Arthur Jafa: What We Don’t See

Arthur Jafa: A Series of Utterly Improbable,
Extraordinary Renditions
Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London
08.06.17 – 10.09.17

The most common form of colour blindness in the human eye is the inability to see red or green. In one corner of Arthur Jafa’s dense, swirling exhibition of photography, video and objects at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery is Le Rage ( sic ) ( 2017 ), a large stand-up cut-out of the comic book character The Hulk, angrily pulverising the ground on which he stands. The normally radioactive-green figure is here rendered as a colour-blind person might see him: in a dark greyscale – in turn suggesting that The Hulk, with all his explosive fury, is a black man. Save for a few clips of grainy video, most of Jafa’s installation is similarly in stark black and white, with a sense of underlying rage that is anything but colour-blind. Surrounding us with countless images of bodies – from icons such as Mickey Mouse, to self-portraits and historical photographs from Jim Crow-era America – Jafa insists we notice skin colour, and acknowledge the politics of its presence and presentations.

Visitors to the exhibition are given a pair of headphones that let you switch between the three sound channels for each of the screens that make up Mix1 – 3 constantly evolving ( 2017 ), a trio of video collages of found and filmed imagery, ranging from video games, concerts and old documentaries, to YouTube footage. One screen shows parts of the 1967 documentary The Savages, a portrait of black men in Venice, California, while on another screen a wild-haired man gesticulates to the camera in the throes of a pained passion to an extended Jimi Hendrix guitar solo. Jafa, a highly accomplished filmmaker and cinematographer who has worked with Spike Lee, Stanley Kubrick, John Akomfrah and Kara Walker, as well as Solange and Jay-Z, has only recently turned his hand to gallery-based installations. His strength here is that of arrangement, placement and juxtaposition; wandering around the gallery, the soundtrack from any of the three screens is unmoored, and might accompany any other part of the installation. In one instant, a loud wind howls while I look at the dyed-black Confederate flag of Black Flag ( 2017 ), the next, an a cappella version of ‘I Put a Spell on You’ serenades the inconsolable Hulk. Jafa hosts within the show several collage works by artist Frida Orupabo, as well as one room becoming almost a mini exhibition-within-an-exhibition of photographer Ming Smith. The blurred faces of Sun Ra and Amiri Baraka look out from her photos, while on my headphones a man is yelling ‘It’s about me, not you – I’m an angry nigga!’

It’s a jumbled swell of input, setting you adrift in an overflowing composite portrait of ‘blackness’ – one that suddenly, at points, feels as if things touch, contract and come into poignant focus. Smith’s own face looks out at us from a street corner, strands of hair eclipsing her solemn face in Abhortion, 32nd and Park, New York, NY, 1978, while, out of the corner of my eye, a facing wall is covered with an image of a huddled square of young, black children appearing as if they’re giving what we now view as the Nazi salute. Pledge of allegiance, 1848 captures a moment in segregated Virginia before fascists in Europe took up the arm gesture, before the US Congress officially replaced the salute during the Second World War with the hand-over-the-heart still used today. Meanwhile, over all of this, I can hear from one of the videos a father playing with his kids and their stuffed animal toys: ‘I’m Bambi and I’m gonna kill yo’ ass. I’m gonna cut yo’ legs off.’ The kids scream in delight, and it is hilarious; but in this knot of simultaneous experiences is a constant violence, sorrowful yet lightly worn.

On a formal level, Jafa’s stretched-out use of moving image recalls earlier filmmakers’ shifts to an art environment, such as Chris Marker’s or Jonas Mekas’s multi-screen installations of the late 1990s and early 2000s; like their earlier set-ups, Jafa here places each audience member as a co-editor of the expanded film on offer. Unlike Mekas or Marker, though, these ‘extraordinary renditions’ don’t offer a personal poetics or caught moments of random serendipity. Jafa appears to be after a broader, more sweeping historical perspective – a ‘we’. Within Jafa’s tangled web, such ambiguous and accidental moments found in the exhibition as described above seem to suggest a moral imperative of how we see and are seen – that there’s an ethics to the social gaze, to communal looking. Usually, such a ‘we’ feels – in speaking and writing – like a means of distancing and generalisation. And while Jafa’s scrutiny of the gaze isn’t subtle, it is nuanced, and the questions he raises are important, and not just individual, considerations. Most immediately: why are we looking at this, here, now? This is an exhibition at a national institution that demands a racialised looking at looking. Its focus might be on America’s timbres and tensions, but its colour filter feels necessary at a moment when colonial history is being whitewashed in Brexit Britain. That, in turn, calls up its own paradoxes. With the concurrent shows of Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power at Tate Modern and Luke Willis Thompson’s handsome 35mm celluloid portrait of Diamond Reynolds ( partner of Philando Castile, who was fatally shot by Minnesota police last year ) at Chisenhale Gallery, it’s apparent that America’s racial issues are currently receiving substantial artistic scrutiny in the UK. Meanwhile, institutions in the UK are being snail-like in catching up with facing up to Britain’s own parallel problems. The recent touring group exhibition The Place is Here managed finally to give more exposure to black British artists working in the 1980s, with one of the artists in that show, Lubaina Himid, also having major shows in Oxford and Bristol this year; though the response was more one of relief at belated recognition than of revived debates. A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions inadvertently highlights a long-running fetishising of American politics through art – whether popular music and films, or painting – where dealing with racial inequalities is always a somewhere or somewhen else. Thus what currently passes instead for publicly debated art is the Serpentine’s other show running alongside Jafa’s, Grayson Perry’s The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!, which feels, by comparison, a reductionist, stereotype-enforcing charade, where Britain is made up simply of ‘Leavers’ or ‘Remainers’.

At points in his installation, Jafa schools us in the significance of the images presented, with detailed wall texts explaining the stories behind the photos presented, such as the billboard-size spread of anxious faces that greets us at the entrance to the show, capturing an instant from Marin County courthouse in 1970 during a hostage shootout; or moments such as the seemingly Nazi-saluting school kids. At other times, Jafa leans heavily on token references to cultural icons – whether Nina Simone, Miles Davis or Krazy Kat – to stand in as symbolic recipients of a shared gaze. It’s a move that plays to this consumption of American culture abroad, a simplifying view that works against his intricate re-weaving of history. Which is to say, Jafa’s ‘renditions’ suggest that awareness of skin tone doesn’t necessarily rely on an awareness of context, but it certainly helps. It is the quieter instances in the exhibition, though, that carry more weight and ask something more of us. Flipping through dozens of ring binder Picture books ( 1990–2005 ), Jafa has collected and paired hundreds of photographs and images from advertisements, fashion and music magazines. In one, there appears what must have been at the origin of The Surge ( 2017 ) – a large print, covering the adjacent wall. This looks like an inverted version of the American flag: smudged white stripes run across a black background on the left-hand side, while on the right a group of white men in suits stand over a large fire. The smaller picture-book version of this image reveals a crucial difference, however: on the fire there is the body of a black man, with his head thrown back, and his arms still bound around a piece of wood. It’s a horrific realisation, that such a fact is hidden, that the body can be made to disappear; but it’s also a reminder of what we – wherever we are – need to look for, and what we need to face.

阿瑟· 贾法:我们没有看见什么

《阿瑟· 贾法:一系列难以置信而又非同寻常的表演》
2017 年6 月8 日 – 2017 年9 月10 日

译/ 黄晔丹

人类最常见的色盲类型是无法辨识红色与绿色。蛇形画廊所展出的阿瑟· 贾法那展品密布, 令人目眩的展览充斥着各色摄影, 录像及装置作品,其中一隅是艺术家于2017 年创作的《愤怒》, 展示着漫画人物绿巨人 ( The Hulk ) 盛怒下将其所站立之处的地面一拳击碎的巨型纸板模型。原本因被放射线穿过而形成的绿色皮肤被艺术家描绘成一种为色盲人士所见的深灰色调,反过来暗示着在其暴怒的外表之下,绿巨人其实是一名黑人。为了节省一些粒状胶片,贾法的大多数装置作品均被简化成类似的黑白调,流露出一种“除色盲之外任意皆可”的潜在愤怒之感。身为观众的我们被无数人体的图像所包围—从诸如米老鼠之类的偶像,到吉姆·克劳( Jim Crow ) 时期的美国自画像及历史照片— 贾法一直让我们留意其作品中人物的肤色,以确认其背后存在和演示的政治问题。

展览现场会向观众提供一副耳机,以便他/ 她在观赏三屏录像作品《混合1 至3:不断进化》 ( 2017 年 ) 时可在为不同屏幕所设置的三个声道之间随意切换,屏幕中播放着各类现成或被拍摄下来的画面组合,范围包括电动游戏, 音乐会, 过往年代的纪录片以及YouTube 画面片段。其中一个屏幕播放的是摄制于1967 年, 描绘威尼斯和加州两地黑人生活的纪录片《野蛮人》的片段,而另一个屏幕则展示一名一头乱发的男人对着相机镜头指手画脚,在吉米· 亨德里克斯 ( Jimi Hendrix ) 的吉他独奏声中苦心构思创作的场景。作为一位曾与斯派克· 李 ( Spike Lee ), 斯坦利· 库布里克 ( Stanley Kubrick ), 约翰· 阿孔弗拉 ( John Akomfrah ), 卡拉· 沃克 ( Kara Walker ), Solange 组合以及Jay-Z 合作且取得斐然成绩的电影制片人兼放映技师,贾法直到近年才转向画廊装置作品的创作。 ( 不同元素之间的 ) 安排, 放置及并置是他的强项;徜徉在画廊展厅现场,来自三大屏幕之中的任何一段背景音乐都与展览的其他展品遥相呼应:当我在欣赏作品《黑旗》( 2017年 ) 那面染成黑色的美利坚国旗时, 耳畔瞬间传来一阵狂风呼啸而过的声音;而紧随其后的无伴奏合唱版本的爵士名曲—《爱的魔咒》 ( I Put a Spell on You ) —则像是对伤心欲绝的绿巨人所唱的小夜曲。贾法在本次展览中引用了多件艺术家弗里达· 欧如帕波 ( Frida Orupabo ) 的拼贴作品,还特设了一个房间陈列摄影师明· 史密斯 ( Ming Smith ) 的摄影作品,几乎可以当作一个小型展中展了。爵士乐家Sun Ra 及非裔美国作家阿米利· 巴拉卡 ( Amiri Baraka ) 模糊的脸庞在那些照片上呼之欲出,与此同时,我的耳机里则传来一个男人的吼声:“是关于我的,不是你—我是一个愤怒的黑鬼!”

这是一股包罗万象的巨浪,令人在一片刻画各类“黑色”的画像组合之中漂浮沉沦—观众会时不时地突然产生饱受冲击, 矛盾角力之感,最终找到一个刺激的焦点。在作品《Abhortion, 32nd and Park, New York, NY,1978》中,摄影师明· 史密斯自己的脸庞从某个街角望向观众,一股股长发令她那张端庄的脸蛋都黯然失色;而在我目光所及之尽头,一面正对着我的墙上则挂着一幅题为《1848 年忠贞的誓言》的巨型照片,描绘的是一个广场上挤满了黑人少年,看上去正在做着纳粹式的敬礼手势。这作品捕捉到的是在实行种族隔离制度的弗吉尼亚州所发生的一个历史瞬间,原来这种手势比二战时期欧洲法西斯主义者的手臂敬礼姿势以及美国在正式场合沿用至今的用右手覆盖心脏位置的手势出现得还要早。与此同时,我从展场其中一部录像作品中听到一名父亲在跟他的孩子们玩动物填充玩具时唱道:“我是小鹿斑比, 我要杀了你这个蠢蛋,我要将你的腿砍下来!”而孩子们则开心地尖叫起来,整个场面欢闹无比;而与之并存的则是一种持续的暴力感,悲伤而又有点老旧。

从正式的层面上说,贾法将题材延伸至动态图像的行为令人想起早些年前电影制片人转向艺术创作的浪潮,比如克里斯· 马克尔 ( Chris Marker ) 或乔纳斯· 梅卡斯( Jonas Mekas ) 在90 年代晚期至21 世纪早期的多屏装置作品;贾法在本次展览中也像这些早期作品的影像工作者那样,邀请每位观众成为整部展览大戏的合编者。然而,与梅卡斯或马克尔所不同的是, ( 贾法的 ) 这些“非同寻常的表演”并没有提供具有个人色彩的诗学或随机偶然性的精彩瞬间。相反,他似乎是从一个更加广义的, 笼统的历史视角来描述“我们”。贾法编织了一个错综复杂的大网, 上述在展览中所遇到的种种暧昧而偶然的瞬间好似暗示着一种我们如何看与被看的道德诫命—社会如何看待一个群体的外表其实是有其道德标准的。通常,这样的“我们”—从言语与书面双重意义上讲—以保持距离和将事物一般化的方式来进行感觉。贾法对于这种视角的审视是明显的,也是细致入微的,而他所提出的问题也非常重要,并非仅仅是针对个人的关心体恤。人们很快会问:我们现在为什么要在这里看这个 ( 展览 ) ?这是一场设在一个国有机构中,要用一种种族化的视角来欣赏的展览。或许其焦点在于美国的不同口音与种族之间的张力,但对于如今脱离了欧盟的管辖, 不断粉饰其殖民历史的英国来说,展览所采用的色彩滤镜其实是有必要的。然而反过来讲,悖论也就由此而 生了。与本次展览同期举办的是另外两场展览—泰特现代美术馆的“民族之魂” ( Soulof a Nation ) 以及在奇森黑尔画廊展出的卢克· 威利斯· 汤普森 ( Luke Willis Thompson ) 为去年被明尼苏达州警方枪杀的菲兰多· 卡斯蒂尔( Philando Castile ) 之伴侣黛蒙德· 雷诺兹( Diamond Reynolds ) 所创作的35 毫米赛璐珞画像,美国的种族问题在近期无疑受到英国艺术界的极大重视。同时,英国的众多艺术机构也陆续不断地在审视自己国家所面对的类似课题。近期举办的巡游式群展“此地” ( The Place is Here ) 终于令世人对于活跃于20 世纪80 年代的一众非裔英国艺术家有了更多认识,而身为参展艺术家之一的卢贝娜· 希米德 ( Lubaina Himid ) 今年也在牛津及布里斯托举办重要展览; 当然其所收到的反响更多的是对这群艺术家迟来的肯定,而不是重燃 ( 对种族主义的 ) 辩论之火。本次展览在不经意间强调了艺术领域—无论是流行音乐, 电影抑或绘画—对美国政治的长期盲目迷恋,而对种族不平等问题避口不谈。格雷森· 佩里 ( Grayson Perry ) 的话题之作“史上最热门的艺术展!”与贾法的展览同时在蛇形画廊展出,相形之下,前者就像是一个还原主义者,英国被强制性地贴上“完全由‘离开者’与‘滞留者’所组成”的错误标签。

贾法通过其展品标签上的详细文本来解释照片背后的故事, 以此来教导观众这些图像所表现的重要性,譬如在展览进门处所陈列的一系列广告牌大小的焦虑不安的人脸,展示了加州马林县法院于1970 年所发生的一场人质枪战的瞬间;抑或像学童们貌似在行纳粹军礼那样的历史时刻。而在另一些展品中, 贾法则非常强调文化符号的象征意义—无论是妮娜· 西蒙 ( Nina Simone ), 迈尔斯· 戴维斯 ( MilesDavis ),还是疯猫 ( Krazy Kat ) —都成为本次展览的座上客,接受着大众的评头论足。将美国文化带到海外的这一举动,从一个简化的观点来看,无疑与贾法对错综复杂的历史的重新梳理相违背。就是说,他想通过本次展览告诉观众:对肤色的认识并不一定要依赖对历史背景的认识,当然认识历史一定会有所帮助。然而, 展览中那些相对比较安静, 不太为人所注意的展品反而是更有份量的,也是向观众提出更多问题的。贾法在1990 年至2005 年间收集了上百幅取材于广告, 流行及音乐杂志里的照片与图片,将其装订成数十本图册;其中一幅显然是相邻墙上所展示的巨型版画《波浪》 ( 2017 年 ) 的灵感来源。画面上的图案看上去像是一面颠倒摆放的美国国旗,污迹斑斑的白色条纹横跨过其中一边的黑色背景,而右边则是一群身穿西装的白人男子站立在一场大火之中。尽管如此,在图册中的缩小版则有一点非常关键的不同之处:在大火中的是一具黑人男子的尸体, 他的头被扔在身后,而他的手臂仍被绑在一节木头上。这让人意识到一个被隐藏起来的可怕事实:人们可以借助大火,让这 一具尸体就此消失;但同时,这个展品也在提醒我们—无论我们身处何地—所要找寻和面对的到底是什么。