忠泰美術館五週年展《生生LIVES：生命、生存、生活》 The 5th Anniversary of Jut Art Museum 《LIVES: Life, Survival, Living》
- dividual inc. / 多明尼克．陳 （法國）、 遠藤拓己 （日本）
再次藝術，在瘟疫蔓延時 （Art again, in the Time of Pandemic)
Text / Lu-Lin (Jerry) Cheng (Curatorial Advisor)
Why bother art when human lives are at stake?
After ravaging the world for the past three years, the COVID-19 virus has induced the birth of the LIVES exhibition. Nipping at the heels of this artistic debut, the cunning and insidious Omicron variant has further exacerbated the severity of the pandemic. Those of us engrossed in seeking methods for human rebirth in the post-Covid imagination have redirected our sights into museums to fix our eyes upon art, an approach that is both luxurious and potentially perilous (the contradictions in these two phrases are so vivid); but to what end? What spectrums of human existence are refracted through the prism of contemporary art? What revelations and assurances are implied by art that warrant our distraction and concern?
The horrors of the bubonic plague injected an impetus for Europe to bid farewell to the Middle Ages and make strides toward Modernity. Smallpox and cholera accompanied the decline of Empires in the Americas that launched the development of European colonies. The outbreak of yellow fever staved off French forces and gave the United States an opportunity to strengthen its forces. Time and again, plagues that catalyzed drastic declines in human populations and triggered a collective panic for survival have brought immediate rapid impact on the normal operation of human societies. These disruptions have triggered rapid ruptures and unexpected turns throughout human history. The pandemic contagion preceding COVID-19 was the Spanish flu outbreak that began in January 1918, which took an estimated 50 million lives before it finally subsided in April 1920. Bookended by two traumatic world wars, that virus devastated the globe, compelling human beings to question the value of civilizations that had once been a source of pride. Under attack by an insidious virus, the fragility of life stood in even starker contrast against the absurdities of utilizing high tech for human mutual destruction through war and violent organizations. In actually, contemporary art, marked by the publication of André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, was born precisely of the luxury and peril, afforded by the confusion of derailed senses that called into question the rationality of human self-consciousness under the severe impact of the Great Plague.
A centennial re-interrogation of the meaning of lives
A century hence, the COVID-19 pandemic that began in Wuhan, China in October 2019 has now entered its third year, in duration surpassing the record held by the Spanish flu, and showing no signs of attenuation. A fourth wave of attacks led by new variants has swept across the globe, breaking through Taiwan’s long-held zero-cases line of defense. At this moment in March 2022, a series of art works painstakingly culled by two curators for the LIVES exhibition, initiate an examination of the precarious position of human existence under pandemic conditions, gazing at the modalities of life as we learn to ultimately “coexist with the virus.” Contemporary art heeds the call of the global pandemic and takes to center stage once again. This is not only timely and appropriate, but also enables us to evaluate ways in which contemporary art prompts an introspection of human culture in this opportunity created by the virus.
And so, an invitation to consult for the LIVES exhibition was irresistible. Even if I had declined, my mind would be unable to progress, mired in this entanglement. The fact of the matter is, our attendance is required in this re-contemplation of the true significance of “lives” in the midst of a pandemic of a century. A vast and profound inquiry cannot be avoided. The concision and force of the English exhibition title, LIVES, recalled for me the work of Japanese designer Tachikawa Eisuke in the aftermath of the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, where he added the word “Live!” to the red circle symbolizing the Japanese flag, and launched the “OLIVE” rescue call to action. In English, “lives” is a compound concept with various distinct equivalent expressions in Chinese which suitably deconstruct the rich connotations of “lives,” into three basic ambiguous states of human existence: survival, life, and living.
What exactly is at stake?
The words “survival,” “life,” and “living” are states of being that reflect a three-dimensional human appearance with multiple layers of disparate connotations that must be differentiated; a fraction of difference can be a world apart.
Survival concerns each breath of the fragile corporeal body. It is the prerequisite physical underpinning of life and living. It is the fear of facing the void of our origin that we avoid at all costs; it is the inescapable fate that we are “dying” with each passing day, that we are alert to only when we are helpless with illness. Surviving is on the margins of the lowest threshold of maintaining life; it is a struggle to resist being prematurely returned to nothingness, to zero.
“Life” is the imagined state of being on the other end of “survival.” In a continuously dialectical detachment, a seed becomes a majestic tree. We can sense the primordial energy intrinsic to all living organisms. Life becomes an impetus for upward growth in resistance against the downward gravitational pull toward death; it forever points to a more mature, unified, and self-actualized “1” that lies in the distant future.
Finally, “living” comprises the routine minutia and micro-fragments that exist between “0 and 1.” A day, a week, a month, or a year between “surviving” and “life” may be a repetitive cycle of normalcy, but this uneventfulness of survival diffuses the fear of a return to nothingness as something distant and vague, despite the perpetual presence of a fragile and impermanent corporeal body. Routines for living also eventually temper life’s passions, a look back on missed opportunities leads to lament for the destinies that we know await us in the future. However, “living” should not be taken for granted, because integration into daily routines nurtures all that which is worthy of cherishing and sustaining.
Viruses turn our lives (and Maslow) upside down.
在漫長抗疫中快被我們遺忘的「前疫情」日子裡，心理學者馬斯洛（Abraham Harold Maslow）樂觀主義的金字塔想像，是主導著我們如何關照lives的慣性模式：生存、生活與生命，由下而上依序堆疊，我們在資本主義生產消費、馴服肉身的忙碌現實「生活」中，暗自企盼、自我武裝、催眠自我實現意義充滿的「生命」高潮。一切安好，直到一隻渺小的肺炎病毒穿越、突破了人類一廂情願認定涇渭分明的文化／自然界限，這野性不遜的自然表徵，悄悄隱身潛入人群、打臉我們的白目無知、再度把人類破綻百出的文化，包圍在自然母體的黑漆當中，逼迫個體在社交距離的互動新規範中，成為孤立的泡泡，COVID-19至今毫無預警的突襲已奪走了將近600萬條人命。
In those pre-pandemic days, now a distant memory in our long battle against COVID-19, the optimistic “hierarchy of needs” described by psychologist Abraham Harold Maslow served as a guide for managing routines in lives: survival, living, and life, stacked in that order from the bottom up. In the bustling reality of our subjugated corporeal “lives” within capitalist production and consumption, we surreptitiously hoped, self-fortified, and self-hypnotized to realize a climactic and meaningful life. All was going well until a tiny little virus transgressed and broke through the culture/nature boundaries arbitrarily declared by human beings as incontrovertible. This untamed emissary of nature silently and stealthily infiltrated human crowds to deliver a slap in our eye-rolling ignorant faces, re-enveloping human culture with all of its imperfections back into the dark folds of nature’s matrix and forcing individual humans to become isolated bubbles in the new norm of social distancing. To-date, the covert COVID-19 attacks have taken some 6 million lives.
瘟疫毫不留情地翻轉了我們習以為常的「馬斯洛金字塔」，現在最原始底層的「生存」考量登上至高的王座全面壓倒一切商業、娛樂、教育的活動；「生活」從日常社交的毛細單元開始被迫大範圍的徹底調整；「生命」不再激發熱情，而只能被困壓在「生存」與「生活」費解的糾纏底下匍匐展開。百年前，上一次的金字塔倒轉也是拜瘟疫所賜，西班牙流感的全球瘟疫絕非偶然地同時召喚出了超現實主義的藝術力大爆發。從現在回頭看，佛洛伊德（Sigmund Freud） 與病毒的結盟，完勝了承平之際才被自我感覺良好的人們，朗朗上口的馬斯洛，潛意識的原始生存慾望，顛覆了理性生活的表面話術，看似非現實的藝術幻覺，反而足以逼近肉眼不可及的超真實、真世界。
The pandemic has ruthlessly upended the once-familiar Maslow’s pyramid. Conditions for survival, previously occupying the lowest strata, has ascended to the apex to override all commercial, entertainment, and educational activities. “Living” has been compelled to undergo a large-scale and thorough readjustment, beginning with the minutiae of daily social interactions. “Life” no longer arouses passion, and is relegated to a tentative unfurling under the incomprehensible entanglement of “survival” and “living.” A century ago, Maslow’s hierarchy was similarly overturned by an epidemic. Not coincidentally the global pandemic of the Spanish flu ignited a concurrent powerful explosion of surrealist art. In retrospect, Sigmund Freud’s alliance with the virus triumphed over Maslow, who became a household name among self-congratulatory human beings during a time of relative calm. The primal subconscious desire for survival subverted the superficial discourse of rational life. Seemingly unrealistic artistic mirages were, instead, able to approach the surrealist, actual world otherwise inaccessible to the naked eye.
A whole new battlefield for contemporary art: Information and Biotechnology
百年後在又一次的世紀瘟疫肆虐中，《生生LIVES》理所當然地匯集當代藝術登場，在二戰後資本主義的短暫榮景中，好不容易被「扶正」的馬斯洛金字塔被病毒們合力傾覆，當代藝術創作從生存肉身的物質重組以及生活脈絡的拆解再拼裝中，再次揭開了關照生命的超真實魔鏡。藝評家邁爾斯（William Myers）敏銳地指出，千禧年後歐美當紅如今傳染全球的「生物藝術」，與上世紀初的那波藝術大爆發一脈相承，可以說是「當代的超現實主義」！只是這一次受惠於百年來的科技進步帶來全新的素材，人造器官與基因工程讓物質感官的血肉之軀再度返回藝術展台，病毒迅雷不及掩耳幻化般的快速變種一再竄流，結實地反覆出重拳打破了人們「文化 vs 自然」原本根深蒂固的虛假二分，人與非人的物種邊界在當代藝術的探索中，彷彿跟病毒串通好了般，被不倦地挪移重畫，這就是《生生LIVES》讓當代藝術與疫情共舞、再次探問生命底層奧秘的歷史性。
As a matter of course, the LIVES exhibition assembles contemporary art on stage in the midst of another Plague of the Century a hundred years hence. Maslow’s hierarchy that had eventually righted itself during Capitalism’s short-lived postwar days of glory, has once again been toppled by an alliance of viruses. By reorganizing the materiality of the surviving corporeal body, and the deconstruction and reconstruction of contexts of living, contemporary art creation has once again unveiled the magical surrealist mirror of existence. Art critic William Myers astutely points out that the popularity of BioArt in the new millennium, which has since spread across the globe, is in keeping with the wave of artistic eruptions at the turn of the last century, and can be described as “a contemporary surrealism”! A century of technological progress has provided all new materials; synthetic organs and genetic engineering have returned the corporeal bodies of material organs to center stage. The lightning-fast and phantasmagoric mutations of viruses repeatedly find new channels to deliver a sucker punch that breaks open the deep-seated false dichotomy of “culture vs. nature.” In explorations of contemporary art, the boundary between human and non-human organisms have been tirelessly amended and redrawn as though in collusion with the virus. This is the historicity of LIVES, enabling a dance between contemporary art and the pandemic as it re-interrogates the mystery at the foundations of life.
收筆之際，我正在搜尋第三劑疫苗的接種站，以便加入人類集體免疫的肉身陣仗、對抗「敵方」最新升級變種的微型怪獸！不同於西班牙流感時人類只能單純依賴隔離來對抗，這次我們有了尖端實驗室裡培育、快速配置移轉到工廠裡量產的高科技武器──疫苗。當中依賴數位資訊模型的生化創新──mRNA疫苗尤其醒目，我們將核糖核酸的「信使」（messenger）注射送入人體內、委託它傳送一段攸關戰局成敗的關鍵指令。這段材料的郵件旅程據稱會在細胞核前停步，然後對我們的身體下達嚴正的要求，細胞接著將會聽令行事，生成跟自己體質相斥的刺突蛋白（像極了異形？），它們與COVID-19 病毒的特徵高度相似，因此最後會欺騙了「我們的」身體（是嗎？），以做出反制外來異物的免疫抗體。這段 mRNA 的臨時訊息據稱會在刺突蛋白生成後自動銷毀，這新生化武器的優點是在病毒新變種出現後，可以機動地快速模仿複製後，產生新指令，在這場人菌螺旋上升的軍備競賽中，開發出最新型的「人體」投入戰場。
As this essay comes to a close, I am in the process of searching for a vaccination center to administer my booster shot, so I can join the corporeal ranks of human herd immunity in the resistance against the “enemy’s” newest upgraded mutation of these microscopic monsters! Unlike the Spanish flu where human beings relied solely on sequestration as a defense, we now have cutting edge laboratories that can cultivate and rapidly disseminate high-tech weapons – vaccines to factories for mass production. In this process, the biochemical innovations of the mRNA vaccines which rely on digital informational modeling have been especially eye-opening. A messenger RNA is injected into the human body, entrusted with transmitting a command crucial to the outcome of the war. The postal journey of this material will supposedly arrive at the cell nuclei and impose a demand on our bodies. These cells will then obey and carry out these commands and produce spike proteins repellent to their own constitutions. (Does this sound like the film Aliens?) These have a high degree of resemblance to the COVID-19 virus, and will ultimately deceive “our” (really?) bodies into generating immune antibodies that resist foreign bodies. This temporary mRNA message will supposedly self-destruct after the production of spike proteins. The advantage of this new biochemical weapon is that when new variants of the virus appear, it can be rapidly imitated and replicated to produce new commands and develop the latest battle-ready design of the “human body” in this rapidly escalating arms race between humans and viruses.
有沒有注意到，在這段超現實的描述中，世界的內外秩序悄悄顛倒了？一方面，我們在體內微小細胞的深處所進行的資訊操縱，決定了每個抗疫個體所處的外部環境（也就是「疫苗覆蓋率」）；另一方面，在離我們最遠的尺度上，一種「人類共同體」休戚與共的生物／資訊版社會論述正在流傳，人道主義者指責西方強權因為罔顧疫苗的全球分配不均，才造成了最近這波疫情第三世界南非的破口，One for all/All for One （我為人人／人人為我）。再貼近觀察最新一波大規模「破口」後，戰爭前線的短兵相接，實聯制手機記錄的足跡追蹤，與確診者體內病毒基因定序追蹤，兩者的結合描繪出「人體／病毒資訊戰」的一體兩面，資料庫跨越了人與非人、文化與自然的界限，從實驗室、臨床病房一直到公衛現場，我們在一端敞開肉身細胞成為公領域，另一端又都活在他方的雲端伺服器。這個交戰前線的細小切片採樣透露了《生生LIVES》背後某種浮現中的新時代感知，生物工程與數位資訊的結合，誕生了一種準備好接手主導「後疫情」時代混種的世界／身體想像。
Did you notice that in this surrealist narrative, the external and internal order of the world has been surreptitiously reversed? On the one hand, we are carrying out information manipulation in the depths of tiny cells within the body in order to determine the external environment where each individual battling the epidemic is located (that is, the rate of vaccine coverage). On the other hand, a certain biological/informational social narrative of the collective experience of “the human community” is being circulated on the other end of the spectrum. One for All, All for One: humanitarians accuse Western powers of ignoring the unequal distribution of the vaccine, causing the latest wave of the pandemic in the South African outbreak. A closer inspection of the two-pronged hand-to-hand combat at the frontlines of the latest wave of large-scale out-breaks: real-time contact tracing using mobile phones, and using tracing genetic sequencing to track covid-positive patients — depicts two sides of the “human/virus information war,” where the database traverses the boundaries between human and non-human, and between culture and nature. From the laboratory, to the sickbed, and all the way to the site of public health, we open corporeal cells to the public domain on one end, while on the other end, they all exist in off-site cloud servers. This slice of life at the battlefront reveals a certain emerging new sensibility behind LIVES, where bioengineering and digital information have combined to give birth to an imagined hybrid world/body ready to lead in a post-pandemic era.
How do we coexist with the virus?
It has been said that we eventually need to learn to coexist with the virus, but the clues at the moving battlelines of the human vs. virus war seem to suggest that we are rushing down a path of “thoroughly culturalizing nature.” Do we truly want to “survive” in this way? Similar events are occurring in the lifestyle realm. “Social distancing” has opened up endless business opportunities for virtual interactions in online media, with Facebook making a strong pitch for the “Metaverse” that provides a timely placebo of a new world that supposedly guarantees to be virus free, for those of us trapped by the epidemic. Even if (predictably) we do encounter “viruses” in the artificial universe (no? then how would that seem real?), it will only be a simulated reality that won’t require anxious physical preparations for battle. The “nature” on the outside will continue to safely exist within “our culture.”
The desire behind the “Metaverse” is not new. These are the cultural sutures of the habitual human desire to construct an invisible protective shield that enables us to live among “our own kind.” In confronting the various life forms presented in the artworks, I can’t help but wonder as a consultant, and in perpetual self-interrogation, whether the real problem is not in “social distancing,” but the loss of distancing from human overcrowding in the civilizing process of super-cities. Aren’t “cities” precisely the cultural homeplace of human beings who are sequestered from nature?
“Coexisting with the virus” is deemed by many as a salve to cope with the “social distancing” challenges posed by the virus to human beings. “Coexisting with the virus” is more easily said than done. When we think of black and white Americans in the United States, of mainstream society and gay families, of urban development and the leopard cat… Coexistence has never been a simple matter of romanticized verbalization (or of combat fatigue), nor is it a blank check written to facilitate a mutual embrace and surrender. Rather, it requires the powerful to self-discipline and to surrender the spaces they occupy, to take responsibility for the perils posed by self-care, and to eschew the comforts of staying within one’s own community, as well as having an awareness of and making efforts toward changing the ways in which humans coexist with other humans and with the world.
If we make a slight effort to resist the “anthropocentric” contemplative inertia, without immediately resorting to utilizing high-tech network-simulated gatherings to compensate for distancing between human beings; if we seize this rare opportunity stimulated by the Virus of the Century to “finally” begin to contemplate and think in earnest… What is a reasonable social distance between human beings, and between humans and the world?
答案，我的任性揣測，難道不正是開放讓病毒所表徵的自然足以進入人與人之間、甚至足以隔離作為單體的人與人，這樣的測量暗示？「社交距離」不是「與病毒共存」的對立，恰恰相反，人不該趁此疫情肆虐百年難得的大好機會，以啟蒙自立的個性單體之姿，坦坦蕩蕩地加入自然，就像19世紀首批脫離山下過於擁擠的人群、卸除武裝、單身赴會、攀爬進入自然崇嶺的登山家們，以平等之姿在自然裡，寫生萬物的生命風采，然後終於關照到人類自己在世界的位置，如《湖濱散記》裡與眾樹為友並為其著書的梭羅（Henry David Thoreau），或許真正的「與病毒共存」更像這樣，人們終於學好如何跟疫情前的「舊文明」(Ancient régime）保持社交距離的「後COVID-19烏托邦」。
My willful speculation surmises that the answer is: precisely the amount of open nature required between human beings as dictated by the virus; or, the measurements implied as sufficient for isolating people as individuals. “Social distancing” does not stand in opposition to “coexisting with the virus.” On the contrary, human beings ought to seize this rare opportunity afforded by this pandemic of the century to rejoin nature in the posture of enlightened, self-reliant individuals. like the first group of 19th century mountaineers who left the crowded throngs in the lowlands, laid down their weapons, and made their way alone into the nature of the mountains. They made sketches depicting the vivid colors of all life forms as their equals, then reflected on the position of themselves as human beings in the world, just as Henry David Thoreau did in befriending the trees and writing On Walden Pond. To truly “coexist with the virus” should perhaps be undertaken in this capacity, in a “post-COVID-19 utopia” where human beings finally learn how to maintain social distance from the pre-pandemic “Ancient régime.”
In the name of Art, awakened or anaesthetized
藝術家，當代的超現實主義者們，純熟撥弄著基因工程的生物藝術，巧於撩動資訊科技挑逗生命的數位藝術……究竟這些立在人類世末的十字路口上，會讓我們赫然驚醒的巨大糾結，將因而更為沈澱深思，還是讓我們在文化極致的藝術遊戲、感官思辨的歡愉中加速麻痹？在這條被稱為「後人類」的征途上，藝術究竟是新盟友，還是舊敵人？顧問如我也沒有把握，我的職責只負責「向藝術發問」，不可能有說服得了你／妳的答案。班雅明（Walter Benjamin）曾說過，藝術品在博物館裡展示的是它自己的複製品。在我看來，回到藝術創作時最初的那個時刻來理解這段話，藝術品是「藝術出沒過」（This art happened），「曾經有」藝術家「實驗探索過」的一些證據與若干痕跡，它對觀眾應該是一番：「那，換你的話，會怎麼探索？」的召喚。最終只有你親身來一趟展場，才能透過在《生生LIVES》，與藝術家面對面的展示裡所透露的當代，思考屬於你／妳自己一個人how to live的答案！
Would artists and contemporary surrealists adept at the BioArt: of manipulating genetic engineering and skilled in rousing information technology to provoke life, ultimately awaken us to a profound contemplation on the grand entanglements at the crossroads of the apocalypse? Or would they hasten our paralysis in the cultural extremes of artistic gaming and in the joy of sensorial speculation? On this journey called “posthumanism,” is art a new ally or an old enemy? As a consultant, I am uncertain. My responsibility is relegated to “querying art,” without providing any answers that may possibly convince you. Walter Benjamin once said that works of art exhibit their own reproductions in the museum. My understanding of this, taken from the moment of artistic creation, is that a work of art is a declaration that “this art happened.” It is evidence and traces for that which artists have experimented with and explored. To the audience, it is a call to action that says: “Now, it is your turn. How will you explore?” Ultimately, your physical presence is required at the exhibition venue in order to stand face to face with a contemporaneity revealed by the artists in the LIVES exhibition, and to contemplate an answer to “how to live” that belongs uniquely to you!
Contemplating YOUR art, with a little help from OUR viruses.