文 / 海杰
這是他關於身份重構的一次次實驗， 明星，作為消費和生產中間最耀眼的一環，他們和異化程序裡的「物」構成了消費的兩大支柱。這些媒體整天報導的明星，都具有共同的特徵，他們「作為一個活生生的人類存在的景觀代表，……他們通過戲劇化表現的社會勞動成果的副產品，體現了常人難以達及的社會勞動的成果，這一社會勞動成果的副產品竟魔法般地將自己置於社會勞動成功之上，並作為它的最終目標：權力和休閒——決策和消費是這一永遠不被置疑的過程的主要部分。」 《人工劇團》裡的領導者和大明星符合這樣的描述與認識，但領導者或許更為自由，只是這個自由是大眾基礎塑造、支撐和維護的。他們「像明星一樣，在舞台上表演的景觀代理人與個人是矛盾的；非常明顯，他是自己個性的敵人和他人個性的敵人，這是一樣的。為了作為一個典型進入景觀而被認同，為了將自己認同為順從物的過程的一般法則，景觀代理人拒絕了所有自主（AUTONOME）的品質」，這裡的「順從物」就是「景觀代理人」所代理的景觀：消費的大眾基礎拼湊起來的意志。這也是張巍作品在合成過程完成之前的所有行為的總和，這些總和恰似PS圖層最後合併的那一刻，當合併命令發出，最終退出PS進入大眾視野之後，意味著那些面孔拼湊、構成、塑造的他們的代理人——明星誕生，但明星再也分解不成面孔的零碎狀態，就像合併後的圖層再也沒法分層。
ZHANG WEI: FROM TROUBLEMAKER TO IDOLMAKER
The contemplation of art history and the dissection of reality is perhaps the main focus of Zheng Wei’s work. This is the creative process that his fans are most familiar with. His later works, entitled Artificial Theatre, seems to have stolen the spotlight from his earlier works. A good example would be his images in The Diary of Boredom, where candid portraits of friends (shown being drunk, sleeping naked, laughing out loud, making faces and even taking selfies in a bathtub) are juxtaposed with a random setting. Zhang’s expression of absurdity and boredom in reality through a seemingly senseless approach in his creative process, reveals a consistency in his works that toys with the idea of gaming.
Wei’s earlier works are packaged this way to express the agony of real life and the mental state of the self in society. In The Diary of Boredom, Zhang Wei portrays himself as a troublemaker, in reality he is a zealous player of computer games. Playing different virtual character roles all through the night opens up two dimensions of existence to him: the violent yet amusing virtual world and the loss of identity in the real world. In fact, through this spirit of gaming, Zhang was able to explore the issues of identity in real life in his later works.
In the series Portrait of the Dead, Zhang uses photographs to illustrate the construction of identity in classical paintings. He photographed himself dressed up as a corpse laying on top of a piece of white cloth. The photos are then edited with Photoshop to appear elongated as his lifeless body is laid in a space that mimics the narrow compartment of a coffin with a cross sectional view. This series shows ‘dead bodies’ dressed up as coalminers and peasants in tattered clothes with their eyes still open, as if they passed on in a sudden and tragic incident. These art pieces no longer resemble the divine identity of the shrunken and withering body of Christ in Hans Holbein’s painting, The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb. Through the interaction between real-life identities and divine identities in art history, Zhang exposes the forsaken group of identities that have no hope for redemption in our current society.
One can say that art history is Zhang’s inspiration, in which he relies on as reference to reality. For instance, he photographed a group of ordinary people (workers and sex workers) to create a portrait of a group of unknown women which mirrors the side portraits of women titled Portrait of Unknown Woman by Holbein. Here, the construction of these portraits is similar to the progression of a game. In the process, he gradually reveals perplexity, despair and sorrow through the eyes of these elegantly clothed women.
Temporary Actors has paved the path for all his other works except for The Diary of Boredom and Portrait of the Dead. Not only does it stand as an independent work on its own, it also works as a reference and inspiration to his other art works. In the Temporary Actors series, he hired workers living in the outskirts of the city, amateur actors and children to be photographed. He then edited their eyes with Photoshop to create unsettling portraits. In this image, almost everyone seems to exhibit signs of illness, as if they have just got out of surgery. From this series on, one can detect Zhang’s ambition for the “creation of mankind”. It is worth mentioning that in the children’s edition of Temporary Actors, he abandoned the preconception that children are romantic, carefree and innocent in nature. And attempts to break through the fragments of time to travel to his own past from the perspective of “a person that has been through it all”. The narrative throughout his creative process abides by the memories of his own childhood, up-bringing, education, the care he received and the limitations he came across. His work is a way of searching for the contradicting expressions of affection and affliction. The children’s look of confusion and sadness in his photographs stand in stark contrast with their red scarves and pinkish background, emphasizing the tragic undertone of the photograph. In particular, Zhang’s childhood memories include the memory of his mother working for a theatre company in Shanxi, where he was able to watch all kinds of performances from backstage. References to this particular experience can be found in many of his later works.
Zhang Wei became well-known through the series Artificial Theater, which has a heavy focus on “the creation of mankind”. Though the title suggests what seems to be a puppet troupe, it is in fact a one-man show filled with his own illustrations. In Artificial Theater, Zhang applied the “skin” and “hair” from Temporary Actors to create a series of celebrity portraits. These portraits are then further divided into three identity categories: leaders (celebrity politicians), celebrities (entertainment celebrities) and unknown women portraits (female subjects in classical paintings). With such division, Zhang begins to amass a number of suitable portraits for sources. These are sourced from his friends and volunteers, essentially the basics of photography is the foundation of his creative process. Then, he uses search engines on the Internet to select a specific type of conventional celebrity portraits to reproduce. During this process, he utilizes Photoshop tools to create a collage and polishes the details until it is finished. Therefore, the portraits we see of celebrities such as Vladimir Putin, Muammar Gaddafi, Kim Jong-il and Saddam Hussein as well as Momoe Yamaguchi, Audrey Hepburn and Bruce Lee are very detailed and have flawless skin. Since the source of these portraits are limited, (as most of the subjects in the photos have passed on), the viewer is bound to become doubtful about his art works and question where the photos came from. Though these photos may cause an eerie feeling, the celebrities in these portraits are easily identified.
In fact, the Bruce Lee Zhang sees is not truly Bruce Lee himself, the Bruce Lee portrait he created is actually a visual collage of skins collected from hundreds of people that is made to resemble Bruce Lee. This enabled Zhang’s work to echo the inner logic of consumerism, which is that celebrities are moulded by the public. When we criticize a celebrity, we are actually criticizing the mass behind their existence. The characters Zhang created in this series are both real and fictional. When faced with these images, we realize that they have all undergone cosmetic surgery, their noses and eyes are reconstructed and their hair is implanted. In this sea of images, anyone can fabricate the truth through the use of Photoshop, even historical photos are frequently forged. In regards to this, Zhang’s work is open to various interpretations.
Zhang experiments with the reconstruction of identity in Artificial Theater. Celebrities are the focus of consumerism and production, forming the cornerstone of consumption along with the products (material objects) in the alienation process. The celebrities that we see in the media all have something in common. As Guy Debord wrote in The Society of Spectacle, “Media stars are spectacular representations of living human beings… Themselves incarnations of the inaccessible results of social labour, they mimic by-products of that labour, and project these above labour so that they appear as its goal. The by-products in question are power and leisure the power to decide and the leisure to consume which are the alpha and the omega of a process that is never questioned”.
The political leaders and celebrities in Artificial Theater fit Debord’s description and insight. Perhaps political leaders have more liberty, which is nevertheless constructed, reinforced and safeguarded by the public. Debord also mentioned that, “The individual who in the service of the spectacle is placed in stardom's spotlight is in fact the opposite of an individual, and as clearly the enemy of the individual in himself as of the individual in others. In entering the spectacle as a model to be identified with, he renounces all autonomy in order himself to identify with the general law of obedience to the course of things”. In this passage, the “obedience to the course of things” refers to the spectacle the individual is in service of. It is also the collective consciousness of mass consumerism. This is the totality of Zhang’s working process leading up to the completion of his work, and the totality resembles the moment all the layers are merged in Photoshop. As soon as these layers are combined, the final image leaves Photoshop and enters the view of the public, just as a cosmetically reconstructed star being re-born into the world. But he or she will never be able to reverse the cosmetic constructions, as merged layers can never be separated.
Though the body is constructed by the mass public, one may not be able to identify the pieces that belong to themselves in the expressions of the celebrities. Perhaps they would be able to feel a sense of familiarity. It is their consuming habits that determine the scope and style of movements celebrities make, at the same time, these celebrities entertain the public with various dramas.
Zhang’s work is an analogy of the logic behind the “Production- Consumption- Production” model in today’s society, even more so in relation to the production of identity and the cycle of consumption. In this analogy, we can see that the uncanny portraits of celebrities in Artificial Theater reveals special attributes of commodities, or postmodern silicon-like texture. This easily reminds us of the behavior of undergoing cosmetic surgeries and having breast implants, as well as other things that fuels the production of a star, such as gossips and scandals. Plastic surgery is a public want rather than an individual desire to “look good”, hence “looking good” becomes a system, which is in the form of “obedience to the course of things”. As for breast implants, being flat-chested does not stop one from being a celebrity. Just as in La Liberté Guidant le people, to become a star, there is a need to obediently stand in line with having large breasts, in order to absolve the anguish between soul and flesh felt by the public.
Through his technical process, Zhang Wei restores the said system of production and consumption.
Translated by Ran Wei/魏然
HAI JIE, is an independent curator and critic who specialises in photography. Throughout the years, he has participated in many prominent photography festivals including being on the committee of the Pingyao International Photography Festival Art, curator of 2014 Jinan International Photography Biennale, curator of 2015 Jimei x Arles International Photography Festival, award nominee of 2016 Jimei x Arles International Photography, curator of 2017 Lianzhou International Photography Festival, and curator of 2018 the 1st AMNUA International Photography Exhibition.