In The Face Of Images Where Everything Vanishes, We Must Remain Silent
Peter Doig: Cabins and Canoes,
The Unreasonable Silence of the World
Faurschou Foundation, Beijing
30.03.17 – 24.06.17
Translated by Duncan Hewitt
In March 2017, the Faurschou Foundation in Beijing welcomed Peter Doig’s first exhibition in China. The title of the exhibition was Cabins and Canoes, The Unreasonable Silence of the World. Cabins and canoes are themes that appear frequently in Doig’s work. The second part of the title is taken from Albert Camus’ essay, The Myth of Sisyphus: ‘Man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born out of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.’
Camus’ words are repeatedly referred to in the introduction and guide to this exhibition. The curator is clearly hoping that the artistic souls of two eras will turn elegantly towards each other, and meet across time and space. Although the style of display seems a little blunt and affected, it’s as if the large, peaceful space and the almost perfect artificial light have produced a layer of hallucinogenic gas, redolent of the smell of wet dew and green moss, which fills the exhibition hall. Visitors can’t help feeling the ripples.
This is not the artist’s first encounter with literary works. In 2013, Doig’s solo exhibition in Edinburgh, No Foreign Lands, also took its title from a work of literature. ‘There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign’, wrote the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson in his The Silverado Squatters. These simple few words, low-key and tragic, sum up Doig’s youth, during which he drifted all over the world. He left his birthplace at the age of two and moved from Scotland to Trinidad, then from Canada to London. So many scenes flashed past him on his life’s journey – from lofty to scorching hot to skies filled with snow… At the same time he was also lonely.
The nineteen key works exhibited in this show – which include Swamped and The Architect’s Home in the Ravine – range over a period of fifteen years. In the centre of the hall hangs the famous Daytime Astronomy. This work was inspired by a photograph of Jackson Pollock lying on the grass outside his studio in the Hamptons, and records the first time the artist, then seventeen, felt the hollowness and insignificance of being separated from the world. Among the expanse of luxuriant green grass, under a lavender-coloured sky, a young man lies on the ground, looking up to the sky. He could be anyone, connecting earth and the heavens, connecting life and the natural environment. I suddenly thought of the mystical twentieth-century French writer Maurice Blanchot, a writer who, compared to Camus, better suits Doig’s temperament. ‘When I am all alone, I am not the one who is there. It is not you I am far away from, and it is not other people or the outside world’, he wrote, in a discussion about ‘loneliness’. These remarks have a lot in common with Doig’s own description: once, when he was browsing through old photographs in search of inspiration, he was deeply attracted by a ‘sense of unreality’: ‘I feel these things are not real, are not there.’
Apart from Daytime Astronomy, you can also see many works in which the image is divided vertically, including Jetty Study, the water surface like a reflector, the restless inverted reflection and reality overlapping. Between the dreamscape and reality is a person who seems almost to have merged with the scenery. Although this seems utterly different from the scene in Daytime Astronomy, the fundamental thinking in terms of the composition of the work remains consistent.
Doig has long been regarded as the modern saviour of landscape painting. His works have been compared to those of Francis Bacon. Nicholas Serota, former director of the Tate art museums, once said he would like Doig to curate an exhibition ranging ‘from Gauguin through German Expressionism to Bacon to Peter Doig’. It is certainly undeniable that there are some echoes in the texture of Doig’s and Bacon’s works – a kind of reality-based rationality, and at the same time a devotion to inner psychological chaos, a kind of seesaw tension between the abstract and the figurative. However, it should be emphasised that there has never been an absolute divide between the abstract and the realist in art. Picasso once wrote in his journal that ‘all abstract art has its source in real life’. As for the artist himself, all he can do is present the truth. ‘Abstract’ and ‘figurative’ are merely interpretations imposed by the viewer.
In interpreting Doig, few people can avoid the topic of ‘loneliness’, and this exhibition is no exception: ‘loneliness’ is the fine thread linking Doig and Camus. It is certainly true that the jolts caused by the itinerant nature of his childhood, the lack of recognition when he was a young man, along with the tranquil mood of his paintings, are like the subtle clues in an ‘escape room’ game – and on the final key is written the word ‘loneliness’. All of this is not only not ‘irrational’, it is in fact extremely ‘fair and reasonable’.
But today we are not going to talk about loneliness. Today let us be wilful, and play the role of an artist, not a critic. Let us try to recreate the process by which these pictures were created. You stand in the spacious studio, with a very large blank canvas in front of you. You close your eyes – you want to paint your memory, a particular moment, a certain feeling or person in your memory. You suddenly realise that real memories are never a single, straightforward narrative as in a diary, nor are they a complete image, like the giant screen in a cinema. Let’s clear away the haze – true memory is when there’s a huge downpour on the first day of the holiday you’ve been looking forward to for so long; you forget who your companion was, you can only remember the puddle under your feet getting deeper and deeper, reflecting the rain-speckled scenery. True memory is when you concentrate all your efforts on trying to recall the building you used to pass so often when you were little; in your mind’s eye, you see flashes of how it looked in spring and summer, autumn and winter, yet you can never freeze-frame a single clear human silhouette. Real memory is an unreal country, which you cannot enter, and which refuses to be spied upon.
Reality is silent, unspeaking time. We are people who ‘live in the present’, pursuing success and impact. It goes without saying that you believe that everything should have a meaning and a value. Contemporary art plays a key role in this process; you want to speak out, you want to say more. Excessive interpretation has imbued art with too much vanity, which really should not be a part of it.
Perhaps such a comment will leave you unconvinced? You take a break from your dull, monotonous life, and plant yourself in an art gallery, hoping to gain some attitude that will set you apart from the crowd, some voice that speaks directly to the human condition. You leave, content with the spiritual consolation provided by the art exhibition. Suddenly there is a reason to exist in your ordinary life. Neither modern people nor modern art can escape this relationship of supply and demand. But without its counter-attacks against the clamorous new era, without self-importantly creating those symbols that are so obscure and difficult to understand, what would art look like? If it refused to tell you its story, if it refused to be discussed, refused to prove its value, would you be at a loss for what to do?
I believe that what lies behind Doig’s remote, indistinct, hollow scenery is not ‘loneliness’, not humankind’s ‘irrational’ complaints about the world; rather, it’s a question of ‘concealment’. The story of Orpheus in Greek mythology can be used to describe this type of subtle process. Young Orpheus, who has a beautiful singing voice and plays his lyre beautifully too, risks all for the sake of his wife, who has been bitten by a poisonous snake, and enters into Hades. The god of the underworld is touched by him and allows him to take his wife back to the world above, on condition that he must not turn his head to look at his wife before he sees the first ray of light from the human world. But when they have crossed the underworld, and he sees that the human world is in front of him, Orpheus can’t help casting a glance back. At that instant his wife falls into an abyss, and everything vanishes, as if in an illusion.
You can’t turn back. If you turn back, it’s the abyss. But we have a loved one behind us who loves us so much, so much that we can imagine her strands of hair and her breathing. We use all our love to encircle the air around her, but we cannot appear in this image. We can only turn our back towards our wife, turn our back on memory, devoting all our emotion to focusing on the empty future, and on the blank canvas. Only such complex emotional entanglements could result in images that can make people shudder inwardly in the way these do. This does not belong to any particular school or style, this is a silence towards time, a decision to hold one’s counsel made after long and careful observation.
In fact, our whole lives are lived in a ‘neutral’ kind of moment like this, in between memory and the present, between life and death. The moment when Orpheus turned round to look back has already been lost forever, is forever still about to arrive. And in the face of a visualisation of everything vanishing, we must maintain our silence.
2017 年3 月30 日 – 2017 年6 月24 日
2017 年3 月北京林冠艺术基金会迎来了Peter Doig 在中国的首展。展览的主题是“木屋与独舟——世界的不合理沉默”。“木屋”“孤 舟”都是Doig 作品中常常出现的主题。而后半句“世界的不合理沉默” 则来源于加缪在《西西弗斯神话》中的文字：“人类与不合理面面相觑，他由衷地渴望幸福与合理。荒谬就诞生在人类的需求和世界的不合理沉默的对抗之中。”加缪的文字也被反复的穿插运用在本次展览的介绍及导览册中。策展人在此无疑是想让两个时代的艺术灵魂优雅转身，隔空相撞。虽然呈现的方式略显直白和造作， 但是空旷安静的空间和近乎完美的人造光在展厅里仿佛形成了一层沾着湿露青苔味道的迷幻气体，让人心不得不为之荡漾。
与文学作品的相遇已经不是第一次了。2013 年Peter Doig 在爱丁堡的个展的主题“没有异国他乡”同样源自于文学作品。 “哪有什么异国他乡，只有旅行者才是异乡人。” 苏格兰作家罗伯特· 路易斯· 史蒂文森在《银矿小径破落户》中如此说道。简单的几个字， 淡漠又悲伤，道尽了Doig 四处漂泊的青春时光。2 岁离开出生地， 从苏格兰到特立尼达岛，从加拿大到伦敦，他的人生历程里闪烁着太多风景，凌烈的，灼热的，漫天飞雪的……同时也是孤独的。
本次展览展出了包括《泥沼》《峡谷中的建筑师之家》等19 件总创作时间跨越15 年的作品。展厅的中心悬挂着著名的《白昼天文学》，这幅作品源于波洛克平躺在汉普顿工作室外的草地里的照片，记录了画家在17 岁时第一次感受到了与世隔绝的空虚和渺小。茂密浓重的青草间，薰衣草色的天空下，地面线上一个仰望天空的少年。他可以是任何一个人，连接着土地与天空， 连接着生命与环境。我突然想起法国20 世纪的神秘作家莫里斯· 布朗肖，一个相对于加缪来说更加符合Peter Doig 气质的作家。 “当我独自一人时，并非是我在那里，我远离的并非是你， 也不是其他人和外界。” 他如此谈论“孤独”。这段话和Doig 自己的描述非常相似，他曾在翻阅旧照寻找灵感时深深被这种“不真实感”吸引——“我觉得这些东西不是真的，不在那儿”。除了《白昼天文学》之外你还可以看到很多包括《独木湖》在内的画面被横向分割的作品，反光镜似的水面，不安的倒影与现实的交错，梦境与现实之间是几乎与景物融为一体的人，虽然与《白昼天文学》场景大相径庭，但是本质上构图思维是一致的。
Peter Doig 一向被认为是风景画的当代拯救者。曾经有人把他与弗朗西斯· 培根的作品作比较，泰特美术馆的馆长也曾希望策划一场“从高更到德国表现主义，到培根再到Peter Doig”的展览。不可否认的是，他的作品确实与培根的作品有着某些雷同的触觉， 一种基于现实的理性同时又忠于内心的混乱，一种介于抽象与具象之间的拉锯张力。但需要阐明的是，艺术创作从未有过纯粹的抽象抑或是写实之分，毕加索就曾在自己的随笔中这样说道“所有的抽象艺术都是来源于现实的生活。”对于艺术家本身，他所能做的不过是真实地呈现。所谓的抽象与具象只是观者的一种解读罢了。
大多数人解读Peter Doig 都避不开“孤独”这个话题，包括本次的展览，“孤独”也是连接着Doig 和加缪的那条细细的线。的确， 少年时的颠沛流离，青年时的无人赏识，画作中显现的静谧的气质，所有的这一切就像是密室逃脱的游戏中那些精巧的线索，而终点的钥匙上就写着“孤独”。这一切不仅不是“不合理”的，而恰恰是那么的“合情合理”。
可我们有多么热爱我们身后的爱人啊，以至于我们可以想象她的发丝, 她的呼吸，我们用所有的爱去包围她身边的空气，可是我们却不能出现在这幅画面里。我们只能背对着爱人，背对着回忆，把所有的情感倾注在虚无的前方，倾注在空白的画布里。是这样的复杂的情感纠葛才会凝固成如此让人内心震颤的画面。它不属于任何某一种流派或是风格，它是一种对于时间的沉默， 一种亘久的凝视后选择的闭口不言。