Existing In The Space Between

Henri Michaux, Face à Face
Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles, Paris
22.02.17 – 21.05.17

Translated by Duncan Hewitt


Where does the writing begin? Where does the painting begin? 1

There are very few people like this: Henri Michaux has dual identities, both as an artist and a writer – and these two identities are so well balanced in his person that it’s impossible to discuss one of them alone, without doing a disservice to the other. Such a balance means we cannot regard the writer’s painting as a bonus to his writing, nor can we regard the painter’s writing as a footnote to his painting. Perhaps we can put it like this: the two identities both fundamentally aim towards the same goal, towards an ‘intransitive’ type of depiction.

In this approach, writing and painting are no longer seen as methods of reproducing meaning, but as proofs and tests of existence itself. All of Michaux’s work is concerned with this: writing and painting are no longer an action aimed at producing something, but, rather, are essential parts of life, links in the rhythm of life, produced in response to life’s own motion. And it’s precisely because of this that Michaux argues that gambling can liberate writers, because writers are, in the end, simply slaves of the work they produce.

For a long time, the Michaux of the art world and the Michaux of the literary world seem to have been separated: people know the Michaux who used Eastern paper and ink, used calligraphic techniques to paint abstract pictures, and was a friend of the painter Zao Wou-Ki; people also know the Michaux who was discussed by the philosopher and writer Gilles Deleuze, who wrote about the East, who explored ‘folds’, and who was included in French literature textbooks. But the true Michaux actually stood in between the two: in that gap, writing and painting are a sign of the body’s stubborn determination; creating symbols is thus a process of capturing movement. His life was constantly in motion.This kind of resistance makes it clear that Michaux possessed a fascinating duality: in our view this is the greatest inspiration we can draw from the exhibition Henri Michaux, Face à Face.

The venue for the exhibition was the Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles, a cultural centre situated opposite the Pompidou Centre in Paris. This serves as a reminder that Michaux was a French speaker who came from Belgium. This Belgian–French identity should not lead us to focus on Michaux’s French-ness or Belgian-ness, but rather on the fact that he existed between the two. This is not a question of any particular ethnicity – we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that Michaux possessed some particular Franco-Belgian nature. What’s important is that he existed between two fixed identities, and his thinking was located in the gap between, the space from which his creativity flowed.

This meant a rejection of being pigeon-holed, of a fixed identity; the need constantly to escape, to be constantly on the move, to return constantly to this space, because ‘life, motion, are within that space, yet we do not know how to return to it, nor even how to find it’.2 The contents of the exhibition similarly revolved around this space – the space between writing and painting. The curators had carefully selected faces, heads, expressions ( visages, têtes, faces ), as painted by Michaux. These are subjects Michaux has often portrayed, and, as with his writing, it can be hard to grasp the ideas expressed by these paintings; they might even be confused with words: they are pictographs, calligraphy, the vortex of existence. They are not footnotes to poems, nor figurative representations of poems – they revolve around words. The words also revolve around these paintings: they go together, separate but in parallel; what lies between them, we call Michaux’s work.

The title of the exhibition was a play on words, referring both to us coming face to face with Michaux, but also hinting at Michaux himself coming face to face with another. We do not know who this other is; he is connected to Michaux, but he does not belong to Michaux. This is absolute, indissoluble. Michaux’s paintings are actually a dialogue with this other. Michaux said frankly: ‘From the moment I first started making my paintings on canvas, a monster-like head appeared.’ This monstrous skull was ‘in front of me, but did not seem to belong to me’.3

In a society of individuals, we and others are absolutely equal, resulting in an absolute similarity between ourselves and others. The social nature that we and others share means we have no choice but to come together. This type of unity brings with it a pain unique to our society: others seem almost like ourselves, yet they are not us; and this state, of being similar yet not the same, results in the complete collapse of our stubborn fantasy of identity – something we find terrifying. This expression, this head, this face, really are like those of a monstrous creature. The question is, should we try to embrace it, or should we turn away and ignore it? We must confront it, face to face!

We constantly cast our gaze towards others, towards the non-self ( non-moi ). We cannot expect an absolutely transparent dialogue; this fleeting glimpse will discover a space between tension and relaxation within the body. In this space, an unprecedented uniqueness ( singularité ) steals up on existence; Michaux has to be very careful to maintain the state of balance within the body in order to approach this type of uniqueness. It can’t be caught: as soon as we stretch out a hand, as soon as we put down the pen, it vanishes from sight. This type of temptation and its blandishments are inherent to all types of art – we can only let them arrive freely, occur freely.

Freedom is, in fact, consciously allowing the body to relax and tense. This is Michaux’s survival strategy – an active laziness, actively allowing other ways of life to reach the limits of speed, to attain complete motion. This can only occur between words and painting: in this space, writing and painting no longer need to display motion, or to transmit motion, for they are in fact motion itself… Outside this space, on the other hand, words and painting are simply tools that represent meaning, and the rules of society are built upon them. Michaux continuously seeks to flee from this world of meaning, a world where rationality and meaning separate people from existence, make people exhausted, force people to move.

There have already been so many exhibitions featuring Michaux, but their success can by no means overshadow the brilliance of this exhibition. A very small space, a very brief encounter – what we saw was just an impression, an impression of painting and words coexisting. Yet doesn’t the greatness of Michaux’s entire oeuvre lie precisely in the repetition of this type of impression? In Michaux’s own words: ‘The repetition of an object is just as precious as switching between countless objects.’ A drop of water contains countless different droplets of water. ‘The most insignificant, insubstantial water droplets form an ocean, and an ocean is just the repetition of droplets of water, the most significant repetition…’4

1. Roland Barthes, Oeuvres complètes, vol. 3, Seuil, Paris, 2002, p. 365.
2. Henri Michaux, Oeuvres complètes, vol. 3, Gallimard, Paris, 2004, p. 959.
3. Henri Michaux, Oeuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1998, Paris, p. 707.
4. Ibid., p. 240.


《亨利· 米肖,面对面》
瓦隆- 布鲁塞尔文化中心, 巴黎
2017 年2 月22 日 – 2017 年5 月21 日



很少有这样一个人物,他同时兼具画家与作家两种身份,这两种身份在他身上是如此地平衡以至于我们无法只谈论其中一种而不损害另一种,身份的这种平等性使得我们不能够把作家的绘画当作是写作的补充,也不能够把画家的写作当作是对绘画的评注。或许,我们可以这样说,两者在根本上都朝向同一个目标, 也即朝向一种不及物的书写。在其中写作与绘画都不在被当作再现意义的手段, 而是存在本身的见证与考验,亨利· 米肖全部的工作都关涉于此:书写与绘画不再是一种生产什么东西的行为, 而是生命的本质部分,作为生命节奏的一环,随着生命的运动而产生,正因为如此,米肖才说,赌博能够解放作家,因为作家, 毕竟只是生产对象的奴隶。

长久以来,艺术界的米肖和文学界的米肖似乎被分离开来, 人们知道那个使用东方纸墨, 运用书法技法绘制抽象画的, 作为赵无极的朋友的米肖;人们也知道那个被徳勒兹所谈论, 书写东方, 讨论褶子的, 被编入法国文学教科书的米肖。但是真正的米肖身处于两种身份之间,在那间隙之中,书写与绘画,是身体对于强度性的执着,创造符号,乃是捕捉运动的过程。他的生命一直在不断移动, 这种抵抗让我们看到,米肖身上有一种迷人的二元性,在我们看来,这正是这次“亨利· 米肖,面对面”展览带给我们的最大的启示。

这次展览的举办地点是巴黎蓬皮杜艺术中心对面的瓦隆- 布鲁塞尔文化中心,这是一个讯号,它让我们想起米肖是一个来自比利时的法语使用者。这种比利时- 法国身份让我们所关注的, 并非是米肖身上的法国性或者比利时性,而是处于两者之间,这无关于无论哪一种民族性,我们也不可以对之加以综合而得出米肖身上有一种比利时- 法国性,重要之处在于,米肖处于两种固定的身份之间,他的思想坐落于间隙之中,这间隙将流出他的创造性。

拒绝被固定,拒绝同一性,必须不断逃离,不断运动,不断地回到间隙之中,因为“生命,运动性, 就在那间歇之中,而那 间隙我们却不知道如何才能重返它,甚至不知道如何才能找到它”。展览的内容同样围绕着这种间隙,写作与绘画之间的间隙,主办者精心选择了米肖所绘制的脸,头,面容 ( visage,tête, face ), 他们是米肖的书写中常见的主题,同米肖文字一样,我们难以把握这些绘画所传达的意义,它们甚至本身就与文字相混同,它们是象形文字,是书法,是存在的深渊。它们不是诗歌的 注释,也不是诗歌的具象化,它们围绕着文字,文字也围绕着这些绘画, 它们平行错列在一起,它们之间东西,我们称之为米肖的作品 ( oeuvre ) 。

展会的标题是一句双关语,它既是指我们自身同米肖面对面, 也是在暗指米肖自己去面对面一个他者,我们不知道这个他者是谁,他和米肖有关,但他又不属于米肖,这是不可溶解的绝对剩余,米肖的绘画就是与这他者对话,米肖坦白道:“自从我一开始在画布上展开我的绘画,一个怪物般的头就出现了。”而这个怪物般的头颅,“在我面前,而又仿佛不属于我”。在个体社会中,我们和他者之间是绝对平等的,这导致了我们和他者的绝对相似, 我们和他者所共同具有的社会性不得不让我们联合起来,这种联合带来了这个社会所特有的痛苦,他者仿佛就是我们,可是他者却不是我们, 这种相似, 却又不同的状态让我们坚固的同一性幻觉彻底瓦解,让我们感到恐怖,这面容, 这头, 这脸正是怪兽般的。那么,同化它还是转身不去看它?


不断地朝他者,朝非我 ( non-moi ) 投去目光—我们不能期望绝对透明的对话,这短暂的一瞥,将会在身体的紧张与松弛的之间发现缝隙,在那里,一种前所未有的独一性 ( singularité ) 向存在袭来,米肖必须小心翼翼地维持这种身体状态的平衡,以便能够接近这种独一性,我们无法抓住它,一伸手, 一落笔,它便从我们面前消失,这种一切艺术所固有的诱惑和它的礼物,我们只能让它自由地到来,自由地发生。自由,也就是有意识地去让身体松弛和让身体紧张,这是米肖的生存战略,积极地懒惰,以便积极地让生命的其他形式达到速度的极限,达到彻底的运动性。这只有在文字与绘画之间才能发生,间隙里,写作与绘画不必再现运动性,也不必传递运动性,它们就是运动性本身。而在间隙之外,文字和绘画只是意义的工具,社会的法则建立在它们之上,米肖要不断逃离这种意义的世界,在其中理性与意义把人与存在相分离,它使人疲倦,强迫人运动。


1. Roland Barthes, OEuvres complètes tome 3, Seuil, 2002, P.365. ( 《罗兰· 巴特全集》第三卷 )
2. Henri Michaux, OEuvres complètes tome 3, Gallimard, 2004, P.959. ( 《亨利· 米肖全集》第三卷 )
3. Henri Michaux, OEuvres complètes tome 1, Gallimard, 1998, P.707. ( 《亨利· 米肖全集》第一卷 )
4. 同上,第240 页。Henri Michaux, Untitled , 1962, Chinese ink, watercolour on paper. Photo: Wang Ruiqi 亨利· 米肖,无题,中国墨, 水彩, 纸,1962,王睿琦 摄