Natural Selection

Andy Holden / Peter Holden: Natural Selection
Former Newington Library, Walworth Road, London
10.09.17 – 26.11.17

Joint Second Prize
Entry in English

Though outlawed in 1954 in the UK, egg-collecting retained an air of legitimacy well into the1970s. I remember coming home one day, as a six-year-old, with my own first egg ( a song thrush’s ), expecting no admonishment from my father, and none was meted out. On the contrary, he showed me how to blow it. First, you had to place the egg in a sink of water. If it floated that meant there was an embryo inside and you could expect difficulties when, having pricked both ends of the shell with a needle, you tried to force the half-formed bird through the tiniest of holes. The sink test was grim, the degree of buoyancy indicating, as it were, how alive the thing you were about to kill was, had to kill in order to preserve your trophy. And what came out was hardly ever pure yolk, even from those eggs that sank.

This principle obsession of my youth is the subject of much of the work comprising Natural Selection, Andy Holden and Peter Holden’s father–son collaboration, currently showing at the former Newington Library in South London. The ‘oological’ material is located in the basement, under the heading A Social History of Egg Collecting, where it presents very much as ornithology’s unconscious. But let us begin on a lighter note, on the ground floor, with A Natural History of Nest Building.

Two video installations form the spine of this Artangel commission, augmented with photographs, prints, drawings, sculptures and found objects. The centrepiece of the upper section is the three-screen video installation, A Natural History of Nest Building. It’s here that we meet our didactic hosts: on the right-hand screen, Peter Holden MBE, a renowned ornithologist in his late sixties, whose forty-year tenure at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds engendered the Young Ornithologists’ Club and also involved regular TV appearances; on the left-hand screen, his son, Andy Holden, an artist in his mid-thirties. The central screen shows a mixture of archival footage and diagrams, various evolutionary theories being offered to account for birds’ nesting habits, both men talking directly to camera. We learn why the funnelled entrances to weaver birds’ nests are getting longer ( because snakes are also getting longer ); why the reed warbler continues to feed the cuckoo after it has ejected the other eggs ( because its parenting instincts respond to the cuckoo’s crimson gullet ); why the beguiling tent-like constructions of the bower bird, made from twigs and surrounded by objects collected by the male and grouped according to colour, could be seen as evidence of non-human ‘art’ ( because this behaviour appears to demonstrate the ability to see an image of the bower in advance of its construction, the bird repositioning any items moved by human hand back into place in an apparent attempt to conform to the original blueprint ). In the main, it falls to Andy to parlay these scientific assessments into more metaphysical assertions. For example, the sharply pointed eggs of the guillemot are able to roll within a tight circumference. Given that guillemots build no nest, this is crucial, as it stops them falling off the narrow coastal ledges the birds favour for breeding. In other words, Andy informs us, with no little excitement, that the egg is the nest, protected by its own morphology. It’s a poetic leap of the imagination, like something out of Magritte, and not everyone will buy it, but it’s moments like this – set up with painstaking scientific reasoning – that lift the film beyond a faux-televisual treatment.

The two presenters appear to flip roles to prevent their delivery becoming predictable, Holden Sr at times less patrician, Holden Jr more steely in his determination to match his father’s ornithological prowess. Long-haired, bespectacled and wearing a suit-and-tie combination reminiscent of Open University presenters circa 1982, Andy initially appears as an ironic counterpoint to his father’s authority figure, but this is soon dispelled by his autodidactic intensity, which, if anything, adds to the High Pedagogic mode. Despite the archive footage and Reithian educational approach, more structuralist elements remind us that this is not television. At one point, clips of the courtship display of the great crested grebe on the central screen are flanked by static-camera shots of two lumps of concrete poking out of the water – a momentary correlation between the angular beaks of the birds and the shards of a demolished building. And the fact that both presenters are frequently seen against a background of enlarged details of paintings by Paul Nash contextualises the sometimes bizarre products of nest-building as much within the latter’s ‘vernacular surrealism’ as within the canon of nature documentary. A critique of television is perhaps inevitable given Peter Holden’s long association with the medium, which clearly taught him much about verbal timing, and how to speak to – and write for – the camera. The ease of his presentation, compared with his son’s more raffish approach, is a strength of their film, most apparent when one hands over to the other, sometimes passing him a nest or an egg, which disappears behind the central screen into the other’s hands, disrupting the transitive delivery of information characteristic of TV. These props also form part of an adjacent glass cabinet display of nests, some made by birds, others by human hand, in an effort to understand the technical aspects of their construction. The Holdens have also fashioned a gigantic bower from twigs, based on the aforementioned bower bird’s, through which can be viewed the central screen of their video.

While there are stand-alone works here – six lathed wooden sculptures, based on sonograms of bird songs; cartoons drawn by Andy for the magazine Bird Life, in which his father is characterised as ‘Mr Holden’, tasked with controlling the unruly ‘Rook’; and some blown-up photographs from the family album – most things operate as grounding material for the films. The mood darkens considerably in the basement, where How the Artist Was Led to the Study of Nature, a replica of notorious egger Richard Pearson’s collection, amassed over forty years and numbering 7,130 eggs, is shown alongside the second video installation, The Opposite of Time, a story of egg-collecting’s transition from a scientific pursuit in the 1800s to a present-day crime. Pearson’s original collection, destroyed after his arrest in 2006, is recreated in painted porcelain and presented in the same kind of cardboard boxes and margarine tubs he might once have used for ease of concealment, a far cry from the varnished cabinets of his nineteenth-century predecessors, the gentleman collectors John Wolley, Lord Rothschild and the Reverend Francis Jourdain, founder of the British Oological Association ( later, to morph into the more squalid Jourdain Society ). This social history is told mainly by an animated crow, which flaps lugubriously across a background of images culled from landscape paintings by Constable, Hockney and Turner. Voiced by Andy, Crow’s narrative, recounted on the larger left-hand screen, is accompanied by interjections from Peter, on the smaller right-hand screen, with news archive footage from the last fifty years detailing significant arrests, the key question being how it is that eggers can ignore the perversity of killing the thing they love, in order to own it for aesthetic pleasure.

This fusion of Eros and Thanatos is not the only thing of interest to psychoanalysts here. In an interview towards the end of the film, Richard Pearson, now in his fifties, reflects that if he’d only had ‘a female’ in tow on his many excursions, he could have ‘showed her a thing or two’. Given that egging is an exclusively male pursuit, it isn’t easy to picture this putative companion as anything other than an idealised female version of Pearson himself, and the sympathy this elicits is The Opposite of Time’s finest moment. The Holdens don’t join the Freudian dots, but Pearson himself seems to acknowledge that egging may have been counterproductive to his psychosexual development. There is a poignant sense, here, of his finally emerging from the illusion that many boys harbour up to the age of eleven or twelve: that it might be possible, somehow, to forestall adulthood, or deflect it with a pursuit that is sufficiently hermetic. This attraction to remaining on the cusp of adolescence – strong enough and smart enough to get what you want, but not yet old enough to answer for the consequences – is the province of the man-child, and it’s not difficult to see how egging feeds this impulse, how the activity’s youthful origins give it an imprimatur of innocence long into middle age. If the Holdens’ replica of his collection is numerically and taxonomically faithful, then Pearson took clutch after clutch of the same species. I recall that I and my reprobate friends took just a single egg – as though willing to let it stand metonymically for the more deep-seated pathology to which we too might have succumbed.


《自然选择》:安迪· 霍尔顿& 彼得· 霍尔顿
2017 年9 月10 日—2017 年11 月26 日


译/ 顾虔凡

尽管英国早在1954 年就宣布采集鸟蛋是非法的,但这项行为直到70 年代都仍然持续着。我记得自己六岁时的某天带着人生中获得的第一颗蛋 ( 一枚画眉鸟的蛋 ) 回到家里,没有如预料的那样受到父亲的批评,完全没有。相反,他教我如何获取完整的蛋壳。首先,你必须把蛋放到注满的水槽里,如果蛋漂浮起来, 说明里面有胚胎,那么当你用针刺破蛋壳的两端试图将半成型的鸟从极小的孔洞中排放出去的时候就会遇到不少麻烦。水槽测试是很残酷的,浮力的强大程度所说明的是,为了保存蛋壳这尊奖杯你即将扼杀的这个生命有多么的鲜活。而且,即便是那些在水槽里沉坠下去的蛋,最后捅出来的也远不是蛋黄这么单纯的东西。

我小时候对此非常痴迷,而这种痴迷正是父子档艺术家组合安迪· 霍尔顿 ( Andy Holden ) 和彼得· 霍尔顿 ( Peter Holden ) 在南伦敦前纽因顿图书馆所做的展览“自然选择 ( Natural Selection ) ”的主题。这些“鸟卵学”的素材被冠以“一份鸟蛋采集的社会史”的标题而集中放在地下室,其呈现像是一种鸟类学的无意识。不过,还是让我们从更轻巧的内容说起吧:在一层展出的“一份鸟巢构筑的自然史”。

两件视频装置是这次《艺术天使 ( Artangel ) 》委托创作项目的主体,再加上照片, 版画, 绘画, 雕塑和其他拾得物。展览楼上部分的核心作品是三屏视频装置“一份鸟巢构筑的自然史”。正是在这里,我们遇见了这个项目的教学主持者:右手边屏幕上的是生物工程硕士 ( MBE ) 彼得· 霍尔顿,他是一位将近七十岁的著名鸟类学家,曾在皇家鸟类保护协会 ( RSPB ) 任职四十多年,发起了青年鸟类学家俱乐部的项目,并且经常受邀参加电视节目的录制;左手边的屏幕上则是他的儿子安迪· 霍尔顿,一位三十多岁的艺术家。中间的屏幕上展示了许多档案素材和图表, 对鸟类筑巢习性予以解释的各种进化理论,而两个人都直视着摄影机向我们说话。我们知道了为什么鸟巢一端漏斗形状的入口越来越长 ( 因为蛇也越来越长 ) ;为什么芦苇莺在排出了其他蛋之后还会继续喂养杜鹃 ( 因为它的育儿本能会对深红色的食

产生反应 ) ;为什么雄性园丁鸟 ( bowerbird ) 用树枝搭建并依据颜色分类的帐篷结构可以被视作非人为“艺术”的证据 ( 因为这个行为表明,在搭建完成之前这种鸟就有能力预见这个结构的完成,经人手刻意移动过的部件都会被园丁鸟重新一一摆放回去, 这就说明它有意识地试图让整个结构符合自己最初的蓝图设计 ) 。总体来说,是安迪将这些科学性的评定置于一种更形而上学的主张之中。例如,海鸠鸟尖尖的蛋能够以短小的圆周长度来进行转动,考虑到海鸠并不筑巢的习性,这种尖形的鸟蛋显得至关重要,因为那会阻止它们从这种鸟喜欢孵蛋的那些狭长海峡的边缘部分跌落下去。换而言之,是安迪带着无比激动的心情告诉我们, 这样的蛋本身就是一种鸟巢,它可以用形态学对自身进行保护。这是想象力的一种诗意跃进,就像是画家马格里特笔下的那些东西,尽管不是所有人都对此买账,但是诸如这样的时刻—建立在艰难的科学推理之上—使得这部影片超越了一种人为的电视化的处理。

两位主持者时常互换角色以防止他们传达的内容太过容易地落入人们的预想,霍尔顿爸爸不时地显出更少的贵族气,而霍尔顿儿子则更努力地要与他父亲鸟类学的学识相匹配。安迪蓄长发, 戴眼镜, 穿着让人想起大约1982 年开放大学 ( Open University ) 主讲人的那种西装领带套装,他一开始看起来似乎是他父亲这种权威人物的一个讽刺性的对比,但是这很快就被他自己散发的张力所驱散了,而这一切又都增强了某种高等教育 ( High Pedagogic ) 的模式产生的质感。尽管有许多档案素材和约翰· 里思 ( John Reith ) 式的教学形式,但更为结构主义的元素则在提醒我们这并不是一场电视节目。在中间的屏幕上,有一段影片拍到一对凤头冠鸊鷉 ( great crested grebe ) 在求爱的场景, 当时两侧屏幕上播放的内容则是静态摄影拍下的两块水泥从水中浮现而出的画面—鸟类的角喙与建筑拆毁的碎片之间就这样产生了瞬时的关联。此外,两位主持者常常出现在一幅保罗· 纳什 ( Paul Nash ) 作品局部放大图的背景之前,这个细节提供了一种语境解释,那些鸟巢构筑的产物时常显得很奇异,就像是自然类纪录片的拍摄手法下展现出的那种“动植物的超现实主义”一样。鉴于彼得· 霍尔顿与媒体有长期的紧密合作,作品对电视媒介的批判似乎是在所难免的,这种媒介显然教会了霍尔顿爸爸各种技巧,比如说话的时机, 如何在摄影机前讲述, 如何为摄影机进行写作等等。与儿子相对粗劣的讲话技巧相比,他的表现非常轻松自然,这种对比是他们作品中的一大优势,尤其明显的是他们为彼此递去一个窝巢或一颗鸟蛋的时候,其中一人会退到另一个人身后,从而在中间的屏幕上消失,这就打破了电视节目惯有的那种流畅传达的观感。在他们使用的道具中,有一个展示鸟巢的玻璃柜,有些巢是由鸟筑造的,有些则是人们为了理解鸟类筑造结构的技术而仿制的。霍尔顿家的两位还根据前面提到的园丁鸟的习性,用树枝搭建起了一个巨大的凉亭结构,透过这个结构刚好可以看见他们视频作品的中间屏幕。

这里存在着一些独立的作品—六个基于鸟鸣的声谱图创作的车床般的木质雕塑;安迪为《鸟类生活》杂志创作的卡通画, 他的父亲以“霍尔顿先生”的形象出现在其中,任务是要管教那些不听话的“白嘴鸦”;还有一些来自家庭相簿的, 放大了的特写照片—这些内容大部分都作为电影的背景资料出现。到了地下室之后,展览的气氛变得很暗沉,作品“是什么让艺术家开始了对自然的研究”将臭名昭著的鸟蛋收藏者理查德· 皮尔森 ( Richard Pearson ) 的藏品进行了复制,这些历经四十多年收集而来的7130 枚蛋与第二件视频装置“时间的反面”展示在一起,视频所讲述的故事是蛋类的采集如何从1800 年时一种出于科学目的的追求变成了现在的一种违法罪行。在皮尔森2006 年被捕入狱之后, 他的收藏就被没收销毁了,这些复制品是彩绘瓷器,并且同样装在硬板纸箱和包装人造黄油的塑料盒里,皮尔森当时使用这些容器是为了便于隐匿,这与他的前辈们, 绅士般的收藏家约翰· 沃利 ( John Wolley ), 罗斯柴尔德勋爵 ( Lord Rothschild ) 和英国鸟卵学协会 ( 这个协会之后慢慢变成了污秽的“乔丹社团” ) 创始人弗朗西斯· 乔丹 ( Francis Jourdain ) 所使用的那种上着彩漆的储物柜完全不同。这段社会史由一只卡通乌鸦娓娓道来,它郁郁寡欢地从康斯坦布尔, 霍克尼以及透纳绘画构成的背景画面飞过。安迪为这只乌鸦配音,它的故事在较大的左手边的屏幕上播放,右手边较小的屏幕上则是彼得的感慨,他提供了更多有关过去五十年间知名抓捕行动的档案资料,最关键的核心问题在于,鸟蛋收藏者们是如何只顾获得自己审美上的愉悦而无视那些要被扼杀掉的生命。

将爱神厄洛斯和死神塔纳托斯杂糅在一起,这并不是心理分析家们对此唯一感兴趣的分析。在影片快要结束的一段采访中, 现年五十多岁的理查德· 皮尔森表示,如果在他那么多次去偷猎鸟蛋的旅途中有“一位女性”的话,他或许就可以“向她展示一二”。偷猎并收藏鸟蛋是一种极具男性气质的追求,要想象出一个理想化的皮尔森的女性版本角色因而就显得极为困难,而影片引发出的这种共情心理正是“时间的反面”中最美好的时刻。霍尔顿父子没有为其注入弗洛伊德式的解读,但皮尔森自己似乎知道收集鸟蛋这件事可能会对他的性心理发展产生反面作用。皮尔森从一种许多男孩在11 或12 岁时就会停止的幻觉中摆脱出来,这其中存在着一种非常心酸的感受:或许从某种程度上阻断成年时期的到来是有可能的,或者用一种足够密闭的追求可以转移这种成年期到达的焦虑。想要将青春期保存下来—因为那个时期的人强大又聪慧到足以获得自己想要的东西,但又因为年龄关系不必为许多后果承担责任,这种诱惑力塑造出了“成年巨婴”,偷猎和收集鸟蛋显然在怂恿着这种冲动,而这个行为中童真的成分似乎为其 长久地进入一个人的中年时期提供了某种善良的许可。如果霍尔顿父子的复制品在数量和分类上都忠实于皮尔森的收藏的话,那么皮尔森的惯例就是反反复复地对同一个种类下手。这让我想起我和我的狐朋狗友当时只拿走了一颗蛋—似乎是想让它成为我们或许也会折服于其下的更深层病症的一种借喻。