in a 
bedroom in a

15 Rooms
Long Museum
25.09.15 – 08.11.15

Translated by: Richard Dobson

The exhibition matched the description of its title. Between 28 September and 8 November 2015, the Long Museum held an exhibition called 15 Rooms, which was made up of fifteen separate rooms. Visitors first had to pass through a normal white-painted door, to enter the exhibition hall. The exhibition hall’s four walls and central wall were covered with large mirrors, enabling visitors to see their own reflections and the reflections of others. Those who were not yet familiar with the rules of the game, perhaps, first needed to spend a little time growing accustomed to the dizziness caused by the infinity mirrors and taking in the door handles that lined both sides of the wall. The design of the mirror space wasn’t very prominent in any of the rooms, and in fact weakened their spatial layout. Each of the wooden door-handles had been fashioned in a spiral shape, and was tilted at a slightly different angle. Signs were stuck onto the wall next to each door, informing visitors of what they would see inside, when they opened it.

This was like a kind of treasure hunt, and clearly had great appeal for the audience. The door served as a boundary for the space and generated a sense of anticipation in the visitors, who perceived that they would be permitted to occupy a private space for the duration of the performance. Each room was five square metres, and provided the setting for either solo or group performances, though none of the artists were present, in person. Most of the works included in this form of ‘live art’ exhibition were either performances or actions – what is generally described as ‘performance art in English, though in Chinese the words ‘action’ and ‘performance’ do not adequately describe the richness of this type of art form. For example, there were works involving audience participation and interaction with the artwork, and a combination of video work with installation, to heighten the overall effect. For a predetermined period of time, actors or untrained volunteers from the general public were enlisted to stand in for the artist in carrying out a set of the prescribed actions and performances, thereby normalising and standardising the inherent immediacy of the medium. This appeared, indeed, to be the core idea or strategy for the whole series of ‘room exhibitions’.

Following its premiere at the Manchester InternationalFestival in 2011, 11 Rooms was repeated with slight variations, as an annual event, as 12 Rooms at the Ruhrtriennale international arts festival, 13 Rooms at Kaldor Public Art Projects, in Sydney and 14 Rooms at Art Basel. The Rooms exhibitions are organised jointly by Klaus Biesenbach, director of MoMA PS1 and chief curator-at-large at The Museum of Modern Art ( MoMA ), New York, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, co-director of the Serpentine Gallery. For these, the curators adapt the list of participating artists to the requirements of each venue. This year, a total of five Chinese artists will participate – namely, Zu Zhen, Cao Fei, Hu Xiangqian, Double Fly Art Center and Zhang Huan. All of them, with the exception of Zu Zhen, will be taking part in the project for the first time.

The international artists taking part in the project include a number of well-known names who have previously exhibited in China, such as Marina Abramović, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Bruce Nauman, Yoko Ono and Tino Sehgal. The other artists will be: Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Joan Jonas, Laura Lima, Otobong Nkanga and Roman Ondák. 15 Rooms at the Long Museum will run for a whole month, and although this is a shorter period than the two months initially envisaged, owing to the cost of installing and invigilating it, this will still be the longest showing in the series, to date, as all the previous exhibitions have only lasted for between one and three weeks each.

This set the author thinking about the opening of Ugo Rondinone’s exhibition, ‘Breathe Walk Die’ at the Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, in September 2014. Throughout the almost four-month run of the exhibition, actors were hired daily to perform as clowns in the exhibition hall. Regardless of how high the fees were set, hiring and managing the team of temporary actors was no easy task. According to the casting manager, Liu Yanan, recruiting more than one hundred actors to stand in for the artists was a major challenge. Owing to the diversity of the exhibits, different demands were made of the actors, and the nature of the different works and length of the actual showing meant that it was difficult to recruit a large enough cast of actors with the necessary aptitudes. At the next stage, all the actors also had to be given special training and oversight, so all in all, this was no easy task!

There was likewise a considerable variation between the ways in which individual artists chose to handle the performers and their demands. I heard that the Double Fly Art Center collective reported actors who were tasked with taking a bath in milk for drinking some of the liquid, whilst the actors themselves claimed that drinking the milk was part of the art work; one could only laugh, on hearing about disputes of this nature! Earlier, Hans Ulrich Obrist had previously talked about his ambitious outlook for the project: ‘maybe in 2100 there can be 100 rooms.’ It will be interesting to see whether the initial inspiration for this project will result in such an extended run – like Eugène Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, which has played every night at the Théâtre de la Huchette in Paris since 1957. Or will this end up looking like a typical example of a famous curator overreaching himself, in his attempt to diversify his brand?

Before opening the door to the first room, I came up with a number of questions, based on what I had already known about the project: Couldn’t the performance and actions replace the original works, or would they simply generate a new meaning? Could exhibiting photographs and replaying videos of performances and actions that had already taken place in the past really be compared with the real thing? And could these methods of reanimating the scene and recordings of the earlier set of performances and actions really get closer to the original work? How would the work be seen to be influenced by comparing the restaged performances by the hired actors with the performances of the artists themselves?

Several of the works had been created decades earlier in a specific context, so were they still valid, when restaged in a relatively isolated room in a fine art museum? As far as the artwork itself was concerned, did this form of presentation, as part of an extended performance run, detract from the original appeal of the work, by eliminating the elements of spontaneity and improvisation? Live art has become an increasingly common feature at exhibition openings, but did this way of presenting it at art fairs and festivals, rather in the manner of some kind of ‘sampler’, achieve the curators’ intention of increasing viewers’ awareness of the value of performance art and actions?

In the last few decades a number of questions have been raised in relation to performance art. Even disregarding the international scene for a moment, we can see Biljana Ciric touched on some of these when she curated the live performance Replay, at Shanghai’s Bund 18, by inviting many young Chinese artists to re-interpret important historical works of live art.

With these questions in mind, the author opened the first room: Marina Abramović’s Art must be beautiful; artist must be beautiful ( 1975 ). Thirty years ago, before she came to be known as ‘the mother of performance art’, Marina Abramović was at the Copenhagen Art Festival Charlottenborg, where she sat completely naked, her right hand holding a metal brush and her left hand a metal comb. For an hour she constantly brushed her hair until the metal brush and comb scratched her face and pulled out her hair, all the while repeating over and over again: ‘Art must be beautiful, artist must be beautiful’.

This time the performer wore white clothes and held an ordinary plastic comb, with which she vigorously brushed her hair. In the darkened, neighbouring room was a reproduction of Yoko Ono’s 1963 work Touch Piece. Visitors were greeted by total darkness, which prevented them from seeing other members of the audience in the room. In the next room, which was entered by pushing open a door covered in dirty fingerprints, there was Bruce Nauman’s Wall / Floor Positions ( 1968 ), with an actor recreating the twenty-eight actions linking the actor and the surface of the wall.

For the Chinese audience, Otobong Nkanga’s Diaspore ( 2014 ) was probably the most unfamiliar piece of work, with a single black woman carrying a cestrum nocturnum ( jasmine plant ) on her head. The artist walks slowly around the room across a topographical map spread out on the floor. Joan Jonas’s Mirror Check ( 1970 ) has a woman wearing skin-coloured underwear holding a mirror which she uses to slowly check every part of her body. In the original work, the artist was naked. Xu Zhen’s In Just a Blink of an Eye ( 2005 ) always sparks off curiosity among viewers until they discover that there are supports behind the feet of the performer, who otherwise appears to be suspended in mid-air.

In Roman Ondák’s Swap ( 2011 ) a performer invites viewers to exchange / swap an item of his own for another. In the case of the present author, this was an India rubber used by the artist, though the performer only emphasised the noble identity of the former owner – the artist – without offering any further commentary. The author tried to swap a scenic postcard of significant sentimental value with the performer, but it was rejected. It looked as if this version of the work had already violated the artist’s standards for exchange, according to which, the more of a backstory an item has, the greater its value.

By being staged inside a room, Hu Xiangqian’s Two Men ( 2008 ) completely lost the humour and absurdity of the original work, which was staged on a real road in front of traffic lights. The blank expressions on the faces of the ten or so performers in Zhang Huan’s 12m² ( 2008 ) were a disappointment, because they gave up on the original work’s attempt to explore individual identity. Allora and Calzadilla’s Revolving Door ( 2011 ) was the recreation most loyal to the original: a group of dancers formed a ‘human wall’ and slowly circle around like a revolving door. Because the Double Fly Art Center’s nine members all wore the same bright blue bathroom robes at the opening ceremony, as usual, they attracted a lot of attention, yet their work Milk of Pure Love ( 2011 ) was the most unbearable of all the works in the exhibition; the smell of the warm milk and odour from the bodies that had been soaking in it for an extended time was sickening in the enclosed room; the nine old men and nine young boys who were invited to soak in the milk bath took turns between the morning and afternoons, patiently enduring what had originally been created in a hotel hot-tub.

Tino Sehgal contributed his work This is Exchange ( 2002 ), at the same time displaying a ‘no photography’ sign and banning recording of any kind. The hired performers had been told that they would be provided with small amounts of money, for offering to viewers who agreed to share their own views on the ‘market economy’. However, museum workers revealed that the amounts of 20 yuan that had been originally set aside for this purpose had been changed at the last minute by the organisers to items such as fans and mirrors. Once the artist learned about the change from the performers, he dropped out of the exhibition. When I visited, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster was only permitting one person at a time to enter the room, causing a long queue, while Cao Fei’s work Coming Soon ( 2015 ) was undergoing maintenance and wasn’t open.

If we say that performance and actions are a form of resistance to authorities of the art space, then we have yet again returned to the White Cube, wherein works from different eras explore all kinds of issues, but cannot reconstruct the former site. It’s precisely because the specific time, the people, the relationships and context all come together that the performance site is what it is, serving to empower the work in the perceptions of the audience. We may recall the rise of Chinese performance art more than 20 years ago, when the artists exposed their own bodies and inflicted harm on themselves. In recent years more and more have ritualised performative behaviour and live art itself is also undergoing change. The Rooms series is unable to present the core essence or power of the original works and is also unable to fulfil the curators’ hopes of expanding to meet the current changes that live art is undergoing. It’s a pity: upon opening every door, our disappointment outweighs our surprise.


上海,龙美术馆( 西岸馆 )

展如其名,龙美术馆的当前展览《15个房间》( 自2015年9月25日展至11月8日 )由15个房间组成。参观者需要先通过一扇如白墙一般的大门进入展厅。被设计成回字形的展厅中,四面墙与中央隔墙的表面贴满了大块玻璃,参观者在玻璃中看见自己与其他参观者的镜像。对于尚未熟悉“游戏规则”的观者而言,或许需要先在无限镜面映射带来的眩晕中适应一会儿,方才会意识到两侧墙面上那一溜排的门把手;镜面的空间设计并未突出每个房间、反而削弱了空间布局。每个木质门把手都做成了螺旋形、且其倾斜角度略有不同。每扇门旁都贴着展签,观者由此得知自己在打开这扇门后会看到什么。

这种有如探宝的游戏显然对观者而言颇具吸引力。门作为空间区域的一种界限,既制造出一种将至未至的悬念,又让观者得以在一方私密的空间与正在发生的表演相处。每个房间都是5米见方,房间内有一人或多人演出/行为,但没有一个是艺术家本人。这一“现场艺术展”收录的作品形式大多为表演与行为,即英文中的“performance art”;然而在中文里,表演与行为并不足以囊括此种艺术形式的丰富性,比如涉及到观者参与互动的关系美学类作品,以及原本结合装置与录像的综合性现场。在一段时间内集中性地邀请演员或未受过培训的公众志愿者替代艺术家重演行为与表演作品,将“performance art”所固有的即时性常态化、标准化,看来是“房间系列展”的核心理念、或者说策略。

从2011年曼彻斯特艺术节举办的《11个房间》开始,到逐年举办的鲁尔艺术节《12个房间》、卡尔多公共艺术项目的《13个房间》及巴塞尔艺术博览会的《14个房间》,这一“房间系列展”的联合策展人克劳斯·比森巴赫( 现任MoMA PS1馆长兼首席策展人 )与汉斯·乌尔里希·奥布里斯特( 现任英国伦敦蛇形画廊联合总监 )都会根据展览地点的语境改写参展艺术家名单。今年共有5位中国艺术家参展,除徐震以外,曹斐、胡向前、双飞艺术中心和张洹都是首次加入该项目。国际艺术家有玛丽娜·阿布拉莫维奇、多米尼克·冈萨雷斯–弗尔斯特、布鲁斯·瑙曼、小野洋子、提诺·塞格尔等已在大陆展出过的知名艺术家,及阿洛拉和卡尔萨迪利亚、琼·乔纳斯、劳拉·利马、奥托邦戈·恩坎加、罗曼·欧达科。此次在龙美术馆展出的《15个房间》是“房间系列展”持续时间最长的一个版本:长达一个多月( 原本的计划甚至长达两个多月,后因成本与维护原因而缩短了展期 ),先前的版本都只有一周至三周不等。

笔者因而联想到上海外滩美术馆2014年9月开幕的乌戈·罗迪纳个展“呼吸行走死亡”在近四个月展期中每日聘请演员在展厅中扮演小丑。且不论聘用费用高昂,临时演员的招募与管理并非易事。据项目演员经理刘亚囡介绍,此次招聘代表艺术家表演的100余名演员是一项艰巨的挑战,由于参展作品的多样性,对演员的要求各有不同,加上展期长,有些作品需要交替演员,因而很难找到合适人选;即便在招到演员后,培训和管理都不容易。艺术家如何看待并要求表演者同样因人而异。听闻双飞艺术小组举报了泡牛奶浴的演员偷喝牛奶,而演员则声称喝牛奶也是作品的一部分;此种争议,听之令人哑然失笑。若像汉斯·乌尔里希·奥布里斯特在先期发布会上雄心勃勃地展望项目未来:“或许在2100年,项目就会有100个房间”那样,这一项目是否会如其最初的灵感来源那般长寿—即剧作家欧仁·尤内斯库的作品《秃头歌女》自1957年起每晚在巴黎的de la Huchette剧院上演—还是只会沦为又一明星策展人 + 品牌模式扩张的典型?


带着这些问题,笔者打开了第一个房间:玛丽娜·阿布拉莫维奇的作品《艺术必须是美的,艺术家必须是美的》( 1975 )。三十年前,尚未被称作“行为艺术之母”的阿布拉莫维奇在哥本哈根夏洛滕堡艺术节上,全身赤裸地坐着,右手持一把金属刷、左手持一把金属梳、在一个小时内一边不断梳理自己的头发、直至金属刷和金属梳划伤自己的脸、划断自己的头发;一边口中重复念着:“艺术必须是美的,艺术家必须是美的。”此次的表演者身穿白衣,手持普通的塑料梳子使劲刷着头发。进入隔壁的黑屋子,小野洋子的《触片》( 1963 )在此复制,迎接观者是一片纯粹的黑暗,与同在屋内却因黑暗而不可见的其他观者。再到下一个房间,推开布满脏手印的门,布鲁斯·瑙曼的作品《墙–地板的位置》( 1968 )由演员再现了艺术家与墙面相联系的28个动作。奥托邦戈·恩坎加的《植物繁殖体》( 2014 )或许是对中国观众而言最为陌生的一件作品,一位黑人女性头顶一株夜丁香,在铺着地理示意图的房间内缓慢游走。琼·乔纳斯的作品《镜面检查》( 1970 )由穿着裸色内衣的女子手拿小镜子缓慢观察自己的各个身体部位,艺术家在原作中本是全身赤裸。徐震的《只要一瞬间》( 2005 )总能引发观者的好奇,直到观者发现好似悬浮在空中的表演者脚后的支撑物。罗曼·欧达科的作品《交易》( 2011 )由表演者邀请观者与之交换一件物品—对笔者而言是块艺术家用过的橡皮擦,然而表演者只口口声声地强调这块橡皮擦曾经的主人那高贵的身份—艺术家—却再也说不出个所以然;笔者用一张颇具纪念价值的景区明信片与他交换,却被拒绝了。想来演绎版本已然违背了艺术家的交换标准:一件物品越具有故事性,则越有价值。胡向前的《两个男人》( 2008 )在房间里全然丧失了原作中发生在真实马路与红绿灯前的幽默感与荒诞。张洹的《2015家谱》( 2015 )被十数位面无表情的表演者颓然地丢掉了原作对身份的探讨。阿洛拉和卡尔萨迪利亚的《旋转门》( 2011 )或是还原效果最好的一件:舞者组成的“人墙”慢慢旋转,好似一道旋转门。双飞艺术中心的九名成员因在开幕式上齐刷刷地穿着亮蓝色浴袍泡澡而一如既往地吸引眼球,其作品《奶之纯爱》( 2011 )却是整场展览中最不堪停留的一件:封闭的房间里因热牛奶与长期浸泡其中的体味而令人作呕;被请来泡牛奶浴的9名老大爷和小鲜肉上下午交替出现,忍耐着原本创作于酒店按摩浴缸中的这件作品。一贯不设展签、不允许被记录的提诺·赛格尔的参展作品《这是交易》( 2002 )中,受雇诠释的表演者会以少量金钱作为交换条件,邀请观众分享自己关于“市场经济”的观点;然而听馆内工作人员透露,原定的20元交换条件却被领导要求临时替换为扇子与镜子等商品,直到艺术家被表演者告知后作罢。笔者到访时,多米尼克·冈萨雷斯–弗尔斯特每次只限一人进入的房间尚未排起长龙,而艺术家曹斐的作品《即将到来》( 2015 )则因设备维修而没开门。