The Logic of Pleasure and its Ideological Contradictions
Total War or Nothing At All: Hot
J: GALLERY, Shanghai
20.08.16 – 23.10.16
All human happiness generally comes from the feeling of release after suffering some kind of abuse, and the raucous laughter that comes after watching the abuse; hunger gives way to a feeling of satiety after eating until one is full; poverty creates abundance and fanaticism. Even the happiness of building a family comes from loneliness, as fear of the future eventually fades away, and the frustrations of the offspring eventually surpass those of their parents. Once people are satisfied, pleasure, along with a certain physical and mental calm, is slowly dissipated, and the strength of the next pleasure is reduced, along with a gradual slowing down of the body. Therefore, in contrast to the immediacy of pleasure, a state of serenity or numbness is closer to being the enduring condition. Do people, in order to prolong the happy moments, incessantly search for the next, still stronger, stimulus? Or do they control their own pleasure, so that they can savour it, in their own time? Or do they store up the sensitivity of their own feelings, so that the pleasure can be amplified with the right degree of hunger?
The above three methods of dealing with pleasure are just the same as the three chosen paths of human society: political revolution, economic liberalism and religious moralism. Of course, these paths can also be superimposed on each other, so that the resulting ideology acquires an almost sacred aura. However, is this not simply widening the distance between pleasure and abuse? Or is it experiencing pleasure and abuse at the same time? Karl Marx said in Capital: A Critique of Political Economy that there exist certain inevitable ups and downs in the operations of economic laws, and that what is happening here may be regarded as a numbness overwhelming the human body after the repeated experience of pleasure, which triggers a revolutionary process to restore the body’s sensitivity, so that it may respond intensely to the stimulus of the next pleasurable sensation.
This is just like the period in the 1960s, after art broke away from the ‘egalitarian’ concept of aesthetics, when it could not escape the strange economic cycle of pleasure whereby ‘consumption turned to numbness, and revolution turned to sensitivity’. Why is there so much criticism of contemporary art today? The underlying question is not whether ‘consumption is no longer pleasure’, or ‘a revolution is no longer coming’, and so on. Instead, the body has long been numbed by the third industrial revolution and the many inventions and excitements it has brought with it, and art becomes the only choice, when we are after a repeated stimulus, or in search of a physical pleasure that has not yet been fully exploited: contemporary computer games and the Internet economy have raised the stakes to a dramatic extent, so that people can spend a great deal of money in order to experience the great pleasure that comes from taking a small break from it all, and this is undoubtedly the ultimate success of the economic model, so far. Thus, the ‘uncertainty of art’ is a neoliberal version of ‘political revolution’, which indicates a change in the contemporary means of abuse, and also shows that the intensity of this change is not easily reduced, unless transmuted into a form of prolonged, but gentle, violence.
On 20 August, at the J: Gallery in Shanghai, Chen Chenchen curated an exhibition entitled Total War or Nothing At All: Hot, which was intended to be a reflection on contemporary art as the ‘instrument of abuse’. The temperature in the exhibition space was raised to an unbearable pitch, so that the artworks could stimulate pleasure in a dull space that would ordinarily be unsuited to any such thing.
The exhibition could be viewed as another of the youth subculture’s many counterattacks, but this ‘counterattack’ embraced the ‘gaming age’, just as its predecessors had embraced sex, drugs and rock and roll. It relied on a syllogism of ‘perceptual logic’: ‘When the exhibition is hot, then the human experience will be clear and completely open’; ‘when the experience is clear and completely open, then the significance of the work will be present in the immediacy of the viewer’s experience’. Therefore, in the final analysis, ‘when the exhibition is hot, then the meaning of the exhibition will have the immediacy of the experience’. From this point of view, the meaning of Total War or Nothing At All: Hot is a precise form of irony: the new American leftists have completely opened themselves up to their own physical experience and pleasure, and the bodies of contemporary youth that had been ‘free’ for a long time have long turned numb. To regenerate pleasure, you need man-made hardships of the ‘Jedi’ variety,1 to ‘use the abuse, to fight back with’.
For example, in this exhibition, Li Zhenhua, as an artist rather than a curator, chose to allow the audience to ‘view’ a snow scene to give them a ‘cool’ sensation, and used words to reduce this sensation to the level of some kind of indescribable uncertainty. The vast differences between the direct stimuli of sight, reading and the flesh, are precisely where conceptual art kicks in, as people still believed before the economic crisis that pleasure could be quickly satisfied, as long as a good-looking concept appeared on the market. As long as works of art were attached to a concept, it had seemed that art could take its place in our midst. It is particularly ironic now, with the complete collapse of the ‘third way’ after the British referendum, that contemporary art should originally have been chosen to support the vision and concept of a creative economy!
For example, in the exhibition the artist Zhengyuan Lu, is unwilling to become a hot antagonist, or a hot splittist, but instead becomes a total abuser, using a still higher temperature to create an iron fence, within which to entrap the audience, leaving an emotional mark on their physical bodies. The artist’s ability to act abusively is also in direct proportion to the rapid development of China’s economy: China’s economy is itself going down the ‘third way’, alluded to above, what with the rapid pace of change and a manner of doing things that makes people dizzy.
These artistic manifestations are political pathologies. The ‘logic of feeling’ has today become the ‘international theoretical consensus’ according to contemporary theories about consumerism, and has inevitably been replaced by the ‘logic of pleasure’. The sensibility behind the thinking, support and experience of exploration and practice, is that of a general desire to suffer pleasure from abuse, until the abuse assumes a friendly familiarity. In Georges Bataille’s time the experience of sadism had reached a stage at which the hidden laws underlying revolutionary political action were revealed for their true nature, and now they are universally practised and aesthetically shaped by the laws of moral justice. Thus, should headscarves be removed, for instance? Should controls on drugs be lifted? And should we even tear down the walls between people and then repair the walls around people’s hearts? Indeed, if we are to assert, against the background of a consensual belief in the ‘pleasure principle’, that ‘Foucault drew on Kant to study politics, and Deleuze drew on Hegel to study sensibility’, we shall not simply be echoing Nietzsche’s words, in saying that ‘Kant is Sade’, and ‘Hegel is Sacher-Masoch’. These two sentences stand for two contradictory tenets at the heart of modernity. From this perspective, contemporary artists’ success in learning is the same thing as Max Weber’s ‘rationalisation of institutions’, although the former merely transformed the political and managerial system into an old-fashioned footnote to erotic novels.
Thus, the webcast segment of this exhibition also contains some elements of irony – the logic of pleasure and its struggle stems from some kind of ‘distinctiveness’: the various artists’ performances in the exhibition all display the ‘photographic nature’ of the artist’s perspective; and the various interactive displays of the exhibition are conducted in the apparent absence of the artist, by means of the ‘selfie’. Internet photography and live broadcasting, the ‘new economic lifelines of the present age’, have become the central means for identifying artistic acts of this kind, but also, at the same time, the ‘sensations’ that cannot be captured by the lens of a deleted object. The means for playing with a body have gone, and all that remains is a round organ that trembles in front of the camera.
Regardless of whether you are entrapped by the hot air in the exhibition space, or by the works in the exhibition themselves, experiencing these contemporary artworks in the flesh procures an uncertain kind of pleasure – and this kind of politics of pleasure is neither a psychoanalytic nor a revolutionary concept, but rather akin to the audience being deeply moved by Hans Haacke’s fluttering Blue Sail. Physical pleasure is concentrated in areas that itch, and other kinds of pleasure, too, are born in the two-way transformation between the itch and the climax. So there is no way of knowing whether or not the audience really achieved a climax in this exhibition, but these questions must, at least, have caused people to itch. After viewing this exhibition, regardless of whether you yourself came to a climax or merely felt an itch, you will certainly have been made aware of the ideologically unsettling effect on others.
1. The word ‘Jedi’ comes from the Jedi warriors in the Star Wars films. The word ‘juedi’ in Chinese means ‘in desperate straits’ and to be in a ‘difficult predicament’. The original intention in using the word ‘Jedi’ was to signal its derivation from the way the word for ‘times’ is pronounced in Jidaigeki dramas, and it thus works ironically on a number of levels.
2016年8月20日 – 2016年10月23日
这也便是当艺术在 60 年代脱离了美学这种“平均主义”思想之后，所无法逃离的“在消耗中变得麻木，在革命中变得敏感”的快感经济学怪圈。今天为何会出现如此多对当代艺术的批评，其背后的问题并非是“消耗不再成就快感”或“革命不再到来”等等，而是身体早已在第三次工业革命的诸多发明与兴奋中麻木，而艺术只能选择重复刺激，或者找到身体尚未彻底开发的快感金当代电子游戏与互联网经济施虐之迅速、手段之复杂，让人们在其中花费大量金钱才能稍稍获得喘息后的巨大快感，无疑是迄今最终成功的经济模型。因此，“艺术的不确定性”是“政 治的革命性”的一个新自由主义的版本，它表明了当代施虐手段的某种 变化，也同时表明了这种变化的强度并非是摧枯拉朽的，而是更加绵长而温柔的施暴。
8 月 20 日在上海 J: GALLERY、由陈陈陈策划的展览“绝地反击：热”打算对当代艺术这一“施虐者”身份进行反思。展览选择了将空间的温度提升到人难以忍受的高度，以此让艺术作品激发出平淡空间所无法带来的快感。