I’d like to thank Mr. Lu Hong and Triumph Gallery for giving me the opportunity to make this speech, entitled "The Secret of Manuscripts". Several scholars spoke before me have initiated an in-depth discussion about this exhibition and here are some of my thoughts.
First of all, some of the manuscripts in this exhibition are rarely available in my daily work, and are very helpful to the understanding of the classical works in Chinese contemporary art.
In addition, manuscripts have an inherent value and taste which is different from that of the finished works. On this occasion, I’d like to focus on how the difference came into being between the manuscripts and completed works of installation and performance art. Did the artist, when making drafts, take contingencies, environmental changes or restrictions from various regulations into account? How would he/she address such problems? These are the issues that I find very interesting.
I have also noticed "the Abolished Plan" mentioned by Sheng Wei just now, what we should be concerned about is the reason why the plan was abolished in the first place. What is the mechanism behind it, including the artistic and the social ones? Though a good exhibition with a provoking theme, "the Abolished Plan" showcased only catalogs and almost no academic forces were involved. As a result, no theoretical gains came out of it. In contrast, the strength of academic research was summoned this time, which I believe will magnify the power of this subject.
In terms of this exhibition, I think the text on manuscripts may form a topic of its own. Mr. Fu Zhongwang could be cited as an example. His"German International Sculpture Creation Camp Project" documented his feelings, understanding of concepts, and the meaning of his work very clearly. This has become a primary reference affiliated to the finished work. I’m also interested in the changing meaning of the work independent of the artist, as well as its causes and processes.
Coming back to this exhibition, I noticed a couple of details that I failed to see in the works of two artists, Song Dong and Ma Liuming. The first one is for Doing Nothing Garden, an installation by Song Dong from the Documenta in Kassel, Germany in 2012. In his draft, the junk-made mountain and neon-sign are arranged against the natural backdrop of forestry, which, in the final installation, is replaced by a palace of science and technology where many outdated historical achievements are displayed. Thus, a metaphorical echo is formed between domestic rubbish and technological rubbish, and so is a new layer of meaning for the finished work. In the draft of Stamping the Water, another work of Song Dong, writes "punch water to create splashes and make water in the water". Until I saw this draft, this detail had escaped from my notice and I had only paid attention to his act of hitting water with a stamp.
Now we come to Manuscript Part 2 painted by Ma Liuming for the 1999 Venice Biennale curated by Harald Szeemann. In this sketch, a glass pyramid is topped with more than ten people piled up on it in the shape of The Anonymous Mountain Raised by a Meter. As there is no accompanying text to explain its background and intention, we’re forced to delve into its meaning more deeply. Another work, Manuscript for Fen-Ma Liuming's Lunch records a detailed procedure of its creation. For example, he would have a smoking session sitting on the bed before and after makeup, but this act has been omitted from many art history books, neither did I notice it myself. However, the act of smoking itself is quite connotative, pointing to the unisexualized feature contained in consumerism in the 1990s as well the artist’s inner anxiety and existential predicaments.
The method of comparing texts and images I used just now is quite conventional, and anyone can make such discoveries as long as they pay attention to the minutiae. Therefore, I think that it is more important to explore more approaches to the research of manuscripts, i.e. making use of our expertise and theoretical frameworks to analyze them. For example, Mr. Lu Hong draws on psychological studies in the beginning of his preface article. In the article, Lu states that Leonardo da Vinci emphasizes the necessity to jot down any whimsy, without considering the physical accuracy, a noted characteristic of surrealism. In literature, surrealism also advocates that writers should note down what is in their mind without thinking, regardless of the rhetoric. This is very significant for future manuscript research. In my opinion, we should pay more attention to study the unconscious, subconscious notes in the manuscript, including the blotted-out and modified texts and images, which are more important than the consciously created final work.
Nonetheless, the conclusion draws from a psychological point of view remains open for discussion, nor is it our ultimate goal; after all, there’re artists who are very discreet about leaving unconscious traces in their manuscripts. Therefore, more research approaches are needed to understand the manuscript and the finished work from different angles. This is an interesting manuscript exhibition, which also makes higher demand for today’s art critics and theorists. It is a promotion for both sides.