The “Prolog” of Our Manifestos II: Videography, Documentary Impulses (2021.05) explicitly examines videography as a way of living, an attitude of life, and the quest for in-depth transformation in the midst of complex, crisis living. In the 2nd of the 5-part series, Linda Lai discusses videography as soundings, ways to voice out as crafted thought paths, the materiality of remembering as micro narratives.《我們的錄像宣言2：記述的衝動》於「據點一杯茶」5次連載的第2篇：黎肖嫻開宗明義把錄像書寫看為一種創作人的活的型態和取向，以至於對深度轉化的渴求，以對應如何活在繁複、糾結、充滿噪音的當下。如是，錄像書寫的認知和反省遠超狹義的藝術操守和理所當然的影像美學。這次，她提出了錄像書寫作為「發聲」的藝術的面向。「記住」必須透過「思路」的展現，而這就是錄像的「微」敘事性格。
**feature image by Linda Lai
…Involuntary forgetting and purposeful remembering…
Silas Fong’s manifesto concludes, suggesting: the paradox of our world implies necessary narration of conflicts embodied in a video work. (07-07)
video still from Working in Hollywood by Silas Fong
Between representational practice and non-action, Joris Wu’s 14-minute dream narrative presents our world as a fractured collage-montage body of desires, yearnings and memories, a heavily coded text of sights and sounds. (07-35) His driving force is the fear of forgetting, the unsurmountable anxiety of losing the essence of what happened; the work is his performance of melancholy and the presentation of subdued desperation. Dream narratives, a method rooted in Surrealism, derive raw materials from the familiar of our moments awake, and defamiliarize them via strange, nonsensical combinations. A dream narrative is the materialization of dreamwork in our deep sleep, and almost the only way to highlight its materiality, to make it possible for us to “massage” the unconscious mind we will never be able to fully access. Dream narratives have their narrative logic borrowed from the clinical analysis of dreamwork – it is yet a unique way to “remember.” Dream narratives are material bodies that make gaps, crevices and ruptures visible, and that is where drama lies. As a mnemonic practice, dream narratives mark what is on the way to submerge, thus premised on an extreme documentary impulse. What is forgotten (on purpose) and sinks into our subconscious mind never disappears – they are always about to dramatize themselves in our dreams without our asking, or one can deliberately turn dreamwork into an artistic method – a dream narrative.
…Thought paths… recording ← → narrating
Once again, through our manifestos, we strive to remember.
Videography’s micro-narrative activities involve the mobilization of the expressive mediums’ material resources to advance the step-to-step movement of thoughts and sentiments being unfolded. (Lai 2015: 473) The process that takes ideas to an endpoint could be more important than the end point (the conclusion) itself. Borrowing from theorist in phenomenological historiography, Mark Blum, (2006: 4), narrative could be thought of as a “thought path.” The final value, “7,” for example, could be the result of very different arithmetical operations: “3 + 4 = 7” is not the same as “(32 + 3) / 5 = 7”; the “journey” (process) is different, the thought movements (formulation of problem-solving) differ. (473-474) This is my phenomenological take in this project: our thought paths unfold individually, each a unique sounding, together they form a complex soundscape.
Zach McLane (07-22) cites Hélène Cixous to account for his curious encounters with his own thought world at work, “There is no appointment with writing other than the one we go to wondering what we are doing here and where we are going.” (Cixous, 100)
The very act of writing (– writing with sounds and images, the live movements of thoughts to be preserved in material terms –) being the chance encounter with our own selves is at once dangerous and intriguing. I suppose this description applies to me as well. (07-14) A certain moment on a certain day, I was suddenly struck by (visual) motions in the environment around me and oceans of thoughts swelled in my mind – I knew I would not want to lose the sensations of that moment. Remembering and documenting were the same command — an on-the-spot contingent necessity. To structure what I preserved took many rounds in the years to come. To me, videography is a narrative-narratorial game that could be revisited.
The present continuous tense of videography is also WONG Heiwa’s discovery through practice. Action with a camera initiates a thought path. She wrote, “Somebody in the workshop discussion said, ‘Your stories don’t happen before the images.’ This comment has stayed with me since. If narration is understood as documentation and story-telling, what I have never lacked is the impulse to document, but what stories do I want to tell? And if I get around to the back of the image, what will I discover? Before I find the answer, I will have to preserve those impulses that always assail in silence.” (7-30)
Mute Speech: Aesthetics of negativity (Adorno)? Inaesthetics (Badiou)? Experience…
Between positivist portrayal, representational practice and non-action, I find two artists’ works intriguing as they are both deliberately working with subdued speech and highlighted absence. They remind me of many works in modernist cinema that captivate me for their sustained silence and speechlessness, subdued expression, immobility and like kind of negative strategies that inherently critique established aesthetic norms, especially those that highlight communicative values. These works yet often feel immensely spacious and full of echoes. Coming to my mind I have Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia (1983), Alexander Sokorov’s Mother and Son (1997), Jia Zhangke’s Xiao Wu 《小武》(1997) and Zhang Ming’s Rain Clouds over Wushan (aka In Expectation) 《巫山雲雨》(1995), among many others. (Lai 2007: 206, 224-228)
Mute speech being a self-conscious strategy, both Winnie Yan and Cecilia Hua’s works invite attentive reading but not for comprehension. Yan’s moving image work is to bring together the presencing of individual moments and the very act of “enigmatization” (Lai 2001: 232); she is motivated by the right to speak rather than the desire to be understood. (07-36) Hua questions the right of her own camera presence and if there is anything that can be understood in a recorded image. (07-12) In the context of the politics of aesthetics, Jacques Rancière speaks of the critical dimension of a narrative, the function of which should be to disrupt rather than conform to the “distribution of the sensible,” that is, critical art should problematize “the system of self-evident facts of sense perception” in a work. It should therefore highlight absences as much as presences in a sound-image event; what is accessible and general should go hand in hand with “the respective parts and positions within it” (Ranciere, 12) to indicate their dual presence.
Both Yan and Hua point out how their selected videos configure the limits of what can be seen and said. Thus Yan’s manifesto asserts her videography as a test for the eyes – the seamless cuts and “localized blindness” are there to augment our attention to how images move. Hua’s “blindness” is implied, in the form of self-doubt. It takes viewers into an immersive journey that undermines seeing in order to enhance our ability to feel our way out. As an intrigued viewer, I find the mute speech phenomena in their work sustaining me between sleep and awake, with ellipsis constantly reminding me that I am also watching, from a distance.
Mute speech, or ellipsis, or subdued sight-and-sound situation, is, after all, a thought path, which takes me back to the negative theories of Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969) and Alain Badiou (1937- ). Adorno’s “aesthetic of negativity” concerns art in relation to human experience. A critical articulation, “ambiguity,” to him, is very likely art’s character. When an artwork appears in front of us, it is also bringing with it what it negates. Ambiguity in the long run is related to creative autonomy. (Allen) Adorno’s “negative aesthetics” should be understood as a double: deficiency, the absence, exclusion or negation in knowledge, facts or things, and, at the same time, excess, the overflow of words, feelings, ideas and imagining. (Botting, chapter 1) Adorno regards authentic works of (modern) art as “social monads,” each the originary point of a unique set of social-historical conditions intersecting through the work in dialog with other ambiguous aesthetic articulations. The internal tensions of a work imply that there is not supposed to be two similar works. (Stanford).
Whereas Adorno’s contemplation on ambiguity premises on a modernist view of art that over-emphasizes the single artist and what authentic art is, I find Badiou’s “inaesthetics” pushing ambiguity productively towards art’s truth content. As a commentary on his own practice as a melancholy novelist, Badiou brings in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1948-49) to advance his “inaesthetics.” To the question “what happens” in a work, “there is, in Beckett what does not happen, what insists on not happening – like Godot…” (Badiou 2003: 113) To Badiou, the question of what happens is the disruption of an evolving perceptual sign system that consistently moves towards interiority away from the event level of narration, but it rises above the level of text (in the case of Rancière, see above) to examine art as a unique form of experience, a mode of existence, which to me describes Yan and Hua’s works, as much as Joris Wu’s dream narrative, Swim in the Sea of Victoria (07-35), discussed earlier.
Negation and disruption mark art’s unique persistence as a “producer of truths” (Badiou), and a way to understand “art’s truth content” (Adorno) — neither equates artistic truth with philosophical truth, but both positively recast the relation of the two. To Badiou, he makes no claim to turn art into an object for philosophy: the objectives of “inaesthetics” belong to a movement to go beyond philosophy by means by philosophy, which I find affirmatively negative. Adorno concerns the truth content of art, which converges with that of philosophy; he rejects the separation of subject matter from methodology, thus also any clear divisions of philosophy into specialized sub-disciplines. […/ to be continued]
video still from Heiwa Wong’s Therefore I can See the Wind Blow
… 思潮，思路。… 記錄與敘述是雞和雞蛋…
美國加州的年青創作寫作人 Zach McLane 借用愛蓮．西蘇（Hélène Cixous）的話，多少帶點歷險的好奇：「與寫作的約會只有一種，就是時刻思疑自己來這個約會在做甚麼，以及將往那裡去。」（出自《寫作階梯上的三個步驟》（英譯本，紐約哥倫比亞大學出版社，1993年，100頁）。（07-22）一個的「我」與另一個「我」約會；這是不少錄像書寫人的戰競心情。我也算是其中一位吧。因為某一種觸動，感到要記錄，但記來做甚麼，那可能是不斷記錄往後才慢慢發現的。（07-14）錄像書寫是思路的展陳，更多時候是思路的捕捉與追尋，是記錄與敘述的角力。這也是為甚麼我覺得自己的每個錄像都是一個敘述的遊戲。
上文提到「再現」到「無言」之間的積極行動。（見上篇末段有關胡文釗的「夢」敘事的討論。）看了忻慧妍 (07-36) 和滑惜子 (07-12) 的錄像，看到了積極進取的寡言，想起好些曾令我入神的作品，都是因為它們的無聲、木訥、約制，充滿裂縫，卻又空間諾大，無邊無際，微音迴震。在這裡，讓我對二人的作品以「靜音、啞音」留下暫時的註腳。兩個都是可閱讀卻未必方便理解的個人錄像日記，充滿著有意識的省略，又或蓄意的過多、溢流，產生沈浸式的距離。
video still from Cecilia Hua’s Un-exposing
忻慧妍的錄像書寫以迷思化的面貌去正面肯定影像的出現，在說與不說之間，背後的衝動是說話的權利的肯定而不是被諒解的要求；這樣的效果，令我處於兩個領域的邊界上，目睹著眼前的聲影像浮游物般漫升至意識層，卻又在臨將冒出水面的瞬間緩墜。忻寫的宣言強調錄像書寫是對眼睛的試煉；作品裡無縫的、不驚動人的「剪」和「接」– 更準確的該說「斷」 和「連」– 以及觀者在作品內部所經驗的「瞎眼」 — 看不見，又或不知到看到的是甚麼 – 都為了令人看見影像的物質移動看得更清楚。
上述兩個作品，至少把我領回錄像獨有其思路，蹊徑上風景不一的題旨。不禁想起狄奧多·阿多諾 (Theodor Adorno) 的「負美學」。藝術的「負」的一面關注的是藝術指向經驗的可能性，也是對此的「批判的表達」，因此，模稜兩可或語帶相關 (ambiguity) 可能就是藝術的基本性格； 一個作品呈現在我們眼前的，同時帶住了其反面。這裡裹藏著藝術與創作自主的問題。(Allen)
阿多諾的想法，是我們可以想像的。錄像作品是思路，其動用的語言（聲影字詞）卻在呈現述說的同時注入了含混性。從另一個角度，在阿蘭·巴迪歐 (Alain Badiou) 的「非美學」(inaesthetics) 的討論中他引《等待果陀》(Samuel Beckett: Waiting for Godot) 為例，指出我們對一個作品的內部事情都會問：「發生了甚麼？」對他而言，「沒有發生的」和「將不會發生」的同等或更重要；如是，策問「發生了甚麼？」未必關注正面的陳述，而是對陳述活動的一種擊破或截斷 (disruption)。 (Badiou 2003, 113) 這種「反」的正面的肯定，正是他探討藝術作為一種獨特的「真理的生產」(producer of truths) 的立足點，跟阿多諾以「負辯證法 (Negative Dialectics)所談的「藝術的真理內容」 (art’s truth content) ，都是一種對藝術的「負」理論。正面來說阿多諾的「負美學」，傾向於缺席的、被否定、被括走的知識，反過來也指向過剩、過盛的事物、情感、用詞、想像。這些討論，都與他為藝術辯護，把藝術活動肯定性的分出來有關係。(Botting, Chapter 1) […/ 待續]
video still from April Lin and Jasmine Lin’s Reality Fragment
Allen, William S. Aesthetics of Negativity: Blanchot, Adorno, and Autonomy. Fordham University Press, 2016.
Badiou, Alain. Handbook of Inaesthetics; trans. Alberto Toscano. Stanford University Press, 1998/2005.
Badiou, Alain; Toscano Alberto, Nina Power and Andrew Gibson. On Beckett: Dissymetries. Blackwell, 2003.
Blum, Mark E. 2006. “Phenomenological History and Phenomenological Historiography.” A.-T. Tymieniecka (ed.), Analecta Husserliana XC. 3-26.163–184.
Botting, Fred. Gothic (2nd edition). Abingdon, Oxon. New York: Routledge, 2014.
Cixous, Hélène. Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing. Columbia University, 1990.
Lai, Linda Chiu-han. “Documenting Sentiments in Video Diaries around 1997: Archaeology of Forgotten Screen Practices,” A Companion to Hong Kong Cinema; eds. Esther M.K. Cheung, Gina Marchetti, and Esther C.M. Yau. Wiley-Blackwell, 2015. 462-488.
Lai, Linda Chiu-han. “Whither the Walker Goes: Spatial Practices and Negative Poetics in 1990s Chinese Urban Cinema”; The Urban Generation: Chinese Cinema and Society at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century: Zhang Zhen (ed.). Duke University Press, 2007. 205-240.
Lai, Linda Chiu-han. “Film and Enigmatization: Nostalgia, Nonsense, and Remembering,” At Full Speed: Hong Kong Cinema in a Borderless World; ed. Esther C.M. Yau. University of. Minnesota Press, 2001. 231-250.
Rancière, Jacques. The Politics of aesthetics: the distribution of the sensible. London, UK: Continuum, 2004.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Theodor W. Adorno: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/adorno/#5