无止境的欲望:张小涛的近期作品

文 / David Spalding

几群蚂蚁将一只死去的蟑螂扯碎,一场争夺战后,各自将战利品带回巢穴。不远处,堆积如山的医药废品成了各种怪异昆虫的寄居地:一堆废弃医用针管旁的巢穴里,长着锋颚的蚂蚁,照看着它们肥胖多节的幼虫。尖牙利齿的蝙蝠腾升在月光照耀的北京夜空,在摩天大厦间迂回穿行,向一堆建筑工地砖砾猛扑过去。仔细看,才发现那砖石原是积成堆的骷髅。这是来自2006年单道视频影像作品《夜》的部分图像,也是张小涛首次尝试电脑动画创作①。
如今已而立之年的张小涛,02年迁居北京前,在中国的南方城市重庆,倍享声誉的四川美术学院学习油画,并在当年的艺术家声明中,用“过度和无法无天的生活那样惊心动魄的场面”的字眼描述这座城市。正如他这样解释道:
在一些不同城市生活工作过,我今年才搬来北京。中国正值过渡时期,因此各方面的变化快得让你措手不及,生活在北京和生活在欧美城市的差异,让人感觉非常强烈。中国的广大和混乱凸现个人微不足道的感受……我想表达生活在这个时代,这个实物主义社会中的人的欲望,人在生理与心理上的本能反应②。
巧妙地将诱惑融入凄苦,张小涛的作品在形式上表现得颇有规模——画幅很大(一般都以米衡量),画中透露着中西方的传统技巧。由于他趋于反思他周遭的即时环境,张小涛的画法通常是寓理而非严格意义上的叙事。与他同时代的画家相比,如画家夏星,那是位将报纸上,详细反映中国社会问题新闻一丝不差拷贝下来的画家。张小涛的画,影带及装置艺术作品都定焦于充满心理暗示的符号——大吃大喝的蚂蚁,腐烂的草莓——暗示并引出强大,矛盾的情感状态:渴望与失望,需求和厌恶。
近来,国际性报刊关于中国迅猛的经济增长与快速城市化报道络绎不绝。的确,国内生产总值在近四年里经历了双位数增长。这样的经济繁荣给中国不少城市带来了大幅度的改善。每次剪彩典礼和招待会都象征着里程碑建筑项目的开始,这些项目皆出自名家之手——雷姆·库哈斯设计的CCTV新总部,赫尔佐格和德梅隆的鸟巢状奥林匹克体育馆就是两个鲜活的例子。 然而,还有数以百计的报道不为西方新闻界所知。北京当地的媒体,有个专门负责调查的记者小组创立了一档节目,该节目每周都在报道令人发指的案件,贪婪,腐败——人们互相欺骗,这在当下的中国已是司空见惯:出售伪劣产品,承包商和地产开发商骗取身无分文的外来民工数月工资。中国经济螺旋式的上升,已造成了法律和道德上的漏洞, 导致了腐败的肆无忌惮,它负面冲击着那些没能力承受哪怕失去一点的人们,他们的绝望往往成了容易被攻击的要害。
富有魅力却令人发指,从02到04年间,张小涛的不少绘画创作揭示了一个饥饿妥协于颓废,诚信制度破碎的社会,有时是由强烈的主体欲望一手造成。他用精确的恐怖,来诠释这一切。在03年的《来自天堂的礼物之二》中,一块糖衣装点的过期蛋糕,垂在肮脏的桌布上。虽然没法食用了,它却用绝望和空洞招徕,满足好吃甜品的看客。紫罗兰花儿的糖衣下也许爬着成群的蚂蚁,但你还是挡不住诱惑想将手指插进糖霜里。配上讽刺意味的标题,这副画是厌腻与恶毒梦想的象征,这梦想在中国的大众消费群里批量生产,北京主干道上崭新,高档房产开发宣传的广告牌便是印证。
果色避孕套漂浮在一片昏暗的电子色彩间,在02年《放大的道具》系列画作中,展现无一丝满足感的性爱后的堆积物。04年作《溃烂的山水》,也许称得上是张小涛最有名气的作品,画里几颗巨大的烂草莓,再现经典中国山水画中白雪皑皑的峭壁。而02年的《116楼310房》和同年的《欲望的图像》,呈现在诧异观客面前的,是一堆断腿断臂的螃蟹渣,邀你共进令人作呕的螃蟹残渣大餐。
02至04年间的作品都是时代创伤的产物。同时,萎缩症成了速食品。一眨眼,盛宴给吃了,一片狼藉;套子被用了,变得粘粘糊糊;甜点也被毁了,劣质建造的高楼随时都有坍塌的危险。但是,人们仍抱着病态的快感被诱至灾难性的后果,思忖这堆废墟时忧伤慰籍的心情。 这些画作揭示出一个道理:太任欲望摆布后,连回头的机会都没了。
张小涛在其作品中捕捉到的疯狂暴食,与随之而来的腐败,正响应了法国社会主义学家埃米尔·涂尔干的作品。埃米尔认为,社会的快速变化时期,尤其是经济高速增长,可导致人无节制的欲望增长。声称有可能的,与实际上的能达到的,二者根本毫不相干,因此当这种欲望脱离现实,社会价值与道德规范便受到侵蚀,人们便陷入一种疏离的状态……埃米尔管这种状态叫社会道德沦丧。正如他在先锋篇《道德教育》中陈述的那样:
无限制的欲望从定义上看是贪得无厌,贪得无厌恰好被认为是病态的迹象……这个具有无限性的概念,只有在道德秩序失去其应有的优势时出现。这是其功能减退的迹象,这种现象发生在已盛行数百年的道德体系开始动摇,并无力应付人类生活中出现的新情况,在这种体系已经消失却没有新的体系组成并将其取而代之的时候③。
虽然这段话,写于一百多年前的欧洲,涂尔干说的欲望与道德沦丧之间的联系,在张小涛的作品中尤其显得精确。经过艺术家的演练,将这种中国以其过了时的体系,迅速调整诸如计划经济体制所造成的紧张态势,反映在了他的画作中。
近两年来里,张小涛越来越多地以害虫——臭虫、蝙蝠、老鼠和它们的同类,作为北京居住者的替身。04年作品《蚂蚁搬家》是这样的:24只小蚁拉拽3只浮肿的蟑螂尸体。画作以其2×3米的面积,营造深沉凝思的氛围。鸟瞰式的作品,要求观众与画作拉开一定距离,蚂蚂蚁们并未占据整幅画作,但蚁为食亡的挣扎大致可见。是无奈的见证,但天行有常,不为尧存,不为桀亡。
在张小涛近来的大部分作品里,既井井有条,又意识不清的昆虫们以其莽撞的暴行,追求它们的欲望;这是一种毫无道德规范,强烈而具破坏性的暴力。在06年作《蚂蚁搬家之三》里,高速路桥下,铺好没多久的混凝土上,聚着一群芝麻大的蚂蚁,扬言要霸占那儿的每一方寸。是一幅画着歪斜,逐渐模糊无边际的地平线,和压缩水泥的格子网作品,画面笼罩着观众,未知远处无非是不停地重复,这让人感到不安。
06年创作的《暴雨将至》,是他新作中最耀眼的一幅,垂直的画布上,优雅的绘画笔触,类似抽象作的风格,体现出中国水墨画的特征。这副画大胆地将姹紫嫣红和蓝调色调和在一起,描绘了一群怪异,绝望的蚂蚁,它们狂乱的行为回避着问题的实质:是暴雨来袭前,这帮疯狂忙碌的蚂蚁,还是本身就如暴雨般的蚁群该让我们感到恐惧?
最近,群体论引发了从昆虫学,到人工智能及商业计划领域对昆虫,尤其是蚂蚁行为的关注,人们发现适应能力,而非固定的社会角色,成了生存与成功的最佳典范。在艺术领域,这种新型组织典范的可能性,也正在被探索:在费城织物作坊博物馆里主题为《群》的展览组中, 陈列画家们风格各异的作品——包括朱莉梅雷图,保罗法伊弗和柳幸典——以及对群体论感兴趣而引发的各种问题。正如博物馆馆长爱伦?鲁普墩和爱波特?米勒解释的那样:“人们对群的痴迷,反映出当代人对自然,政治和社会生活的一种观点——支持无计划和分散组织方式的一种观点④。”
已泛滥成灾的蚁群在张小涛的最新画作里随处可见,画作整个沉浸在蚁群的贪婪之中。然而,它们也勾勒出了这样个舞台,台上每个玩家的身份都随着社会的影响而不断变换。从这个观点看,张小涛形象化的比喻与斯坦福大学生物科学教授,昆虫学家黛博拉·戈登的研究不谋而合,这位教授还是研究蚂蚁行为的专家,他的研究促成了群体论和该学说的多种应用。戈登写到:
每只蚂蚁关于是否要变得积极,及做什么活动的决定,似乎并不是单靠一次大会,而是取决于个体间互动的模式。很明确的是,红色工蚁像是负责认可与统计——不是以数字的形式,而是通过如气味这样的感官暗示——并相应地矫正其它蚂蚁的行为。例如,一定数量的“蚂蚁劫匪”,在某特定时间碰到一定数量的“蚂蚁巡逻兵”,它们便会以上述的方式,“决定”展开搜掠⑤。
张小涛作品中扎堆的昆虫, 难道除开让人讨厌, 就没别的造诣了?它们能成为张小涛早期作品中描述的混乱场面的解决方案么?戈登通过观察认为,群居式的互动,导致群体内发生行为的变化。假如这观点是真的,腐败堕落的态势可否通过个体的选择而逆转——好比俗话说的“星星之火可以燎原”,戈登很快阐明了群体论在人类社会关系中的可应用性她说:“一个秉承蚂蚁道德品质的人,将是个及其空洞的人⑥。”留给我们的问题是:我们与张小涛作品中的蚂蚁有几分差异?这差异是人类的救星,还是灾星?
 
注解:
① 以下出现的视频及其它作品,都出自艺术家个展系列,《张小涛作品集2002—2006》。 深圳何香凝美术馆。2002,11月11日-11月26日
② 张小涛,《艺术家声明2002》,由高宏金岛与白雪再版。个展:《梦工厂·垃圾场》,1998-2004,北京:第八时区有限公司,2005,119页。
③ 埃米尔·迪尔海姆,《埃米尔·迪尔海姆作品选》,安东尼·吉登斯编译,伦敦剑桥大学出版社,1972年,174页。
④可查阅 http://www。fabricworkshop。org/exhibitions/swarm。php (被访时间:07年2月10日)
⑤可查阅http://www。stanfordalumni。org/news/magazine/2002/janfeb/features/ants。html (被访时间:07年2月10日)
 
 

Desires Without Limits: The Recent Works of Zhang Xiaotao

TEXT / David Spalding

Swarms of ants pull apart a dead cockroach, fighting over the head before carrying it back to the colony. Nearby, vast heaps of medical waste have become a feeding and breeding ground for a grotesquerie of insects: fat, segmented larvae nest next to used syringes, attended to by ants with snapping mandibles. A razor-toothed bat soars over Beijing’s moonlit sky, weaving through the skyscrapers before swooping down over the construction rubble. Upon closer inspection, piles of bricks turn out to be mounds of human skulls. These are some of the images that comprise the single channel video projection Night, 2006, Zhang Xiaotao’s first foray into computer animation.1
     Now in his mid-thirties, Zhang studied oil painting at the prestigious Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Chongqing, southern China, before relocating to Beijing in 2002. In an artist’s statement written that year, Zhang describes the city as teaming with “breathtaking scenes of an excessive, lawless life.” As he explains:
I only moved to Beijing this year, having lived and worked in a few different cities. Because China, in this transitional period, is changing too fast, the strongest feeling is that living in Beijing is really not the same as living in Europe or America. China is huge and chaotic, and it makes you feel tiny and insignificant… I want to express human desires in a materialistic society, people’s instinctive reactions, both physiological and psychological, to living in this era. 2
 
     Skillfully combining the alluring with the abject, Zhang’s paintings are formally ambitious—large in scale (often measured in meters), they enlist techniques from both Western and Chinese traditions. While he tends to reflect on his immediate surroundings, Zhang’s approach is usually allegorical rather than strictly narrative. In contrast to his contemporaries, such as artist Xia Xing, who exactingly copies newspaper stories detailing China’s social problems, Zhang’s paintings, videos, and installations focus on psychologically charged symbols—feasting ants, moldering strawberries—that suggest and elicit powerful, conflicting affective states: longing and disappointment, desire and disgust.
     These days, one often reads reports in the international media about China’s meteoric economic rise and rapid urbanization. Indeed, the country’s gross domestic product has experienced double-digit growth for the last four years. This boom has resulted in massive facelifts for many of China’s cities. Yet, for each ribbon-cutting ceremony and press conference marking the beginning of yet another landmark construction project by a brand-name architect—Rem Koolhaas’ new CCTV  headquarters and Herzog and de Meuron’s bird’s nest Olympic Stadium are just two examples—there are hundreds of stories that do not make it into the Western press. Every week on local Beijing television, a team of investigative journalists produces a program about particularly heinous cases of greed and corruption—stories of people cheating one another, an all to common practice in China today: the selling of faulty consumer goods; the defrauding of migrant workers who, owed months of back wages are left penniless by contractors and real estate developers. China’s spiraling economy has created huge legal and ethical loopholes that have bred unbridled corruption, often negatively impacting those who can afford to lose the least, but whose desperation makes easy targets.
     Simultaneously magnetic and revolting, many of the paintings Zhang Xiaotao made from 2002 to 2004 suggest a world where hunger gives way to decadence and promises of pleasure are broken—sometimes by the intensity of the subject’s desires. He renders everything with a horrible precision. In The Gift from Heaven No. 2, 2003, a dilapidated cake, festooned with ribbons of pastel icing, sits decaying on a filthy tablecloth. Though inedible, the cake beckons with a desperate, empty offer to satiate the viewer’s sweet tooth. Ants may be crawling just beneath the delicate, violet sugar-flowers, but the image still manages to inspire temptation. You want to stick your fingers in the frosting. With its ironic title, the painting is emblematic of the cloying and toxic dreams churned out for mass consumption in China, reflected in the billboards for new, upscale housing developments that line Beijing’s thoroughfares.
     Candy-hued condoms float in murky, electric color fields, offering up the detritus of sex without a trace of gratification in the series of painting entitled Enlarged Prop, 2002. Decayed Landscape, 2004, perhaps Zhang’s best-known painting, depicts mountains of enormous, moldy strawberries, evoking the snowcapped crags of a classical Chinese landscape, while Room 310 Building 116, 2002, and Image of Desire, 2002, invite viewers to dine on the sickening leftovers of a decimated crab dinner. A swarm of cracked legs and twisted antennae await your agape jaws.
     The works from 2002 to 2004 are trophies to time’s ravages. Meanwhile, in China today, atrophy is compressed into an instant. In the blink of an eye, the banquet has
already been devoured, the condoms are sticky from use, dessert has spoiled, and the newest high rises already seem to be crumbling from poor construction. Yet there is a perverse thrill to being lured into the aftermath, and a melancholic comfort in contemplating the ruins. These paintings reveal the moment when, having followed your appetites too far, you realize that there can be no turning back.  
     The frenzied gluttony and attendant corruption that Zhang captures in these paintings are echoed in the writings of French sociologist Émile Durkheim, who argued that periods of rapid social change, and particularly economic growth, can give rise to unrestricted desires. When such desires are unrealistic, because of a fundamental disconnection between what is professed to be possible and what is actually achievable, social values and ethical codes erode. People slip into a state of alienation. Durkheim called this condition anomie. As he states in the pioneering L’Éducation Morale:
Unlimited desires are insatiable by definition and insatiability is rightly
considered a sign of morbidity….The notion of the infinite, then, appears only
at those times when moral discipline has lost its ascendancy over wants; it is
a sign of the attrition that occurs during periods when the moral system which
has prevailed for centuries is shaken, and fails to respond to new conditions
of human life, without any new system having yet been formed to replace that
which has disappeared.3 
Though he was writing in Europe over one hundred years ago, Durkheim’s link between desire and anomie seems particularly acute in the face of Zhang’s works. Through the artist’s practice, the tensions created by China’s rapid revision of outmoded systems, such as a centrally planned economy, find their reflection.
     During the last two years, Zhang has increasingly used vermin—bugs, bats, rats and their ilk—as stand-ins for Beijing’s human occupants. In Ants Moving Things, 2004, one looks down onto a scene wherein some two dozen tiny ants pull at the bloated bodies of three dead cockroaches. While the painting’s scale—two by three meters—creates a sense of immersion, the bird’s-eye view encourages a certain distance. The ants do not overwhelm the scene, but seem to be struggling to forage for sustenance. Though unpleasant to witness, nature is seen running its course.  
     In Zhang’s most recent paintings, however, insects pursue their appetites with a reckless violence that is both highly organized and without consciousness; a destructive, consuming force that knows no ethics. In Ants Moving Things #3, 2006, the tiny insects swarm under a freeway overpass, threatening to cover every square inch of freshly laid concrete. With its skewed, endlessly receding horizon and telescoping cement grid-work, the painting envelops viewers and creates the uneasy sensation that the unfolding scene is infinitely repeated.
     Coming Tempest, 2006, the most remarkable of these new paintings, is a vertical
canvas whose elegant brushwork, bordering on abstraction, suggests Chinese ink painting. The painting enlists a lush palette of purples and blues to depict a monstrous, desperate hoard of ants whose frantic activity begs the question: are these insects manically preparing for impending rain, or is the swarm itself the storm that we should fear?
     Swarm theory, which is currently informing practices ranging from entomology and artificial intelligence to business planning, looks to the behavior of insects— particularly ants—to find that flexibility, rather than fixed social roles, offers the best model for survival and success. The possibilities of this new organization model is also being explored in the arts: the group exhibition Swarm, at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia juxtaposed work by artists with diverse practices—including Julie Mehretu, Paul Pfeiffer and Yukinori Yanagi—and pursued questions raised by current interest in swarm theory.  As the curators Ellen Lupton and Abbott Miller explained, “Fascination with swarming reflects a contemporary view of nature, politics, and social life—one that favors unplanned and decentralized modes of organization.” 4 
     The swarms of ants that have overrun Zhang Xiaotao’s newest works are indeed overwhelming in their rapacity. Nevertheless, they also map out an arena in which each player’s identity is constantly renegotiated through social interactions. Seen in this light, Zhang’s images intersect with the research of entomologist Deborah Gordon, Professor of Biological Sciences at Stanford University and an expert on ant behavior whose research has helped to fuel swarm theory and its various applications. Gordon writes:  
Each ant’s “decision” on whether to become active and what activity to
perform seems to depend not on a single meeting but on the patterns of
interactions among many individuals. Specifically, red harvester ants seem to be recognizing and “tallying”—not numerically, but through sensory cues such as scent—the other ants they encounter and adjusting their behavior
accordingly. If the foragers meet a certain number of patrollers within a certain time, for instance, they may “decide” to begin foraging.5
     
Could the swarming insects in Zhang’s paintings do more than repel? Might they suggest a solution to the anomic scenes depicted in his earlier works? Gordon’s observation suggests that behavioral changes within the swarm are cued by social  interaction. If this is indeed true, could rot and corruption be reversed through the choices of an individual—the proverbial single spark that starts a fire? Gordon is quick to clarify the applicability of swarm theory to human social relations. “A person with the moral qualities of an ant,” she observes, “would be terrifyingly empty.”6 The question remains: how similar are we to those ants in Zhang Xiaotao’s paintings? Will our differences save us, or will they be our undoing?  
NOTES
1.The video and many of the other works described below were presented in the artist’s surveyexhibition, Zhang Xiaotao:Works, 2002-2006, He Xiangning Art Museum, Shenzhen, November 11 – 26, 2006.
2. Zhang Xiaotao, “Artist Statement 2002,” reprinted in Kaneshima Takahiro and
Snejana Krateva, eds., Dream Factory, Rubbish Heap: Zhang Xiaotao, 1998-
2004, Beijing: Timezone 8 Ltd, 2005, 119.
3. Émile Durkheim, Émile Durkheim: Selected Writings, edited and translated by
Anthony Giddens, London: Cambridge University Press, 1972, 174.
4. See http://www.fabricworkshop.org/exhibitions/swarm.php, accessed February
10, 2007.
5. http://www.stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/2002/janfeb/features/ants.html,
accessed February 10, 2007.  
6. Ibid.