飘扬着中国的旗帜。

不仅仅是为西方文化帝国主义而不满,王庆松还从视觉上解构了中国在构建其外表上的“新面孔”过程中的共谋关系。在去年打破苏富比拍卖记录的《跟我学》(2003年)中,王庆松扮演了一位具有代表性的英语老师,将黑板上的短语所体现出来的那种民族主义式的中式英语灌输给学生:“让中国走向世界!让世界了解中国”。他披上种种流行的社会角色的外衣——消费者、乞丐、新闻专员、搭载一位胖白人的三轮车夫、一位匍匐穿越铁丝网并试图进入到处满是巨大麦当劳标志的山坡的伤兵——他揭示了中国人消化外来文化的能力,而不是将中国视为一个被动的牺牲品。

他的最新作品——简洁而精心制作的摆拍作品——是在当代文化现实中呈现出来的一片黑暗,错综复杂,扑朔迷离。在《盲流梦》(2005年)中,王庆松的面孔隐藏在照相机后,单是当地演员富庶的穿着却表现了他眼中中国千百万盲流们苦不堪言的生活。在《希望之光》(2007年)中,他思考了中国整个国家的“面孔”,在其承办2008年奥运会上具体体现出来,并非要求我们去看艺术家的面孔:我们从背后看他,倚着家人蹒跚而行,深陷在泥沼中试图看见地平线上的一缕阳光(很难分辨出太阳究竟是升起还是落下)。前景中,奥运五环在泥沼中被侵蚀,浸泡在阴冷的水里。

目前,王庆松又开始涉足录像艺术,在《摩天大楼》(2008年)中,捕捉到中国一夜之间变化的精髓所在。在中国的一个城乡结合部,天色刚刚开始破晓,我们看到蓝色的天空中渐渐被低矮破旧的平房的烟囱里喷涌而出浓烟污损了。汇聚在天空中的大朵白云成为中国即将发生的变化的拙劣先兆。接下来的五分钟时间里,我们看到随着摩天大楼的脚手架在地上树起,耸入云端,这片风景开始变化了——在这一过程中示范了后现代时空压缩的逻辑。一座气势宏伟的建筑物仿佛一夜之间出现在我们眼前,紧接着是喜庆的焰火,伴随着用甜美的普通话演唱的《平安夜》的旋律,照亮了黑暗。在这部作品中,王庆松将这座建筑当作是城市建设进程的标志,而焰火则象征了国家建设的喜庆表演,以都市生活为表现的现代性的主导范式不再有任何疑问,用一首短曲来表示致敬,这成为一个意味深长的符号,标志着中国时代已经到来了。

吴承典

自改革开放开始以来,中国构建切实可行的现代性的努力一直与工业化和城市化这个双重进程息息相关。城市是一个充满欲望的场域,是一个其范围之大提供了无名舞台的空间,人们在这里可以重新改造其身份。与此同时,后现代城市也是一个混乱和疏离的所在。同样的状况使得它能够消失在巨大的网格中并采取灵活的自为策略,也使得它很难辨明方向,知道一个人在不断变化的世界里究竟出于什么位置,而整个世界不断地在经历着深层次的冲击和变革。旧的惯例、角色和规则都受到质疑,而这对某些人来说是一种解放,同时也是极为可怕的,充满了失败的危险。就像城市一样,一种观念被赋予了其居住者给它带来的欲望的语义负担,也是一个不受任何个体摆布的坚硬而不可妥协的庞然大物。因此,城市及其所指便充满了多重的意义。在城市现代性最盛行的所指当中,巨大的“现代”建筑在城市的意义当中扮演着非比寻常的作用,而城市也成为其代表。

吴承典最新的摄影作品,以种种手法揭示了后现代的现状。他的作品以最为突出的手法触及到这一话语,而这一话语也同样为他的创造性语言赋予了活力,这种手法就是在跨越不同媒介的作品当中运用了城市的整体结构。

在最近的一个系列当中,吴承典选择了北京大量的标志性建筑,这些建筑代表了新北京的概念。新北京的概念在中国能够流行起来,归功于2008年奥运会的承办权。为了向这一特殊待遇表示敬意,中国投入了无数资金,花费了巨大的人力资源,用以建设高度现代化的城市景观,在2008年奥运会举办期间,当北京成为国际关注的焦点时,为这个国家最终赢得在国际上的“面子”。鸟巢、水立方等建筑,象征了官方所拥护的一种国家愿望——那就是变得富强、给人印象深刻,被其它国家视为高度发达。吴承典的摄影作品巧妙地解构了这些象征性的建筑物,拒绝赋予它们超越不连续视角的完整外观。他组成一幅完整影像的并不是那种过去用于强调和肯定一座标志性建筑的重要意义的肖像,而是用数百张片断的影像。每张照片连接着更大的舞台,代表了这个建筑物上一个有限的视角。这种技巧用于对这些高大建筑物进行切割,解构它们在中国当代社会中的地位。吴承典用同样的手法处理在宜家家居拍摄的影像,这里代表着中国资产阶级家庭生活的梦想。

在为《黑屏》制作的特定场地装置作品中,吴承典探索了城市中疏远的主题,性与欲望的商品化,以及当下时代肤浅的价值观。他运用真人大小的塑料吹气玩具娃娃,演绎出疏远和疏离的场景。一只充气玩具的影像蜷缩在墙上一个凹凸不平的空洞中,回望着外面的世界,令人心酸地想到城市和都市现代化可能强加给人类的伤害。

结论

中国当代艺术已经达到了一个转折点,将这一代全然不同的中国当代艺术带入到国际舞台上,并广为人们所赞誉。随着飞速的城市化和全球化推动中国进入到一种后现代的不稳定状态,新时代的体验更加支离破碎,也比以往更成多样化,来自中国的最重要的、不断进步的艺术作品,以种种为我们所有人阐释了人类现状的手法反映并注解了后现代多样化的、支离破碎的状况。
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