当然，“drawing”（画）和“writing”（写）在不同语言体系下的理解的演变还可以探究的深得多，举一个例子来说，意大利文艺复兴早期，拉丁语“protrahere” 字面理解为从一点画出一条线 - pro trahere。最早被用于表示各种类型的设计渲染（rendering of a design），如建筑细节......几十年后，这个词汇在其建筑涵义的基础上，被引申为如今熟知的“portrait”（肖像）。而另一个拉丁语“protractiones”，曾仅仅指代一个现代西方样式的个性结构。直到那时，“design”（设计）这个词的现代意义才逐渐成为描述一个想法的构思和演变过程。但随着意大利文艺复兴时期肖像画的出现，欧洲作为一个文化中心的崛起开始了。
反映到鲁虹提出的“手稿（manuscript）”这一构思中，这词在中国当代艺术的语境下，可能已经经历了词义上的决定性转变，已不同于它的西方词源而指代一种不同的实践。笔者缺乏适当的普通话技能，但建议在英语词汇的选择上，使用另一个词语“manupict”，更贴合当下中国当代艺术家的情况。这或许还能为打破西方在词和物（Les mots et le choses）的固有模式提供一个新思路。
Song Dong`s documenta mystery: A key openly sold at the giftshop of documenta 13. In Kassel, did actually open a safe box in the artist´s studio in Beijing. What was the secret inside the box – maybe the biggest secrets of all: “nothing”. Did the unwitting visitor to the quinquennial´s gift shop realize that on acquiring the key they were becoming part of an artwork?! Did anyone come to Beijing, to knock on Song Dong´s door to open the safe box, just to witness “nothingness”?!
This is just one of the works currently on display at Triumph Gallery in Bejing that relays the background stories of many artworks via sketches, drawings, models, photographs and other forms of notation. Be it a seminal text by Sui Jianguo on his“blind portraits” accompanied by a vast documentation of the production process, or Xu Bing´s scrupulous editing process for the sculpture “Monkeys Grasp for the Moon” at the Smithsonian Institute, the exhibition assembles a wide array of materials that serves some of the most accomplished contemporary artists from China, as tools to develop and communicate art works that are in the collective memory of the Chinese art world. In an essay published in the catalog, Song Dong expresses his affection to the Chinese term for sketch, or rough drawing: 草图(Manuscript) – cao tu, literally translates into straw drawing, a rather messy and unkempt idea of image making. To him this term represents the unruliness of all creative imagination.
Curated by Lu Hong from the United Art Museum, Wuhan, the exhibition gives a deep insight into the philosophy of the artist underlying their creative forces. Conceived as “The Research Exhibition of Chinese Contemporary Art Masters´ Manuscripts”, the show, despite its clunky title, gives a well-balanced, at times even elegant perspective on the efforts behind some seemingly effortless art works. And despite some other terms used in the Chinese and English languages that could describe the kinds of notations by the artists gathered in this exhibition, the curators focuses on the term manuscript.
What are manuscripts?! – The English word is derived from two Latin words: "Manus", the hand and "scrivere", to write. "Scriptus" is that which has been written. So manuscript denotes something that has been written by hand. Taking into account also the different nature of scripture in Asia and the West, one also needs to be aware of the different aesthetic notions between writing and image making. Of course in China, writing and painting are very much related practices, whereas in the West words and images seem to be on the opposite side of a spectrum with which to denote things and objects.
But more important for an understanding of manuscripts maybe the different functions that they can fulfill. Firstly, a manuscript can be a written or depicted diary – a notation that serves the very private purpose of documenting daily goings-on and keeping them stored for later review as an externalized memory bank. Secondly manuscripts can be collections of ideas, structural designs and notes made in the process of developing or communicating an artwork. These documents are not so private in nature and might or might not be meant for later publications. Thirdly, there are manifestos from the Latin “manifestum” – that which has been made so clear that one can grasp it (with one´s hands). The word is being used by artists and social and political groups alike to state their intentions to a general audience. For young artists in history, a written manifesto often served to communicate strongly with an audience and prepare it for all the good art works yet to come.
In conclusion one could say diaries, manuscripts and manifestos have one thing in common – they are statements of intention by artists purposefully crafted to a) understand themselves (diaries and manuscripts) and, b)make themselves understood to an audience (Manuscripts and manifestos). None of them are neutral documents. So it is important to understand that manuscripts in the wider sense (including diaries, drawings and manifestos) are to be taken with a grain of salt. As much as they open the window to a better understanding of an artist’s work process, they are also traps that only show what the artist “wants to” believe himself or wants the audience to believe.
One could further simplify and say that a manuscript is a statement of intention by the artist and not the truth behind the art. Conversely, an artwork is the proof of an artist´s or artwork´s expression.
Of course one could delve even deeper into the different cultural linguistic episteme of the process that has been called drawing or writing. How deeply this may lead might become tangible through this one example. The early Italian renaissanceused the term “protrahere”, Latin for literally “drawing out a line from one point” – pro trahere. This was originally used for any kind of rendering of a design, like architectural details, etc.. A few decades later the same term, with all its architectural connotations was used for what we know now as “portrait”. Protractiones – another Latin word, were nothing but a construction of a very modern Western version of individuality. Only then the modern meaning of the word “design” could take over to describe the creative process of drafting and developing things. But with the invention of portrait painting in the Italian renaissance the rise of Europe as a cultural center began.
Apply this to the idea of “manuscript” as proposed by Lu Hong, in the context of Chinese contemporary art practice, the term might actually undergo a decisive shift in meaning, different from its Western origins and denote a different practice. This author would like, in absence of appropriate Mandarin skills, to suggest the use of an alternate term in the English language: “manupict” might actually be a more appropriate term to describe the practice of contemporary Chinese artists. This might lead to new paths beyond the Western impasse between “Les mots et le choses”, between “words and things”…
Finally, one has to applaud Li Lanfang and Triumph Gallery for this exhibition. It is a bold and encouraging choice to present this exhibition on the occasion of the gallery´s 10th anniversary. Instead of giving in to cheap self-glorification and celebrating past achievements, the gallery presents itself on the top of its game by casting a scrutinizing look onto the production side of art.
Galleries are usually the place where art is presented to the audience. The opening of an exhibition is the moment, when the artist authorizes the art and can no longer work on the pieces. A completely different experience is the studio visit where one can see (supposedly) finished works next to those still in progress. Presenting the “manupicts” of major art works at the gallery, feels more like a “studio visit for the general public”，something that never ever happens. It is this quality that makes the exhibition really exciting to see!
It is a very powerful statement by the gallery to side with the artists on its own anniversary and an acknowledgement of who creates the real value in art – it is the artists, not the market.