English Version

〈是序言也是總結∶如何去接觸叢生的地下根莖?〉

***[註∶英語版並非中文版的翻譯。兩文大意雖有相同之處,該作兩個篇章論。]

收筆 ・ 起步 ・ 從頭再來

其實,到了這本書快要入廠的一刻,已再沒有太多話想說。不過……

跟一個人相處跟你去研究一個人是截然不同的兩回事,何況我搜尋的是一個藝術家和一個汪洋似的作品群、文字記述、思潮的展現或拮据,還有相關和擦過的種種點、線、面。

我和蔡仞姿顯然已成了朋友。怎可能不會?雖不是凡事看法一致,我們總可以直接了當的對話。在數十頁訪談筆記中,其實穿梭著各種別的交流,例如身處中年、步入盛年的心境,女性對身體所背負的恐懼、發出的焦慮、尋找的舒緩;又如一個人的伴侶如何構成你的限制,同時又劈開多重天地,不能三言兩語而「蓋」之等等。或許,這些我刻意在文字記述上騰空的交流,基本上跟我的研究任務及對蔡仞姿的論述是分不開的,不過我只想「指涉」這個空間而避開「再現」。

覆稿。澱積層。疊刻。原文擦去,重新書寫。Palimpsest。這最後存留在書頁上的,是寫了很多次再行抹掉、再次思考、再度修正而還未能成終曲的注脚。重看幾十頁的訪問筆記,一些我刪掉了因為太敏感因為有些不好講白的名字。一些我覺得我一個人知道就好了。不少是資料性的,用完後再沒有刊登的必要。有些是我和蔡仞姿隨機隨心的交流,應記在私人日記本子裏。也有很多話,或值得記取的,從沒有寫下來,又如1a繪畫部分展覽前夕我們在現場嘗試的文字繪畫對話……。但我在牆上寫字寫了一個多小時後最終決定我要把大部分的書寫用油漆蓋上。雖然蓋上,我永遠也不會忘記我在1a牆角輕輕的放下過的輕輕的弔唁– 為剛過世的我丈夫的父親,一個熱愛繪畫、自己畫畫、曾送我幾本油畫色彩論的藏書的老人家;現在,那幾片碎斷的言詞,將永遠埋在白灰水的下面……。(此刻,我正想把剛剛寫完的這幾句刪掉。不。這次,我決定留著。)突然,我覺得我開始明白蔡仞姿在芝加哥時期開始、七十年代到八十年代中的畫作 – 在薄木板上、在紙料上,在牆上在地上;還有那些在平面上放上感光液,任由機會擺佈而獲取的視覺痕跡…。凝望著這些平面,我看到塗與蓋,我幾乎不能制止自己去想,色塊下曾出現過而現在蓋上了的是甚麼?從1975年算起,三十年過去了(我覺得這數字很感人),蔡仞姿經過表演、裝置、環境藝術等等,又作起畫來了。說是「畫」,不如說是「印」。印,就是不畫。不去和盤托出,不塗也不蓋,說與不說之間,高度調理。正如她從前畫了再覆蓋,她還能記起;正如我寫是為了寫下,寫了再刪掉,我仍能看見。Palimpsest。

在這個雙向、多面而眾聲道的對話研究過程中,我們談得最多的,可能是對本地藝術教育的不滿;尤其是我,對主導思維如何向實際個人實踐、實驗有意或無意、群體或個別的施予壓力以至扼殺,只能怒在心裏。處身於論述以外或以內,幾乎是一個藝術家能否名見於經傳的主因。從這角度看,蔡仞姿的未被八十年代的“主流”充份瞭解是不幸;同時,她以邊緣實踐、小數者的位份呼引著有心者的注意力而被聽見、發現,是她的幸運、是鍥而不捨的成果。因此,在聆聽蔡仞姿的自我論述的同時,我常暗暗的感到她的超時又生不逢時;另一方面,對這位敏銳於藝術教育於個人的模塑,不疲於發聲批判的前輩,我猜想著會不會在不自覺間她也成了別人的壓力?這樣說絕對不是批評蔡仞姿,而是對所有已經有「述說權」、在藝術大環境的資源分配上佔據著發聲位置的人 – 公平的該包括我自己在內 – 提出策問,因為我們都是遊戲的一部分。

研究過程已到了尾聲,展覽在即。所不同的是,蔡仞姿的教學空間在限制中逐步開揚(-- 她這樣說,我聽了很安慰);而我的空間,則日漸管道化,「回到基礎」的指令每每把一個正在橫向而多方潛行、廣納養分的、 正在模塑中而漸有喜色、前面充滿可能性的實驗典範關押到邊緣地帶,留有空間,卻是「基要事務」的「它者」。我並不憤慨,只覺歷史過程的迂迴與諷刺;有肌有理,卻是機緣巧合的多,意外頻生。

這是一本怎樣的書?

我想談談這本集子的事。……

這是一本滿載聲音的書,相對於蔡仞姿作品的柔靜、純鍊和堅決。

這本書以眾多的音頻語調、緣流各方,合成多重唱,或更近似的是沒有戲服的詠歎,一問一答,他一句、她一句,我加上一句,像沒有關連,之間卻是流通的管子,聲塊對聲塊,可迴圈循環調度,偶有啞音。然而如聲的個性,只可經驗其幅度與覆蓋面,邊際的實線卻不可尋。這是我和蔡仞姿對話一年多的具體回應–就以這本書。對於她的長久處於夾縫狀態、沒有被認清,我回以層層疊疊、幾乎排列不盡的述說。力度是破開、挖深、展揚,窮而不盡。如果她喜歡,也能明白的話,對於她的跨界藝術、跨界(代)的生活以及因而的委屈,我回以一本「跨/破」界的資料集,希望在沒有一種定斷的歷史論述連體陣之中,找出她可能片刻立足過、佔據過的點和位置,以至各點和位置連成的軌跡。這是出自歷史的關心。「回憶 ・ 夢見 ・ 顯現」 -- 全書最長的部分 -- 就是以現在進行式的構築法,形成一個強調解拆、推開更多的可能性、多「線/向」閱讀的篇連體,而不是追求塵埃落定、終局的圓滿。也是這數十頁的現在進行式的圖和話語的直接呈現、對流,最接近眾聲喧鬧(heteroglossia)。

讀這本書要聽見聲音而不止看見文字,在哲理上是有根有據的。聲音強調文字言談方面的特性,言談的主人(誰的聲音、誰在說話)、言談暗示的前言後語和上文下理、出言之際未說明的意向、隱藏著的語後要採取的行動,再引進的權威、基礎。一把聲音強調的是語調而不單是內容,重視(未來式的)指向性而不是字面的解法。「回憶 ・ 夢見 ・ 顯現」中,圍繞著每一個作品的眾言談有時很接近,有時內容相似,卻出意有別;同是目擊證人,看到的小節卻大不相同。遠看都是「誰在那個刊物向那個藝術活動說了些甚麼」之類,很紀錄性;但並排之後,就是敍事與論述上「反覆重申」(reiteration)的遊戲了,或可稱之為會發聲的palimpsest。

進一步來說,一般想到(藝術)評論都想到觀點、立場、論據,卻不太留意修辭和語言方面的運作。「資料庫」部分的〈關鍵字∶蔡仞姿論述歷史中的見地與解說〉,就是把蔡仞姿評述的聲音直接原本的擺出來。除了看看她對某課題有甚麼想法、有甚麼意見之外,讀者可以她為目擊證人看,看她在甚麼問題的場景上針對著怎樣的problem-solving的需要而發聲。

我知道我應該在這裏把蔡仞姿的作品分期,劃清理路,再作綜合的評斷。我希望上面的陳述開始說明了多一點我的幹與不幹的緣由。

人看歷史,看歷史記述,看總結,看論述,同意,不同意。寫、記、建構的歷程本身,卻鮮有人為意。Palimpsest – 覆稿、澱積層、原文擦去,重新書寫–卻是法國敍事理論家Gérard Genette (借助Philippe Lejeune的用詞命名其著作) Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree,當中想剖開的現實。Gerard Prince於此書的前言直接了當的引述作者的話∶「詩學的對象不是(文字的)文本,而是文本的超越,是文本範疇裏一個文本與另一些文本的連絡;而超越的可能,直 指文本的澱積層的性質。」[我讀的英譯本∶“The object of poetics is not the (literary) text but its textual transcendence, its textual links with other texts. One basic aspect of that transcendence pertains to the palimpsestuous nature of texts.”]歷史離不開敍事和敍事的效應,(敍事理論也是近二十年最重要的史學理論研究範圍);我對palimpsest的借取,也就是掌握論述蔡仞姿僅有的文字資料的同時,強調「呈現」,靠助簡單的並排,初步的建立帶「超連性」的敍事形態。Genette稱這方法為「開放的結構主義」(“open structuralism”),重點不在於獨立的文本本身或意義上的閉合(“closure”),而是文本和文本之間的關係。在我來說,更重要的是打開我拾取的文字記述作為「現成物」的特性,不斷開發它們在不同語境的新用途。

「超連」、「眾聲」、「片斷的呈現」,也是我的女性主義歷史實踐於今次的策略。這就留待展覽過後有心人可以繼續的對話。

如何歷史?點、線、繞行曲折的空間

歷史關於的是時間,尤其過去。(現代/後現代的史觀強調過去因現今而寫。)

歷史因為關於的是時間,空間的面向就更形重要。

時間是線。時間是點,獨立的點橫排著但不必連線。

時間的線要求一點接一點,構成延續性。(米契・福柯[Michel Foucault]強調即使
連線,也未必延續,反而虛線、斷裂更值得細看。)

又或線是連綿的延續,重要的是連綿、不住往前的延續;線 – 或前向的線 、持續的線–取替了點。點與點之間的距離是理念上的想像,發展進化是意識形態,化成了具超越性的符號。柏格森(Henri Bergson, 1859-1941)執著於每一個獨立的點或線段的持續、迂回、鑽深。)

萊布尼慈(Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, 1646-1716)專著於那個包攬萬物、所有能量潛藏待發的時間團,稱之為「單體」(the “monad”),是不可再細分的精神實體。米契・福柯卻要我們小心任何叫「始源」、「起點」、「最早」、「第一舂」的說法,要不斷回到日常生活場所考據細節與實物去不斷修正點和線的辯證關係。

時間也不必受制於點和線的區別。時間是層層疊疊的面的堆起、摻破;是同一個時間地點裏不同的時間經驗和空間實踐同居並置,甚至互相摟搭。這是近景,身在其中,福柯稱之為 “heterotopia”。退後一步,就是德里斯(Gilles Deleuze)打的根莖的比喻:一個存在體的內部由不同的點由不同的線交聯起來,運輸著各種的材料 – 或對流、或單向、或倒流,時而閉塞,時而貫通,可確定的是不盡的流通和接連的可能性。至於存在體外的事,則要擱置。

我摸著德里斯的聲音,聆聽著地下根莖;他聲音的所指,是要求我們擴展我們的想像力,認真的面對我們所身處的、基本上不可能完整再現的複雜的現實,但絕對不是放棄對歷史現實的介入。我們反要更大膽無懼的想像∶論述和實作的世界、思維和創作的成果、物質與個別的人的作業 …合起來是無盡的流通和接連、互為因果的可能性。蔡仞姿所接受的機會、遇到的攔阻,六四的突然從天而降,因九七而來的十多年的數算和等候,從香港到加拿大到香港(又或紐約到柏林到多倫多到臺北到布里斯班到雪梨到墨爾本),八十年代海外學成歸來的新力量,西方的物料、中國傳統的思維,甚麼是因甚麼是果,是偶然還是長時間的潛伏,那個主那個副,都包含在叢生的地下根莖的比喻裏。

我也想盡點綿力回應一下米契・福柯對我們要不斷回到考古「現場」去再次開發的要求,因此,我盡可能回到「現場」,回到那裏去搜集聲片。因此,我並沒有對蔡仞姿的作品刻意作論述性的分析,反而強調考證、資料的結集。而且,正如福柯的文字也指出過,資料庫本身就是敍事體,只是以排序去代替因果的鋪陳和建構。也為了這個緣故,我堅持在全書中放進那個試了很多次仍嫌初步的年代連線表–不是服膺傳統歷史呈現法,而是進行開啟這種工具的可用性。所以,「沉積 ・ 斷層 ・ 岩層斷裂」這部分是我的小小的實驗的起步。當中的〈尋找蔡仞姿∶網絡、連結、偶遇〉,除了以密集的資料取替因果論述外,更著意把蔡仞姿在各類她積極尋求的合作經驗中出現過的各代的藝術工作者列出,讓觀眾可依憑去想像當時的人脈網絡。

我所觀覽、書寫的歷史裏沒有中奸邪惡之分,沒有好人壞人之二分法,但不等於沒有評價,不去指證。(排序本身也可以是評價。)只是每一個(群)人在另一個(群)人身上所開啟或是關掉的門,不能單以動機論去說清。

這本書固然是歷史回顧的實踐。展覽的構思也是。2006年11月10日下午兩點十二分,蔡仞姿和我終於坐下來,談談這個一直按有共識的方案去執行的PS展覽是怎的一回事,回顧是怎樣的回顧,「歷史」的「親身」出現,意味著如何的接收。對這個臨場的對話的即場回應,我就在那個下午寫成PS展場的「策展人語」,現在收錄在這本書最後的〈策展人/編輯手記〉裏。

・ 困 ・ 破圓

如果要圖像化一點去概括蔡仞姿自覺的掙紮,我想可以先想像二十來歲的她,在中元畫會師長們和愛人的感染下,帶著紮實的創作訓練,還帶著自覺的使命感,踏足美國當時先鋒藝術的中心點之一的芝加哥。那兒新天新地,她花了大量的時間對繪畫的物料進行實驗,發現種類繁多的跨界創作法,不但concrete painting, Fluxus的嬉戲,還有性格個別的導師藝術家開的新眼界;同時她又異常自覺於西方與中國可行的結合。但這一切都成為重擔……。這樣的一個故事輪廓是我第一次跟蔡仞姿作閒談時已清楚地接收到的。往後,我翻閱了不少資料,包括八零年代起報章裏對她的創作活動的報導和專題,也看過一些訪談,除了田邁修於1993年為她在柏林世界文化館的顏色房間(Room of Colors)寫的序以外,她自覺的掙紮過程似乎並未給書寫過她的人充分呈現。

如上所暗示,我感到興趣的,不是去給她的故事繪形繪聲,而是把自我陳述看為歷史資料的一種。同時我又透過年多兩年的交談相處,親身意會到那種處於夾縫中未被充分瞭解的想法,無論因由出處是甚麼,確實是一個中心的結,影響著她的很多創作投身上的選取。我覺得無論如何,她這把聲音是因該放出來讓我們好好的聽聽的。在這本集子裏,蔡仞姿在她的序 “Am I Turning Right?”裏用她的說話說明了。我也在〈策展人/編輯手記〉裏把她的想法錄下,此外也把田邁修1993年寫過有關她的掙扎的「碎片」找出一些放出來。這個困局,要到回港至少三四年後才有變動。但從蔡仞姿與我的交談中,我的印象是,回想起來,她像是感到很多對話最後都帶點唏噓。

沒有經過太多的爭論,蔡仞姿和我很快就同意:PS藝術空間的展場,該用來重構她的裝置和表演。至於資料的展示,就讓給這個集子。同時,我很想這個回顧展覽中,可以出現一些蔡仞姿也要臨場發現對應的元素,因此拿了1989年《東西遊戲》的文字記錄,交給一群年輕人,把當年現場演出轉化為錄像記錄後生出的文字檔案再化為錄像,作為蔡仞姿跨界藝術的一個行動上的繼承。她似乎對這個行動很滿意,而我,就很想看見十七年差距的情感,中間要求我們重新審視的將會是甚麼。這,是歷史的練習。

我對策展很認真。我看重策展,卻並不以為這是唐煌偉大的一件事。我不以這次策展為模式的樹立,而是再一次的實驗,試驗以後再試驗。更重要的,是親身體驗,抗衡對策展文化理所當然的一般通論,或任何一種權威壟斷、或霸權效應。

最後,我建議觀眾讀者們以繪畫作起點去看蔡仞姿的裝置、表演和攝影。這樣該是針對跨媒體而作跨媒體的切入的最低起步。而且,繪畫確實是蔡仞姿的叢生地下根莖裏最顯眼最飽滿的一個結點。按田邁修的說法,甚至不是「繪畫」,而是「畫」(drawing)的行動。

2006年11月

Prologue for Epilogue:
entrapment, or rhizomes in the process of making

Closure for the Next Beginning

I wouldn’t be able to tell if I am sober enough to pen down the last entry to this book, which is this essay, before it goes to the printer.

Researching an artist and being mutual friends…a question of chicken and egg, which comes before which? But an egg is an egg, a chicken is a chicken; the generative process or the continuum required to map such a process assumes in the first place the vast organic and physical differences between the two items. It is almost impossible to separate our conversations on how to survive as human beings from art-making, and the choices, accidents and battles attached to it… Palimpsests…

We may not have seen everything eye to eye, but we certainly have had a very unique wrestle. The dozens of pages of interview notes recorded my research on her creative paths, her works one by one, and her marriage, which naturally flowed into our shared concern of art education, questions of arts institutions, and more personal conversations on womanhood, autonomy and the experience of aging. I have, however, chosen to refer to such personal background without representing it as a necessary backdrop for the interpretation of what she has done… Palimpsests…

What drew us together the closest should be our shared dissatisfaction with local art education, especially with leading ideologies or the domination of particular practices, which delimit personal growth and visionary sensibility. Being inside or outside the dominant discourse was once a key problem to Choi Yan-chi. That certainly explained why her achievement in the 1980s had not been sufficiently recognized, or duly given a place in the history of art development in Hong Kong. From a different perspective, the marginal position she was driven into could be empowering. The minority of a dominant trend might not be enjoying official recognition or celebration within that discourse. But the “alternative,” too, has always been assigned a space marked out for that purpose, and a particular way to be heard and appreciated, a state of adversity that had fueled Yan-chi’s projects as a “fugitive” rebel, as Matthew Turner puts it in his essay for this book. Her state as an alien gradually relaxed, as this publication has witnessed, with the return of many local-born artists returning from overseas, thus Yan-chi calls the 1980s (I suppose the second half of the decade in particular) “our time” in her introductory essay.

Now Yan-chi has moved into the recognized discourse of independent contemporary art-making; she is an established artist, and an active player in the contemporary art institution. Would she have lost the valence of the marginal? Perhaps the question I have raised here is not really directed towards Yan-chi alone, but to all of us, including myself, who have occupied certain positions within the art institution, and have participated in making direct or indirect decisions about the deployment and allocation of resources. How conscious are we of the power entrusted into our hands?

Entrapment…

The many “if …had been…, I could have…” articulations in Choi’s self-narrative deserve a closer look.

In Chicago, despite the close contact she had with the Fluxus tradition, she did not quite catch the fire as one would assume. I often wonder why. As our interview meetings moved on, I caught a growing sense of entrapment. The burden of a top-down cultural mission – that is, to have to engage in the project of contemporary Chinese art while she was actually surrounded by the most active players of the modernist art movement in the US. At the same time, she had to constantly struggle to craft an artistic career tangential to an age and tradition very different from hers. Her partnership with Hon Chi-fun made her relation to contemporary Chinese art far more than an intellectual commitment. It probably has taken more years than she registered that glimpses into a generation a few measures ahead of her own might would have to be a prolonged state of entrapping precociousness.

Personally, I find Hon Chi-fun’s works fascinatingly non-classifiable. He is to me a world on his own; his artistic practice a form of religion, stillness closuring motion; whereas Yan-chi has been restlessly seeking to make things happen, to reach out, to make connections with contemporary culture, to discover new linkages... In my view, a history-maker (Yan-chi) and a history-writer (myself) should always go beyond a comfortably classified position people have created for them. The figure and ground practice in historical analysis, that is the reading of an artist against the general cultural milieu to make sense of her, is too much idealization and for easy narrative. Therefore, I have deliberately avoided situating Yan-chi’s works and her artistic choices within the grand discourse of 20th-century art movements in the West, or the ebb and tide of ink-and-wash in Hong Kong, to make her an illustration of her time. I want to resist turning her into a token of some assigned values. This raises questions of overseas education too – perhaps not only of art education, but of a broader cultural framework in which the non-local is automatically turned into the representative spokesperson of her culture.

As a quiet observer, I care very little about nominal political correctness. Looking at the few paper paintings Choi managed to preserve, now exhibited at 1a at the Cattle Depot until November 30, I want to totally forgive her fixation on a cultural burden that she failed to rise above at that time. For these works are no doubt fine examples of experimentation with a strong presence of the artist felt through the weight and lightness of her material. This then makes inadequate any critical attempt that seeks to subsume her piece under the influence of works of Chinese ink.

As Choi will probably agree herself, back in Hong Kong in the 1980s was in many ways a relief. She was the key player of many “first” attempts – installation, cross-media performance. I have been rather dismayed by the rhetoric in newspaper reports from that period, by which the introduction of Choi was also preceded or followed by “wife of famous artist Hon Chi-fun.” On the contrary, the impact of her innovations was definitely felt on the ordinary newspaper readers’ level. Almost all reports on her “non-painting” works began with a similar lead question - “what is installation art?”, “what is environmental art?” and “what is action art?” – followed by an attempted handy definition, sometimes accompanied by a direct quote of Choi’s to illumine the subject matter. However, no strong trend was formed out of her attempts and the many innovative projects at the Hong Kong Arts Centre. Yan-chi accounts for this as a result of the pre-dominance of the ink-and-wash camp. In my view, there was simply also no mature understanding of the state of affairs and the types of experiments contemporary art had been engaging with; that is, the context to understand her works was missing, and it surely would not be provided by the ink-and-wash artists who, according to Choi, were ruling the human resources distribution and evaluative bodies of the art community in Hong Kong at that time.

Very little about her thoughts and struggle in the Chicago days of 1975-8 and the early 1980s had been captured in writing, neither her own nor others’ reviews on her works. In this book, I have deliberately included a few fragments from Matthew Turner’s 1993 essay which captures her unique struggle. (The article was also the very first piece of literature that Yan-chi had mentioned and given to me in our exchange.) I have also deliberately included a bit of our dialog on this subject matter in “From the Curator/Editor’s Journal.” Yan-chi’s essay in this book, “Am I Turning Right?” (or “from zero to one”), also sheds light on the difficult moments of her career.

What kind of a book is this?

This book is full of voices, much in contrast with Yan-chi’s works – gentle but determined, solitary yet assertive – which it seeks to relate.

This book deliberately assembles voices of different sources, writing and speaking positions, and from different generations, to form a body of positions on Choi Yan-chi’s works, her communities and collaborators, amounting to the kind of historical understanding that seeks to open up rather than settle on narrative closure. As voices, they count more than content (message): for a voice points immediately to the texture of thoughts, the performative intention of its owner, the implied, intended action to take, and the context of utterance. The narrative rule in documentary modes of history – who did/said what, when, where and why – is turned into a game of re-iteration in the section “Re-visioning.” In particular, the thickness of description, which the new realism of the roman nouveau (French New Novel) had honored, replaces synthesis and conclusiveness. The strength of thick description lies as much in its “thickness” as the ellipsis it activates. Most importantly, the multiplicity of voice and the ceaseless act of speaking and writing is, in my view, no better response to Choi Yan-chi, whose breadth and avant-gardism have not been sufficiently understood, or, more precisely, there was often a lack of mature or properly informed context within the art/critical community at large to make sense of her creative practices.

The open relation between the complimentary, conflicting or incommensurable voices – rather than the definitive meaning of individual quotations – is what I want to explore here. In Gérard Genette’s terms, “open structuralism” is an advanced form of narrative, to which he applies the term “palimpsest.” To me, it immediately points to the level of cultural history: each voice, each statement with a purpose, functions like a found object; it is through the transposition of found objects from one context into another that we keeps the relation between the words and their possible functions open.

History as Time Past: Points, Lines & Circuitous Space

History is about time, about time past. [Modernist/postmodernist historiography emphasizes writing about the past for the present.]

Since history is about time, the spatial aspects of it are crucial.

Time is a line, a linear process. Time is a point, a sustained moment. But the alignment of points does not necessarily form a line. [Points can exist in isolation even in alignment.]

A time-line (line of time?) comprises the points to be connected, one after the next, to form continuities. (And yet Michel Foucault contends that even if lines are formed they do not necessary produce continuities; quite the contrary, he thought of broken lines, disjunctions and so on, which more deserve our scrutiny.

Or lines flow ceaselessly from one into the next. The key here is “ceaselessly,” the ceaseless quality of continuity; or lines – lines in ceaseless forward motion – replacing points, to form a continuum. The distance between points is only an idea, an imaginable concept. Progress, evolutionary development is ideology, turned into a sign of transcending powers. Henri Bergson (1859-1941) prices every single individual point and the sustaining state of a moment, a temporal segment, and how it forms circuits and swells in thickness.

To Leibniz (Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, 1646-1716), the focus is the “monad,” that non-divisible unit embodying the order of the world from which material properties are derived. Time in this sense is a mass of potential energies about to flow and to generate.

Michel Foucault, on the contrary, begs our caution for any articulation that bears the name of “origin,” “beginning,” “the first” and “the earliest.” Instead, he calls for continuous return to the concrete scenario of the everyday, to collect, look and look again, to verify facts and objects, to keep revising established conclusions if necessary, in my terms, to keep constructing and reconstructing the dialectic relations between the point and the line, between a sustained moment and possible flows of material existence. (See Foucault’s concept of genealogy and archaeology.) In this sense, time is no longer confined to the differentiation between the point and the line. Time is sheets of events overlaying, co-existing, forming a spatial whole. (See Foucault’s proposed notion of heterotopia.) These sheets may pile up, or they cut through one another, or they intertwine. A single point (a sustained moment) embraces different temporal experience and play of space, coexisting.

The above view is up close, our body within and being part of the time-space. Stepping back to take a long view, one sees a rhizome, an analogy Gilles Deleuze uses to highlight the possible and fluid connectivity between points and lines capable of multiple actions: single vector, dialogic flow, backward flow, recursion, circular motion, blocking now and streaming then… I take Deleuze’s analogy as an earnest request for us to imagine the almost unimaginable, and definitely irreproducible, complex reality that confronts every historian. One can only get closer, but never there, yet nonetheless should keep trying. I also take Deleuze’s analogies inviting keen imagination of visual structures for realities we want to address.

In this project, I found myself segmenting 30 years of Choi’s creative activities from an on-going stream of events, forms of material existence and ideational rivalries. As a minimal attempt to give some kind of material access to a complex historical process, I have included in the middle section of this book “Sedimentation, Faults & Fractures,” in which I parallel the conventional biographical events of achievements with the interpretive discourses of the development of art in Hong Kong by different writers, and to scatter along that same time line people of different generations who had shared artistic, creative events with Choi, be they accidental, arranged, one-off collaborators or sought partners. These names range from Xu Beihong to Sabrina Fung to Kwan Pun-leung. I look at Choi’s repertoire as a network, which extends and connects horizontally (synchronically) and vertically (diachronically).

This exhibition re-opens Choi’s repertoire…picks up a few ends of the thousand threads to weave new networks.  It begs the hidden potential of every single work that has been done.  It looks at all art pieces and projects as necessarily works in progress, thus Choi’s re-fabricated Drowned – would she call it Drowned VII to add to the existing circle of I to VI (1989-97)? It seeks linkages, but not necessarily continuities, of an artist’s pool of works but examining disruptions, disparate dialogues, and conceptual ellipsis.

In response to Foucault’s call to return to the archaeological site, I have come up with the section “Re-visioning” in which fragments of works (in images), and words and thoughts about her works, are presented as clusters, the assemblage of multiple voices, each pertaining to different moments of speech act. The section “Archive,” too, replaces causal discourses with classification and juxtaposition; the latter to me are more powerful narrative works of an experimental nature begging more active readership. “

To me, this book which accompanies Choi Yan-chi’s retrospective – or more appropriately re-invention, is definitely a project of reflexive historiography. I am attempting a positive recounting of the basic facts about Choi while making as transparent as it can be the process of how the book was put together, the considerations behind and such thoughts were turned into the book’s content proper. The book as a space for space-time is crucial to the overall editorial method. I have also taken my curatorial tasks seriously, but mainly, to engage in a curatorial project in order to gain first-hand understanding, to move beyond generalized discussions into specificities, and to experiment with possible modes of collaboration between the artist and the curator who is also a researcher. In brief, I want to know what there is, and, if possible, to push the limits.

The experiment here becomes particularly intriguing because Choi Yan-chi herself is explicitly skeptical about the role and importance of a curator. More than once, in our conversations, she proudly asserted that her exhibitions at HK Arts Centre in the 1980s were mainly artist-driven, so were the shows of her contemporaries using the same site. Michael Chen, then Gallery Director of HK Arts Centre, and whose works of photography Choi had devoted a few articles, was, in Choi’s view, more an administrator, or gallery manager. And yet she herself has directly engaged in the role as curator for more than just a few times, each time highlighting very unique angles and methods to assemble artists. One recalls the numerous shows in the 8-year history of 1a she did, each making critical statements and begging for re-invention about the so-called “old” media (see the use of the term in her own introduction) such as painting, photography and sculpture. She is herself a case study for curatorial experiments.

From a historiographic point of view, two minor works at the Para/Site Venue are crucial in redefining the potential interpretive landscape of the Choi’s rich body of works.  First is one of her most recent paintings, Blinking (2006), which sits among the photo documentation of Choi’s former performance works, and LOOK: Object-activities 2006, a video work by a group of young artists in their early 20s in response to a few pages of written description of the emotionally charged Object-activities (1989). These two works, in my view, become two new nodal points and re-focalize the trajectories of Choi’s repertoire and its generative possibilities.

The presence of objects in actual space (the PS venue) also surrogates thick writings by confronting the viewer of the exhibits (reader of history) with found objects whose meanings necessarily rest in the act and moment of remembering. In the exhibition site at Para/Site, the commemorative function of the fish tank of drowned books in salad oil (Drowned) and photographed, life-size desk-tops with graffiti from classrooms (Past & Future)are relativized and diffused: diffused, because the original trauma to commemorate for Drowned has now been replace by other more urgent concerns, or perhaps not, as there is an earnest journalist Cheung Mei’s remote reading/imagining of an installation series that she has actually never seen. As for Past & Future, the desk-tops are less found objects than the symbolic presence, or simply representation, of a period of emotive experience that has also completed its closure before the work is “re-fabricated” -- or else it simply refers back to the presence of artist herself. Desk-tops waiting for differential cultural readings (of whether the tops were from Hong Kong, Taipei or Beijing) force up the casual visitor an identity recognition exercise that is also closure rather than discovery. The nature of photographic representation of the past in Past & Present, and the re-staging of material objects from the contemporary time in Drowned, form two levels of articulation that do not easily arrive in real dialogues.

Dialogues, Conversations…

I believe Yan-chi and I had two very different ideas of what this book is about. Yan-chi probably more saw it as an art book; I saw it as an archive with turning pages. Yan-chi saw this book as the display of curiosities of art objects, I saw it as the assemblage of collectibles, assemblage over collectibles. Yan-chi treated this book as an exhibition site for her artistic sensibilities, I saw book-making as an art in itself, about the mechanics of flow, variation, alignment and alternation, and in this project in particular, the collapse of the hierarchy between text and image, between description, narration, and commentary. Yan-chi is a constructionist, minimalist and alienating; and I, a hard-core deconstructionist who cannot rest without double, if not triple action in a single strike. We truly have dialogued, and done so via differences and the negotiation of our difference.

More significantly, Yan-chi is suspicious of the impact of curatorship, and here I am, negotiating my role as a curator with an artist who is always already a curator herself.  Her in-born drive for elegance, and my self-conscious deliberate pursuit for roughness to undo aesthetic value creates a lot of conversations beyond execution. No matter what, we both felt most comfortable that the venue at Para/Site should be used for the re-staging of her two most important installation cycles, to play with the extension of a generative sequence.  As for the archiving element, I insist the book should do it.

For a very simple concluding note to this Pro-Epilogue, I want to express in simple words: I am overwhelmed by the richness and diversity of Choi’s works, and moved by her tenacity of will talking to her, wrestling with her, and going through her creative and writing portfolios. I am also moved by how she would never stop doing more, as long as it springs from her intuitions. The many oppressive moments in her career as an educator, and the fact that she is a woman of will and vision, have quietly shaped the meandering directions she has taken. The “invisible” oppression, I believe, requires more quiet understanding.

Lastly, within the rhizomic space of Choi’s creative history, one prominent node is painting, which has been explored most persistently, and also the most soul-searching. I therefore invited all visitors of the exhibition to seek to locate the hidden traces of painting and attempted subversions even in her re-fabricated works of installation, performance and photography.

 

November, 2006