邵帆:以兔之名

Shao Fan: In the Name of the Rabbit

 

 

之间:不可名状之栖息

 

到此                      
僻静                      
深饮                      
 那黑光。
[1]         
——加里·斯奈德

 

引子
        那些枯枝,如蟹爪般伸向灰暗的天空,似乎揭示着穷途中的意味,而要读懂那些枯枝书写的语言,显然我还过于年轻。
        从压低的草笠边沿,能清晰地感受到风的压力,手中执杖的侍童频频掩面,马侧头眯眼,前蹄颤抖着,我只能将小腿夹紧马腹,那儿还有些温暖,还有些前行的信心。就在这样一步一停顿的过程中,我渐渐接近了一块巨大的石碑,它掩隐在张牙舞爪的树丛后面,周围皆为乱石。此时,天色转暗,我心中不禁有些惶然。
        原以为碑上定有碑文,足以印证荒野里的石碑有其矗立的缘由,此地的奇崛也自有其久远的成因,没想到碑面竟无一字,由着寂然无边的暮色,漫漶无边浮现眼前。侍童不知所措地以杖击石,张嘴看着这块无字的石碑,仿佛这上面越是无字,就越散发出惊人的信息。
        一抹霞光从灰暗的云层中乍现,似病后的叹息,照亮了碑上隐约的刻痕,又倏忽即逝,究竟是时光的消磨使得原有的碑文褪去,还是碑上本无一字?行路山中,只要还有一笔一划的线索,那么,至少我还能追溯,还不至于被这巨大的沉默压到叫天天不应,叫地地不灵的地步。夜幕降临,碑面如铜镜般闪着幽光,我摩娑着石碑,慢慢领会它刺骨的寒凉,而尚还温暖的肌肤在石碑表面,竟然留下呵气一般的痕迹,就像平静水面下涌动的暗流。“雪里云”不耐烦地又嘶鸣起来,仿佛催促我快快离开此地。

 

[五代宋初]李成、王晓,《读碑窠石图》,绢本水墨,126.3 ×104.9 cm,大阪市立美术馆藏。

 

        请允许我借助遭遇《读碑窠石图》相关的感受,来尝试描述与昱寒[2]作品遇见时的一种情境。这并非意在比较,但如果我们不得不通过比较去寻找感受的参照的话,那么,这可能更像是一种“借景”。我不时想起这句话:“印刷出来的一个词仍是词,印刷出来的一张画却不再是画。”[3]在我看来,恰恰是这样的处境,揭示了语词在人类交流中的“通用性”和绘画作为开放性图像的潜能,藉此,我们可以进一步追问:如果印刷出来的一张画不再是画,那么,它是什么?它和语词的关系为何?
        由此,我倾向于将语词和图像视为不同维度的中间之物,甚而,“我”在之间——不仅在使用媒介,同时也是一种媒介(就媒介可“使它物成为可能的中间之物”而言),我将“我”和这些作品的诸种遭遇视为敞开进入另一种时空和生命维度的契机,经由无数次的迂回、试错、耗散、吸收,从中生成的文本也将成为等待被诸多读者过渡和穿越的居中状态。

 

观者情境1 无字碑
        如果不是碑中无字,这个场景可能不会那么深地盘桓在我的脑海,也由此将此处的观看打开了类似博尔赫斯“沙之书”中的诸多可能性:比如,传统意义上承担意义之重任并富有历史价值的碑文被着意“抹去”,仅余“留白”,“再生”出一种在纪念性和虚无性之间游移的意味;再如,碑之凝重反向抹平为“明镜”般的界面,从而获得“映照”观者本性的契机;又如,因抹去历史文本而重新获得的轻盈之感,使得石碑仿佛获得了置于树石之间的屏风的状态,似乎更有可能去开启远处、地平线之后迷茫的世界。
        对我而言,这个场景成为与昱寒作品遭遇时的一种隐喻性的情境:我们期待着和一件具有意义的作品相遇,而这件作品很可能如无字碑一样,将我们悬置于意义的空缺当中。
        尽管无字,但碑作为矗立于荒野的中间之物,已然传达出某种天地之间的信息,生成另一种意义。画中观者表情的隐而不现,似乎也暗示着这样的意义解读和探寻过程本身,有可能升华为超越个人悲喜的境地。

 

观者情境2 谁无处不在

 

普桑,阿卡迪亚的牧人,1638,布面油画,85 ×121 cm,卢浮宫藏。

 

         如果碑上有字,那么,出现在普桑(Nicolas Poussin)《阿卡迪亚的牧人(Et in Arcadia ego)》墓碑上的这一行字,会不会呼应另一时空中的“读碑图”:
         Et in Arcadia ego
        在阿卡迪亚,也有我的存在
        在白日清朗的光线下,墓碑上的题辞清晰可见,在阿卡迪亚,这个传说中的世外桃源,这个古希腊的理想国度,一群无忧无虑的年轻人该怎样才能读懂字里行间的真义?
        和画面中的牧羊人一样,作为观者的我们会为碑文中的“我”指称是谁而争论不休,是“死神”吗?抑或,“分离”?尽管碑上有字,但笼罩其上的不确定性依然存在。现在,让我们想象,如果这墓碑上无字,仅以其空白引人沉思,那么,沉默/非书写所产生的语义和书写所产生的语义将同样有效吗? 
        这正像是与昱寒作品相遇时的另一种隐喻性情境:画面上的痕迹,就其特定的意义而言,无论是多,还是少,似乎都在处理意义同时既在场又缺席的状态——意义无处不在而又意在逃逸。
        从《读碑窠石图》到《阿卡迪亚的牧人》,我们从一个人有距离的观看(如《读碑窠石图》中观者和石碑的关系),进入到一群人的相互讨论(如《阿卡迪亚的牧人》中一群观者和墓碑的关系),乃至开始触摸作品,或者,更准确地说,作品以其特有的质感开始触摸我们。

 

对视
        从生物的起源和时间序列来说,人类在这个地球上是后起之秀。勿庸置疑,人类出现之前,这个世界已经充满其他的动物。任何和这个地球上的动物第一次相互对视的人,我想,都无法忘却在对视中的奇特记忆。约翰·贝格在《为什么凝视动物》中写道:
        然而动物——即使是家养的——也能够让人类惊奇。人类眺望那不可辨识的相似性,不可理解的深渊……他总是看上去无知和恐惧。因此,当他被动物所察看,他也是被由他所看到的周遭所察看。他所认识到的这些让动物看上去熟悉,而事实上,动物是不同于人的,永远不会和人混淆。如此,动物具有这般力量,可与人类的力量相似但并非一致。动物拥有对人类无法言说的秘密,有别于洞穴、山峦、大海的秘密。[4]
        将人类和动物清楚区分开来的一点恰恰是:人类以语言沟通,将语言使用者视为同类;而动物从来不用语言。它们以人类所无法理解的表情和手势、声音与沉默,和人类建立起或亲密或紧张的关系,也充当了人类投射的对象。富有戏剧性的是,人类与动物越是有着如此深厚的亲缘关系,也就越无法摆脱其在演进过程中的愧疚之情——正是人类的演进,在不同程度上参与了地球上的生态浩劫;而伴随着智人种在大约一百万年前最后到达食物链顶端,他们发展出对虚无想象的集体认同。[5]
        也许这并不奇怪,在那些洞穴壁画中,人类最早描绘的对象并非是自己,而是动物,人类自身的形象——猎手是之后才出现的。在那时的宇宙认识中,人类曾经将动物视为宇宙力量的拥有者,生命和意识并非仅仅是以人的形式出现的现象,“因此(动物)不能受到轻蔑,动物不能被当作低级的存在或者对人的滑稽模仿。”[6]动物本身就是人类和世界沟通的媒介,作为超越语言的沟通方式,艺术似乎不可避免地成为人类试图与宇宙,以及和宇宙力量相关的动物们沟通的通道。

 

不可名状之物:虚的叙事
        在复沓的过程中感觉时间变慢,昱寒从来没有离开日常——他是在日常中从事着这如时间炼金术般的工作,即使是画中那熟悉而又陌生的兔子,也不是蓄意寻找的题材,而是来自日常的偶得之物,相伴之物。
        与兔子的缘份始于一个朋友的赠送,每天都看到兔子,他越来越熟悉它们,于是在对视的过程中开始思考:如何通过看兔子反观自身,如何尽量用一个兔子的眼睛去看兔子,而不是用人的视角去看,“因为我觉得只有在兔子的眼里头,才会有一个像雄狮一样的某只兔子,在人的眼睛里边是看不到的。”[7] 
        如果我们将艺术家的创作过程视为一条流动的河流,不同时刻的作品连接着过去和未来的时间,那么,简溯一下《以兔之名》之前的《兔肖像》系列,也许会有助于我们踏入这条时间之河。德国学者Beate Reifenscheid对《兔肖像》以及这一阶段的相关创作有过精僻的论述:“邵帆将动物的面孔和姿势转化为纪念碑式的形态,岁月和智慧赋予它们一种不同寻常的永恒氛围。这让他们看似可理解,又遥不可及。”[8] Reifenscheid在文章中通过分析丢勒在《穿皮毛领子的自画像》这幅著名的自画像中所采用的图像策略,提示在邵帆的动物肖像中,他对单一主题如何进行了多元化的演绎,在中国绘画传统和西方肖像画理念之间,如此转换的结果并非是一个简单的肖像,而是代表着一个生命体以及它在尘世存在的近乎永恒的容貌。
        在《以兔之名》系列的创作展开过程中,不仅绘画的媒材彻底转向宣纸水墨,而且,形象的流变处于一个更为剧烈的过程中。虽然我们仍可分辨出“兔”的形象,但与之对视过程中,此为何物的执念已慢慢消弥,不再成为感知延伸的阻碍;藉由对视,消融对峙,“我们”也进入到某种共处的维度中——我估且称之为“维度”,因共处的时空感尚未能被轻易命名,感知的趋向是在不可名状之处——这样的维度并不玄虚,我们总能应循着画面的笔触寻迹而行。
        如果我们进一步留意到昱寒所在意的“复沓”,并不仅仅发生在每张画面内部(正如一棵树因应时间中不同的节点,而自然形成分岔),也发生在每张画与每张画之间的连续过程中,那么,当《以兔之名》系列中的作品在空间中渐次展开,我们仿佛步入一座时间的园林,穿行其间,因着模糊的语义,不确定的灵光,可以感受到其中的轻盈和庇护。
        这个共处的维度建立起的正是我们和绘画之间的相互信赖和对“他者”的好奇,而建立起来的互为“他者”的访问,由此,即使没有眼睛的兔子对我们来说,也并没有怪诞和违和之感,反而,我们感到它是在用整个身心跟“我”对视,甚至于用它的每一根毛在跟“我”发生一种对话,真正的眼睛无须拟似,“内观”才是探测不可名状之物的必经之路。
        按照梅洛-庞蒂的理解,对于这个世界,一个在世的存在者并没有钥匙,如果我们将一幅画视为一个陌生的世界,那么,“关键不在于找到更多的关于此画之主题、关于此画起源处历史情境的参考线索,关键在于——正如对物本身的知觉中那样——按照画布上落笔痕迹中处处都在无声地给出的指示去凝视、去知觉这画作,以期所有这些指示——无需任何话语、无需任何推理——形成这样一个严格的有序整体。”[9] 即使不理解这一整体,也毫不减损我们探求世界的兴趣,相反,这种的经验足以引发一场“出走”,“从人类的经验出走,跳进一片面向人类的、茫然失其所在的区域。” [10]
        在《以兔之名》的系列作品面前,我们凭着直觉就能知觉到画面中心正是兔唇的所在,一种呼吸,一种气息,一种超越人类语言的对话,凝结成欲言又止的意会,这让我想到皮耶罗·德拉·弗朗切斯卡(Piero della Francesca)笔下的《临产圣母(Madonna del Parto)》(1455-56),画中,圣母隐忍而忧喜参半的表情固然引人动情,但画面中心的 “不可见”之处——即将诞生的人子所寄居之处——才是叙事空间围绕的核心,如此,作为观者的我们置身于两个世界转换的连接点上,沉浸于对未来可能性的敞开当中。

 

   

(左)邵帆,以兔之名 0222,2022,宣纸水墨,230 × 175 cm
(右)邵帆,以兔之名 0522,2022,宣纸水墨,230 × 175 cm

 

不可名状之物:混沌有序
        这时光中的体积和地形,在昱寒近期的其他作品,例如,《北冥》中,凝聚出另一种不可名状之物,这是庄子在《逍遥游》中所述的“鲲”吗?还是浮游在虚空/大海(在此,空气的微粒和水的分子并无根本性区别)中的某一无可言传之物?它似来自另一时空维度,却如此真切地展现在我们眼前,艺术家有如亲历一般。

 

   邵帆,北冥 0122,2022,宣纸水墨,整体尺寸:160 × 570 cm,由三件组成:160 × 190 cm/每件

 

        《北冥》所喻示的空间感,本身如《逍遥游》篇章中的大小之辩,仿佛是在一种远古早熟的时空相对论中展开,但不可名状之物对应着的更是我们至今所无法把握的时间的形状,以及我们所生活其间的生活的形状。犹如当代物理学试图捕捉到的“混沌之势”:事物的效应和能量的有机结构,物质-反物质:任何矛盾的力量都滋生或已孕育在事物的内部,能量在聚集和寻找能量,而非仅仅是消耗性质的,否则我们无法解释,恰恰就是在这样一个熵递增的宇宙里,像人这样具有极其微妙结构的生物,仍然可以在地球这样的时空中诞生。
        由此,我们可以借助“自组织”这个新的科学法则,来理解轶序为什么可以在混乱中出现……混乱固然可能是物质的最后状态,在时间终点的宇宙固然会是一片倾圮,但是第二定律绝不是说这个过程均匀地发生在空间的每一点、时间的每一点。[11]
        在这个非均质的、所有物质都在寻找平衡状态的世界中,当代物理学向我们揭示:没有一个人为的主宰者,相互的关系已还给了万物自身,事物应有的轶序只能在动态的混沌中不断出现和消失,这是“确定性混沌”的基础,这意味着,处于关系中的任何一方都无法摆脱相互的关系和责任。无论在社会运动、生物演化,还是人的创造活动中,一种动态混沌中的轶序,像鲜花一样绽放出来。
        画者的劳动是否可能参透宇宙运动,与其共振成象?我觉得对于昱寒来说,这是有别于虚无的一种务虚的劳作,如切如磋,如琢如磨,与之相应,产生出一种静观,进而有可能与探索生命历程的观者一起,超越静观,形成某种救赎(就其时间意义而非宗教意义而言),如同早期壁画为人类构建的通往另一个世界的通道:再生之所。
        《北冥》中的鲸状之物,不是具有毁灭性的海怪利维坦,也不是《白鲸》中作为神秘力量象征的莫比·迪克,与否定性的力量不同,笔墨的叠加,既非是对前者的肯定,也非否定,而是顺势融合,由此,产生出与之对应的形状:在肯定和否定之间的象。循着艺术家将自身交给不可操控之力的通道,我们得以曲径通幽,探测另一维度的存在,进而,绘画本身成为不可名状之物栖息的场所。

 

当绘画成为场所

 

      
(左)[五代宋初]李成、王晓,《读碑窠石图》(局部)
(中)邵帆,觅园,2008,伦敦切尔西皇家花园。
(右)邵帆,圈&椅-圈,2013,胡桃木,98×62×48 cm。

 

        昱寒曾构筑过一个下沉式的中国园林,植入于伦敦切尔西花园,唤作“觅园”。这个临时的园林凹进地面,有着“遗址”的意味,一个向地下考古和向天空敞开的空间,却将地面的意义暂时悬置,如同园名,着意隐现。如果我们再次回到《读碑窠石图》中的现场,仔细凝望石碑,我们会发现,不仅碑上无字,而且石碑本身毫无残损破败的迹象,所谓的苍凉感,恰是在完好的石碑与周遭老树、奇石的关系中而产生——“完好的遗址”——这样一种看似矛盾的丰富意境,似乎回应了中国文化中的“怀古”[12]和“古今意识”中的耐人寻味之处,而在某种意义上,这也似乎遥相应和了阿甘本(Giorgio Agamben)所试图探讨的“当代”:“在最近和晚近的时代中感知到古老标志和印记的人,才可能是当代的”,进而,他提出:
        当代人不仅仅是指那些感知当下黑暗,领会那注定无法抵达之光的人,同时也是划分和植入时间,有能力改变时间并把它与其他时间联系起来的人。他能够以出乎意料的方式阅读历史,并且根据某种必要性来“引证它”,这种必要性无论如何都不是来自他的意志,而是来自他不得不做出回应的某种紧迫性。[13]
        相比沉重的历史,石碑勿宁是轻的材质,如果我们想象将碑林置于一个更为辽阔、超越重力的时空中,一片片石碑就如同一页页书纸,在风中飘动。与寺院和教堂不同,碑林的神圣性在于它是历史性场所,历史-宇宙的关系意识在中国文化结构中,似乎具有神圣的意味,从而,在中国的诗与画中,人性和神性总在遗址和废墟上交汇——凭吊之处,也意味着归去来兮之处,无论是无,还是有;在场,缺席;荣,枯;盛,衰;今,古;实,虚;两者交汇之所,即有可能成为观想之地,庇护之所。
        昱寒的这些画作,有可能是为每一位携带着自身生命经验的个体所准备的 “公共观想之所”,有别于具体的历史性场所,这场所的中心是一片留空,一段疏离,一个能让新感知发生的时刻。恰如昱寒为我们准备的“圈椅”,中间的虚空预示了它和身体的一种新的关系,“超负荷”的身体记忆将在新的关系中澄清,并意识到相互遭遇的“此时”正是我们重塑身心关系的现场。

 

尾声
        与不可名状之物对视,漫想人类在时间之海中的沉浮,地质形变中的脆弱,无限世界中的有限,甚至,想象人类在宇宙中最终的命运,这会让我们更释然一些吗?
        从她躺着的地方看去她看到金星升起来。还有。从她躺着的地方看去天气好的时候她看到金星升起来后紧接着太阳升起。这时候她就抱怨整个生命的法则。还有。晚上天气好的时候她享受着她的报复。对金星。在另外那扇窗户前。她僵僵地坐在她的旧椅子上注视着那颗灿烂的星星。她那把没有扶手却带小条条的冷杉木旧椅子。它在最后的几线日光中浮现并变得越来越亮然后倾斜并紧接着沉没于无形。金星。还有。她笔挺地僵僵地呆在那儿在渐渐变得浓重的阴影中……她就这样仿佛化为了一块石头面对着黑夜[14]
        此刻,只剩下“这一个”,她,人类中的一员,无力违反地球的重力法则,和星空对峙着,“仿佛化为了一块石头”;这一个,她,曾引以为傲的能量——人的基因所继承的遗产——在个人宇宙的热寂中慢慢失效,融化入自然分子的海洋,连同那些往昔的欢笑、争辩和爱恋的时光。
        这既非悲剧,也非喜剧,某种意义上,这逼近在人类的想象力基础之上所建立起的宇宙模型:一切终归热寂。在最终的热寂之前,人类的欢笑和怅然将持续很多很多年,在最终带着遗憾消失于这个星球之前,甚至,有可能因为人类浓烈的爱恨——无意识的爱恨——时间之箭将再次延缓它的速度和方向。始终无法解释的是:那看似盲目运动着,又有着必然归宿的物质运动,缘何奇异地升华为精神的交响,而不以物喜,不以己悲?
       在人有限的存在中,被赋予无限性注定是一种无法承受之重吗?如果不将人(有限之物)的一切价值以无限之物(神或某种终极)为依据,那么,人将藉何理解存在的价值?藉何坦诚地面对生死以及存在的事实?
        如果说,我们现在所理解的“人”——可在生命、劳动和语言的存在中具体加以界定的“人”——刚刚在现代诞生就将面临终结,那么,是否有某种超越解释、超越知识的“极限体验”,一直在给予有限与无限某种连接的通道?
        这样的“极限体验”在人类历史的不同阶段,会以不同的面目出现,而贝克特将这样的“意识人”推向语词的极限,仿佛人要在消失之前再次确认自身的存在,但已无言以对,恰如《读碑窠石图》中的无字可读。在广袤无垠的星空下,人似乎越来越难以企及表达的可能,每一次的言说,都像一颗颗越来越远离我们的星球,人类的肉眼经历着光亮的一点点消逝,黑夜将占据一天之间更长的光阴。“在此,我们再次遇到最初的有限者主题。但是这种有限者……是出现在一个更基本的层次上:这是人的存在与时间之间的不可超越的关系。”[15]
        在过去的一百年中,艺术家经历了“人”的围困,经历了“作者之死”,而不得不奔走在无垠的荒原,热寂的暗物质中,而开始学会不再畏惧主体的消失,直面世界的虚无,而藉艺术发现事物特有的轶序——那些无法被规范的物质/精神运动,将如何呈现其应有的质量和空间?

 

内在
自然的
沉默。
内在的力量。
无外的
力量。
凡物经过即是路——
自身没有尽头。
[16]

 

 

(本文为同名文章的精简版,经作者授权发表。)

 

文字:胡昉
邵帆作品©艺术家
作品图片由艺术家和维他命艺术空间惠允

 

 

Liminal Spaces: The Perch of the Ineffable

 

Up here                                  
Out back                                
Drink deep                             
  That black light.
[17]             
          
——Gary Snyder

 

Foreword
      Withered branches stretch like crab claws toward the dark grey skies. They seem to proclaim connotations of hopelessness—yet I am still too young to read and understand the language they write.
      I feel the oppressive force of the wind as it rips around the edges of the straw hat pressed tightly onto my head. My servant, his walking stick in his hand, shields his face from the forceful gale. My horse ducks its head and narrows its eyes. Its forelegs seem to tremble. I press my calves more tightly into its belly, where I feel the warmth of its body and a hint of faith in our way forward. In this halting way, we gradually approach a massive stone stele, surrounded by scattered stones and boulders, hidden behind a thicket of ominous trees. The sky grows darker, and a sense of dread fills my heart.
      I expected the stele to be covered in inscriptions: something to justify its upright presence in this desolate wilderness. This unusual place surely has some ancient explanation. I didn’t imagine that the stele’s surface would be devoid of any writing, and yet thus it rises before me, blurry and indistinct in the silent, spreading dusk. My perplexed servant strikes the rock with his stick, then stares at this blank slate with his mouth agape. The longer we stare at it, the more it seems that its blank surface is filled with stunning information.
      A stray ray of evening light pierces the murky clouds like a first breath of fresh air after an illness. It illuminates faint markings on the stele, then vanishes as quickly as it came. Has time worn away the stele’s inscription, or was there never one in the first place? As I journey through the mountains, I only need one line for me to follow, one brushstroke to remind me that within this vast silence there is still a Heaven above me, still souls on this earth. As evening closes in, the stele glimmers faintly like a bronze mirror. I press my hands to its surface, slowly beginning to feel the bitter cold it contains—and I’m shocked to see that the warmth of my hands leaves traces on its surface, like faint ripples on a calm pond. Snow Cloud, my horse, brays impatiently, urging me to quickly depart this place.

 

Li Cheng and Wang Xiao, Reading the Memorial Stele, Northern Song Dynasty,
ink on paper, 126.3 × 104.9 cm, collection of Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts.

 

      Permit me to draw on my impressions of Reading the Memorial Stele in an attempt to describe the sensation of encountering the paintings of Yu Han[18]. I do not intend to make a comparison, but if we must seek reference points for our experiences, then perhaps this painted scroll from the Northern Song Dynasty can offer some borrowed context for Shao Fan’s work. I often recall this adage: “a printed word is still a word, but a printed painting is not a painting.”[19] As I see it, it is precisely this kind of circumstance that reveals the interchangeability of language in human communication and the potential for paintings to act as images open to interpretation. In this vein, we can explore a step further: if a printed painting is not a painting, then what is it? And what is its relationship to language?
      I am inclined to see languages and images as conduits between different dimensions. Indeed, “I” am among them in these liminal spaces, because I am using mediums, and at the same time, I am a kind of medium (in the sense that a medium is “an intermediary thing that can make other things possible”). I see “my” multifaceted interactions with these artworks as junctures that lead into a different dimension of life and space-time. My countless circlings, sallies, flailings and absorptions have produced a text that now itself exists in a liminal state, awaiting the readers that will navigate and traverse it.

 

Viewer Situation #1 – The Stele with No Inscription
      If the stele were not blank, this scene would not linger so profoundly in my mind. As it is, this visual experience opens up a realm of possibilities reminiscent of Borges’s Book of Sand. For example: the stele inscription, traditionally a vessel of weighty meaning and historical value, has been “wiped away,” creating “negative space,” and “rebirthing” a new significance that wavers between commemoration and void; or perhaps the imposing stele has been transformed into a mirror-like surface that turns the viewer’s gaze to reflect upon herself; or perhaps the erasure of its historical text leads to a renewed sense of lightness, in which the stele becomes simply a shield against the wind amid the rocks and trees, one that seems to make more accessible the distant lands beyond the horizon.
      I see a metaphorical situation between this scene and the experience of encountering the paintings of Yu Han: the viewer expects to meet with an artwork that possesses meaning, but that artwork may, like the stele with no inscription, suspend us within a vacuum where meaning is inscrutable.
      The stele has no inscription, but as an object standing upright in the wilderness, it transmits a certain message between the heavens and the earth, producing a different kind of significance. The facial expressions of the spectators within the painting are hidden, which seems to suggest that the deciphering of this significance—and the process of seeking it—may indeed transcend the realm of individual happiness or sadness.

 

Viewer Situation #2 – Who is Omnipresent?

 

Nicolas Poussin, Et in Arcadia ego, 1638, oil on cloth, 85 × 121 cm, Louvre Museum.

 

      If there were an inscription on the stele, perhaps it would recall the words “Et in Arcadia ego,” the words on a tombstone in Nicolas Poussin’s painting of that name, from another time and place, which also portrays the reading of words engraved in stone.
     “Et in Arcadia ego — Even in Arcadia, there am I.”
      In the bright light of day, the epigraph on the tomb is clearly visible. In Arcadia, that otherworldly Utopia of ancient Greek myth, can a group of carefree youths read and understand the true meaning of this line?
      Like the shepherds in the painting, we viewers surely must debate who the “I” is in the epigraph. Is it the God of Death? Or perhaps the concept of separation? Though there are words on the tablet, their meaning is shrouded in uncertainty. Now let us imagine that the tombstone were blank, leaving only its emptiness to contemplate. Would silence, and the absence of writing, produce a similar semantic significance as the writing does?
      This seems to be another metaphorical condition of the experience of encountering Yu Han’s paintings: whether the markings on the canvas are rich or paltry in their apparent significance, they simultaneously suggest a dearth of meaning. Meaning both is omnipresent and fleeting.
      From Reading the Memorial Stele to Et in Arcadia ego, we advance from an individual viewing from a distance (the relationship between the viewer and the stele in the former) to a group engaged in discussion (the relationship between the group of viewers and the tombstone in the latter). We approach to the point of “touching” the artworks—or, more accurately, the particular substance of the artworks begins to “touch” us.
    
Eye Contact
      From a macro perspective of time and the origins of life, humans are a relatively up-and-coming entity on this earth. Without a doubt, the planet was filled with living creatures long before humans appeared. I suspect that the first time any animal met eyes with a human was a particular experience that lodged deeply in its memory. In Why Look at Animals, John Berger wrote:
      Yet the animal—even if domesticated—can also surprise the man. The man too is looking across a similar, but not identical, abyss of non-comprehension […] he is always looking across ignorance and fear. And so, when he is being seen by the animal, he is being seen as his surroundings are being seen. His recognition of this is what makes the look of the animal familiar. And yet the animal is distinct, and can never be confused with man. Thus, a power is ascribed to the animal, comparable with human power but never coinciding with it. The animal has secrets which, unlike the secrets of caves, mountains, seas, are specifically addressed to man.[20]
      A clear point of distinction between humans and animals is that humans use language to communicate, and see other users of language as their brethren, whereas animals do not use language. They communicate using gestures, expressions, sounds, and silence incomprehensible to humans; they have close or fraught relationships with humans; and they are objects that we subject to our projections. The richly dramatic element of this relationship is that as humans grow evermore fond of animals, we also feel an increasingly inescapable guilt over the process of evolution, for it is the evolution of humans that is contributing to various degrees of ecological catastrophe. And it was when homo sapiens reached the apex of the food chain about one million years ago that they began to imagine a collective identity where none previously existed.[21]
      Perhaps there is nothing surprising about this. After all, humankind’s first subject in its cave murals was not itself, but rather, other animals. The human self-image—as the hunter—only appeared later. In the cosmology of those prehistoric times, humankind saw animals as possessive of cosmic powers. Life and consciousness were not phenomena exclusive to humans, and “consequently, [animals] were not to be slighted; they were not seen as a lower order of existence or as amusing lesser versions of humans.”[22] Animals themselves were a medium through which humans communicated with the natural world. As a non-verbal means of communication, art inevitably became a means for humans to attempt to communicate with the universe as well as the animals that represented aspects of the universe’s powers.

 

Ineffable Forms: A Narrative of Emptiness 
      Though Yu Han feels time slow through the process of repetition, he has never departed from the mundane. He practices his temporal alchemy as his everyday work, and the familiar yet strange rabbits that appear in his paintings are not a subject material that he sought out consciously. Rather, they’re a subject that came to him, through companionship, by chance. 
      His affinity with rabbits began when a friend gave him one as a gift. Seeing rabbits on a daily basis, he began to feel increasingly familiar with the species. When their eyes met, it occurred to him that by looking at the rabbit, he was looking back at himself. What would happen if he tried to see the rabbit not with a human’s gaze, but with a rabbit’s gaze? “I thought that if I could look with the eyes of a rabbit, I could see another rabbit as like a lion. That’s something I could never see with a human’s perspective.”[23]
      If we compare the artist’s creative practice to a flowing river—and see artworks from different moments as links between past and future—then his new series of paintings “In the Name of the Rabbit” can be easily traced back to the artist’s previous “Rabbit Portrait” series, perhaps helping us step into this river of time. In an incisive analysis of the “Rabbit Portraits” and related works from the same period, the German scholar Beate Reifenscheid wrote, “Shao Fan transforms the visages and postures of the animals into monumental forms. Age and wisdom endow them with an extraordinary air of the eternal. This allows them to seem both comprehensible and also unreachably distant.”[24] In this essay, Reifenscheid applies her analysis of the techniques of imagery in Albrecht Durer’s famous Self Portrait with Fur Collar to Shao Fan’s animal portraits. She points out the diversity of his approaches to a single subject within the context of Chinese painting traditions and the ideas of Western portraiture. The resulting transformations are not simple portraits; rather, they represent the virtually eternal visage of a living entity and its existence within this mortal life.
      In the creative process of “In the Name of the Rabbit,” the artist switched completely to ink on xuan paper for his medium. Moreover, the imagery in this series reveals an evolution into a space of greater intensity. The rabbit image is still discernable in these paintings, but when one locks eyes with these creatures, the concept of what they are gradually dissipates, as do all barriers to unfiltered perception. The sense of confrontation gradually dissolves in this meeting of eyes as we viewers enter a dimension of communal consciousness with the artworks. I call it a “dimension” because this feeling of communal space and time cannot be lightly named. The intuitions of our perceptions are indescribable, and indeed, ineffable, and thus this communal dimension is no illusion. As viewers we are always on a journey, re-tracing the brushstrokes of the painting.
      When we further examine Yu Han’s interest in repetition, we see that it takes place not only within the picture plane of each painting (as a tree intuitively forms branches at natural time intervals), but also, in the relationship between the paintings. The artworks in the series “In the Name of the Rabbit” gradually unfold, inviting us into a temporal garden. As we weave our way through this space, blurred semantics and indeterminate auras lead us to feelings of ethereal lightness and shelter.
      In this dimension of communal consciousness, we establish a mutual trust with the subjects of these artworks and a curiosity about the “other.” In this relationship of visual dialog, even the rabbit without eyes does not strike us as grotesque or irregular. On the contrary, we sense that it is using its entire body and mind to meet “our” gaze, and is engaging in dialog with us with every hair on its body. It seems to not need actual eyes, for its “inner sight” is its sole means of exploring that which is ineffable.
      According to the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, there is no Rosetta Stone of meaning to decode existence within this world. If we see a painting as an unfamiliar world, then “the key is not to identify themes relating to this painting, or to reference the historical circumstances of its origins. The key is to focus one’s perceptions on the object itself: to gaze at and perceive this artwork according to the directives silently given by the marks of the brush on the canvas, and in this way, to follow these directives—with no need for language or reasoning—to form a conception of the painting in its rigorous and orderly entirety.”[25]
      Even if we cannot fully understand that entirety, that need not dampen our interest in the world around us. On the contrary, this kind of experience can spur our sense of adventure: “to depart from the human experience and leap into a boundless, undefined realm that allows us to reflect back on human experience.”[26]
      When we stand in front of the artworks in the series In the Name of the Rabbit, intuition tells us that the center of the tableau is the rabbit’s mouth: its respiration, inhaling and exhaling, offers a dialog that transcends human language. These breaths congeal into words one wishes to speak but must leave unsaid, reminding us of Piero della Francesca’s Madonna del Parto (1455-1456). In that painting, the Virgin Mary wears a poignant countenance of mixed emotions and forbearance. But the unseen center of the painting—the unborn child in her womb—is the core around which the narrative swirls. As viewers, we find ourselves at an inflection point between two worlds, immersed in the vast possibilities that the future holds.

 

   

(Left) Shao Fan, In the Name of the Rabbit 0222, 2022, ink on rice paper, 230 × 175 cm
(Right) Shao Fan, In the Name of the Rabbit 0522, 2022, ink on rice paper, 230 × 175 cm

 

Ineffable Forms: Order within Chaos
      The volume and topography of present times find expression in other recent works by Yu Han. In the painting In the Northern Ocean, we find an embodiment of another type of ineffable thing—could it be Kun, the giant mythical fish described by Zhuangzi in “Carefree Wandering?” Or some other indescribable creature, roaming through either the ocean or the sky (here, there seems to be no importance to differentiating between air and water molecules). It seems to come from another dimension, and yet it appears before us vividly and distinctly, as if drawn from the artist’s personal experience.

 

Shao Fan, Beiming (In the Northern Ocean) 0122, 2022, ink on rice paper, overall dimension: 160 × 570 cm, consists of 3 pieces: 160 × 190 cm / each

 

      The sense of space suggested in In the Northern Ocean itself recalls the discussion of big and small in “Carefree Wandering,” and the artist seems to engage in a dialog with that ancient and precocious text from another time and place. But the ineffable thing more directly corresponds to the shape of time—which to this day we are unable to capture—and the shape of the lives that we live.
      Contemporary physics seeks to define “order within chaos”: the effects of objects, the organic structures of energy, matter and anti-matter. The force of any contradiction propagates within objects; energy gathers and seeks energy, rather than simply being consumed; otherwise, we have no way of explaining how a living thing as complexly structured as human beings could come to be in a place like our planet in this universe of increasing entropy.
      Therefore, we can reference “self-organization,” this new scientific principle, to understand how order emerges from chaos […] chaos may be the ultimate state of matter, and at the end of time, the universe will surely have collapsed. But the Second Law of Thermodynamics absolutely does not state that this process occurs evenly across every moment and every part of space-time.[27]
      In this nonhomogeneous world, in which all matter seeks equilibrium, contemporary physics reveals to us that no human is their own master, and mutual relationships give the myriad things their identities. The natural order of things can only appear and disappear within a dynamic chaos. Such is the foundation of “deterministic chaos,” which implies that no object or being can completely free itself of the relationships that define it. Whether it is social movements, biological evolution, or creative activities, the emergence of order within dynamic chaos resembles the blossoming of flowers in spring.
      Can one painter’s labor truly capture the movement of the cosmos and form images from that resonance? For Yu Han, this is a practice of exploring fundamental principles, learning from others, grinding and polishing, and ultimately, producing meditative observations in response. And perhaps, by communing with viewers who are exploring their own life experience, the artwork goes beyond meditative observation, forming instead a certain kind of redemption (in the temporal rather than the religious sense of the word). Just as those early cave murals opened for humankind a passageway into another world: a place of rebirth.
      The whale-shaped creature in In the Northern Ocean does not resemble some sort of destructive sea monster or leviathan, nor is it the mythical white whale from Moby Dick. There is no absolute negative force, and the accumulated layers of ink neither affirm nor negate their predecessors. Rather, they merge together at opportune junctures, thereby producing a shape that corresponds to that of a whale: a vision somewhere between affirmation and negation. As the artist gives himself over to the guidance of powers beyond his control, we follow him on a winding journey to a secluded place. Together, we probe the existence of alternate dimensions, in which the painting itself becomes the perch of the ineffable.

 

When Paintings Become Places

 

      
(Left) Li Cheng and Wang Xiao, Reading the Memorial Stele, Northern Song Dynasty (detail)
(Middle) Shao Fan, Mi Garden, 2008, Royal Horticultural Society, London
(Right) Shao Fan, Ring, 2013, walnut wood, 98 × 62 × 48 cm

 

      Yu Han once built a sunken Chinese garden titled Mi Garden at the Royal Horticultural Society in London. This temporary garden was partially submerged beneath the earth’s surface, creating the effect of a “ruins.” The space was both dug into the ground and open to the skies above, temporarily suspending the concept of the earth’s surface. As the garden’s name implied—mi (觅) means “to seek”—the installation seemed to draw attention to that which is hidden. If we return to the tableau of Reading the Memorial Stele and carefully examine the stele itself, we discover that it is devoid not only of writing, but also of any trace of damage or weathering. The desolate air of the scene is in fact generated by the juxtaposition of the flawless stele with the rugged trees and strange rocks that surround it: an “undamaged ruin.” This rich artistic conception, laden with contradiction, reflects the thought-provoking Chinese cultural traditions of nostalgia[28] and looking to the past, which strikes a distant correspondence with the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s discussion of the “contemporary”: “In modern and recent times, the only contemporary people are those who are sensitive to ancient symbols and relics.” Agamben continued:
      A contemporary person is not only someone who perceives the darkness of the present and also the light they are fated to never reach, but also someone who divides and occupies time, someone who can manipulate time and make connections between the present and other eras. She can read history in unexpected ways and cite it according to a kind of necessity. This kind of necessity, in any case, does not come from her will, but rather comes from that what she must do in order to respond to a certain sense of urgency.[29]
      Compared to the weight of history, a stele is a relatively light material. If we were to imagine a different setting for a forest of steles (stele forest [beilin; 碑林] is the Chinese term for a group of inscribed stone slabs)—perhaps a more vast time and space, devoid of gravity—then each stele would resemble a sheet of paper, adrift on cosmic winds. The sacredness of a stele forest, unlike that of a church or temple, comes from its historical character. In Chinese culture, there is a sacrosanct relationship between history and metaphysics. In Chinese poetry and painting, the human and the divine always come together in relics and ruins: places that evoke the past and conjure homeward journeys. These places contain the balanced contradictions between presence and absence, having and not having, flourishing and withering, rising and declining, substance and void, the present and the past. Such places where complementary opposites interact have the potential to become sites of contemplation and shelter.
      Perhaps Yu Han intended these paintings to provide “sites of communal contemplation” to which all individuals bring their own lived experiences. Unlike specific historical locations, these sites contain a void at their center, a certain detachment, which creates a singular instant in which artistic perception can occur. In this way does Ring, the round-backed armchair created by the artist (pictured above), contain an emptiness at its center that anticipates a novel relationship to the body: a relationship in which the body’s overloaded physical memory can be purged. In such a relationship with art, our presence in the moment of mutual encounter forms an opportunity for us to form anew the relationships between our bodies, minds, and souls.

 

Afterword
      When we lock gazes with an ineffable object, we are led to ponder the drift of humankind upon the seas of time; the fragility of geological transformations; the limits of an infinite universe. We may even imagine the ultimate fate of humankind amid the cosmos. Do these contemplations leave us any more at ease?
      From where she lies she sees Venus rise. On. From where she lies when the skies are clear she sees Venus rise followed by the sun. Then she rails at the source of all life. On. At evening when the skies are clear she savors its star’s revenge. At the other window. Rigid upright on her old chair. It emerges from out the last rays and sinking ever brighter is engulfed in its turn.[30]
      In this moment, only “this” remains. She, one member of humankind, unable to escape the principles of earth’s gravity, gazes at the stars, “as if transformed into a stone.” This, her, a once-proud energy—a legacy passed through human genes—gradually vanishing into the heat death of her individual universe, melting into the seas of nature’s molecules, taking with her all of the laughter and arguments and love affairs of her past.
      This is not a tragedy, nor is it a comedy. In a certain sense, it approaches the model of the cosmos built upon the foundation of human imagination: everything eventually ends in heat death. Prior to that final moment, humankind’s laughter and chagrin will endure for many years, before ultimately dissolving along with this celestial body. Or perhaps the very intensity of humankind’s unthinking love and hate will cause the arrow of time to once again change its speed and direction. All along, what will remain unexplained is this: that person in motion who seems to be blind, possessor of an inevitable material momentum—how can she miraculously sublimate into a symphony of the spirit, rising above all joy and sorrow?
      Within this limited human life, is an unlimited destiny an unbearable burden? If we do not base the value of humans (a limited entity) on that which is unlimited (the spirit or some sort of telos), then how do we assess the value of our existence? How do we candidly face the facts of life and death?
      Our current understanding of humans—defined by our understandings of life, labor, and language—is one born in the modern age and presently facing its own demise. But might there be some sort of “ultimate experience” that transcends explanation and knowledge, a timeless passageway that connects the finite to the infinite?
      This kind of ultimate experience has appeared in various guises throughout human history. Samuel Beckett’s “conscious man” pushes toward the extreme limits of language, as if humankind could once more affirm its existence before vanishing. But there are no correct words for this affirmation, just as there is no inscription on the stele in Reading the Memorial Stele.
      Beneath the vast and boundless skies, humans seem to struggle evermore to find expression. Each word we speak is like a distant star, drifting ever farther away, a faint glimmer barely visible to the naked eye, and the dark night occupies ever more of each day. “Here, we once again encounter the earliest finite subject. But this kind of finite subject […] appears on a more basic level: this is the inescapable relationship between human existence and time.”[31]
      In the last one hundred years, the artist has witnessed the besieging of humankind, the “death of the author.” She is left no choice but to rush about the boundless wasteland, to directly face the emptiness of the world, and to draw on art to explore the special order of things: those material and spiritual entities that cannot be ruled by laws. How can their intrinsic quality and space be expressed?

 

the silence
of nature
within.
the power within.
the power
without.
the path is whatever passes—
no end in itself.[32]

 

 

( This article is an abbreviated version of the essay with the same title,  published with permission of the author.)

 

Essay: Hu Fang
All works of art by Shao Fan ©the Artist
Courtesy of the artist and Vitamin Creative Space

 

 

关于艺术家 | About the artist

 

___________________________
[1] 选自[美]加里·斯奈德(Gary Snyder):《来源》,收录于加里·斯奈德:《龟岛:斯奈德诗集》,柳向阳译,北京:北京联合出版公司,2021,第44页。
[2] 本文所论及的艺术家邵帆,号昱寒。关于一个人的“号”,尽管这在今天的中国已经是一个逝去的传统,但“号”微妙地传达出一个人对自身所赋予和期望的另一种形象,这可能更接近我对作品中所隐含的“个人”和作品关系的理解,故本文涉及到艺术家时,采用邵帆之号——昱寒。
[3] 我对说此话的法国哲学家吉尔森(Etienne Gilson)所知甚少,但我猜想,对中世纪神学和托马斯·阿奎那的终身研究,让他深知把艺术翻译成语词是不可能的,就像把神转译成语言一样,是知其不可而为之的努力。
[4] 参见约翰·贝格(John Berger),《为什么凝视动物(Why Look at Animals ?)》,引用文字由作者翻译,伦敦:企鹅出版社,英文版,2009,第14页。
[5] 参见[以色列]尤瓦尔·赫拉利(Yuval Noah Harari),《人类简史》,林俊宏译,北京:中信出版集团,2017,第69-71页。
[6] [法]吉尔伯特·西蒙东(Gilbert Simondon),《动物与人二讲》,宋德超译,南宁:广西人民出版社,2021,第46页。
[7] 来自艺术家与作者的对话,2022年10月14日。
[8] Beate Reifenscheid:《邵帆——从肖像到面容》,收录于《昱寒 1984-2018》,北京:东方出版社,2018,第9页。
[9] [法]莫里斯·梅洛-庞蒂(Maurice Merleau-Ponty),《知觉的世界—论哲学、文学与艺术》,王世盛、周子悦译,南京:江苏人民出版社,2019,第80-81页。
[10] [德]韩炳哲(Byung-Chul Han),《他者的消失》,吴琼译,北京:中信出版集团,2019,第92页。
[11] [英]彼得·柯文尼(Peter Coveney)、罗杰·海菲尔德(Roger Highfield),《时间之箭》,江涛、向守平译,长沙:湖南科学技术出版社,1994,第15页。
[12] 关于作为视觉再现主题的怀古,参见[美]巫鸿(Wu Hung),《废墟的故事——中国美术和视觉文化中的“在场”和“缺席”》中《碑与枯树:怀古的诗画》一节,肖铁译,上海:上海人民出版社,第32-56页。
[13] [意] 吉奥乔·阿甘本(Giorgio Agamben),《裸体》,黄晓武译,北京:北京大学出版社,2017,第34-35页。
[14] [爱尔兰]萨缪尔·贝克特(Samuel Beckett):《看不清道不明》,余中先译,收录《贝克特选集(5):看不清道不明》,长沙:湖南文艺出版社,2006,第197-198页。
[15] 刘北成,《福柯思想肖像》,北京:北京师范大学出版社,1995,第135页。
[16] 选自[美]加里·斯奈德:《无外》,收录于加里·斯奈德:《龟岛:斯奈德诗集》,柳向阳译,北京:北京联合出版公司,2021,第11页。
[17] Gary Snyder, “Source,” in Turtle Island: Poems of Gary Snyder, New Directions, New York City, 1974, p. 26.
[18] The subject of this essay, the artist Shao Fan, uses the art name Yu Han. An “art name” (号), an archaic tradition from China’s past, subtly expresses an artist’s alternative self-image. This alias may more closely represent the relationship between works of art and the creative individual implied behind them. For this reason, this text refers to the artist Shao Fan by his art name, Yu Han.
[19] I know little about Étienne Gilson, the French philosopher who wrote these words, but I suppose that his lifelong study of medieval theology and Thomas Aquinas led him to deeply appreciate the impossibility of translating art into language, a task as futile as verbally articulating the soul.
[20] John Berger, Why Look at Animals?, Penguin Books, London, 2009, p. 14.
[21] See Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, cited in Chinese, Lin Junhong trans., CITIC Press Group, Beijing, 2017, p. 69-71.
[22] Gilbert Simondon, Deux leçons sur l’animal et l’homme, cited in the Chinese, Song Dechao trans., Guangxi People’s Press, Nanning, 2021, p. 46.
[23] In conversation with the author, 14 October 2022.
[24] Beate Reifenscheid: “Shao Fan—From Portrait to Countenance,” collected in Yu Han 1984-2018, Eastern Publishing Co, Beijing, 2018, p. 9.
[25] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Causeries 1948, cited in the Chinese, Wang Shisheng, Zhou Ziyue trans., Jiangsu People’s Press, Nanjing, 2019, p. 80-81.
[26] Byung-Chul Han, Die Austreibung des Anderen, cited in the Chinese, Wu Qiong trans., CITIC Press Group, Beijing, 2019, p. 92.
[27] Peter Coveny and Roger Highfield, The Arrow of Time, cited in the Chinese, Jiang Tao and Xiang Shouping trans., Hunan Science and Technology Press, Changsha, 1994, p. 15.
[28] On the expression of nostalgia through recurring visual themes, see Wu Hung, “A Story of Ruins—Presence and Absence in Chinese Art and Visual Culture,” in bei yu kushu: huaigu de shihua, Xiao Tie trans., Shanghai People’s Press, Shanghai, p. 32-56.
[29] Giorgio Agamben, Nudita, cited in the Chinese, Huang Xiaowu trans., Peking University Press, Beijing, 2017, p. 34-35.
[30] Samuel Beckett, “Mal vu mal dit,” cited in the Chinese, Xu Zhongxian trans., collected in Beikete xuante xuan ji (5): kan bu qing dao bu ming, Hunan Literature & Art Press, Changsha, 2006, p. 197-198.
[31] Liu Beicheng, Fuke sixiang xiaoxiang (The Portrait of Foucault), Beijing Normal University Press, Beijing, 1995, p. 135.
[32] Gary Snyder, “Without,” in Turtle Island: Poems of Gary Snyder, New Directions, New York City, 1974, p. 6.