i_think_it_rains (2013)

A conversation amongst MA students about I Think It Rains

Crossing Over from One Part to Another

Capture d'écran 2013-05-29 à 11.45.10

Close-up of Fiete’s Stolte’s real-time activity. Photo by Alain Kantarjian

A group of MA students studying at the The Academy of Visual Arts at the Hong Kong Baptist University met up on June 30, 2013, to discuss their at the time recent visit to the exhibition I Think It Rains. Upon their own initiative they gathered to have an informal discussion about the curatorial format, questioning the weight of a “coherent” motif in exhibition-making, or pondering about art inspired by experiences induced by drugs. The conversation was not commissioned, and the opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Burger Collection. The following selection of the transcript follows Burger Collection’s wish to support informal levels of exchanges. The discussion was originally held in Cantonese. The Chinese version can be read right below the English one.


D: Dino Wong, P: Patrick Yiu, T: Tap Chan, S: Sum Yee Tsoi

Credits (English text)

English translation by Daniel Ho. Edited and proofread by Linda Jensen.

Credits (Chinese text)

Transcription by Dino Wong. Edited and proofread by Xue Tan. Additional thanks goes to Choi Yan Chi.


I Think It Rains—Theme and Curation

T: This exhibition is entitled I Think It Rains. What’s the relationship between the theme and the works themselves? I’m thinking about whether we can find some commonalities among all the works.

D: The phrase I Think It Rains sounds light and simple, and suggests this in-between state of trace and disappearance. In my way of looking at it, the resonances between the works and the theme aren’t that obvious. Perhaps it’s because the thirty-three works weren’t all made for the exhibition.

T: Are these works actually all from the Burger Collection? Did the curator select some works from the collection?

D: I think it’s partly the result of negotiations between the curator and the collector. It’s said that some of the works were made for the exhibition [Burger Collection commissioned artists from Hong Kong and artists in the residency program].

P: What deeper significance does the title I Think It Rains actually have?

D: It’s apparently a poem by a Nigerian poet. In it, “rain” refers to how the village was burnt down to ashes, which was scattered everywhere. I haven’t looked into the exact reasons.

T: Perhaps this can be understood in the sense that the works in the exhibition are relatively conceptual and a bit elusive—like Lam Tung Pang’s work [Ghost – Disappeared Hong Kong Art (1): 90s, Kurt Chan, 2013] which isn’t visible.

P: I’m of the opinion that when curating an exhibition, if you expect the works to be tightly woven in with the theme, then the theme itself must be fairly concrete. It could be about an event, a place, a group of people—and then from these starting points, you make the work. I’m reminded of an exhibition called Our life in West Kowloon which took place on the rooftops of a Chinese tenement building (Tong Lau) in Sham Shui Po. There was a photo show, an art exhibition, a group of art guides organised by the residents, as well as a book. That’s an example where works really resonated with the theme and title—everything followed on from it. Turning back to this exhibition, the participating artists were all quite well known, so perhaps they were more loyal to themselves rather than to the theme.

S: I Think It Rains itself is a line of verse, and poetry often has a lot of room for interpretation.

D: The works exhibited have mostly been selected from the Burger Collection, so sorting out the context became, to a large degree, the work of the curator.

P: Summing up the works—they all seem to be about what has vanished. Lam Tung Pang’s work, the video by the Portuguese artist Filipa César, Choi Yan Chi’s workA Desk to a Forever Reader, as well as Kingsley Ng’s workMoon . Gate all lie at the cusp of what has disappeared and what hasn’t yet disappeared. Is this theme about “rain” some sort of echo to this?

D: An abstract, blank imagery on top of another abstract, blank imagery—interpreting it this way certainly works. The key is whether it’s meaningful and whether it adds to the power of the works. In actual fact, is it that hard to demand that an art exhibition set a theme, and ensure that the works resonate with the theme?

S: It is hard—as long as the exhibition involve more than one participant. If it’s a solo show, then it will work no matter what, because it’s self-explanatory. What the works in the exhibition present are the threads about the personal self, even if it’s something of a messy and mistaken logic. The theme presents the artists themselves.

T: If works were created collaboratively according to a theme, then it might work.

S: Not necessarily. For instance, in some exhibitions with two artists, when they attempt to respond to a same theme, they will often find that while creating the works, their understanding is very different, and not infrequently, this leads to a sense of imbalance.

P: That situation is like in Melting Pot during [the exhibition] Painting On and On. The dialogue between the artists was also the starting point for some of the works, but the presentation ended up being neither here nor there.

D: Let me bring the topic of the conversation back to the discussion about themes. Do we all think that an art exhibition should first have a theme and then the works come after, or rather the works first and then the theme?

S: Well, that depends on whether it’s a solo or a group show, as well as on the curatorial approach. Additionally, even if you know the theme prior to creating the works, the artists might, because of their own creative bent, make the works fit the theme rather awkwardly.

D: I, on the other hand, think artists have already made the grade if they’ve gotten to that point. The works themselves are the artists’ responses to a certain topic, which may have extended or come about from the theme of the exhibition. As for whether they fit well or not, or what the connections are between all the works, that is the work of the curator—how to understand the works, how to create a context for the exhibition, who the target audience is, and other such questions.

P: I agree. When artists are working and struggling hard with making works, the role of the curator is to organize them. For instance, if the curator sees “life” as the central core of the works, then he/she will use “life” as the connecting thread with which to curate the exhibition.

D: Right. Pushing this further, if setting a particular subject is effective for an exhibition, then the aim is to establish a certain context for the audience to understand the exhibition from a particular angle. If a theme can accomplish this point, then it works as a suitable theme. In contrast, empty, elusive themes don’t help the audience understand the exhibition or the works, in which case it doesn’t actually make a difference whether the theme exists or not.

Enoch Cheung, Pseudo Writing: About I Think It Rains

D: Now let’s explore some of the works and their content. What kind of opinions or reflections do you have about the works in this exhibition? I quite like Enoch Cheung’s work; it approaches the form of a performance. Before producing the work, he drank a large amount of condensed coffee. Then, under an extremely stimulated mental state, he painted on the walls of the exhibition space with the coffee, night and day. Some are realistic drawings, like architectural buildings, while others were more abstract, resembling the writing of some symbolic script.

P: Condensed coffee didn’t seem to have had much of a strong effect. Wouldn’t smoking pot have worked better?

D: It’s a bit hard to justify smoking pot to the general public…

P: Actually, back in the time of surrealism, artists like Dali tried to shoot up drugs to force themselves into a peculiar mental state—and then they would try to create art.

T: Absinthe seems to have been popular for a while.

S: Absinthe used to be banned, but now it’s legal again. Drinking it makes you hallucinate.

P: Back in the day, many artists would use pretty extreme methods to force themselves into a subconscious state, and then start drawing. Enoch Cheung’s condensed coffee is relatively mild in comparison.

D: The question is how alert and conscious did the artist want to stay?

P: But this can’t really be calculated clearly.

D: There’s always a difference between how strong and weak something is. For instance, I can’t accurately say whether my mental state after smoking pot is in fact equal to my subconscious.

P: Apparently artists back then wanted to pursue this half-awake, half-dreamy state. I think everyone’s had a similar experience—when you’re half-awake, some dreamy, hallucinatory images would appear in the mind, and ten minutes would feel like two hours.

T: For me, I think Enoch Cheung made the piece with a more contemporary approach in mind. He purposely chose condensed coffee maybe to hint at the pressures of modern society—when we frequently need to rely on stimulating drinks to give ourselves the stamina to face the pressures of life. This approach might be like those artists back then, and yet the content and direction expressed are something else altogether.

D: The important thing is to let the audience see the constant states of flow and change within the work. His drawings have such diverse content: some are realistic views of surroundings, while others are fluid strokes of writing, and still others are abstract to the point of continuing the already existing traces of water and the cracks on the walls. The process of crossing over from one part to another is pretty interesting.

Kingsley Ng and Lam Tung Pang

D: Both being works where sound is an important element, if you compare the works by Lam Tung Pang and Kingsley Ng, Lam Tung Pang’s work is clearly narrative–a descriptive narration. The soundtrack in Lam Tung Pang’s work deliberately avoids subjective adjectives, and yet this doesn’t hinder us from understanding and constructing the content of the narrative: an installation by Kurt Chan. And the funny thing about this approach lies in how the audience, through reading the narrative, imagines in their minds that particular work, which doesn’t exist anymore. So everyone has a different “work” in mind, which contrasts with the objectivity intentionally concocted in the soundtrack.

P: I always feel that creating sound is different from other media. Making a sound piece has to take the surroundings into consideration.

D: Right. Taking Kingsley Ng’s work as an example, the sound part is treated more like ambient sound, and the loudspeakers are also deliberately concealed. When reading this work within the exhibition space, the sounds from the site itself (the sounds of wind, rain, people, and other works) easily get mixed up with the sound of the work itself. What’s interesting is that, because the work is presented differently depending on time and space, it also becomes ambiguous.

Florian German: Wendigo River / The Crystal Source / Kowloon

T: I feel the work with the pickaxe and shovel [tools for the real-time activity Wendigo River / The Crystal Source / Kowloon, 2013]is actually pretty interesting. But forbidding the audience from direct contact with the work seems to have drastically reduced its impact.

S: I accidentally stepped on the work.

D: Which is really not bad at all as far as accidental mistakes go.

S: The aim of the work is to record and re-perform the sound of implements—like the pickaxe—digging at the ground by placing a recording device on the tool itself. If the audience could be allowed to get their hands on these tools themselves, to create the sounds by knocking them against the ground, then it’s even more direct and fun than stomping on the floor around them. And the recording device isn’t of high quality, so it can’t amplify the muffled footsteps recorded around it.

D: If the audience can only get involved with their feet, then how should they take part, in terms of their role and circumstance?

S: Placing the recording device on the tools which must then be handled doesn’t seem to be the best expressive approach, does it?

T: Perhaps the artist could record different segments of digging sounds with this installation in order to replay them as recordings, instead of directly placing the works within the site.

D: When we picked up the pickaxe—which was against the rules—I felt its actual weight. That’s my initial experience, which was a pretty fun. Or perhaps it’s some transgressive, rebellious psychology.

S: The way the work is displayed gives me something of an unfinished feeling—like the amplifiers laid out on the side, connected to two microphones in the shape of pickaxes, forbidden to be touched—this doesn’t really take the relationship between the space and the work into consideration. What’s more, it doesn’t let you connect with the creative ideas behind the work (the artist having dug up different types of dirt).

T: Right, like what kind of soil, what significance the digging place had, and so forth—it doesn’t let people know about that.

S: It’s as though two sound installations were made and then carelessly placed within the space.

T: Well, if that’s the case, they didn’t have to be pickaxes. They could have been anything.

P: Song Dong apparently made a similar work: he held a seal, and then forcefully and repeatedly struck it against the water surface. A seal pressed on paper would leave an imprint, but struck on water, it’s like water off a duck’s back.

《I Think It Rains》—主題與策展

T: 這次展覽名為”I Think It Rains”,作品本身與主題關係為何?我在想,我們能否在所有作品中找出共通點?

D: “I Think It Rains” 聽起來很輕,而且有一種“有痕跡”和“無痕跡”中間的狀態。但我看來,作品與主題的呼應並不明顯。 也許因為這33件作品不完全是為展覽而做。

T: 其實這些作品都是Burger Collection 的嗎?是策展人在收藏中選取作品出來作展覽嗎?

D: 我想有部份是策展人和收藏家商討的結果,聽說有部分作品是為這次展覽而做。

P: “I Think It Rains” 到底有甚麼深層意思?

D: 那好像是一首尼日利亞詩人的詩,當中的”rain”指的是村子被燒成灰燼然後四散逝去。原因為何我沒有深究。

T: 也許可以理解為這次展覽的作品比較概念性、有一點虛無飄渺,像林東鵬的作品,是看不見的。

P: 我認為要策劃一個展覽,如果期望作品跟主題緊扣,那主題本身必須比較實在。它可以是關於一個事件、一個地方、一班人,再以這些為起點做作品。我想起一個展覽叫《活在西九》,在深水埗的一個唐樓頂樓舉行。當中有相展、作品展,有街坊組織的導賞團,也出了書。那是一個作品與主題呼應很強的例子,所有事情都依附著主題而發生。反觀這次展覽,參加的都是有名氣的藝術家,他們也許會較忠於自己,而不是忠於主題。

S: “I Think It Rains ” 本身是一句詩,而詩往往有很大的詮釋空間。

D: 這次的展品很多都從 Burger Collection 中選出的,因此梳理脈絡很大程度上變成了策展人的工作。

P: 總結大家描述的作品,都似乎是關於一些已消逝的東西。林東鵬的作品、葡萄牙藝術家 Filipa César 的錄像作品、Yan-chi的作品,伍韶勁的作品都介乎於已消逝和未消逝之間。這個關於下雨的主題,是否是一種呼應?

D: 一個抽象虛無的意象加上另一個抽象虛無的意象,以這種形式解讀的話是一定說得通的,關鍵在於這是否有意思,是否會加強作品的力量。事實上,要求藝術展覽訂出一個主題,再讓作品呼應主題,是一件難事嗎?

S: 是一件難事,只要作品或展覽多於一個人參與的話。如果是一個個展,那是無論如何也說得通的,因為那就是一個自我解釋(self-explanation)。作品在展覽中呈現的是關於他個人的脈絡,哪怕那是一個絮亂,錯誤的邏輯。主題呈現藝術家本身。

T: 如果作品是跟據主題進行集體創作(Collaboration),那也可能行得通。

S: 那倒未必。例如在一些兩個人的展覽,當他們嘗試對同一個主題呼應,進行創作的時候,往往會發現他們對主題的理解很不同,而這很多時候會造成不平衡的感覺。

P: 情況就像早前《繪畫大道中》的《半鑊生半鑊熟》,在當中藝術家之間的對話也是部份作品的起點,但其呈現卻有點不倫不類。

D: 讓我把話題拉回關於主題的討論。大家覺得一個藝術展應該先有主題後有作品,還是先有作品後有主題?

S: 那要看搞的是個展還是聯展、以及策展的方法為何。再者,即使以主題為先進行創作,藝術家也可能因為自身的創作方向使作品顯得格格不入。

D: 我反而覺得,如果能做到這地步,藝術家已經合格了。因為作品本身是藝術家對一些議題的反應,而該議題可以是展覽主題所引申出來的。至於格格不入與否,以及作品群中的脈絡為何,那是策展人的工作 --怎樣理解作品、如何在展覽中建設一個脈絡(context)、他心目中的對象觀眾群為何,諸如此類。

P: 我同意。當藝術家埋頭苦幹做作品的時候,策展人的角色就是替其梳理。例如策展人在作品中看到”生命“為中心,然後他就會以“生命”為其展覽的脈絡策展。

D: 對。以此引申,如果訂定一個題目是對展覽有作用的話,那作用就是建設一個脈絡,給觀眾一個角度去理解展品。如果其題目能夠做到以上兩點,那就是一個稱職的題目。反之,一些虛無、似是而非的題目,無助於觀眾理解展覽和展品,那題目存在與否其實沒有分別。

張康生《Pseudo Writing》

D: 剛才的討論主要集中在展覽的主題上,現在則探討作品及內容。各位對今次展覽的作品有什麼意見或感想? 我比較喜歡張康生的作品,比較接近行為表演形式。他在創作前大量飲用濃縮咖啡,在精神非常亢奮的狀態下,日以繼夜地用咖啡汁在展覽場地的牆壁上作畫。當中有具像的畫作,像是一幢幢的建築物,亦有一些較抽象,類似符文的文字書寫。

P: 濃縮咖啡好像沒有很強勁的作用,會不會抽大麻比較好?

D: 抽大麻好像比較難向公眾交代吧…

P: 其實在超現實主義的年代,達利等藝術家,嘗試注射一些藥物,令自己進入一個奇特的精神狀態後再進行創作。

T: 苦艾酒好像亦流行過一陣子。

P: 什麼是苦艾酒?

S: 苦艾酒在過去是禁酒,現已解禁。喝後易令人產生幻覺。

P: 當年有許多藝術家會使用一些比較極端的手段,使自己進入一個潛意識的狀態,再開始作畫。張康生的濃縮咖啡,相對比較溫和。

D: 問題在於,藝術家想保留多少清醒的意識。

P: 但這其實不是能清楚計算得到的。

D: 當中總有強弱之分。正如我也不能確實的說出,抽大麻後的那個精神狀態,是否等同自己的潛意識。

P: 聽說當年藝術家們就要追求這種半夢半醒的狀態。我想大家都有這樣的經驗,半醒之時腦裡會出現疑幻似真的幻象,十分鐘的時間卻像兩小時般漫長。

T: 我認為張康生是用一個比較當代的手法去進行這個創作。他刻意選用濃縮咖啡,可能暗寓現代社會生活迫人,需要經常依靠提神的飲料給予自己支撐力去面對生活壓力。手法可能跟當年的藝術家有所類似,但所表達的內容和方向可能是另一回事。

D: 最重要是讓觀眾看到作品中不斷變化流動的狀態。他的畫作內容多變,有的是具像的環境風貌,有的像是行雲流水的文字書寫,有的抽象如在延續描繪牆壁上既有的水跡裂痕。從一樣過渡至另一樣,過程相當有趣。

伍韶勁 & 林東鵬

D: 同為聲音元素相當重要的作品,如果把林東鵬和伍韶勁的作品比較,林東鵬的作品明顯是一個鈙述(narration),而且是一個描述性的鈙述。林東鵬作品中的聲帶刻意地避免使用帶主觀成份的形容詞,然而這並不妨礙我們去理解和建構這一鈙述內容--陳育強的一件裝置作品。而這種做法的有趣之處在於,觀眾透過閱讀鈙述,在自己的腦海中想像該件不存在的作品,因此每人各自腦海中的作品都是不同的,而這正與聲帶中刻意營造的客觀性形成對比。

P: 我總覺得,聲音作品的創作跟做其他媒介作品不同。做聲音作品要把環境納入考慮。

D: 對。以伍韶勁的作品為例,它的聲音部份被處理得更像環境聲音(ambience),而且揚聲器的位置也被刻意隱藏。在展場中閱讀這作品時,該場地本身的聲音(風聲、雨聲、人聲、其他作品的聲音)容易與作品本身的聲音混合。這是有趣的,因為作品因著場地和時間有不同的表現,同時也將其變得曖昧。


T: 我覺得鋤頭那件有關聲音的作品其實相當有趣,但禁止觀眾與作品作直接接觸好像大大減低了其可觀性。

S: 但我剛才不小心大力的踢踏了作品…

D: 真是一個不錯的無心之失。

S: 作品意圖紀錄和重演鋤頭等工具掘地時的聲響,把收音裝置放置於工具上,如能讓觀眾親身嘗試使用那些工具,製造與地面碰撞時的聲音。這比在工具四周大力踏地,來得直接和好玩。而且收音裝置並非高端之物,不能把環境四周最細緻的腳步聲收錄並放大。

D: 如果觀眾只能用雙腳參與,那又應以什麼狀態和角色去投入其中?

S: 似乎將收音裝置放置於一些必須用雙手操控的工具上,並不是最好的表現方式吧。

T: 或許藝術家可以將使用這裝置來收錄不同掘地聲音的片段以錄像方式重現,而非直接把作品置於場中。

D: 當我們違規拿起鋤頭之時,我感到它實在的重量,這是我的初體驗,相當好玩的經驗。或許是有一種犯規反叛的心理吧。

S: 這件作品的陳設給我一種未完成感,就像擴音器隨便地放在旁邊,連接著兩個禁止觸摸鋤頭形狀的咪高峰 ,對空間與作品的關係沒有太多考慮,而且讓人跟作品背後的創作意念 (藝術家在許多不同地方挖掘過不同的土地)連接不起來。

T: 對,像是什麼地方,什麼土地,那些地方的意義何在等等,都讓人一無所知。

S: 就像是做了兩件聲音裝置隨便放在場內。

T: 要是那樣的話,不必要是鋤頭,可以是任何東西。

P: 好像宋東也有做過類似的作品:他拿著一個印台,大力的不斷撞擊水面。印台壓於紙上會留痕,但打在水上卻是水過鴨背。



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