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  • Writer's pictureLoy Luo

Loy Luo:Responding to Criticisms of the Textualization of Contemporary Art with an Example

Updated: Apr 25, 2022


Recently, Mr. Chen Jiaying wrote an article against the trend of textual contemporary art, emphasizing that art should be based on the power of direct feeling, rather than turning the creation into an obscure text that requires technical interpretation. Interestingly, he says, "Reading text brings imagination and expands the living space. "To enable people to understand reality in the cross-reference of many worlds", but he only gave the privilege of such interpretation to scholarship, to be more precise, philosophy, while the text and interpretation of art were pseudo-scholarship in his opinion. His views naturally reminded me of Debra Olin's current solo show.

Appreciation: intuition reinforced by text

A month ago, in the traditional atmosphere of the Elderidge Street Synagogue Museum, I was excited to find the works of Olin, a contemporary artist currently on display, in tune. The tension between the work and the space makes my senses jump, and some vague intuitive impressions often linger in my mind for days. However, when kiefer's dress finally broke through the chaos and came to my mind, followed by postmodern philosophical words like "being," "absence," and "body," I realized that the power of the text had broken through the vague intuition of pure sensibility. No, I don't think I could have had such a strong intuition if it wasn't for the historical knowledge, visual experience and philosophical texts that I had stored in my brain to think about the relevance of things to life. That is, intuition is not pure, it is the underlying text that tirelessly shapes consciousness, repeatedly tricking us into backtracking and fabricating our intuitions.

We know that animals are not intuitive when entering art scenes, and of course it might make sense to use bulls' intuition for red as a counterexample, since biological intuition really is intuition. From this we can infer that intuition is a hierarchical system, and the primary intuition is that of animals. Some people believe that animal intuition is strong and human intuition is weak because it is suppressed by reason. However, a large number of facts show that the molding and suppression of rationality over sensibility will make sense intuition into another state of higher energy. That's why the hidden truth is so much more exciting than the open truth. Text often plays a role of concealment and even repression.

Of course, artistic creation requires the use of intuitive images, but the intuition of contemporary art is more like an iceberg floating on the water than before, and the audience can only perceive this part directly. Would his intuition decline with more text reminding and guiding the viewer that there might be more ice underwater? No! He will re-examine all the details he can see with more curiosity and more intuition to participate in feelings and imagination. After I had finished reading and interviewing about the exhibition, when I stood again in front of the womenswear installation beneath the cathedral ceiling, all the voices, present and absent, seemed to come from all directions, converging into a symphony.

Creation: Multiple layers of text texture

The artist was inspired by an article she came across in a magazine in 2008 entitled "A Category: The Sky and the Jewish Ethnographic Project" and became interested in it. In the extensive literature, she found a 2, 087-question questionnaire. The part of the questionnaire about motherhood and childbirth inspired the artist's image. The questionnaire, which had no answer because of the war, made her feel the mysterious atmosphere of light and darkness, known and unknown, hidden and revealed. So we know that there must be a page in the artist's reading. As we know, Heidegger's eastern mysticism philosophy has been a very important context source of modern and contemporary art creation in Europe and America for quite a long time. Olin's choice of unrepeatable single-plate printing forms and open, non-preset production methods can be seen as footnotes to this popular text.

Around the theme of pregnancy and protection, Olin made her grandmother's white nightgown a base pattern, symbolizing life and growth. On the pattern, she illustrated the questions in an-Sky questionnaire as witchcraft totem on the ancient stone wall (of course, the collection of modern life objects and images and the using of collage techniques show the time mark of the work itself)."Is it considered a charm for a pregnant woman to wear an apron?" The question is presented in the form of a white dress with a black apron and pink lace. The black apron is actually an ultrasound image of a pregnant fetus, and the apron image seems to give the fetus an extra layer of care. "Do evil spirits invade new life? The question became a maternity dress with small mirrors similar to the exorcism mirrors still used in some rural areas of China. In one piece, the feet of adults circled around the hem, as if engaged in a secret, silent fertility cult.

The absence of childbearing in all the images of the works reminds us that human reproduction is ultimately a kind of self-sacrifice, and the greatest concern of a race with a specific tragic fate for its own survival is expressed by the artist in a subtle language like a huge thunder. The focal point of the human epic is the fetus, which is being carefully protected. The fetus is both present and absent in philosophy. There are countless works of art that have addressed the fate of the Jewish people throughout history, but this creative text touches the weight with light design.

Exhibition: Text overlay upgrade

Here, the synagogue actually participates in the exhibition in the form of text, which involves the transformation of the concept of contemporary art exhibition. Unlike in the past, the space is no longer just a place to display and sell works (except for commercial exhibitions in commercial galleries), but as an established context. No matter the works are presented in the form of homogeneity or heterogeneity, they cannot avoid the established existence, but only speak their own words. Moreover, the synagogue is not merely a background here, but a dynamic subject that exerts pressure and influence and accepts change. If space and art are equal subjects, artists and curators should carry out interactive dialogue according to the theory of intersubjectivity, that is, they jointly complete the upgrade from a single work or spatial text to a composite and superimposed exhibition text.

The synagogue space, as the participant of the exhibition, is not an eternal static on a slice of time, but a life in a state of flow, which is growing. It is not an existence, but existence itself. It gains more possibilities by participating in different exhibition activities. The subject of art itself is a composite text of material, time and event. It should absorb more subjects or texts in the cooperation with the subject of space to create more possibilities for the composite text of exhibition.

Contribution: The textualization of contemporary art is a revision of past confusions

In essence, the textualization of contemporary art is not a new creation, but the restoration of normality in a sense. As we all know, it is not until modern times that works of art are divorced from a particular temporal and spatial text, or from a particular context of meaning (witchcraft, religion, royalty). Witchcraft totems are associated with a whole set of worship rituals; Religious images are associated with symbolic image pedigree and grand narrative. Royalty ICONS annotate legends that are indistinguishable from truth in order to give legitimacy to power. Although images can be visualized, text is the cornerstone of artistic images' deterministic meaning. Historically, artistic production has always been combined with text, and only by combining text can it be comprehensively interpreted.

The "independence" of modern art began with the pursuit of independent identity by artists in the Renaissance. Then they chose their subjects freely, thus getting rid of the fate of the so-called "handmaiden" who sang praises; Later, abstract art made language independent of content, while matching the slogan of "art for art's sake". Finally, at the beginning of the last century, modern art gained unprecedented "freedom" and "victory". The greatest progress was the full respect for the independence of the artist, which inspired great creative passion and reached an unparalleled level of formal exploration. However, this progress also overcorrects, for while liberating art, it also separates art from the social space-time organism. On the one hand, many modern artists exaggerate the subtleties of their personal feelings without caring about their work's relationship to the world and other people. On the other hand, commercial exhibitions in commercial galleries make people suspect that spiritual art has been objectified and thrown into the capital market. In fact, the market encourages the artist's alienation.

Contemporary art emphasizes the return of art to society and life. However, this return is clearly not a return to the original track. We can see that contemporary art has a more obvious textual tendency in form, that is, artistic creation needs to link background texts and establish meaningful texts, and there is a closer connection between artistic creation and exhibition. Artistic creation is no longer one piece after another as in the past, but more like the execution of a project. It involves the reflection of postmodern philosophy on modern philosophy. The seemingly exaggerated banter, irony and absurdity in contemporary art are just people's attempts to use deconstructivism to counter the original huge and stubborn rational-based grand narrative of structuralism. If there is a lack of understanding of the contemporary philosophical background and the development trajectory of art itself, it is not easy to understand where the motivation of textual contemporary art comes from, and aphasia will occur.

Conclusion: Three differences between philosophers and contemporary art

After the above statement, we can probably sort out three main differences between the philosopher Chen Jiaying and contemporary art:

First, art is defined as a sensory object that can be grasped intuitively.

We have explained that even in the classical and modernist eras of visual art, the viewer could not fully grasp art through mere intuition. Moreover, since duchamp's "Fountain" came out in 1917, it has been more than 100 years since art challenged the visual boundary to enter the conceptual world.

Second, the differences in text definition.

Mr. Chen spends more than half of the chapters to explain the concept of text, but the text he defines is narrow, text category, thinking category, static, technical, instrumental, and object. This definition is consistent with the established conclusion that textual interpretation is the prerogative of scholarship, especially philosophy. However, contemporary art uses the concept of text more widely, which is beyond words, active, subject, interactive, environmental, polysemy and so on. The application of text concept in contemporary art is practice prior to theory, and the interpretation of text here is also in the sense of hermeneutics, which is free and non-mandatory. It aims to help illuminate more possibilities of art.

Mr. Chen said, "The conditions that constitute the text are the space and time interval, and the lack of intuition. Because of the distance in time and space, ancient art can be regarded as text, while contemporary art is not. Let us put aside the meaning behind the phenomenon is nihility, the problem is that the phenomenon of what we see in the strict sense is limited, most of them in each level has a part is not intuitive, especially in the field of art object and image is mostly alluding sexual intuitive association, they are destined to have Mr. Chen "lack of intuition" text characteristic, from this point of view, Art is natural texts, and they require interpretation.

Say "time interval" again. The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that "no one can step twice into the same river" is the law of the rapid change of time and space. So not only can ancient art be considered as text, but all art can be considered as text because of the time and space interval that exists between the creation of art and the appreciation of art. The viewer has the right to demand interpretation, and of course he can waive the demand and establish his own interpretation if he can achieve self-consistency between the limited images he has acquired and his own feelings.

Third, from Plato onwards, the arrogance of philosophy over art.

"By the standards of traditional works of art, contemporary art, poetry and film woven into everyday life are largely non-text, and reading them requires no special skills. I think that's still true of good works today, and some new art and literary critics have greatly exaggerated their textual nature." Is art good if you don't need special skills to understand it? Not historically. A lot of good art often has to wait for the next generation of viewers to understand. It's not about technology or intuition, it's about ideas. So the technique of interpreting art is no less than that of reading philosophy.

In addition, "For the listener, deep reading habits, extensive education and so on help him to understand the work, but he doesn't need much technical preparation. Philosophical writing requires a great deal of understanding, patience, etc., and, because of the historical nature of the concepts described above, a philosopher needs some academic preparation. "But in fact, learning philosophy may begin in adulthood, while appreciating art begins in childhood, and may even be a genetic reserve. In modern times, philosophers who do not know art can become excellent philosophers, but if contemporary artists do not know philosophy, it is difficult to become the best artists.

By Loy Luo,




一个月前,在弥漫传统气息的Elderidge街犹太人教堂博物馆内,我发现当代艺术家奥林的作品非常搭调地身处其中时感觉很是兴奋,作品和空间之间的张力使得感官跳荡,连日来一些模糊的直觉印象始终萦绕脑海,然而,当基弗作品里的女裙终于挣脱混沌浮现出来,紧接着后现代哲学词汇如“在场”、“不在场”、“身体”等也纷纷涌现 时,我才明白一直处于蛰伏状态的文本的力量已经突围了模糊的纯感性直观。不对,如果不是因为大脑中已经储备了大量历史知识,各种视觉经验,还有更多反思物与生命之关联的哲学文本,我想我不可能有这自以为强烈的直觉感受。即,直觉是不纯粹的,是潜在文本孜孜不倦地塑造着意识并一再欺骗我们重新回溯、捏造我们的直觉。




创作灵感源起于奥林一次发现式文本阅读:2008年艺术家在杂志上读到题为 “一笔总账:S An-sky 和犹太民族志计划”的文章,有此发生兴趣。在大量文献资料中她发现了一份包含2087个问题的问卷,该问卷中关于母性与生育的部分激发了艺术家的图像创作灵感。但这份因战乱而没有答案的问卷让她感受到明与暗、已知与未知、隐藏与揭示等共同塑造的神秘气息。于是我们知道艺术家的文本里一定有存在主义的页面。我们知道,在相当一段时间内,具有东方神秘主义气质的海德格尔哲学其实构成了欧美现当代艺术创作的一个很重要的语境来源。Olin选择无法重复的单版版画的形式以及制作中开放式非预设的手法可以看作是这个流行文本的注脚。

围绕怀孕和保护的主题,奥林将祖母的白色睡衣制成基础图案,寓意生生不息。在此图案上,她把AN-Sky问卷中的问题图解得如古代石壁上的巫术图腾(当然现代生活物件和影像的采集和拼贴技法的运用显示出作品本身的时代标记)。例如,“孕妇穿围裙更性感吗?”被图解成白裙上系着一条粉色花边围绕的黑色围裙,黑色围绕着一个成形的胎儿,围裙不仅给胎儿一层额外的温柔的呵护;“恶灵是否侵入新生命?”表现为孕装上的一些小镜子,有点像中国仍在使用的照妖镜;有一件裙子下围着一圈成人的脚,像是正在举行一场秘密无声的生育崇拜仪式。所有作品图像中生育者的不在场 让人不由联想到人类繁衍终是一种自我牺牲,而一个具有特定悲剧命运的种族对自己的生死存亡的最盛大的关切被艺术家以一种尽精微的语言表达得声如巨雷。衔接这人类悲壮史诗的焦点是那个哲学上的既在又不在,即那个正被无微不至保护着的胎儿。历来表现犹太人命运的艺术作品数不胜数,而这个创作文本却以轻巧构思拨千斤之重。
















又如 “从听众一方面来说,深刻的阅读习惯、广泛的教养等等都有助于他理解作品,但他却不需要作很多技术上的准备。哲学著作要求读者有很高的理解力,还要有耐心等等,并且,由于上面谈到的概念的历史性,还要求一定的学术准备”。但事实上,哲学的学术培养可以始于成年,但艺术鉴赏力的熏陶却要早自人的童年,甚至可能是一种基因的储备。到了当代,做哲学的人可以不懂艺术依然不影响其成为一个优秀的哲学家,但如果一个当代艺术家不懂哲学,他几乎没有希望成为一个佼佼者。

羅一 2022年4月

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