1827年，贝多芬逝世。这一年，法国人约瑟夫·尼塞福尔·尼埃普斯(Joseph Nicéphore Nièpce)留下了目前发现的人类历史上最早的照片。同年，清朝政府收复了喀什噶尔，当时中国最大的“西方问题”得以解决。然而那时的中国人还无从通过图像纪录历史。到了1855年，英国人罗杰•芬顿(Roger Fenton)和助手用摄影记录了克里米亚战争，这场战争的开端则是马克思所谓的无法解决的“东方问题”（奥斯曼土耳其问题）。罗杰•芬顿因为摄影技术高超而出名，但却因为摄影在当时的社会环境中不被看作是艺术而失望，最终放弃了摄影。正如他的杰作《死亡隐形峡谷》那样，摄影在诞生之初就勇于艺术化地表达真实与诗意之间的关系。
而在中国当代艺术发展至今，不管是文化断层所造成的视野局限，还是绘画艺术自身所具有的复古特征，来自摄影观念视角的补偿和追问从未停歇。换句话说，即使是使用摄影或借助图像来创作的观念艺术家，也阶段性尝试探索绘画与摄影之间的关联。杨欣嘉的绘画探索了图像在真实与虚假之间的空间，借用绘画手段，在颇有蒙太奇图像意味的叙事画面中，寻找主观停顿和迟疑的状态。在这些“未完成”的图像中，被增强了观看的误差，从而阻隔了图像原有的解读系统。不完整图像引发的歧义，在吉尔·德勒兹（Gilles Louis Rene Deleuze）看来，不过是以不同程度实现的整体。因此，在杨欣嘉的绘画中，图像切片成为了一个个没有落脚点的陷阱。
同样善于构建视觉陷阱的绘画家刘聪，在近两年的很多静物绘画中，如《圆形桶盖》和《相形》等作品，尝试在物体的观看角度和摆放上达到某种巧合，这种将类似物体进行摆放的做法同样出现在早期摄影拍摄中，例如尤金·阿杰特（Eugène Atget）、爱德华·让·史泰肯（Edward Jean Steichen）等摄影家的静物作品。这似乎将观看记忆与当今这一时空的观看经验取得了某种联系。高宇的《草地上的午餐1995》便探讨了图像及其形式，如何在记忆和认知中构建起完整的象征秩序，以至于这一秩序事实上取代了记忆和认知对象本身。马奈的绘画《草地上的午餐》提供的就是这样一种形式的象征秩序的母本，只要与之类似，便都进入它的形式秩序中被人们所认知。图像中的记忆和认知，一如用语言表述的记忆和认知，都依附在一个象征秩序网络中，没有这个网络，记忆便不复存在。所有记忆都是如此，在牛文博的装置《日常空间研究》系列作品中，同样将来自记忆的图像，解构在日益变化的日常物品中……
By Li Boyan
In 1976, the pianist Claudio Arrau talked about piano skills in an interview and said that the arms “need to be like snakes”. It not only refers to the movement of fingers and arms, but also the basic training for pianist to make re-creation of music through this relaxed posture. When we heard the performance of piano masters of this level, we would say “Oh, this is Arrau”, “Oh, this is Horowitz”, and we ignored whether the music was composed by Schubert or Beethoven. However, the “snake arms” does not only exist in the relationship between performers and composers. For any maternal art dating back to a hundred years or even earlier ago, their continuous extension of expression space and the release of greatness afterwards should all be attributed to the change of “arms become like snakes”. Here, I want to extend the connotation of the “snake arms” to imply the photographing action of capturing a precise image. We can regard it as an action, or the gesture symbol tearing the boundaries of photography.
In 1827, Beethoven passed away. In the same year, the Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Nièpce left the earliest photographs in human history ever found so far. In China, the Qing government regained Kashgar, solving the then China’s largest “Western problem”. However, at that time, Chinese people were unable to record history with images. By 1855, the Englishman Roger Fenton and his assistant documented the Crimean War with photographs. The beginning of this war is what Marx called inextricable “Eastern problem” (the Ottoman Turks issue). Roger Fenton was famous for his superb photography skills, but he eventually gave up photography, because he was disappointed by the social environment that photography was not seen as an art at that time. Just like the masterpiece “Valley of the Shadow of Death” of Roger Fenton, photography was brave enough to artistically express the relationship between truth and poetry from the beginning of its birth.
In 2007, Gao Yan, a young Chinese artist living in France, shot a series of works named “En Transit”, focusing on new immigrants. This pictures present in a comprehensive way the office of the French Immigration Bureau, restaurants where immigrants held parties, and immigrants’ temporary residence, expressing intensively the hardships and helplessness of lives of immigrants at that time. This is an earlier work focusing on European immigration crisis and immigrant status in the past decade. Since the outbreak of Arab Spring in 2010, the immigration crisis in Europe has become one of the most important topics. When we observe “En Transit” many years later, we found that the attention and expression given to the European social structure, and the tranquil atmosphere conveyed by those scenes, are metaphors for the forthcoming unrest.
In the application of tracing history, Slavoj Zizek believes that, events are turning points that shape history. When an event occurs, we will try to look at the cause of the event from a retrospective perspective. But events are often “results beyond causes”, and photography provides image samples for tracking historical events. Of course, “En Transit” does not predict the tide of refugees. However, as the refugee incident has become a reality, it is necessary to look back at “En Transit”. In this way, we can understand easily the first time advantage of photography at the conceptual level.
Although the birth of video later provides a more direct source for news events, there has always been controversy over the “authenticity” of news reports and the use of montage and interception of video. From 2012 till now, artist Yang Xinjia has downloaded and archived a large number of hot news videos on social media. After cutting these videos, he made a series of works named “The Sky of Events”, which only compose of sky and completely shields the narrative function of the video. These works, through the static or dynamic monochromes and images unable to indicate any “events”, create a truth difficult to be traced between real and false events.
The selection and dissemination of images in public spaces (including the internet) undoubtedly reflect certain ideological mechanism. In 2015, artist Ye Su began to pay attention to the color and form of architectures and public properties, and started a series of creations called “CILING”. In the most recent project “Thorn”, Ye Su made a piece of installation art with the fence of green belt along the roadside. He combined photography with a special hexagonal fence to form a solid jungle with light and shadow changes. Essentially, it is a reflection on the legitimacy output and propagation of image rights.
From historical events to image rights, photography is the dynamic mechanism connecting event dramatization and “images”. From the birth of photography, there existed an unanswered question, that is, is interception the result? This question also can be traced back to several decades after the birth of photography. At first, many painters studied photography and set up photo studios to make a living. Photography was also continuing to influence the art of painting. Painters rose from major artistic changes in the modern era, such as Boudin, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Degas, Picasso, and Duchamp, accompanied by changes and evolution of camera, shooting techniques, and shooting attitudes, have created pictures with more personal significance, all targeting at “interception”.
While for the development of contemporary Chinese art, no matter due to the vision limitations caused by cultural faults or the retro characteristics of the painting itself, the compensation and questioning from the viewpoint of photography has never stopped. In other words, even conceptual artists who use photography or images to create, also explore the connection between painting and photography periodically. Yang Xinjia’s paintings explore the space between the real and the false, and by using painting techniques and narrative images similar to photomontages, seek the conditions of subjective pause and hesitation. In these “incomplete” images, the viewing error is enhanced, thereby blocking the original interpretation system of the image. According to Gilles Louis Rene Deleuze, the ambiguity caused by incomplete images is just the whole to varying degrees. Therefore, in paintings of Yang Xinjia, image slicing become traps one after another without a foothold.
Liu Cong is another painter who is also good at constructing visual traps. In the past two years, he has tried to achieve a certain degree of coincidence in the viewing angle and the placement of objects in many of his still-life paintings, such as “Circular Bung” and “Shape”. This practice of displaying similar objects also appeared in early photography, such as the still-life works of photographers Eugène Atget and Edward Jean Steichen. It seems that some connection between viewing memory and the current viewing experience has been built. In “Lunch on the Grass, 1995”, Gao Yu discussed images and their forms, and how to construct a complete symbolic order in memory and cognition, so that this order actually replaces memory and cognitive objects themselves. In fact, the painting “Lunch on the Grass” of Manet has provided a prototype for such symbolic order. Any work similar to the prototype will enter its form order and be recognized by people. The memory and cognition in the image, like memory and cognition expressed in language, are all attached to a symbolic order network. Without this network, memory will no longer exist. This is true of all memories. In the series of works of Niu Wenbo, the “Daily Space Research”, images from memories are also deconstructed in ever-changing everyday objects.
The viewing and giving of images are always subject to photographic history and changes of functions of photography. The photography artist Zhang Wei offered a possibility that is contrary to photography. In his photography works of “Artificial Theatre”, he imitates both the classical portrait painting and also the imitation of early portrait photography on painting. His works help to explain the historical fact that paintings and images can be re-created or even tri-created based on each other, which proves that the “snake arms” plays an important role. These new virtual portraits reorganized the five sense organs of the public, completely bypassing and evading the question of “interception” exists from the beginning of photography. What is more important when questioning photography, is the image, or the nature of the form behind it?
Of course, in these many attempts, we should also notice the replacement of images, and the use and irony of the political and historical significances behind the images. The treatment of Zhang Wei is ironic in a sense, especially for the reshaping of celebrity portraits. The attitude seeking no change and no exaggeration, and striving to extremely close to real, restrains and deepens the seriousness of the irony. While in paintings of Zhang Yehong, we see that the classic photography become bright color blocks without details. Under his abstract painting style and dispassionate brushstrokes, his works such as the “Victory Kiss”, display the visual experience that contemporary people are familiar with, and the bitter-sweet thrill toward capitalist criticism that is similar to that of Pop Art. The conceptual nature of photography born with it, being replaced and borrowed frequently in the future generations, has become a potential and universally recognized means. In terms of viewing logic, the viewing habits of the visual age make us forget photography. For example, when we see a huge commercial billboard on the exterior wall of a mall, we will not view it as photography at first. In the recent works of artist Luo Wei, images, commerce, and individual spirits were combined into products of strong personal image symbols. She claimed that the inartistic practice could break the limitation of contemporary art more easily.
Then, has photography really integrated into art and become an inseparable part? When photographer Cui Bo released the two works selected from thousands of film photos, we saw the marginalization of direct photography. The “Second Confirmation” is the two confirmations of shutter for a landscape. Photographing is just a simple action of the photographer, but the creation of the work is a long period of analysis after this simple action. Another picture “The Snake Catcher” once again verifies the photographer’s uncertainty in capturing images. Compared to the steady, accurate and resolute movement of the snake catcher in the image, the photographer still needs feeling and experience for each screen. This cautious action also appeared in Liu Yaohua’s video work “Sound Practice”, in which we see a stable scene in a fixed lens and deliberately avoided artificial performance. The video does not make sense here. The single constant scene becomes an imaged interception in sound and space. When the device captures images, it seeks to be precise, and builds a perceptual and rational connection with the outside world. For that reason, the authenticity and deceptiveness of photography are under constant controversy, interpretation, and watch, and has become the watch experience of all contemporary people.
With the development of photographing techniques, the rapid framing of object has caused the delay of thinking, observation, and analysis. Capturing an image has become so fast that the idea also has to be excavated after photography and lags behind the decision of photography. From a historical point of view, the birth of photography made historical paintings and sculptures obsolete and announced the end of art in stages. On the other hand, the turning point in art creation is also related to the fact that photography becomes a part of art creation and changes of photography. Artists required that photography shall no longer be a tool for accurately capturing images, but an extension of ideas. Since the 1960s, concepts that exist in people’s brains no longer need to rely on any expression tools and have successfully become a new art with the anti-artist attitude.
Zizek pointed out that Marx used the concept of “Asian mode of production” to collectively refer to the historical and economic laws, and cultural phenomena of Eastern worlds that cannot be explained by the law of capitalist development. Here, the “Asian mode of production” is a “collection of negative concepts” that is used to cover all “unconventional” possibilities. Contemporary art, as well as the definition of photography, are increasingly being completed with the help of such a reverse logic. In other words, when it “is not anything other than art”, it becomes art. However, the situation here is also different from that of Marx: Marx used the “collection of negative concepts” to avoid some intractable problems in order to highlight his own clues; the situation here shows an aggressive attitude of actively embracing new issues. At present, starting from an image and through the change of image accuracy, the creation of fictional and natural reality empiricism has become an experiential reproduction separating the spirit of traditional art from image. The mental accuracy of the image surpasses the accuracy of the technique, which poses challenges to the changes in the social value system.