注册 登录  
 加关注
   显示下一条  |  关闭
温馨提示!由于新浪微博认证机制调整,您的新浪微博帐号绑定已过期,请重新绑定!立即重新绑定新浪微博》  |  关闭

Suman Gupta 看画随笔

small notes on Chinese art

 
 
 

日志

 
 
关于我

见首页。 http://sumangupta.blog.163.com/ http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/english/gupta.shtml

文章分类
网易考拉推荐

张晓的《陕西-138》与相间片刻(Zhang Xiao's Shanxi, No. 138 and the In-Between Moment)  

2013-11-23 23:04:20|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

  下载LOFTER 我的照片书  |
Small notes on Chinese Art(13)  Suman Gupta 《看画随笔之十三》 November 23, 2013

张晓的《山西-138》与相间片刻(Zhang Xiaos Shanxi, No. 138 and the In-Between Moment) - 甦曼 - Suman Gupta 看画随笔
Zhang Xiao (张晓), Shanxi, No. 138, 2007, archival pigment print, 80cm X 80cm (For details see below).
张晓, 《陕西-138》, 2007, archival pigment print, 80cm X 80cm (放大局部见下面)。



Zhang Xiao’s Shanxi, No. 138 and the In-Between Moment
张晓的《陕西-138》与相间片刻
Small notes on Chinese Art(13)  Suman Gupta 《看画随笔之十三》   November 23, 2013


The mirror was often used as a symbol of the vanity of women. The moralizing, however, was mostly hypocritical. […]

The real function of the mirror was otherwise. It was to make the woman connive in treating herself as, first and foremost, a sight.

John Berger, Ways of Seeing, (Penguin, 1972), p.45

She demurs before the lotus box, with her mirror shut within,
Neglects her slender grace, her sash untied since that day,
When he crossed the door and left, she put away flute and gongs,
Her wifely musings cold as reeds, yearning for his warmth,
She awaits him in dreams, but roads are long dreams short,
She weeps in the west wind, window lit by the autumn moon.

Lu Guimeng (? ~ 881), late Tang Dynasty ,
“For the Beloved Away from Home”,
( 晚唐·陆龟蒙《赠远》, translated by S. Gupta & C. Xiao).

During the Shehuo Festival in the villages and towns of Shanxi province in spring (the fifteenth day of the first month of the Chinese calendar), elaborately painted and costumed performers present shows on stage and in the open and form processions in the streets. The highly stylised figures and gestures that are usually framed by the proscenium arch thus seem to flow out into everyday spaces, disturbing their familiar everydayness; studied artifice collides with and penetrates into the thoughtlessly habitual. Zhang Xiao’s 2007 series of photographs Shanxi, from which the above image is taken, was evidently spurred by that spilling from stage to street; in the artist’s words: “This is a surreal world. Some people seem to have dropped from the clouds, appeared from nowhere, so different from the rest of the world.” The series has photographs of stage performances and of street processions and of gaudy festival objects vivid against drab backgrounds and of everyday scenes without the obvious visual interference of artifice or gaudiness; but it is particularly photographs which subtly juxtapose showy artifice and everyday habit that are suggestive, of which Shanxi, Number 138 is an example – and three more (Shanxi, No. 001, Shanxi, No. 043, and Shanxi, No. 062) appear below.

As a series, the sensibility that holds Zhang’s photographs of the festival together is quite different from that of other, more familiar, images of such festivals. The Shehuo Festival is now a much-hyped event in the Chinese tourist calendar, and images feature prolifically in brochures, posters, guidebooks, coffee table books, family albums and the like – just google images and lots will pop up. These naturally confirm tourist desires, to “experience particularly distinct pleasures which involve different senses or are on a different scale from those typically encountered in everyday life” (John Urry, The Tourist Gaze, Sage 1990, p.12). So, familiarly, the Shehuo Festival is a public spectacle: its spectacularity foregrounded by the blaze of colours and patterns that drown out the everyday, its erasure of everyday life concentrated in the experience of crowds in public spaces – crowds of glittering performers, crowds of happy spectators. There are some such in Zhang’s series too; and yet, those merely accentuate the distinctive effect of the series. Zhang explores the relationship between the spectacular and the ordinary, both are mutually enhanced and equally foregrounded, and each renders the other strange. When the photographs move deliberately away from the public spectacle into private zones, that relationship appears to be tapped to its roots, to its basis in the individual psyche. The images sometimes capture the loneliness of individual actors and spectators in the crowd and amidst performances; more obviously, as in the image above and the three below of a woman with painted face, the photographs focus on the quiet moments of an individual, by herself and away from the crowd.

A woman with painted face who does her make up with a tacky handheld mirror, walks along a twilight village street, sits up in a homely cramped bed, washes her hands in a grimy plastic tub outside a tent …she infuses her ordinary surroundings with something of her actor’s makeup. The artifice of her makeup and what it signifies – a world of theatre and opera – are invested into the everyday surroundings, so that the everyday appears performed and theatrical; equally, the everyday surroundings bear upon her gesture towards theatre and performance, and seem to contain those within everydayness. Performed artifice and everyday life are vividly juxtaposed, but at the same time achieve a sort of consanguinity around the self-possessed presence of a woman with painted face: through her mediating presence between life and art, and naturally through the viewer’s apprehension of that mediating presence within the frame of the photographs.

Occasionally a single image in Zhang’s Shanxi seems possessed of greater significance than the run of the series, and that greater significance, in turn, bears upon how the series is viewed. I suppose the perception of such significance depends on associations that a viewer brings to it; in principle, any image may be seen thus by some viewer or the other. At any rate, to my eyes Shanxi, No. 138 appears with particular resonances which deserve unpacking, resonances which have to do with the visual motif of a woman with a mirror.

The extraordinary potency of this visual motif derives from its diverse origins and persistence. It is found in ancient Greek and Etruscan vases, Hindu and Buddhist temple sculpture and frescos, Tang Dynasty ceramic figurines, Iranian and Mughal miniature paintings, Japanese woodblock prints … almost every phase and variety of European painting and sculpture since the 15th century, steadily diversifying outside Europe … the associations in the visual arts are simply enormous, and those are woven with an equally diverse and complex range of literary associations. With that maze of associations in view, Berger’s well-known observation on the motif – in the epigraph above – is apt to appear narrow, anchored as it was to the European tradition (Berger was well-aware of the limitations), and in particular to paintings of nude women with mirrors – a standard symbol of vanity in the European tradition. The Chinese resonances of the motif are certainly different and more venerable, perhaps most easily referred to numerous Tang and Song poems (which still inform the Chinese idioms and are the subject of much scholarship). The late Tang poem by Lu Guimeng (陆龟蒙), also given as an epigraph above, marks some of the characteristic associations, though it is about a woman not looking at her mirror: associations with mutability, melancholy and wistfulness (if she did look at the mirror it would be a painful reality check), rather than with self-satisfaction, erotic revelation and ostensible moral disapproval. However, while the dominant associations of the motif in Chinese and European art and literary traditions might be different, Berger’s articulation of the underlying rationale seems to offer common ground: “The real function of the mirror was … to make the woman connive in treating herself as, first and foremost, a sight.” A sight, that is, for men and society to look at: in the mirror the woman models herself/checks her appearance so as to be seen in terms of how others, especially men, would wish to see her – the mirror image is both herself and as she is seen. And that self-regarding act becomes her means towards self-construction/confirmation of socially recognisable femininity; and, at the same time, that act as motif becomes a way for patriarchal society to typecast her as female (object of desire/moral anxiety). In Lu Guimeng’s poem, not being a sight for her beloved means that the woman’s mirror is useless. In art, the mirror acts as an instrument for women to enact a socially-conditioned confirmation of women as women – when Berger notes this, it doesn’t seem in the least amiss in a Chinese art and socio-historical context.

Back to Zhang Xiao’s Shanxi, No. 138: the pose of the woman who is painting her face is characteristic, redolent with the above nuances. It is a pose that is reminiscent of artworks featuring women and mirrors in various art traditions. The common clothes test that continuity and schism between performed artifice and everyday reality. Interestingly, though, what she is doing is not a socially-conditioned confirmation of her female self; on the contrary, in the image she is at a moment when that confirmation is being wiped away, her individuality is being withdrawn. This moment comes with some culturally-specific allusions. In the process of applying her makeup, she is at that juncture when she is just beginning to appear as a stock-character of some form of Chinese opera/theatre (could be the Shanxi form, but could be of any number of forms). She is in fact retreating from her individual self into an archetypal Chinese opera persona – perhaps for a stock young-woman role, perhaps a HuaDan (花旦, lively young woman) or a GuimenDan (闺门旦, shy mainden) or a ZhengDan (正旦, virtuous woman) role. But, at least to inexpert eyes, that is uncertain. The foundation facial makeup for these roles, the white base and the red shading and black accentuation of the eyes, could go either way; it could also turn out to be a stock male role, perhaps a XiaoSheng (小生, handsome young man) role. In various Chinese opera forms, there is an androgynous edge in certain stock male and female roles. Shanxi, No.138 captures exactly the moment of incompletion in facial makeup when that androgynous ambiguity is apparent, and gender identification is yet unclear. All that the viewer really has to go on is the gender of the photographed subject herself, but the subject is in the process of abnegating her subjectivity. Conventionally, of course, various Chinese opera/theatre forms have worked with all-male troupes, and generally women now play female parts; but it is now not wholly unusual for women to play male parts too, and at least after the May 4 Movement (1919) all-female troupes have been an established part of the repertoire (especially for the Yueju Opera (越剧) form).

The role that this actor might assume is simply difficult to ascertain at this moment of taking the first steps of facial makeup; it is an uncertain flickering moment of identity transformation. It is in-between a shift from everyday life to theatrical artifice. When the latter is fully realised, it will be an elaborate composite of costume, voice, gesture, etc., each carefully formulated in its idealised artifice and art. The distinctive ink painting tradition that makes opera its theme generally sharpens this sense of aesthetic discreteness and compositeness of stock personae. When the operatic stock character is fully realised, the individuality of the actor’s face becomes insignificant, the painted face becomes a part of the costume – a perception which is highlighted in Chinese opera painter Jiu Chen’s Hua Dan (陈九《花旦》see below).

At a different level of suggestiveness: in Shanxi, No. 138 the mirror cuts into the above-described moment disjunctively, almost with violence. This is possibly the most striking feature of the image. The viewer can only see the back of the mirror. It is a tacky object with a loud pink frame, and on the back (ironically echoing ancient Chinese mirrors) there is an image (see detail below): a picture of an idealised beach resort, a non-place of a pleasure ground which could be anywhere, the ultimate signifier of the international tourist industry and the good life. It is the stuff of numerous brochures and advertisements and kitsch. The circle of this mirror has an unmistakable assonance with the circle of the woman’s painted face; and, for the viewer, it cuts itself upon it, so meretricious that the painted face seems obscure, diminished and shoved into the background. It seems suggested that once the makeup is complete the circles might overlap, and the colourful kitschiness of the back of the mirror may somehow join up with the colourful coming-forth of the performer in the Shehuo Festival. The mystery and quaintness of the Shehuo Festival in Shanxi might ultimately come across to the contemporary viewer – the photographer and spectator – as commercial kitsch.

In Zhang’s Shanxi series this seems like a small gesture towards a critique of the socio-economic relations involved in being a photographer who goes to record a provincial festival. It is a gesture that both recognises and distances itself from the mass of images of the festival for the tourist gaze mentioned above. It is a small gesture, but once I grasp it as such I find it variously echoed, though usually less immediately, across the series.

Against the creeping reach of commercial kitsch over images of the Shehuo Festival, Zhang has another subtle ploy which is apparent throughout the series and in all the images. It is really a tacit technical matter, put thus in the Shanxi exhibition, Pekin Fine Arts, October-December 2013,  press release: the photographs were “taken using a cheap Hong Kong-made, plastic Holga camera. In Zhang’s view, the Holga helps to capture more natural emotions, spontaneous shots, attention to composition, all expressed more directly via low technology.” What this means is that the artist has less obviously technologically-facilitated control of individual compositions, the images come at more or less the same level of exposure, have roughly the same focal range, and so on. It renders the series coherent at a basic technical level. That gives the impression of these being not quite professional art photographs, where the technical achievement on the photographic surface is a strong indicator of the photographer’s control, the photographer’s skill; instead, here the emphasis is on the unmediated eye of the artist who is on the spot, and the series seemingly depends on that eye being able to capture decisive or significant moments. These photographs appear to have a somewhat quaint kinship with personal and somewhat quirky tourist photographs (but with that unusual interest in the everyday), or an anthropological fieldwork record, or an individualistic photojournalistic report. They possess, in their low tech anachronism and distinctive vision, a nostalgic air: a leisurely roving encounter between the slow everyday of the present in villages and the timeless rituals of the past. In the artist’s words: “the archaic customs occupy the locals for the most of the holiday. The ‘group sleepwalking’ has turn[ed] the land into a huge stage. All the bewilderment and helplessness in the reality are totally forgotten.” This way of playing down or eliding the socio-economic relations of the present, momentarily thrust forth by the tacky mirror in Shanxi, No.138, is typical of nostalgic photographic sequences. The selections and choices made therein, the (increasingly dated) textures and colours, the juxtapositions in sequences and, more importantly, blanks and gaps in sequences which construct the nostalgic mood, are also ideologically determined elisions of unpalatable socio-economic contradictions and pressures – in this instance, both from the depiction of the everyday and of the festival, and especially from their relation to each other (which is nevertheless focused in the series). The extent to which such photographic evocation of nostalgia may itself become a corporate strategy is examined usefully in Nancy Martha West’s Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia (University Press of Virginia, 2000). The sentiment of the artist’s gaze needn’t be taken at face value, and what the artist’s eye and lens capture often reveals more than is stated in words.


Zhang Xiao’s (张晓) Shanxi images below are taken from the book Shan Xi (Beijing: Pekin Fine Arts, 2007)



张晓的《山西-138》与相间片刻(Zhang Xiaos Shanxi, No. 138 and the In-Between Moment) - 甦曼 - Suman Gupta 看画随笔
Zhang Xiao (张晓), Shanxi, No. 001, 2007, archival pigment print, image, 80cm X 80cm.

张晓的《山西-138》与相间片刻(Zhang Xiaos Shanxi, No. 138 and the In-Between Moment) - 甦曼 - Suman Gupta 看画随笔
Zhang Xiao (张晓), Shanxi, No. 043, 2007, archival pigment print, image, 80cm X 80cm.

张晓的《山西-138》与相间片刻(Zhang Xiaos Shanxi, No. 138 and the In-Between Moment) - 甦曼 - Suman Gupta 看画随笔
Zhang Xiao (张晓), Shanxi, No. 062, 2007, archival pigment print, image, 80cm X 80cm.

张晓的《山西-138》与相间片刻(Zhang Xiaos Shanxi, No. 138 and the In-Between Moment) - 甦曼 - Suman Gupta 看画随笔
Detail from Zhang Xiao (张晓), Shanxi, No. 138, 2007.

张晓的《山西-138》与相间片刻(Zhang Xiaos Shanxi, No. 138 and the In-Between Moment) - 甦曼 - Suman Gupta 看画随笔
Chen Jiu (陈 九) , Hua Dan (《花旦》), 2000, Chinese ink on rice paper, 65cm x 65cm.



  评论这张
 
阅读(1146)| 评论(4)
推荐 转载

历史上的今天

评论

<#--最新日志,群博日志--> <#--推荐日志--> <#--引用记录--> <#--博主推荐--> <#--随机阅读--> <#--首页推荐--> <#--历史上的今天--> <#--被推荐日志--> <#--上一篇,下一篇--> <#-- 热度 --> <#-- 网易新闻广告 --> <#--右边模块结构--> <#--评论模块结构--> <#--引用模块结构--> <#--博主发起的投票-->
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

页脚

网易公司版权所有 ©1997-2017