Occupying Minds, not Streets /Xin Wang/占领大脑,而非占领大街 /王辛


LAWRENCE, Kansas — Mounting an exhibition anywhere in the neighborhood of occupation aesthetics can be precarious nowadays, for people are increasingly fed up with the same reiterations of ideological conceptualism and the ultra-politically correct, derivative works that skim the surface of real world problems precipitated by global capitalism, government incompetence, dictatorship and injustice.

But Beijing-based artist Chen Shaoxiong had a rather pragmatic impetus for reconsidering — through art — global phenomena from the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street to democratic elections that have sprung up in remote Chinese villages. Acutely attuned to happenings in the socio-political spheres since he began making art in the 1980s in Guangzhou, Chen observes that the geopolitical where and what always figure more prominently than how social activism can be effectively practiced. Chen maintains that “in our universities we have never established a discipline for technical approaches to protests and demonstrations,” both important aspects of a modern citizen’s political life.

Hence for his recent three-week residency at the University of Kansas’s Spencer Museum, titled Prepared: Strategies for Activists, Chen attempted to take matters into his own hands in what he envisions to be a wholesome dose of social-activism prophylaxis. Contending that “demonstrations and mass gathering … have been practiced in every conceivable manner, and have proven to be an effective aspect of the political language of democracy,” the artist believes that “people should be vaccinated with this mentality.”

In developing the project with the artist since late 2011, the museum’s curator of global contemporary art, Kris Ercums, also hopes to “dissect the anatomy of a protest,” thereby facilitating a better understanding of the “basic structures of social movements as contemporary phenomena” in the opportune setting of a university campus.

It’s an interactive project from the get-go. Events that Chen has planned include a fence box facing the museum, weekly workshops led by researchers and activists, open-air public speaking, dinner conversations and ongoing interviews with KU students from diverse cultural and ideological backgrounds that have cultivated diverging attitudes and experiences of social activism.

The local community in Lawrence, the small town where the university is situated, quickly jumped on board. Chen’s original banner on the fence box featuring a Guy Debord quote became enthusiastically overwritten with new slogans and eventually overlaid with new banners and objects. Insights were shared; ideas spread.

A short documentary edited from interview footage (where interviewees are credited with their nationality) was screened as part of the final exhibition, which opened on April 11. Answers to a succinct questionnaire of four questions offer telling insights into the perceived function and effectiveness of protest in different societies. (The questions: 1. Have you ever experienced/partook in a protest? 2. What do you know about protesting? 3. Have you any knowledge of the history of protesting? 4. Imagine getting involved.)

In addition, artworks made by Chen and other participants were juxtaposed with pieces culled from the museum’s collection, an impressive lineup including the Guerrilla Girls. Archival materials were supplemented with fresh specimens from such recent movements as OWS, among them a toilet lid sprayed with Bank of America’s logo. Collectively these revolutionary memorabilia, though plucked out of their original context, provide a new one for rethinking the latest global movements. It also reassures, as one of the interviewee put it: “so that we don’t feel isolated in our dissent.”

The exhibition is richly informative, whimsical and thought provoking without any of the contrived scruffiness or coming across as feeling fashionable. Practical information also abounds: a poster Chen designed for the project provides a visual checklist for those planning to go into the streets. Juxtaposed with a similar poster illustrating standard police-force equipment, it acknowledges that, even as social media and new technologies continue to transform the ways people protest, incidents from the 1970 Kent State shootings to the recent pepper-spray cop incident at UC Davis serve as poignant reminders that the human body is uniquely powerful yet extremely vulnerable in the act of struggle.

After Kansas, Chen plans to realize his “protester’s training camp” to more locales, including his censorship-tight home country, where contemplating demonstration through art and research as a form of “vaccination” can be particularly meaningful.

Prepared: Strategies for Activists is on view at the Spencer Museum of Art (1301 Mississippi Street, Lawrence, Kansas) through July 22.



堪萨斯州的劳伦斯城——在四处盛行着所谓“占领美学”的今天,折腾一个与此相关的艺术展览似乎有些吃力不讨好,大 家对意识形态化的观念主义和极度政治正确性的陈词滥调已是审美疲劳,对那些蜻蜓点水地涉及全球资本主义、政府无能、独裁和不公,却忽视它们引发的现实问题 的轻率作品更是越发生厌。

但来自于北京的艺术家陈劭雄似乎有着一个更实用主义的出发点,他想通过艺术的方式来反思从阿拉伯之春和占领华尔街到中国偏远农村所涌现的民主选举热之全球现象。早在八十年代的广州开始从事艺术时,陈便对社会政治事件相当敏锐;他观察到在地缘政治的讨论之中,地点(where )和内容( what )往往被大书特书,  而如何 (how )有效地实践这些社会运动的问题往往被忽视了。陈提出: “在我们的大学里从未设立一个关于抗议方法和示威技术的学科,” 而抗议示威又恰恰是现代公民政治生活中不可或缺的。

因 此最近三周在堪萨斯大学Spencer美术馆所做的“有备无患:激进者策略”项目中,陈尝试去缜密考虑所设想的情况以预先准备好社会行动措施。艺术家相 信:“游行示威和大规模聚会……已被实践和证明了它的有效性,它是伴随着民主的进程所使用的一种政治语言,”故此认为“人们应该在心理上接种这种 疫苗。”

自2011年底艺术家发展这个项目伊始,该美术馆的全球当代艺术策划人欧翔便希望将这种社会现象植入大学的校园内, 借此“解剖和分析抗议活动内核,以更好地理解现时这种社会运动的基础构成。”

这 个项目从一开始就带着很强的互动性,陈所计划的事件包括美术馆门前的方形栅栏、每周一次邀请学者和激进分子来分享他们的研究和经验的讲习班、露天公众演 讲、提供餐饮的讨论会和持续进行中的,对来自多种文化和意识形态背景的堪萨斯大学学生进行采访——因为这些截然不同的背景造就了对社会激进主义的不同态度 与体验。


一 个由许多采访镜头编辑而成的纪录短片(在里面每个受访者都被注明了他们的国籍)成为4月11日开始的展览的重要组成部分。 这个由四个问题组成的简短问卷收集的答案生动地昭示了被访者对不同社会系统中抗议所起的作用以及有效性的不同见解。(问卷内容是:1,你有过抗议的经历 吗?2,你具备哪些抗议的知识?3,你了解抗议的历史吗?4,想像一场你将参与的抗议)

除此之外,陈和其他参与者的作品与美术馆的藏品一并 展出,这些令人印象深刻的陈列中还包括有名的“游击队姑娘”。文献资料档案中又添入来自占领华尔街的鲜活标本,比如一个被漆上美国银行logo的马桶盖。 这些被收集被展示的革命纪念品虽然脱离了原来的语境,但却提供了一个重新思考最近全球运动的新视角。这种展示同时也能提供一种宽慰和确信,就像一位受访者 所说的“这样我们便不会觉得因为自己的异议而被孤立。”

这个展览咨询丰富,趣味十足又发人深省,且丝毫没有矫饰的邋遢和赶时髦话题的意思。 实用资信随处可见,如陈所设计的一张视觉化清单,上面罗列了计划上街游行者所要准备的道具,并列在一起的则是一张标准警力装备的图解海报。这一个对比承认 着这样一个事实:即使社交媒体和新技术持续带来抗议方式的变革,从1970年的肯特州立大学射击事件到最近的加州达维斯校园的警察喷辣椒水事件都在提醒我 们:在这类抗争中肉身的现场性有其独特的力量,但又极端地脆弱。