什么样的外部世界
——从杨福东想到的文化和理解的关系

序言
感谢杨福东的再次邀约,为“原美术馆”(Hara Museum)的杨福东个展写作。因为每次推进都有之前的工作和铺垫,比较难得的是那些稍纵即逝的微妙感觉,总觉得能够被谈清楚的事情,可以被谈论的更加清楚。描写也许可以从各个方面深化对艺术家作品的理解,但这在很多事情上有障碍,往往是在通过语言描述、解读艺术家作品时的无力和无助感。另外就是来自结构方面的思考,这与艺术家创作的线索和被描述的线索有关,这构成了某种知识的系统,当然这个系统并非一个人或者几个人构成的,而是某种群体的意志导致了这一结果,成因则来自那些明确的带有引导性的视觉表象和媒体传播的某种既定的“事实”,在这里我希望做一个相应的比较工作,因为是在日本的展览,我本想将新渡户稻造Nitobe Inazo的《武士道Bushido:The Soul of Japan》(1899年左右出版)与本尼迪克特Ruth Benedict的《菊与刀The Chrysanthemum and the Sword》(1946年)作为一个叙述和比较的线索谈杨福东的作品,这与之前长谷川女士谈及的道家的精神的方法有着类似的方式,但是我希望避免引述证据(根源)的方式来为杨福东的作品找某种传承,原因是我并不认为这样的方法可以帮助我们更好的了解来自艺术家创作的需要,和作品表达(表现)的需要,在这里我很希望去除来自他者视角下的确认(代表)的方式,给出一个可以容易被了解的知识和视觉构成的场域和分析的方法,体验来自不同文化背景中对杨福东作品中的元素在理解上的差异性,不找寻线索和共性的另外一个原因则来自某种对当代性的思考,那些看似关联的东西是否具有其内在的关联,那些有着不同地点、时间、思考线索的表面的关联是否可靠?
在之前的《离信之雾》杨福东个展,编辑出版物(《离信之雾》2009)的时候,我试图找到来自美国(Molly Nesbit)、欧洲(Elisabeth Slavkoff)、日本(长谷川祐子Yuko Hasegawa)和中国(张亚璇)了解杨福东的批评家和策划人的线索和视角,这些来自不同文化背景下的对杨福东的解读方式,能否帮助我们更好的理解其创作,以及不同文化语境中被放大的现象。我也为杨福东做了访谈,并且集中在讨论其新作品的创作上。
这里我希望提供一个新的思辨的可能,从新看待其不同文化解读的关系和来自上述的某种对应和回答,还包括这些文本和访谈中涉及的但是没有深入的某些话题的探索,另外就是如何看待一个更大线索下的艺术家的创作方式所构成的当代的文化特征。
这不是关于如何在视觉上理解杨福东的美学方式,不做这个方面的阐释和研讨,而是就杨福东创作的关于结构和方法的角度探查当代文化的某种动向和成因。

比较杨福东与存在于他者的日本概念
关于杨福东与小津安二郎Ozu Yasujiro的相似性,仿佛都归结到某种视觉化的维度上,某种潜在的来自黑白电影和浪漫日常生活的美学方式。我这里希望反对这样的观点,因为作者分别来自不同的语境和成长关系,小津的时代是30年代,是一种对回复日常感受(60年代后)有着需要,这样的视觉美感在很大程度上被描述为日本独有(独特)的视觉化认知关系是过于单一了,因为这无法解释日本还有着侦探、恐怖、色情、神怪等等方面的影片的传统,而这些并不能因为小津的美学方式而被掩盖,尤其是现在大家认知的日本电影中那些怪诞的、暴力的、恐怖的线索往往不是来自小津,我更愿意将其看做是来自日本本土,与来自1868明治维新和60年代(二战)后的世界,文化交融所出现的某种征兆。
当然杨福东的作品也不能如此比较和讨论,我无意批评那些认为杨福东作品与小津作品有着关联(传承)的人,为杨福东的作品找到某种来自亚洲的美学方式和逻辑、方法论。我也不会去批评那些对日本的简单理解(可参照新渡户稻造《武士道》、本尼迪克特《菊与刀》和南博Minami Hiroshi的《日本人论Nihonjinron》等著作)。同样这也是来自我对杨福东作品的多层面的看法,理解杨福东的作品为黑白的、35毫米的、模糊的、漫长的、风景画的、知识分子的等关键词,是否可以认定艺术家的限制和维度,这些角度是否已经成为某种判断杨福东作品的局限。这是否可以解释杨福东在1993年的作品和这些作品的关联(之前的文本中曾经提到这一作品,主要是讨论一个艺术家从什么情况、情境中出发)。也没有办法理解杨福东《离信之雾》的方式来自于哪里。为何多屏的创作、多线索的、多剪辑的、多层的,这类(装置、行为、观念)作品仿佛被完全隔绝在这之外。
这些问题可以被归结为简单的、古典的理解当代艺术创作方式,因为我们太依靠某种可以被理解和被观看的方式构成标准和判断的方法,这显然阻碍了我们更加深入的探寻艺术家潜在的可能性。在这里我不希望被视觉和媒材的表象所局限,而希望通过这些问题在此提醒观者,如何给出自己和外部世界(作品)中的关系,作为批评的线索,如何看待当代艺术动态的发展的诱因。除了来自历史(美术史)的判断,我们如何看待精神的传承,大部分这样的感应关系存在于他者解读的视角下,而艺术家在视觉和方法、观念的传承上是否有着更加复杂的因素。如同很多史学家开始从新考虑一个非单线发展的历史关系问题一样,杨福东的作品和创作往往跨越这一时间上的逻辑,另外就是因为外部世界的局限,杨福东的作品出现的完成的样式也可能并非作者的意愿。

来自杨福东的思考
那么我们如何看待此次展出作品之间的关系,《将军的微笑》(2009)、《青麒麟》(2008)、《半马索》(2005)、《竹林七贤3》(2005)、《后房》(2001),仿佛倒叙的关系。如上述思考的线索所述,我很希望打破单一线索关系看待其中艺术家创作方式和艺术家思考线索的变化。
关于生存、生命、死亡这些命题,《半马索》的山中小路所隐喻的通道(交叉口),通过行走、自行车和驴,是否可以穿越交叉路口,这是否带有某种潜在的希望。艺术家将这一命题延展到一个年代混乱、场景混乱的空间中,消失了年代和场景所带给人的时间感。《半马索》可以被看做《等待戈多》的版本,其中隐含的诱惑、希望,以及那些正在行走或是劳作的人的状态,不是在给出当代困境的隐喻,还是来自作者内心的某种担忧?《青•麒麟》所给出的是一个现实维度的生存关系,在《青•麒麟2》的访谈和《离信之雾》的展览文本中,艺术家有着明确的对现实生存的关注,关于艺术的生产关系,工人的生存状态。这些关注并非来自题材新颖和政治的需要,而是本真的呈现了一个艺术家所关心的问题,以及问题投射的关于文化、生产、创造等命题之间的关系。这些问题显然没有西藏问题、阿拉伯世界和911这样引人注目,反而恰恰准确的反映了来自艺术家和艺术创作对那些就在身边的日常的某种关怀。《将军的微笑》是关于生命的灿烂与迟暮,这多少与艺术家的状态和在某种特殊时间的思考有关,是“情”的流露。作品中的一个将军在叙述着那些灿烂的、辉煌的片段,一个将军在弹奏钢琴、悄然睡去,那些年轻人、吃饭的手,如同一个人生的全景剧场。这与一个日本艺术家宫岛达男Tatsuo Miyajima的作品中所取消的“零”有种精神上的暗合,一个总不落下帷幕的存在的现场,而暗含着对死亡、消失、落寞的隐喻。《后房》按照杨福东的说法是与《将军的微笑》有着某种联系,我并不清楚这是否来自那些多样的表现、场景中的那些青年的行为,或是正在行进中的感觉,抑或是那种落寞、孤单的情怀。
来自艺术家的线索,因为排除了来自策划人、评论家、媒体的视角,可能可以让我们更加接近某种可被触及的艺术家的内在世界,和可以更好的理解艺术家外部世界出现的作品(物)的关系与思考的方式,在画面和场景、环境中找寻艺术所能够创造的无法溢于言表的感知。

古典的还是现代的
现代的可以被理解为所有自工业革命之后出现的新秩序(科学与技术),以及民族国家开始的新政治、地缘关系。这还是无法解答“当代”这个问题,如何寻找当代的文化特质和特征,其中潜在的也许是一个伪问题,但是就这个问题所涉及的与当代艺术有关,我们必须探寻这一问题的前因后果。以及其出现的条件与环境。
我更愿意将杨福东的工作视为某种古典的情结,无论是来自影像的视觉感受,还是来自那些经典片段的方式,总能发现某种传统的东西。这些东西被杨福东呈现在一个当代的语境之中。这样理解的原因在于杨福东的作品中(《陌生天堂》、《竹林七贤》、《后房》、《留兰》)中那些可以被看做经典叙事的抽象组合方式。
杨福东的作品同样不能被简单的判断为古典的、现代的或是当代的,因为我们一直无法割裂这些概念之间的关系,也就是我们无法准确的、严格的评判什么是古典主义的,什么是现代主义的,什么是当代的,因为这些都在当代的语境之中得到了共存。
如谢和耐Jacques Gernet(法国)的《中国社会史》、杰克•瓦泽福德Jack Weatherford(美国)《成吉思汗与今日世界》、汪晖的《现代中国思想的兴起》这些特指的、跨越地缘的思想史和社会史研究,以及那些那些被转译的西方思想、文集,都多少说明了我们希望的是增进对当代的理解,方法是通过考古学、社会学等将那些不关联的、非线索的知识来构建一种理解的可能,而不是隔绝理解的能力。
所以我希望可以从新看待杨福东多样的创作关系,而不仅仅去找其衣钵传承,让作品(物)在其表象的线索下被解释和分析,通过媒介(摄影、装置、电影、录像等等)来解释其存在的线索,如果是不同的文化背景,就需要来自不同文化背景的解读关系出现。思维的线索则需要复杂的环境、条件、语境中被深入解读,通过思想的关系、审美趣味来理解艺术家创作的可能性。

结语
此文本因为涉及杨福东在日本的展览,为了方便日本的读者,便于理解杨福东的创作,其中引用了与日本相关的东西。我很为这一可能高兴,之前在《窗外Out the Window》(2004)展览所引述的中国、日本、韩国的关系,成为了我一直探寻的线索。在此感谢杨福东和原美术馆的约稿,让这一线索,也是宝贵的比较关系,成为可以被借鉴解读的契机。
什么样的外部世界是理解内部世界的一个平行或是互相鉴证的线索,内部世界是通过这些外部世界的方式得到阐释和理解的,但是内、外部世界之不同在于如何发现自我的存在与物的存在关系,也都需要特定的条件与环境。

李振华
2009年12月20日 写于瑞士家中

Like water leaves a shadow
What Kind of Outer World – On the relationship between culture and its interpretation in viewing Yang Fudong’s works

Translator: Fiona He
Proofreader: Edward Sanderson

First, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Yang Fudong for inviting me to write this text for his solo exhibition at the Hara Museum. Every step forward builds upon the artist’s previous works and preparation, especially the fleeting ambiguity found in his works. I firmly believe that what seems easily apparent can always be further elucidated. Writings on art deepen one’s understanding about artists and their works while simultaneously presenting new obstacles – one often experiences a certain helplessness in describing and interpreting artworks. Furthermore, such obstacles are often related to a structural difference between the artist’s creative approach and the way in which the work has been described. It is a structure grounded on a specific system of visual knowledge. Of course, this system of knowledge is not the product of any one individual, but the result of a collective conscience. Moreover, the contributing factors for its formation originate from Yang’s distinctive, trend-setting visual styles and phenomena (the use of black and white, slow movement, etc.) and a certain “reality” found in media propagation.

Since the exhibition is taking place in Japan, I wanted to draw comparisons between aspects of Japanese, Chinese and global culture. Initially, I planned to compare Nitobe Inazo’s Bushido: The Soul of Japan and Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword with Yang Fudong’s work, bringing a connection to the past – a similar approach to Hasegawa’s examination of the fundamental tenets of Daoism. But I prefer to avoid a comparative approach in seeking to highlight certain patterns in Yang Fudong’s work, because such an approach might not help us to better understand the artist’s creativity and the necessities in presenting the artwork. Rather than using pre-existing methods of analysis, I would like to offer a new context by which knowledge and visual culture can be understood by individuals of different cultural backgrounds, which will help us better recognize differences in the various elements of Yang Fudong’s work. Another reason for not searching for a single thread of ideas and commonality is propelled by my understanding of such a kind of “modernity,” that is, whether there is an inherent relationship among those things which are seemingly unrelated. Can we rely on what is superficially connected through different locations, periods of time, and threads of ideas?

In the catalogue for Yang Fudong’s previous solo exhibition Dawn Mist, Separation Faith (2009), critics and curators from the U.S. (Molly Nesbit), Europe (Elisabeth Slavkoff), Japan (Yuko Hasegawa), and China (Zhang Yaxuan) provided their interpretations of Yang Fudong’s works. I wondered whether these critics and curators from different cultural backgrounds would help us better understand Yang’s works, especially in regard to the phenomena inherent within disparate cultural contexts which can lead to multiple explanations for the work depending on where the focus lies. For this project, I also conducted an interview with the artist that focused on the creative process of his new works.

So I would like to present another possibility for interpretation. I would like to take a relational approach from these differing cultural interpretations and provide possible answers to the issues raised above – about visual understanding and stylization based on culture. Moreover, I will also expand on certain topics that have been briefly discussed in other texts and interviews. I also would like to examine the contemporary cultural characteristics abstracted through the artist’s creative approach under this broader context.

This is not about how to understand Yang’s aesthetic approach—I will not give any more explanations in this direction—but rather I will analyze the structures and methods to attempt to understand how the “contemporary” has become the major cultural issue and direction of them.

Comparing Yang Fudong with Other’s Concepts of Japan

I will begin with a comparison between the works of Yang Fudong and the director Ozu Yasujiro. The similarities can be summed up within certain visual parameters, more specifically to the aesthetics of black and white film and the portrayal of the romantic quotidian. Yet, I would like to question this comparison, since both artists are from different historical contexts and cultural backgrounds. Ozu, who was born in the 1930s, expressed a need to restore the significance of the quotidian (especially in his work after the 1960s). To a large extent, such an aesthetic has been portrayed as intrinsic to Japan’s visual field. However, in my view, such a view tends to oversimplify Japan’s rich film tradition that spans many genres—detective, horror, pornography, spiritual, among others—which should not be overshadowed by Ozu’s individual aesthetic, especially since many of the absurd, violent, and terrifying visual phenomena with which we are familiar are not found in the works by Ozu. Rather, I prefer to consider these diverse genres as part of Japan’s indigenous visual repertoire that resulted from the cultural assimilation after the 1868 Meiji Restoration and the post-WWII world of the 1960s.

Of course, Yang Fudong’s work should not be compared or discussed in a similar manner. My intention is not to criticize those who find similarities between these two artists, or those who use certain approaches or methodologies for understanding an Asian aesthetic. Nor do I criticize those superficial understandings of Japan (referring to Nitobe Inazo’s Bushido, Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, and Minami Hiroshi’s Nihonjinron). In fact, these approaches can also function as elements that overlap in my understanding of Yang Fudong’s work, which are often associated with key words that people have fixed upon to understand Yang’s work, such as “black-and-white film,” “35mm,” “elusive,” “lengthy,” “landscape painting–like,” and “intellectual.” They are parameters by which the artist is bound. Moreover, these are also the criteria with which Yang’s works are evaluated. Would such criteria suffice to explain the relationship between his works from 1993 and his recent works? A previous text I wrote discusses this work, but mainly explains the context in which the artwork was produced. By the same token, what are the ways to understand Yang’s Dawn Mist, Separation Faith? Why are works that project numerous channels—layered with multiple levels of meaning and edited with complex montage series, involving many modes of production (installation, performance, and conceptual)—unable to fit under such a framework?

These questions reflect the simple and classical perception of creativity in contemporary art because of our dependence on certain standards and methods of judgment, which prevents us from further exploring the artist’s underlying creative process. Rather than be limited by a superficial value of visual forms and mediums, I would like to remind the viewers to determine their own relationship with the external world when approaching these issues. Moreover, which critical framework should one adopt to understand the reasons behind the changing trends of contemporary art? Besides an art historical analogy, how should the propagation of an idea or thought be viewed? The majority of these sensory relations exist in the perspective of other’s interpretation. Then has the artist intended his work to provide a more complex visuality? Similar to many historians’ reconsideration of nonlinear historiography, Yang Fudong’s work and creative approach often transcend chronology. In addition, the limitations imposed on the works by the external world continue to generate further meaning beyond the artist’s initial conception.

Thoughts on the artist Yang Fudong

The question is, then, how should we treat the dynamic among the works exhibited? The General’s Smile (2009), Blue Kylin (2008), The Half Hitching Post (2005), Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest 3 (2005), and Backyard (2001) express a counterintuitive narrative. To follow this thread, I would like to move beyond the relationship between the artist’s creativity and changes in his formative thoughts.

On topics of existence, life and death, the small mountainous road in The Half Hitching Post is a metaphorical path (a forked road): people walking or on bicycles, deciding whether to cross the road, suggest an underlying hope. The artist expands this metaphor into an era of chaos. Within such a chaotic space, time has been suspended by the era and the scene in which the story is told. The Half Hitching Post can be seen as a version of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, as an allegory of temptations and hopes, depicted by those walking or doing labour, to project the contemporary condition, or even the artist’s own concerns. Blue Kylin offers a parameter of existence in the real world. In both the interview for Blue Kylin 2 and the text for the Dawn Mist, Separation Faith exhibition, Yang revealed his concerns of reality, on artistic production, and workers’ living conditions. These concerns are present in his work as one way to represent new subjects or political awareness, but also as a lens to reflect his own concerns, as well as its relation to culture, production, and creativity. These issues are obviously less appealing than Tibet, the Arab world, or 9/11, yet they are accurate representations of the artist and his artistic creativity that are inspired by concerns of his everyday reality. The General’s Smile narrates the waxing and waning of life, highlighting the artist’s existential thoughts and remembrances of the past that allow him to reveal “emotions.” The General narrates those glorious and brilliant episodes: he is playing the piano while drifting to sleep, whereas the young individuals, the hands eating, consist of a panoramic view of life. It reaches a spiritual harmony with the Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima’s elimination of the number zero in his work. This is the major concept for him: zero represents emptiness, the end or the beginning of the circle. With Yang’s work, there’s also no beginning or ending. This is a scene where the curtain will never be drawn, yet it subtly alludes to death, disappearance, and decay. Backyard, according to Yang, is loosely related to The General’s Smile. I am curious as to whether the connection refers to his diverse representations, or the behaviour of the young individuals in the scenes, or the sentiments in progress, or perhaps even the decaying and lonely feelings?
The thread of ideas emanating from the artist bypasses perspectives by curators, critics, or the media, allowing us to get one step closer to the inner world of the artist. We are then able to gain a better understanding of his works that are expressive of the external world and our relationship with it that is generated by his way of thinking. Through the imagery, scenes, and contexts, we can discover an ineffability created by the artist.

Classical or Contemporary?

The “contemporary” can be understood, in one way, as the new global order in the post-industrial revolution (of science and technology), as well as the new politics and territoriality of nations. Nevertheless, the term contemporary still cannot be fully explained. An underlying question that is related to contemporary art is how to seek cultural qualities and characteristics in the contemporary. We must therefore examine the causality and outcome of this question, as well as the condition and environment within which it occurs.

Yang Fudong’s work is imbued with certain classical sentiments, either through their visual impression or the montage of their classical vignettes. One is always surprised by the traditional elements: these beautiful and poetic moments in his work, but which surprisingly give a kind of contemporary feeling. Yang chooses to present them within a contemporary context, which is easily evidenced by the artist’s selected consolidation of classical narrations (Estranged Paradise, Seven Intellectuals of the Bamboo Forest, Backyard, Liu Lan).

Yet, for this same reason, Yang Fudong’s work cannot be categorized as classical, modern, or contemporary, because the boundaries among these disparate concepts remain porous and undemarcated. In other words, classicism, modernity, and contemporaneity lack clear definitions, especially as they coexist in the contemporary context.

Cross-regional histories of thoughts and research on social history (like Jacques Gernet’s A History of Chinese Civilization, Jack Weatherford’s Genghis Khan and the Making of Modern World, and Wang Hui’s The Rise of Modern Chinese Thoughts) as well as translated works of Western philosophy and literature, enable our desire to further our understanding of the contemporary. We should also examine the approaches taken in archaeology, sociology, and other irrelevant or nonlinear systems of knowledge to also construct another possibility of understanding.

Therefore, I would like to revisit Yang Fudong’s creative process and works not simply to retrace their developmental trajectory, but rather to examine the imagery in the works and the use of different media (e.g. photography, installation, and film, video) to exemplify the threads in Yang’s creative process and works. Within varying cultural contexts, different interpretations would emerge accordingly. In other words, to trace a thread of an idea in depth under a complex environment, conditions, and context, one needs to comprehend the artist’s creative possibility through a network of ideas and aesthetic preferences.

Concluding Remarks

What type of outer world would be parallel to, or provide coherent evidence for the inner world, and how is the inner world expressed and understood by approaches from the outer world? The difference between the two worlds rests on discovering their own singular existences and their relationship to objects, their specific conditions, and requirements.

Because this text is intended for Yang Fudong’s exhibition in Japan, I have alluded to Japanese visual and cultural elements to help enable Japanese viewers understand Yang Fudong’s creative work. I am pleased with this possibility; the relationship between China, Japan, and Korea—which I mentioned in the exhibition Out the Window in 2004—has always been a train of thought for my explorations. Again, I would like to thank Yang Fudong and the Hara Museum for inviting me to write this text. It represents a valuable thread of ideas for me, offering an opportunity for further evaluation and interpretation.
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