Together is in solo exhibition at Ofoto Gallery

February 24, 2017

Together will be in solo exhibition at Ofoto Gallery in Shanghai from march 4th to April 28th 2017.

Curator : Chen Haiyan
Duration: 2017.03.04 – 04.28 / 10:00 – 18:00
Venue: OFOTO Gallery. 2F, Building 13, 50 Moganshan Rd., Shanghai


Defintion of “Together”

by Laurence Chellali

One with the other, ones with the others, at the same time
But also a noun in the singular.
The sum total of elements that constitute a whole,
The collective action of group,
Perfect simultaneousness, good synchronization.
(Mathematics) Collection of elements having in common one or more properties that define them,
(Arts) The balanced composition of work,
By extension, well-matched individuals – they go well together,
Suit composed of separates (skirt, pant, shirt, jacket,…)
Thus an ensemble designates a multitude that can be understood as a whole composed of NON identical elements.

Words on the Side 

by Chen Haiyan

“Modernity signifies the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art of which the other half is the eternal and the immutable.” – Charles Pierre Baudelaire

“Together” is a series of works by Laurence Chellali, a French female photographer. When I put her name in Chinese “希拉里” in the search box of Baidu, the first entries that came up were all about the high-profile American presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Chellali and Hillary are obviously not the same person, but this coincidence brings us to the keyword here: symbols. A name is a symbol or a code for a person. When a symbol is used multiple times in similar contexts, the abstract dimension of it fades away; it takes on specific conceptual meanings and relations with other words, and thus becomes a perceptible carrier of meaning. The Russian semiotician Yuri Lotman once said, “All language codes that work as symbol codes and trigger rich associations on the axis of consciousness work in the national historical and cultural context.”
That leads us to another concept: cultural discontinuity. When we come across a foreign cultural idea as we view or create artworks, we tend to unconsciously use familiar concepts, emotions, and habits to code or decode them.

To realize this series, Chellali spent half a year on a balcony looking out at a neighboring school playground. As an expat in China, she finds many things commonplace to us to be fresh and intriguing. On the one hand, such sensibility comes naturally from cultural discontinuity; on the other hand, it comes from her inquisitions of the juxtaposed objects and concepts such as child and adult, game and ritual, costume and everyday clothing, uniform and chaos, order and disorder, collective and individual, freedom and detention, obeisance and rebellion, nature and nurture, independence and attachment, individuality and conformity, performance and reality… Besides, to use a language code in various registers makes it possible to interpret it from multiple angles. For instance, the general word “操场” translates as either playground (for entertainment) or drill ground (for military training) and gets more specific in meaning. Such interpretation in the process of selective viewing is based on the cognition, understanding and focus of attention of the viewers, which is the same case for the process of photography.

For Chellali, what started as a kind of mystery seeking must have led to deeper thinking that inspired a fresh style that integrates the content and the form in her photography. Without a doubt, the meaning and value of an artwork is delivered through its form, but to fully understand it one has to put the content into the context of the times. Chellali empowered us with the rights to code and decode her photography series, along with the freedom to reminisce about our shared childhood experiences and unspeakable peculiarities. She seems to have visualized the roots of certain anxieties and struck a chord there, providing some “comfort” in the form of art, be it “slight.”

All humanity shares the longing for the ideal of freedom. For that there is no fundamental cultural discontinuity. People just go to different extents in pursuit of different versions of this ideal and such difference generates various forms of cultural shock. Has Chellali been through a cultural shock (in China)? I have no idea. At least there is no such a clue in her notes or work descriptions that would give away her attitude or position. There is a surprising or even disappointing lack of passion in her words just as in her photos: mild colors, blurred strokes, “mediocre” sizes that fail to pop out and grab my attention… It seems impossible to figure out the personality of the person who created these works. It might seem a little far-fetched to compare Chellali and Hillary, but they two stand for two completely different styles. The latter makes a scene in a tough pose even after her presidential campaign failures and during her marriage crises, showcasing her distinct personal symbol.

Alfred North Whitehead once said, “Mankind, it seems, has to find a symbol in order to express itself. Indeed ‘expression’ is ‘symbolism.’” His words seem to give us a key to reconsider Chellali’s sweet purpose of semiotic drift, which I believe is to “dissolve”! In term of the presentation of the artwork, the dissolving happens in the color balance, in the narrative of the grand scenes, in the dilution of the individual characteristics in the crowd, and in the hallucinatory noises that crowd makes. Meanwhile, the artwork dissolves all possible conflicting cultural symbols such as presumptions, positions, and moral judgments that a viewer might jump to. Thus, it downplays the so-called “objective” recording nature of photography, and gives back to the viewers the scope of free interpretation of the symbols. This is also the reason why I try very hard to tiptoe around my own interpretation of the works in this article. Cherishing the efforts Chellali has made, I certainly do not want to have my nose in the air and make arbitrary comments or “turn graphic language into texts”. I’m convinced that every choice a “translator” has to make comes with a cost to the original message. Through art, the artist magnanimously shares her privacy, and an “ideal” viewer of art should be able to respect that. After all, unlike selling artworks, art is a lonely pursuit.
I’m sure that other viewers can get a wider range of ideas and feelings from her works than I ever could. I might have noticed some of the more “eye-catching” points among the photos and in between the lines; however, missing the big picture for these are simply not worth it! More often than not, one way of contemplation and decipherment, even one with the most innocent intentions, may exclude other possibilities or freedom. Ultimate freedom, whether for interpretation of an artwork or for a person, can never be achieved. As the character Augustin Gora in the Romanian writer Norman Manea’s novel The Lair asks, “Is freedom the escape from the labyrinth dissolution of the labyrinth altogether?”
This series also reminds me of the trinity of body, image and life. In the studies of visual culture, this is what forms the relationship between biopolitics and art. To elaborate on that, GrorgioAgamben introduced the notions of “the bare life” and “form-of-life”, and Aristotle even stated that man is by nature a political animal, an animal with “language”! The pithiest statement in this regard should be a quote fromThe Gospels,“I’m the life.”

On another note, as I was viewing this series, I was particularly drawn to the photo of quilts aired on the playground. It resonated with me through its artistic language and brings me to a sweet secret realm beyond art. It mesmerized me like a few rare spots of delightful bright colors that pop out in an image. Of course, these are just words on the side.

Written in Shanghai
Dec. 31st, 2016

Translation: Chen Dan

翻译(中-英): 陈丹

“集合”的定义 —— 劳伦斯 • ž希拉里



—— 夏尔•皮埃尔•波德莱尔

此是此 • 彼是彼

《集合》系列,是法国女摄影艺术家劳伦斯•希拉里(Laurence Chellali)的作品。基于对她的不了解,我上网检索,度娘最先跳出的是之前备受关注的美国总统候选人希拉里。当然,此希拉里非彼希拉里,用以引出一个关键词——符号。名字是人的语码符号,一个符号多次在相似语境和环境下被启用,使得人们在看到时不再感受符号的抽象性,而具有了特定的概念和关系,成为携带意义的感知。而俄国符号学家尤•米•洛特曼认为:“所有具有符码作用的、引起意识轴上丰富联想的语码都结合了本民族的历史文化背景。”


此系列是希拉里历时半年在比邻学校操场的阳台上拍摄的。作为一名来华驻留的外国人,许多在我们眼里司空见惯和习以为常的事物在她那里或许是新鲜、刺激的,这是天然的文化隔层所必然生发的敏感。当然,还有一种藉由特定对象或景象催发的拷问和思索,譬如孩子和成人、游戏与仪式、制服与常服、统一与混乱、无序与有序、集体与个人、自由与拘囿,顺从与叛逆、天性与驯化、独立与依附、从众与个性、表演与真实……。另外,对场域语码概念的界定与转换,比如中文“操场”的泛指性和西文对playground (泛娱乐化)与drillground(泛军事化)的所指性,以及不同语境下的不同理解,共同构合了对一个事物或一种现象的多元解读。我们可以知晓的是,对作品的品赏和理解是每一个观者选择性“观看”的结果,根植于自身的认知层面、理解角度和关注重点。而摄影对于拍摄者来说,同样是一种选择性“观看”的结果,虽然很多人更愿意称此为“创作”。


人性里头对于自由的向往和渴望是终极乌托邦的理想彼岸,这一点从来没有过文化隔层,有的只是定义和程度的不同,因而产生了各式各样的文化休克(culture shock)。希拉里“休克”过吗?对此,我无权僭越给出判定或猜测。至少,她在自己的创作笔记和作品说明里就事论事,貌似看不到任何表明态度和泄露立场的观点,又或是在表达上没有我们想象和期待的那样情绪饱和,以致措辞不愠不火,“平庸”到不免令人失望,如同她作品的呈现效果,“设色”寡淡、“笔线”模糊,甚至作品的尺幅也“平庸”到引发不了任何视觉上抢眼的效果,乃至于作品背后的那个人也仿佛性格飘忽、面目不详。如果作个不恰当的比较,此希拉里与米国的希拉里完全是两种格调,彼是外表强势着作秀,即使竞选败北后“真诚”把婚给离了,也要梗着脖子在退出历史舞台前彪悍着发出一点声响,成为个人鲜明的符号炫耀。
阿弗烈•诺夫•怀海德(Alfred North Whitehead)曾说:“人类为了表现自己而寻找符号,事实上,表现就是符号。”论及此,我们似乎可以重新审视希拉里符号漂变的目的,了解其的用心良苦和举重若轻,那就是“消解”!从作品呈现来说,消解体现在色彩关系的统调里,体现在宏大场面的叙事里,体现在群像对个体的消解上,体现在鼎沸人声的幻听里;从作品意义来说,消解所有可能的先念、立场和道德评判,消解一切文化符号的对立性;从观看角度来说,消解预设的观看选择。从而,尽可能的弱化和虚化摄影本身所谓与生俱来的框取客观真实的能力,本质上仍服膺于主观的特征(我称之为“匡取”的能力),将符号释读的自由空间交还给观者。这也是我个人在码这篇文字时小心翼翼尽力规避阐释作品的原因,怕自己稍有疏忽,就破坏了希拉里的所有努力,成为一名用文本语言转译图像艺术、寄生并凌驾于作品之上“不自量力”的评论者。如同文本的翻译注定要面对一种选择,而每一次的选择都伴随着无可避免的损失,抑或有幸加塞的私货足够好,也仍是对作品本身的一种遮掩。艺术是光明磊落的隐私,不只对艺术家而言,对“理想读者”亦如是。艺术本质上拥有孤独的志向,艺术作品成为商品概念则是另一回事。

我始终坚信,观者从作品里所能感受的一定更多元,码下这篇文字仅是为了表达我对艺术的一点诚意。如果那些偶然突兀在作品和文字队列间的“散点”更华丽地吸引了视线,也不过是因为趋同的集体背景让这些如此突出罢了!很多时候,审视和解码虽无恶意,却也在扼杀另一种自由,而无论是作品还是人,是不可能拥有真正的自由,一如罗马尼亚作家诺曼•马内阿(Norman Manea)在小说《巢》中借戈拉之口提出的叹问:“自由到底是迷宫的出口,还是迷宫本身的延伸?”

我倒是很想提一点作品引发的关于身体、形象和生命的东西,在视觉文化研究中,这三位一体共同结构了关于生命政治和生命艺术的关系。对此,吉奥乔•阿甘本(Giorgio Agamben)提出过两个概念:赤裸生命(the bare life)和生命形式(form-of -life),而亚里士多德曾有过对人的精彩定义,即人是享有“语言”的动物,且天生是政治动物!但这些论断,都不及《福音书》中的一句:“I’m the life.”来得简单与纯粹。




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