Phantom of an Exhibition:
On Printed Matter

Free Parking: Art Libraries from Elsewhere – The Editorial
Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong
09.01.17 – 04.03.17

Joint Second Prize
Entry in Chinese

Translated by Sophia G. Kidd & Huang Yedan


Phantom of an Exhibition: ‘Subtext’

Every exhibition has potential text, and not just one. An art exhibition’s mode and mechanisms include material forms, and these constitute the ‘subtext’, like a phantom.

The preface to the exhibition is not the only operative text, but one variant, among many, of the ‘subtext’. The ‘subtext’ and exhibition or artwork are separated by a kind of transformation: from perception to thought. Even if the text is a straightforward written interpretation of the piece, it is still not an extension of the artwork itself. The writing weaves its way in and out of the artwork, yet independently of it and going far beyond it, as if to suggest an organic dimension. Or perhaps it is the very liminality of the artwork that first enables the text to be written. Some words or sentences and images evoke the possibility of a ‘subtext’, and this facilitates disposing of the outer garb the exhibition is forced to assume. The text is composed when the body and the brain are able to serve as the page or screen for the script. Unstable rhythms and indistinct language are interwoven, to produce moments of immanence and potential. The ‘subtext’ is always on the way to becoming, and arises from a standpoint where it cannot declare itself, on account of the uncertainty of its transitory status. What emerges here is text for the exhibition text ( i.e. verb, process and concept, etc. ) rather than the exhibition text itself ( i.e. noun, result and physical form, etc. ).

As it once again edits an artwork’s ‘subtext’, an exhibition text does not directly act upon the artwork itself. ‘Subtext’ does not form the background to a work, or its meaning; nor is it the concealed or unspoken words that are left to the viewer’s understanding. Its nature, like the nature of the artwork, is to suggest the invisibility of visible objects – and so the text itself does not really seek out meaning. Neither is the ‘subtext’ an artist’s interpretation or explanation of the piece, nor an additional gift or supplement. It is constituted at the same time as the piece, and carries an equal significance. The ‘subtext’ is annihilated immediately all forms of the artwork are removed, and the artwork simply reverts to matter, if it is completely disbanded ( turning into a state of emptiness ), and the context of the exhibition also becomes an indifferent space. However, ‘subtext’ contains political potential, the emergence and submergence of which generate an impact on people’s intrinsic ideology and cultural psychology.

A Reversed Form of Writing: the Participants

Today, exhibitions exist ( and are promoted ) to a large extent in textual form. The usual method is as follows: The exhibition’s promoter puts together a media package, comprising a press release and artist’s CV, together with information about the exhibition space. This is then sent out to the various media. The editorial staff in the media then re-edit, re-organise and reformat the material, with the help of a Web editor where necessary, and forward it to their target audiences via the internet or mobile networks. Each media platform re-distributes the material to a so-called ‘general public’. Members of the ‘general public’ then share it with their circles of friends via a variety of social media platforms, so that the text is spread ever wider and gathers ever more ‘likes’ along the way. This process moves along with incredible rhythmic efficiency, and constitutes a loop on the internet even before the exhibition itself has taken place. However, this online circulation of texts never really leads to a direct confrontation with real audiences. In their re-edited form in the media, these texts now address an abstract, capitalised ‘OTHER’ ( i.e. fans ), determined by the social positioning and cultural class attributes of the media’s target audience( s ). The constant re-editing and formatting – the attention economy – plunders the reader’s leisure time, which is a variable quantity. The reader is in a vulnerable situation, and the ideological control and calculation of the text are hidden. Watching and listening thus becomes a kind of internalised act of inscription, whereby the audience are unconsciously written into the text.

In this case, neither the exhibition text nor the ‘subtext’ succeeds in approaching the viewer, as both exclude the audience, treating it simply as the undifferentiated ‘OTHER’. Contemporary art encourages the audience to participate in exhibitions. Only by becoming a participant can one at the same time become a unique viewer. But in reality this often leads merely to a kind of nominal presence in a participatory landscape. Exhibitions become the background for a selfie, a photo on a mobile phone, a posture, or a flowchart widely disseminated on the mobile terminals controlled by capital, floating along cyberspace networks with Wi-Fi coverage and captured by the computer algorithms of application programmes.

When the audience are present in the exhibition space, the text of the exhibition alone cannot serve as a guarantee of the work on display, even it if comes from the artist’s hand. In the process of exhibiting the work, the artist not only loses control of the audience, but loses possession of the work itself. The artwork isn’t an object in reality, but something that arises through a certain process – a process without end. Members of the audience must modify their existing relationships, submit to a kind of internal reprogramming, and then accept to be active participants. Their acceptance of this role legitimises and promotes the work, and the ‘subtext’ adds to the idea of an external intervention ( Blanchot’s ‘passion for the outside’, as Foucault put it ).1 The outside is the exterior of the whole. It is an internally generated outside, where everything is possible, brought about from the points of fracture as well as the interstitial spaces, and is in constant evolution. It is the outside that triggers the internal workings of the exhibition text.

Textual Variation: Publication

A variety of forms of artistic discourse are generated through this process of rewriting and internalising the original. But this is not really duplication. To be more precise, the rewrite occurs simultaneously with the exhibition. The audience have only to see, hear, touch or participate in the artwork to become instantly engrossed in a process of evaluation of what may be light or dark, strong or weak, crude or smooth; and the differential threshold of perception becomes displaced, something is inscribed in their body. This happens in that moment, not when pen is put to paper. What is inscribed on their body is converted back into a form of publication; it can no longer be treated simply as an echo of the inner world of the individual body, but becomes instead a kind of externalised reduplication of the script.

This reduplication of an exhibition text is not a simple duplication, but a variation of it: the text is multiplied, but not replicated. Reduplication is something close to reflection, which is diverted from its original course by a process of contradiction or dialectics. However, variation ( or a rewrite ) requires distancing if it is to produce its own position and space; a duplicated text is just like the shadow of the exhibition or artwork. However, only when a new textual interpretation is generated, through a process of fracture and dislocation, can it move away from its shadowy existence, to take its stand between the exhibition and the audience. In spite of this, variant texts are by no means freestanding – they always tangle with the chaotic world. They must avoid being engulfed in the chasm of capitalism; they may not listen to the myth of neo-liberalism; and they must also reject being bogged down in the communist narrative of utopia. Art is always impure, but its impure space provides scope for the reinsertion of writing.

However, writing is not just a matter of filling the gaps, or stitching them up: it cannot just be fitted in, but always produces new wounds resulting from the dislocation and friction. It is the wounds that create opportunities for whatever may be latent or repressed to rise to the surface. Perhaps, viewers are also searching for a wound they partly identify with, and that is partly their own. The wound, along with the gap in the artwork, is left for the audience to deal with, along with all the variations of text. The audience come across the exhibition text without resistance; they then need to go beyond that, to create a new version of text as well as a temporary new subject. Contemporary art can help to rebuild the politics of daily life; its constituents and method of production cannot be replicated; therefore, it is unique and irreplaceable. Writing a text is certainly not merely a job for professional critics; the audience should never allow inexplicable authority and discourse to threaten the artwork, or transform knowledge production into a tool of ideology; instead, they should get into closer touch with both themselves and the world outside, in order to understand both better. In this case, getting in touch with ‘subtext’ also means releasing more moments of potential, and creating a much more fertile and vivid world.

The ‘subtext’ haunts various kinds of publication like the phantom, or shadow, of an exhibition. It settles freely in the open areas and book stacks of a small public library. ‘Subtext’ cannot be traced back to a single source; it is a kind of publication that is always being rewritten, not only for the author, but also for the reader, or participant. It does not flow only in one direction; it is linked to a form of celebration, moving towards the endlessly changing outer world, and undergoing a form of ancient rite of passage. Does this mean that it is possible for every amateur hobbyist to claim that ‘everyone is an artist’?

1. Michel Foucault, Maurice Blanchot: The Thought from Outside, trans. Brian Massumi, Zone Books, New York, 1987.


2017 年1 月9 日– 2017 年3 月4 日





展览前言并不是这个《潜文本》,只是《潜文本》的替身,而且有很多替身。《潜文本》与展览或作品之间隔着一种转换:从知觉到思维。即使文本好像是对作品的直接书写,但仍然不是作品本身的延伸, 它交织而独立地行进,不被作品穷尽,犹如经历一个生态交错带; 或是在感知的阈限 ( Liminality ) 中,文本的写成为可能,一些字词或句子以及图像构成了“潜文本”运动的契机,穿透展览情境试图披上的外衣;文本正在写入,身体与头脑成了一页可写的纸或屏幕,操持并不稳定的节律,模糊的语言和意图编织着未曾到来或正在到来的瞬间。《潜文本》总是正在到来,它从不宣告自身的立场,基于正在到来的不确切性;在它触碰到展览中某种质地或声响以及形象前,要准备好自身的程序:清空,保持充足的动

能和空间,并预留缓存的空缺。在此,出现的是对展览文本的书写 ( 动词,过程,观念…… ),而不是书写的展览文本 ( 名词, 结果,物质形态…… ) 。

既有的展览文本也并不直接作用于作品,它对作品的《潜文本》 再次编辑。《潜文本》并非作品的背景或意义,以及隐而未现或掩藏的潜台词,它的性质与作品一样,提示了可见物的不可见性及不可见程度,所以文本也并非去寻找意义。《潜文本》也不是艺术家对作品的解释或说明,或者额外的馈赠与补给,它与作品同时发生,并且两者同样重要;如果作品的一切形式都消失,它也会实时湮灭;如果它彻底消解 ( 虚无 ),作品就只是物质本身, 展览的情境也变成了无动于衷的空间。《潜文本》具有政治潜能, 它的浮现和隐没对人们固有的意识形态和文化心理产生冲击。


在今天,展览很大程度上即是以文本的形式存在 ( 传播 ) 的。惯常的做法:展览主办方将新闻稿, 艺术家简历与空间讯息以媒体包的形式发送给各媒体;媒体的编辑重新切割组织媒体包的内容,利用网络编辑器格式化,再通过互联网络或移动网络发送给终端受众,或各自媒体平台分发给所谓的“公众”,“公众”们转移到自己的社交网络或朋友圈,彼此点赞……这个过程以非常高效的节奏行进,它构成了网络中一个循环的回路,但在此之前展览或许还没有正式发生。在网络流通的文本并不是面对真实的观者, 而是一个大写的抽象的他者—粉丝—这取决于媒体所吸纳社群的定位与文化阶级属性。不断产生的再次编辑与格式化,往往变成了注意力经济对读者空闲时间的掠夺,这是不对等的状态。读者处在一个毫无防备的闲者时间,而文本在后台经过了算计, 至少是设计;看与听成为一种向内的写,读者不自觉地被文本地写入了。

如此,并不是观者走向展览的文本,也没有触及《潜文本》; 因而每一个观众实际上是缺席的,观众只是无差别的他者。当代艺术鼓励观众成为展览的出场者,成为出场者,才能同时作为独特的观者,但实际上也常常是一种表象,参与的景观;展览成为了一个打卡的地点,一张手机里的照片,一种姿势,成为流量或数据,散布在资本操控的移动终端,在Wi-Fi 覆盖的区域漂流, 被应用程序的算法捕获。

即使观众出现在展览空间中,展览的文本也不会成为一种指导,即便它出自艺术家之手。在展览中,艺术家既不拥有观众, 也不再拥有作品。因为作品实际上不是一个对象物,它从某种过程中来,这个过程没有完结。在这里,观众必须重新生产出自己的联系,重新编织和复写,使自己出场。这一行为受到作品的鼓动或默许,而《潜文本》从外部增设了这一行动伦理 ( 福柯曾认为布朗肖致力于这个外部 ) 。外部既是整体的外部,也是自内生


复 ( 数 ) 文本—出版物

通过复写,展览或作品获得双重形式的发生。但不是再一次发生。确切来说,复写与展览是同时发生的,在作品仅仅被看到, 听到, 触摸到以及参与时,就已经启动了观众的评价机制:亮的黑的,强的弱的,粗糙或光滑的,清晰或昏厥……当观众或参与者在自身知觉的绝对阈限和差别阈限位移时某些东西就被写入身体,而不仅仅是被写成白纸黑字时。当再一次从身体写出变成出版物,成为了一种复写的外化,不再是完全个人身体内部的回响。

展览文本的复写,不是回复,它是复文本—复数文本但不是复述文本。回复与反思相近,沿着原来的路径折返,辩证或对抗, 而复写需要出离,生产出自己的位置与空间;复述文本犹如展览或作品的投影,当它成为复 ( 数 ) 文本,形成断裂和错位,才能介于展览与观众之间,从影子里逃脱。尽管如此,复文本也不会是清白 ( 独立 ) 的,纠缠于早已被诸神抛弃的世界中;既不能掉进资本主义的深渊,听信新自由主义的神话,也要避免陷入共产主义乌托邦记忆的泥沼……艺术总是不纯的。但正是这个不纯的位置,复文本获得写的空间。

然而写不是去填满或缝合,事实上并不能刚好契合它,而总是在错位与摩擦中生产了新的创伤。正是创伤让被压抑的, 潜在的东西找到出场的契机;观众或许也在寻找一个伤口,把这个伤口变为一半是自己的,一半是感同身受的。这个创伤连同作品的缺口留给正在到来的观众和复写的文本。观众遭遇展览的文本, 但不会被阻挡;必须穿过它,创建一个新的文本,一个临时的新主体。当代艺术关于如何重建日常生活时间的政治,媒介, 情境及其生产机制都不是扮演性的,因而独特而不可替代;文本的写自然也不只是专业批评家的事情,不凭借莫名的权威与话语对作品构成威胁,或将知识生产转变为意识形态的工具,而是接近自身与世界的权利;正因为这样,对《潜文本》的接触,也在释放更多潜在的时刻,以及丰饶多姿的生动世界。

《潜文本》衍生诸多出版物,成为展览的幽灵,就在一个小型公共图书馆敞亮的空间里,书架的叠合处与空隙中,在书架与座位的距离间,自由停泊。《潜文本》并不能在本源上得到确认,不具唯一性,是总在再次写的出版物—不论是对于创作者还是参与者—它正在到来,不是单向流通,而是互相连接与庆典,共时走向变动不居的外部世界,犹如经历某种古老的过渡仪式 ( rite de passage ) 。这样的愿景是否可能期待每个”业余爱好者” ( 斯蒂格勒 ) 深刻认领“人人都是艺术家”的份额?