微观叙事病理学研究

——张小涛、李一凡的社会图像

巫鸿

 

张小涛和李一凡是两个很不一样的艺术家。这不但是指他们教育和专业背景的区别(张小涛毕业于四川美院油画系,李一凡虽然有过川美附中的经历,但大学上的却是中央戏剧学院),艺术表现手段的侧重(张小涛从油画进入装置和动画,李一凡从电影出发涉足于摄影和“档案艺术”),而且也关系到对一个艺术家说来最为重要的“语言”问题(张小涛在过去数年中构造出一套带有强烈表现主义色彩的象征性图像谱系,李一凡的纪录片摒弃主观参与和风格化,追求对“真实陈述”的纯化)。但是在我看来,与其把这些区别作为分类的依据,它们使我们思考的却是两人在更深层次上的联系和交流。这个层次可以从两个方面理解,第一个方面关系到艺术家的职能和创作欲望的来源,第二个方面涉及到作品与主、客体之间的关系以及图像在本体论上的意义。
从第一个方面看,二人都把自己作为“叙事者”(narrators),说白了就是“讲故事的人”(storytellers)。虽然乍看上去他们所讲的故事从内容到形象全然不同——前者是寓言和梦魇,后者是犹如生活本身的纪实——但细读之下人们会发现他们讲故事的欲望和目的却很有相通之处。这种欲望总的说来源于他们对人类社会的敏感和表达这种敏感的责任心,由此产生的是对现实和内心进行同时性和全方位的发掘和表达的强烈愿望。张小涛在2005年写道:他的绘画“更多的是与我的对现实世界的心理感受有关”。李一凡在2007年与冯博一的谈话中说:“我是一个有宏大叙事野心的人,我更愿意做的工作是底层社会的全方位调查,并呈现这些调查结果。”考虑到这些陈述中的平行之处以及他们类似的年龄(李一凡1966年生,长于小涛四岁)和共同的四川背景,这两位艺术家之间在思想观念和艺术兴趣上的长期交流也就不是偶然的事情了——实际上他们艺术形式和语言的差异恰恰凸现出这种交流的深度。
涉及到作品与主、客体之间的关系以及在本体论上的意义,二人对广袤社会现象的兴趣和讲述“大故事”的野心却是通过“显微镜”的方式来实现的。这似乎是一个悖论,但在我看来正是他们的作品在理论上最具有启发性和挑战性的地方。众所周知,当代艺术和学术中的一个重大动向是对现代主义宏大叙事的解构。潮流所及,许多艺术家和艺术史家视这种叙事为蛇蝎,其结果或是把艺术的职能定义为解构和颠覆的手段(因此导致“碎片”——fragments——成为众多艺术品的主题),或是把私密性(intimacy)和个人身份(individual identity)作为艺术表现的主要对象。我对这个潮流既有赞同也有保留。一方面我同意这些艺术家和艺术史家对文化进化论模式的批评,因为这种模式假定艺术形式具有独立于人类思想和活动的内在生命力和普遍意义,在这个前提下构造出一部部没有文化属性和社会功能的风格演化史,实际上否定了艺术家参与现实的能动性。但另一方面我又不赞同对宏观叙事的全然否定。在我看来,“宏观”和“微观”意味着观察、解释现象世界的不同视点和层面,二者具有不同的功能和目标。艺术家和艺术史研究者不但不必要把它们完全对立起来,而且可以通过二者之间的互补和配合,更有效地揭示出历史的深度和广度。
这也就是为什么我认为这个展览在理论上具有启发性和挑战性的原因,即它提出了以微观叙事反观宏大视野的角度和方法。换言之,如果说微观和宏观在后现代理论架构中常常作为对立的基础概念出现,这个展览中的作品则是提出了把二者在艺术表现中进行更复杂的结合、实验二者在历史叙事中共存的可能性。张小涛本人曾经对微观叙事的观念进行过反复的探讨和叙说。在早期的陈述中他仍然倾向于微观与宏观的对立,把前者的特点总结为“远离宏大叙事、反符号化、反政治化,……个人化、微观化、碎片化”。但即便在那个时候——大约是四、五年前吧—他也已经以艺术家的敏感提出了微观可以是表现宏观的一种方式和渠道。从这个角度所创造的微型图像——包括蚂蚁、蟑螂、死老鼠、发霉的草莓以及工业废料之类——并不构成一个封闭的内部系统,而是被概念为“对外部世界的图像编码”,是“以小见大”的观察和感悟世界的特殊方式(均为张小涛自己的话)。
在当前的这个展览中,微观和宏观的二元对立在张小涛的作品中被进一步消解。他把创作这些作品的灵感归结为在生活和记忆中不断感到的一种联系:从重庆钢铁厂的巨大沉重暗影到类似于“文化动物园”的北京798再到深圳荒诞而矫饰的世界之窗公园,一个称为“梦工厂和垃圾场”的主题开始浮现出来了。虽然这个主题中的场景并不存在直接的联系,但是对张小涛说来“有一缕时间的暗线在我的内心中把它们荒诞地串联了起来”。延续着他一直探索的微观叙事逻辑,他把这些作品计划为采用“抽样”的方式去反思“前社会主义时期中国的集体现代化理想诉求的本源及其付出的惨痛代价和经验教训”。在这个大题目下他提出了一系列问题,包括“社会主义的遗产中什么依然存活?什么已经死亡?过渡时期给我们带来什么样的结构性变化?在全球化的进程中如何确立自我身份的认同和转译?如何从过渡时期的无序状态进入到真正的‘和谐社会’的经济、政治、文化的多重立场的复杂建构?”我们在这些庞大、沉重的问题中所看到的是一个极为宏观的理论视野,但是作为艺术家的张小涛给我们的答案却是以导演的身份营造出的一个微观动物世界的梦幻剧场——“试图用动物之眼来观察和视觉分析重钢和世界之窗之间在时间和空间上的精神联系和延续,在瞬间的时空更替中遭遇的剧烈而迅速的社会变革” 。
张小涛有一次告诉访问者:“我的朋友李一凡从2002年拍三峡移民的纪录片《淹没》,最近在拍乡村宗教和选举,他在重庆的农村发来的短信说:‘我希望做点力所能及的病理学研究,为以后什么人能治这种疯狂提供点资料’。我想这是不是也正是我要做的事情?”李一凡在这里所提出的“病理学研究”是和张小涛的“微观叙事”相互平行的概念,为理解这两个艺术家之间的关系提供了一个重要的契机。
与临床的诊断和治疗有别,病理学(Pathology)通过对人体病理材料、实验动物材料以及其他类型的微观实验材料——如细胞组织的培养——研究疾病的起因、发病机制、病变中形态结构和组织功能的改变,以阐明疾病的本质、揭示疾病发生和发展的规律。它因此可以说是一种通过对微观现象的观察去理解和干预宏观世界的科学。与此相类,从拍摄纪录片《淹没》开始,李一凡已经把自己的工作规定为对中国基层社会“组成细胞”的研究和分析。用他的话说,《淹没》是“对现代化实现过程中底层社会付出代价的调查”;随后的《乡村档案》则是为了“询查城市社会底层的根”。值得注意的是,与张小涛相似,他的这种微观研究并不在于简单地解构宏观叙事。他说:“我不想错愕、焦虑,也不想简单的解构社会,我希望建构一种新的对底层社会的认知和对当今社会的检讨方法。”
这种倾向在《淹没》里已经有非常明确的表达。这部纪录片中包含了对某些个案——如一个教堂的拆迁过程——的极其详尽的近距离跟踪,但是整部影片描绘出的则是三峡大坝实施过程中百万普通百姓生活变迁的巨大画面。这种微观和宏观的交融在《乡村档案》中被给予了一个更加明确的叙事结构:李一凡把他对四川奉节龙王村村民生活、劳作和宗教活动的观察和记录纳入了一个从春分到冬至的“历谱”(calendar),这些底层人们的存在因此成为和环境不可分割的“自然时序”的组成部分。他对目前这个展览中作品的思考显示出对“叙事”的更复杂的考虑。在我看来,这些展品所从属的四个部分在本体论的意义上构成三个“艺术再现的平台”(platforms of artistic representation)。第一个平台是“档案”(archives),通过对现成品(包括法律文件,资料照片等材料)的收集、分类和位移进行叙事。第二个平台可以称为“素材”(materials),由未经编辑的片段记录片和零散记录图片组成。与“档案”不同,这些材料有意识地记录了艺术家本人对再现过程的参与。第三个平台可以称为“作品”(works),包括三个纪录片(《淹没》、《乡村档案》和《不眠与失眠》)以及题为《施虐与受虐》的仿纪实风格的摆拍摄影作品。用李一凡的话说,这些不同图像和材料的集合“强调在当下政治道德背景下解读底层社会,强调解读的多视点和深度同样的重要,力图对那种以猎奇为目的的解读方式,以简单的文本解构显摆精英阶层的高明的解读方式进行反拨和批判。
“微观叙事”的概念在这个展览中因此具有不同的含义。它可以是艺术再现的对象,包括张小涛的微观动物世界和李一凡的平凡无奇的底层社会。可以是观察的视点,从一个昆虫或城市无业游民的眼中反观生活和历史。可以是讲故事的方法,以此发掘出通常被忽略和掩盖的种种秘密。也可以是艺术家确定个人身份的渠道,通过这种叙事与艺术界及批评界协商互动。张小涛说过,从2000年起他已经开始从心理学、个人经历和个人经验的方法上追问生命的原点。他的绘画方法不再是先做出一个宏大叙事的历史框架,然后去找论据,添砖加瓦。而是首先是从个人的价值展开。其结果是“语言像一个个细胞一样蔓延,当蔓延到一定的时候,就生长成一种个人的方法和语言的系统。”李一凡最近希望的是“打碎我原有的纪录片导演身份,使我原有的以纪录片导演身份完成的作品成为重构的新文本的材料碎片”。参照这些陈述来观看这个展览,我相信观者将会懂得他们的艺术追求和实验。

“The “Microscopic Narrative” and “Pathological Research”

The Social Images byZhang Xiaotao and Li Yifan

Wu Hung

 

 

Zhang Xiaotao and Li Yifan are two very different artists. I’m not just talking about differences in their education and professional background (Zhang Xiaotao graduated from the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Oil Painting Department and though Li Yifan went to the Attached Middle School of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, his college years were spent at the Central Academy of Drama), or the expressive methods they emphasize (Zhang Xiaotao has gone from oil painting to installation and animated film while Li Yifan started in film and has set out into photography and “archive art”), this also touches on the question of “language”, which is most important for an artist (Zhang Xiaotao has spent many years constructing a symbolic image repertoire that is strongly expressionist in nature, while Li Yifan’s documentary films abandon subjective participation and stylization in a pursuit of the purity of a “true depiction”). But as I see it, instead of viewing these differences as guides to classification, they lead me to think that the two artists are linked and interact on a deeper level. This level can be understood from two angles. The first angle touches on the source of the artists’ functions and creative drive; the second touches on the relationship between subjective and objective in the artworks, and the ontological significance of image.
On the first angle, both people cast themselves as “narrators”, but in fact they’re actually “storytellers”. Though their stories, in terms of content and form, appear totally different – the former’s are fables and sleep paralysis, while the latter’s are documentaries that resemble life itself – a close reading will reveal that there are shared similarities between their desire and goals for telling them. Overall, this desire comes from their sensitivity to human society and their responsibility to express this sensitivity, which leads to an intense desire to engage in simultaneous and all-encompassing exploration and expression of reality and the inner mind. In 2005, Zhang Xiaotao wrote that his painting “was more related to my psychological perceptions of the real world”. In a discussion with Feng Boyi in 2007, Li Yifan said, “I aspire to the grand narrative, and the job I’d rather do is an all-encompassing investigation of people in the lower rungs of society and to present the results of this investigation.” Thinking of the parallels between these descriptions, their closeness in age (Li Yifan, born in 1966, is four years older than Zhang Xiaotao), and their shared Sichuanese background, the long term exchange of conceptions and artistic interests between these two artists is no coincidence – it is actually the discrepancy between their artistic forms and languages that exposes the depth of this interaction.
When it comes to the relationship between subjective and objective in the artworks and their ontological significance, the two artists’ interest in broad social phenomena and their ambition to tell “big stories” is realized through a “microscope” method. This appears to be a paradox, but as I see it, it is the most inspired and challenging theoretical aspect of their artworks. Everybody knows that one of the main currents in contemporary art and academia is to deconstruct the modernist grand narrative. Everywhere this trend has reached, many artists and art historians see such narratives as bad apples, and this either results in the function of art becoming defined as a means for deconstruction and subversion (which has led to “fragments” becoming the theme for most artists), or intimacy and individual identity becoming the main subjects of artistic expression. I have both praise for and reservations about this trend. On one hand I agree with these artists’ and historians’ critiques of cultural evolution theory, because that model hypothesizes that art forms have their own vitality and universal significance that is independent from the thoughts and activities of man. To create one after another history of style evolution devoid of cultural attributes and social function based on this premise actually denies artist’s initiative in participating in reality. On the other hand I don’t condone the outright repudiation of the grand narrative. As I see it, “macroscopic” and “microscopic” imply different perspectives and levels of observing and explaining the world of phenomena; the two have separate functions and goals. Not only do artists and art historians have no need to place the two in total opposition, through complementation and coordination of the two, they can more effectively uncover the depth and breadth of history.
This is why I feel that this exhibition is theoretically inspired and challenging, because it proposes the use of a perspective and method that uses the microscopic view to look back on the macroscopic vision. In other words, if the microscopic and macroscopic often appear in the postmodern theoretical structure as oppositional conceptual foundations, then the works in this exhibition propose to create a more complex combination of the two in artistic expression, and experiment with the possibilities of the two coexisting in the historical narrative. Zhang Xiaotao has done repeated explorations and narrations on the concept of the microscopic narrative. In his early descriptions, he still leaned towards the oppositional nature of the microscopic and macroscopic, and summed up the former as “far removed from the grand narrative, anti sign and anti politicization…individualized, miniaturized, fragmented.” But at that time – about four or five years ago – he, through his sensitivity as an artist, already began to propose that the microscopic could be a method and route for expressing the macroscopic. Looking at it from this perspective, the microscopic images he produced – including ants, cockroaches, dead rats, molding strawberries and industrial ruins – are anything but a construct of a closed system; instead, they have been conceptualized as an “image encoding of the external world”, and a special method of observing and understanding the world by “seeing the big through the small”. (All Zhang Xiaotao’s words)
In this current exhibition, the dualist oppositional nature of the microscopic and macroscopic has been further dispelled in Zhang Xiaotao’s works. He has categorized the inspiration for these works as some kind of connection in his life and memories that he is constantly perceiving: from the massive, heavy shadows of Chongqing Steel factory complex to the “cultural zoo” that is 798 and on to the absurd and extravagant Windows to the World theme park, a theme of “dream factory and rubbish heap” begins to float to the surface. Though there is no direct link in these scenes, Zhang Xiaotao says that “there is an obscure thread in my mind that absurdly links them together”. Following along the logic of the microscopic narrative he has been exploring, he wants to use a “sampling” method to rethink the “nature of collective modern ideals in pre-socialist China and the painful price paid and hard lessons learned”. Under this overarching theme he has proposed a series of questions, including “what still survives from our socialist heritage? What has already died? What structural change have we gotten from the transition period? How do we attain affirmation and translation of our identity amidst the progression of globalization? How do we enter into the complex, multiple viewpoint structure of economics, politics and culture of a truly “harmonious society” from the disordered state of the transitional period?” What we see in these grand and heavy questions is an extremely macroscopic theoretical field of view, but the response Zhang Xiaotao gives us as an artist is to, through the identity of a director, create a dream theatre of the microscopic animal world – he “will attempt to use the eyes of animals to observe and visually analyze the spatiotemporal spiritual connections and continuity between Chongqing Iron & Steel and Windows to the World, and the drastic and rapid social change we have encountered in an instantaneous spatiotemporal shift.”
Once in an interview, Zhang Xiaotao said, “My friend Li Yifan has been working since 2002 on a documentary, entitled Before the Flood, documenting the allocation of Three Gorges Dam migrants. Recently he’s been documenting village religion and elections, and when he was in a village in Chongqing he sent me an SMS that said, ‘I hope to do the best pathological research that I can, so that I can provide information to those in the future who can treat this madness’. I was thinking, what if this is exactly what I want to do?” The “pathological research” of which Li Yifan speaks and Zhang Xiaotao’s concept of a “microscopic narrative”, which run parallel to each other, provide us with a critical link for understanding the connections between the two artists.
In contrast to clinical diagnosis and treatment, pathology uses information about human disease information, animal tests and other similar microscopic experiment material – such as cultivation of cell colonies – to research the cause, mechanisms, pathological and functional changes in organism and tissue to explain the essence of the illness and the patterns of the illness. So one could say that it is a science that uses microscopic phenomena to understand and intervene in the macroscopic world. In the same manner, beginning with Before the Flood, Li Yifan has focused his work on research and analysis of the “cell colonies” at the fundamental level of Chinese society. In his own words, Before the Flood is “an investigation into the price paid by the middle and lower levels of society in the process of realizing modernization” while Village Archive “probes into the root of bottom rungs of society”. It is worth noting, that as with Zhang Xiaotao, Li’s microscopic research is not about simply deconstructing the grand narrative. He says, “I don’t want to startle and surprise, and I don’t want to simply deconstruct society; I hope to construct a new method of recognition of the lower rungs of society and exploration of current society.”
This penchant was already clearly expressed in Before the Flood. This documentary film included extremely close and detailed coverage of certain individual cases – such as the demolition and relocation process of a church – but what the entire film depicts is the big picture of change among the lives of millions of common people in the process of executing the Three Gorges Dam. This confluence of the microscopic and macroscopic gained a much more defined narrative structure in Village Archive Li Yifan has taken his observations and documentation of the lives, labors and religious activities of the residents of Longwang Village, in Fengjie, Sichuan, and compiled them into a “calendar” that spans the entire year, which turns the existence of these lowly people into an inseparable component of the “natural change of the seasons”. His current works for this exhibition reveal much more complex conceptions of “narrative”. As I see it, the four components that these works make up ontologically comprise three “platforms of artistic representation”. The first platform is “archives”, a narrative that is enacted through the compilation, classification and displacement of existing objects (including materials such as legal documents, files and photos). The second platform is “materials”, which is comprised of documentary film segments and scattered photographs. Unlike “archives”, these materials intentionally document the artist’s participation in the representation process. The third platform can be called “works”, which includes three documentary films (Before the Flood, Village Archive and Sleeplessness and Insomnia) as well as a series of photos staged in a documentary style, entitled Tyrants and the Tyrannized. According to Li Yifan, the compilation of these different images and materials “emphasizes a decoding of the lower rungs of society against the backdrop of contemporary political morality, emphasizes that the use of multiple perspectives and depth are equally important to decoding, and strives to pick apart and criticize the brilliant and dazzling elitist decoding methods through deconstruction via a simple textual method.
From the above it can be seen that the concept of the “microscopic narrative” can cover various meanings. It can be the subject of artistic representation, as with Zhang Xiaotao’s microscopic animal world and Li Yifan’s mundane lower rungs of society. It can be the observational perspective, looking back on life and history through the eyes of a beetle or an unemployed migrant in the city. It can be the storytelling method and the once ignored and obscured secrets it reveals. It can also be the path the artist uses to affirm his identity, using this kind of narrative to consult and interact with the art world and the critical world. Zhang Xiaotao once said that he has been searching for the origin of life through psychology, individual experiences and individual perspectives since 2002. His painting method will never again begin by establishing a grand narrative framework, then follow by finding grounds for an argument and finish by adding bricks and tiles. Instead, it unfolds from individual value. The result is that “language multiplies like so many cells, and once it reaches a certain size, it grows into an individual method and linguistic system.” Li Yifan hopes to “shatter my original identity as a documentary filmmaker, and turn the documentary films I once made under that identity into fragmented materials for a new text.” With these descriptions as reference for the exhibition, I believe that the viewer will be able to understand their artistic pursuits and experiments.