• “多重世界与图像转向”
  • “多重世界与图像转向”
    活动时间
    2007-12-24
    活动要求

    特殊规定

    活动背景
    我们举办以“古今一体,恒久当代”为主题的系列展,是怀着些许的希望。希望将“当代艺术”和“古代艺术”置于同一空间,构筑一个古今对话、对人类社会的演进过程做长时段观察的平台;希望屏除各种原因造成的时空窒碍,做一番“古今一体”的本质性思考,以期能够更清楚我们当下所处的位置及未来的发展方向;希望能够将“当代艺术”与整个人文社会科学融为一体来共同探讨人类社会自古以来所面临的种种问题;希望在这里“当代艺术”不仅仅是“当代艺术”……
    活动介绍
    时间:2007年10月15日下午地点:北京大学人物:彭锋、徐天进、张小涛整理:刘智彬
    “Shifting Different Worlds and Images” Time: Afternoon of October 15, 2007 Location: Peking University People: Peng Feng, Xu Tianjin, Zhang Xiaotao Arrangement: Liu Zhibin

    张:我明年个展的动画《迷雾》时间会更长,我认为没有一定的浓度和时间,这种暗线是交待不清楚的。彭:因为你的作品背景比较复杂,你不可以像他们那样做成极简主义,你要做得更复杂,更绚烂一点。
    张:90年代的英国就有世纪末的那种颓废、死亡与灿烂交织。因为英国是一个岛国,极端的保守,极端的暴力,跟这种文化里面所偏执的东西有关系,可能是暗线不一样。2001年我们去伦敦做展览的时候,那里一些重要的机构都不关注中国当代艺术,为什么6、7年以后都关注呢?其实是国家的经济和文化达到了一种与世界同步的东西。中国今天的很多变革都蕴含着巨大的信息和力量,往往社会现实比艺术还有创造力,这个关系到如何创造情境,转换现场和现实语言,进入更深层次的艺术和文化领域的学术研究,而不只是简单的社会学的符号化图解。但我们缺乏文化的穿透力,这个东西可能和宗教感、历史感有关系,就是说您刚才谈的中国社会的丰富性,多重世界的交错,把中国的社会,任何一个细节的局部放大,放在西方的一个情境里面,都特别有意思。其实还是绵延的不够?
    彭:对于绵延也需要具体分析,不是有足够的绵延对于艺术就一定是件好事,他们的绵延、意识形态、脉络太清楚了,这对他们的艺术家的创作反而是负担。
    张:90年代末,德国艺术家托马斯做的《极限的震动》展览,就是把尸体、病房、医院的东西拿到给公众来展览,在德国其实成为一个旅游的项目,去那个城市的所有游客都会去看,看完以后当场晕倒的、休克的,有人去砸、去骂,去讨论,他就是在艺术、博物馆学、医学、道德伦理、宗教的一个边界的跨越。但是中国呢?90年代后期,很多人直接把停尸房里的尸体拿出来做展览,他可能有创造力,但是还是有道德伦理和法律边界的问题,比如我接触的东欧艺术家,他们的艺术非常有感染力,但整体来说和中国的艺术有相似性,放在西欧的语境里面他的穿透力可能比我们还强,中国有太符号化的东西,没有做更深层次。东欧的艺术里面有痛完之后的平静,是一种无力感和虚脱。
    彭:我也比较喜欢东欧的东西,前任国际的国际美学协会主席阿来西•阿尔亚维奇主编了一本书,名叫《后社会主义和后现代状况的状况》,里面有一章是关于中国当代艺术,通过那本书我发现中国的波普主要是从东欧那边来的,前苏联和东欧的政治波普都在恶搞他们的神圣图像,比如锤子和镰刀,后来我们就学他们。
    张:前苏联的政治波普,当时在全球非常时尚。前苏联因为先改革政治,后开放经济,国家的经济崩溃以后,他们的政治波普潮流在国际上很快被淘汰,中国的政治波普因为全球化市场的原因反而得以流传下来,可能和中国特殊的社会传统与当代的混杂,经济和文化处于过渡和转型期有联系。其实经济在重新追认文化,过去我一直没有体会,90年代末期我去欧洲做展览,当时我真的感觉有点自卑,在西方的展览,我们是去朝圣,去学习。当很多年你成长起来以后,你会发现你是重要的一极。前不久回成都,周春芽老师说:“小涛,其实我们过去都以为国际在西方,今天中国就是国际。”这种气度可能是文化、经济到了,产生一种同步的东西,所以才会有这种觉悟,重视本土。
    彭:就当代艺术来说,图像是最容易国际化的。文学怎么国际化?看不懂,还要翻译。图像很直观,不需要翻译。20世纪美学有一个新的转向,叫图像转向(image turn),出现了图像美学,人们只看图像,不看文字。在今天这个全球化时代里,最流行的肯定是视觉艺术。你的动画《夜》目前从视觉上来讲,一点问题都没有,视觉效果特别好。我看看能不能从另外一些方面突破一下?
    张:我不想把一系列作品做得太符号化,因为我想在这里面进行信息的叠加。就是这种观念心理,关于一些死亡,一些废墟的概念。表达现世情绪和抽象的宗教感觉的相遇,关于时间的流变,可能更有一种东方佛教“六道轮回”的时空观念。这里面有一些暗线的重叠,我想要的就是叠加的东西。
    彭:假如说的是“六道轮回”,就应该反反复复地强调它,不怕重复。比如在“余震——英国当代艺术展”上看到一件影像作品,展示兔子尸体的腐化过程,作品很简单,将兔子尸体与桃子进行对比,结果兔子尸体很快就腐化了,而人们平时以为更容易腐烂的水果却完好无缺。这件影像作品集中展示了生命的脆弱性。我们现在把人的生命看得很重,其实人的生命也很脆弱。刚才看了你的动画作品《夜》,其中也运用了一些对比,就是比较草莓的霉变过程与人的骷髅的腐化过程。不同的生命消失的形式是不一样,但同样的是生命都会有消失,这个对比也很震撼。当代艺术需要用视觉影像来简化观念,突出观念。
    张:其实这个原点和我的童年记忆有关。比如说我中学时周末放假回家,父母在外面工作,我一个人回家,看到阳光投在房间里面,空中漂浮的尘土像电影的分镜头一样,空气当中有霉菌的味道,这是关于时间记忆的碎片的深刻记忆。我后来去大足石刻写生,喜欢那些被风化岩石的感觉,那种屋漏痕的、水迹斑斑的感觉。这种形式在心里有一种对应,我在新的动画电影里面也会做,比如一束光打在水里面,几只蚂蚁往水下沉,其实就是我在溺水的过程,包括那个光,钢厂里面,空无一人,一束光打在钢厂里,尘土在这束光里面飘浮的感觉,我把时间分解了,可能是一种抽象的过程,是一个碎片的东西。在西方的圣经里面,蝙蝠、蜥蜴、青蛙都是不祥之物,我在后来的电影里面,蚂蚁、蜥蜴、蝙蝠把建筑摧毁掉,把钢厂摧毁,其实也想要这种寓言或者轮回,要这种在物质、精神、肉身、影子,在死亡之中再生的东西。
    彭:我们似乎可以这样来定位你的作品,其实你是把人生里有一个大家不太关注的事件,特别是今天的汉人不太关注的事件放大了,这就是死亡的事件。对于死亡事件,有些文化是比较关注的。
    张:前不久我去西藏日喀则扎什楞卜寺参观历届班禅灵塔和诵经堂,一个喇嘛对游客讲:我们为什么要把天葬台放在诵经堂的正中央?就是要提醒你生死就在眼前,这是一个时空隧道,可知古往今来,天堂地狱,它可以带你去穿越生死,这个对我很震撼,你会发现其实像天葬台它为什么有灵性?有这个信息?可能是把生死放大,或超然或淡泊。马车的形象是来自于西方中世纪的绘画,彼特•勃鲁盖尔《死亡的胜利》,就是描绘死亡战胜了今生,战胜了现实,中世纪以后的基督教特别重视现世和今生,通过对今生的重视,来抗拒死亡,因为中世纪以前只重视彼岸,不重视今生。文艺复兴对人性,对今生的重视,“以生克死”,我想是在肉身在与现实体验的相遇和冲突当中,可能我自己对宗教的态度,对生命的态度也是处在重重的怀疑当中?
    彭:整体上,这部动画作品可以引起很多的讨论,比如对生命的意义,对生命的归宿,都可以展开讨论,引人思考。徐:实际上追究人对生死的讨论有几千年了,我们能不能从古人对死人处置方式的角度来看他们的一种生死观。其实很多中国人是相信有来世的,这种对来世是一种什么程度上的相信,我们现在不好判定。但是从心理上讲,包括现在的农村,他知道人死了以后还在另外的一个地方继续生活,用另外一种形态和另外一种方式继续生活。比如清明节,去烧钱上供,实际上在很多人的心里都认为埋在里头的人还在继续生活,他还需要花钱,需要喝酒,那么这里面直接表现出来中西方的墓葬的不同,大量生前用的东西都会放到墓里面去,没有这种观念起作用的话,我们现在也看不到这么多古代艺术品,现在杰出的古代艺术品都在墓葬里面没有出来,绘画、雕塑、各种不同材质的工艺品。比如说从商周以来一直这样,像汉代,粮仓要带走,家里的猪圈,做饭的灶都要带走,墓葬里跟生活有关系的方方面面基本上都有。像秦始皇这样等级更高的,不用活人就用俑替代,但是这种思想和观念一直延续。为什么接受不了火葬?毁了以后就不能转世了,如果入土以后就说明在那边安定下来了,就要备案,在另外的一个世界安一个家。在农村,火葬很难推行的很重要的一个原因就是人对待死的观念的转变,城市人好像越来越进步,文明化的程度越来越来高,不相信有来世,烧了就烧了。
    彭:肉身可以毁灭,灵魂可以飞翔。
    徐:现在是从当代社会的一个视角和个人经验来看待生死,其实这个问题的确是从孔子以来一直有很多人在谈,比如说“未知生,焉知死”,这都是孔子的话,这些东西怎么样来考虑?实际上可能是永远也扯不清的一个东西。 关于“生死”,如果能讨论的清楚,这个问题可能老早就被讨论清楚了,将来这个问题依然还会存在,宗教的问题和生死有非常密切的关系,没有一个宗教可以脱离生死的问题,所有的哲学问题,也会追到生死的问题。其实死离每个人都非常近,就是转瞬间的死亡,我特别喜欢他用的蚂蚁,我把他的蚂蚁看成人,这种渺小、不能掌控和无常感,其实人和蚂蚁没有本质上的区别。在现实当中,拼命的工作,也不知道工作的意义在哪里?就跟蚂蚁一样,我们看蚂蚁所做的事情好像意义都不大,那么人也是这样,我们在谈生死的问题,实际上是没有意义,谈和不谈是一样的问题,但是我们乐此不疲,小涛花这么大的精力,到处去采风、画画,然后画出来的一个作品,有观众的反映,有社会的反映,但是到最根本上这些意义对他来讲可能都不存在。生死的问题是必须考虑的一个问题,考虑清楚和不清楚,生存的质量会不一样。尽管讨论这个问题没有意义,但是我们还是需要去讨论,因为生存的问题,可能从有人以来就存在。我们最早知道的人对人的特殊处理是北京的周口店人,他们可能生活10万年前,他们用矿物朱砂往身上涂抹,朱砂一直用了很长的时间,这种材料我们现在理解有驱邪、护幼等功能在里面,也有人说有防腐的功能。那么至少人对死者开始有这种特殊的处理的时候,就已经有这种观念了,后来沟通天地,人死了以后可能会升天或者怎样,到汉代的神仙思想,分地下,中间、天上三级,人死了以后可能会到天上去,那时候已经是很成熟的想法了。
    彭:这就是文明宗教跟原始宗教的区别,我们将原始宗教叫作“迷信”。迷信是靠什么来起规范作用?迷信靠的是禁忌,通过禁忌吓唬人来起规范作用。文明宗教比如说伊斯兰教,基督教、佛教等等,它们靠对理想的信仰来吸引人。
    张:我想问一下,您怎么看待藏人的转世的观念?因为我最近在读德国作家弗兰茨•贝克勒的《向死而生》,他讲人的身上是肉身、灵魂、精神三位一体,肉身消亡以后灵魂怎样转世?有没有这种可能?
    彭:我们可以把它区分为两个问题,一个是科学的问题,一个是哲学的问题。科学的问题就是一定要探讨人是不是真的有灵魂,要做实证的工作,找出原理来解释。跟宗教信仰有关的所有问题,都不属于科学问题。在这个领域里面它没有真假对错,只有相信和不相信的区别,关于这点,很多的基督教神学家已经说的很清楚,比如帕斯卡就说,我们无法从理性上证明上帝存在,但是他建议信上帝比不信好。为什么呢?他说这就像赌博一样,假定你相信上帝存在,如果上帝果真存在,他会表扬你的,奖励你,让你上天堂,如果上帝不存在,你信了上帝,你也没有失去什么,如果你相信上帝不存在,万一上帝存在,他就会惩罚你,万一上帝不存在,你也不会得到表扬,不会得到这个奖励。他并没有用科学手段证明上帝存在,他只是在讲一种道理,一种哲学道理。哲学给我们显示一个道理的世界,这个世界是空灵的意义世界,不一定要像科学那样去证明,那样就太坐实了。20世纪哲学的一个重要贡献,就是认识到人的世界是一个意义世界,人生活在意义世界里,存在的事物和不存在的事物,都构成我们的意义世界。我们生活在意义世界之中,好像漂浮在半空中似的。我们满脑子想的很多东西,都是生活中没有的,无法用科学来证明的,但对我们的生活会产生影像,会具有意义。比如,我们常说“天马行空”,从科学的角度来看,“天马”根本就不存在,“天马”没有意义,但是,我们想到“天马”的时候,会想起了很多东西,这些东西是有意义的。再如“灵魂不死”的问题,我们现在对于有没有“灵魂”的问题还没有搞清楚,但是灵魂对我们是有意义的,相信灵魂不死与不相信灵魂存在,对我们的生活会产生不同的影像。当代艺术中的图像,不要看作是现实生活的反映,它们很多都是凭空创造出来的,但是它构成了我们的世界的一部分。我们生活在一个图像世界,一个意义世界,一个文化符号世界,这个世界是经过我们的解释重新构造起来的,没有一个赤裸裸的不经过我们解释和构造的世界。我们人只生活在自己做出来的这个世界里,那个赤裸裸的世界是不存在的。
    徐:可能有一半的人的确是这样,我们断生活有相当一部分是虚拟的。
    彭:今天的艺术图像并不是生活的直接拷贝,相反,艺术图像改变了我们的生活,制作新的图像就是制作新的现实。艺术家可以通过创造图像或叙事,让我们对自己的生活有一个总体的把握,引起我们的生活兴趣,激发我们的生活信心。比如一些宗教故事,你能够生活在故事世界里面,这些故事就像现实发生的事件一样,构成我们的生活世界。没有艺术创造出来的缤纷世界,我们的生活世界会逊色许多。藏传佛教里面肯定相信有生死轮回,在他们看来是千真万确的,是他们生活的真实世界,就像科学事实一样的,是毫无疑问的。
    张:其实在汉人的世界里面也有灵魂和精神的转世。少林寺的《易筋经》,武侠小说中的《葵花宝典》,可以得到前人的武学精髓,在典籍里边,你会读到前人的精神。这次我回四川,见到我大学时的偶像程丛林老师,当年他画的《1968年某月某日雪》是划时代的作品,原来过去深深影响过自己的人和事是难以忘怀的,见到他有被“摸顶”的感觉,后来我这十几年的艺术发展,从研究大师的个案到自己的学习历程,从四川到北京,到国际交流的这种变化就知道,我相信人的基因或者精神的传承力是难以置信的。
    徐:你这样相信是没问题的,但是在芸芸众生当中,某一个人的发展轨迹和另外一个人有相似的地方,其实也不奇怪。
    彭:这种影响是很普遍的,但不要理解得那么坐实。这种影响不是像有共同的遗传基因或者灵魂附体那样坐实,而是一种耳濡目染,一种熏陶的结果。人是具有很大的可塑性的。
    张:我发现这种生死观,就是从这种悲剧的东西里面生长出来的。今天有学生来找我看画的时候,我一下子发现我过去对那个老师的那种心情。其实就在一个连接的点上。你会发现你成为其中的一环,甚至有时我觉得城市的建筑也是像人的生命生长和消失的过程,时间和空间在错置中显现和交互感应的。
    徐:那时候听你说把建筑当做一个有生命的东西来看,这是一个特别好的角度。建筑物本身是生命的过程,从开始到最后变成废墟的过程,实际上它跟有机的生命是相似的。包括椅子、杯子,可能全是生命,全是一个过程,可能对于人的生活态度会带来很大的一个变化。我们不能够无视这些东西,不是说活蹦乱跳的才是生命,这样的话对于做人来讲会珍惜这些东西。因为对生命本身应该是有一种敬畏,有敬有畏,有了敬畏以后,他可能做事的态度会完全不一样,现在人缺少这种敬畏。人现在对审美也是,现在唯一有敬畏的可能是钱,对钱是又敬又畏,这个影响是非常大的。
    张:汉人看待事物总是太现实,是一种“现世宗教”。重视今生,藏人只重视来世,不重今生,这是走两个极端的。这种比较或许会有些启发?
    徐:这次展览我们还要有一个比较清晰的主题,但是这个要很明确提出你的一个学术上的主张,这是很重要的。原来我是希望还是通过这个展览能够给人一些希望、一些警世。“悲”是没错,其实我比你还悲,但要展现出来还是有一些细节的问题,我们需要一步一步的落实。
    张:这是一个重中之重。画册的文本里面的信息量会非常大,这种超级文本的方法,跨学科的交流其实呈现了“实验”的过程。
    徐:在中国做当代艺术,如果我们前面几千年的基础或者资源没利用起来,是一个特别大的损失。小涛的作品好在他是有这样的一个“根”在里面。所以我希望将来如果有机会,跟这些艺术家们做一些沟通,我们也能学到很多东西,我们不一定去学画画的技术,是一种对艺术的感受,这个很重要,其实考古的人需要对艺术有一定的理解,因为实际上我们研究的也是艺术品,跟美学也有关系,我们不会用美学的语言去描述这个东西,但是可能这个东西美和不美,和谐不和谐才是我们所关注的。

    Zhang Xiaotao: Dense Fog, my animated film for next year’s solo exhibition, will be longer. I think that you can’t clearly address these undertones without enough depth and time.
    Peng Feng: Since the piece’s background is rather complicated, you can’t do it in a minimalist fashion like those others. You have to make it more complex and more splendid.
    Zhang: Britain in the ‘90’s had a turn of the century mix of dispiritedness, death and magnificence. Britain is an island nation, extremely conservative, extremely violent, and it is related to the bigoted aspects of its culture. Maybe this is due to different undercurrents. When we went to London for an exhibition in 2001, the important organizations over there ignored Chinese contemporary art. Why, seven years later, are they paying attention now? The nation’s economy and culture reached something that is in step with the world. A lot of changes in China today contain massive amounts of information and power. Usually the social reality is more creative than art, and this links up with how to create circumstances, transform the scene and the language of reality and enter into a deeper level of research into art and culture, not just simple sociological symbolic analysis. But we lack an ability to penetrate the culture, and this may be linked with the sense of religion and sense of history. It’s basically what you were just saying about the richness of Chinese society and the tangling of different worlds. If we took any little detail of Chinese society, expanded it and put it into a western context, it would be very interesting. Or has it not been extended enough? Peng: The issue of extension also requires concrete analysis. Sufficient extension for art is not necessarily a good thing. Their extension, ideology and routes are all very clear, and this is actually a burden on their artists’ creativity. Zhang: In the late ‘90’s, a German artist by the name of Thomas held an exhibition entitled Ultimate Shock, bringing corpses and things from the hospital to exhibit to the audience. In Germany it became a tourism fixture, and everyone who came to the city went to see it. Some people fainted on the spot, went into shock, some tried to smash it, some cursed it, some discussed it. It straddled the borders between art, museum studies, medicine, morality and religion. But what about China? In the late ‘90’s, a lot of people pulled corpses right out of the morgue to exhibit them. That might be creative, but there are moral and legal issues there. The Eastern European artists I’ve met, their art is very contagious, but overall there are a lot of similarities to Chinese art. When placed in the Eastern European context, it might be more penetrative than ours, because China is too iconic and hasn’t gone to a deeper level. Eastern European art has the tranquility that comes after suffering, this feeling of inability and collapse.
    Peng: I like Eastern European stuff too. Ales Erjavec edited a book called Postmodernism and the Postsocialist Condition, and there’s an article about Chinese contemporary art. Through that book I discovered that Chinese political pop mainly came from Eastern Europe. Former Soviet and Eastern European countries were mocking their holy images, such as the hammer and sickle, and we learned it from them later. Zhang: Political pop from the former Soviet Union was in style all over the world. Since the former Soviet Union reformed politics before reforming the economy, after the national economy collapsed, their political pop was swept off the scene pretty quickly. Chinese political pop was spread because of the global market; maybe this is linked with China’s particular social traditions and the mess of the contemporary times, with the economy and culture in a transitional period. The economy is now looking back and granting recognition to culture. I never felt it before. When I went to exhibit in Europe in the late ’90’s, I felt humbled. Having exhibitions in Europe was really about making a pilgrimage, going over there to learn. After many years of growth, you come to realize that you’re an extremely important part of it all. Going back to Chengdu not long ago, Zhou Chunya said to me, “We used to think that international meant the West, but today, China is the international.” This kind of magnanimity may be because the culture and economy have arrived and created something up to pace, which is what lead us to having this revelation and caring about what’s local. Peng: When it comes to contemporary art, images are very easily internationalized. How do you internationalize literature? You can’t read it, and you have to get it translated. Images are direct, and there’s no need to translate them. There was a new twist in aesthetics in the twentieth century, called image turn. There emerged an image aesthetic, and people were just looking at images, not reading text. In this era of globalization, visual art is definitely the most popular. As for your animated film Night, there are no problems there. The visual effect is excellent. I just wonder, can you make some breakthroughs in other areas? Zhang: I don’t want to make a series of overly iconic works, because I want to stack information here. That’s the concept mentality, concepts about death and ruins. I am expressing a confluence of a realistic emotional state and an abstract sense of religion. It is about the flow of time, and even more so, it is full of the spatial-temporal Buddhist concept of the “sixfold cycle”. There are different undercurrents stacked up here. I am aiming for something stacked.
    Peng: If it is about the “sixfold cycle”, then you should repeatedly emphasize it. Don’t be afraid of repetition. For instance, I saw a film piece at the Aftershock – British Contemporary Art exhibition. The piece showed the decomposition process of a rabbit carcass. It was a simple piece, comparing the rabbit carcass to a peach. In the end, the rabbit rotted very quickly, while the fruit, which everyone figured would rot easily, was fine. This work of film art made a concentrated presentation of the weakness of life. Right now we place a lot of importance on the life of people, but their lives are also quite weak. I just saw your animated work Night, which also used some comparisons, comparing the molding process of strawberries to the decomposition process of a human skeleton. Different forms of life disappear in different ways, but as long as it is life it will disappear all the same. This is a moving comparison. Contemporary art needs to use visual images and film to simplify concepts and allow them to stand out.
    Zhang: Actually this origin is connected to my childhood. When I was in middle school and would go home for the weekend, my parents were away working, and I’d go home alone. I’d see the sunlight coming into the room, and the dust floating around was like the frames of a movie. There was the smell of mildew in the air. These are temporal fragments of deep memories. Later on I went to the Dazu stone carvings to draw life studies, and I liked the feel of those stones smoothed out by the wind, that weathered, water-stained feeling. This strikes something in the mind, and I’m going to do something with it in my new animated piece, like a ray of light reflecting on the water, and several ants sinking down. That’s actually my drowning experience, including the light, in the steel factory, not a person in sight, a ray of light shining in, and that feeling of the dust floating around. I’ve dissected time, maybe it’s an abstract process, something fragmented. In the Western Bible, bats, lizards and frogs are all inauspicious animals. In my future film, ants, lizards and bats destroy the buildings, destroy the factory. What I want is this kind of allegory or cycle, this material, spiritual, carnal, shadowy thing that is reborn in death.
    Peng: We can basically define your works in this way: you take something from life that people don’t pay much attention to, especially Han Chinese today, and magnify it, and that thing is death. Some cultures pay a lot of attention to death.
    Zhang: I recently went to the Tashilunpo Monastery in Shigatse, Tibet, to see the spirit pagodas of the previous Panchen Lamas and the sutra-chanting hall. A Lama told the tourists: why do we put the sky burial platform at the center of the chanting hall? It is to remind you that life and death are right before your eyes. This is a tunnel through time and space, so that you can know the past and the present, heaven and hell. It can take you through life and death. This hit me pretty hard. Why do sky burial platforms seem to have a spirit? Maybe it’s because it magnifies life and death, transcendent or tranquil. The chariot image comes from Western medieval paintings. Peter Bruegel’s The Triumph of Death depicts the victory of death over life, over reality. Post-medieval Christianity puts a lot of emphasis on this life, using an emphasis on life to resist death, because in medieval times the emphasis was on the other side, and no one cared about this life. The Renaissance’s emphasis on humanity and life, “defeating death with life”, I think was a conflict between the flesh and reality. Maybe my own attitude towards religion and life is full of doubt.
    Peng: Overall, this animated work will bring a lot of discussion, about the meaning of life, the properties of life. You can extrapolate on these to get people thinking. Xu Tianjin: Discussions about life and death have been carried out for thousands of years. We might be able to tell about the ancients’ views on life and death through the ways they were buried. A lot of Chinese people believe in reincarnation, but we’re not in a good position right now to evaluate the depth of this belief. But from psychology, including with today’s villages, people know that after someone dies, he continues to live somewhere else, continues to live in a different way and form. During the Qingming Festival [i], where they burn money as an offering, is because people believe that the person buried is still alive, and needs money and wine. This is a clear example of differences in burial practices between East and West. They put a lot of things from the person’s life in the grave. If this concept wasn’t at work, we wouldn’t be able to see a lot of artworks from ancient times. The best ancient artworks are still buried in tombs, frescoes, sculptures and all kinds of crafts. It’s been like this since the Shang and Zhou Dynasties. In the Han Dynasty, they took their barn with them, their pigsty, their stove, etc. In their tombs you can find just about everything associated with living. Emperor Qin Shuhuang was on a higher level. He didn’t need people and replaced them with terracotta statues, but this idea and concept has continued on. Why isn’t cremation accepted? When the body is destroyed there won’t be a reincarnation. When a person enters the earth it implies that he’s settled down, made a file, and will begin living in another world. In the countryside, one of the main reasons that cremation hasn’t spread is because of transformations in the way people deal with death. City people seem to be progressing and becoming more civilized. They don’t believe in reincarnation, so they don’t think anything of cremation.
    Peng: The body can be destroyed, and the soul can fly. Xu: Now we are looking at life and death from the perspective of contemporary society and personal experience. A lot of people have been talking about this ever since the time of Confucius. “Without knowing life, how can you know death” was something Confucius said. How do you go about pondering this kind of stuff? It could be something that is never figured out. If “life and death” could be figured out, it probably would have been long ago. This question will continue to exist for a long time. Religious issues and life and death have a very tight relationship. There has never been a religion that could escape the issue of life and death. All philosophical issues lead right back to the question of life and death. Death is very close to each and every person, death in an instant. I really like the ants he uses. I see the ants as people, this tiny, ungraspable and impermanent feeling. Ants and people don’t really have any essential differences. Within reality, we work so hard, but we don’t know what the significance of all that work is. It’s just like ants. We view all that stuff the ants do as not having any real importance, but people are the same. We’re here talking about life and death, but it has no significance. It’s the same whether we talk about it or not, but it never bores us. Xiaotao has put in so much effort, collecting information everywhere, painting, and then he paints an artwork. The audience reacts, society reacts, but on the root level, the significance of all of that may not exist for him at all. The question of life and death is one that must be considered. The quality of existence depends on whether you’ve worked it out clearly or not. Though there’s no significance in discussing this question, we still have to discuss it, because the question of existence has probably been around as long as people have. The earliest we have seen people making special arrangements for people is with the Zhoukoudian Man of Beijing. Those people may have lived 100,000 years ago. They smeared cinnabar dust on the body, and used cinnabar for a long time. We’ve discovered that they understood cinnabar to have the effects of warding off ghosts and protecting youth. Some say that it also preserved the body. People had this concept at least at the point they began to make special arrangements for the dead. Then there was communication with heaven, when people would go to heaven or something after they died. In Han concepts of spirits and gods, they separated three levels; below, on the ground and in heaven. When someone died he might go to heaven. That’s a pretty mature concept there. Peng: This is the difference between civilized religion and primitive religion. We call primitive religion “superstition”. How does superstition come to bring order? Superstition uses taboos, it uses taboos to scare people and it becomes the norm. Civilized religions such as Islam, Christianity and Buddhism use belief in ideals to attract people. Zhang: I want to ask how you guys view the Tibetan concept of reincarnation. I’ve recently been reading Franz Boekle’s Born into Death. He says that man is made up of three parts, the body, the soul and the spirit. After the body is dead, how does the soul reincarnate? Is this possible?
    Peng: We can split this up into two questions, one scientific and one philosophical. Scientifically, we definitely want to explore whether or not man really has a soul. We want verifiable evidence, and to find basic tenets with which to explain things. All questions regarding religious beliefs are not questions for science. In this realm, there is no true and false, no right and wrong, just belief and disbelief. When it comes to this, a lot of Christian Theologians, such as Pascal, have said that we cannot scientifically verify the existence of God, but they suggest that it is better to believe in him that not to believe in him. Why? Pascal says that this is like a gamble. If you believe in God and he actually exists, then he will commend and reward you, allowing you into heaven. If he doesn’t exist, you haven’t lost anything by believing in him. If you believe that God doesn’t exist and he actually does, he will punish you, and if he doesn’t you will not be rewarded. Pascal didn’t use scientific methods to prove the existence of God, he has just used philosophical reasoning. Philosophy shows us a world of reason. This world is a lovely world of meaning. It doesn’t necessarily need to be verified scientifically, because then it would be too solid. An important philosophical contribution of the twentieth century was the realization that this was a world of meaning, and that people live in a world of meaning, one that is made up of both things that exist and things that don’t. Living in this world of meaning is like floating in mid air. Our minds are full of all manner of thoughts, things that don’t exist in life, that can’t be verified scientifically, but affect our lives and have meaning. For instance, we speak of the “celestial horse flying across the sky”, and from the scientific perspective, the “celestial horse” does not exist at all, and has no meaning, but when we think of the “celestial horse”, we think of a lot of things, and these things have meaning. Back to the question of the “undying soul”, we still haven’t worked out whether or not the soul exists, but the soul has meaning for us. Belief that the soul doesn’t die or that the soul exists has different effects on us. Don’t look at the images in contemporary art as reflections of real life; many of them are created out of thin air, but they make up a part of our world. We live in a world of images, a world of meaning, a world of cultural symbols, and this world is reconstructed through our explanations. There is no naked world out there that was not constructed by us. We people only live in the world that we created. That naked world does not exist.
    Xu: Maybe about half of the people are like this. A big part of our lives is virtual.
    Peng: Today’s art images are anything but direct copies from life. To the contrary, images from art have changed our lives. The construction of new images is the construction of new realities. Through the creation of images or narratives, artists can allow us to have a full grasp of our own lives, stir up our interests and beliefs. In some religious stories, you can live in the narrative world, and these stories are like stories that really happened, constructing our world. Our world would be much sparser if it weren’t for the rich world created by art. Tibetan Buddhism definitely has a belief in the cycle of life and death, and to adherents, this is as real as anything can be. It is the real world they live in, it is like a scientific certainty, beyond any doubt.
    Zhang: Actually the Han Chinese world also has souls and spiritual reincarnation. In the Shaolin Temple’s Classic of Changing Muscle Tendons and the Wuxia novel Book of the Sunflower, one can gain the martial arts expertise learned in a past life. In classical texts, you can read the spirit of past people. When I went back to Sichuan this time I saw my College idol Cheng Conglin. His painting Snow on X Day X Month 1968 marked the beginning of an era. The man and event that had affected me so deeply before were hard to forget, and seeing him felt like being “blessed”. I know from my ten-plus years of artistic development, from researching the masters to my own learning process, from Sichuan to Beijing to international exchange, I believe in the power to pass on someone’s genes or spirit.
    Xu: There’s no problem believing in that, but among all the people out there, it’s not strange for someone’s development track to resemble that of someone else. Peng: This kind of influence is very universal, but don’t put too much stock in that. This kind of influence is not like that of common genes or possession by a soul, but the influence of surroundings, the result of influence. People are very malleable.
    Zhang: I’ve realized that this view of life and death grows out of this kind of tragic stuff. Today when students come to show me their paintings, I suddenly remember the feelings I used to have towards my teacher. It’s a link. You realize that you become a link in the chain. Sometimes I think that buildings in the city are like the process of growth and disappearance of life. Time and space appear in dislocation and interact with each other.
    Xu: I heard you talking about seeing buildings as living things, and I think that this is a great perspective. The building itself is a process of life, from the beginning to the end when it becomes rubble, it has a lot in common with organic life. Even chairs and cups could be living, it is all a process. This may change peoples’ attitudes towards life. We can’t ignore these things. We can’t say that only things that jump about are alive. If we looked at it this way, then as people we would care for these things. We should have reverence for life itself, and when we have this reverence, our attitudes towards the things we do will be different. People lack this reverence. It is the same with aesthetics. The only thing people revere right now is money, and this has a huge effect.
    Zhang: Han people are always too realistic in the way they view things, a kind of “religion of the mortal world”. They place importance on the here and now. The Tibetans only look to the next life, not this one. These are two extremes. Does this comparison inspire?
    Xu: For this exhibition we should also have some clear themes, but for this you need to state your academic principles clearly. This is very important. Before, I wanted to use this exhibition to give people some hope and some warnings. “Tragedy” is correct. I’m even more pessimistic than you are, but to present these things, there are some issues in the details that we need to work out step by step.
    Zhang: This is the important thing among important things. There will be a lot of information in the catalogue. This super-text method, this multidisciplinary exchange will present the “experimental” process.
    Xu: Doing contemporary art in China, if we don’t make use of the resources and foundation of the past few thousand years, then we’re making a huge mistake. Xiaotao’s works are good in that there is such a “root” inside. So I hope that if there is a chance in the future to communicate with these artists. We can learn a lot. We won’t necessarily set out to learn painting techniques, but get a perception for art. This is very important. Archaeologists need to understand art, because art is what we are researching, as well as aesthetics. We can’t use the language of aesthetics to describe this stuff, but maybe what we’re really focusing on is whether or not it’s beautiful, whether or not it’s harmonious.

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