主题：王友身 王度 杨千 张震宇 吴以强 薛滔 黎朗 陈曦 俸正泉
新作：薛松 施少平 周湧
Issue No. 73(2011)
Theme: The “Media” as the Artistic Theme
Academic Host: Sheng Wei
A.T: Wang Youshen, Wang Du, Yang Qian, Zhang Zhenyu, Wu Yiqiang, Xue Tiao, Li Lang, Chen Xi, Feng Zhengquan
A.N: Xue Song, Shi Shaoping, Zhou Yong
The “Media” as the Artistic Theme
Academic Host: Sheng Wei
Due to the development of the media industry, today it is as easy as pie for us to get all sorts of news from every corner of the world. Those events, whether they are irrelevant to us, such as Libya War, the Navy Seals killed by crash or the IMF CEO Kahn arrested, or whether they are closely related to our life, such as the problem of the high speed rail, the regulation and control of the real estate market, or the pork with clenbuterol, arouse our great concern towards the media, which not only constructs powerful public space and a word platform to hasten the delivery of global mass culture with high identity, but also permeates all-pervasively into private space and profoundly changes our life style and the way of looking at the outside world and ourselves through new mode of transmission and network. Evens like “wiretapping” from the News of the World extend from the security of private information and industry ethnics to the realistic representation of game between capital and power. Bound tightly with the nation, society and private life, the media has internalized into an indispensible mechanism of the modern social life.
In a sense, media is one kind of “art”. Transmitted continuously, art relies more and more on transmission. All sorts of events about the artists, the artistic works and the art world are always in this stream of transmission. In turn, more and more artistic creations gradually take “media” as their object, subject matter and theme, or even regard “transmission” itself as the artistic product in this media era. In the modern art, the earlier works which took “media” in included the newspaper collage creation of Picasso, Dada and Popp, who considered “newspaper” as a kind of outside and non-artistic material, and who attempted to mock the elite and high art and put forward the idea of the popularization of art. Conceptual artists like Beuys, Duchamp, Joseph Kosuth abundantly employed newspapers, books and posters in their device works, paying attention to the materiality and the macro symbolic meaning of the social culture embodied. Much closer to our time, artists such as Gerhard Richter and Mark Tansey talked about the media and its role in the modern society through their paintings, which introspected its mechanism and influence; thus, the “media” here was regarded as the “object” instead of the material of the artistic creation. Several modern artists like Jenny Holzer made use of files, outdoor advertising, Body advertising and LED billboards to think about the relationship between information, mass communication and public space.
Since 1978 in China, there have been a rich amount of artists and works that take the “media” as the material and artistic theme in the process of modern artistic development. In this particular field, the first artist recognized by people was Wang You with his performance art—“the newspaper costumes”, which accompanied his every public and daily behavior, and totally occupied his life space. Also in this early period, Chinese artist Wang Du used newspapers and books in his device artistic works. For instance, in the theme exhibition of the 2008 Shanghai Modern Art Expo, he exhibited the media space constructed by numerous newspapers; in Arario Gallery, a television wall constituted by dozens of television screens was displayed, broadcasting totally irrelevant programs just like that in the household electrical appliance stores. In the third Nanjing Triennial, Yang Qian put his “Paper Fountain” on display—the audience chose what they regarded as garbage culture from magazines of all sorts which weighed 800 kg at will and crushed them, and then the Paper Fountain spurted them out. And by erasing the content and characters printed in all kinds of newspapers one by one, Zhang Zhenyu reflected the discourse power behind the media through these blank “newspapers”.
Works like these focus on examining the expansion of the media, its invasion and occupation of the private areas and its molding of the individual consciousness; and they even look upon the media as a kind of exterior and imposed “act of violence”. In order to understand such works, some theories of the Frankfurt School based on Marxism would be helpful. According to Adorno, as the direct result of commodity fetishism, the “culture industry”, by completely relying on the mass culture produced by the logic of capital, cheats people with the disguise of happiness, confuses the differences between reality and art, and grabs people’s ability to purchase initiatively a more valuable life. And the media, which also rely on the logic of capital, work deeper to let the monotonous mass culture permeate everywhere. In this happy illusion, people accept this culture under the influence of the voice tube of the capitalist ideology. In turn, this culture industry and communication hegemony would directly influence and control people’s behavior model, thus making them gradually get used to the mass culture, loss their judgment and are pretty deep into it. Habermas also holds the opinion that the vulgarization of the culture product is in accordance with the pursuit of enormous market profits; media like television, movie and broadcasting make the “public area” which could not even be compared to the earlier salon become feudalized again.
On the one hand, in the mesh transmission system of cross-culture, and cross-space and time, the globalized mass culture has realized the control of ideology from both macro and micro perspectives. Accordingly, various media and media structures have built the hegemony of the communication mechanism and system and realized the ability of cycling and reproduction. Though these deep characterizations of the logic of capital do not possess the construction function, they actually constructed a “cage” to make the audience, readers and participants become the passive “domesticators” who have lost their subjectivity. The critical practice towards the media forms the most important basis of the media theory. On the other hand, according to modern social psychology, there might be differences between the receivers’ perception of information and the motives of the information producers, and perhaps, the single cybernetics of the Frankfurt School is not the truth. Scholars such as Philip Schlesinger believe that the audience and readers possess the ability to self-judge, estimate and illustrate in the course of participation, since the media and the mass culture broadcast are a kind of open and participative culture. Moreover, the openness of the text turns the media to be the game space of the ideology control mechanism and the emergence of the individual consciousness. The “guerrillas type behavior” illustrated by John Hicks also holds the idea that the participant could play the role of a “resistant”. To be relevant, in the artistic theory studies, Susan Sontag believes that the attention of illustration often leads to the neglect of the perception and feeling of the artistic works.
Therefore, although the media and the mass culture are one-way mandatory, they could still form a kind of debating space. And the relevant artistic creation can on the one hand build macro and direct reflective discourse, and on the other hand emphasize the subjectivity and activeness of the receiver from the micro perspective. By using a camera to copy the books read and interested, Feng Zhengquan keeps the photos intact in his paintings. Starting from “tampering with the news”, Wu Yiqiang “recreates” the big photos in the newspapers and reconstructs “new” image narrative based on personal experience and knowledge structure. Thus the relationship between this new creation and the textual content becomes obscure.
The media is the material carrier and communication tool of information. The behavior such as “reading newspapers” and “watching TV programs” does not refer to “read” or “watch” the media or the information carrier itself. In other words, the object of reading and watching is “information” instead of “media”. As a scholar in communication, different from his earlier peers pay more attention to the difference between the information and content in communication, McLuhan focuses more on the media itself and the relevant technical topics and proposed that “media is information”, the view of which believes that media is the extension of human body; different media correspond with different communication contents; and the change of the medium will change the life and life style of the human society. Meanwhile, it also holds that one kind of medium is the content of another. For instance, language is the content of character; character is the content of printing; and printing is the content of telegram. In her series of paintings “China Impression”, Chen Xi mixes various media, communication content and personal memory together: program is the content of television; television is the content of the painting; and painting itself is a kind of medium. Different from those who focus on “content” and “information”, artist Xue Tao pays more attention to the material he uses—the “newspaper” itself. He makes up the newspapers to be ropes, chairs or rooms. But most of the time, they are twisted to be a pile of shapeless “things”. The newspapers in the time of the Return of Hong Kong form a “pile” of yellow and red things; while those in the time of Wenchuan Earthquake, a pile of darkness. Thus, the media itself becomes information. The author could acquire information straight away visually even without reading its content.
As was illustrated above, the artistic creation is a kind of medium to carry various kinds of information and becomes the content broadcast by other media. However, many artists, instead of following the description and conclusion of this theory, directly regard “communication”, its behavior and process as the artistic work or a part of it. For example, in 1997, Yan Lei and Hong Hao mailed their “Anonymous Information” fabricated according to Cassell Literature Exhibition invitation; in 2004, Yang Zhenzhong, Xu Zhen, Jin Feng, Tang Maohong and Huang Kui launched “62761232 Express Exhibition”; Wang Yiqiong created and produced “Virtual SMS News” which was between art and daily behavior. The problems and motives aimed by them are not absolutely about “communication” and “media” itself, but they could not be finished without making use of communication. The series of works “mail art” created by Huang Yan in the middle and late 1990 deliberately used the way of communication to think about the behavior of “communication” itself. With the development of technology and communication techniques, new media including personal computer and internet are taken into the creation of the modern artist. In these new works, the new media art which also considers itself as the theme of creation and thinking object, are poised for a big jump. By making use of various media and communication and self-reflecting, these artistic works are undoubtedly the best practice from the perspective of media critical theory.