A Performance a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
Long March Space
06.06.2015 – 09.08.2015
Translated by: Richard Dobson
In his most recent work, especially, Hu Xiangqian has attempted to invent a new ‘rhetorical’ approach within the framework of performance art, even though this new kind of rhetoric seemingly takes on the look of anti-rhetoric.
Hu Xiangian’s strategy of ‘dramatic fiction’ doesn’t take account of performance artists or our ability to deconstruct hidden desire expressed through their performances, which creates a kind of meta-discursive moment: it’s as if one body is planted in another. The two different bodies start to argue and fight, exposing each other’s ‘non-performing’ character; in fact, this is nothing more than the second body’s attempt to achieve more exposure, and perhaps this can be understood as a performative body utilising some kind of ‘medicine’ ( pharmakon ). The ‘medicine’ can effectively treat a performance artist’s dread of not being able to perform. When speech replaces dance, when the logos takes over, we are faced with a ‘purified’ performance. In order to maintain the purity of the performance, the person must banish their own self, in the way that Derrida describes his idea of a drug ( pharmakon ), ‘… whose presence increases itself in the act of disappearing.’ 1 This powerful drug infuses the performance with ‘dialectics’ and is no longer part of the body. On the contrary, the body is just one outcome of the performance. Furthermore the performance can penetrate everything that is not a performance. Through rhetoric and anti-rhetoric, the repetition of presence and absence, the artist is able to cast off their ‘sorcery’ or psychic powers. And, at specific moments, decide the truth, knowledge and the order of appearance in the phenomenological world.
Hu Xianqian advances this idea in his latest exhibition, A Performance a Day Keeps the Doctor Away. For him, the notion of a ‘drug’ implies a moment during a performance when the artist continues with their performative gestures, when their body is no longer capable of doing so. To elaborate on this situation, he introduced the concept of the ‘apprentice’. However, this did not point to an expansion of his production. In Reconstructing Michelangelo ( 2014 – 2015 ), the apprenticeship was a type of ‘reverse’ education, which was born on the artist’s return from a period living in New York. With his own studio and assistant, he was at the most successful stage in his professional career as an artist. But the apprenticeship system doesn’t safeguard this type of environment and, in fact, threatens the fundamental mechanism behind that professionalism. The relationship to employment and the system of labour again caused some confusion between ‘education’ and ‘performance’. This led to the studio becoming like the set of a reality show, where the interaction between the mentor and the apprentice could be observed. The intense exchange between the two parts, with each revealing secret thoughts to the other, became ambiguous and took on fictional qualities, as if it had all been a pre-fabricated plot, in the guise of institutional critique.
Another paradox of this mentoring relationship is that it is filled with the non-efficacy of ‘success studies’, an eccentric metaphor for physical training. And none of these criticisms and observations on the contemporary art world, art history, and especially performance itself, seems to have really been able to contribute to the apprentice’s move into the ranks of successful contemporary artists – the mentor appears incapable of providing a meaningful amount of objective information about what art is, what creative anxiety is, or how to view the ‘sign’ in the industry. This is similar to Deleuze’s view of memory in Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu: one experience of apprenticeship, and one type of training to promote sensitivity to specific ‘signs’ among apprentices – as Plato said, ‘learning is memory’. While Reconstructing Michelangelo doesn’t involve teaching any artistic skills, it does serve to prepare apprentices to be future performance artists with memory, via Hu Xiangqian’s utilisation of his language and body. Acting Out the Artist ( 2011 ) was extended in this way: it was invested in a second body destined to become his avatar, a new sculpture of his own imaginary incarnation; not some kind of narcissism, but a conscious and determined effort.
In the live performance at the opening of the exhibition, the mentoring relationship ultimately came to a symbolic end, with the apprentice taking to the stage alone, appearing to be both free and anxious. At this moment his whole body exuded an air of liberation and victory, which was enchanting. This was no double act, with the artist manipulating the apprentice’s movements, as Hu Xiangqian was hiding in the crowd, watching how he had been ‘replaced’, while still remaining present. Perhaps that was the real entrance onstage. We can perceive that the artist’s memory had been deeply implanted within the apprentice, and although implants, such as this, may be composed of experiences in the art world, and lessons learned, they cannot be defined as ‘strategy’. That is to say there is no scheming behind Reconstructing Michelangelo, which might include all kinds of secrets and myths subverting the process behind the notion of ‘becoming an artist’. Hu Xiangqian’s creations have always avoided questions of strategy. This might be due to his obsession with the surface and rejection of depth. It may be that he is only really interested in the circumstances of an artist’s ‘formation’, and seeks to give this scenario a vivid sense of reality and physical expression, but doesn’t attempt to achieve any kind of reflective intensity. He is satisfied only with constructing something concrete, with fresh attributes; interestingly, however, the difference between the attributes caused this work to remain in a state of constant expansion, which also leads to more and more of the outside world becoming included within the performance. If Reconstructing Michelangelo is juxtaposed with Speech At The Edge Of The World ( 2014 ), it will be seen that they represent two sides of the idea of ‘education’. The empty passion in the latter work was already gradually beginning to take shape in the artist’s early work, I Will Surely Sail You Into the Pacific ( 2005 ). This is about the energy that might be generated, in making the transition from the periphery and the centre, about displacement of wild ambition, and Hu Xiangqian’s artistic ‘success studies’ may be seen to be are even more displaced that this: from Leizhou to Guangzhou, to Beijing and then on to New York. This route also forms the inherent logic behind the method used in this performance, as well as an attempt to come to grips with, and reinterpret, the main aspects of the power structure and historical framework in the contemporary art world. The lecturing in Speech At The Edge Of The World and the earnest discussion in Reconstructing Michelangelo, or the confrontation between the theories at the heart or edge of the world and Michelangelo, all explain how education is a project for revealing or opening up a world view. This world is infused with language and attitudes, and the performative act rises above all else. Philippe Sollers likened de Sade to a ‘literary monster’, because de Sade ‘is he who says what he does and does what he says, and never anything else.’ Hu Xiangqian could also be called a ‘performance monster’. He ignores strategy, because outside performance there is no other world for him. That is to say, the world only exists within his performances.
In this world, performances are constantly creating new performances. Language and attitude will continually invent new language and attitudes. The periphery and the centre will maintain a high degree of separation. And through interaction with the continual reversals and dialectics of the artist’s body, the world’s boundaries will change and extend, in line with each performance of the artist – as in The Secret Mission ( 2015 ), martial arts films were included in this world, as well as characters that can fly from house to house and run up the walls and the massive movie sets; those incomprehensible voices that have all been condensed into a concrete moment in time and are indistinguishable from each other, as well as being synchronised with contemporary art practice.
1. ‘…( pharmakon ) which its presence increase in the act of disappearing.’ Dissemination, translated, annotated and introduced by Barbara Johnson, Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press; London: Athlone Press, 1981, p. 110.
胡向前的创作，尤其是近期的创作，一直试图在表演艺术的框架内发明新的“修辞”方法，即使这种新修辞几乎以反修辞的面目出现；而作为“修辞的反修辞”（ the rhetoric of anti-rhetoric ），即是废黜表演所寄托之身体的使用，或保证对于“身体性”——那些业已被过度开发的身体智术（ sophistry ）——处于“无知”与“懵懂”的状态。这是颇富戏剧性的虚构（ dramatic fiction ）战术，“不懂”表演的表演艺术家，抑或“解构”表演的欲望，造就了某种元话语（ meta-discursive ）的时刻：仿佛在身体里植入另一具身体，它们开始相互辩难与对抗，彼此揭发对方的“非表演”质地；事实上，这第二具身体无非意在令之前那具身体得到更多的曝露，也许可以理解为针对那具表演性身体开出的“药方”（ medicine/pharmakon ）——药效便是治疗表演艺术家对于“无法表演”/“不表演”的恐惧。
当演讲代替了肢体的舞蹈，当语言喧宾夺主，我们面对的便是“提纯”了的表演，是为了维护纯粹性而将自身先行驱逐出去的表演，正如德里达关于“药”的解读：“（ 药 ）的在场在消失的动作中增加自身。”1 这一剂猛药便是为表演注入“辩证”，使其不再依附于身体，而是恰恰相反，身体只作为表演的结果之一，进而表演得以贯穿、内在于“一切”非表演之中，通过修辞与反修辞、在场与缺席的反复运作，艺术家得以摆脱“巫师”或“通灵者”的绝地天通，可以在某些特定的时刻决定真理、知识与世界登场的顺序与样貌。
在他的最新个展《天天表演 身体健康》中，这种思路亦进展了一步。对于胡向前而言，“药”便意味着拥有一具时刻处于表演中的、持续带有表演性姿态的艺术家身体是不足够的，为了直接的对这种情况加以说明，“学徒”（ apprentice ）得以被引入。然而这并不指向生产的扩大化，《再造米开朗基罗》（ 2014 – 2015 ）中，学徒制度践行了一种逆向”的教育：这个“点子”恰恰肇始于其纽约驻留归来、拥有了自己的工作室与助手、处于艺术家生涯中最为“职业化”阶段的节点，然而师徒制度并非在捍卫这种处境，而是既威胁着职业化背后的根本机制，即雇佣关系与劳资制度，又将“教育”与“表演”混同，这导致工作室如同真人秀的发生现场，令师徒间的相互观察、密集交流、彼此吐露隐秘心事都变得含混且带有虚构气质，仿佛预制的“机构批判”桥段。
此师徒关系的另一吊诡之处在于其充斥着非功效的“成功学”，古怪、隐喻化的形体训练，以及那些针对当代艺术行业、艺术史甚至表演本身的评论与观察，仿佛都无法真正促成学徒步入当代艺术家行列——师傅似乎只提供了数量可观的关于何为艺术、创作焦虑或针对同行看法的“符号”（ sign ），这令人联想起德勒兹关于普鲁斯特《追忆似水年华》中记忆的看法：一种学徒式的历练，一种促使学徒对于某种特定“符号”敏感的培训——诚如柏拉图所言：“学习即是记忆”。《再造米开朗基罗》虽然不涉及技艺的传授，但却在为学徒筹备着其作为“未来”表演艺术家的“记忆”，通过胡向前调动自身的语言与身体——在这个层面上《表演艺术家》（ 2011 ）获得了延伸：这个被艺术家投资/形塑的第二具身体，注定成为他的“分身”，成为他对自我想象具身化（ incarnation ）的一座新雕塑；却又非某种自恋，而是力图。
在展览开幕的现场表演中，师徒关系最终走向了象征性的完结，学徒独自登台，他显得既自由又焦灼，却因为这种状态获得了极富魅力的时刻：周身散发着某种解脱与胜利的气息。学徒的身体动作背后没有艺术家的双簧，胡向前躲在人群中，观察着自己被“取代”后依然余留的在场，也许那才是真正的出场。我们可以察觉关于艺术家的记忆已经深深植入了学徒的内在，虽然可能是事关行业经验或教训的记忆，却不能将这种植入定义为“策略”，或者说，《再造米开朗基罗》背后没有“阴谋”——比如颠覆“成为艺术家”这一过程背后的诸种秘密与神话。胡向前的创作历来回避策略问题，这也许源于其对于“表面”的执迷，对于“深入”的拒绝。在此他可能仅仅感兴趣于艺术家“成才”（ formation ）的情境，并力求给予这种情境以生动的现实感与身体表达，却并不试图达成任何反思强度，仅仅满足于为其建构起某种具体、鲜活的表面；然而有趣的是，不同表面之间的拼合，令其创作不断处于扩张的状态，亦使得越来越多的外部世界被纳入其表演内部。如果将《再造米开朗基罗》与《土尾世界》（ 2014 ）并置，你会发现它们代表了“教育”的一体两面，后者空洞的激情，在艺术家早期作品《我一定把你开到太平洋》（ 2005 ）便已现端倪，那是对于边缘与中心间可能实现的跨越的激情，是对位移的野心——胡向前的艺术“成功学”便是位移，从雷州到广州，再到北京与纽约，这条路线亦是其表演方法的内在逻辑，以及对当代艺术世界的权力结构或历史结构进行重新演绎与把握的线索。《土尾世界》中的宣讲，《再造米开朗基罗》中的恳谈，抑或土尾之边缘与米开朗基罗之中心意向的对峙，都在说明“教育”是揭示或开启世界图景的一种方案，而该世界是由语言与姿态灌注的、表演高于一切的世界。索莱尔斯将萨德比作“书写怪物”，因为萨德是“那个说自己做的人，做自己说的人，此外再无其他。”胡向前亦可以称为“表演怪物”，他无视策略，是因为在表演之外，世界对于他再无其他，或者说，世界只存于他的表演之中。
在这个世界里，表演会不断创造新的表演，语言与姿态会不断去发明新的语言与姿态，边缘与中心保持着高度的分裂，又可以通过艺术家的身体不断展开反转或辩证的互动，而世界的边界亦会随着艺术家的每一次表演而变更与延拓——正如在《秘密任务》（ 2015 ）中，武侠电影亦被纳入此世界之中，那些飞檐走壁与纵马奔驰的场景，那些由无法理解的语声构成的交流，那些横店式的风景，都已被胡向前无差别的凝练成一些具体又无法区分彼此的时刻，又与当下当代艺术的时间同步。