‘We all know joy and loss. We all spend
most of the time in some nameless mood
between these two extremes. Sometimes,
I get nostalgic, and I start to reminisce.’
‘It’s all up to you, while I started to forget something.’
‘My impression of you is hard to comprehend.’
‘Sunday morning it feels like shit.’
‘I might be thinking about my family,
my partner, some nonexistent corner of
the city, or some person I saw once but
never really met.’
‘Sometimes, sharing is an odd concept.’
‘Details are blurry.’
‘Judy, where’s the carpet?’
(All above texts taken from exhibition and
official programme brochure.)
In the mood for thought
The lofty rooms of Cattle Depot Artist Village looked almost empty. There was no eye-catching exhibit guarding at the entrance, nor was there any lavish piece anchoring at the centre; and down were all the spotlights that one might suspect to have arrived at the wrong time. With the T-shirt hung from the wall, the open parasol, the beach chair, the stand-alone bucket, or the prefab guardhouse strategically arranged, one began to discern that these unassuming objects were art installations – or ‘settings’ according to the artist. Together with the micro-situational video works and canvases of blurred imageries, Lee Kit spelt out his participation in the 2013 Venice Biennale on home turf under the new title of ‘You.’. Incidentally, somewhat ponderous but consistent with Lee’s reflective programme, ‘You(you).’ was the title of his entry at the biennale.
Under the dramatic truss roofs of the former slaughterhouse, art was carefully staged and its materiality was suppressed to attain a symbolic state of non-presence. This is the dilemma for conceptual artists who engage in minimal visual expressions, knowing at core that by reducing their works to unrecognizable anonymity the identity of an artist ceases to exist. Hence for the most reduced form of paintings by Yves Klein, so to say, there are the barest frames and canvases to exist; for any Beckettian theatre, there is the performer(s) with or without the stage; and for the ambient music of Brian Eno, there are yet detectable sonorities however close to silence.
The white bench and fire extinguisher as art pieces, perhaps?
In ‘You.’, through the array of self-effacing settings, the artist took to the viewers’ psychological automatism to experience their visits and to respond instinctively without direction from the mind. For this reason, there were no titles for all individual pieces to convey any specific messages; thus for Lee, visual tectonics were reduced to essentials and interventions to audiences’ responses were minimized. For meditations on ordinary presence, one might even take the old fire extinguisher on the wall as an inspiration for personal revisitation. The idea that everything is art and nothing is art - heralded by Duchamp through Fountain 1917, is reinterpreted by Lee a century later.
The Lure of Pure Essence
In causal terms, time is the order of duration and duration supposes time. The quality of the responses from audiences, however indeterministic, is built upon acquired experiences. The spirit of Lee’s programme lay on the open-ended interactions between the artist and viewer. Admittedly, there was nothing esoteric among the exhibits though plenty of tantalizing ambiguities were mapped out for interpretations. But there might be gaps where communications break down and the audiences including my wife hit a blank wall. Personally, I had moments of irritation from the equivocation of his settings. His texts, with a literacy that carried meagre inspiration, make reading an unpalatable act for avid readers.
Lu Shou-kun, Zen Painting, 呂壽琨,禅畫, 1964
Liu Gou-song, Midnight Sun, 劉國松,子夜太陽, 1970
There exists a tendency to distill the representation in art, thinking that the less the narrative contents, the purer the concept will remain in a work. It is tempting to equate verses in writings with expressions in visual art and arrive at the conclusion that more is excess. The same rationale applies to the inclination to avoid specifics. From what had been learned in the 1960s-70s that the New Ink Painting Movement in Hong Kong had grown into believing that the historicist shackles must be broken. A liberation from ethnic adherence was in earnest and universal values, understandable to all, could be achieved. This self-fulfilling group of artists immersed themselves into subjects of cosmic pondering, religious refuge and other abstract reveries. Their mutual influences gradually developed into an upward, or downward if you like, spiral of reductionism; and as such an inflated nothingness leading to a total detachment from audiences was resulted.
The Sage and Joker
It is inconclusive to suggest that this development of ink art had its inspiration from the minimalist art that thrived in the west of the same time. Further afield in our own time, both movements of then have their point of reference to Martin Creed who stretches the blandness of anything and everything in the visual world to extremes. His contributions to contemporary art, however controversial, at least can be commended on merits of honesty and self-mockery. In unembarrassing terms, he keeps telling everyone that he doesn’t know what people like in his works and “don’t know”s are invariably his favorite answers to questions*. To understand his phenomenal success, it might require extraordinary objectivity in order to bring to light the ridicules he produces that mirror our everyday lives. (In interviews, he always repeats that he doesn't know if he is an artist; hence it is fair to use other terms than ‘artwork’ to describe his creations.)
All photos above and below from Martin Creed’s major retrospective - What’s the point of it?
Hayward Gallery, Jan-Apr. London, 2014 (Photos∣Linda_Nylind@BlouinArtinfo)
In ‘You.’, Lee’s carefully constructed art has an appeal of freshness among contemporary excess – that is an anticipated result. His works of intended ordinariness or even blandness, share much in common with Creed’s. The difference between them may be one of ascetic positivity versus playful wickedness. On Lee, it may be tempted to say that, given the melancholic traits of his works, a certain Stendhal syndrome permeates among thinkers. In contrast and less guarded in manners, there are plenty of nauseating fun with the British artist that cannot be separated from his absurd looking works. As always, one has to examine the artist’s personality in order to understand his or her works. It is this honesty, however brutal it might be, one yearns from Lee.
The restraint in elaboration on works and written narratives can certainly keep Lee Kit in the safe zone. So far so good. But like the liu-bai effect (lit. leaving blank) in ink paintings, the clear-cut visual imageries and meta-physical inclinations, however enticing they can be, may lead to serious withdrawal consequences from audiences due to a lack of connectivity. It is more acute when the poise for serious thinking by artists becomes predictable. Before Lee is pushing the limit of open discourses in future, I hope he can tell us more of himself and through his works than otherwise.
*Recommended YouTube interviews and talk with Martin Creed at here:
1. Martin Creed interviewed by Fanny Keifer, part 1 of 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cm-MZ3bj8Q
2. Martin Creed interviewed by Fanny Keifer, part 2 of 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWIR_92jmb8
3. Meet Martin Creed (with performances) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdWSOL7x3LA
‘You.’ – Lee Kit
6 March to 13 April, 2014 at Cattle Depot Artist Village,
你/我 - 游離于馬田．克特與李傑之間 〈中文翻譯〉
寬敞的牛棚藝術村呈空置模樣。不只大門入口不見耀目的展品，館中央沒有壓場大作，連鎂光燈亦被關掉起來，觀眾有誤以為在閉館時段到達。及後閲畢牆上的汗衫、傍置的水桶、預製更亭、張開的太陽傘及沙灘椅，我們方始領悟這些不經意之物其實是展覽的裝置，或按藝術家的稱謂 – 佈置(setting)。加上處境式的「微觀」錄像及隱晦的畫像，李傑將2013年威尼斯雙年展參加的作品重置于本地主場，並採用「你。」這個新標題。以資參考，「你（你）。」為該雙年展的名稱。雖然有點累牘，兩者的連貫性依然。
在牛棚的桁架下，李的作品得到仔細的鋪排，但牠們的實物狀態卻被壓抑至「非存在」的象徵境界。這是概念藝術家運用簡約表現手法卻常陷於困窘之情况，理由是他們通曉若作品簡約至不復辨識境地，他們的自我身份亦隨之煙沒。因此，算是多麽勵節的繪畫，一如伊夫．克萊(Yves Klein)，他的畫布及框架還是不能或缺；多麽貝克式(Beckettian)戲劇，縱使沒有舞台，表演者依然存在；多麽前衛的環境音樂，白賴仁．伊諾(Brian Eno)仍須在淵肅的背景上賦予音效，那怕是最輕聲的蹤跡。
通過連串不經意的佈置，李傑務求將觀者的直覺反應釋放出來。至此，展品均不設名稱，以免傳遞具體訊息。在「你。」的作品集，視覺構築以精鍊為尚，自主思維的干擾亦減至最少。面對場館的平凡事物，那管是牆上的滅火器，它們有助重建觀眾回憶的幽徑。由杜尚的〈噴泉1917〉裡倡導之念 – “物物皆藝術，無物是藝術”，在一個世紀後，李氏得再演繹。
新水墨運動的產生和發展是否源自西方同期的簡約主義，這裡暫且沒有結論。但兩個流派與今天的馬田．克特(Martin Creed)擁相當的參考價值，特別是他擅於尋找視覺世界裡的乏味事，那理大小，只管推至極端，。當然他對當代藝術的貢獻極富爭議，但至少在真誠及自謔兩個層面他卻值得讚譽。在沒有丁點兒尷尬下，他常說不明白在啥處人家喜愛他的作品；而“不知道”更是他慣用回應問題的答案*。要了解他成功之處，我們需抱有高度客觀性，摒棄偏見，才可顯現其創作的荒誕 – 那股表露現今生活之實况。（用偏離藝術語言來形容他的作品還是公平的，蓋他亦經常重複說自己不是藝術家。）