Feng Meng Bo “My Private Museum”

冯梦波:私人博物馆

From Randian

by Colin Chinnery

translated by Gu Ling

冯梦波个展

沪申画廊

2012年9月4日-10月28日

熟悉冯梦波作品的人来看这个展览总会大吃一惊。尽管冯梦波是有意回避别人叫他“新媒体艺术家”,这也好理解,但毕竟他从1994年起的创作都主要用、或者说强迫地用计算机及其创造潜能,既是工具,也是灵感之源。另一方面,《私人博物馆》整个是场摄影展,充满了个人投入。

令冯梦波着迷投入长达两年的这座上海自然博物馆,每个角落、每个展柜、每条走廊都被艺术家精心地记录下来,甚至包括一些必须特批才可入内的未开放区域;成其录、诗、颂的杂合。是录,因其直截了当、有条不紊的拍摄方式。显然他不想让艺术理念隔在参观者与博物馆之间。是诗,因这博物馆被人忽视多年,在牺牲其教育功能的同时有了一种诗意。正如19世纪的欧洲废墟风景画背后的浪漫视角,廖落自有辛酸一把;而如今背后的是现实而非浪漫,画面的尊严历经感伤的缺失活了下来,自此辛酸变得富有诗意,诗意对现实或虚构都无动于衷。是颂,因其画面丢了纯真;这话听来多愁善感,但当它扯上过去数十年的政治变迁,也就值得一提。

展览最有力的层面之一,在于冯梦波有意遮掩或显露其艺术家的考虑。纪实风格的照片彰显了一个为中国生人所熟悉的世界,但日久经年这个世界疏远了。年久失修的落魄只构了时间的形,时间的神是这座原创博物馆的社会主义时代审美。这些照片试图保持那个时代的尊严,当时的中国在人民迫切的政治呐喊中经受着政府残酷的政治清扫。而每一件标本都是用心之作,每一件都透过积灰闪耀着专业的虔诚,但我们对那个时代的认知却与此截然相反。尽管根据动植物对人类社会的益害而定制的分类系统流露出馆藏陈列的意识形态本质,然纯真犹现。要知道当时的阶级斗争甚至波及了麻雀。*

当时博物馆集合了一批理想主义、赤子之心的工作人员,其心血之作通过照片映出整个时代的审美取向。当然也有相当数量的照片由艺术家的审美主导。这些纪实风格的照片无意于遮掩玻璃橱柜的反光,而是从审美上存心利用这些反光造就契合美术馆环境的氛围。这一技巧在其黑白系列的摄影作品中几乎有致幻的效果。如作品《熊猫一号》(2012)中,熊猫标本和竹子同博物馆窗户及其他展柜的反光叠在一起,乍看还以为是多重曝光,实则成就了连贯的画面。观者在这纪实与美感的融合中得以身临其境地感受博物馆。若这场展览只做成单纯的纪实或美学视角,那就只能单纯地代言博物馆或艺术家;然而冯梦波希望观者同时认出博物馆和艺术家。也就是说,艺术家希望同博物馆一起现身。这重同上海自然博物馆的个人情缘超越了单纯的专业或审美兴趣,也捋顺了展览的自白式标题《私人博物馆》。

尽管冯梦波此次使用的媒介来自他早前的计算机作业基础,但本次展览的个人情愫其实由来已久,始于其早期系列创作《私人照相簿》,追溯了冯家三代人。从上世纪八十年代末的一套版画,到1991-92手工纸和丝网制作的装置,再到1996年的互动式光盘影集节目,个中集合了数字化的家庭老照片和社会主义时代典型的日记本儿。也是从这张光盘开始,冯梦波登上了国际舞台。当时,他将关注从个人叙事转向数码科技,自此义无反顾。直到这场展览。似乎上海自然博物馆重燃起冯梦波追溯过去的渴望,追溯儿时探访博物馆的经验。讽刺的是,冯梦波反而对出于公共教育而实践高科技——比如把动物标本换成互动屏幕的新博物馆们没感觉。这座博物馆没整容,没发展,冯梦波仿佛在这些橱柜里找回了他儿时的纯真,它静候了30年才被重新发现。不过冯梦波还是情不自禁地在展览中耍了唯一一个技术巧槛,即一套呈三维立体效果的光栅照片。这种老式立体技术在上世纪八十年代赢得了无数孩子的惊叹,它们被印在明信片上、铅笔盒上、无处不在。或许冯梦波后来对科技创意的热爱最早就发源于此。这些立体照片调皮的怀旧气质不仅让人看到冯梦波科技怪才的一面,更为展览加入一丝幽默,不然不免太过单调。艺术家不允许展览太过严肃。毕竟,对这位创作了《阿Q(死亡之镜,Q4U之舞垫版)》的艺术家而言,他只能板这么久面孔。

*“除四害”发生在“大跃进”期间(1958-1962)。麻雀因其啄食粮食在列四害(老鼠、苍蝇、蚊子和麻雀),几遭赶尽杀绝。幸好领导人及时意识到它们也吃害虫。麻雀的濒临灭绝曾导致蝗灾泛滥,农产遭殃,“三年自然灾害”随之而来。

Feng Mengbo solo exhibition

SGA | Shanghai Gallery of Art (3rd Floor, No.3, the Bund, Shanghai 200002, China). September 4 to October 28, 2012

For those who know Feng Mengbo’s work, the experience of being confronted with this show comes almost as a shock. Although Feng understandably shuns the epithet of “new media artist,” his work has since 1994 predominantly, or rather, obsessively used the computer and its creative potential as both tool and muse. “My Private Museum,” on the other hand, is entirely a photography show, and one that has a lot of personal devotion attached to it.

The museum that is Feng Mengbo’s object of devotion is the Shanghai Natural History Museum. Feng spent two years meticulously documenting every corner of the museum, every display case and corridor, going as far as obtaining special permission to document its dusty, abandoned backrooms. The result is a strange crossbreed between documentary, poem, and eulogy. It is a documentary because of the methodical and straightforward way each photograph has been taken. It’s apparent that he didn’t want artistic ideas to come in-between the viewer and the museum. It’s a poem because the museum itself, after years or even decades of neglect, has attained a poetic quality at the expense of its educational function. Like the romantic visions behind 19th-century European ruin paintings, decay conveys a certain poignancy; but here the decay is not a romantic fiction but reality, and the dignity of the images survives through lack of any sentimentality, and hence poignancy turns towards poetic vision that is indifferent to reality or fiction. Finally, it’s a eulogy because the images convey the loss of innocence and purity; sentimental words perhaps, but important to emphasize when they relate to the past few decades of political change.

One of the most potent aspects of this exhibition is the way Feng Mengbo has revealed or concealed the artist’s hand. The documentary-styled photos reveal a world that is familiar to those who grew up in China, but one that has become alienated through time. The dilapidation only forms a second layer of time, the first layer being the socialist era aesthetics of the original museum. These works attempt to keep the dignity of that era, when China represented a mixture of brutal political purges by the government with earnest political yearnings of the people. The care and attention given to each taxidermy specimen and each display case shines through the dust to reveal a professional honesty in stark contrast with our perception of those times. Yet the ideological nature of the displays is conveyed through a system categorizing animals in terms of their benefit or harm to human society. Innocence notwithstanding, those were the days when class war could be declared on sparrows.*

* The Great Sparrow campaign during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962). Sparrows were identified as one of the Four Pests (rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows) that were harmful to people. Sparrows were targeted because they ate grain and were killed almost to the point of extinction before leaders realized they also ate crop-eating insects. The lack of sparrows allowed locusts to thrive, decimating crops and contributing to the Great Chinese Famine.

 

These photos hone in on the aesthetics of the era as conveyed by the work of the museum’s idealistic and conscientious staff. Yet the artist’s aesthetic decisions play a large part in many other photographs. While the documentary-styled photos pay no attention to the reflections in the glass cabinets, Feng’s more aesthetically considered photos deliberately utilize these reflections to create effects specific to the museum’s environment. This device is used to great effect in his black-and-white photographs where the reflections cause almost hallucinogenic images such as “Panda No. 1″ (2012), in which taxidermy pandas and bamboo are intermingled with the reflections of museum windows and other display cases to create a seemingly multi-exposed yet coherent image. This mixture of documentary and aesthetic serves to engage the viewer with the museum on different levels. If this show was made from either a purely documentary or aesthetic perspective, it would serve to identify only with the museum or the artist. Instead, Feng Mengbo wants viewers to identity with the museum and the artist. In other words, the artist wants to be identified with the museum. This reveals a personal connection with Shanghai Natural History Museum beyond that of professional or aesthetic interest, and this is the motive behind the show’s rather confessional title, “My Private Museum.”

Although the medium used by Feng Mengbo is a departure from his former computer-based work, the personal nature of this show is a long-delayed continuation of a series of early works titled My Private Album that traced the past three generations of Feng’s family. Starting with a set of engravings in the late 1980s, it was followed in 1991–92 with an installation using handmade paper and netting, and finally culminating in 1996 with an interactive CD-ROM work that combined digitized old photographs of his family mixed in with memorabilia from the socialist era. The latter work launched his career on the international stage. By then, his passion had switched from personal narratives to the potential of digital technology, and he hasn’t looked back since. That is, until this show. The Shanghai Natural History Museum seems to have rekindled in Feng the need to trace his past, in this case the experience of visiting museums as a child. It is perhaps ironic in Feng Mengbo’s case that newer museums do not function for him because of their more technological approach to public education — by replacing stuffed animals with interactive screens. This museum has received no facelift, no development, and Feng seems to have seen the innocence of his own childhood in those cabinets, having waited 30 years to be rediscovered. However, Feng just couldn’t resist including a technological twist to the show, so he created a set of lenticular prints that create a three dimensional effect for viewers. This old-fashioned 3D technology once used on everything from postcards to pencil cases that wowed kids in the 1980s might even be one of Feng’s earliest sources of inspiration for his later love for technical creativeness. The playfully nostalgic nature of these 3D works not only connect the show with Feng’s more geeky side, they add an element of humour to an otherwise straight-laced show, not allowing it to take itself too seriously. After all, for an artist that invented the dance-pad version of Quake (“a_Q,” 2002), he can only keep a straight face for so long.

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