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27 二月


from LEAP


Kan Xuan. LIght , 2009. Video installation. Arrow Factory


A particular and much remarked upon characteristic of the Chinese art scene is the hyper-commercialized,gallery-based system. By and large an import from the West, the Chinese gallery system over the last ten years has swiftly matured, serving as an important point of connection between Chinese artists and the outside art worlds. For better or worse, the galleries and the commercial systems they embody dominate the Chinese art world, with the phenomenon of discrete art districts (such as Beijing’s 798 and Caochangdi, or Shanghai’s M50) developing as the most visible manifestation of a state-sponsored recognition of the economic and cultural power of contemporary art.


However, this development has seemingly come at the expense of critical engagement and relevance to its greater social context. There is a great risk of failing to move beyond or advance due to this juggernaut of industrialized contemporary art. This situation seems to be a symptom of China as an active but juvenile participant in the international art scene: the development of a mature art system incorporating a productive sense of self-criticism has simply not had time to develop here.

Chen Xinpeng constructs a tent for the mobile exhibition Cou Huo


And yet a number of artists and organizations have looked for ways out of this impasse. By consciously straddling the divisions between the art organization, artwork, and society, they play with the same concerns but push meanings and boundaries in unlikely directions. Given their positions of relative and flexible autonomy from the systems they are addressing, they are also able to critique without suffering fatal consequences. In a certain and very real respect, their capital is intellectual and social rather than financial, and if they are inclined to critique the gallery, museum, artist or society by playing out its roles, they are given more leeway in that respect.


These “spaces”—although only some of them have a tangible, permanent space—are putting methodologies into place that are in dialogue with and in criticism of the existing systems. They are a set of people and organizations who are fully aware of how their activities sit in relation to the less critical sectors of the (Chinese) art world, and hence serve up work and actions that try to break through the issues and problems arising from such an art world and the larger society of which it is a part.


Although suitable as a point of departure, “alternative” is a misnomer for these spaces. That word is commonly understood to be “in opposition,” but these artists and curators think of it as “in addition.” They are not trying to be “alternative” for the mere sake of difference, but to go beyond these things they find fault with, one of which may be the very concept of “alternative” itself.

Ma Yongfeng. A Gift to K.S., 2010 Glass, neon light, ballast resistor. 150 x 150 x 72 cm. Forget Art


For instance, the use of this term is not necessarily about anti-commercialization per se, but more specifically in confrontation with the kind of uncritical commercialization of the current Chinese art world. These organizations are an “addition” to the forms of galleries that seem so inflexible: unable to deal with certain types of work, only allowing certain channels and forms of activity within their walls.


A common tactic is for them to ostensibly position themselves outside the gallery system while maintaining a connection to it for their own purposes; dipping into and out of the various art structures as they see necessary. In many cases galleries, formal exhibitions, and traditional art structures are simply unnecessary to them. Not actively “anti-,” but happy to pick and choose moments of inclusion and exclusion wherever possible on their own terms. Their actions are often characterized by a sense of subtlety and invisibility as a way of countering overbearing systems and structures.


Just to list a few examples: HomeShop brings shop-front practices to the hutong context and promotes social activities that occur near its location in a local neighborhood setting, thereby “crystallizing” events out of daily activities. The Donkey Institute of Contemporary Art brings the art context directly to a moving public, redefining it in a mobile format. Artist Chen Xinpeng’s tent for last year’s mobile “Cou Huo” exhibition organized by Red Box Studio also carries his activities to non-art areas, with structures to facilitate pop-up shows and spectacular practices, open to art and non-art activities. Ma Yongfeng and his “forget art” collective rework ideas of minimalism and conceptual practices, playfully confronting institutionalized art formats in China, including a recent exhibition in a bathhouse. And Emi Uemura opens up discussion in the specific context of China’s food and agricultural realities, taking on social concerns in the particular situation in which she finds herself.


Talking to these artists and curators, recurring motifs are their practices as facilitators andplatforms for the art-making process—the suggestion being that these are difficult or impossible to find with existing institutions and methods. Behind these activities lies a looming feeling that art is now increasingly recognized and naturalized as a production system, on the same level as any other system of production, and not automatically privileged. They are wary of these systematic forces of commoditization and commercialization. They do not hold Art in such reverence as in the past, but take it rather as a domain to be only selectively employed.

Patty Chang. Touch Would, 2008. Video still. Arrow Factory


These methods and practices are common in the international art historical context. They rehearse fundamental issues with the privileged position of art as seen in strands of Western art history. But where they transcend these is in the artists’ relationship to the specific conditions in China—they are original in this respect. In China, these positions are relatively new approaches to making art, and in this context new possibilities for the future of art are created, possibilities which will need to be addressed by these artists and their peers. These possibilities do not simply play into existing systems, and by their immateriality or impermanence act to gain space without production as such.


The works can seem to be distancing, maintaining a relationship which does not fully subscribe to or get subsumed by any particular end. This idea (of the semi-formed action with no particular aim or expected conclusion, which has a political inflection simply in its avoidance of common forms of political activity) seems to be particularly appropriate in this situation defined by appearance. And, as has been seen in these practices elsewhere, it must be forever delayed in its path to production—its futility is potentially unending, though “delay” and “futility” are central to its potential for action.

A ChART Experiences Curious Art Tour

The spaces profiled in the following pages play a vital role in developing art systems with larger implications, starting at the level of localized production. The production of these “alternatives” addresses perceived problems or deficiencies in the system. Their existence is an important aspect in the critique of art and the critique of its dissemination. Experiments and new forms of presentation are important to provide depth and perspective to the art world and to take it away from an over-reliance on a limited and limiting way of dealing with art and the locations in which to experience it. What might be called a “healthy art ecosystem” supports these multiples avenues of experience, providing the checks and balances that prevent one section of the system from presenting a distorted vision of art and its value, as has become the case in the Chinese art scene.


December 1st, 2010
Posted in 

5 一月

作者:Boris Groys  译者:戴章伦


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(一)   去专业化的艺术




现在,人们可以认为——事实上人们也常这么认为——博伊斯对于艺术家的角色有一种乌托邦式的理解。人们常觉得这种浪漫的,乌托邦式的愿景已然过时,但此种判断并不能使我信服。对当代艺术界以及目前的艺术机制起作用的传统形成于二战之后。这种传统是基于历史上前卫艺术的实践及它在1950年代及1960年代期间的更新及经典化(codification)。如今没有人会有认为这种传统相较于那时有多么巨大的改变。然而矛盾的是,随着时间的流逝,它自身变得越发完备。新一代的职业艺术家们发现,自己进入艺术界的渠道主要还是通过艺术院校以及近几十年来日益全球化的艺术教育项目。这种全球化,统一化的艺术教育是基于一种相同的前卫标准(avant-garde canon),这种标准主导着整个当代艺术机制,不仅是前卫艺术生产自身,也包括随后在这种前卫的传统中生产出来的艺术。当代艺术生产的主导模式是晚近学院化的前卫艺术。这正是为什么对我而言要回答“谁才是艺术家”的问题就必须首先回到历史上前卫艺术的开始,回到那时人们对艺术家角色的定义。




然而目前的这种“艺术作为一种认知形式”的言论却并非新生之物。宗教艺术就曾声称自己通过一种视觉化的,形象化的(pictorial)形式向那些无法直接进行沉思的观者们呈现了关于宗教的真理;传统的模仿艺术(mimetic art)则自称揭示了普通观者无法看见的,自然的每日世界。这两种观点都曾被许多思想家批驳过,如从柏拉图到黑格尔。却也有其他赞同的,如从亚里斯多德到海德格尔。然而无论思想家们对这两种观点在哲学上的优缺点如何言说,这两种关于艺术是一种特殊的认知形式的观点,以及与其相关的关于技艺的传统标准都不被历史上的前卫艺术所承认。经由前卫艺术(的反叛),此前职业的艺术家变成了去专业化的。


然而这种去专业化(de-professionalization)的艺术却将艺术家置于了一个相对尴尬的境地,因为它通常被公众解释为艺术家向一种非专业化(non-professionalism)的回归。相应地,当代艺术家开始被视为一种专业的非专业人士,而艺术界则被视为一个充满了“艺术阴谋”(art conspiracy)的空间(鲍德里亚语)[1]。这种艺术阴谋的社会效应似乎会呈现出一种可解读的社会学神话。






在近作《残存的时间》(The Time That Remains)里,乔治•阿甘本借用圣保罗的例子讨论了成为一个专业使徒所必须具备的知识和技艺。[2] 这种知识是一种弥赛亚式的知识:关于世界即将毁灭的知识,关于不断缩短的时间(contracting time)的知识,关于我们所寓于其中的时间的不足(the scarcity of time)的知识——这种时间的不足宣告了任何一种专业性的无效。因为严格来说,任何一种专业的实践都需要一种长时段的预设(longue durée),一种时间的持续性以及世界的恒常性。在这个意识上,使徒的职业——如阿甘本所说——就是去实践“每一种不断被撤销的天职” (the constant revocation of every vocation)[3]。或者也可以说是“所有职业的去专业化”(the de-professionalization of all professions)。不断缩短的时间使我们所有的文化符号和活动都变得枯竭而空洞,使其都划归于零,或如阿甘本所言,它们变成了一些弱符号(weak signs) [4] 。这些弱符号是时间即将终结的征兆,它们始终被那正在到来并已然显现的时间的缺乏所削弱,而我们恰恰又需要那缺乏的时间去生产并思想那些强大而丰富的符号(strong, rich signs)。然而最终,这些弥撒亚式的弱符号却胜过了我们世界中的强符号——那些强大的权威,传统,权力符号;以及强大的反抗,欲望,英雄主义,或令人震惊的符号。在谈及这些弥赛亚式的弱符号时,阿甘本显然在思考一种“弱弥赛亚主义”(weak messianism)——一个瓦特•本雅明最先引介的术语。但我们还记得(即便如果阿甘本没能记起),在希腊神学中,kenosis(神圣放弃)一词被用于描述基督的特性。基督的生命,受难,受死被视为是对人性尊严的羞辱,一种神圣尊荣的符号的自我倒空。在这个意义上,基督的特性变成一种“弱符号”(weak sign),它极易被理解(或误解)为是一种软弱的标志(a sign of weakness)。正如尼采在《反基督》里所讨论的。


如此,我倾向于认为前卫艺术家是一种世俗化的使徒。他们是时间的信使,告诉这个世界时间正在缩短,这个世界存在一种时间的不足(scarcity of time),甚至是缺乏(a lack of time)。事实上,现代性是一个我们永远地失去那个我们原先所熟悉的世界以及传统生活条件的世代。是一个不断改变的时代,是一个历史性的突破,一个新的结束和新的开始。在现代性中生活就意味着没有时间去经历一种永恒的不足(permanent scarcity),一种时间的缺乏——因为事实上,那些现代的计划通常在还没有被完全认识的情况下就被抛弃了,每一代人都发展出属于自己的计划,相应的技术,以及属于这一代人的,去实现这些计划的职业。然后所有这些又都被下一代人所抛弃。在这个意义上,我们当下所处的时间并非是一个“后现代”(postmodern)的,而是一个“超现代”(ultramodern)的时间。因为在这样的时间中,时间的不足和缺乏越发的明显。今天,每个人都很忙,谁都没有时间。在整个现代的世代里,我们看到所有我们自身的传统及所承袭的生活方式都已被判衰落和消失。我们同样也不相信当下的时间——我们不相信它的时尚,它的生活方式及思维方式会有任何持久的效力。事实上,当一种新的时尚或潮流兴起时,我们马上会想到的是:它很快就会不可避免地消失(确实,当一种新的潮流出现时,我们脑子里出现的第一个想法是:它能持续多久呢?答案往往是:它持续不了多久)。因此我们可以说,不仅是现代性,连我们自己的时间本身也是一种持久的弥赛亚式的,永在启示之中的(chronically messianic,chronically apocalyptic)。我们几乎会不自觉地用一种随即会衰落或消失的眼光去看待每一样存在及新兴之物。


前卫总是与进步的观念相关,尤其是技术的进步。我们确实能看到许多前卫艺术家及理论家直接反对保守派,并坚持在新的技术条件下去实践旧形式的艺术是毫无价值的。然而这些新兴的技术并没有被当作建造一个崭新,稳固的世界的契机——至少在第一代前卫艺术家看来——而是被视为一部可用于摧毁旧世界的机器,同时也是一部不断摧毁现代技术文明本身的机器。前卫艺术把这种进步的力量主要地看成是一种摧毁性的力量。因此,前卫艺术会追问:艺术家是否还能在一个文化传统及我们所熟悉的东西都在不断毁坏的世界中,在一种收缩的时间中继续艺术创作。这些都是技术进步的特征。或者换句话说:艺术家如何去抵挡这种进步的破坏力?(destructiveness of progress)如何能创作出一种能逃过永恒变化的艺术?一种无时间性的(atemporal),超历史的(transhistorical)艺术?前卫艺术想要创作的并非是一种关于未来的艺术,而是一种超现世的(transtemporal)艺术,一种合适任何时代的艺术。我们不断地听到和读到我们需要改变,我们的目标——包括艺术的目标——都必须是要改变现状。但问题是我们的现状就是变化。我们唯一的现实就是永无止尽的变化。因此,在一个不断变化的监狱里去改变现状就等于是去改变变化(change the change),去避开变化。事实上,任何一种乌托邦不是别的,正是从这种变化的监狱中出逃。


当阿甘本宣布了我们所有职业的无效,通过弥赛亚事件清空了我们所有的文化符号时,他并没有继续追问:我们如何才能跨越我们的世代与那个即将到来的世代间的边界?他并没有如此追问因为使徒保罗也没有。保罗相信无需经由死亡,每个个体的灵魂就能够跨越这道边界,即便是在有形的世界已然完全毁灭之后。然而前卫艺术想要拯救的并非灵魂,而是艺术。为此它曾尝试做减法(reduction),通过把其中的文化符号减到最少而使它得以逃过文化时尚及潮流中的突破(breaks)转变(shifts)及永无止尽的变化(permanent changes)。




1911年,当康定斯基在《论艺术的精神》(On the Spiritual in Art)里谈及减少绘画的模仿性(painterly mimesis),减少对世界的再现时——这种减少揭示了绘画事实上不过是色彩与形态(colors and shapes)的组合——他希望以此来保证自己对于绘画的观点能够在未来各样文化的变化中幸存,即便是最革命性的变化。绘画中所呈现的那个世界会消失,但绘画本身的色彩与形态的结合却不会。在这个意义上,康定斯基相信过去所有创作的图像以及将来即将创作的图像都能被视为他的作品,因为任何绘画图像,都不过是一定的色与形的组合。这种观点不仅在绘画上适用,也适用于包括摄影,电影在内的其他媒材。康定斯基并不想创造出一种个人化的风格,毋宁说他把自己的绘画当作一处为观者的观看而设的学校。在这间学校里,观者可以看到所有可能的艺术变化中不变的构成,那些历史上不断变化的图像中重复的图式。在这个意义上,康定斯基真正把自己的艺术理解为是不受时间影响的(timeless)。


之后,马列维奇用其黑色方框对图像做了一种更为激进的减法,图像变成纯粹只是图像与框架间的关系(image and frame),沉思之物(contemplated object)与沉思的场域(field of contemplation)之间的关系,零和一的关系。事实上,我们无法避开黑框,任何我们所看见的图像同时也是一个黑框。这种说法也适用于由杜尚最先引进的现成品的使用方式。无论我们想要展示什么,无论我们认为正在展出的是什么,都以此种方式为先决条件。


因此我们可以说,前卫艺术生产出了一种先验的图像(transcendental images)——康德的意义上先验。它显明了其他图像得以涌现及静观的条件。前卫艺术不仅仅是一种弱弥赛亚主义,也是一种弱普遍主义;它不仅是使用被弥赛亚事件所倒空的零符号的艺术,也是通过弱图像来显明自身的艺术。这些图像有着微弱的能见度(weak visibility),当它们作为那些高度可见的强图像的组成部分时,它们必定从结构上被忽略,如古典艺术中的图像或大众艺术中的图像。


前卫艺术否认原创(originality),因为它无意发明,而只想发现那些超验的,重复的,弱的图像。然而,每一种对于非原创的发现都会被理解为是一种原创性的发现。在哲学及科学看来,生产一种先验的艺术无异于生产一种超文化的,具有普遍性的艺术,因为跨越一种现世边界(temporal border)的行动也是一种跨越文化边界的行动。每一种图像都是基于特定的,可想象的文化语境——这也是一种黑框,因为当其中的文化被抹去时,它看起来就像一个黑框。这意味着,对一种弥赛亚式的凝视而言,它已然是一个黑框了。这使得前卫艺术真正向一种普遍的,民主的艺术开放。但前卫艺术的普遍化权力是一种弱的,自我消抹(self-erasure)的权力。因为只有当前卫艺术生产出尽可能弱的图像时它才能取得普遍性的成功。


然而,某种程度上,前卫艺术却具有先验哲学所没有的模糊性。哲学的沉思以及先验的理念化(transcendental idealization)通常被认为只是由哲学家来进行并且也只是为哲学家而进行的。然而,前卫艺术的先验图像却同其他经验主义的图像一道在同一个展览空间展出。因此人们就可以认为前卫艺术将经验与先验等量齐观了,并让二者在一个统一,民主,外行的观看中相互比照。通过把原先只有在宗教或哲学内讨论和思考的先验包含在内,前卫艺术用一种激进的方式扩大了民主的展示空间。这样做有积极的一面,却也隐含着危险。


从一种历史的观点来看,前卫艺术在其观者面前展示的并非是一种先验图像,而是一种特定的经验图像,这种经验图像呈现了其所属的特定时代及其创作者的特定心理。因此,“历史的”前卫立刻就变得既清晰又令人困惑(clarification and confusion):清晰,是因为它揭示了历史上不断变化的风格及潮流背后的不断重复的图式;令人困惑,是因为前卫与其他的艺术生产一起展出,这在某种程度上就允许了被认为是一种特定的历史化风格的误读。人们可以说前卫普遍主义的根本之弱至今仍在持续。然而今天的艺术史却认为前卫艺术创造了一种艺术史上的强图像(art-historically strong images),而不是弱的,超历史的,普遍主义的图像。在这个意义上,前卫艺术力图揭示的艺术的普遍维度仍旧是被忽略的,因为此种揭示中(revelation)的经验特性将其遮蔽了。




虽然能够在美术馆中展出,但前卫艺术在今天仍然被默认为是非流行的(unpopular)。矛盾的是,人们通常视其为一种非民主的精英艺术,不是因为把它当成一种强艺术(strong art),反而是当成一种弱艺术(weak art)。也就是说,因为前卫艺术成为了一种民主的艺术而被一种更广大的,民主的观众所拒绝或忽略。前卫艺术是非流行的,因为它是民主的。如果前卫艺术变得流行了,它就会变得不民主。


的确,前卫艺术为普通人(average person)开启了一种新的(思维)方式,让他们可以把自己理解为是艺术家,从而作为一种弱的,贫穷的,部分可见的图像的生产者而进入艺术界。然而普通人肯定不是流行的,只有那些明星,名人,很火的个人才是流行的。流行艺术(Popular art)是为那些由观众(spectators)组成的群体,而前卫艺术是为那些由艺术家组成的群体。


(三)   重复弱姿态


问题于是来了,在前卫艺术的先验论者及普遍主义者那里究竟发生过些什么。在1920年代,前卫艺术被第二波的前卫运动当作建造一个新世界的稳固根基。此种前卫艺术的世俗基要主义(secular fundamentalism)在1920年代被俄罗斯构成主义,包豪斯,俄罗斯福库特马斯设计学院(Vkhutemas)等所发展。然而像康定斯基,马列维奇,雨果•鲍尔(Hugo Ball)等这些早期前卫浪潮中的领军人物却拒绝这种基要主义。然而即便早期前卫派并不相信在他们普遍主义艺术的弱基础上有建立起一种正确的新世界的可能,但他们却仍然相信自己完成了一种最激进的减法并创作出了一种最弱的作品。然而同时,我们知道这其实也是一种错觉。说它是一种错觉并不是因为这些图像还可以更弱,而是说它们的这种“弱”很快也会被(不断变化的)文化所遗忘。因此,当从一种历史的距离上观看它们时,对于我们而言,它们要么是太强了(对艺术世界而言),要么是与我们毫不相干(对于我们每个人而言)。


这意味着,这种弱的,先验的艺术姿态并不是一朝产生就能世代永续的。而是,它必须被不断地重复,以便在先验与可见的经验之间保持距离,去抵制变化的强图像,进步的意识形态以及经济增长的承诺。只是揭示那超历史的重复图式是不够的。必须不断地重复这些图式所带来的启示,而这些重复本身必须也可以被重复,因为每一次对于这种弱的,先验的姿态的重复都会立即产生出清晰和困惑(clarification and confusion)。因此我们需要进一步的清晰,然后又衍生出进一步的困惑,如此反复。这就是为何前卫艺术不能一朝产生就可以世代永续,而它必须不断地重复以便抵制那永不止息的历史性变化以及持久缺乏的时间(chronic lack of time)。


这种重复的,同时也是徒劳的姿态开启了一种空间,对我而言这种空间是当代民主形式中最为神秘的一种。像Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Second Life以及 Twitter这样的社会网络为它的全球用户提供晒图,放视频,写文章的机会。某种程度上,我们甚至无法将这些网络上的照片,视频,文章与所谓的观念或后观念艺术区分开。从某种意义上说,这种空间最初是由1960—1970年代的一种激进的,新前卫的(neo-avant-garde)观念艺术开启的。没有这些艺术家在先前所做的艺术的减法,这些社会网络的审美哲学的兴起便是不可能的,它们也不能向广大的民主大众开放。






然而,同时,沃霍尔却创作了像《睡眠》(Sleep)或《帝国大厦》(Empire State Building)这样长达几小时的,单调乏味的电影,没有人会认为观众在整个影片的过程中都会全神贯注。然而这些影片确是极佳的,弥赛亚式的,弱符号的例子。因为其展示了睡眠及建筑中的瞬时特征——它们似乎是濒临灭绝的(endangered),从天启的观点来看,是随时都有可能消失的。事实上这些影片本身无需观众的全神投入,甚至不需要任何观众,就如帝国大厦本身或一个已经睡着了的人不需要任何观众一样。毫无疑问,沃霍尔的这些电影起作用的最佳地方不是在电影院里,而是在一种一般来说都是循环播放的电影装置(film installation)里。 观众可能会驻足观看一会儿,或是压根不看。同样的情况也适用于那些社会网络的网站,人们可以访问或者不访问它们。人们的访问就是注册,而不是在意在那儿耗费了多少时间。当代艺术的可见性是一种弱的,虚拟的(virtual)可见性,是一种在不断缩短的时间中带有天启性质的可见性。人们已经满足于一个特定的图像和一个特定的文章能够被阅读,至于那种阅读的真实性(facticity)就已经变得不那么重要了。但是当然,网络也可以变成——部分其实已经变成——一个充满着强图像及文章的空间,这些图像和文章已经开始主导它。这就是为何年轻一代艺术家们越来越对弱可见性及弱公共姿态(weak public gestures)感兴趣。我们眼见许多艺术团体的兴起都是一种参与者与观众的结合。这些群体为自己而做艺术,或许也为那些其他团体中的艺术家,如果他们准备好协作的话。这种参与式的实践意味着,只有当人们把自己当成艺术家时,他才能成为观众。否则,人们将无法进入相应的艺术实践中。




事实上在今天,日常生活已开始通过设计或是当代的共享交流网络展示自己,表达自己。以至于我们已经很难将日常生活本身与它的自我表现区分开了。日常生活变成了艺术——已经没有单纯的生活(bare life),或者说单纯的生活把自己当作了艺术品(artifact)在展示。艺术性的活动如今已经变成了这样一种东西:艺术家与他的观众分享最普通的日常经验。如今艺术家与观众分享艺术就如他当初与宗教或政治分享的那样。成为艺术家不再是一种独特的命运,而是成为了一种每日实践——一种弱的实践,弱的姿态。然而为了维持这种弱的,每日生活层面的艺术,人们就必须要不断地重复艺术的减法,去抵制那些强的图像,去摆脱那长久作为强图像交换场所的现状。


在《美学》的开始,黑格尔就声称,在他的时代,艺术就已经是过去的东西。黑格尔相信,在现代性的世代里,艺术已然不能够反映这个世界本来的样子。然而前卫艺术却向人们表明,艺术仍然能够部分地反映现代世界:艺术能够显示出现代世界的短暂特性(transitory character),它的时间的缺乏;并通过一种弱的,极少的,用时不多的——或根本不需要时间的——姿态去胜过这时间的缺乏。


[Boris Groys: 德国卡尔斯鲁厄大学(Karlsruhe)艺术与媒体中心美学史,艺术史,媒体史教授,同时也是纽约大学的世界知名教授]。



1 Jean Baudrillard, The Conspiracy of Art: Manifestos, Interviews, Essays, ed. Sylvère Lotringer, trans. Ames Hodges (New York: Semiotext(e)/MIT Press, 2005).

2 Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, trans. Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005).

3 Ibid., 68.

4 Ibid., 10.

17 七月

Ceal Floyer’s work takes the Readymade aesthetic to its logical conclusion. For Nail Biting

Performance, 2001, she walked onto the stage at Birmingham Symphony Hall immediately

prior to the beginning of a concert and bit off her fingernails into the microphone. This

performance was hosted by the Ikon Gallery Birmingham (England) and an Ikon Gallery

text reports: “Her ‘nail biting performance’ took stage-fright as its subject, the artist, bit

her fingernails into a microphone for five minutes. The sight of her alone amongst the

musicians’ empty chairs, accompanied by the amplified sound of nervousness, was affecting

and tense.”

Another of her works, H2O Diptych, 2002, consists of two monitors, one showing a pan of water

slowly reaching boiling point whilst on the other a glass of fizzy mineral water gradually goes flat.

Her most radical works include Garbage Bag, 1996, “a black bin liner filled with air and secured

with a twist-tie”, and Monochrome Till Receipt (White), 1999: which is a supermarket till receipt.

But it is not a random till receipt, a Time Out commentator noted:

A till receipt attached to the gallery wall is the seemingly inconsequential evidence of a shopping

trip. The title however, as is often the case in her work, prompts a closer inspection. Monochrome

Till Receipt (White), 1999, lists dozens of items including flour, salt, milk, rice and so forth. In a

bizarre twist, the mundane activity of a trip to the supermarket is a knowing reference to the highly

aestheticized white paintings of Robert Ryman. (in Peer 2001).

The Ryman reference is pertinent and one can see an example of his work illustrated left. Floyer’s

till receipt is not simply a till receipt but the result of a minimalist-conceptualist shopping

expedition, a species of “performance” in which she only purchased items that were white in colour.

Accordingly, Till Receipt is not simply a Readymade repetition but an instance of performance art

of which the till receipt is a document. What is significant about Floyer’s work is the way in which

she reveals that the Readymade is not a simple aesthetic formula that engenders mindless mimicry

but, instead, a complex game akin to chess with its aproximately infinite “moves”. It is not possible

for the Readymade to be anything else but complex due to the fact that it is a self-reflexive poetics.

Like Rauschenberg’s Zen-blank canvases the Readymade points less in the direction of nothingness

than it does to the structure of chance (c.f. complexity theory).

White like black is a quintessentially minimal-conceptualist colour (transparency is another

member of this set). Whiteness plus the Readymade status of the Till Receipt (although it was

constructed or made by Floyer’s selection of goods) means that it references quite a large

swathe of art theory and practice. And one of the key features of deconstructive art theory

and practice is that the traditional concept of the artist as genius is backgrounded and the

discourse, or system, of art is brought to the fore. Bearing this in mind one has to admit that

the sheer humility of Garbage Bag, 1996, prevents it from being a statement of heroic artistic

genius. This is reinforced by the fact that being firmly in the Readymade genre it is not entirely

original (as if there is any such thing as “entirely original”).

One might compare Garbage Bag with the interpretation of existing scores provided by classical

musicians. But unlike a musical composition Floyer’s interpretation is not of a single work such as

Fountain, 1917, but a conceptual framework. And since the 1960s that framework has ramified

into a manifold of variations. In addition to the Readymade one also has to note Floyer’s reference

to Minimal and Conceptual Art and to the Arte Povera movement which pioneered the sculptural

application of ‘poor’ materials.

In Ceal Floyer’s Nail Biting Performance, 2001, for example, the frame is not simply art history

and theory but an institution that lies outside the art gallery or art musteum: the Symphony Hall

in Birmingham, England. She is not performing outside of the context of culture but she is indicating

that the aesthetic she subscribes to does not begin and end with Duchamp. As commentators

have observed her nail biting into the microphone in that musical context resonates strongly

with the Fluxus artist John Cage who pursued deconstruction in the domain of music, building

on the courageous attempts to escape the harmonic bounds of the diatonic and chromatic scales

which seemed at odds with a new age.

One of Cage’s most radical works is his famous 4′33″, 1952, which consisted of four minutes and

thirty three seconds of silence (pointing the listener towards the ambient sounds in the institutional

context framing the musical performance). The relationship ofNail Biting Performance to 4′33″

points to the web of what I have termed “deconstructive art” (Coulter-Smith 2006) which has

gained increasing hegemony over fine art since the mid-1950s onwards. But what is more significant

than observing the viral proliferation of deconstructive art is posing the question how and why

it happened.

And, in historical terms, it happened quite recently: it happened in the second half of the 20th

century. Even in the 1950s there was still little doubt that fine art could be defined in terms of

painting and sculpture. What is remarkable is that artists who focus on painting and sculpture

today are considered somehow ‘old fashioned’. We can trace this erosion of traditional media

back to Duchamp, Dada and Surrealism and a focus on the idea as opposed to the object. But

these movements would be nothing if not for their considerable impact on art of the 1960s,

evident in a mosaic of elaborations such as: Nouveau Réalisme, Fluxus, Pop Art, Minimal Art,

Arte Povera, Land Art, Performance Art, and Conceptual Art. It is radical art of the 1960s that

forms the bedrock for art at the turn of the millennium. And the crucial question becomes has this

revolution expanded the concept of art or diminished it? And the thoughtful answer has to be that

there has been a bit of both.

The complex structure of nothingness to which Floyer’s work, in part, resonates with two

outstanding icons of modernity:Fountain 1917 and Malevich’s Black Square c. 1913. Both works

are radical statements that conflate aesthetic and existential anomie and absurdism with an

expansion of creative horizons. So contemplating Floyer’s work we return to the idea that the

discursive formations of modernism and postmodernism are as important as the individual

works of art that feed on them.

Individual works of art such as Floyer’s function only because they resonate with a complex

of ideas and material practices that lie beyond any single individual. The importance of the

discourse of art over and above the individual artist was especially foregrounded by the

postmodern appropriationist movement that dominated art in the 1980s. One of the key

books from the 1980s is Art after Modernism: Rethinking Represenation (Wallis, 1984).

But the title (and thesis) of that book ignores the fact that the questioning of represenation

lies at the core not only of postmodernist but also of modernist art. One thinks here of

Impressionism, Pointillism, Cubism, Expressionism. All these modern movements

questioned the possibility of a simple one to one correspondence between reality and

representation. The three most significant breakthroughs attained by modern/postmodern

art are abstraction, expressionism and conceptualism and all three interrogate the

issue of representation.

The modern period began with the rise of science and the rise of empirical philosophy—Locke,

Hume, Berkeley—which laid the basis for modern pyschology. Science penetrated further into

nature than was possible with the naked human senses and modern philosophy threw doubt

upon common sense presumptions regarding identity and reality. It is only possible to

understand the rise of modern/postmodern art in the light of the epistemological revolution

that accompanied the evolution of a bourgeois, liberal, secular and democratic society.

It is significant, therefore, that Floyer produces works that focus on perception: in one of

her early works (above left) she projects a slide of a light switch onto a wall, and at the 50th

Venice Biennale, 2003, (above right) she projected a video of a small nail hammered into a

wall onto a wall. Duchamp also played with perception particularly in his Roto-Relief in which

a pattern painted on a flat disk produced a strong illusion of three-dimensionality when spun.

In each case the statement seems extremely simple, even too simple. But it is evident that she

makes no attempt to hide the illusory nature of her works. The projector is visible and its illusion

is obvious. Similarly in another work she places a black plastic bucket in the gallery with a

cd-player inside making the sound of water dripping as if there were a leak in the gallery roof.

Like her nail and light switch projections this is an illusion without illusion because the cd-player

is plainly in view in the bucket.

Unlike science art can only pose questions and leave the process of creating answers to those who

view the work. In the case of Floyer one question seems to be “how can we look beyond a habituated

mode of thinking and perceiving”. And in this sense one can compare her work with that of artists

such as Olafur Eliasson, Carsten Höller, and Henrik Plenge Jakobsen.

When Duchamp succeeded in placing his urinal into an art exhibition he translated it from the

condition of urinal into that of sculpture, we could also say he reframed it, or recoded it. These

processes lie at the crux of what we call conceptualism and it is important to understand this

because whereas we seem able to accept abstraction as a valid aesthetic framework we still

baulk at the Readymade aesthetic, or “conceptualism”. Of course, when we fully understand

conceptualism it will be over, in the same way that when we fully understood abstraction to

the point where its variations became repetitions it was over—although it may have become

recoded into conceptualism.