04-07
01

微型劇場上演的文字敘事詩篇—施宣宇1994--2004年創作作品回顧


微型劇場上演的文字敘事詩篇
施宣宇1994--2004年創作作品回顧       文/呂佩怡



「文字只是線索、謎題、痕跡和密碼」
「文字是記錄語言又是代表語言的符號,我們可以說它是符號的符號 ..」
「文字是記錄語言的符號體系。」
「文字密碼是一種對共同記憶的操控魔術」
「文字是咒語,叫喚出記憶;文字是謎題,讓聽者猜出答案;文字是譬喻,讓接受訊息的人從已知去導出未知;文字是履霜而知堅冰至,一點寒霜,不必等到漫天飛雪就讓人在心頭重建白色雪國模樣而打起寒顫。……..」


從1994年第一次的個展至今,十個年頭過去了,施宣宇從二十歲一腳踏入三十歲的行列,而那些他所製造的符碼文字在這十年中衍然已發展出自己的系統,在他以陶所搭建的微型劇場中輪翻上陣,舞台形體與背景隨著時日移轉而略有變化,而其上的文字主角也不斷以不同樣貌粉墨登場,不論是刻於陶土之上的條碼、數字天書、古文經典、電腦病毒碼、傳統花紋及世界各國文字等,各自佔據一個或長或短的時期,叨叨訴說著施宣宇的當下心情,以及他對文字消逝的懷舊與擔憂。

文字的生滅、變易、演進與施宣宇一向持有的中心思想不謀而合,也是易經中所說的道理:「一方面探索宇宙萬物莫不時時刻刻在變易的現象,另一方面又追求在這種恆常變易中不變的道理,因此形成陰陽、動靜,一切沒有絕對,而只有相對的思想體系」。這樣的觀點可以用一個簡單的成語來形容,我們常說的「刻舟求劍」便是試圖在漂流大海上、移動中的船身刻下固定的記號去標明剛剛劍所落下之處,而希臘的哲學家也有同樣的見解,曾表示:「我們不可能用同一隻腳,放入同樣的水流中兩次。」

「刻舟求劍」這樣徒勞無功的舉動,與我們不斷試圖去規劃、去定義世界萬物是一樣的道理。從時間軸(格林威治線)、經緯線、各大洋大洲、國界、所有的用來規範的法律及施宣宇常用的「文字」元素等等,皆是人在茫然不知所措的宇宙之中安身立命的方法。許多人只知道必須去遵守這些規範,卻不知其所來處,不知變通的墨守成規,或輕蔑地拋開一切。在這個思想軸上,「變易不易」的觀點便是對世間一切規範了然於胸,但不固守、不執著,而在變易之中用自己的步調前行。這個觀點貫穿施宣宇的作品進程,把握此原則便不難了解他每個時期面貌各異的創作。
《調合波長》的條碼時代

1994年,剛滿二十歲的施宣宇開了第一次的個展,展出的作品多令在場來賓驚嘆:這個世界變得太快,世代間的代溝怎麼這麼深,這麼明顯。被稱為新生代陶藝家的他以「條碼」、「試管」、「鏈條」、「秤錘」、「鐵線」、「木質」等,展現出陶藝界新鮮的景況,也做為調合彼此不同思考波長的開始。另外,這系列作品的奇怪名稱也是令人印象深刻的部份,例如「匯集空中索道」、「找出幕後的馴獸師」、「由地底竄出」、「老實泉」等,讓人莫不會心一笑。

「條碼」是施宣宇文字王國所派出的第一組小兵,長長短短的黑柱體組成一長方形符碼,代表一組數字。條碼在那個年代還算是個新奇的東西,百貨公司與賣場才剛開始全面性的用條碼取代以往的標籤貼紙,大家對條碼的好奇感還反映在紋身貼紙的流行上。條碼資本主義是大量生產之後所產生的管理方式,是制式化、規格化、沒有個性的符號,是冷漠都市的商品密秘身份。但對施宣宇而言,「條碼」不再是科時代的冷漠符碼,反而成了古老溫厚的陶土上專屬的密秘言語,是他的心情紀實。

每一組條碼皆是一組符號,暗藏著他年輕而希奇古怪的想法,也都可以翻譯出屬於自己的意義。破解密碼的方式是先將條碼轉成數字,數字再對照英文字母,而變成英文之後將會是一個單字或一句子。每個下凹的條碼引起人許多的聯想,也許是像是盲人點字書一般,可以用觸覺去了解,觸碰的指尖可比擬成店員手中條碼掃描器,密語在掃描光線下現身。也像是馬雅文化中古老的文字磚,記載著我們無法辨認與了解的過去,需要由轉譯、再解讀的方式,成為人人能懂的當代言語。

此次展覽所出現的元素成為他日後作品中的原型,包括:做為作品內容的「文字」軸線;「玻璃」、「木頭」、「金屬」與現成物的跨媒材使用;「變易不易」的思想觀,這三個主要部份。

《蒼穹脊索》‧數字天書啟示錄

隔了4年,在1998年的《蒼穹脊索》個展裡,條碼消失了,取而代之的是「數大便是美」的數字天書,不論外型是什麼,都刻印有或多或少的數字句,同樣的,如果可以把數字對照英文字母的排列便可以解開密碼,而得知天書啟示。

在這一系列作品裡,「正反二元論」的觀點有很重的論述性,他以虛實空間的對照、左右分割及物件成雙出現的方式,去陳述他心目中對於宇宙與人生的看法。作品《蒼穹脊索》的兩塊對稱卻相異的陶面,以東方哲學中的陰與陽,象徵了一體之兩面的相對世界,其中一虛一實的準錐是他所強調的天體基點,此作品中的「虛無」面來自施宣宇不帶期待的一甩,「我只是把陶土甩開來,讓表面出現自然的裂痕,陶土變成什麼樣子就是什麼樣子」;而「實有」面則來自這個少年哲學家慎密的思惟與設計,密密麻麻的阿拉伯數字刻印於表面,數字天書翻譯成英文後,是一篇篇耐人尋問的聖經預言和坦陳生命的詩文。


立基於「正反二元論」,他發展出介於中間或做為分界,代表人的意識的「準」與「軸」。「事物本身並未改變,只是人們從立足點看待它的角度不同」,他說,而人們的立足點即是作品中的「準」與「軸」。這個概念延伸到「時間」議題,在作品中大量出現時針、分針、秒針及長舟形體,訴說的不只是時間得流動,更多的是宇宙間陰陽互消長的力量。《天子午線》作品說的便是人類對時間的定義,虛構而不存在的時間分格線直接挑戰了時間的權威。《漂蕩的時間觀點》作品則以古哲人赫拉克利特「萬物都在流動中」為概念原型,將時間的飄流意象置於大海之上,七個時鐘排列於船形底座,波浪隱身成時鐘的一部份,正如作品標題所言,時間是漂蕩於如海廣闊無邊,深不可測的宇宙蒼穹之中,因此人為的時間規範僅只是自我欺瞞。

《御風瀚羽》‧堆高的文字城垣

1999年的個展《御風瀚羽》與《蒼穹脊索》基本上是較接近的階段,在形體上施宣宇試著從橫躺的舟狀,向上拉高、向內包圍,築成一個層層包覆的堅強主體,此一主體一樣是由虛無的自然裂紋與實有的數字天書所構築而成,最中心便是「軸」的所在。

「微型建築」與「機械美學」可以用來形容這個時期作品的特質。施宣宇試著脫離平面或牆面,而以組裝結構讓作品拔地而起,這時期的作品與其說是「小雕塑」,不如以「微型建築」來描寫,這樣的創作來源於「乘機械美學之翼:談御風瀚羽--施宣宇陶展」 一文中說道:「施宣宇的機械美學來自於當兵時的海軍陸戰隊生活,龐大的軍械庫、圓筒狀碉堡、優美弧形的船身、風帆的張揚、錨的符號、準的意象都帶給他機械世界的震驚。而從海上到陸上,施宣宇的機械美學也來自現代建築,尤其是後現代建築的有機形式,不確定、動勢、斷裂、緊張、雙重譯碼、多元辯證等建築語言,二十世紀建築大師科比意(Le Corbusier)的朗香教堂、薩利能(Eero Saarinen)的紐約TWA航、蓋里(Frank Gehry)的西班牙古根漢美術館等,船的意象或飛翔的雙翅都給施宣宇的機械美學帶來靈感….」

此一時期也出現一具體的人形,被稱做「天使」或「光之武士」,它們沒有五官表情,卻有飛翔的雙翅,但雙翅不是柔軟的羽翼,而是帶著濃重的機械風味、有承軸的接合點、有弧狀的主體與方向舵般排列、一整排展翅高飛的羽翼,它們通常是以俯視的角度,站倨中心,或居於高處。「飛翔」在此階段取代了「海上漂蕩」,成為掙脫準則軸線的新法。施宣宇說:「我並不渴望自由,但渴望以飛行的角度,站在頂端看世界的重整」,於是他創造了天使,從另一種高度,冷眼旁觀、俯瞰紅塵。

不論是漂蕩之舟還是天使之翼,施宣宇的作品一直傳達著移動的渴望,然而「陶」的媒材特質是「厚重」、「穩定」、「落地生根」、「溫暖」,與他所想要傳達的「冷靜」、「動態」、「飛翔」等有矛盾之處。但從另一角度來看,這樣的矛盾正反映了人性的現實面,就像人總是想在宇宙世間抓住什麼定律、法則、尋找一些可以安定身心的方式,但人的內心從不曾停止變動,於是人的一生就在這種「動」與「不動」之間掙扎。施宣宇的作品恰恰也以媒材的特質傳達了這樣的矛盾掙扎痕跡。

套包結構的微型的舞台

藝評家黃海鳴 曾在文章形容施宣宇的作品特質是「多層次的的『套包結構』」,「陶器經常傳達的的是一種母性的容器觀念,而在他的陶藝作品,更加具體的往一種述事性,以及微型的舞台方向發展。」,不可晦言地,他的作品一個階段比一個階段複雜,這個微型敘事舞台上演的劇碼越來越精彩,越說越多,叨叨絮絮、不厭其煩向觀眾傳播他所信仰的藝術之道。

「微型的舞台」的說法很貼切施宣宇的作品,主要在於他的作品細節很多,必須慢慢閱讀、細細咀嚼,敘述性很高,每個符碼都有其對應的意義,例如「條碼」、「數字」、「文字」、「亂碼」等皆是呼應或陳述作品的重要元素;「文字與數字之間的轉譯」則是討論文字傳遞過程中不可能消除「測不準原理」式的誤解;「舟」、「翼」的造型有移動、離開或掙扎困境之意味;「時鐘」代表時光的流逝與我們對時間的不同定義;「天使」則是人的化身,甚至是他自己的心境象徵;「迷宮」即是人的迷失之所;「白色米粒」指涉人為五斗米折腰的辛酸;「小沙袋」或他所說的「熱氣球」是人面臨選擇時所願意拋下的東西…..

此一微型舞台的觀看點上隨時間前行而有所變化,先是單一平面,所有的資訊可以一眼望盡,之後變成了立狀或舟狀形體,觀眾必須環繞而行,由上下左右去尋找細節,這時期的軸線還是單一的,施宣宇所強調的「準」與「軸」還是位於立體物橫向的中心位置。再之後,「軸」隱身為「秤錘」、「玻璃試管」、「勇氣熊」、「天使」等,有的連代表的「軸」本身都可以旋轉。軸在他的思想體系裡由「靜」到「動」,由「單一軸線」到「變動軸心」。2002年之後,作品方向與軸心產生異位,他們從同一平面變成軸在橫向面,但作品的整體走向卻是往高度面向發展,軸線的異構讓作品的面向越來越多,且越來越繁複,使原本僅是一線之隔的實有與虛無的對立,轉變成介於兩者之間灰色中介空間的擴大,二元對立變成了多元並存。

錄像裝置的新嘗試:「過境」的中介空間

   這個微型舞台除了可以用來解釋施宣宇以陶為媒材的作品,也可以在2000年底,他首次嘗試錄影媒材的「錯速:錄像裝置展」 的「過境」作品中找到痕跡。「過境」是他與沈大昌的合作搭檔,展場位於華山藝文中心,這件作品雖然拉出了陶的範籌,但以煙霧做為影像的螢幕則延續了「火」這個他所熟知的元素。「施宣宇、沈大昌的「過境」將華山視為一特定時空下,虛實相會的「過境」場域,他們以流瀑般的、可見卻無法觸摸的乾冰形成銀幕,投影其上,恍惚的人影喃喃自語、游魂般的飄飄蕩蕩。」

「過境」作品的影像內容以一張母體中的「胎型」掃描照片為主體,做為影像的底圖,其上則剪接了從出生、成長到死亡的生活細節,位於母體中的這一時刻是跨越了兩個世界的交會點,也是他一向強調的中介點,「上輩子尚未結束,下輩子尚未開始。相同的個體,跨越兩個對立時空,構築出完全相異的混亂速度。前者即將倒數,後者遙遙無期。 」於是,其上的影像是記憶殘影,不停的在眼前閃動,一幕接著一幕,一瞬間,人生的膠捲全部撥完。在這個煙霧影像之上一樣有施宣宇叨叨敘敘的個性,「多層次的的『套包結構』」,及正反二元世界與中介空間的「準」之間的討論,只是這次抽掉了陶,而以錄像裝置的外表來呈現。

文字考掘學:「語文消化工程」

從條碼、數字書之後,施宣宇的文字王國該推出什麼王牌呢?1998年夏天的美國西岸聖塔安納藝術學院陶藝營及2001年獲選文建會海外駐村藝術家,至美國安德森藝術村駐村,這兩個「生活在他方」的異地能量補給站,帶給他藝術創作上的往內深思。由於語言溝通的困擾,加上時空的錯置,藝術家特有的感受力特別的敏銳,對於語言文字有了不同角度的新認識,產生了「語文消化工程」此一階段的創作。

施宣宇對於「語文消化工程」的說法是「像是盲人般能聽聲辨位,或聽障者的讀唇知語,當各國語言文字化為元素,將只剩斷續的音頻與規格化圖騰,在這種閱讀語言中,細節和韻律都變的非常明確,每一個「單位」間的休止符、音頻、音量、臉部與全身的肌肉運行等都必需精確無誤,而這消化過程更讓我開始檢討,過去我們所大量使用的書寫文字與影像閱讀,也許在某個層面下,似乎是一種丟棄記憶與感應的方法。藝術村中來自世界各地,各種語言背景的村民,在這裡卻繁衍出了另一種溝通方式,更在破除文字隔閡之後產生了新的共存模式,一種回歸天地之心的地球村思維。」

「語文消化工程」讓施宣宇開始回首自己的語言,當他發現台灣已是世上僅存繁體中文體系的孤島時,他開始從古籍著手,將流失、湮滅、線索中斷、失憶、痕跡不可辨識的文字廢墟加入他的文字王國行列。他說道:「從鐵雲藏龜到爾雅音圖到說文解字到康熙到辭海到BIG5碼大五,文字的演進依然是個謎,唯一不變的,是它將繼續前進。」在這一階段他所要做的便是探尋這些失落的文字,將之建構入自己的作品,從此施宣宇的文字王國又多了一則。

失落文字的尋找計劃:繁體中文消逝的悲悼

再者,電腦的普遍使用,手寫文字越來越少,許多國文教師皆在感嘆學生的認字能力及手寫文字能力明顯衰退,主要原因即在於電腦打字及各式的輸入法,讓使用者對於拼音的音感,或字體的結構越來越陌生,且電腦的影音圖像及網路的大資料庫取代了以往以閱讀習字為主的知識學習管道。在科技時代裡,某一方面我們汲汲向前,另一方面也失落許多,文字,尤其是繁體中文的失落成了施宣宇此一階段的關心重點。

施宣宇發出疑問:「當數位時代殲滅了時間與空間的障礙,破除了國與國,文化與地域的疆界,我們是否在狂潮中迷失自我。」他推論著:「在新世代國度裡,寶寶不再書寫文字,轉以鍵盤、滑鼠或語音,不再閱讀語文,以圖片、影像或訊號來截取。」在這個數位神祇,晶元崇拜的新世代裡,文字似乎將從功能層次退隱至美感及懷舊層次,就像古籍之中那些我們似懂非懂,可翻譯或無法辨識的古文。文字已死去,文字被封存,像地底的特洛伊,像火山灰厚厚覆蓋的龐貝古城,甚至像安地列斯冰冷山頂蒸發而去的馬雅王國,或沉入海底再也不會浮現的亞特蘭提斯。

漂移駁二/希望重整:文字的再生與死亡

從尋找、調查、訪談之後,施宣宇在2002年的「語言消化工程之漂移駁二/希望重整 」將文字混合雜織,並將陶的單一觀看性擴大為裝置、行動、錄影紀錄及與觀眾互動之多層面作品。

施宣宇在創作自述中說:「藉由「土牆」的崩裂與重整,來推翻文化圍籬的監禁還原與再生。藉由「文字」的失落漂蕩,來記錄語言文字的漂移與人、非人等的原始希望。 」這件焋置作品佔地面積極大,施宣宇以陶土與文字製造一處文字骨牌、圍籬或稱之監獄,他以四百餘個生坯土磚堆疊一面牆,每面高二公尺、寬一公尺、厚0.2公尺,像巨型骨牌造型,共二十一面牆,每面牆上刻有新世代語文消化中的異種文字產物,混合、複製、雜交、誤解與變型後的詩篇,以及當地居民自己刻上對未來的希望宣言。在開幕當天有一推翻文字圍籬的行動,將各國、各族群、各年齡的希望文字,都以骨牌傾倒崩解的模式串連在一起,將所有人的小希望匯集成一個大希望。

然而,被推翻的文字牆是混合為一了,但最後剩下的只是飛灰煙滅的一堆黃土,在當下我們所能夠觸摸、憑弔的唯一真實,只剩下那一大片廢墟的形象。文字安靜的展示它們的死亡 。「文字的死亡」是這個作品最真切的面貌。

制器規圜:華麗繁複的折衷融合傾向

   2003年再回到陶的材質,施宣宇以「制器規圜」為題,準備在鶯歌陶瓷博物館的個展。「制器規圜」仍是延續之前「變易不易」的思想主軸,他取材前漢書中「志」卷之「律歷志」,把之前他所談的「準」,從古書中找應證,律歷志中標定世間量度之準則,分別為規、圜、矩、方、權、重、衡、平、準、繩…等,乃至宮、商、角、徵、羽…各音頻等,「從調整準衡中衡準調整,求得衡準而得以調整之」,因為有「準」,世界才會有虛實、陰陽之別,他作品得對稱性仍然延續。

這次展出的幾件作品除了以往的長舟、飛翼等形體,還加入了樂器,尤其是神秘的印度西塔琴成為首選。據說西塔琴是沒有琴譜、沒有固定的音調,每一把琴都是獨一無二的,所有的音樂都是由該把琴的特色去模索出來的,彈奏出的音樂,當然也是世間唯一的。西塔琴有單音箱及雙音箱,弦在上方,弦也沒有固定的數量、長短、粗細,全憑樂師自己的喜好,這一點與施宣宇一直以來所尋找的變動中心準則的概念不謀而和,我們每一個人都像是西塔琴的琴師一般,為自己的人生譜奏出屬於自己的音符。

在形式上,這一系列以西塔琴為形式的作品,將上方的弦柄處做為「準」,但同時也有「秤」的意味,而下方的音箱則是密密記載文字的所在,在此施宣宇拼湊失落的史籍,有「本草綱目」、「天工開物」、「說文解字」、「漢書」、「爾雅」、古典花草紋,還有當下最新的電腦病毒碼等,字體的排列更精密與工整地,以單螺旋的漣漪狀,或是雙螺旋的印第安輪的排列,而每個接合點則有菊花型的釘隱做為裝置,他在這一階段是展現極度的耐心與細心,並將所有元素並置雜交融合,呈現一種後現代無關聯性的拼貼及華麗繁複的折衷融合傾向。

極度繁複之後

從簡樸的小詩到華麗的駢文,施宣宇的作品在一貫軸線中行走,幾經轉折變動,而至如今。「極度繁複之後,該是什麼呢?」我問,「應該會是另一種完全不同的極致吧」:施宣宇說。

我殷切地期待下一個十年。



Word Narrative Poems on a Micro Stage:
A Retrospective of Work by Shih Hsuan-yu 1994-2004


Lu Pei-yi

    
“Words are just clues, riddles, tracks and code”
“Words record language and are symbols that represent language. We could say they are the symbols of symbols”
“Words are a semiotic system recording language”
“Word code is a kind of common memory control magic”
“Words are curses, calling on memories; words are riddles that let the listener guess the answer; words are metaphors, allowing the recipients of information to derive the unknown from the known; words are like walking on frost and knowing the strength of ice; a little frost, and it is not necessary to wait for snow to fill the sky before you rebuild a snowy world in your mind and begin to shiver.”

It is ten years since Shih’s first solo exhibition, during which time he has gone from being 20 to 30 years old. In these ten years he has developed his own system of symbol words, which have appeared in his ceramic micro theater. Although the shape and background of the stage has changed over time, the main word actors have continued to make appearances in different guises. Whether barcodes etched in the clay, secret message numbers, ancient prose and classics, computer virus code, traditional patterns or words from various languages, all have appeared for different periods of time, telling us how the Shih feels at the time, his nostalgia and concern for disappearing words.  

The life and death, change or evolution of words, has always matched Shih Hsuan-yu’s central ideas, as it says in the “Book of Changes”: “On the one hand we always search for signs of change in all the things in the universe, on the other we also seek eternal principles as part of this process of permanent change. This results in the formation of the philosophy of yin/yang, where there are no absolutes only relatives. This view can be expressed in a simple proverb: “Put a mark on the side of one’s boat to indicate where a sword has dropped into the water” which means taking measures without regard to changing circumstances. Greek philosophy also has a similar idea saying: “We cannot put the same foot in the same flowing water twice.”

This kind of useless act is the same as people continually trying to plan and define everything. The “Greenwich Mean Line,” longitude, latitude, oceans, continents, national boundaries, laws used establish standards and the “words” often used by Shih Hsuen-yu, are all ways in which people seek to live in peace in a universe they remain ignorant of. Many people know only that these norms have to be obeyed, but do not know where they come from, whether to stick to established practice or to cast them aside. As part of this, the idea of “difficult change” involves knowing all the rules of the world, but not adhering to them inflexibly, but moving forward at one’s own pace. This viewpoint runs through Shih’s work. Understanding this principle, it is relatively easy to the differences that appear in his creative work in different periods.  

“Be in a State of Equilibrium”

Shih Hsuan-yu held his first solo exhibition in 1994 at the young age of 20 and the works he showed astonished the guests: The world changes too quickly, how is then that the generation gap between eras is so wide and so marked? Called a new generation ceramic artist, Shih used “barcodes,” “test tubes,” chains, sliding weights, steel wire and wood, to display new developments in ceramic art. He also started to work on achieving harmony between different thought wavelengths. The weird names of the pieces in this series of works also made a deep impression on viewers. For example, “Pledge of Blood” “Look for an Animal Trainer Behind the Scenes,” Mouse from a Hole,” “Honest Spring” etc. all made people laugh.

“Barcode” was the first infantry squad sent forth by the word kingdom of Shih Hsuan-yu, short and long black lines forming a rectangular symbol, representing a set of numbers. In that era, the barcode was quite new and department stores had only just replaced price stickers. The fascination with barcodes was reflected in the popularity of tattoo stickers. Barcode capitalism is a management method that came into being after mass production and as such is a symbol for standardization and lack of character, the secret identity of products in a cold city. However, for Shih Hsuan-yu, the “barcode” is no longer a symbol in a scientific era, it is a secret language exclusive to ancient, solid clay, a record of its mood.

Each set of barcodes is a symbol, hiding a strange youthful fascination. Each set of figures is also translated into its own meaning. To break the code, first convert the barcode into numbers then match the numbers to English. Once it is in English you have one word or a sentence. Each indented barcode brings to mind many different things, perhaps like the language of Braille used by blind people, being understood through touch. The fingertip that touches the barcode can be compared to the scanner held by a shop assistant, the code suddenly revealed under the light of the scanner. They are like the word tiles of ancient Mayan civilization, recording a past we are unable to recognize or understand. Translation and interpretation are required before it can become a contemporary language understood by all.  

The elements shown in this exhibition were the basis of Shih Hsuan-yu’s later work. Content revolves around “words” with three main constituent elements being cross media; “glass,” “wood,” “metal” and ready made objects; The focus is on the idea of “Difficult change.”

“The Axis of the Metagalaxy”

Four years later (1998), in “The Axis of the Metagalaxy” solo exhibition the barcodes had disappeared, replaced by the secret numerical message“Big numbers are beautiful.” Regardless of the outer appearance all had a different number of numerical sentences carved into them. Similarly, the code can be broke if the numbers are matched to English, and a secret message revealed.

In this series of works, the “positive and negative dualism” viewpoint provides an important commentary, utilizing the contrast of false/real, separation of left/right and paired objects, to describe the artist’s views of the universe and life. The two pieces in “The Axis of the Metagalaxy” are symmetrical but have different ceramic surfaces. Using the yin/yang concept of oriental philosophy, this symbolizes the relative world in which objects have two sides. Shih stresses the dovetailing of false and real in the “The Axis of the Metagalaxy”. The “nothingness” aspect of this work comes from the artist’s lack of expectation: “I just threw the clay, allowing its surface to crack naturally and then left it as it was.” The “real” face comes from the complex thinking and design of this young philosopher and the dense numbers etched on the surface. After the secret number messages are converted into English, they become intriguing biblical prophecies and revealingly honest poems about life.

Based on “positive and negative dualism” Shih Hsuan-yu develops a “standard” and “axis” standing in middle or serving as a boundary and representing human consciousness: “Things themselves do not change, just the way in which people perceive them.” Indeed, the perspective from which things are viewed is the “standard” or “axis” in this work. This concept is extended to the subject of “time,” with the work featuring a large number of hour, minute and second hands, as well as longboat shapes. These refer not just to the flow of time, but also more importantly to the interaction of yin/yang in the universe. The piece “Meridian” discusses the human definition of time, using virtual non-existent time divisions to directly challenge the authority of time. The work “Floating Time Perspective,” takes as its conceptual prototype the idea that “everything is in flux” as expressed by the ancient philosopher Heraclitus. The artist places the image of flowing time on the sea, with seven clocks placed on a ship shaped platform. The waves are disguised as part of the clocks and just as the title of the piece suggests, time floats on a boundless ocean as part of an unfathomable cosmos. As such, man’s time standards are nothing more than self-deception.

“Wings in the Wind” - A City Wall of Piled High Words

The 1999 solo exhibition “Wings in the Wind” was similar to the work “Wings in the Wind.” In terms of form, Shih moved on from the horizontally laid boat shape, up and inwards, building a strong subject with multiple layers. This subject is also made up of faux natural crack patterns and real message secret numbers, with an “axis” at the center.    

“Micro building” and “mechanical beauty” can be used to describe the special features of the works of this period. Shih attempted to leave behind flat surfaces and walls, using an assembled structure to allow the work to rise from the ground. It would be more accurate to say that works in this period were “mini buildings” rather than “small sculptures.” This creativity originated in “Taking the Wings of Mechanical Beauty.” In discussing the “Wings in the Wind Ceramic Exhibition”  it is said: “Shih Hsuan-yu’s mechanical aesthetics comes from his life in the ROC Marine Corps, the large military machine warehouses, round tube shaped pill-boxes, beautiful arc shaped boats, billowing sails, anchor symbols, standard images, all made him fascinated with the mechanical world. From sea to land Shih’s mechanical aesthetics also comes from modern architecture, especially the language of organic form, uncertainty, kinetic energy, cracks, anxiety, dual decoding and multi-element dialectic of post-modern architecture. If we look at Notre Dame du Haut chapel, by 20th century master Le Corbusier, Eero Saarinen’s TWA building or Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Spain, it is clear that the image of boats or wings has brought inspiration to Shih’s mechanical aesthetic.

At this time, concrete human shapes called “Angels” or “Warriors of Light” appeared. They had no features or e­xpression, but did have wings; not soft feather wings, but heavily mechanical wings with join points axis, an arc shaped main body and steering wheel-like arrangements, a line of feathered wings for flying high. These were usually positioned so they could look down from above, occupying the center or a high point. At this point “Flying” replaced “floating in the sea” as a new method for breaking free of basic principles. Shih says: “ I don’t long for freedom, but I do long to see the world being rebuilt from on high.” He then created angels, looking at the world from a different height, dispassionately observing from on high.

Whether a floating boat or the wings of an angel, Shih’s works have always conveyed a desire for movement. However, the characteristics of “clay” as a medium is “stability,” “reliability,” “grounded” and “warm,” traits that contradict the “calmness,” “movement” and “flying” Shih seeks to express. However, from another perspective, this contradiction reflects the reality of humanity, just as people are constantly trying to capture fixed rules and principles in the universe, as a way of reassuring themselves. But the human heart will not stop changing, so people’s lives are a constant struggle between “moving and not moving”. Shi’s works cleverly use the special features of the medium to convey signs of this contradictory struggle.

Collar Structure Micro Stage

Art critic Huang Hai-ming  once described the special features of Shih’s as “A ‘multi-level collar structure.’ Ceramics vessels often convey the idea of being a maternal container, but his works are more concretely developed in a narrative and micro stage” direction. It is undeniable that Shih’s works are increasingly complex and that the pieces presented on this micro narrative stage are increasingly splendid and numerous, the artist patiently explaining to the audience the sort of art he believes in.

The term “micro stage” suits Shih’s works, mainly because they have much detail, need to be appreciated slowly and are highly narrative, with each symbol having its own corresponding meaning. For example, “barcode,” “numbers,” “words,” “random symbols” are important elements that coordinate or describe the work. The “translation of words into numbers” is an uncertainty principle-like misunderstanding that cannot be removed from the process of discussing word dissemination. The “boat” or “wing” form gives a sense of movement, leaving or struggle. “Clocks” represents the passage of time and our different definitions of time. “Angels” are transformed humans and even a symbol of the artist’s state of mind. The “maze” is where people get lost. “White rice grains” represents the toil people endure for rice; “Small sandbags” or as Shih says “hot air balloons” are things people are willing to abandon when given a choice.

The viewpoint of the micro stage changes with time, first it was single and flat with all information viewable at a glance. Then it became cubict or boat shaped and the viewer has to walk around it, looking for details left and right. The axis at this time is still single, the “standard” and “axis” focused on by Shih remain located at the lateral transection of the object. Still later the “axis” becomes a “sliding weight,” “glass test tube,” “brave bear” or “angel” etc. Some are even able to spin on the axis they represent. In Shih Hsuan-yu’s thought system, the axis evolves from still to moving or from a single to a changing axis. After 2002, there was a displacement between the direction of Shih’s work and the axis. From the same flat surface, the axis moved horizontally while the whole work moved upwards. The isomerism of the axis infused the work with more aspects, making it more complex, causing what was originally only a line separating reality and nothing to transform into a wider gray intermediate space between the two. In this way what was dualistic contrast became diverse coexistence.

New Developments with Video Installations: “Close the World, Open the Next”

In addition to explaining Shih’s ceramic works, traces of the micro stage can also be found in his first video installation work, “Close the World, Open the Next”  held at the “Misssssss-Speed-Video Installation Exhibition” in 2000. This work was done in partnership with Shen Ta-chang and the exhibition venue was the Huashan Art District. Although the work moved beyond the scope of clay, the artists his use of smoke as an image screen, extended Shih’s use of “fire”, a familiar element for Shih. Indeed “Shih and Shen’s ‘Close the World, Open the Next’ saw Huashan as a place where nothing and reality met in a certain time and space. They used waterfall-like, seeable but untouchable dry ice as a screen and projected onto it hazy figures of people talking to themselves, floating like wandering spirits.

The image content of “Crossing the Border” contains a scanned photo of a “fetus shape” in the mother’s body as a base map, with details from birth, growth or death edited onto it. This moment inside the mother is the meeting point between two worlds, and also the intermediate point Shih always focuses on: “The previous life is not yet ended, the next life yet to begin. The same body reaches across two counterposed times, building a completely different chaotic speed. The former is about to arrive, the latter is far away”.  As such, the image is just fragments of memory that flash constantly in front of us, one scene after the other and in a moment the film reel of life plays in full. On this smoke image we can still identify the distinct personality of Shih Hsuan-yu, a “ multi-layered collar structure, discussion between a “positive and negative dual world” and the “standard” of intermediate space. However, this time the clay has been removed and the displayed made in the form of a video installation.      

Word Archeology: “Language Digestion Engineering”

After “barcode” and “secret message number”, the question became what surprises would the word kingdom of Shih Hsuan-yu come up with next? In 1998, Shih attended the Santa Anna College of Art Ceramics Camp and in 2001 was selected by the Council for Cultural Affairs as an overseas resident artist at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center. Both these experiences of “living locally” provided Shih with new energy and provided him with a more introspective approach. Because of difficulties in communication, and the dislocation of time and space, he found himself especially sensitive and gained a new understanding of language and words, producing the “Language Digestions Engineering” work.

Discussing “Language Digestion Engineering” Shih says: “Just like the blind can identify position from sound, or the deaf can read lips, when the language of different countries is transformed into elements, all that we are left with are broken frequencies and standardized totems. In these languages, details and rhythm all become very clear, with stop symbols between each unit, frequency, volume, the movement of facial muscles and the rest of the body, all needing to be precise and correct. This digestion process made me start to contemplate that the reading of large volumes of word and images in the past was, at a certain level, perhaps a way of disposing of memory and sensory perception. In an art village, there are individuals from all over the world, speaking a variety of languages and we developed a different way of communicating. After overcoming the language barrier between us, we created a form of coexistence, a global village way of thinking that involved returning to nature”.

“Language Digestion Engineering” caused Shih to reflect on his own language. When he discovered that Taiwan is the only places in the world to use complex Chinese characters, he began to look through old books for words that were lost, forgotten or unrecognizable, to incorporate them as part of his word kingdom. Shih says: “From the Tie Gui Cang Gui to Er Ya Yin Tu, from Emperor Kanghsi to BIG5, the evolution of words remains a mystery. The only thing that has not changed is that they continue to move forward.” At this point what Shih wants to do is search for these lost words and add them to his work, infusing his word kingdom with new ideas.

Lost Word Search Project: Mourning the Loss of Complex Chinese

The widespread use of computers means there is less and less and written text, indeed many teachers of Chinese bemoan the decline in student literacy and writing. The main reason is the ability to type Chinese on PCs and various input methods, which mean that users are increasingly unfamiliar with the feel of Pinyin or the structure of characters. At the same time, PC AV images and the large databanks of the Internet have replaced earlier knowledge and learning channels that were based on reading and practicing the writing of characters. In the technology age, we are progressing but also losing much. At this point, Shih’s works focus on words, especially the loss of complex Chinese characters.  

Shih asks the question: “When the digital age has destroyed the barrier between space and time, removed the boundaries between countries, cultures and areas, have we lost ourselves in the torrent”. He surmises: “In the new age country, children no longer write characters but use keyboards, the mouse and voice, they no longer read language but cut out what is required from pictures, images and messages.” In an era where God is digital and chips are worshipped, words seem likely to retreat from the functional to an aesthetic and nostalgic level, just like the ancient words that we half only understand, that we can translate or can’t recognize in old books. Words are dead, sealed underground like Troy, the ancient city of Pompeii buried beneath the lava or even Mayan civilization that evaporated from the top of the frozen Andes or Atlantis which sank beneath the waves never to be seen again.

Rebuilding Hope: The Rebirth and Death of Words

After much searching, investigation and interviewing, Shih mixed words together in “Language Digestion Engineering: Rebuilding Hope” in 2002. This extends the normal singular view of clay to more multiple level work including installation art, action, video documentaries and audience interaction.

Talking of his work, Shih says: “Through the cracking and re-building of an ‘earth wall’ I sought to topple the imprisonment of cultural barriers, restoration what came before and rebirth. Through the loss of ‘words’ I seek to record the drifting of language and human, non-human primitive hopes.”  This installation work covers a very wide area, the artist creating word dominos, a barrier or what can be called a prison from clay and words. He uses over 400 clay bricks to build 21 walls, each 2m high, 1m wide and 20cm thick, every one in the shape of a large domino. The alien words of new age language are etched on each wall as poetry, after mixing, reproduction hybridization, misunderstanding and change, and the future hopes of local people. On opening day, there was an event to topple the word barrier, when the walls were pushed over like dominoes and the hopeful words of various countries, ethnic groups and people of different ages were united in a single big hope.

Although the word wall that was toppled was a mixture, all that remains is a pile of yellow earth. The only proof of reality that we can touch or feel is the image of the debris. Words quietly display their death.  “The death of words” is the real face of this work.

A Tendency Towards Gorgeous Complex Mergers

Returning to clay in 2003, with “Close the World/Open the Next” as his theme, Shih held a solo exhibition at Yingko Ceramics Museum. This exhibition extended the earlier idea of “difficult change.” Shih used as his material the “Lulizhi” section of the “Zhi” chapter of Qian Han Shu, finding evidence for the “standard” he discussed earlier in ancient books. In Lulizhi units of measurement were set - huan, fang, quan, zhong, heng, ping, zhun, sheng etc and the music scale gong, shang, jue, wei, yu etc. “From adjusting the standard, balance the adjustment then gain the balance and use it to adjust”. Only through the existence of a “standard” is there a difference between empty and real, yin/yang in the world. It is this that ensures Shih’s works continue symmetrically.

In addition to the long boat and wing shapes in this exhibition, musical instruments were added, notably the mysterious Indian sitar. It is said sitars have no score and no set sound, that each one is unique and the music played derives from finding the special features of the instrument. The sitar has single and double voice boxes, its strings are on the upper part and have no fixed number, length or thickness, all of which are determined by the musician. This feature coincides with Shih’s constant search for the principles at the center of change. Each person is like a sitar player, composing the notes for their own life.

In terms of form this series of works focused on the sitar take the upper string handle as their “standard,” though at the same time this also has the feeling of the steelyard. The lower voice box is where the word records are located. Here Shih has pieced together various lost historical works - Compendium of Material Medica, “Tian Gong Kai Wu,” “Shuo Wen Jie Zi,” “Book of Han,” “Er Ya” etc. There are also examples of modern computer virus code, though the font is more precisely arranged with either a single screw wave or double screw Indian wheel arrangement. Each joining point has a chrysanthemum shaped nail as an installation. At this stage the artist exhibits great patience and care mixing all the elements together, displaying a post-modern, unconnected collage and a tendency towards attractive complex combinations.

After Extreme Complexity

From simple short poems to flowery rhythmical verse, Shih Hsuan-yu’s works despite undergoing various changes have always focused on the same subject. I asked the artist: “What after ‘extreme complexity’ ” He replied “Perhaps another completely different extreme”.

We await the next decade with great expectation.




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