Opposites and Connections

Huang Yong Ping: Bâton Serpent III: Spur Track to the Left
Power Station of Art, Shanghai
18.03.16 – 19.06.16

Translated by Richard Dobson

‘We are not just looking at art, or talking about something in art history. We should care more about it. This may not be the task of art, but try to do it.’1 Standing at the exhibition site, I think of this statement by Huang Yong Ping. Artists, after all, are not anti-terrorism experts or economists. He cannot provide a solution to a problem, but only a perspective from which to view it.

The exhibition has brought together twenty-five works by the artist over the past two decades. In addition to the visual impact, Huang’s large-scale installations also give the audience much food for reflection on the nature of opposites and choices. There is a certain correlation among these works. As curator Hou Hanru has pointed out, Huang Yong Ping has brought his discussion and criticism of the world’s ruling powers and their destinies down to a more precise, and comprehensible, level. From the integration of China into the world economic system, to the changes in the global war on terror, he draws out and deconstructs the representative symbolic images of world historical events in recent years, leading us to participate in a broader and more ontological inquiry about the destiny of the world: how to choose a direction for the way forward? Left or right? Faced with the inevitability of things, can a ‘correct’ choice even exist? The antagonisms generated by the works themselves create a profoundly meaningful uncertainty. Perhaps ‘uncertainty’ is the very meaning of the work – not just the different interpretations of the work by the audience, the curator and the artist, but also, possibly, the ‘uncertainty’ of choices. These works are full of fluid changes, as the artist believes, and a single thing is susceptible to infinite change. The works generate endless paradoxes and cross-connections amid a large number of scattered and suspended installations, ruins and gardens, myths and realities, expressions of power and menace and, ultimately, an endless quest for regeneration.

As of 2016, the process of globalisation has not ceased to accelerate, and updates in technology and the Internet, like catalysts, continue to drive it forward. Conflicts between different cultures and traditions, religions and beliefs, political systems and ideologies, have also become increasingly prominent. The works Three Steps, Nine Footprints and Head are very focused on exposing such conflicts. Three Steps, Nine Footprints is a large installation, completed in 1995. Each step bears three types of imprint and is divided into sections of twenty-four steps, to reflect the walking technique from the Taoist ‘Steps of Yu’ ritual, also known as ‘three steps, nine footprints’. It evokes the artist’s imagery of the ‘three-legged walk’, for the three major religions – Buddhism, Christianity and Islam – wandering through the world. Surrounding the seventy-one footprints are five rubbish bins, brimming with everyday objects. These serve as a reminder of the 1996 terrorist attacks in the Paris Metro, and of the way that terrorist attacks have since grown in frequency all over the world. Dusty rubbish bins and huge footprints hint at the emergence of various tensions between different civilisations, during the course of their development. Works describing the status of the world are still accurate. It can be said that they are created from historical world events, and large historical events can often lead to more extensive thinking. The anti-terrorism and religious issues in this particular work reflect the conflicts between people, and between the individual and society. There is also a great deal of discord between humans and animals, and between humans and nature.

There are numerous animal specimens in Huang Yong Ping’s works, and he uses them to create a very compelling artistic language. Before discussing Head, it is worth taking a look at Sheep, as well as Yellow Peril, another, later, masterpiece. In Sheep, bamboo supports elevate the sheepskin composition above the heads of the people who form the ‘flock of sheep’, and in this ‘flock of sheep’ a monster bearing a resemblance to a cow stands out. More precisely, this is a four-sided animal, dressed in leather, with a cow’s head and a pig’s ears surveilling the watching sheep. This work is connected with the European ‘mad cow’ incident, and represents the cycle in which ‘people eat cattle, cattle eat sheep, sheep eat people’.

Here, ‘sheep’ and ‘cattle’ are mythical monsters, and ‘people’ really are the perpetrators and victims of this myth, in which ‘people’ will be eaten by ‘sheep’. This work uses allegory as a way to present us with the question of whether mad cow disease is a ‘sheep’s curse’, a ‘cow’s curse’, or ‘man-made’. The confrontation between man and animal is indirect but it is more prominently displayed in Head. Head ( 2012 ) consists of the heads of a dozen animal specimens – including wild boar, horse, deer, rat, lion and fox. Arranged from large to small, they are propped up on metal poles protruding from the corner. The far end rests on a red cloth, which acts as a backdrop and pointer to the violence implied by the work. It clarifies the roles played in the relationship between animals and humans, and offers a reflection on the relationship between the large and the small, and the strong and the weak, as determined by the natural laws of survival. It questions who the real master is – whether animal or human – and seeks to establish the nature of the forms of domination, and the reasons behind them.

What with the conflict between humans, and the conflict between humans and animals, and humans and nature, one cannot help but wonder whether it really is possible for the entire world to exist in harmony.

All the works in the exhibition not only contain elements of conflict but are also linked. Upon entering the exhibition hall, the first thing one sees is Head. The Spur Track to the Left turns out to represent not only the overall concept of the show but also the signpost for the visitors’ route through the show. On the first floor of the exhibition hall, ‘Ehi Ehi Sina Sina’, a huge prayer wheel that rotates at a constant speed, doubles up as a blender for many works scattered throughout the exhibition, and generates a whirlpool of different themes across the first and second floors. In addition to having this connotation, this work also regulates and controls the space, and connects with other works in the exhibition. If the curator had, indeed, wished to indicate a fixed route through the exhibition by means of this installation, the very size of the work disrupts the original intention, to a certain extent.  At a given point it is possible to see not only the works in the immediate vicinity but a number of more distant ones as well, with their implication that there are many possible routes through the exhibition rather than only one, and that none of this, in essence, affects the nature of the overall visit.

From viewing the entire Bâton Serpent exhibition it is evident that there is a comparatively large number of works on display, and a wide range of content  related to cultural, religious, political, economic and other aspects; thus many of these works turn out to be more obscure than would appear to be the case at first sight. Fortunately for the viewer, the exhibition guide provides information about the cultural background of the individual works, thereby making it easier to reflect on the nature of each and the range of contradictions it contains.

1. ‘Can art  have a direction?’ – Huang Yong Ying’s Bâton Serpent III exhibition transcript, 2016.

对立与联系
金评黄永砯个展“蛇杖Ⅲ:左开道岔”

“蛇杖Ⅲ:左开道岔”
上海当代艺术博物馆,上海
2016年3月18日 – 2016年6月19日

“我们不仅仅在看艺术作品,或者谈论艺术史的某些东西,我们应该关心更多的东西,这个可能不是艺术所要承担的重任,但是尝试着做做吧。”1站在展览现场的我想起黄永砯的这段话来。艺术家毕竟不是反恐专家、经济专家,他无法给出解决问题的方法,只能提供一种观看问题的视角。

展览聚集了艺术家过去二十年中创作的25件作品,黄永砯的这些大型装置作品除了给观众带来视觉的震撼外,也给观众呈现出了许多对立与选择的思考,这些作品之间又存在着一定的关联性。正如策展人侯瀚如所说,黄永砯将他关于世界统治力量及其命运的探讨和批评带到了一个更为全面而精准的高度。从中国与世界经济系统的融入到全球反恐态势的变化,他将代表近年世界历史事件的符号化意象进行抽离与解构,最终引领我们参与他关于世界命运的一个更广泛、更本体论的追问:如何选择前行的方向?向左还是向右?面对事物的命运,正确的选择究竟是否存在?作品造成的对立形成了意味深长的“不确定性”,可能是作品意义的“不确定性堂观众、策展人、艺术家等对于作品的不同理解,还可能是对于选择的“不确定性”。黄永砯这些作品都充满着流动的变化,正如他所相信的:单一事物具备衍发出无穷变化的可能性。在这些大量装置中一切的关联与悖论、散落与悬置、废墟与花园、神话与现实、强权与威胁,最终,问再生问,问问不息。

时至2016年,全球化进程的加速依旧没有放缓,科技与互联网技术的更新,犹如催化剂般,加速着全球化不断向前。不同文化与传统、宗教与信仰、政治体制和意识形态的冲突也日益凸显。此次展览中《三步九迹》和《首领》非常焦点地呈现了以上冲突。《三步九迹》是一件完成于1995年的大型装置。一步三迹,分二十四步走完,此步法来自道教仪式中的“禹步”,又称“三步九迹”。它唤起了艺术家关于“三足并行堂佛教、基督教、伊斯兰教三大宗教在世间踯躅前行的意象。在71个脚印周围,分布着5个被各种日常物品封存的垃圾桶,让人回忆起1996年巴黎地铁恐怖袭击事件,而当今世界上的恐怖袭击事件越发频繁。尘封的垃圾桶和巨大足迹转述了不同文明在发展中产生的种种张力。作品对世界现状的描述依旧准确。可以说这是为世界历史事件而作,大的历史事件往往能引发更广泛的思考。反恐事件、宗教问题在这个作品中的呈现反映出人与人、人与社会的冲突对立。而人与动物之间、人与自然之间也存在着大量冲突对立。

黄永砯作品中存在大量的动物标本,动物是黄永砯创作中十分引人注目的艺术语言。在讨论《首领》这件作品前,《羊祸》这件作品也值得关注,它是《黄祸》之后的又一大作。竹子支起羊皮组成、高于人的“羊群”,在“羊群”中立起一个类似牛的怪兽。牛头猪耳,头长四角,身披牛皮,俯视众羊。作品与欧洲当时的“疯牛”事件有关,它呈现了“人吃牛、牛吃羊、羊吃人”的循环。在这里,“羊”和“牛”都成为神话中的怪兽,而“人”却是这个神话的肇事者和受害者,“人”将被“羊”所吃。这个作品以寓言的方式向我们提出疯牛病是“羊祸”、“牛祸”,还是“人祸”。人与动物的这种对立冲突隐隐欲现。而这种冲突在《首领》这件作品中表现得更为突出。此次展出的《首领》是黄永砯2012年的作品,这件作品由十来只动物标本的头部组成金包括野猪、马、鹿、鼠、狮子和狐狸等。从大到小排列,串在自墙角伸出的一根铁棒上。铁棒的另一头碰触着一块红布;这块红布为作品所隐含的暴力充当了背景和引导物。它阐明的是动物与人的首领角色,对根据其大与小、强与弱所建立的生存法则提出了反思:谁才是真正的主宰者?是人还是动物?主宰的真谛又是为何?

从人与人的冲突对立,到人与动物、自然的冲突对立,不禁让人怀疑:整个世界的和谐可能存在吗?

整个展览的作品不仅有对立,也有联系。进入展厅最先看到的便是《头》,这个“左开岔道”的铁轨由此成为展览的整体构想,也是展场参观线路的引导。展厅一楼的Ehi Ehi Sina Sina,这个巨大的、旋转中的转经筒不停匀速自转,成为搅动整个展览诸多作品、不同主题的一个漩涡,贯穿着展厅一楼和二楼。《蛇杖》这件作品除了本身内涵之外,在此次展览中也起到调节、控制着空间,并连接呼应了其他作品。展览如果按照策展人的想法,是有着一定的参观路线。但庞大的装置作品,一定程度上将这种参观路线给打破。站在某一点,不仅能看到此处的作品,还能看到远处的某个作品,因此参观路线存在着多种可能,实质上并不影响对于整个展览的参观。

纵观整个“蛇杖”展览,作品较多,而且作品内涵多涉及文化、宗教、政治、经济等各个方面,因而这些作品往往较为晦涩难懂,但好在展览手册为观者提供了作品创作的一些文化背景,如此也能更好地思考理解作品本身所提供的各种充满矛盾对立的问题。

1. 本刊,《艺术可以有方向吗?金黄永砯“蛇杖Ⅲ”展览对谈录》J。《画刊》2016年( 6 )。