Shifting Subjects and
Risky Aesthetics

Liu Weiwei: Unwelcome Person
Yell Space, Shanghai
16.07.17 – 16.08.17

Translated by Sophia G. Kidd

In China’s intense period of transition, division in the art world stems from divergence of art concepts and basic opinions about the real state of affairs. On 16 July 2017, Liu Weiwei’s Unwelcome Person was put on in the Yell Space, in Shanghai. This project inevitably raised difficult subjects, such as the complex relationship between art and reality, and the use of real actions to probe artistic issues. Liu Weiwei’s richly layered practice transforms an artificially constructed artistic environment into a series of mirages.

The exhibition’s title suggests many different things. The participants invited by Liu Weiwei were human rights lawyers. Even though their identities were as ordinary as those from any other profession, in reality they represented a group of people who were ‘unwelcome’ in the public domain. Liu Weiwei put them in the spotlight because they found themselves in a predicament in which their struggles with authority gave them a certain standing, which enabled people to glimpse unmistakable potential for social change. Liu Weiwei himself is also an ‘unwelcome’ person. His art practice doesn’t involve commerce, so mainstream art institutions don’t pay him any attention. Also, because of his intrinsically critical attitude, he has been subjected to ‘special measures’ and even been asked to desist from art activities in recent years in Chongqing, Beijing and other cities. But he can only find suitable subjects and creative motivation in squaring up to reality. For him, art can only hope to address people’s everyday plight by submitting completely to reality and shattering the illusion of normality. This is where Unwelcome Person comes into the frame: this exhibition necessarily emits a sense of ‘hazard’.

The exhibition resulted from an experience in Guangzhou, in which a local human rights lawyer, Huang Simin, installed cameras in the front corridor of her home. This wasn’t only for the purpose of surveillance: generally a camera is used as an eye; yet it can also function the other way round, as a means of expression. In this case, Liu Weiwei invited twenty-one professionals of all types into the corridor to face the surveillance camera and read out a statement they had written themselves – a statement of any kind – which he then filmed. He originally planned to film for thirty days, but was barred outside on the twenty-first day. He called the footage Unwelcome Person, and played it in this Shanghai exhibition. What was the relationship between his experience in Guangzhou and the show in Shanghai? Certainly the specific context was adjusted, but it also meant that his cramped living quarters were expanded into a public space. The significance of this transformation also enriched the audience’s overall experience. In Liu Weiwei’s perception, the transformation of the context served to displace a lawyer’s identity, for example, and the film footage played a catalytic role in affecting the viewer’s aesthetic understanding of the piece.

The site of the exhibition was a standard, clean, open, box-shaped space. On the opening day, three Shanghai human rights lawyers ( Jiang Zhaojun, Peng Yonghe and Ma Tianlin ) came to the space and took part in the action with Liu Weiwei – or, more accurately, completed the action. Prior to this, Liu Weiwei had invited eleven lawyers to take part and wasn’t sure if anyone would come that day. Supposing these three hadn’t come, the meaning of the project would have been completely altered, and this would have signified a different kind of ‘hazard’. Each of the three lawyers was interviewed in turn about the dilemmas they had faced in their work in the public domain. After the interviews, the three of them acted as hired labour, laying tiles across 20 square metres of the gallery’s floor space. Liu Weiwei called this live performance Greater than 19.5942, ‘19.5942’ being a reference to the surface area of the floor of the Guangzhou corridor. It goes beyond the obvious meaning, albeit expanding with the change of context, from Guangzhou to Shanghai. Originally, the artist had hoped that the three lawyers would pace themselves in finishing the tilework, but they were ferocious and rapid in addressing themselves to the task and finished it in around half an hour. The mental state of the three is certainly worth considering. A thick red liquid lay beneath the floor tiles – the audience need only step on them to feel that they were not smooth or steady, and could hear clear, sharp sounds of friction and fracture. This disruptive noise disturbed the peaceful atmosphere of the gallery. Around this time the artist was working in Guangzhou, where the stiflingly hot, dry climate made a sharp impression on his mind. Red was the counterpart to his physical experience, perhaps triggering associations in the minds of his audience with ruthlessness, severity or purity, which did not correlate to the conventional semiotics of design and the colour red. By this means, Liu Weiwei’s physical experience played a role in determining his formal language.

The most pivotal medium in the exhibition were the people themselves, where lawyers were no longer lawyers, and still less artists; where their identities defied definition and came close to becoming meaningless. Chance and uncertainty caused miraculous change, and the pretended absence of the artist intensified change. The outcome of this change was uncertain, and subject to audience determination. Liu Weiwei’s function in the space was only to organise and record, not to intervene in the work of the three lawyers. He believed himself to be a neutral character, avoiding any expression of bias. However, this wasn’t a worksite. It was still an exhibition piece, and one could say it possessed a theatrical sense of ceremony, a vestigial pretension to visuality, the responsibility for which could not be taken by the artist alone. After the second day the piece consisted of two archival videos, Greater than 19.5942 and Unwelcome Person. Fresh involvement faded away, with the continuous projections onto fluorescent screens. The artistic outcome that resulted from this was a comprehensive report based on humane, physical care, rather than any form of social intervention. As an expression of resistance to the mirage of life, this was not radical enough.

In this exhibition, the artist was not so much the creator as a facilitator of the necessary liaison. Anyone taking part ended up as an author of the piece. This open-endedness was priceless, in enabling a true interaction between artist, performer and audience, which led in turn to a reshaping of the subject’s experience. However, in the reinterpretation of this event by the artist, the gallery and the media, the ‘hazardous’ elements were still moulded by social institutions into safe ‘pieces of art’. These were referred to as an artist’s creation. The connotations of the ‘exhibition’ were ultimately determined by the mass media, and dealt with by display screens and the internet. The piece’s form and content were reformatted in an abstract code. From this, one can say that an authentic experience of the exhibition existed only in the miraculous transformation effected in the blink of an eye on the inaugural day.


2017 年7 月16 日-2017 年8 月16 日

在中国社会的激烈转型期,艺术界的分野不仅源于艺术理念的分歧,更关乎对现实情状的基本判断。2017 年7 月16 日,在上海“要空间”,刘伟伟主导的展览《不受欢迎的人》开始实施,该展览包含了一个不可回避的主题:如何以具体行为真实地探讨艺术与现实间的复杂关系。这样“言之有物”的实践,使周围那些制造美好景观的艺术更像是海市蜃楼。

展览名称有多重所指。刘伟伟邀请的参与者是维权律师,虽然他们的身份像其他职业者一样正常,但这一群体在公共领域中确实处于“不受欢迎”的处境。刘伟伟将目光聚焦在他们身上,是因为从他们的困境里发现了可以审美化的现实能量,这将为人们理解具体, 真切的社会性提供可能。刘伟伟自己也是个不受欢迎的人,他的艺术实践与商业无涉,故而主流艺术体制对他并不在乎;此外,他这几年在重庆, 北京等地的一些艺术活动,因内在的批判性而受到公共体制的“特殊照顾”,有时甚至被叫停。但只有与现实紧密拥抱,他才能获得表达的内容和创作的动力。对于他来说,艺术应以一种全面进入现实的方式助人破除日常的幻觉, 重新理解自身的处境。由于“不受欢迎”的因素汇聚于此,这次展览必然散发着“涉险”的味道。

Liu Weiwei, Unwelcome Person, screenshot puzzle from video, 32 min 57 sec

Liu Weiwei, Unwelcome Person, screenshot puzzle from video, 32 min 57 sec

展览起因于他在广州的一些经历。当地的维权律师黄思敏, 家门口楼道里被安装了摄像头,这不仅是一种监视行为,也可用“逆向”的方式将“俯瞰之眼”转换为表达的途径。刘伟伟邀请了21 位各类职业者来到楼道里,对着监控镜头读一篇自己写的声明,声 明五花八门,他拍摄了这些场景。原打算将计划持续进行30 天, 但到了第21 天,刘伟伟被限制进入空间内拍摄。他将所拍的视频命名为《不受欢迎的人》,在上海展览上进行了播放。广州的经验与上海的展示是一种什么样的关系?毫无疑问,具体的语境已被改变,但局促的生活空间被放大到公共区域,意义在发生变形的同时也丰富了展览观众对世界的整体感受。在刘伟伟看来, 语境的转变去除了律师身份的烙印,使楼道的影像可以作为供观者展开审美活动的“中间物”。然而,这样的视频不会只是提供感性的道具,也不可能是中性的,它是连接不同现实的管道,观众从中获得的也不仅是感觉和情绪,关于个体与社会关系的思考必然会在他们心中萌发。

展览的场地是一个标准的盒子空间,整洁宽敞。开幕当天, 三位上海的维权律师蒋照军, 彭永和, 马天林来到现场与刘共同实施这一展览,更准确地说,主要由他们三人完成这个展览。此前,刘伟伟邀请了11 位律师,他也不知道展览当天会不会有人来。假若这三人也未到场,那展览的涵义将发生彻底的变化,将是另一种“涉险”。三人依次进行了访谈,内容是工作中的一些经历及遭遇过的公共困境。采访后,三人以雇工的身份在现场用地砖重铺了20 平方米的地面。刘伟伟将现场行为命名为《大于19.5942》,“19.5942”是指广州楼道的占地面积,“大于”意指表达的信息因语境的变迁 ( 从广州到上海 ) 而得到了拓展。艺术家本来希望三人以平静的状态完成铺砖,但过程中他们动作激烈而迅速,大约半小时全部铺完,三人的心理状态颇值得琢磨。地砖下面是粘稠的红色液体,观众踩上去感觉并不平稳,还能听到清脆锐利的摩擦和折断声,刺激的声响打破了空间的雅致。艺术家在广州工作期间,近乎绝望的干热气候让他记忆犹新,这红色正是他生理感受的对应物,在现场或许会引发观众关于残酷性, 剧烈性或纯粹性的联想,做出这种设计与红色符号学语义没有关联,刘伟伟的肉身体验决定了这一形式语言。


展览中最为关键的媒介是人本身,在此律师不再是律师, 更不是艺术家,身份难以定义,出现了意义的真空,偶然性与不确定性使主体发生了异变,艺术家假装的缺席加剧了这一异变。异变结果是开放的,有待于被观众检验和判定。刘伟伟在现场所起的作用,仅仅是组织和记录,并没有干预三人的劳作。他认为自己是一个近乎中立的角色,在展览中没有投射倾向性的态度。但这并不是一个劳作现场,仍是一个展示的现场,甚至可以说是具有仪式感的剧场,还残留着视觉化的矫饰性,对此艺术家不能推卸责任。第二天后,展览的作品是记录现场行为的《大于19.5942》和《不受欢迎的人》两部影像,鲜活的参与性在连续播放的荧光屏中消逝了。若说该艺术实践是一种社会性介入,毋宁说是基于肉体和人性关照的综合报告,作为一种抗拒生活幻觉的行动却还是不够彻底。

Liu Weiwei, Greater than 19.5942, action and video. Photo: Liu Weiwei

Liu Weiwei, Greater than 19.5942, action and video. Photo: Liu Weiwei

Liu Weiwei, Greater than 19.5942, exhibition arrangement. Photo: Liu Weiwei

Liu Weiwei, Greater than 19.5942, exhibition arrangement. Photo: Liu Weiwei

在展览中,艺术家不是创造者,而是一个联络员,任何一位参与者都是作者,这种开放性是宝贵的,它为艺术家, 行动者, 观众提供了真实互动, 重塑主题的机会。但在艺术家, 画廊及媒体的传播和再阐释中,具有“涉险”属性的时间仍被社会体制塑造成趋于安全的“艺术品”,再次被指认为艺术家的创造物。展览的含义最终是通过媒体传播给定的,经过显示屏和互联网的处理, 作品的形态和内容被格式化为抽象的符码,从这个意义上来说, 真是的展览体验只存在于开幕现场那个异变的片刻之中。