Image and Event in Luke Willis Thompson’s ‘Autoportrait’

Luke Willis Thompson: Autoportrait
Chisenhale Gallery, London
23.06.17 – 27.08.17

Luke Willis Thompson’s recent project, Autoportrait ( 2017 ), starts not with making images but with looking at them. In an interview with the Guardian, published just after his show opened, the New Zealand-born, London-based artist explained that the impetus for his new work, a short film portrait of Diamond Reynolds, was a decision to view images online. He said he made ‘a conscious decision to start watching videos of police violence. I felt there was some duty to look at these things. It was important.’

The video Reynolds made is one of the most significant, most recognised, and most piercing of these videos of police violence – which have now become a recognisable form on the internet, a story told and shared, and still painful. Reynolds’s video of the aftermath of the shooting of her partner, Philando Castile, was broadcast on Facebook Live on 6 July 2016. Just trying to describe the video will send shivers down anyone’s spine: It’s Reynolds, a young black woman sitting in the driver’s seat in a car; she’s interacting with the police officer who just shot her boyfriend while they were stopped at a red light. She’s yelling ‘Tell me he’s not dead!’ She tries to explain what happened, what follows. ‘He just shot him!’ she cries out. ‘Baby’, she calls her boyfriend. She cries.

Castile died from multiple gunshots to the chest at a nearby hospital about twenty minutes after the event. The police officer who shot him, Jeronimo Yanez, was charged with manslaughter and found not guilty. The trial ended a year after the event, around the very time of the opening of Thompson’s exhibition, which was dedicated to a single work: a large, black and white, 35mm portrait of Reynolds. The space is darkened, the film projector visible in the back, and Reynolds’s image fills the room. It’s two four-minute shots. In the first, her hair is braided in two braids and she looks away from the camera, which dwells on her face patiently. In the other, Reynolds sings, her voice strong yet not overbearing. The work is called Autoportrait, and it was filmed in Minneapolis, in full collaboration with Reynolds. It’s meant to be a sister image to that Facebook Live video, a record that doesn’t represent the worst day in Reynolds’s life. A film for her, made with her, that allows her not to be undone by what happened to her.

Thompson has made two videos in the past, with Londoners whose families were the victims of police violence. Like Autoportraits, these two films ( Cemetery of Uniforms and Liveries, shown at Galerie Nagel Draxler in Berlin in 2016 ) echo Warhol’s Screen Tests, examining his sitters’ presence as a way of sharing their trauma, as a way to suggest intimacy and empathy. But Reynolds feels different: she feels different because her image was already public; she feels different because she had a sense of agency in a situation that was impossible to control, to comprehend, or ever fully to grasp. The complexity of Thompson’s work is rooted in the question of his relationship with Reynolds. At first, there is the question of exploitation: What could this artwork ever give to Reynolds, a woman from whom so much had been taken away? And then, there is the film itself: What could it add, if it used the same form as the image Reynolds had already produced herself? The answer is in the medium. There is, of course, a difference in content and intent between the 35mm film Autoportrait and the digital video Reynolds had made, but much of the meaning of Thompson’s work is in its transmission. Autoportrait is not meant to be viewed online. It’s meant to be slow, to be impossible to share, to be the opposite of Facebook Live.

In July 2016, when Reynolds recorded the aftermath of the Minneapolis police officer shooting her partner, Facebook Live was a pretty new platform. Launched in August 2015, it was initially restricted to celebrities, and then quickly after opened up to journalists and people with verified accounts. It became available to all US iPhone users in January 2016, and globally the next month. Facebook is investing a huge amount of money and energy into live broadcasting, because video is becoming increasingly important on the platform. Watching Reynolds’s video would invoke the idea that the platform is meant to empower users, but it’s mainly used to entrap them, to gain that all-important online currency: attention. When Live was initially rolled out, Facebook was paying media partners to produce live content for the platform. One of the first memorable examples: on a Friday afternoon in April 2016, BuzzFeed reporters blew up a watermelon by putting rubber bands around it, broadcasting it live on Facebook. It took about 45 minutes. At peak, the broadcast attracted over 800,000 viewers. Here’s from a report on Nieman Lab, the Harvard University think tank focused on understanding journalism’s future in the digital age: ‘Five of us waited for the grand climax, baffled by our own interest, along with 81,000 other viewers.’

Facebook has pushed Live as a responsive form – the comments are part of the experience. In October 2016 I found myself watching war live on Facebook, when Channel 4 was live-streaming the battle to liberate Mosul. The comments were pretty much to be expected: ‘Maybe the battle isn’t happening today!’ ‘There was blood earlier?’ Another comment: ‘Live coverage of a war. We are doomed as a world!’ But I wonder if maybe it’s the opposite? If the experience of watching the duration and slowness of the real image of war – tractors and press conferences and people slowly walking across the screen, so far from Black Hawk Down, could make war seem more relatable, could create a new form of empathy? It is with this in mind that I go back to Thompson’s comment: ‘I felt there was some duty to look at these things. It was important.’ There is a cynical element, of course, to Channel 4 live-streaming war, to Facebook’s stake in that, but we should also argue that viewing is not inherently bad. That rather, it could be a possible meeting point around an event: the photograph or the live stream that affects the viewer literally or emotionally, that allows for a visual that may spark what photography theorist Ariella Azoulay describes as ‘political imagination’ – the ability to imagine a political state that is different, that deviates from the prevailing state of affairs.

When people talk about filter bubbles on the internet and blame social media, I think about the images I see: so many of them are things I just can’t look away from – they’re weird or familiar, they demand an emotional response or they seem to require examination or explanation. With the internet and our constant exposure to images via screens in our pockets, on our desks or in public spaces, our relationship to images is endlessly reshaped. But we get used to everything – and then we look away. Art – obviously – means engaging with images. And the kind of visual literacy that has developed in the contemporary art context is translated into the way we think about the flow of imagery through the media. Visual analysis can be a strong tool for thinking through the representation of political issues, and the consequent implications. It’s a way of determining that authority is asserted visually.

And in the case of Thompson’s work? This will sound quite optimistic, but art makes new images, and we should ask for that, and hope for that. When Thompson says he wanted to create an image of Reynolds that isn’t associated with the worst day of her life, there’s something sweet and kind and empathetic about it, but there’s also something transformative about it. This work allows Reynolds to regain control of her own image. And then it invites us to come together and witness that. To bear witness is such a complex idea in photo theory – it implies non-intervention, and has political potential; it’s loaded with sacrifice, but also with a sense of coming together. Thus the choice to film this portrait in 35mm, to take it away from the Web, not only means the creation of a new image for Reynolds, but enables the viewer to relate to the present in a new way – a way that is social, that is shared. In real life, in a space, with other people.

路加· 韦利士· 汤普森之“自画像”中的图像与事件

《路加· 韦利士· 汤普森:自画像》
2017 年6 月23 日 – 2017 年8 月27 日

译/ 黄晔丹

路加· 韦利士· 汤普森的近期展览项目《自画像》( 2017 年 ) 并非始于创作图像,而是始于观赏图像。在一次接受《卫报》的访谈 ( 相关内容在他展览开幕后即已登报 ) 中,这位生于新西兰, 现居伦敦的艺术家分享其创作新作—一部有关黛蒙德· 雷诺兹 ( Diamond Reynolds ) 的肖像短片—的原动力是想在网上浏览相关图像。他认为自己“有意识地决定要开始观看有关警察暴力事件的录像视频”,因为“我觉得自己有义务去看这些东西, 这对我来说很重要”。

雷诺兹所拍摄的视频是反映警察暴力事件的同类录像短片中最重要, 最受认可,且最刻骨铭心的视频之一,如今俨然已成为在互联网上辨识度极高的一种模式:讲述并分享一个至今依然令人伤痛的故事。雷诺兹将她男友菲兰多· 卡斯蒂尔 ( Philando Castile ) 被枪杀的经过拍成视频并于2016 年7 月6 日上传至脸书 ( Facebook ) 直播视讯平台。仅仅描述一下视频的内容就会令人脊背发凉:雷诺兹是一名年轻的黑人女子,事发时她正坐在一辆被红灯截停的汽车的驾驶座上,与那名刚刚袭击她男友的警官进行对话。她在视频中怒吼道:“告诉我他没有死!”她试图对着摄像头解释事情的前因后果,“他刚刚用枪袭击了他!”她大叫道,“亲爱的。”她呼唤着男友。她哭了。

卡斯蒂尔被送往邻近医院后因胸部多处中枪而身亡,当时距离枪击已过去了二十分钟。袭击他的警官杰罗尼莫· 亚尼兹 ( Jeronimo Yanez ) 则仅被指控为误杀而宣判无罪。事件发生一年之后,审讯才宣告结束,正好在汤普森展览开幕的前后。整个展览只有一件展品:一部画面巨大的, 用35 毫米黑白胶片拍摄的雷诺兹肖像短片。整个展场空间的灯光被调暗了,在房间的后方可以看见一台电影放映机,而雷诺兹的图像则充斥着整个墙面。整个作品包含两段时长4 分钟的短片。在第一段短片中,雷诺兹的头发被编成两股麻花辫,摄像机镜头将画面定格在她的脸上, 而她的视线却并没有望向镜头;而在第二段短片中,雷诺兹在唱歌,她的歌声强而有力,但并不盛气凌人。这件作品被称为《自画像》,是在明尼阿波利斯 ( Minneapolis ) 与雷诺兹全权合作之下所摄制的,用来作为那段脸书直播视频的姐妹篇,记录的内容并非是雷诺兹生命中最糟糕的一天,而是她的日常生活。总而言之,这是一部为她而做, 与她一起制作完成,且令她不至于被自身所遭遇的悲剧击垮的录像作品。

汤普森过去曾与居住在伦敦的警察暴力事件受害者家庭合作,制作过两部与《自画像》类似的录像作品,分别题为《制服的公墓》 ( Cemetery of Uniforms ) 及《特殊制服》 ( Liveries ), 2016 年于柏林格尔德拉克斯勒画廊 ( Galerie Nagel Draxler ) 展出。这两部短片参考安迪· 沃霍尔 ( Andy Warhol ) 的录像作品《试片》 ( Screen Tests ),被摄对象坐在摄像机前,分享他们所遭受的心理创伤,以唤起观众对他们的亲近与同情。然而,雷诺兹感觉上却是与众不同的:一方面是因为她早已是位公众人物;另一方面则是因为在局面完全不可掌控或被人理解的情况下,她仍然显示出对自身行为的控制力。汤普森作品《自画像》的复杂性在于艺术家本人与被摄对象之间保持怎样的关系。首先是关于利用的问题:这部艺术作品可以给这位被夺去所有的女士带来什么?然后就是关于作品本身的问题了:如果这部短片运用了与雷诺兹传播自己形象相同的方式,它与那段视频原作又有哪些不同呢?答案就是,无论在内容, 意图还是拍摄所用的媒介上, 汤普森的35 毫米黑白胶片短片与雷诺兹本人所录制的数码视频之间的确存在着不同,然而更为重要的差别是在传播上。《自画像》并不是用于网上浏览的,它需要被慢慢品味,最好不会被分享出去,跟脸书直播视讯所要达到的效果刚好相反。

2016 年7 月,当雷诺兹记录下明尼阿波利斯警官射杀其男友的经过时,脸书直播视讯还是一个相当新鲜的传播平台。这一线上平台于2015 年8 月推出,一开始仅供社会名流使用,但是很快就向媒体记者以及拥有脸书验证账号的一般公众开放使用权限。2016 年1 月,该平台向全美所有苹果手机用户开放,而随后从2 月开始,全球的苹果手机用户都可享用这一平台的服务。由于网络视频现已成为脸书平台日趋重要的一部分,所以相当多的人力物力被投入到研发及维护这一直播视讯功能上来。观看雷诺兹的视频会让人觉得脸书直播视讯可以授予用户一定的权力与自由,然而事实上,这一平台却在诱骗用户获取最重要的互联网货币:公众的注意。脸书在直播平台上线之初曾付钱让它的媒体合作伙伴上传视频内容到平台上去。举一个令人记忆犹新的例子:在2016 年4 月的一个星期五下午,趣闻网 ( Buzzfeed ) 的记者将橡皮筋绑在一只西瓜上,令西瓜爆裂开来。整个过程被拍成一段时长45 分钟的现场视频,在脸书平台上同步直播,最高峰时吸引了超过80 万人观看。作为哈佛大学智囊团的尼曼 ( Neiman ) 创新实验室曾对数码时代新闻学的未来做过研究,报告中写道:“我们之中有5 个人与其他8 万1 千名观众一起,在自己的兴趣蛊惑下端坐于电脑前等待最精彩的一幕发生。”

脸书将直播视讯平台设置成可供互动回应的模式—观众的评论成为体验的一部分。2016 年10 月的某天,电视台第四频道正在现场直播有关摩苏尔 ( Mosul ) 解放战争的新闻,而与此同时,我能从脸书上观看到这场战争的直播视频,还有相关的评论。有人说:“或许这场战役并不是今天所发生的!”有人问:“早些时候有过流血事件吗?”还有人回应道:“ ( 这是 ) 有关一场战争的现场报道。我们注定是活在同一个世界里的人。”但我却觉得,或许事实恰恰相反呢?战争的真实画面通常会持续相当漫长的一段时间:各种重型武装车辆来来往往,媒体发布会接连不断, 人们从镜头前缓缓走过……这些出现在战争电影《黑鹰坠落》 ( Black Hawk Down ) 中的场景如今就在你的屏幕前上演着。观看这样的直播视频是否会令战争显得更加真实可信?是否会更好地引发观众的同情?带着这样的想法,我又回想起汤普森在接受《卫报》访问时的回应:“我觉得自己有义务去看这些东西,这对我来说很重要。”尽管第四频道与脸书对战争的现场直播固然有愤世嫉俗的情感因素存在,但是我们也必须承认,观看这类视频本质上讲并不是一件坏事,相反,它可以为一起事件提供一个可能的交会点:照片或现场直播视频可以从字面上及情感上影响观众, 提供相关的画面来印证摄影史学家兼理论家艾瑞阿拉· 阿祖雷 ( Ariella Azoulay ) 所说的“政治想像力”—一种将政治局势想象成与真实情况不同或有偏差的能力。

当有人谈论网络上的个人化资料过滤并责怪社交媒体时,我就会想起自己从网上所看到的图像,很多图片都让人看得目不转睛:有些比较奇怪,有些则为人所熟知;有些希望得到受众情感上的回应,有些则似乎需要人们的验证或解释。随着互联网的发展,人们通过口袋里, 桌面上或公共空间内的电子设备屏幕可以持续接触到各类图像,从而导致他们与图像之间的关系被无止尽地重塑了。然而,当人们习惯了任何事物之后,就会将兴趣点转移。很明显的是,艺术意味着与图像打交道。而当代艺术发展出来的视觉文化需要转译成为大众所熟悉的媒体图像语言。通过政治性的象征与应用,视觉分析可以成为一件强大的思考工具,用以论断主权的归属。

当论及汤普森的作品时,你可能会觉得这样说显得太过乐观, 但我真心认为艺术会制造出新的图像,这是我们所应要求并期许的。汤普森谈到自己想要创作一件雷诺兹的肖像作品,其记录的内容并非是她生命中最糟糕的一天,这件作品中既包含有甜蜜, 善良与移情的因素,但也有变革的因素,它令雷诺兹重新找回对自己形象的掌控权,并让观众汇聚一堂来做见证人。从摄影学理论上来讲,拥有目击者是具有争议性的话题:这意味着不干涉且具有政治意义的可能性;同时,这也象征着奉献牺牲以及齐聚一堂之感。艺术家之所以选择用35 毫米黑白胶片来拍摄这件肖像作品,并令其远离网络的影响,是想为雷诺兹创造一个新形象, 同时也提供了一种令历史与当下相连的社会共享新途径,让人们在现实生活的空间里与其他人有所连接。