Walking on the Stars: The Big Three Angles of the Summer
OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shenzhen
31.07.16 – 23.10.16
Translated by Richard Dobson
In the corner of the three-person exhibition, Lantian Xie has a print of a Picasso painting. This was the image used by Xerox, the copier company, to promote its lithographic precision in 1963: an owl made of toner – neither a copy nor an original. And this copy of the work on the sheepskin parchment is a little similar to the exhibition’s curatorial concept of ‘astrological signs’, in that it engages in metaphorical expropriation: the constellations are like toner, and the stars of the universe are arrayed on a flat surface – the centre of the exhibition is illuminated by a lighted surface and the edges of the light draw a triangular quadrant, while the three other invisible quadrants are the dark night sky. The signs in this dark place, whether located on the ground or on the wall, each emit their own, cold, light. Many works are not installed on a pedestal but are set low, to allow people an overview of the entire layout. This gives us a clear feeling that walking through the exhibition is just like walking across a constellation composed of the assorted works. We can identify the individuality of the works, just as we might hold up a star chart to identify the many constellations overhead – we adopt our own perspective as the standard, and each constellation serves as the mirror of another.
If we take on the perspective of this exhibition, we should be able to regard the cities on Earth as constellations, with Hong Kong as the most dazzling star in the East. In Jon Rafman’s Neon Parallel 1996 ( 2015 ), a star lies in the ‘unfathomable’ sea of capitalism, pointing to the Far East and signalling the future. The work uses second-hand materials ( from scenes of Kowloon, borrowed from videos games such as ‘New Byzantium’ and a non-existent, third-world metropolis ), to depict a landscape that once existed. This landscape – with a mosaic embedded in the past – and these fonts, music and video are popular among users of Internet music SoundClouds, and an extension of the vapourwave subgenre of electronic music. In the best-case scenario, Rafman’s ‘archaeological’ practice can be said to be an immediate kind of stylised disengagement; negatively speaking, the over-stylised third-world city landscape is, in fact, a reflection of the over-proliferation of emotions in the work, and fails to take us anywhere. At best it is the product of an artist claiming that ‘the mainstream has run out of energy’. In this regard, a lot of netizens do not acknowledge this subcultural trend as worthy of consideration for its archaeological interest, let alone of admission into the canons of contemporary art.
In one of the other quadrants, Lantian Xie has scattered various objects over the floor, including the model of a building that could come from the Chinatown of any city in the world, a copy of a menu from the Ming Hua Hong Kong Hotel, and a solo dance performance to camera by Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, from a segment of the film Days of Being Wild. The subtitle of this film was taken from the hotline of the company UAE Foods of Dubai. Lantian Xie dialled up the hotline and made a vinyl recording of its MIDI-style holding tone, for callers waiting for a response. Tungsten lights illuminate the metal instruments behind the vinyl amplifiers, in sync with the fast-paced melody, and combine with the swish of material to create the atmosphere of an ancient, yellowing ballroom. No wonder this is accompanied by the scene of Leslie Cheung, as the licentious Yuddy, dancing in front of the lens of the camera. In the original narrative of the film, Yuddy does not know the name of his natural mother, but he and his adoptive ‘parent’ stir up a welter of earthly emotions when they are abandoned, and describe themselves as birds that had never fallen to earth throughout their entire lives. Lantian Xie emphasises the degradation of the destitute and homeless. And the objects he uses in the exhibition are almost all things he has collected in that other port city of Dubai, which has a connection with Hong Kong. This series of works on the bloodlines of the Chinese people is a procession of things collected from a foreign land. The more we try to analyse the true and false lifetime experiences of the pair, the longer it takes us to look at the exhibition.
This line-up of objects also resembles the demographic landscape of Dubai or Shenzhen. In those new cities there are no supposedly fond reminiscences of better times in the collective memory; any sense of stability, such as blood ties, are a temporary invention. The state of ‘departure’ dominates the works in this quadrant. But Lantian Xie’s departure is not about people moving from place to place – rather, it is the moment when your mother points to heavenly Hong Kong ( here represented by a star ) and solemnly asks you to cross over to the other side of this state, like birds that never land. Yet how can all living things residing in the stars in heaven regard the brilliant rays of light that always shine on the ground beneath their feet?
This leads quite naturally to the spread of animal telepathy, in Hong Kong. Dream Cosmology ( 2015 ) by Hong Kong artist Adrian Wong addresses this particular phenomenon. In his work, a video installation depicts an animal dreaming about its journey through a star system and the subsequent process of ascending to heaven, after death, while the endless cycle of dancing stars takes on the appearance of delicious fruits and vegetables, in the eyes of some other animals. Adrian Wong frequently draws on subjects and materials from the ordinary marketplace, and reproduces them with a degree of charm, which refers to the public’s psychological state. We might say that his whole work is about this type of introspective psychological representation, and it is difficult to attribute his aesthetic style, or the external appearances of his subjects, to a particular period. We may say that his work speaks the language of a local vernacular. Seen within the context of the galaxy as a whole, we may say that Adrian Wong speaks Cantonese and English, and not Mandarin, thus creating the implication that a kind of minority artistic language may be possible – a ‘minority’ language just like the German used by the Czech writer Franz Kafka in his work.
These three artists play the three leading roles this summer, and the exhibitions of all three are arranged in such a way that the terrain covered by each is clearly picked out and demarcated in lines of light from overhead projectors. This contrasts with the general principle that an exhibition layout places different works on the same plane and triggers a dialogue between them. The metaphor of the constellations serves as a reminder of this. In fact, these are different galaxies, widely separate from one another. They face the future, each with its own agenda. But there is still an incidental perspective that brings the stars in these constellations together, in a mutually dependent system of signs.
What do all these signs point to? Here we can intuit an answer by referring to the astronomical theme. While Hong Kong directs people towards the future, Shenzhen, where the exhibition was held, is separated from Hong Kong by a river; and its role in the exhibition was somewhat akin to that of magnetic north, which is slightly at an angle to true north and does not appear on the charts. This kind of off-centre bias should invariably affect our interpretation of predictions about the future. I feel it is possible that, behind this exhibition, someone may be making a tentative attempt to loosen the ties of contemporary art to a specific ( or, for that matter, global ) site, or discourse, in accordance with the perspective that is normally presented in the arts.
Here, the exhibition does not directly criticise these established discourses but, metaphorically, the two agendas of the global and local each have their own respective characteristics.
2016年7月31日 – 2016年10月23日
在三人群展的一个角落中，谢蓝天打印了张毕加索的版画。这是复印机公司施乐（ Xerox ）在 1963年为其影印精确度做宣传所使用的图像：一只碳粉组成的猫头鹰金既不是副本，也不是正本。而这件复印在羊皮纸上的作品，有点类似此展览在策展概念上对“星座”进行的隐喻式征用：星座就像是碳粉，宇宙间点点星芒排列过后被撒到一纸平面上去金展场中央一枚灯光照耀地面，光线锐利的边缘划出一方三角形的象限，其他三个隐形的象限便是无光的夜空。坐落在这黑暗里的展签，或在地上，或在墙上，各自发出它们的冷光。而许多作品没有设置基座：低矮，让人俯视全局。从此让你有个清晰的感觉是，走在展场中便是走在各种作品所组成的星座上。你且低眉辨识这些作品的个性，像拿着星盘举头辨认顶上繁星金以你的视角为准，两者是各自的镜像。
若以这个展览的视角而言，地球上的城市应该被视为星群，而香港算是东方最耀眼的一颗。在乔恩拉夫曼（ Jon Rafman ）的《霓虹灯并行 1996》（ 2015 ）那里，这颗星星就坐落在“如海般深不可测的”资本主义之宫，能为人们指出远东，指出未来。作品透过二手的素材（ 从电玩游戏场景中借来的九龙，“新拜占庭”等存在或不存在的第三世界大都会 ）描绘出一个“此曾是”的风景。而这个镶嵌在过去式里面的风景，其字型、音乐、影像，则是音乐网站 soundcloud的玩家之间所流行的蒸汽浪潮（ vaporwave ）风格的延展。在最好的情况下，拉夫曼的“考古”实践可以说是对当下进行一种风格化的抽离；负面地说，过度风格化的第三世界都会景观其实就和作品中过度泛滥的情感一样，并没能带我们到任何地方，它充其量只是艺术家自称的“失落的蒸汽浪潮经典”。就此而言，网络上不少的玩家也并不认同这个亚文化潮流被当成考古的对象，更别说要被正典化（ canonize ）为当代艺术。
这个队伍同时像是迪拜或者深圳的人景观。在那些新城市里，没有所谓可以回推好几代的共同记忆；任何稳定的感觉，血缘的羁绊，都是一种暂时的发明。“离境”的状态主宰了这个象限里的作品。但他的离境并非关于人们从此地移出至彼处，而是当你的母辈指认着天上的香港（ 在这里它是一颗星 ），慎重嘱咐着你原属于彼方的这种状态。如同飞鸟，永不落地。
这会，香港流行着动物传心术。香港艺术家王浩然的《梦境宇宙学》（ 2015 ）比拟着这种技术，他的装置录像作品描述着宠物梦见它们遨游在迷你星盘中以及其后死亡升天的过程（ 而不断循环舞动的星宿在这些宠物眼里则是美味的蔬果 ）。王浩然经常从日常市井材料和议题出发，重制出具有魅惑性深度的装置，并且指涉着市民的心理状态。你可以说他的作品就是关于这种内省式的心理呈现，而很难从外观探究它的美学风格属于什么时代。我们且说这是种地方性的语言（ vernacular ）。将他放在整个星盘中来看，仅说着粤语和英语，不说普通话的王浩然，其创作意味一种少数化的艺术语言的可能性。少数，像是以德语写作的捷克作家卡夫卡那样。
这个路标指向何处？在这边，可以再援引一个天文的话题作为回答：如果香港为人们指往未来，那么，展览所在之处金深圳金它与香港一河之隔，在这个展览中的角色有点像是与真北有所微微偏移的磁北。它并没有在星盘上现身。这种微偏应是未来图景投射过程中必然出现的诠释性微偏。我且觉得，展览的背后潜藏着一种可能性，这种潜质试着以星盘为视角，松动当代艺术对于场所（ 特定性 ）或者全球（ 普遍性 ）两种话语的偏好。在这里，展览不直接地对这些既定的话语进行批评，却在隐喻中转化全球和地方两个议程各自的特质。