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Disegno – Art – Design – Lebenswelt: Bi Rongrong’s Aesthetic Dialectics

 

Jiang Jun

 

In Firenze during the Renaissance, Vasari put forward a grand narrative of art history from a theological perspective (see German art historian Gerd Blum’s study), in which disegno was deemed as the “father” of the Three Graces (architecture, sculpture and painting). It was from such a theological perspective that disegno was considered the worldly rationale connected with God’s “logos” for the Creation. In other words, artists were actually paving a road to God’s vision of the Creation through disegno. Disegno is an Italian word, from which we may easily sense the intimacy between drawing and design. God followed his vision to create the world. Likewise, men also followed their own vision when creating artwork or new design. In this regard, the work of artists/designers was considered equal to the great cause of searching for God’s rationality. With the passing of time, though we now live in a secularized world, we’ve inherited the fundamentals of the Renaissance – the symbiosis among disegno, art, design and Lebenswelt.

 

When taking a closer look at Bi Rongrong’s artistic practice, we more or less would follow such a pattern. As she put it: “it is through disegno that I try to make sense of the world”. From her early works created during her study in the Netherlands, we could see that the symbiosis among disegno, art, design and Lebenswelt was always at the core of her practice and exploration.

 

Modernism has two strategically important pillars in the 20th century: Bauhaus and De Stijl. Collectively they have laid the foundation for modern aesthetics of art and design and have had a profound influence upon modern Lebenswelt. If a general conclusion is to be drawn, abstract geometric aesthetics and the following minimalism in the 1960s in the U.S. constituted the so-called “internationalism” hailed in the architectural circles. It’s not hard for us to spot that life today is teeming with geometry-shaped daily objects. Things as small as an iPhone or as big as a cube-like amalgamated dwelling all fall into this category. The geometric style originated in Europe has swept the modern world, has been integrated with the capitalist mode of production and become an aesthetic trait of the modernization movement; it advocates its universality and endeavors to break with pre-modern aesthetics (decorative style); it realizes “Le Partage du sensible” of modern life on the aesthetic level, and highlights the value of modern life – simplicity, cleanness, purity, order, rationality and self-restraint. “Function is beauty”, the famous principle advocated by Bauhaus, still resounds among designers of the present day. Decoration seems to have become the biggest sin and decadence, as stated in Lyrica cheap price Ornament und Verbrechen, an article published in 1908 by Adolf Loos, a pioneer of the theories of modernism in the 20th century; thus, geometrical aesthetics have become a moral benchmark. Modern man might be differentiated from pre-modern man as he is the “new man”, featuring rationality, self-restraint and order. Designers in the modern context attempt to create a brand new world and life through functionalist geometric design. Despite the mixed feedback and responses, their efforts have been handed down to generations for a century and laid the foundation for modern man’s aesthetic perception.

 

Today the Netherlands is widely recognized as a major hub for design and creativity. Architecture and daily objects featuring geometric and minimalist structures are everywhere. It’s safe to say that Bi Rongrong, who furthered her study of western contemporary art in the Netherlands, is inevitably under the influence of such highly abstract and geometric daily aesthetics. After all, what is contemporary art? Boris Groys, co-curator of the last session of Shanghai Biennale, mentioned in a Skype interview with me that “contemporary art is the intuitive response of artists to contemporary scenarios and living conditions.”

 

In Bi Rongrong’s work, a response to contemporary life could be clearly perceived. Take 7 Zhoushan :3 Colors presented at Shanghai World Financial Center in 2013 for example. Located at Lujiazui, a landmark financial district of Shanghai, the installation merged harmoniously with the highly modern and even futuristic buildings surrounding it. The steel framework of this piece corresponded with the steel structure of the surrounding architecture; the use of glass built an association with a glass curtain wall; and the LEDs seemed all the more intriguing under the backdrop of the neon-based texts featured on the huge billboards. The geometric shapes seemed to have been abstracted from the surrounding architectural space, becoming a grave accent in this highly sensual symphony of architecture. Ingeniously integrated with the modern and geometric architectural space, the piece itself was also highlighted due to its strong sense of abstraction. Steel, glass, colored lights and geometric forms became the musical notes to compose this spectacular symphony. Viewers couldn’t help wondering what on earth this installation at a public commercial space was. Was it art or some kind of commercial facility? What was it for? Through all these questions, the surrounding environment that had been taken for granted for long started to be perceived from new angles and even to be questioned: wasn’t endless consumerism exactly the alienation of contemporary life?

 

On the contrary, cheap generic cytotec no prescription Ideal & Useless Space, another piece of hers, presented itself as a scream within a noisy and crowded space. She made the piece in 2011. The small-commodity market on Anshun Road, Shanghai, looks just like any other market of this kind in China: messy and chaotic, with all kinds of cheap commodities piled up along the street, striking our almost numb retinas. At such a place, a cube-like space consisting of numerous overlapping triangles in green and red would definitely be seen as something heterogeneous. The spatial logic embodied within it, which was completely against the surrounding area, was what the artist would call “ideal space”. Red and green, the two contrast colors, symbolized the abstraction of all the colors contained in the market. Together they formed an abrupt scream but, interestingly, they also sympathized with the surrounding environment. The geometric compositions gave out a sense of meticulous mathematics, constituting a virtual space drifting away from the real space. Not only was it not against the spatial texture of the market, but it also revealed an intention to get rid of the fixed geometric pattern. It was thanks to such efforts that a sense of Platonic ideal could be perceived. Plato believed that geometry was supreme while physical space in the secular sense only came second. Nevertheless, I’m not suggesting Bi Rongrong believes in such kind of high-brow and westernized abstraction. Her artistic intervention managed to cast light on the conflicts between the concept of modern abstraction and China’s daily reality. Were we ready to live in the alienated modernity? Was the cubic space which looked like a dovecote an ideal or an illusion? The boundaries between order and disorder, sense and sensibility, humanity and inhumanity, health and morbidity sometimes are not that distinct. Instead, they turn out to be exchangeable within the dialectics of everyday life.

 

When modern aesthetics featuring geometry, minimalism and functionalism is criticized as surveillance and control and often associated with prison, hospital, inspection office or dovecote, China is celebrating the long-awaited arrival of modernistic aesthetics and a consumer society without realizing the sense of surveillance and discipline lurking behind it. Bi Rongrong’s work, in a sense, could be seen as a subtle reminder of such danger. Rather than intervening with a critical attitude, she resorted to her artistic sensitivity to reveal, implicitly, her attitudes toward life and the world and attempted to open up a different perspective to observe our everydayness.

 

The circle of art, design and Lebenswelt is always seen hovering behind Bi Rongrong’s work. However, since she moved back to China to continue her practice, the abstraction in her work has been interrupted by an influence from her educational experience before she studied in the Netherlands – Chinese painting. (She majored in Chinese Painting in college in China.) A tendency could be increasingly perceived in her recent drawings and watercolors: highly geometric forms are replaced by a botanical sense of growth and extension. Plato’s binary world never existed in China. Neither has China ever placed abstract geometry at a supremely metaphysical position. Like what is depicted in the diagram of Yin-Yang Fish, in Chinese culture, nature is believed to exist within the interplay of Yin and Yang. According to Tao Te Ching, “Tao gives rise to one. One gives rise to two. Two gives rise to three. Three gives rise to all things. All things carry Yin and embrace Yang by drawing qi together into harmony”. In her recent works, by highlighting the elements of ink and water, Bi Rongrong tones down the sense of geometric abstraction and enhances the everlasting interplay between Yin and Yang. In other words, by stressing the interactive relations between black and white, sparseness and density, dynamic energy is imbued into the previously static images. Her constant “back and forth” between static abstract geometry and dynamic growth/extension could be seen in both her drawings and installations. In a sense, it reminds us of her “back and forth” between China and the west. On the one hand, she seems to be obsessed with the modern aesthetic lying in abstract geometry; and on the other, she is dissatisfied, attempting to break through its restraints. Moreover, while she appreciates the sense of visual order and purity brought about by western modernity, she also questions the sense of inhumanity behind such order, as in Ideal & Useless Space. We wonder if she questions ideal and celebrates the chaos we’re faced with in reality or the other way round. Probably, this reflects exactly her mindset, which lingers between China and the west, modernity and anti-modernity.

 

If we see Bi Rongrong’s installation as some kind of conclusion of her thinking, then her drawings could be seen as the process of thinking. Like what it meant during the Renaissance, drawing is the bond between artists and the nature of the world. Though essentialism has come to an end in the contemporary context, drawing as a practice is in nature the “vita activa” of artists. As Marx put it (drawing), it was no longer static “vita contemplativa”, but dynamic changes and influence on the world. In an interview with her, Bi Rongrong talked about her understanding of drawing:

 

“The English term for ‘drawing’ actually has a broader meaning than in Chinese; it even includes color and diverse media. Moreover, in western art, drawing can not only be presented in a two-dimensional way but also be integrated with three-dimensional space. When I studied in the Netherlands, I started to pay more attention to the possibilities of drawing. Both the inside and outside of drawing became the realms intriguing me to further my practice, which led to some experimental exploration. Take my installation for example. I’d like to see them as drawings in the three-dimensional context.”

 

In her view, drawing is the means to communicate with the world. For each of her installation works, she makes drawings. Her attitudes toward life and the world are therefore reflected and recorded in the lines and colors of her drawings. Drawing plays a critical role in the circle of “disegno, art, design and Lebenswelt”. It is not only a starting point, but also a point of sublimation/sublation (re-starting point). It becomes a testing ground for Bi Rongrong’s artistic practice, a take-off leading to the future.

 

 

Translator: Wu Chenyun

Proofreader: Gary Andreasen

 

 

素描艺术设计生活世界,毕蓉蓉的美学辩证法

 

姜俊

 

在文艺复兴的佛罗伦萨,瓦萨里提出了一套神学式的艺术史大叙述(见德国艺术史家Gerd Blum的研究),其中素描(Disegno)被认为是美惠三女神(建筑、雕塑、绘画)之父。而正是在这个神学的世界观上素描被认为是和上帝之创世逻辑(Logos)相连接的世俗之理性。也就是说艺术家通过素描其实正是在铺层一条通往上帝创世之理念的康庄大道。从意大利文的Disegno我们看到了素描和设计(design)的亲缘性。上帝创世必定有自己的理念,而人在创作艺术品和设计中也首先开始于理念,因此艺术家或设计师的工作在当时被抬高为探索上帝之理性的伟大事业。时过境迁,虽然我们生活在一个世俗化了的世界,但仍然继承了那来自文艺复兴的基本观念——素描、艺术、设计同生活世界的共生关系。

 

当我们观察毕蓉蓉艺术创作的历程时多少也可以追寻到这个脉络,正如她所说的,她正是通过素描来理解世界。从她早期在荷兰留学时的作品可以看出,素描艺术设计生活世界这四者之间的共生关系就显而易见成为了她一直以来讨论和研究的核心议题。

 

众所周知现代主义运动在20世纪有两大重镇,一为包豪斯,二为荷兰的风格派。它们几乎在艺术和设计方面跨时代的奠基了现代审美,并深深的影响了现代的生活世界。如果笼统的总结,那就是抽象性的几何美学,以及由此继续发展而来的美国60年代极简主义艺术风潮。我们不难看到今天生活的周遭已经充满了几何造型的日常用品,小到iphone,大到方盒子的集合住宅。而这样的发源于欧洲的现代几何主义风格席卷已经进入到资本主义生产方式的现代世界,成为了现代化运动的美学特征。它宣誓着自己的普世性,并试图和前现代美学(装饰风格)决裂。它从美学上造就了现代生活的感性分配,并代表着现代生活的价值——简洁、干净、纯粹、秩序、理性、自我克制。包豪斯的一句名言至今回响在每个设计师的耳边“功能就是美”。装饰成为了最大的罪恶和堕落,如同20世纪现代主义理论先驱Adolf Loos1908年发表的文章标题所表现的那样《装饰和犯罪》(Ornament und Verbrechen),因此几何的美学成为了道德的标杆。现代人应该被区别于前现代,他是理性的,自我克制的,有秩序的新人类。那一代的设计师们通过功能主义的几何化设计试图创造一种完全新的世界生活。他们的努力在褒贬不一的呼声中一直流传到今天,并奠基了现代人的基本审美感受。

 

今天的荷兰给我们的印象是设计创意大国,造型几何极简的建筑、日用品无处不在,在荷兰接受西方当代艺术教育的毕蓉蓉也正被这样的高度抽象和几何风格的日常美学所感染。当代艺术是什么呢?笔者同上届上海双年展联合策展人Boris Groysskype采访中,他提到,“当代艺术是艺术家对当代情景、生活状态的直接回应。

 

在毕蓉蓉的作品中可以清晰的看出这样的一个对当代生活的回应,比如她2013年在上海环球金融中心展出的装置《7:3 colors》。我们可以看到在上海陆家嘴现代建筑风格的空间中,她的装置恰如其分的融合于整个环境。作品的钢结构框架对应着周遭建筑的钢结构,玻璃材质的运用呼应着玻璃幕墙,LED灯的设置也与周围闪烁的荧光文字的广告灯相映成趣,几何的造型似乎是对所处的建筑环境的抽象和概括,也成为敲响感知流的一个重音符。它不仅融合于现代几何的建筑环境中,由于其强烈的抽象性,反而同时又凸显出来,仿佛交响乐中的指挥在整合和提领着环境中的各种音符——钢、玻璃、五色的灯光、几何的形式。观众不禁会问,这一在公共商业环境中的装置到底是什么?是艺术,还是什么商业设施呢?它安置在这里到底有什么功能呢?从而那习以为常的周遭才得以被感知到,并得以获得质疑——无止境的消费生活难道不是一种异化吗?

 

与之相反,她的另一个作品《一个无用的理想空间》成了一个在嘈杂空间中的尖叫。作品创作于2011年,在上海安顺路小商品市场内的一个店铺中,周围的环境如同我们在任何中国小商品市场所见的那样——杂乱而无序,廉价商品堆置在路口,五颜六色地争相锤击着我们麻木的视网膜。一个由无数绿和红三角形交叉构成的立方体空间在其中成为一个异质体,并展开出一套完全和周遭相违背的空间逻辑,即艺术家秩序井然的“理想空间”。红和绿作为对比色出自于对市场环境色的抽象,它们让这个空间尖叫着,且照应着周遭。它那严谨的数学几何构成了一个略微偏移真实空间的虚拟空间。它不仅排斥着市场嘈杂的空间肌理,还试图挣脱现实给定的物理几何,正是这样的努力,柏拉图主义式的理想才得以刹那闪现。对于柏拉图来说作为理念的几何是至高无上的第一性,而世俗的物质空间是第二性的。但毕蓉蓉并非信仰那高高在上彼岸式的抽象,她的这一艺术介入让现代性抽象的信念和中国日常现实的冲突昭然若揭。我们真的已经准备好在现在性的异化中生活了吗?鸽子笼般的立方空间到底是理想,还只是个虚妄呢?秩序和混乱、理性和感性、人性和非人性、健康和病态,有时并非一墙之隔,他们在日常生活的辩证中互相转换。

 

在西方,当几何、极简、功能主义的现代美学被批判为监控,管制,并和监狱,医院,安检所,鸽子笼划上等号时,中国正欢欣鼓舞的庆祝现代主义审美和消费社会的到来,丝毫没有意识到其背后无处不在的监管和规训。毕蓉蓉的作品正是在这一语境下以一种最隐蔽的方式来提示大家,她不走当下流行的介入式的批判路线,而是含蓄地以自己敏感的方式提出对生活世界态度,并试图打开一个不同的视域去观看我们的日常。

 

毕蓉蓉的作品背后一直悬着这一问题意识——艺术设计生活世界的循环。但自从她把工作重心转移到中国后,她作品中原有的抽象开始被另一问题打破——她的教育背景中的前荷兰时期——水墨画。我们在她近期的素描和水彩作品中可以看到这一趋势,高度几何被一种植物状的生长性所替代。中国不曾有柏拉图的二元世界,也从来没有把抽象几何放到至高无上的形而上学的位置。就如同阴阳双鱼图那样,中国的自然是在阴阳的互动中生成,《道德经》谓:“道生一,一生二,二生三,三生万物。万物负阴而抱阳,冲气以为和”。毕蓉蓉也强调了她近期作品中的水墨因素,她减弱了几何抽象,加强了生长性的元素,更注重黑白之间此消彼长的互动关系,原来静态的画面变得动态,获得了势能。无论是在她的二维素描,还是空间装置中,她来回地穿梭于静态的抽象几何与动态的生长性中,就如同他往来于西方和中国那样。她一方面似乎深深的迷恋着抽象几何的现代审美,而另一方面又对其不满,试图不断冲破其对自己的束缚;她一方面欣赏西方现代性所带来的视觉秩序与纯洁感,又以一种带有括弧的“理想”去悬置它,另一方面却质疑这一秩序背后的非人性,就如从《一个无用的理想空间》中体现的那样,我们不知道她是在对理想的质疑,对现实周遭混乱的赞赏,还是相反,或者说,这正是体现了她处于两中文化间的生存心态——中西之间、现代和反现代之间。

 

如果我们把毕蓉蓉的空间装置作为一个思考的结点,那么她的素描就是思考的过程,就如同素描在文艺复兴的意涵那样,它是艺术家和世界本质的纽带。虽然本质主义在当代已经寿终正寝,但素描作为实践正是艺术家的一种vita activa(积极的生活),它如同马克思说所的不再是静态的沉思(vita contemplativa),而是动态的去改变和影响世界。对素描毕蓉蓉有自己的理解,在访谈中她提及:

 

“素描的英文为Drawing,但不同于中国语境中的素描。Drawing是一个更广的范畴,甚至可以是色彩和多元材质的,并且在西方艺术中Drawing呈现的方式也并非只是在二维的平面上,而也可以被置于三维的空间中。因此在我去荷兰学习之后,我对素描表达的可能性更为关注,画面的内部和外部都成为了我所实践的领域,由此也延伸出了一系列实践探索,比如我的空间装置,我把它理解为空间中的素描。

 

就如同之前提及的,她认为她的素描是她和世界沟通的手段,在每一个空间作品的后面都有它的素描。她对生活世界的态度都通过线条和色彩记录在素描上。素描是“素描艺术设计生活世界”这一循环辩证中关键的节点,它不仅是起点,又是对上一思考的扬弃与升华(再起点);它成为一种毕蓉蓉艺术实践的实验场,一种走向未来的蓄势待发。