The Individual Will
Not Remain Silent
Christian Boltanski: Storage Memory
Power Station of Art, Shanghai
25.04.18 – 08.07.18
Entry in Chinese
Translated by Duncan Hewitt
The King of Spades, the Queen of Hearts, the Jack of Clubs and the Six of Diamonds: if we shuffle the cards again will their destinies be altered? Will the ‘babies’ delivered by the roaring conveyor belt installation become the next revolutionaries – or urban dropouts?
At the French artist Christian Boltanski’s solo exhibition Storage Memory, at the Power Station of Art in Shanghai, two huge-scale installation works – Personnes ( People / No one ) and Chance – the Wheel of Fortune – rise up dramatically from the vast ground-floor space. A mechanical claw, like ‘the hand of God’, clutches repeatedly at the tons of clothes piled up below in a huge heap; inside a large scaffolding installation, countless photographs of babies move, then come to an abrupt halt, waiting for the selection process that is constantly repeated. It’s as though they are performing a visualisation in response to the question ‘How does destiny move?’ And, with this question emphasised up front, the show begins.
Although the title of this exhibition is likely to lead to a focus on memory, we cannot ignore the fact that the main division between the individual and memory is forgetting. Rather than expressing its concern for memory in the ontological sense, the exhibition is more a way of resisting forgetting, and thus allowing the individual to exist forever in the artist’s syntax. So, whose memory does Storage Memory actually store? The object that is missing here is ‘the individual’ concerned. And my focus in this review relates specifically to the question of how the use of ‘portraits’ in Boltanski’s works has composed an ‘ode to the individual’.
Leaving the two huge installations behind, the work Humans, made up of more than a hundred gauze sheets and light bulbs, floats like a ghost in mid-air, on the second floor of the PSA. Indeed, the whole second-floor gallery has been divided up into a corridor linking several ‘rooms’: in the work Corridor of Lightbulbs, more than a hundred black coats are suspended, conveying a sense of being at death’s door – and the low-wattage tungsten-filament light bulbs that accompany them also seem to be hanging on by a thread.
As soon as you set foot in the entrance to the ‘colonnade’ you see an installation made up of faces of children and a supporting framework ( Behind the images, 1996 ). Influenced by the faces, the framework seems to be playing the role of a body in their midst. Gazing at the faces of the people in these photographs, one sees what are clearly not their wrinkles but are actually folds or damage to the pictures – yet in the atmosphere that Boltanski creates, the features of the people and the images seem logically suited to each other, as if… as if, even though the people in these photographs will never grow old, they will still age as a result of the material of which the images are made.
‘Individual’, ‘destiny’, ‘death’, ‘memory’… These key words have lingered constantly along Boltanski’s creative path. The vast majority of people are thoroughly convinced by them – but what concerns me more is how the confirmation of the individual is implemented here. Or to go further, how does a photographic portrait live up to its name, like a living person? It’s as though, before this kind of confirmation can take place, it’s not possible to start discussing these key words about which people talk so much.
In the artist’s linguistic system, it seems, in fact, to have been tacitly agreed that one portrait or one garment is equivalent in value to one individual. However, people these days can no longer return to an age when seeing the Veil of Veronica was equivalent to seeing the true face of Jesus; nor can we go back to the days when photography was so misunderstood that people believed that if a camera took their picture it would take away their soul.
To summarise, this kind of benediction, in which people believe so deeply, can, perhaps, be boiled down to two aspects: on the one hand, the use of photos and artefacts in Boltanski’s work suggests that we really only need people to exist or to have existed, and do not need their essential nature or character. On the other hand, once a photograph has been endowed with the authority that comes with it being a symbol of life, it must, to ensure that it does not lose this authority, continue to be stored in some structure of a ceremonial nature – such as the artist’s altar – or in shrine-like installations, with the light bulbs that suggest a memorial service and the ceremonies that come from some unknown religion… From this moment onwards, the people and their portraits not only resemble each other, they also perpetuate each other, affect each other – they are both visible images and invisible bodies.
The portrait is without a doubt the external form that most directly expresses individual characteristics. The large-scale use of portraits has accounted for a huge proportion of the works that Boltanski has created since the 1990s. Looking back now, it seems like a fateful coincidence that, in around 1986, the first work in which the artist used a portrait as source material was called Veronica: the portrait was simply a close-up of a woman’s head, but it was placed under a hazy veil, which seemed to create the illusion that it was alive, as though it had a body. Through the use of this famous classical allusion, the work predicted the authority of the portrait and the power of analogy, and exerted an extraordinary influence on the artist’s subsequent creative career.
However, portraits in themselves raise many doubts, and we may well need to ask precisely where these pictures came from. Which phase of an individual’s timeline are they from? Because we all know that before a ‘face’ attains its final appearance, it must battle for the remainder of its life, right up to the final moment of death. In the exhibition, Detective Altar and Social News are placed facing each other in the same room; although these two works are very different in their external structure, what connects them is the source of the portraits, which come from newspapers, with various people mixed up together. Yes, there are criminals and victims, deceased Swiss people and children from Dijon in France. And simply by looking at their faces, it’s quite impossible to judge on which side of the divide between good and evil in a civilised society they stand. And now they are all gone. In this way, Boltanski has built a cemetery devoted to peace. And this gives us further confirmation of the artist’s credo when it concerns ‘the ode to the individual’: he does not worry about individual character or choosing people based on their qualities; rather, he builds the work on an innate respect for the individual. As Tzvetan Todorov put it: ‘Since people are not all base or unworthy of mention, and since they deserve respect, does this not prove that people should be carefully depicted?’ Clearly, Boltanski’s depictions are not intended to be an aestheticised portrayal of an individual, as in fifteenth-century portraiture, but form part of a broader, more general paean to humanity, which is unprecedented in its universal love for humankind.
To remove human beings from society or ethics, so that they become pure individuals, and then to treat them indiscriminately – or to put it another way, to lump them all together – has long been Boltanski’s ideal; indeed, this ‘lumping together’ may even be expressed by a crossing of the boundaries between life and death. The artist has previously mixed up portraits of the living and the dead, with the result that it can be equally hard to judge whether these images are the last glimpse of the world of the living before they bid farewell, or a means of extending the world of the dead. Perhaps the important thing is that the tone of the works that stand in front of us seems to suggest a greater tendency towards a kind of symbol of ‘having existed’. Here the artist has monumentalised ‘individuals’. In fact, this type of monumentalisation is an approach he has used frequently, as can be seen in works such as the Altar series, the Monuments series, Scraping, Behind the Images and After – DOPO.
Thus we can, of course, say that the artist has a pronounced inclination to become a Creator, yet at the same time we cannot deny that the subjects he is concerned about really are founded on the broad macro-perspective of the individual human being. If the sending of the first man-made satellite into space in 1957 – described by Hannah Arendt as ‘second in importance to no other’ – was a moment of progress in the annals of human history, it actually also provided a new angle for assessing the condition of humankind, because the idea that human beings could move to another planet was probably the greatest transformation people could imagine in those days. To a certain extent, this reflects a pattern comparable to Boltanski’s practice – sparing no effort to construct and make metaphors for the plight of humankind.
Finally, I want to return to the frequently discussed key words that I mentioned earlier: ‘individual’, ‘destiny’, ‘death’, ‘memory’… Here they can finally be elaborated on: ‘individual’ refers to the praising of every individual without favouritism; ‘destiny’, a calm assessment of the cycle of human life; ‘death’ focuses on the inevitability of one’s own passage towards death; ‘memory’ refers to creating an everlasting ‘archive’ that will do its utmost to combat amnesia. Ultimately they converge, and history and characters from the distant past can re-emerge and, in the midst of a crisis that is shaking humankind’s consciousness, return to remodel themselves.
Leaving the main gallery, I went inside the PSA’s chimney, where there was an installation in which a light flashed in time with Boltanski’s own heartbeat. I have never been able to work out whether this was a case of some kind of narcissism on the part of an artist with a Creator complex, or whether he was using it as a subtle way of hinting at his respect for other individuals’ perceptions of self. In the final analysis, the feeble flickering light bulb seemed to be imminently awaiting the moment of its final demise; so, should we start to worry about the weakness of the human life with which the light shares a common destiny? On the day I left Storage Memory, I suddenly felt as I caught sight of the thermometer-shaped symbol that has always adorned the top of the PSA’s chimney, that this seemed particularly well suited to the exhibition.
2018 年4 月25 日—2018 年7 月8 日
法国艺术家克里斯蒂安·波尔坦斯基的个展“忆所”在上海当代艺术博物馆( PSA ) 一楼偌大的空间里，拔地而起两件体积庞大的巨型装置——“无人”和“机遇·命运之轮”——仿若“上帝之手”的机械抓钩反复选取着下方数以吨计的、成山峦状的衣服; 无数婴儿照片在巨型脚手架装置内随机动停等待着一次次甄选，它们似乎正为可视化“命运如何运转”这一提问做出演示， 作为前置问题，展览就此开始。
尽管本次展览的标题在字面上很容易将核心问题引向记忆， 但我们不能忽视的是，个体和记忆之间只是落差了一个遗忘，展览比起对记忆本体论意义上的关切，毋宁说是对抗遗忘的方式， 从而让个体在艺术家的语法里永存。那么，忆所究竟储存的是谁
的记忆呢? 这里缺失的宾语正是“个体”本身。而我在此所谈论的， 也就是围绕在波尔坦斯基的作品里对“肖像”的使用是如何书写“个体的颂歌”的。
走过两件巨型装置，由上百幅纱幕和灯泡组成的作品“人类” 幽灵般漂浮于PSA 展馆二楼上空。而整个二楼展厅则被分割成一条回廊并联着几个“房间”的结构，作品“灯廊”里悬挂的百件黑色大衣渗透出一股奄奄一息的气氛，与之呼应的是并不刺眼的钨丝灯泡显得气若游丝。只要进入“回廊”入口处便能看到一些儿童的脸庞与撑杆支架组成的装置( “图像背后,1996” )，在“脸” 的带动下，架子仿佛充当着一副身体参与其中，望着照片上的人脸，那分明不是人物的皱纹而是照片物质性的褶皱与破损，可在波尔坦斯基所营造的气氛下开始让人物与图像的特性彼此合理， 就好……好像尽管照片上的人物们再也不会衰老了，但他们却仍然在图像的物质性下变得陈旧。
个体、命运、死亡、记忆……诸如此类的关键词始终徘徊在波尔坦斯基的创作路线上，绝大多数人都对此深信不疑，而我更加关心是: 个体的确认在此是如何实现的? 或者更进一步，一张肖像照片又是如何像一个活生生的真人一样名副其实的? 似乎这种确认在尚未实现以前，那些被津津乐道的关键词根本无从谈起。在艺术家的话语体系里，的确已经默许了一张肖像、一件衣服对一个个体的等同，可是，如今的人们已经回不去那个看到维罗妮卡的面纱就等同于一种看见耶稣真容的年代，也回不去被摄影机拍下便认为是摄取了灵魂的那个误解照相术的年代了。
肖像，无疑是个体特征最直接的外现形式，对肖像的大量使用占据了波尔坦斯基自上世纪90 年代以来所创作的及其庞大的比重。如今再回望，有着某种宿命般巧合的是，似乎是在1986 年， 艺术家最早使用肖像素材创作的作品名称便是《维罗妮卡》—— 仅仅只有头部特写的女子照片却在缥缈的面纱下竟让肖像本身有了“肉身”一样活着的错觉——借着这个著名的典故，它们预示着肖像的权威或比拟的力量，并在艺术家之后的创作生涯里有着非同寻常的影响。
要提问这些肖像的来源究竟是来自何方? 他们又是个体时间进程中的哪一阶段? 因为我们都知道“脸”在尚未找到属于自己的最终形式以前，为此它不得不和余生展开斗争，直到寿寝正终的一刻。在展览中，“侦探祭坛”与“社会新闻”以相互对视的位置坐落于同一个房间内，尽管两件作品在外观结构上大相径庭，但将其建立起联系的其实正是这些肖像的来源——源于新闻报纸上的、被混为一谈的人们，是的，他们中有罪犯也有受害者，有逝去的瑞士人也有法国第戎的儿童，如果仅仅凭借脸庞，你根本无从判断文明社会下的善与恶究竟站在哪一方，而此时，他们都已离去。波尔坦斯基以这样的方式建立了一座关于和平的公墓，从中，我们对艺术家关于“个体颂歌”的信条得到了再次确认—— 不谈人性和本质层面的筛选，而是建立在与生俱来地对个体本身的尊重。借着茨维坦·托多罗夫的话来说“既然人并非一味卑贱、微不足道，既然他也值得尊重，那么，这不足以证明人应当被认真描绘吗?”显然，波尔坦斯基的这种描绘，不在于像15 世纪肖像画那样对着某个单一个体进行审美化的刻画，而是一种更加宏观的、普遍的且从未有过的如此博爱的关于人类的颂歌。
由此，我们当然可以说艺术家有着极强的造物主倾向，但同时不能否认的是，他所关心的对象也确实是建立在以人类个体这个庞大和宏观的视角上。如果说，1957 年那个被汉娜·阿伦特认为“在重要性上是无可比拟的”第一颗人造卫星送上太空事件， 是一次人类历史书写的更进一步，那么这个事件实际上也是提供了一种重新视检人类自身处境的视角，因为人类移居到其他星球或许是在彼时人的境况里人们能够想象的最极端的改变。它在一定程度上与波尔坦斯基的实践有着某种暗合一致的节奏，即一种不遗余力地对人类处境的比拟与构建。
最后还是要回到开篇中那几个时常被提到的关键词——个体、命运、死亡、记忆……终于在此时得以被拓展书写: 个体， 是对每一个个体无偏袒的颂歌; 命运，是对人类运转机制的冷静审视，死亡，是着眼于自己走向死亡的必然; 记忆，是塑造尽力抵抗遗忘的永久“档案”，它们最终交汇，从而，遥远的历史和人物可以重新登场，在动摇人类现有感知的危机中以回归来重塑它自身。
走出主展厅，进入PSA 的烟囱内部，是波尔坦斯基根据自己的心跳同步灯光闪频的装置，而我早已分不清这是作为一个有造物主倾向的艺术家的某种自恋，还是以此暗自提示着其他个体对自我感知的重视了，毕竟，微弱而闪烁的灯泡随时都在等待着戛然而止瞬间的到来，以至于我们是否开始担忧与之构成命运共同体般的生命的脆弱了? 突然觉得，离开展览那一天，看到PSA 的烟囱顶部原本就有的温度计形状的标志好像与展览显得格外契合。