In recent years, manuscripts have become a hot topic in the contemporary art world. But first and foremost, the manuscript used for researchhas to be distinguished from the exhibited one, and I would like to emphasize that the value of manuscripts lies in its usefulness for research. Any object can be exhibited, but the manuscript was not primarily intended for exhibitions but merely preparations for the creation, they are unfinished and immature. Today, there are so many art exhibitions, the reason why we are interested in arranging manuscript exhibition is making more research about the artists and their works, while the exhibition is not the purpose of manuscripts.
As for manuscript, what should we research on? I believe that there are three major aspects should be addressed: privacy, authenticity, and its processual nature.
In the speech I made at the seminar for “Research Exhibition of Fang Lijun’s Manuscripts” at United Art Museum, I compared manuscripts to the artist’s underwear, which is not intended to be seen by others. If so, why has the manuscript also become exhibits? This is equivalent to wearing your underwear on the outside. It’s also like publishing one’s private diary as essays or novels. There are even diary-styled novels. At this time, the privacy of the diary is lost and only the form remains. The real diary should be private. Coming from a time preceding the finalized work, the manuscript holds its charm in its privacy. It lays the secrets of artists barely. A careful study of the manuscript may lead us deeper into the artist’s inner world. There’re many works can be done.
Some artists may wonder whether they could make some manuscripts on purpose for exhibiting. If so, there is no difference from making up diaries to publish and runs counter to the true meaning of manuscripts.
Whyattention shouldbe paid to a manuscript exhibition? To a large extent, it comes from the need for authenticity, and our desire to know what kind of a person the artist is and what modifications have been made for his published work. In my point of view, only the manuscript can serve to reveal the true psychological state of an artist.
Artists and writers have a common feature: they make up stories when talking about themselves. Not long ago, I read an article by Mo Yan, who mentionedthat Yukihio Mishima, like many other writers, made up a lot of stuff about himself, and many of his remarks were deceptive. The tragedy of the problem, said Mo Yan, lies in the fact that critics and biographers always believes in the words of writers, who lies too much, especially in their self-narrative writings. In fact, the so-called oral history has also been consciously chosen and adulterated, and it’s not adequate to be regarded as crediblehistory. Therefore, in addition to their works, another important source of originality is the original manuscript, which can expose their primary motive.
Another important value of the manuscript is that it reflects the process. For artistic creation, the existence of process provides the watershed between serious and coincidental creation. If we only judge by the results, especially those of conceptual works, not much distinction can be found. But when the process is revealed, the difference is evident, because the process reflects the context of artistic creation and the improved or changed thoughts, without which, an artist cannot stand on his/her own feet. And it is in the study of the manuscript that the academic value presents itself.
However, contemporary art should be approached differently from the traditional in the research, because the evolving process may not be discernable in the creation of the improvised contemporary art. This does not mean that no such process exists. There is still a process of long-term thinking, though it does not take the form of a manuscript.
Therefore, privacy, authenticity and processual-nature should be the three main aspects in our research of manuscripts.