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灵魂剧场:张林海作品中的个人、社会、时代及历史性隐喻

时间:2021-03-05 14:20:22  来源:邯郸文化网  作者:吴鸿  浏览: 分享:

 

灵魂剧场:张林海作品中的个人、社会、时代及历史性隐喻 

作者:吴鸿

图片来源于网络(吴鸿)

多年以后,当文少励(Manfred Schoeni)在描述他和张林海的邂逅过程的时候,用了一个词巧合,这似乎是在暗示多年以前因为另一个“巧合”而导致的张林海的传奇式人生经历的开始。而实际上,几年之后,当文少励的女儿文惠贤(Nicole Schoeni)在回忆她的父亲和张林海的养父在一周内相继去世的时候,也感慨地用了一个词“蹊跷的相似”。这种由无数的蹊跷的巧合所造成的命运的离奇、怪诞和曲折;以及在这些看似偶然的人生节点的背后,冥冥中又有一只神秘的“必然性”的大手在操纵着、辗轧着、戏弄着一个个孤苦的灵魂。

 

图片来源于网络(张林海作品)

 图片来源于网络(张林海作品)

实际上,这篇文章的写作邀约在一年多以前,延迟到现在才开始写,这于我而言是绝无仅有的一次。而之所以迟迟无法动笔的原因,是因为在了解张林海的艺术创作经历的同时,接触到了他的人生经历之后,我感觉自己被拖入到了一个巨大的命运黑洞而无法自拔。它的乖戾、凶残、冷血和反复犹如一股强大的向心力,使我在心智眩晕的过程中而失去了自我的理性分析能力,无法判断它的真实抑或虚幻。我深知,试图要进入并解读张林海的作品,无法绕开他的人生经历;而一旦靠近了他的人生命运漩涡,又可能使对于作品的理解变成了他的人生传奇的图解。无奈之下,我决定再等等,试图通过暂时远离这个强大的心理黑洞,让时间来消化这种因为惊诧于它的传奇性而导致的失语状态。

 

图片来源于网络(张林海作品)

在通过时间的过滤之后,我发现在张林海的整个创作过程中存在着一个重要的特征,他一直试图在自己的个人精神史和时代、社会之间建立一种对应的象征性联系。这种主观动机在他后期的创作中体现的越来越强烈。而他的整个创作过程的另一个主要特征即在于,他在自己的不同创作阶段中,都会建立一个与之相适应的原型,或者是心理原型,或者是社会原型,抑或是文化原型。通过这个原型,小心翼翼地将自己内心隐藏着的一些情感、记忆和价值判断,与宏观的社会、历史、文化的分析和批判相结合,这是张林海在中国当代艺术的丰富图景中能够建立属于自己的鲜明的形象标识的主要原因。张林海整体创作的第三个主要特征,是在他作品的视觉图式逻辑中,有一种明确的剧场感线索。他总是在努力地在自己的作品中建构一个所谓真实的空间结构,这也是他为什么孜孜不倦地使用着一种看似不那么当代的写实主义绘画方法的原因。但是,这些看似真实的视觉元素被认真地组装到一起之后,一切又是那样的荒诞不经,而不符合正常的视觉经验逻辑。当然,我们也可以简单地将张林海的创作风格归为超现实主义这个外延非常宽泛的艺术概念之中。然而,超现实主义对于潜意识或梦境的灵巧的表达方式,显然是无法承载张林海内心的那种沉重的个人经验积累。他的作品中的视觉生成逻辑应该是由具体而真实的细节元素开始,经由非常规的有悖于理性普遍经验的铺成,最后达到一种更为深刻的“心理真实”。纵观各种文艺理论范畴,只能套用文学创作中的魔幻现实主义一词或许能够基本对应张林海的艺术创作特征。文学理论中对于魔幻现实主义的一般定义是用魔幻的东西将现实隐去,展示给读者一个循环往复的、主观时间和客观时间相混合、主客观事物的空间失去界限的世界。结合魔幻现实主义的艺术特征,再回到上文提到的剧场感,那么剧场感所要求的真实性和虚拟性的统一在张林海的创作中就找到了一个合理的理论基础。

 

图片来源于网络(张林海作品)

 图片来源于网络(张林海作品)

综上所述,体现在张林海的艺术创作过程中的三个整体性特征,既有其独立指向性,又有其在具体创作中的过程统一性。具体而言,张林海的艺术创作逻辑是采取了一种视觉(空间)逻辑的虚拟性和心理结构的真实性相结合的魔幻现实主义的方式,通过一系列的心理、社会、文化、历史原型的建立,将隐秘的个体命运和个人精神史嫁接在宏大而跌宕的现代中国社会的集体命运逻辑中。这其中,个人命运和其家族命运的跌宕起伏是与现代中国社会炼狱般的“灵魂剧场”的剧情发展是相对应的,并由此而形成了张林海的整体艺术风格中的质疑、挣扎、愤懑,最后又因为求解不得而只能再次在命运中置疑的心理发展特征。这种通过精神置疑的方式,既是对于其个人命运的发问,更是对于现代中国社会的整体命运和集体无意识现状的质问。

 

 

依据上文所及的原型概念,在接下来的行文中,我们将试图从张林海的创作过程的时间演进中,归纳出心理原型、社会原型、文化原型、历史原型四个概念,以此来概括并对应张林海的不同创作阶段作品中的精神内涵。

 

 

心理原型

 

 

心理原型既是张林海在他的第一个艺术创作阶段中所着力表现的对象,同时也是其个人性格特征养成以及其价值判断体系建立的重要基础。也就是说,从后者而言,所谓心理原型的意义不仅仅是体现在一个阶段性的创作中,也是贯穿在张林海迄今为止整个创作过程中的一个重要的心理基础。

 

图片来源于网络(张林海作品)

 图片来源于网络(张林海作品)

而在张林海的心理原型中,有两个重要的特征,其一是对于神秘的、充满不可知的命运偶然性的恐惧、愤懑和质疑。其二是一种深深的孤独感,而这种性格孤独感的形成,既来源于其人生经历中“不知所起,不知所终”的、刻骨铭心般的终极痛苦;也来自于这种痛苦基础的过于个人性和传奇性,而无法形成一个可以向别人倾诉的基础。正如加西亚·马尔克斯1982年在诺贝尔文学奖颁奖典礼的演说中所指出的那样:现实是如此匪夷所思,生活在其中的我们,无论诗人或乞丐,战士或歹徒,都无需太多想象力,最大的挑战是无法用常规之法使别人相信我们真实的生活。……这就是我们孤独的症结所在。在这里,马尔克斯试图要说明的是,用他人的标准来解释我们的现实,只会让我们变得越来越陌生,越来越拘束,越来越孤独。

 

 

至高无上的命运假借“偶然性”的托辞凶残地向一个无助的个体不断地露出它的獠牙,而更为凶险的是历史对命运频频施以无情的毁灭。正是在这一点上,张林海在个人经历和个体经验的基础上所体验到的这种深刻的孤独感,以及所表达出来的明确的质疑态度,才具有了广泛的社会时代性批判的价值。

 

 

张林海在这个时期的作品中所创造的世界是一个微观社会景观。他以太行山区的一个小山村为原型,通过对它的纷乱喧嚣、令人迷惑的“现实”的描绘,反映了它的封闭、贫困、愚昧与落后的社会氛围;进而,又通过它的巨大的象征意义,隐喻了中国现代社会历史中因为人性的扭曲和沦落,而导致的对于集权的狂热和疯癫。这其中,又因为主流政治和传统意识所造成的集体无意识式的人性丧失和个体消亡,是反映在张林海作品中的最具有原型意义的批判对象。

 

 

因为要写作这篇关于张林海作品评论的文章,我在网络上搜集了一些与他的家乡,同时也是他的作品中重要的微缩原型的河北涉县相关的资料。在这些资料中,我惊异的发现了一个无法相信的现象:在一些由旅游摄影爱好者于2000年左右所拍摄的涉县地区的风情照片中,居然出现了为数不少的、仍然健在的小脚老妇的形象。要知道,及至上个世纪八十年代末、九十年代初,也只能在一些老城镇以及富庶地区的农村零星见到这些中国女性缠足文化的活化石,而且,她们或许也是中国最后一批活着的缠足妇女了。而涉县地区及至2000年左右仍然还有健在的小脚老妇,况且在一个出门即是崎岖山路的山区,为什么会有这种带有普遍性的缠足文化的存在呢?

 

 

资料中的一些更早一点可能由当时来涉县地区写实的美术工作者所拍摄的照片中,我又发现了另一个更令我诧异的当地的民俗现象:至少在上个世纪七十年代晚期,在这个地方还有很多男人留着清末民初的齐耳发式。这个发现,让我产生了一种时空倒转的幻觉。在清末民初这个特定的历史阶段中才出现过的那种齐耳发式,实际上非常形象而典型地反映了在那个历史大变革的时代背景下,社会中所普遍存在的一种矛盾心态:一方面为了顺从民国新政府的剪辫令而把脑后的辫子剪成了“齐耳发”,同时又因为留恋前清旧王朝而刻意保留着脑袋顶上的“阴阳头”。在那个留辫子和剪辫子被赋予了更多的政治含义的时代,“阴阳头”和“齐耳发”的结合实际上微妙的表现出了一种保守、中庸的政治立场。在后世的文艺作品中,这种“阴阳头”和“齐耳发”的形象也是和前清遗老遗少的角色结合在一起的。但是,在晚至上个世纪七十年代的历史照片中显示,居然在涉县地区还有人刻意保持着这种貌似“前清遗老”的发式形象,令人实在无法理解在当时狂热的文革氛围中是如何遗存下来的。

 

 

这里,我再引述一下百度百科中与涉县相关词条中的一些信息:涉县位于太行山东麓,河北省西南部,晋冀豫三省交界处,隶属河北省下辖县”、“涉县是革命老区,晋冀鲁豫边区政府、八路军一二九师司令部、华北新华广播电台、新华日报社等110多个党政机关单位长期驻扎于此。涉县走出了2位元帅、360多位将军,被誉为‘中国第二代领导核心的摇篮’”、“1937年,八路军挺进涉县开辟抗日根据地。1940年,建立涉县抗日政府。1941年至1945年,先后属边区政府、太行行署第四、第五、第六专区。

 

 

以上极度相悖的两组信息,一方面是正史中所谓革命老区的革命、进步的文化形象;另一方面又是女性缠足文化、“齐耳发”的遗老文化等等这些所谓的封建糟粕现象。它们究竟是如何在一个特定的地区内长期并存的呢?它的内在地域文化逻辑和社会心理基础又是什么呢?及至我为了写作这篇文章而重新阅读了电影《老井》的故事原型、郑义的同名小说,以及陈忠实的小说《白鹿原》之后。张林海对于其家乡经常提到的一组评价:“‘得很!极度贫穷、愚昧,对于其深刻的心理体验和认知,以及那些看似混乱、相悖的社会文化现象,我才似乎找到了一个关于其地域文化和社会心理的合理性基础。这就是因为地理环境的封闭,加上生态环境的恶劣,导致了其地域文化历史中对于某些传统的执意固守。又因为其贫困、封闭、保守和愚昧,导致了其偏执型的地域性社会心理。由此可见,对于所谓传统的偏执和固守,以及对于革命的狂热和激进,在这个特定的区域内会奇怪地对立统一起来。从这一点来看,张林海笔下作品中的场景与马尔克斯笔下的马孔多有着高度的一致性,他们既有深刻的现实存在依据,又有着广泛的象征性意义。

 

 

而张林海的人生轨迹原本应该和这里并无瓜葛的,他之所以被一种神秘的线索牵引到了这里,是命运和他开的第一个残酷的冷血玩笑。迄今为止,张林海所能知道的关于自己身世的唯一线索就是一张摄于上海某个地方的照片。而他的养父作为太行山腹地的一位农民又是如何想到去距离千里之外的大上海领养一位本与这里并无任何瓜葛的孤儿呢?甚至于,他的养父母的双方家庭,都是因为在中国近现代史摧枯拉朽式的“革命”中,有幸或不幸地将个人和家族命运与时代洪流牵扯到了一起,从而使个人命运与家族命运被冲击的七零八落。在革命巨轮的齿链缝隙中苟且偷生,进而能够顽强地活下来,本是他们在灰色的人生命运背景中唯一的一抹亮色。但是,也正因为这种对于生命或家族延续的本能,将张林海的人生被动地与这个时代革命的暴风骤雨过早地联系起来,进而也成为这个背负着政治魔咒的家族的牺牲品。如果我们有时间详细了解张林海养父母双方家庭的历史,以及养父母双方因为被斗争对象的共同身份而促使他们之间的婚姻结合;进而促使养父想到于千里之外的上海认领一个养子;乃至于张林海的神秘身世又似乎做好了准备,等待这一命运的“巧遇”而使自己与这个陌生的未来衔接起来。这其中,充满了无数的偶然性,似乎在这个由各种偶然性所拼凑起来的逻辑之环中,缺少了哪个环节都会使这个逻辑之环瞬间坍塌,结果也会须臾间化为乌有。但是,若隐若现之间,那些关键的逻辑节点却又如草蛇灰线,各种人生境遇式的偶然性组合在一起构成了一个时代的必然性。张林海懂事之后,乃至于在他成年后,自认为能够与这个必然性逻辑抗争的时候,命运的魔咒却又施展强大的神秘力量将他牢牢地控制在自己的手中。而从这个若有若无的命运之神冷色帷帐的缝隙中所能偷窥到的一些信息中,又使人分明能够辨别出来的是:革命、斗争、阶级、成分、体制、制度……

 

 

命运的安排,张林海就像一个等待出场的演员,在被养父带到这个业已搭好舞台,锣鼓点也已经越敲越烈,就等生旦净末丑各色人等悉数入场的剧场中之后,命运之神已经不容许他再有自己的想法,而只能按照既定的剧本来扮演一个早已被规定好了的角色了。而这个人生命运剧本的规定情境是,在张林海进入规定角色后,养父母双方相继因为“家庭出身”问题而被定性为地主和反革命分子,继而在父母双方因为轮番被专政和批斗而无暇顾及家庭的期间,年仅四周岁的张林海因为病毒性感冒被拖延了治疗而发展成了五种致命性的病症,最终导致了他右腿髋关节坏死,终身落下残疾。养病期间,孤守在刚刚被残酷批斗而气若游丝的母亲的卧榻边的张林海,又亲眼目睹了自己的父亲被别人揪斗着游走在大街上。乃至后来的高考受阻,以及毕业后因为身体残疾而生活无着。一连串现实和命运的打击,一方面使张林海的性格发生了扭曲、敏感而悲观,另一方面,又使他在个人命运乖戾、无常的表象中,去发现和思考一些更为本质性的社会政治和历史文化必然性因素。

 

 

张林海的艺术创作,就是他将自己的这些深刻的人生、社会和历史性思考表达出来的一种手段。

 

 

特殊的人生轨迹和命运安排,以及特定的社会生活环境,形成了张林海独特的童年经验。而这种独特的童年经验又形成了他的基本性格原型,进而构成了他看待社会和世界的思维模式、观察角度和价值评判标准。所以,可以这么认为,张林海的艺术创作道路是以其命运轨迹、人生经历和社会生活环境形成的童年经验为基础,并由此而深入到对于中国近现代以来的社会、政治、文化的多层次思考和表达。

 

图片来源于网络(张林海)

 

 

张林海在大学二年级期间,也就是在1988年至1989年间所创作的《天籁·地籁·人籁》系列,其标题语出《庄子·齐物论》“女闻人籁而未闻地籁,女闻地籁而未闻天籁夫!”张林海借用了其中天籁、地籁、人籁的字面意思,无非是想说明芸芸众生与社会、命运之间的关系。这既是他独立艺术创作的起点,也可以视为他其后所有作品的母题。画面上由层层叠叠的石头建筑和围墙所构成的封闭空间有着强烈的心理暗示性与文化象征性及社会指向性。沉闷、寂静而了无生气的的封闭环境中,或空无一人,透着死一般的寂静;或一排排、一列列光头人,同样的表情、同样的服饰,如游魂般飘荡在这个空间中。这其中,人物的光头形象由于环境中的石头墙形成了一种形式上的同构关系,似乎喻示着某种愚昧、保守、顽固、麻木的精神劣根性。这种场景,对于张林海个人而言是有其真实的生活基础的。他或许会认为这就是自己家乡的现实生活场景的如实表现,但是,正如马尔克斯所指出的那样:现实是如此匪夷所思,生活在其中的我们,……都无需太多想象力,最大的挑战是无法用常规之法使别人相信我们真实的生活。……这就是我们孤独的症结所在。实际上,这种别人无法理解的孤独感,既伴随在张林海的生活中,同时也作为一种精神气质贯穿了他的艺术创作的整个过程。如果我们还原到这组作品所产生的时代背景中,正是上个世纪八十年代作为先锋文学现象之一的寻根文学风头正健的时期。所谓寻根文学也是通过对传统意识和民族文化心理的挖掘和反思,并以此来象征并批判从文革时期以来泛滥成灾的政治专制主义和集体愚蒙主义。如此看来,张林海的这组作品也带有那个时代的所谓“文化寻根热”的典型特征。甚至于我在想,如果张林海也能像那个年代中的一些不安分分子那样热衷于联络艺术界的社会关系,这组作品以及稍后创作的《天籁》系列、《地籁》系列应该是能够进入到所谓“85新潮的代表性作品序列中的。如果有这种可能性,则张林海在其后的人生轨迹也应该有另一番情景。但是,历史没有假设,张林海的命运早已规划好了他还要继续接受人生的磨难。

 

 

有几点需要特别说明的是,其一,画面中的光头形象是来源于张林海的家乡干旱缺水的现实,男人和小孩们为了节省用水,大多剃了光头省了用水来洗。其二,与他的好友方力钧用光头形象来调侃、解构主流政治和文化的经典性所不同的是,张林海是用人物光头形象,特别是画面中不断重复的光头形象,来隐喻着在专制主义和集体主义的政治文化背景下,人的愚蒙、麻木、趋同的精神特质,以及个体性丧失和个人价值消亡的普遍性社会特征。其三,重复的光头形象,以及他们在画面空间中的组合形式,还造成了一种“用魔幻的东西将现实隐去”,给观众一个“循环往复的、主观时间和客观时间相混合、主客观事物的空间失去界限”的心理真实世界,以形成张林海作品中强烈的魔幻现实主义气质特征。其四,基于其家乡现实生活场景的再现,并使之形成剧场化的视觉心理效果,进而作为一种象征性的艺术形象语言,隐喻了前文所述的“对于所谓传统的偏执和固守,以及对于革命的狂热和激进”的地域心理特征。同时,利用其作为心理原型的象征性意义,扩展到对于整个民族的传统意识和文化心理的挖掘和批判。这一点,在稍后创作的《地籁》系列中,被得以强化和突出。

 

 

上述几点,建立了张林海在其后的艺术创作中的典型符号和基本图式结构特征。

 

 

同样是创作于1988年的石版画《天籁》系列,其图式中有两个重要的形象细节也需要着重指出。其一是在一幅作品中出现的一条细若灰线般的山路,将远方的天际线和近景中一个瞪着一双疑惑的眼神的孩童联系起来。这是似乎是一个关于张林海的神秘身世与传奇般的人生经历的隐喻。它既暗示了张林海之于这个大山深处的来时的路,也喻示了他命中注定还要和远方发生联系的一种线索。这条神秘的命运线索在张林海稍后的创作中,往往是用不断重复的光头小孩的形象在天际中划过一条条弧线来完成的。其二,在同名系列的另一幅作品中,一组纵列的光头男人正向一座昏暗、压抑的老屋走去。在这里,老屋的意象既暗示着单调压抑的社会环境,同时也是对艺术家自己残疾的身体的一种暗示。对于张林海而言,挣脱不了的童年生活环境就像残疾的身体一样,一直挣扎着努力要从这个给自己带来无尽的苦难的病体里挣脱出来,可最终只能一步步走向它所造成的苦痛的深处。所以,沉重、残破、压抑、单调的石头墙和石头房子,在喻指一种极端专制的社会环境的同时,往往与他的病体也形成了一种同构关系。“破败的老屋→残疾的身体→病态的社会环境”,这种三位一体的同构隐喻关系不仅频繁地出现他的作品中,同时还派生出了其它形式的意象关系,比方说飞翔的身体等等。文惠贤(Nicole Schoeni)曾经在她的文章中说张林海在作品中竭力从身体和心理两个层面表现留存在人类记忆情境里的脆弱与挣扎,大约指的也是这个意思。

 

 

木版画《地籁》系列,同样表现还是石头墙和石头房子组成的封闭、压抑的空间。但是,与之前作品中曲折低徊的曲线结构所不同的是,在这组木版画作品中,线条变成了生硬的直线条。这些单调的平直线条构成的空间意象,甚至带有契里柯式的未来主义的粗暴和独裁的气质。这种极权主义式的精神意象,其后发展成为了将那些极权主义风格的典型建筑和石头老屋的特征相嫁接,直接表明了艺术家对于专制主义和集权主义的政治文化历史的批判态度。当然,在这个阶段的作品中,这一切仅仅还只是一个心理原型,有待于发展和演绎。

 

 

曾经在中国青年版画大展中获得银奖的《佛音》系列木版画作品,充分体现张林海作为版画专业的能力和技法。在这组作品中,张林海不过是借用了佛像的形式外壳,而他着力想表现的,无非是在神秘的命运的操作下,人类对于自己前途的迷茫和挣扎。我甚至有一种感觉,这组刀法灵动、气质清秀的木版画作品,分明是张林海作为一个南方人的气质内核的外化。

 

 

之所以不厌其烦地着重分析了张林海的这几组看似还没有开始正式创作的阶段的作品,是因为在我看来,首先,作为一个艺术家创作最重要的精神基础的心理原型,在这个时期已经基本建立。并且,由此而派生出来的对于社会、文化和历史的批判精神和态度业已形成。其次,贯穿在张林海后期创作中的一系列语言形式和形象符号,出现在这个阶段作品中的时候,也已经基本成熟。所以,把握并理解这个时期作品的图像内涵和语言逻辑,对于我们分析和解读他之后作品的创作轨迹有着至关重要的意义。

 

 

1995年开始,张林海正式转向以油画媒介来展开自己的创作方式。相比较之前所采用的素描或版画等媒介手段,油画除了可以更为细致地表现更多的形象细节之外,更主要的是还可以运用色彩手段来实现更直接的精神传达的作用。

 

 

《陈述》系列是我们目前可以看到的第一批油画作品,和之前的作品相比,在图式上出现的一个之前所没有的形象特征,就是光头脑袋的密集组合。这种密集到令人心悸的圆点组合方式,在稍后的作品中又可以幻化为漫山遍野的红色高粱或是干涸的河床上的遍地的红色鹅卵石,抑或是铺天盖地的红色海洋。在2003年创作的一幅名为《天堂》的作品中,这种密集组合的方式终于变成了一片令人窒息的红色旗帜的海洋。这就像有人精心编织了一套逻辑缜密的密码,又深怕别人猜不到那个谜底,自己就忍不住解密出来。那么,红色的光头脑袋→红色的高粱地→红色的干涸河床→红色的海洋(旗帜),就形成了另一组具有同构意义的意象组合。

 

 

当然,创作《陈述》系列之前的1992年左右,是张林海和命运所做的最后一次正面搏斗。在因为身体的原因求职屡屡碰壁之后,他尝试将残疾的右腿再做一次手术,试图让自己的身体稍微正常一点,以便能够融入到所谓正常的城市社会环境中。但是,命运的残酷和乖戾是让他又一次败下阵来,手术之后不仅残疾的情况更加严重,而且因为手术的失败使他的身体状态极度虚弱。这导致了他在这随后几年中不得不经常卧床不起,精神状况也是处在极度的悲观、颓唐、恍惚和游离之中。《陈述》系列就是在这种身体状况和精神状态下陆续完成的。

 

 

1999年始,在身体状况稍有恢复之后,一直到2008年,在这近十年的阶段中,是他的创作的一个高产期。他就像一个失语多年的人,一旦得到了开口说话的权利之后,恨不得将压抑在内心多年的郁积和愤懑都表达出来。

 

 

这个阶段作品的基本图式构成方式,首先是将前述的“破败的老屋→残疾的身体→病态的社会环境”这组同构性意象组合再发展至极权主义式的典型建筑样式,进而形成了“破败的老屋→残疾的身体→病态的社会环境→极权主义式的典型建筑样式”这样一种递进关系。其次,红色的光头脑袋→红色的高粱地→红色的干涸河床→红色的海洋(旗帜)是另一组意象同构关系。这两组意象又可以有多样的两两组合方式,从而形成了张林海的作品中形式多样却又有内在联系的场景组织方式。作品中对于天空的表现方式,除了少数的作品在空气稀薄的像真空一样的天际中有几朵停滞不动的云,这种表达方式之外。在大多数的作品中,阴郁而深沉的天际背景下,或是乌云翻滚,或是空气凝滞不动。这种主观化的场景处理方式,喻含了丰富的心理暗示,观众在观看张林海的作品的时候,总是会通过视觉感染体会到一种山雨欲来风满楼式的动荡和不安的情绪。

 

 

正是在这种主观意象所构成的魔幻现实主义式的场景下,张林海一直所致力揭示、批判和质疑的,就是从文革以来的专制集权的社会政治文化所造成的社会阴霾,以及在这种社会政治文化的压制下,民众的愚昧、麻木和顺从。更为重要的是,张林海的质疑和批判还并不至于针对文革本身,这种反思的深度还由此而回溯到了对于中国社会历史中专制集权文化传统的批判。与上个世纪八十年代以来中国当代艺术中那些符号化和概念化的批判文革传统的作品不同,张林海的这种质疑和批判一直是仅仅依托于自己的人生经历和命运轨迹,也就是说,作为芸芸众生之一的一直是置身在这个魔幻现实主义式的场景中。

 

 

这个或者腾跳、飞翔在半空中,或者呈之字形或一个饱满的大弧线重复性的排列组合在天际上。这种将个人命运与社会时代跌宕起伏的整体命运相结合的方式,正是张林海的作品最能够打动人心的地方。

 

 

实际上,在1999年到2008年这近十年的阶段中所创作的作品,从主题传达的角度而言,也是极为庞杂的。既有前述的基于心理原型的作品图式的构建方式,这样的作品甚至一直延展到以《紫色》《红色》《底片》等这些以个人形象为主体的系列作品中。也有以《天堂》《牧》《渡》这些已经具备了社会原型建构特征的作品。

 

 

社会原型

 

 

所谓心理原型社会原型的作品构建方式,其二者在张林海的作品中的区别特征并不是那么明显,更多的时候是你中有我、我中有你。只不过是因为理论分析的需要,将二者人为地进行类型化的区分。

 

 

实际上,在更早的时候的作品《阳光灿烂》系列中,张林海已经有意识地将这种基于童年经验的个人命运式的思考,置于一个更为宏观的社会本质问题的揭示中,以期使自己作品中的质疑和批判力量在深度和广度上更为有力。

 

 

而到了《牧》《天堂》《渡》这类系列作品中,张林海已经尽量减少个人经验的介入,而是表现了一种更为抽象化的社会文化思考。甚至是,直接的政治性批判的方式也在减少,作品更多的是从广泛的人性的角度,去揭示和批判潜藏在人性深处的脆弱和孤独。古斯塔夫·勒庞在《乌合之众》一书中曾指出:人一到群体中,智商就严重降低,为了获得认同,个体愿意抛弃是非,用智商去换取那份让人倍感安全的归属感。

 

 

人类正是基于那种人性深处的脆弱和孤独,为了在群体之中找到安全感和认同感,放弃了个人的独立和判断,最终成为了专制和强权的奴隶和羔羊。而为了在反抗旧权威的过程中,新的权威和新的强权又再出现,人们又匍匐在新权威的专制之下。张林海在这个主题的系列作品所要揭示的正是这样一个深刻的人类社会史的逻辑怪圈。

 

 

这个主题与前面所提到的心理原型主题系列作品,实际上是互为表里、互为印证。我们甚至可以想象,那些押着张林海的父亲,呼啸着、欢拥着流淌在大街上的红色人群,不也是这些“用智商去换取那份让人倍感安全的归属感”的乌合之众吗?

 

 

在他的合作画廊主人,也是对他有知遇之恩的文少励(Manfred Schoeni)和他养父在一周之内相继去世的日子里,张林海陷入了一种对于人生终极价值的思考之中,在这个背景下创作而成的作品《晚钟》,更是将上述的关于人生意义的终极悖论表现的入木三分。

 

 

创作于2008年的巨幅作品《怔》在延续了上述主题的基础上,又将批判的视角扩展到人类社会文明模式的发展悖论中。人到底是为了自身而活着,还是为了某种文明模式而活着?当人类因为文明的狭隘性而互相征战、残杀的时候,那个如天使般飞翔在天空中的无论如何也不能明白这其中的原因到底是什么?

 

 

创作于2009年至2010年期间的《残阳》系列作品,可以视为是张林海试图在创作中彻底告别自己童年经验的一个重要转变,一方面它延续了之前的主题系列以自己的人生经验为基础的方式,将自己由农村经验进入城市生活经验的过程中的挣扎和迷茫表达出来;另一方面,它也预示下了一个主题系列——文化原型的出场。

 

 

文化原型

 

 

文化原型阶段的作品实际上就是张林海创作于2011年至2013年的名为《沙盘》系列的作品。在这个阶段的创作中,张林海的作品风格出现了一些根本性的转变。其一,不再依托于个人经验直接性,而是将后期的知识、理性、分析等作为间接经验,并以此为基础,将自己观察和思考的角度扩展到人类整体的文明模式和文化类型的批判之中。其二,通过将个人情感和情绪通过理性手段来进行过滤,使之成为一种更为深层次的、整体可控性的“心理原型”基础。这里就要再回溯一下前一个阶段的主题系列阶段,在那个时期中,强烈的个人化精神气质既是张林海的作品中最能够直接打动观众的部分,但是也造成它的过于个人化和清晰化的不可控的特征,这直接导致了张林海在那个阶段的作品类型过于庞杂而情绪化。我们可以试想一下张林海当时的创作状态:在一个主题还没有完全深化为持续性的理性思考之前,另一个更为强烈的情绪化线索又出现了,并且强烈到不表达出来就无法进行别的工作。而在现阶段的创作中,理性控制了感性,持久性的深入思考取代了感性化的起伏跌宕。其三,在上述两个特征的基础上,张林海在《沙盘》系列作品中的构图方式和形象处理方式都显得更为成熟的理性。

 

 

“沙盘”一词的直接意思是来源于商业建筑的所谓沙盘模型,在现代商业建筑的营销策略中,为了将营销理念可视化和时尚化,都会通过沙盘模型的方式建构一个完整的、视觉化的关于高尚生活的模型和样本。张林海借用这个名词的目的就是要试图通过一系列场景化的视觉模型,来整体性地批判人类迄今为止主要的、占主导地位的文明模式和文化类型。这其中,剧场化仍然是张林海作品图式中一以贯之的图像建构方式。在此过程中,个人形象的介入也从之前的浸入其中的参与者变成了一个理性的旁观者和冥想者。甚至于,两幅分别创作于2004年的大幅作品《晚钟》和创作于2008年的巨幅作品《怔》,其中的一些主题线索和理性思考因子,都在现阶段的创作中延续并被深入下来。

 

 

张林海在这个阶段的作品中,通过人与动物、个体与群体、历史与当下、精神与物质、现实与未来、贫穷与富足、集权与群氓、理性思考与集体无意识……等等一系列的主题显现,完成了他全景式的对于人类文明现状和历史的整体性思考。这个过程,也喻示了他的现阶段创作中的关于文化历史问题的深入思考。

 

 

历史原型

 

 

2014年迄今为止的创作,张林海称之为《木板》系列和《木盘》系列。其作品创作的基底或依托物是他长期通过在旧货市场或农村收集到的一些废弃了的木板和木质托盘。这些曾经的生活必需品,在现今的当代生活模式下已经失去了使用价值;另外,因为其日常生活用品的特性,其木质的普通和造型的粗陋,不可能进入到所谓的收藏品系列中。如果不是张林海有心收集,它们的命运有可能就是成为某个新家具的零部件或烧火的材料。张林海在最开始收集这些物品的过程中,并没有一个明确的动机,甚至是都没有想到以后在作品中会使用到这些材料。我在想,他与这些没有品相的、散发着底层信息的、浸透着生活痕迹的、因为日常的使用而自身已经斑驳残损的旧物件能够结缘,或许与他自身的身世和经历有关。

 

 

张林海使用这些物品的方式并不是仅仅将之作为简单的木板油画式的材料处理,也就是说,并不是将这些物品涂满了颜料,使之成为一幅油画作品纯物质材料意义上的衬板。反之,张林海在使用这些材料的过程中,首先是通过清理、打磨,使物品自身的物质性自然属性显现出来,进而在材料的自然属性的基础上,将它的文化属性历史属性显现出来。也就是说,材料在构建这个系列作品的意义内涵过程中,是充当了一个重要的意义载体。所以,从这个角度而言,《木板》系列和《木盘》系列并不能称之为纯粹的油画作品,我们视它为综合绘画或绘画装置或许更为准确。而这个过程,一方面是与张林海的版画专业的教育背景和经验源头有关,在打磨材料的过程中,显现的不仅仅是材料自身所隐藏的文化和历史,同时也显现了艺术家自身的建立在手工经验基础上的历史和背景。

 

 

根据这些经过随机打磨处理的材料最终所呈现出来的表面形式和隐秘的文化历史信息,张林海再将一些通过历史照片得到的信息叠加在这其上,使之形成另一种更为复杂并散发着多层面的历史文化信息的视觉文物。至此,张林海经由个人的离奇身世和神秘的家族命运的历史追问,终于找到了一个视觉化的文化突破口。

 

 

这个时期的创作中,还有一些作品是张林海根据他在家乡的土地上行走过程中,随手得到的一些已经废弃了的剧场、礼堂和戏台的图像资料,在经过主观化的绘画媒介转换,其目的也是通过这些曾经被意识形态化和地域历史化之后的文化载体,将个人的命运和群体的历史共同放置在这些被剧场化了之后的场景中,使这些曾经作为地域性的文化中心和权力中心的意识形态化建筑(这使我想起了在陈忠实的《白鹿原》中,很多决定人物命运和重大历史转折的场景都是发生在戏台和祠堂中),因为它们破败和凋零的现状,去折射出在历史政治命运中个体的脆弱和孤独。

 

 

结语

 

 

张林海通过其自身传奇性的身世经历和家族命运的跌宕起伏,将个人和家族的命运和遭遇放置在一个宏大的时代性的社会历史背景中去思考和判断,进而使其作品在对于封闭保守的文化传统和独裁专制的政治社会现状的反思和批判,达到了一个深刻的思想高度。这是中国当代艺术自上个世纪八十年代以来一个共同的精神原点和价值取向。同时,也因为张林海的这种社会性思考和批判的心理基础,是基于其个人和家族真实的社会遭遇和身心磨难,所以张林海的个人创作在中国当代艺术的宏大叙事中,又有其不可替代的独立价值。

 

 

在张林海近三十年的艺术创作中,他通过对于自身的身世经历和家族命运的真实感受,以及对于以他的童年成长环境为代表的中国广大农村真实的社会、文化的现状和历史性分析,并以此为原型,揭示出了在中国近现代历史中,民族的共同命运转折和精神磨难,进而再通过这种民族命运的这种炼狱式的现实场景的魔幻现实主义式的剧场化呈现,完成了他对于中国文化历史传统中的愚昧和保守,以及现实社会政治中的独裁和专制的批判。同时,对于那些处于时代浩劫和历史轮回中备受磨难和煎熬的芸芸众生,张林海在同情、悲悯,进而感同身受的同时,对于其与生俱来的集体无意识式的盲目、顺从、愚昧,进而成为专制帮凶的人性之恶,也展开了深入的揭示和批判。

 

 

在张林海的艺术创作过程中,通过心理原型、社会原型、文化原型、历史原型几个重要的创作阶段递进式的转变,也完成了他自身的创作方式从个人身世经历出发,进而从社会政治的源头、文明模式的源头、历史文化的源头中,去不断探求、追寻、质疑这种人类的终极命运和生存悖论。从这个过程中,在使自己的社会文化思考不断深入的同时,也是他的艺术创作手段和形式演变越来越丰富并具有其不可替代的独立价值。

 

 

20179月至20188月 写于北京

 

 

(吴鸿:艺术批评家、策展人,艺术国际主编,宋庄当代艺术文献馆执行馆长,吉林艺术学院客座教授、研究生导师)

 

 

备注:

 

就在本文写作完成不久,我在腾讯新闻上看到一则消息,其中提到:“19591963年,江南地区大饥荒,幼子被父母遗弃,被福利院收养,又被政府分批派送,送到相对殷实的北方家庭。铁路线向北延伸的地区,内蒙古、山东、河南、陕西、河北,都留下了孩子们抛别家乡的哭声。多年后人们估算,这些被送养的孩子至少有5万人,被统称为‘江南弃儿’或‘国家的孩子’。(《5万江南饥荒弃儿被送北方收养 56年后仍在绝望寻亲》原刊发自《新京报》https://new.qq.com/cmsn/20160801/20160801002549

 

这段时间,官方称之为三年自然灾害,是“天灾”还是人祸,想必后世自有正确判断。不幸的是,张林海自他一出生,还懵懂世事的时候,他的人生命运就已经和那个时代及社会紧密地联系在一起了。 

 

 

Theater of the Soul:

The Individual, Society, Time, and Historical Metaphors in Zhang Linhai’s Work

Wu Hong

When Manfred Schoeni described his chance meeting with Zhang Linhai many years after it happened, he used the term “coincidence,” which seems to suggest that many years before, another coincidence served as the beginning of Zhang’s legendary life story. Several years later, when Manfred’s daughter Nicole Schoeni recalled that her father and Zhang’s foster father died within a week of one another, she sighed and used the phrase “odd similarity.” Behind the bizarre, strange, and complicated twists of fate created by countless odd coincidences and seemingly chance life junctures, there lies the dark, mysterious hand of inevitability that manipulates, spins, and plays with one orphaned soul after another.

 

 

I was invited to write this essay more than a year ago, but I hadn’t started to write until now; this is really the only time that this has happened to me. The reason I had so much writer’s block was that, while I researched Zhang Linhai’s artistic and creative experiences, I felt that I was being pulled into a massive black hole of fate, unable to free myself. It was perverse, savage, and cold-blooded, with an immense centripetal force; in this mental whirlwind, I seemed to have lost my ability to analyze rationally, and I felt unable to tell the real from the illusory. I fully realize that I cannot avoid Zhang’s personal experience in attempting to engage with and interpret his works. However, approaching the vortex of his life may have caused me to understand his works as mere illustrations of his legendary life. Helpless, I decided to wait, attempting to gain some distance from this immense psychological black hole and to allow time to dissolve this temporary loss of words that stemmed from my amazement at his life story.

 

 

Through the filter of time, I discovered an important trait of Zhang Linhai’s creative process: he always endeavors to establish a symbolic relationship between his personal emotional history, his times, and the society in which he lives. This subjective motivation has become increasingly intense in his later work. Another primary trait of his creative process overall is that, at different creative phases, he has established corresponding archetypes, whether psychological, social, or cultural. Through these archetypes, he cautiously combines the emotions, memories, and value judgments hidden within him and the analysis and criticism of society, history, and culture from a larger perspective, which is a key reason why Zhang was able to establish his own distinctive figural identifiers within the varied landscape of Chinese contemporary art. The third key trait of Zhang’s work is that the logic of his visual images has a clear theatricality. He is always working to construct a “real” spatial structure in his works, which is why he diligently uses realist painting methods that do not seem entirely contemporary. However, after these seemingly real visual elements are carefully combined together, everything in the image appears preposterous and does not conform to the logic of “normal” visual experience. Of course, we could simply categorize Zhang Linhai’s creative style as surrealism, an artistic idea that has been applied rather broadly. Surrealism, a way of expressing subconscious or dream-like coincidences, obviously cannot bear Zhang’s heavy personal experiences. The visual logic of his work begins with specific and real details and unfolds an unconventionality that runs contrary to rational experience, before finally arriving at a deeper psychological truth. After considering a range of cultural theories, only the term “magical realism” from literature essentially describes the artistic traits of Zhang’s work. In literary theory, the general definition of magical realism is the use of magical elements to make reality disappear, revealing to the reader a circular world in which subjective and objective time fuse, and space for objective things loses its boundaries. With magical realism as a reference point, we return to theatricality, giving this union of reality and fiction in Zhang’s work a reasonable theoretical foundation.

 

 

The three overall characteristics of Zhang Linhai’s creative process reflect the independent direction and unified process of his work. Specifically, the logic of Zhang’s body of work draws on magical realist methods that combine the fiction of visual (spatial) logic with the reality of psychological structures; by building a series of psychological, social, cultural, and historical archetypes, he grafts the secret fate of an individual and his own emotional history onto the vast and fluid logic of the collective fate of modern Chinese society. The vicissitudes of fate for him and his family are akin to plot development in modern Chinese society’s purgatorial “theater of the soul,” which has fed the doubt, struggle, and resentment in Zhang’s artistic style. In the end, because a solution cannot be found, he can only doubt psychological development, and through these doubts, he questions his fate and challenges the overall fate of modern Chinese society and the current collective unconscious.

 

 

Based on the concept of archetypes raised previously, we will attempt to follow the temporal evolution of Zhang Linhai’s creative process, which can be traced through psychological archetypes, social archetypes, cultural archetypes, and historical archetypes, as ways of engaging with the emotional content of Zhang’s different creative phases.

 

 

Psychological Archetypes

 

 

Psychological archetypes were the focus of Zhang Linhai’s work in his first period of artistic creation, laying an important foundation for the cultivation of his personal traits and value judgments. However, these psychological archetypes have meaning for his value judgments in more than one phase of his career; they also constitute an important psychological foundation for Zhang’s entire creative process.

 

 

There are two important traits to Zhang Linhai’s psychological archetypes: one is terror, anger, and doubt in the face of the vicissitudes of a mysterious, unknown fate, and the other is a deep sense of loneliness. The loneliness comes from the extreme pain of his life experience, imprinted on his heart so deeply that he has no idea where it begins and ends, and from the fact that the basis for this pain is so personal and so extraordinary that no one can possibly empathize with it. As Gabriel García Márquez said when he accepted the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, “Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude.”

 

[1] Márquez tries to say that explaining our reality by others’ standards will only make us more estranged, more confined, and more alone.

 

Fate uses chance as a pretext for savagely baring its teeth at helpless individuals, but what’s more dangerous is history’s merciless and repeated destruction of these individuals. The deep sense of loneliness and the clear questioning attitude that spring from Zhang Linhai’s personal experiences have broad value as a critique of society and the times.

 

 

The world created in Zhang Linhai’s work from this period is a microcosm of society. He takes a small village in the Taihang Mountains as an archetype; through the depiction of its chaotic, confusing “reality,” he reflects its closed, impoverished, ignorant, and backward social environment. It has immense symbolic meaning as a metaphor for the fanaticism and insanity of autocracy caused by the distortion and denigration of humanity in the history of modern Chinese society. The loss of humanity and the death of individuality in a collective unconscious shaped by mainstream politics and traditional mindsets is also reflected in the archetypes that Zhang chooses to criticize in his work.

 

 

In the course of writing this commentary on Zhang Linhai’s art, I did some research online about She County in Hebei, which is where Zhang grew up and an important condensed archetype in his work. In these materials, I was surprised to discover an unbelievable phenomenon. In some photographs of local customs taken by travel photography enthusiasts in She County around the year 2000, there were amazingly a fair number of old women still living with bound feet. Even in the late 1980s and early 1990s, you could only find a few scattered “living fossils” of China’s foot binding culture in a few old towns and wealthier rural areas; they were probably the last group of living women with bound feet. In the year 2000, She County still had women with bound feet; why did this culture of foot binding persist, particularly in an area with nothing but rugged mountain roads?

 

 

Even earlier than this, I found pictures taken by art workers who came to record the reality of She County, and I discovered another local phenomenon that I found even more astonishing. Even in the late 1970s, there were still a lot of men in the area who retained the bob hairstyle from the late Qing and early Republican periods. This discovery made me feel as if time and space had been turned on their heads. This bob hairstyle only emerged in this particular historical period around the turn of the twentieth century, and this hairstyle was actually a very visible and typical reflection of the historically significant changes that were taking place at that time. It highlighted a conflict that existed within society. In order to comply with the new Republican government’s order to cut men’s queues, some men cut their queues into something of a short bob (qi’erfa). There were also men with half-shaved heads (yinyangtou), who had purposely retained hair at the back of their heads in memory of the old Qing monarchy. At a time when retaining or cutting one’s queue had greater political significance, half-shaved heads and bob hairstyles actually subtly expressed a conservative, unchanged political stance. In later literature and art, these half-shaved heads or bob hairstyles were often given to characters who supported the Qing dynasty. However, in historical photographs dated as late as the 1970s, there were still people in She County who had carefully retained the hairstyle of die-hard Qing supporters, and it truly defies explanation how this survived the fanatical atmosphere of the Cultural Revolution.

 

 

Here, I wanted to share some of the information on She County that I found on Baidu Baike: “She County is located in the eastern hills of the Taihang Mountains in southwestern Hebei Province. Located where the three ancient states of Jin, Ji, and Yu met, She County is administered by Hebei Province.” “She County is an old revolutionary area. More than 110 party and government administrative units, including the Jinjiyu Border Government, the 129th Division Headquarters of the Eighth Route Army, Northern China Xinhua Broadcasting, and the Xinhua Daily, were all located here for long periods of time. She County produced two marshals and more than 360 generals, so it is often called ‘a cradle of China’s second-generation leaders.’” “In 1937, the Eighth Route Army entered She County and set up an anti-Japanese base area. In 1940, the She County Japanese Resistance Government was founded. From 1941 to 1945, the county belonged to the Border Government and the fourth, fifth, and sixth regions of the Taihang Administration.”

 

 

These are two highly contradictory sets of information: on the one hand, we have the image of revolutionary, progressive culture in an “old revolutionary area” from our history books, while on the other hand, we have the dregs of the feudal system such as binding women’s feet and the bob hairstyles that once symbolized a cut queue. How did all of this coexist for so long in this area? What is the intrinsic regional or cultural logic and social psychology behind this? In order to write this article, I re-read the archetypal story behind the film Old Well, namely Zheng Yi’s novel of the same name, as well as Chen Zhongshi’s novel White Deer Plain. Zhang Linhai has often called his hometown, “Really ‘left!’” and “Extremely poor and ignorant.” It was in those deep psychological experiences and ideas and those seemingly chaotic, contradictory social and cultural phenomena that I found a rational foundation for the area’s regional culture and social psychology. Because it is geographically cut off and has a difficult natural environment, the area has stubbornly retained certain cultural and historical “traditions.” Poverty, closed-mindedness, conservatism, and ignorance have caused this stubborn regional social psychology. From this, we can see that the stubbornness and entrenchment of traditions and the fervor and radicalism of revolution were opposites strangely united in this specific place. From this perspective, the scenes in Zhang Linhai’s work are much like the town of Macondo in Márquez’s work; they have deep foundations in reality, as well as broad symbolic meaning.

 

 

The course of Zhang Linhai’s life originally had no connection to this place, and why he was pulled there by a mysterious thread represents fate’s first cruel, cold joke on him. Even today, the only clue that Zhang has to his origins is a photograph taken somewhere in Shanghai. Why did his foster father, a farmer in the hinterland of the Taihang Mountains, think to adopt a child from distant Shanghai who had absolutely no connection to the area? In the destructive revolutions of modern Chinese history, the families of both of his foster parents were sucked into the tumult of the times, smashing their lives and those of their families to pieces and scattering them far and wide. They eked out a sad existence between the cogs of revolution, and the fact that they had tenaciously survived was the only silver lining to their grey lives. However, it was precisely this instinct to perpetuate life or the family that passively and prematurely linked Zhang Linhai’s life to those tempestuous times, such that he became a victim of this politically cursed family. From a more detailed understanding of the family histories of Zhang’s foster parents, we learn that his foster parents’ marriage was propelled by their shared status as targets of struggle meetings and that this shared fate also prompted his foster father to think of adopting a son from distant Shanghai; they even seemed to be prepared for Zhang’s mysterious life experience, waiting for this encounter with fate that would connect him to his strange future. This story is full of countless chance occurrences that make up a logical chain. It is unclear which if these links would have to be missing for the entire chain of logic to collapse, making it vanish in a moment. However, these faint logical links serve as slight foreshadowing; the chance circumstances of people’s lives join together to constitute the certainty of an era. After Zhang Linhai came to understand the world, and even after he became an adult—when he thought that he could fight that certainty—the curse of fate brought its intense and mysterious power to bear, firmly controlling him with its hand. From the information that can be glimpsed between the part in the cold curtain separating us from this mysterious god of fate, we can clearly distinguish revolution, struggle, class, status, systems, and institutions…

 

 

As fate made its arrangements, Zhang Linhai was like an actor waiting to step on stage; he was led by his foster father onto a stage that had already been built. As the gongs and drums were being beaten ever more intensely and the audience waited for the usual characters (male, female, painted, clownish, and comedic) to enter the theater, the god of fate no longer permitted him to have his own ideas, and had him play a set role according to a script that had already been written. The set circumstance for this script of a life were that, after Zhang entered this set role, his foster parents were deemed landlords and counter-revolutionaries because of their family class status. Because his parents were by turns subject to intimidation and struggle meetings, they could not take care of their family. The delayed treatment of a viral cold in four-year-old Zhang meant that it developed into five critical illnesses, which eventually led to necrosis in his right hip joint and a serious physical disability in his legs. While he was recovering, Zhang stood by his mother’s bed after she had just been bitterly denounced and was hanging by a thread, and he witnessed his father being struggled against and paraded through the streets. Later, he was barred from taking the college entrance examinations, and after graduating, he was not assigned a job due to his disability. A series of attacks from reality and fate warped Zhang’s personality and made him sensitive and pessimistic, but these events also helped him to discover and consider some essential certainties about society, politics, history, and culture beneath the perverse, changeable surface of fate.

 

 

Zhang Linhai’s artistic creation was a way for him to express these deeper thoughts about life, society, and history.

 

 

A peculiar life path, the plans laid by fate, and a specific social environment shaped Zhang Linhai’s particular childhood experience. This distinctive childhood experience determined his basic archetypes, thereby shaping his way of thinking about society and the world, as well as his observational perspectives and value judgments. Zhang’s artistic path was founded on his childhood experience, and was shaped by his fate, life experiences, and social environments. From here, we can delve into the multi-layered consideration and expression of society, politics, and culture in modern China.

 

 

When Zhang Linhai was in his second year of university, from 1988 to 1989, he created Notes of Heaven, Notes of Earth, and Notes of Man, which draws from Zhuangzi’s The Adjustment of Controversies. “You may have heard the notes of Man, but have not heard those of Earth; you may have heard the notes of Earth, but have not heard those of Heaven.”

 

[2] Zhang drew on the literal meaning of Notes of Heaven, Notes of Earth, and Notes of Man to simply discuss the relationships between all living things, society, and fate. This was the beginning of independent artistic creation for him, and it can also be seen as a motif in all of his later work. The closed spaces comprised of layers of stone buildings and walls in these images have intense psychological suggestions, cultural symbolism, and social implications. In these depressing, quiet, still, and closed environments, sometimes there is not a soul to be found and the works are pervaded with a deathly silence. In other pieces, there is row after row, column after column of bald figures with similar expressions and similar clothing, floating in the space like wandering ghosts. Here, due to the stone walls, the bald figures create a formal isomorphic relationship, seeming to stand for deeply-rooted bad traits such as ignorance, conservatism, stubbornness, and apathy. For Zhang personally, this scene had a foundation in real life. He might believe that this is a truthful representation of real life in his hometown, but as Márquez pointed out, “Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude.”[3] In fact, a solitude that other people were unable to understand followed Zhang in his life, and it became a spiritual quality that permeated his entire creative process. If we return to the backdrop against which this series was produced, it was precisely the period in the 1980s when the avant-garde literary phenomenon of Roots Literature was popular. Through the excavation of and reflection on traditional ideas and cultural psychologies, Roots Literature symbolized and criticized the rampant political autocracy and collective ignorance that had existed since the Cultural Revolution. Looking at it this way, this series is typical of the desire to seek one’s cultural roots that arose at that time. I have been thinking, if Zhang had liked making social connections to the art world, like some of the malcontents of that era, this body of work and his later Notes of Heaven and Notes of Earth would have been among the important works of the ’85 New Wave. If this had happened, the later course of Zhang Linhai’s life would have been entirely different. However, there are no “what-ifs” in history, and fate had long planned that Zhang would continue to be tormented by life.

 

There are a few things that I particularly want to highlight. First, the bald figures in the images come from the reality of water shortages during a drought in Zhang Linhai’s village. In order to conserve water, the majority of the men and children shaved their heads to save the water they would have needed to wash their hair. Second, in contrast to his good friend Fang Lijun’s classic use of a bald figure to mock and deconstruct mainstream politics and culture, Zhang uses bald figures in his paintings, particularly repeated bald figures, as metaphors for ignorance, numbness, and conformity, as well as the loss of individuality and the death of individual values in an autocratic and collectivist political and cultural setting. Third, the repeated bald figures and the ways they are arranged in the pictorial space hide reality with magic, giving viewers a circular world in which subjective and objective time fuse, and space for objective things loses its boundaries, which are a few of the intensely magical realist qualities in Zhang Linhai’s work. Fourth, the representation of the reality of his hometown is underpinned by a theatrical visual and psychological effect. As a symbolic language of artistic form, it serves as a metaphor for the stubbornness and entrenchment of traditions and the fervor and radicalism of revolution that I had mentioned previously. At the same time, he uses its symbolic meaning as a psychological archetype, which he extends into the excavation and criticism of the entire nation’s traditional mindset and cultural psychology. These elements were strengthened and highlighted in his slightly later Notes of Earth series and informed the typical symbols and basic compositions in Zhang’s subsequent artwork.

 

 

In his 1988 lithograph series Notes of Heaven, two important figural details must be emphasized. One is the slender mountain road that appears in one of the works, linking the distant horizon line and the child with a perplexed expression in the foreground. This seems to be a metaphor for Zhang Linhai’s mysterious origins and extraordinary life experience. It suggests Zhang’s future path out of the depths of the mountains, while also serving as a metaphor for the connection to a distant place decreed by fate. In Zhang’s later work, this mysterious thread of fate is scratched into the horizon with curving rows of repeated bald children. The other important detail, a group of bald men walking into a dim and oppressive old house, appear in another work in the same series. Here, the imagery of these old houses suggests a monotonous and repressive social environment, while also hinting at the artist’s physical disability. Zhang cannot escape the idea that the environment in which he lived as a child is like his disabled body, and he is always struggling to free himself from a sick body that has brought him endless suffering, but in the end, he can only move ever further into the depths of the pain that it has created. Heavy, broken, oppressive, and monotonous stone walls and stone houses stand for an extremely autocratic social environment, while also forming an isomorphic relationship with his disabled body. The isomorphic metaphor of dilapidated houses → disabled bodies → diseased society not only repeatedly appears in his works, but it also forms conceptual relationships with other forms, such as flying bodies. In an essay, Nicole Schoeni once wrote that Zhang Linhai works to present the fragility and struggle in human memory on both the physical and psychological levels, which generally supports my point.

 

 

The woodcut series Notes of Earth similarly depicts a closed, repressive space with stone walls and stone houses. However, in contrast to the tortuously curved structures in his previous works, the lines in these woodcut prints are stiff and straight. The spaces he forms with these monotonous, straight lines have some of the rough, despotic air of Giorgio de Chirico’s Futurism. This totalitarian spirit later developed into grafting buildings in the typical totalitarian style onto those stone houses, in order to directly express the artist’s critical attitude toward authoritarianism and collectivist politics, culture, and history. Of course, in this creative period, all of this is just a psychological archetype waiting to be developed and interpreted.

 

 

The Buddha’s Voice series of woodcut prints, which won the silver medal at the China Youth Printmaking Exhibition, fully reflects Zhang Linhai’s abilities and techniques as a printmaker. In this series, he simply uses the exterior forms of Buddha statues to stress humanity’s confusion and struggle when faced with a future path subject to the mysterious manipulations of fate. I have the feeling that this set of woodcuts, with its agile cutting and delicate sensibility, were plainly an externalization of Zhang’s spiritual core as a southerner.

 

 

I have carefully analyzed these series, from a period when it seemed that Zhang had not yet begun making “proper” work, for several reasons. First, his psychological archetype, which is an artist’s most important emotional foundation, was basically established during this period. This resulted in the formation of his critical spirit and attitude toward society, culture, and history. Second, a series of stylistic forms and formal symbols that permeated Zhang’s later work emerged almost fully mature in this creative period. Understanding the meaning of his imagery and the logic of his style in this period is critically important for our analysis and interpretation of his later work.

 

 

In 1995, Zhang Linhai formally shifted toward the use of oil painting as his creative method. Compared to the mediums of drawing or printmaking that he had used previously, oil painting could express finer figural details, but more importantly, it could employ color to convey spirit more directly.

 

 

Statement is the first group of oil paintings available to us, and figural characteristics emerged that had never appeared in his previous works: dense concentrations of bald heads. In his later pieces, this composition of dots so dense it makes one’s heart flutter is transformed into red sorghum as far as the eye can see, or red pebbles covering dry riverbeds, or a red sea that covers the world. In Paradise (2003), this dense composition finally becomes a sea of suffocating red flags. The work is a tightly logical secret code that someone has carefully formulated, but the artist has a deep fear that no one will guess the answer, so he cannot help but give it away. The red bald heads → red sorghum fields → red dry riverbeds → red seas (flags) constitute another combination of imagery with isomorphic meaning.

 

 

Of course, in 1992, before he made Statement, Zhang Linhai had his last direct confrontation with fate. After he was repeatedly turned down for jobs due to his physical condition, he attempted to have another surgery performed on his right leg to restore more function, so that he could engage with a “normal” urban social environment. However, the cruelty and perversity of fate defeated him once again, and his disability became more serious after the surgery. He became exceedingly frail due to this failed attempt. This left him bedridden for much of the next few years, and he became very pessimistic, dejected, distracted, and unfocused. Statement series was created amidst these physical and mental circumstances.

 

 

His most prolific period was the decade from 1999, after he had recovered his health a bit, to 2008. He was like someone who had lost the ability to speak for many years; once he recovered his powers of speech, he was anxious to express the pent-up resentment that had been building in his heart.

 

 

His basic compositional techniques from this period redeveloped the previous isomorphic imagery of dilapidated houses → disabled bodies → diseased society into typical totalitarian architectural forms, thereby creating the following progressive relationship: dilapidated houses → disabled bodies → diseased society → typical totalitarian architecture. Second, red bald heads → red sorghum fields → red dry riverbeds → red seas (flags) is another such isomorphic visual relationship. These two groups of concepts can be paired in diverse ways to create the formally diverse yet inherently connected compositions in Zhang Linhai’s work. Except for a small number of works with several sluggish clouds on a horizon where the air seems so thin we might be in a vacuum, he depicts the sky in the majority of the works as roiling with black clouds or clouds stagnating in the air against a gloomy and oppressive horizon. This subjective setting of the scene is rich in psychological suggestion. When looking at Zhang’s work, viewers can always visually sense the restlessness and unease of an impending storm.  

 

 

In these magical realist scenes comprised of subjective imagery, Zhang Linhai has always devoted himself to revealing, criticizing, and questioning the social haze created by the society, politics, and culture of autocracy since the Cultural Revolution, as well as the ignorance, indifference, and subservience of people under this social, political, and cultural repression. More importantly, Zhang’s doubts and critiques were not just directed at the Cultural Revolution itself; this deep reflection can be traced back to critiques of autocratic cultural traditions in China’s history. In contrast to the symbolic and conceptual criticisms of the Cultural Revolution in Chinese contemporary art since the 1980s, Zhang Linhai’s doubts and criticisms have always depended solely on his personal experience and fate, which is also to say that as one of many living things, he (the Self) has always been situated within these magical realist scenes.

 

 

This Self may be jumping or flying in midair or arranged in repeated zigzags or arcs on the horizon. This combination of an individual’s fate and the vicissitudes of a period in society is the most moving thing about Zhang Linhai’s work.

 

 

In fact, the works he made in the near decade from 1999 to 2008 are extremely mixed from a thematic perspective. Compositional methods based on the imagery of psychological archetypes were even extended into the primarily figural Purple, Red, and Negative series, but Paradise, Herd, Crossing, and other works already reflected Zhang’s social archetypes.

 

 

Social Archetypes

 

 

The differences between the compositional methods in Zhang’s psychological archetype and social archetype works are not entirely obvious. More often, there is some of the psychological in the social and some of the social in the psychological. Purely for the purposes of this analysis, we will divide them into separate categories.

 

 

In his earlier The Sun is Shining Brightly, Zhang Linhai had consciously situated these considerations of individual fate based on his childhood experience within the context of broader social issues, in the hopes that it would give the doubts and critiques in his work greater depth and breadth.

 

 

In Herd, Paradise, and Crossing series, Zhang Linhai tries to reduce the intervention of his personal experience and instead expresses more abstract thoughts about society and culture. He even pulled back on the direct political criticism, and he more often approached his works from a broader human perspective to reveal and criticize the fragility and loneliness hiding deep within human nature. In The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, Gustave Le Bon wrote that, once in a group, people’s intelligence drops markedly, and in order to receive the approval of others, the individual is willing to forsake right and wrong, trading intelligence for a sense of belonging that makes one feel secure.

 

 

Humanity is rooted in the fragility and loneliness that lies at the depths of human nature, and in order to find a sense of security and belonging in a group, we often abandon individual independence and judgment, thereby becoming slaves or sheep to powerful autocrats. In the process of resisting old authority, new authorities and powers emerge, and people prostrate themselves before this new power. In this series, Zhang Linhai wants to reveal this vicious cycle that lies within humanity’s social history.

 

 

Zhang’s social and psychological archetypes actually reflect and verify one another. We can even imagine that red group detaining Zhang’s father, as they shout and crowd down the street. Aren’t they also trading intelligence for a sense of belonging that makes them feel secure?

 

 

His gallerist and benefactor Manfred Schoeni and his foster father passed away the same week, which prompted Zhang Linhai to consider the ultimate value of life. It was against this backdrop that he created Evening Bell, which incisively represents the final paradox of the meaning of human life.

 

 

Terrified, a massive work created in 2008, extends these themes while also expanding Zhang’s critical perspective to include the paradoxes within the development of human society and civilization. Do humans really live for themselves, or do they live for civilization? When humans wage war and kill one another because of the narrowness of civilization, the Self hovering over the scene like an angel cannot understand it under any circumstances.

 

 

Setting Sun series, painted from 2009 to 2010, can be seen as an important transformation, in which Zhang Linhai attempts to bid farewell to his childhood experiences once and for all. On the one hand, this series extends his previous themes rooted in his life experience, expressing his struggles and confusion about the transition from rural to urban life, but it also presages the emergence of another theme: cultural archetypes.

 

 

Cultural Archetypes

 

 

Zhang’s cultural archetype phase is simply represented by his Sand Table series, which he worked on from 2011 to 2013. In this period, Zhang Linhai’s style underwent a few fundamental transformations. First, he no longer relies on the directness of individual experience, and he uses the indirect experience of later knowledge, reason, and analysis as a foundation to expand the perspective of his observations and ideas related to the criticism of humanity’s models of civilization and categories of culture. Second, by filtering personal feelings and emotions through a rational methodology, he created a deeper, controllable foundation for a psychological archetype. Here, we must look back to a previous phase of his work; in that era, an intensely personal, emotional quality is the part of Zhang Linhai’s work that most directly moves the viewer, but the uncontrollable nature of his outsized personality and immense clarity leads directly to the extremely mixed and emotional tenor of his works from this period. We can imagine Zhang Linhai’s creative state at that time: before a theme had fully deepened into sustained rationality, another, more intense emotional element appeared, and it was so intense that if he did not express it, he would not be able to do anything else. In this creative phase, rationality controls perception and sustained deep thinking replaces emotional fluctuations. Third, based on the two traits I have just discussed, the compositional methods and formal handling in Zhang Linhai’s Sand Table reflects a more mature rationale.

 

 

The title of this series comes from sand table models in commercial real estate. In the sales strategies of modern commercial architecture, sand table models build a complete visual sample of a “classy life” in order to make the idea they are trying to sell more visible and fashionable. Zhang Linhai borrows this term to roundly criticize the primary, dominant models of civilization and categories of culture among humans at present through this series of visual models. Here, theatricality is still a unifying compositional force in Zhang Linhai’s work. His involvement in the figures shifts from his previous position as participant to a new role as rational observer and meditator. Some of these thematic threads and rational thinking in his Evening Bell (2004) and his massive work Terrified (2008) continued and deepened during this time.

 

 

In this period, Zhang Linhai presented his panoramic, comprehensive thinking about human civilization through people and animals, individuals and groups, the past and the present, the spiritual and the material, the present and the future, poverty and plenty, the dictatorship and the people, rational thought and the collective unconscious. This also suggests his deeper consideration of cultural and historical issues in his current phase of work.

 

 

Historical Archetypes

 

 

The series that Zhang has been working on since 2014 are called Wooden Planks and Wooden Plates. The bases or mediums for the works were discarded wooden planks and plates that he had long collected in second-hand markets or rural villages. These were once important items in life, but they have already lost their use value in the current mode of contemporary life. In addition, because they were everyday objects, the quality of the wood is ordinary, and the modeling is rough; these are certainly not collectibles. If they had not been carefully collected by Zhang Linhai, they may have become a spare part in a new piece of furniture or burned as fire wood. When he first began collecting these objects, Zhang Linhai did not have a clear motivation, and he did not really think that he would use these materials in his work. I think that he bonded with these imperfect old objects, which shared low-level information and were marked by life and mottled from everyday use. This bond may have been related to his own experience.

 

 

Zhang Linhai does not treat these objects as simple materials in oil paintings on wood; he does not cover these objects fully in pigment, which transforms them into a support for an oil painting in a material sense. Zhang first cleans and polishes these wooden materials so that their natural properties shine, then, based on these natural properties, their cultural and historical properties appear. The material is an important part of the process of building meaning in this series. From this perspective, Wooden Planks and Wooden Plates cannot be called pure oil paintings; it might be more accurate to call them mixed media paintings or painting installations, which may be related to Zhang’s educational background in woodcut printing and his sources of experience. In the process of polishing the wood, what manifests is not simply the culture and history hidden inside the material; it also shows the artist’s history and background built on a foundation of working with his hands.

 

 

Based on the surface forms and the hidden cultural and historical information finally revealed by these randomly polished materials, Zhang Linhai once again creates another, more complex visual artifact that contains more layers of historical and cultural information due to his layering of information obtained from historical photographs. At this point, Zhang’s historical questions about his own bizarre life and the mysterious fate of his family finally find a visible cultural breakthrough.

 

 

In this period, there are also a few works that are based on pictorial materials that Zhang Linhai happened to find related to abandoned theaters, ceremonial halls, and stages as he walked through his hometown. Through the subjective transformation of the painting medium, he uses these cultural vehicles shaped by ideology and regional history to place the fate of the individual and the history of the group within scenes that have been made theatrical. (This made me think of many passages from Chen Zhongshi’s White Deer Plain; the fates of characters were determined and major historical shifts took place on stages or in ceremonial halls.) In this way, ideologically-inflected buildings that were once centers of culture and power in the region came to reflect, because of their dilapidated and scattered states, individual fragility and loneliness within the historical and political landscape.

 

 

Conclusion

 

 

Through his legendary experience and the vicissitudes of his family’s fate, Zhang Linhai considers and judges his and his family’s encounters and fates within a larger social and historical background, which gives his works deeper intellectual reflections on and criticisms of a political and social reality of closed and conservative cultural traditions and autocracy. This has been the emotional starting point and moral compass of Chinese contemporary art since the 1980s. At the same time, the psychological foundation of Zhang Linhai’s social ideas and critiques reflects true social encounters and physical and mental hardships that he and his family experienced, so his art has irreplaceable independent value within the larger narrative of Chinese contemporary art.

 

 

In Zhang’s nearly thirty years of making art, he has engaged with his real feelings about his personal experience and his family’s fate, as well as the historical analysis and social and cultural status quo of China’s vast rural areas, as represented by his childhood environment. With this as an archetype, he reveals the collective twists of fate and spiritual torments in modern Chinese history. Through the theatrical, magical realist presentation of real scenes akin to purgatory, he criticizes the ignorance and conservatism in Chinese cultural history and traditions, as well as dictatorship and autocracy in current society and politics. At the same time, Zhang Linhai has sympathy and pity for all living things being tormented in the tumult of the times and the cycles of history, and even as he feels this sympathy, he has continued to reveal and criticize the innate blindness, submissiveness, and ignorance of the collective unconscious, and the human evil that has become the accomplice to autocracy.

 

 

 

In Zhang Linhai’s creative process, the gradual progression through the important creative stages of the psychological archetype, the social archetype, the cultural archetype, and the historical archetype has reflected creative methods rooted in personal experience. Within these sources of society and politics, of civilizations and models, and of history and culture, he is constantly exploring, pursuing, and questioning the ultimate fate and existential paradox of humanity. In this process, he continually deepens his thinking about society and culture, while the methods and forms of his art have developed rich, irreplaceable, and independent value.

 

 

Beijing, September 2017 to August 2018

 

 

 

(Wu Hong: Art critic, curator, editor-in-chief of Artintern.net, managing director of the Songzhuang Contemporary Art Archive, and a guest professor and graduate advisor at Jilin College of the Arts)

 

 

 

Note:

 

Not long after I finished this essay, I saw an item in Tencent News: “During a major famine in Jiangnan (southern China) from 1959 to 1963, children were abandoned by their parents and adopted by welfare institutions. They were then sent elsewhere in groups to thriving northern families. As the trains snaked through Inner Mongolia, Shandong, Henan, Shaanxi, and Hebei, the sounds of crying children leaving their homes followed. Many years later, it was estimated that at least 50,000 children were sent to orphanages. They were called the ‘abandoned children of Jiangnan’ or ‘children of the nation.’” (“50,000 Abandoned Children from the Jiangnan Famine Sent North for Adoption After 1956 Are Still Looking Hopelessly for Relatives” in The Beijing News, https://new.qq.com/cmsn/20160801/20160801002549)

 

 

This period was officially called the “Three Years of Natural Disaster,” and later generations will be able to correctly judge whether the disaster was natural or manmade. Unfortunately, even though he had just been born and did not yet understand the world, Zhang Linhai’s life had already been closely linked to society in those times.

 

 

 

References

 

NobelPrize.org. “Gabriel García Márquez – Nobel Lecture,” Nobel Media AB 2018. Accessed September 25, 2018.

 

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1982/marquez/lecture/.

 

Zhuangzi. The Adjustment of Controversies. Translated by James Legge. Accessed October 1, 2018.  https://ctext.org/zhuangzi/adjustment-of-controversies.

 

 

[1] “Gabriel García Márquez – Nobel Lecture,” NobelPrize.org, Nobel Media AB 2018, accessed September 25, 2018, https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1982/marquez/lecture/.

[2] Zhuangzi, The Adjustment of Controversies, trans. James Legge, accessed October 1, 2018,  https://ctext.org/zhuangzi/adjustment-of-controversies.

[3] “Gabriel García Márquez.”

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