洪磊
    http://honglei.artron.net/
    洪磊
    生于江苏常州;... 1960..
    毕业于南京艺术学院;... 1987..
    于中央美术学院学习版画,现居常州;... 1993..
    参加“中国肌理—洪磊艺术作品展”... 2002..
    参加“art taipei 2006”,台北;... 2006..
    参加“广州摄影双年展”,广东美术... 2005..
    参加来自韩国,中国和日本的年青艺... 2004..
    艺术家亲自认证,二唯码身份;真迹、赝品,一键便知标识
    艺术家作品随时查阅,图文资产随时调用
     
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    洪磊的《七贤》
     
    作者:巫鸿 发布时间: 2007-06-28 10:10:12
     
     
    不知道从什么时候,大家就不约而同地把“七贤”作为晋代“竹林七贤”的简称了。但实际上古代曾有过若干个“七贤”。较“竹林七贤”早的有东汉的“七贤”——袁秘、封观、陈端、范仲礼、刘伟德、丁子嗣和张仲然,晚的则是唐代的“七贤”——李白、张九龄、张说、李华、王维、郑虔和孟浩然。佛家经典中甚至有“十亿七贤”之说,指的是普天下德行具足的一组组高人善士(见《仁王经?序品》)。但是为什么这许许多多的“七贤”就都被忘却了呢?甚至连盛唐的那个黄金组合也未能和论名望、论成就都无法与之抗衡的晋代七子相匹敌?我对这个问题的回答是:种种的历史偶然赋予了“竹林七贤“某种能够持续刺激历史想象和艺术创作的潜能,他们因此成为不断地被再创造和再想象的对象。其他的七贤即使道德再高、贡献再大,也从来没有能够以群体的身份激起后世的这种幻想热情,因此也就未能从藩篱他们的原始文献中脱颖而出,获得新的生命——虽然这些文献有着学者们所称道的更高的历史真实性。也就是说,如果作为“竹林七贤”的“七贤”是因史选择的结果的话,那么选择他们的并非历史,而是艺术,我们面前的这个展览就是一项最新的证明。

      陈寅恪先生其实早已走得更远:他认为“竹林七贤”甚至从来不是一个真实的历史存在,而是东晋人士人受了佛教“格义”的影响,兼取释迦“竹林精舍”之名和《论语》“作者七人”之数附会而成。(《金明馆丛稿初编》)近人胡海义又举出其他根据,证明作为群体的“竹林七贤”乃是后世作者根据自己的审美理想进行加工再创造的结果。(见《贵州文史丛刊》2005年第2期)对于美术史研究来说,如果这些结论可信的话,那么史书所记载的戴逵和顾恺之在七贤之后一百多年所创造的最早的《竹林七贤图》,也就都是类似的历史虚构的产物了。这些画我们今天都看不到了,不知道能够浪漫到多大程度。所幸考古学家于1959年在南京附近西善桥的一座南朝早期墓葬中发现了两幅硕大的砖画,每幅2.44米宽,0.88米高,至少是反映了5世纪时——也就是七贤之后大约两百年——对这些历史人物的艺术想象。

      这些人像画得实在很好,线条虽然模印在几百块砖上,仍然是潇洒自如,肯定原来出自名家之笔。画中人物姿态神情各异。表现得最好、最大胆的可能是半裸的向秀——他衣衫不整,合眼倚坐在一棵银杏树下,醺醺然一幅与世沉浮、得意忘忧的醉态,也可能就是当时人们所称道的“坐忘”。但奇怪的是,这幅图画却在两个最重要的方面违法乱纪违反了“竹林七贤”图像学的原理:一是没有“竹林”;画中情景并不像《世说新语?任诞》中所说的“七人常集于竹林之下,肆意酣畅、故世谓‘竹林七贤’。”而是每人之间间隔以树。日本学者曾布川宽据其树叶形状审定为银杏、树、柳、桐和槐,恰恰没有竹;二是不见“七贤”的组合;两幅画中共有八人,各属姓名,除了阮籍、嵇康、山涛、刘伶、阮咸、向秀、王戎之外还多出了一个荣启期。这个荣启期不但从来不曾与其他七人“集于竹林之下,肆意酣畅”,而且根本不属于同一代。《列子?天瑞》中说孔子在东游太山时见到他,“鹿裘带索而鼓琴瑟”。大概南朝人觉得这个描写和传说中嵇康、阮籍等人的形象差不多,就把他们放在一起了。但这样一来,“七贤”也就不存在了。实事求是地说,西善桥的这两幅画据其内容只能被称作《八贤》或《树下八贤》,或者更广义一点可以题为《高逸图》或《逸士图》。但是因为“竹林七贤”的名声实在太响。太有宣传价值,于是大家就都跟着着画的发现者把它们很别扭地硬叫成《竹林七贤与荣启期》了——虽然画中既无“竹林”,也无七贤与荣启期的分别。
      
      再过了几十年,南朝中期的人甚至连画像中的“七贤”是谁都不太在间了。西善桥砖画的同样构图在江苏丹阳的两座齐代王陵中连接发现,虽然同出一本,人物榜题却大多错乱:荣启期误为王戎,阮咸误为山涛,刘伶误为阮咸,向秀误为荣启期,王戎误为阮籍。这种漫不经心的原因只可能是由于复制者心有旁鹜:两墓中除了“竹林七贤与荣启期”以外又多出了表现仙人、龙虎的巨幅画像,其线条的精致飘逸与前者的错误连篇恰成对比。或曰:在这个新的构图组合中,七贤与荣启期进而被纳入了羽人和神兽的行列,正式成为道家所宣传的死后在仙的形象符号。我们因此不应该执著于榜题中的错误(那是考证派文献家的立场),而可以把这些画像看成是“七贤”意义不断更新的证据。

      这种意义的更新并没有使“七贤”消失,而只是使后来的艺术家和工艺师们可以更自由地借题发挥,使用这些脍炙人口的形象和故事表达个的隐思或大众的情趣,检查画史,戴逵,顾恺之以后的历代画家如陆探微、孙位、李唐、杜堇、董其昌、杨文骢等人都不断地画过《竹林七贤》。这个题材至迟在五代之后也被吸收进了大众流行文化,在瓷器、竹雕、研刻、笔筒、刺绣等工艺品中屡见不鲜。其结果是形成了中国人物画中的一个分支。我们或可以把它称为“七贤美术”,和转绕“观音”、“八仙”、“钟馗”等题材形成艺术传统差不多,所不同的是这个“七贤美术”中包含了一个特殊的悖论,使它成为精英和大众艺术间的一个独特交接点。一方面,阮籍、嵇康这些人始终被作为精英文化的代表和文人雅士认同的对象;另一方面,这些人谈玄醉酒、长歌当哭的独特行径也被大众所欣赏。对后者来说,这些历史人物的功能有如戏台上的角色,主要在于引人入胜,倒不必硬要观者模仿。这两支“七贤美术”中的潜流在心理和文化上相互抵触,但在实际发展中相互交汇。士人艺术家创作的图像被不断大众化。而大众文化的兼收并蓄又迫使精英们再去发掘和发挥自己和“七贤”间的独特精神联系,大众的“七贤”是对定型化图像的传播和发挥,而精英的追求则必须对定型图像解构,对“七贤”进行再造。

      每个表现“七贤”的艺术家都逃不脱这个逻辑。即使是再有名的画家,如果只是发挥,修缮现存的图像程序,那就已经是背离了“七贤”不拘礼法、“越名教而任自然”的精神,那就已经是加入到流行文化的洪流。

      这个逻辑不分古今,在当代艺术中也是如此,从这里我们可以进入到对洪磊《七贤》的讨论。


      首先的一个问题是“七贤”在今日的中国美术和视觉文化中仍是一个相当热门的题材,应如何在这个大环境中给洪磊的作品定位?

      不谈工艺品,商业广告和旅游文化中心中众多的“竹林七贤”,也不谈传言中李安即将拍摄的同名影片,纯美术对“七贤”的表现大略可以分为三种:一是采取传统的再现模式,画家将七贤作为真实人物,描绘其悠游林下,抚琴啸歌,纵酒操厄等种种情态。这些作品的“艺术性”以画家对人物神态的捕捉和笔墨构图技巧而定。这是许多人物国画家们热衷的题材,前几年香港苏富比公司拍卖傅抱石《竹林七贤图》引起的争议似乎更刺激了这种兴趣,总的来说,这类表现延续了西善桥砖画在1500年前所确定下来的传统,但是没有一个能够超越甚至接近西善桥砖画的生动和简洁。

      第二种表现是对这种“历史现实主义”(或可称为“历史程式主义”)的全然反动,突出的例子是杨福东的实验电影《竹林七贤》,表现的是一组文学青年在节假日间暂离喧闹城市,在黄山的云峰雾罩中惆怅徘徊的景象。我猜想杨福东不过是信手拈用了“竹林七贤”这个名字,追求的可能是一种有意无意间的暧昧,而非具体的历史映射。但是不少艺评家,特别是西方的当代中国艺术评论家,却马上以此作为作品的“概念”,迫不及待地谈起中国前卫艺术的叛逆意识和政治底蕴。(这个作品的英文名称是“SevenIntellectuals in Bamboo Forest”——《竹林中的七个知识分子》)

      洪磊走的是第三条路,也是最难走的一条。他追求的既不是对定型图像的再现和增饰,也不是“顾左右而言他”的虚拟或影射。他确实使用了很多“七贤”的历史典故和传统图像,但并非是要再现真实的或虚构的“七贤”他也使用了很多当代艺术的概念和手段,但并不在于解构书写的历史,脱离文学的叙事。他对“七贤”实际上是情有独钟,引为知己,因此绝不会去批判性地发掘他们的历史虚构性。恰恰相反,他自动地加入了这个历史虚构的文化传统,将其发扬光大,主动而自觉地去呈现“七贤”在他脑子中引出的复杂意象。这个意象既不代表真的七贤,也非完全的虚构。它涵盖古今,混合着不同的表现程式与语汇。人们不一定非要“喜欢”它,因为它不是大众熟悉的七贤。关键的是要理解艺术家的语言和逻辑。

      和洪磊的交谈中他说了这几句话:
      是不是对“竹林七贤”的向往早已蕴藏在我的内心? 我不知道。但是反叛的心理始终伴随着我,因为,我不喜欢平庸的生活,所以,我要反叛家规以及与我理想不符的所有一切。但更多的时候我却想逃脱、规避这个世界,或许这和“七贤”有心灵互通之处。我最初了解“七贤”,是看《世说新语》,知道“七贤”却是更早的时候。当然,“七贤”们的故事,史料记载也是只言片语,所以“竹林七贤”对当今的我们都是想象。  

      如洪磊所说,他的“七贤”意象——他对“七贤”再创造的根基——是刘义庆《世说新语》中一组组的文学形象。这可能是中国文学中最为隽永的人物描写了:寥寥几笔白描,却吸引着我们无穷无尽的回归,每一次阅读都是老生常谈,但仍使有心的读者一反三叹。年轻时读《世说新语》,最使我沉迷的是阮籍见到苏门山真人的事迹:

      苏门山中,忽有真人,樵伐者咸共传说。阮籍往观,见其人拥膝岩侧。籍登岭就之,箕踞相对。籍商略终古,上陈黄、农玄寂之道,下考三代盛德之美,以问之,讫然不应。复叙有为之教、栖神导气之术,以观之,彼犹如前,凝瞩不转。籍因对之长啸。良久,乃笑曰:“可更作。”籍复啸。意尽,退。还半岭许,闻上遒然有声,如数部鼓吹,林谷传响。顾看,乃向人啸也。(《世说新语?栖逸》)

      这当然是一个寓言:阮籍并不知道这个“真人”的姓名,但是最后却能够和他达到超乎文字、摒弃一切人类知识的心灵交通。(相比起来,《晋书?阮籍传》中的记载就太过穿凿了,居然告诉读者阮籍所遇的人是孙登。“啸”这种失传的音响也使我神往——虽然知道不过是吹口哨,但如果能够把口哨吹成“如数部鼓吹,林谷传响”则一定是旷古未有的音乐。

      我没有问过洪磊是不是也喜欢这段记载。我猜想他会的,一是因为他希望“规避这个世界”,因此肯定会否定“有
    为之教”和“三代之美”;二是因为他是追求意象的艺术家,因此肯定会喜欢那神秘、不含文字的啸声;三是他的《七贤》摄影神秘辽阔、色彩诡异、人物冷然,有种不食人间烟火的味道,很像是幻想中的苏门山的景象。

      但是这个“冷然”又多了一层超级女模的“冷艳”。
       
     
      为什么洪磊邀请七位超级女模扮装“七贤”?他在思考这个作品时对我说得很明白:
      我一直以为七贤们是一群妖艳的男人,所以我会启用女模特,而且他们是世界上最早的一批吃药或者用毒品迷幻自己的人,疏离、逃避的感觉类似六七十年代美国跨掉的一代。

      这里洪磊把“七贤”的概念扩大了——他不再把这个名词作为七个特殊历史人物的代称,而是汇聚了他对整个“魏晋风度”的印象和赏鉴。“竹林七贤”主要是喜欢喝酒,服药是次要的。以服药著名的是稍微早一点,称为“正始名士”的那群人,主要是何晏、王弼、夏侯玄。何晏又特别以“美姿仪”著称。有人说他脸白是擦粉所至,有人则说他本来皮肤就白。魏明帝设计做了个试验,请他在夏天吃热汤饼。那天何晏还正好穿了一身红衣服。大汗淋漓之下以袖擦脸,脸色变得更为皎洁悦目。

      这件事可以在《世说新语》里读到,记载它的“容止”篇可说是中国文学中难能可贵的专门评论男子之美的作品。篇中所称颂的那种男子美有三个特点。一是女性化:形容漂亮男人最常用的词是“美姿容”、“美风姿”, 。或把他们比拟为“玉人”、“双璧”。因此他们所欣赏的绝不是那种刚勇、雄壮的男性美。二是这种美是纯形式的,和一个人的内心修养、文章道德没什么关系,因此和我们听惯了的“美德”、“美育”等概念全然不同。篇中记载的种种轶事说的都是一回事:一张美好的面容顿时引起人们的赞美以至惊叹。不但妇女可以此呼彼应,在大街上联手赏慕一个美男子,而且男人也可以面对面地欣赏、赞颂别的男人。观看之余,有才华者说出的聪明机智的赞语马上被人传诵,最后载入《世说新语》这类书籍。这里也就引出了这种美的第三个特点,就是它和“观看”的密切关系。可以说没有“观看”也就没有这种美,而最能表现这种关系的是卫玠的故事:瘦瘦的他竟然美到“观者如堵墙”的地步 。他死以后人们就说他是被人看死了(“时人谓看杀卫玠”),虽然实际上他亡于羸疾。因此这种魏晋风度的美排斥“交流”:一张美好的、女性化的男人面孔是大自然创造的供人观看的艺术品;它静止而客观,拒绝感情和思想的牵挂;它被人欣赏而无需作出回应;它毫无内容但似乎又遗世独立。对生活在21世纪的人们来说,能够承受起这些评语的只有时尚杂志中的那些脸色苍白、面无表情、傲视众生的超级女模。


      我最近一次和洪磊谈话是在杜克大学的纳舍美术馆。“过去和将来之间:中国新摄影、录像展”在那里开幕,展品中有他的三幅(套)作品:1997年的《紫禁城的秋天》、1998年的《仿宋梁楷〈释迦出山图〉》, 和2000年的《我梦见我在阆苑遨游时被我父亲杀死》。

      几年前我和Christopher Philips 筹备这个展览的时候,我感到这三件作品代表了洪磊摄影的相互联系的三个美学侧面和三种艺术语汇。《紫禁城的秋天》拍摄的是艺术家在故宫太和殿前回廊中布置的景象:一只尚未僵硬的死鸟躺卧在自己的血泊中,翠羽上缠绕着珍珠、琥珀项链。整体意象有如一首凄艳的宫体诗,以宋代院画的套路传达出男性幻想中的女性忧伤和宫廷秘事。《仿宋梁楷〈释迦出山图〉》则更加强调了“挪用”的手法和摄影的戏剧性,直接把一幅古代名作转化为一出当代行为表演。在洪磊的重新想象中,当释迦牟尼走出雪山,他首先看见的却是躺在血泊中的一只死鸟。大彻大悟的他因此仍然是怜悯和惊骇了:梁楷画中内向自省的释迦在洪磊导演的画面中惊恐地直视观众,似乎不能相信面前发生的一切。《我梦见我在阆苑遨游时被我父亲杀死》也是以一幅古代作品为脚本——这次是五代阮郜的《阆苑仙女图》,但所表现的却是艺术家内心深处对自己生) 命的疑惑:制作这个艺术品的是不是一个前生或转世的女性?为什么“她”在梦中遨游阆苑时会被“他”的父亲杀死?
      
      这些美学原则和艺术语汇仍然是《七贤》的基本依据,但是洪磊对它们的融会使用以及新加入的成分,使这个作品得以成为一幅远为巨大和复杂、宏观展现艺术家的历史记忆和死亡想象的超现实画面。这个画面的基本视觉因素包括类似于《仿宋梁楷〈释迦出山图〉》中的行为表演,《我梦见我在阆苑遨游时被我父亲杀死》中的神秘天空、汪洋大海,以及《紫禁城的秋天》中的鲜血和凄艳。但是场景的维度和戏剧性的成分都大大扩充了,与摄影作品同时展示的服饰、道具和录像更打破了二维和三维、行为和静像、艺术和时尚的分野。这最后一项观察引导我们接近洪磊《七贤》的核心:他对“七贤”的意象既是古代的又是当今的,既是自我的又是历史的,既是艺术的又是时尚的。他在这个作品中表达了这种意象。
    2007年3月于芝加哥

    Hong Lei's Seven Worthies
    Wu Hung
    It is unclear as to when "Seven Worthies" began to be used as an abbreviation for the Jin Dynasty (265-420) "Seven Worthiesof the Bamboo Grove". In fact, throughout traditional Chinese history, there have been many "Seven Worthies". A relatively early instance occurred during the Eastern Han (25-220), when "Seven Worthies" referred to Yuan Mi, Feng Guan, Chen Duan, FanZhongli, Liu Weide, Ding Zisi, and Zhang Zhongran. Later on, the Tang dynasty (618-906) boasted its own "Seven Worthies",consisting of Li Bai, Zhang Jiuling, Zhang Shui, Wang Wei, Zheng Qian, and Meng Haoran. Buddhist scriptures even mention "One Billion Seven Worthies", alluding to groups of individuals that performed charitable acts in the world (see introduction to The Sutra for Humane Kings). But, why have all of these other "Seven Worthies" been forgotten? Why is it that even theremarkable Tang group, consisting of the most accomplished and celebrated individuals of the era, weren't able to compete with the group from the Jin dynasty? I think that somehow history has fortuitously granted the "Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove" with the latent ability to stir the historical imagination and artistic creativity of later generations, thereby positioning them as a frequent object of re-creation and re-imagination. Even if other groups of "Seven Worthies" possessed higher morals or made greater contributions, they were still never--as a collective entity--able to arouse the fervor of later generations like the "Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove". They were never able to break free from the confines of their original historicity and obtain a new life outside of these documents.

    In other words, if "Seven Worthies" is now a direct reference to the "Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove", it is not due to historical selection, but rather the product of artistic choice. The exhibition before us is the latest evidence of this.


    Sinologist Chen Yinke has in the past gone so far as to suggest that the "Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove" were never real historical figures, but rather the result of the Buddhist influence of analogical methodology on Eastern Jin (317-420) scholars. Chen claimed that the "Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove" were a confluence of the Buddhist named "Bamboo Grove Monastery" with the "seven originators" cited in the Confucian Analects (see Jinming Guan Conggao Chubian). Recently, Hu Haiyi has argued that the "Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove" were manufactured by later generations of authors according to their own aesthetic ideals. Art historically speaking, if we believe historical records stating that the earliest images of the "Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove" were by Dai Kui and Gu Kaizhi, a hundred years after the reputed existence of the "Seven Worthies", then these depictions are already the product of a historical imagination. As these works are no longer extant, we can't know to what degree their contents can be romanticized. Fortunately, in 1959, a group of archaeologists outside of Nanjing in Xishanqiao discovered two brick reliefs of the "Seven Worthies" from early Southern Dynasties (420-589) tombs. Each relief measures 2.44 meters wide and 88 centimeters tall. At the very least, we know that they reflect the fifth century artistic imagination of these historical figures, two hundred or so years after their presumed existence. These depictions are quite remarkable. Although the scenes are stamped across hundreds of bricks, the lines appear natural and unrestrained. These linear qualities suggest that the original renderings came from the hand of a great master. All of the figures are different, each displayed with a distinct pose and expression. Perhaps the best and boldest depiction is of the half-naked Xiang Xiu, eyes closed, leaning against a gingko tree, intoxicated, blithely drifting along in his drunkenness, perhaps embodying what contemporaries called "being free from worldly concerns". Yet, oddly, this rendition violates the fundamental tenets of the "Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove" in two respects. First, there is no bamboo grove. In the Shishuoxinyu (A New Account of Tales of the World), it states: "the seven often gathered in the bamboo grove, wanton and merry, and were called the 'Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove'." Although in the composition each figure is separated by a tree, Japanese scholar Toshio Nagahiro has determined by the shape of the leaves that the species of trees portrayed are ginkgo, pine, willow, tung and locust. In other words, there is no bamboo. Second, there are a total of eight figures in the two brick reliefs, each labeled with an attendant cartouche. In addition to Ruan Ji, Ji Kang, Shan Tao, Liu Ling, Ruan Xian, Xiang Xiu, Wang Rong, there appears an eighth personage: Rong Qiqi. Rong Qiqi was never part of the collective that "gathered in the bamboo grove, wanton and merry" and is not even considered to be from the same time period. As described in the first chapter of the Liezi, when Confucius was traveling through Mount Tai, he came across Rong Qiqi, "wearing a course fur coat, and playing the qin". During the Southern Dynasties, people probably considered this legend to be in the same vein as those of Ji Kang, Ruan Ji, etc, and thus combined them all together. But, in doing so, the "Seven Worthies" as a definitive collective ceases to exist. Realistically speaking, the Nanshanqiao brick reliefs can only be called "Eight Worthies" or "Eight Worthies in the Forest" or perhaps even more broadly "Images of Recluses". But, given the expansive reputation of the "Seven Worthies", people continued to call these brick reliefs by the uneasily named Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove even though there is neither a bamboo grove nor a distinction between the "Seven Worthies" and Rong Qiqi. After several decades, by the middle of the Southern Dynasties, people were no longer concerned about who these portraits actually depicted. Similar brick reliefs were successively excavated from two Southern Qi (479-502) royal tombs in Danyang, Jiangsu province. Although the figures are the same, they have been misidentified by their corresponding captions: Rong Qiqi is misidentified as Wang Rong, Ruan Xian is misidentified as Shan Tao, Liu Ling is misidentified as Ruan Xian, Xiang Xiu is misidentified as Rong Qiqi, and Wang Rong is misidentified as Ruan Ji. This sort of negligence can only be explained by the copier's preoccupation with something. Yet, in these tombs, the "Seven Worthies" appear alongside images of celestial immortals, and all are depicted with exquisite refinement. The delicacy of the linework, floating across the surface, provides a sharp contrast with the former case of so-called negligence. Some say that in this new assemblage, the "Seven Worthies" and Rong Qiqi are now part of a Daoist procession, and considered to be icons within the pantheon of Daoist immortals. We, therefore, shouldn't regard the mislabeling so rigidly, but rather consider it as evidence of the continued re-signification of the "Seven Worthies."


    These newer meanings don't dispel the "Seven Worthies". Rather, they allow later artists and craftspeople to freely use these universally appreciated forms as a means of representing private thoughts and public emotions. In painting history, the generations of artists following Dai Kui and Gu Kaizhi, like Liu Tanwei, Sun Wei, Li Tang, Du Jin, Dong Qichang, and Yang Wencong, all continued to paint the "Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove". This subject matter was absorbed into popular culture as late as the Five Dynasties (907-960), and commonly appeared on porcelain, bamboo carvings, brush pots, embroidery, and other crafted articles. As such, it began to constitute a subdivision within Chinese portrait painting. We can term this subgenre, "Seven Worthies Art", on par with art traditions that revolve around Guanyin, The Eight Immortals, Zhong Kui, etc. But, a peculiar paradox differentiates "Seven Worthies Art" from these others. It occupies a unique point of connection between elite and popular art. On the one hand, Ruan Ji, Ji Kang, and the others have always been regarded as representative of elite culture and identified as such by scholars. Yet, their discussions of metaphysics, excessive drinking, singing, and poetry composition were all behaviors admired and appreciated by the populace. In the latter case, these historical personages functioned like dramatic roles on a stage, seeking mostly to entice people's interests, although not necessarily asking them to reproduce these behaviors. While these two undercurrents of "Seven Worthies Art" exhibit psychological and cultural contradictions, in the actual development of this art, the two aspects participated in an active dialogue. The continued popularization of scholarly produced images, and the vast indiscriminate incorporation of things by popular culture, forced the elite to re-discover and re-realize their own higher spiritual connection with the "Seven Worthies". The integration of the "Seven Worthies" into popular culture makes use of established imagery. Elite culture, meanwhile, attempts to deconstruct the image and give the "Seven Worthies" a new life.

    Every artist who addresses the subject matter of the "Seven Worthies" cannot escape this logic. If an artist--even a famous one--simply embellishes a preexisting image, then he has failed to carry out the "Seven Worthies" principle of challenging established rites and propriety. In failing to "go beyond the Confucian ethical standards
    and following that which natural," this work invariably enters into the flood of popular
    culture.

    This logic applies to both ancient and modern art, and continues to operate in contemporary art today. It is from here that we can begin discussing Hong Lei's Seven Worthies.

    Given that the "Seven Worthies" remains a very popular subject in Chinese art and visual culture today, where can we position Hong Lei's work?

    The "Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove" appear in handicrafts, business advertisements, tourism culture, and is even reported to be the title of Ang Lee's next movie project. Putting this aside, and focusing solely on fine arts, we can trace three approaches to the "Seven Worthies": first, the adoption and remaking of traditional modes of depiction. In this category, painters treat the "Seven Worthies" as actual historical figures. They appear walking in the forest, strumming the qin, whistling a song, indulging in wine, etc. As is the case in many guohua paintings, the artistry of this kind of work is located in the artist's ability to capture a figure's spirit or mood with his brush techniques. A few years ago, Fu Baoshi's Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove was being auctioned through Sotheby's Hong Kong. The controversy surrounding the sale only served to further intensify interest in the topic. Generally speaking, these representations continue the tradition begun 1,500 years ago with the Xishanqiao brick reliefs. Yet, none have been able to surpass the vividness and precision of the original Xishanqiao depiction.

    The second type of representation is best described as a reaction against this mode of Historical Realism. One of the most prominent examples of this is Yang Fudong's experimental film Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest. The film follows a group of young intellectuals on vacation from the raucousness of the city who wander disconsolately among the clouds and mists of Huang Shan. I speculate that the work's title was not the result of a long, premeditated process, but rather a chance selection that the artist made. He did not set out to use this subject matter as a means of projecting a specific historical reflection. Instead, he opts for more ambiguous implications. However, many critics, particularly Western critics of contemporary Chinese art have immediately seized upon the "Seven Worthies" as the artist's "concept", overly eager to discuss contemporary Chinese art's "rebel" consciousness and hint at some sort of untold political story.

    The third path is Hong Lei's, the hardest one to traverse. He neither sets out to elaborate on an established image, nor does he try to evade the topic with hypothetical scenes and insinuations. Hong Lei references a great deal of traditional imagery and classic stories, but his goal is not to reenact a real or fictitious "Seven Worthies". And although he uses a lot of contemporary Chinese concepts and methods, he doesn't try to deconstruct historical writings or break away from their literary narratives. In fact, he holds the "Seven Worthies" very close to his heart. He treats them like intimate friends, and doesn't care to argue about the question of their actual existence. Instead, he has willingly entered into the cultural tradition of the "Seven Worthies" within the historical imagination. He carries it forward as he consciously attempts to realize the intricate image of the "Seven Worthies" that inhabits his head.

    This idea of the "Seven Worthies" is neither completely real nor completely fictional.
    He includes the ancient and modern to combine a variety of manifestations, forms, and vocabularies. People don't need to "like" the results, because they aren't the "Seven Worthies" with whom everyone is familiar.

    The key is understanding the artist's language and logic.


    In one of my conversations with Hong Lei, he said the following:

    "Was it a yearning towards the 'Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove' that I kept buried in my heart? I don't know.

    But, I have always had a rebellious heart. I don't like to lead an ordinary lifestyle, so I rebel against family rules and all ideals that are inconsistent with my own. Most of the time, I feel like escaping from this world, and perhaps it is this aspect that communicates most directly with the inner spirit of the 'Seven Worthies'.

    My first understanding of the 'Seven Worthies' came from reading the Shishuoxinyu. Although I knew of them before that, written references to the 'Seven Worthies' only appear in a few phrases here and there within historical materials. So the 'Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove' remain as imagined figures to us."

    According to Hong Lei, his understanding of the "Seven Worthies" is based on descriptions found in the text Shishuoxinyu. In Chinese literature, this text employs perhaps the most meaningful approach to describing characters. Although each description is only a few scant lines, they have the power to grasp the reader's attention and provide him with an inexhaustible reservoir of ideas. Every reading seems to consist of plati tudes on the surface, but the careful reader will uncover and find new meanings every time. When I read the Shishuoxinyu in my youth, my favorite story was the one about Ruan Ji meeting the hermit in the Sumen Mountain:

    "When woodsmen reported seeing a hermit in the Sumen Mountain, Ruan Ji went to go see him. He found the hermit at the side of a cliff, hugging his knees to his chest. Ruan Ji climbed up and sat in front of the hermit with his own legs outstretched. Ruan Ji talked for a long time. He first extolled the Yellow Emperor and Shen Nong's wu-wei school of governing, and then spoke about the virtue and prosperity of the Three Dynasties. He asked the hermit what he thought about this, but the hermit didn't say a word. Ruan Ji continued to talk, this time about Daoist thought and practice. He looked at the hermit, waiting for a response, but the hermit kept silent. He continued to fix his eyes on Ruan Ji. Then, Ruan Ji started to whistle. After a long time, Ruan Ji laughed and asked, "Can I do it again?" He whistled again. But, as he began to lose interest, he decided to go home. On his way home, about halfway across the mountain, he thought that he heard the sound of a number of bands playing. The sound echoed back and forth across the mountain. Looking back, he saw it was the hermit whistling." (See Shishuoxinyu)

    This is, of course, an allegory. Although Ruan Ji didn't even know the hermit's name, in the end he could communicate with him without words. (In comparison, the record of Ruan Ji's biography in the History of Jin is less interesting: it goes so far as to identify the person that Ruan Ji meets as Sun Deng). This notion of the "whistle," an ephemeral sound, captivates me. Although it is only a whistle, imagine whistling like "a number of bands playing" and having the sound echo across the valley. Certainly, this would be an unprecedented kind of music.

    I haven't asked Hong Lei if he also likes this story, but I am guessing that he would. First, because of his desire to "escape from this world," I think that he, too, would eschew the "virtue and prosperity of the Three Dynasties." Second, because he is an artist that seeks ideas and imaginations, he would certainly enjoy this enigmatic sound without words. Third, the mysterious qualities ingrained in his Seven Worthies photographs lend the look of another world, much like a fantastical view of the Sumen
    Mountain. These photographs are filled with strange colors and cold characters.
    Yet, the "coldness" of Hong Lei's imagery is embedded with an extra layer of "cold beauty".

    Why does Hong Lei use seven supermodels to portray the "Seven Worthies"? When he was
    reflecting on his work, he explained this to me:

    "I have always thought of the 'Seven Worthies' as a group of seductive, coquettish men, so I hired seven female supermodels to play them. They were, after all, the first group to take pills and use drugs as a way of rendering themselves semi-conscious, estranged from the world, much like the 1960s and 1970s Beat Generation."

    Here, Hong Lei broadens the concept of the "Seven Worthies" considerably. It is no longer a phrase used to refer to a group of unique historical figures, but rather functions as a site for assembling all of his impressions about the "Wei-Jin Demeanor". The "Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove" are known for their enjoyment of alcohol; taking pills was secondary. Drug use is more often identified with an earlier literary group called "Zhengshi Mingshi", whose most famous members were He Yan, Wang Ruo, and Xia Houxuan. He Yan was also celebrated for possessing especially good looks. Some people said his skin was white from applying powder, while others said it was naturally that way. The Wei emperor decided to conduct an experiment to determine the truth. On a sweltering summer day, he invited He Yan over to drink hot soup. He Yan, dressed in a red robe, began to drip with sweat. He took the edge of his sleeve to wipe his face, and when he did so his skin appeared even more radiant than before.

    This story is also found in the Shishuoxinyu. The chapter on "Demeanor" stands as one of the more admirable works of Chinese literature that broaches the topic of male
    beauty. In these stories, we find three characteristics of male beauty. The first is femininity. Descriptions praising these men often use terms like "beautiful" or make comparisons to jade. They never make mention of distinctly masculine qualities like strength or valor. Second, this kind of beauty applies strictly to the man's physical countenance, and is completely unrelated to his level of self-cultivation or morals. The various anecdotes in the chapter all relate a similar idea: beautiful facial features immediately attract great admiration. The allure is so great that even on the street people will crowd around to admire and envy a handsome man. A man, moreover, can directly admire and extol another man's looks. This leads to the third characteristic, which is the close relationship between beauty and the gaze. You could say that without people watching, there is no beauty. The most representative example of this is the anecdote about Wei Jie: a slim man who was so beautiful that spectators formed a solid wall around him. After he died, people all said that it was because he had been "stared to death," although, in truth, he passed away due to illness.

    This kind of Wei-Jin mode of beauty rejects "exchange": a beautiful man’s face is like a work of art, a product of nature available for people to view. It is static and objective, refuses emotional ties and eschews serious reflections. While greatly admired by others, it needs not issue any reaction in turn. It completely lacks substance, and yet also seems to shun society.

    In the twenty-first century, the only people who seem to be able to endure these types
    of judgment are the supermodels that grace the pages of magazines: pale, expressionless, and disdainful of all living creatures.

    I spoke with Hong Lei most recently at the Duke University Nasher Museum of Art when the exhibition Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China opened there. Three of his works were exhibited: Autumn in the Forbidden City (1997), After Liang Kai's (Song Dynasty) Masterpiece Sakyamuni Coming Out of Retirement (1998), and I Dreamt of Being Killed by My Father When I Was Flying Over an Immortal Land (2000).

    Several years ago, when I was organizing this exhibition with Christopher Philips, I felt that these three works were representative of the interrelationship among three sides of the artist's photography and three types of his artistic vocabulary. Autumn in the Forbidden City was taken when the artist was in the Taihe Palace of the Forbidden City. He arranged a scene in the veranda: a dead bird, not yet succumbed to rigor mortis, lying in its own blood, with pearls and an amber necklace intertwined in its wings. The scene unfolds like a sad yet beautiful court poem. It is reminiscent of Song dynasty court paintings that hint at the male fantasy of female sadness and palace secrets. After Liang Kai's (Song Dynasty) Masterpiece Sakyamuni Coming Out of Retirement, further emphasizes the artist's method of "appropriation" and his dramatic use of photography. In this work, he directly transforms a classical masterpiece into a contemporary performance. Yet, in Hong Lei's re-imagination, when Sakyamuni emerges from the snowy mountain, the first thing he encounters is a dead bird lying in blood. With complete realization, he is compassionate and yet frightened: the introverted Sakyamuni in Liang Kai's painting now stares out at the viewer, with an appalled expression, as if he cannot believe the scene in front of him. In I Dreamt of Being Killed by My Father When I Was Flying Over an Immortal Land, Hong Lei again models his work after a classical painting, this time the Five Dynasties painter Ruan Gao's Fairies of the Celestial Realm. But, what is conveyed here is the uncertainty that the artist feels towards his own life: was the creator of this work a woman in a previous lifetime or a female reincarnation? Why does "she", roaming through her dreams, get killed by "his" father?

    These aesthetic principles and vocabularies are in accordance with the fundamental bases of the Seven Worthies in this exhibition. Hong Lei's blending together of these elements, and his addition of new ones, renders the work even larger and more complicated: it is a surreal macroscopic unfolding of the artist's memories and his imaginations of death. The tableau's basic visual elements incorporate the performance aspect of After Liang Kai's (Song Dynasty) Masterpiece Sakyamuni Coming Out of Retirement, the mysterious sky and vast body of water in I Dreamt of Being Killed by My Father When I Was Flying Over an Immortal Land and the fresh blood and mournful glamour of Autumn in the Forbidden City. Yet, the dimensionality and drama have been greatly exaggerated in
    these scenes. The settings and photographs, along with the costumes, props, and filmic
    displays, break through the boundaries between two-dimensionality and three dimensionality, performance and still life, and art and fashion.

    This last observation leads us closer to the core of Hong Lei's Seven Worthies. His imagery is both ancient and contemporary, both of himself and of history, both of art and fashionit is this that is represented in his work.
    March 3, 2007 Chicago
    (Translated by Peggy Wang)
     
    (新闻来源:《七贤》)