在〈為何凝視動物？〉中，約翰‧伯格(John Berger)寫道：「動物園是一個羣集各種類動物以便能讓我們看、觀察並硏究的地方。原則上，每一個籠子乃是環繞著動物的一個框框。遊客去動物園看動物，他們一籠子一籠子地看，和畫廊內觀眾一幅接一幅地看畫，其情形沒什麼兩樣。然而，在動物園內的視點總是錯誤的，如同一張沒對準焦距的相片。」(註二) 伯格認為，即便動物園設立的目的在於提供大眾「觀賞動物」的機會，不過這邊的「觀看」注定是「失焦」的，因為在動物園內，沒有任何遊客能夠捕捉住動物的眼神。伯格解釋，動物園中的動物被保護、孤立、封閉在虛構的人造環境之中，與其他動物之間不再有任何真實的交集。在這個情況下，動物對外界的反應只剩下被動、百無聊賴的等待。牠們不再「注視」，而只「側視」，只渙散地將眼光投射在四周。對於伯格而言，「在與動物相互凝視的眼光中體會到某種熟悉感，並藉此辨認出自身的存在」原本是人類所獨有的能力，然而當動物從現代生活中漸漸絕跡，被徹底邊緣化時，這種相互的凝視從此消失了。遊客仍注視動物，不過他們只能看到一個個雖活著、卻不符合自己期待的動物。伯格寫到，當小孩在動物園裡不斷追問「牠在哪裏？牠怎麼都不會動？牠是不是死了？」時，這邊問的其實更是：「為什麼這個動物比我想像中的還不像動物？」。它反映出了「現代生活中動物複製品已取代了真實動物」的事實。於是，在失焦與失望的目光中，動物園遊客感受到的終究只是自身的寂寞。
當我們把眼光從畫面上挪開，並且意識到，在展間裡另一個角落所展示的「塑膠嬰兒」(圖二)正是剛剛在〈人的莊園No. 02〉中出現的嬰兒，而且他，或是該說「它」，更是在另一幅肖像照片〈人的莊園No. 18〉(圖三)中的出現的人物時，事情顯得更複雜了。最終，我們甚至會開始懷疑，我們眼前看到的人物究竟是不是「真人」，或者，我們眼前的相片其實是民族學博物館裡用蠟像擺設出來的場景？
譬如在〈人的莊園No. 02〉中的「假嬰兒」，實際上，和它周圍大量生產出來的工業加工食品一樣，它們都是工業大量模組化複製出來的「人造物」。我們可以輕易想像，在眼前的畫面之外，存在著無數已經被生產出來或是即將被製造出來的「它」。而且如同我們眼前的攝影相片，所有過去的、未來的和當下平行存在的「它」和「它」之間，不會存在某個「它」比另一個「它」更真實、更確切的問題，因為它們都是用同一個模子所製造出來的「複本」。在這邊，pars pro toto，每一個個別的「它」都再現著整體。這是一張相片、一件產品在所謂「機械複製時代」所共有的特性。
就技術的角度看來，周慶輝在《人的莊園》中使用的是一種通常被稱作「擺拍」或是「編導式攝影」 (英文staged photography、德文inszenierte Fotografie)手法，也就是，創作者在經過嚴密的設計、安排、校準，將一切元素擺置到位之後，才按下快門，將影像定影下來的整個過程。在這邊，我無意詳述「擺拍」的攝影史，或是周慶輝和歷史上其他創作者的相似之處。《人的莊園》中引發我不斷思索、聯想的是，「擺拍」中的「擺」和工作紀錄片中藝術家在按下快門前喊出的「不要動！」這個命令句。
「擺」，在德文中為stellen，意味著將某個東西擺放到一個地方，並讓它站立著。只要在stellen加上前綴dar- (意味著「到那邊」)就會成為用來指稱「呈現」、「描繪」、「彰顯」的darstellen，如果加上的是另一個詞頭 aus- (意味著「由內向外」)，我們則會得到今天德文中普遍用來指稱「展示」的動詞ausstellen，這個字名詞化以後則是德文中的「展覽」Ausstellung。從字源上看來，不管是「擺設」、「呈現」或是「展示」，它們都牽涉著將東西從它們原本所在的地方放置到另一處，且讓它們「穩固地佇立」在彼處的過程。
當《人的莊園》將場景中所有的演員、玩偶、標本收攏、定影成靜態影像時，它引人思索的是這些靜態影像某種在生與死、動與靜之間游移、曖昧不明的狀態：被擺置在場景中的人被要求在攝影的瞬間靜止不動，成為某種「靜物」(still life) ──「靜止的生命」；在每個場景中隨處可見的動物標本則是在生物死後，透過人造加工、將屍體重新凝結在某個動態的瞬間，一種對於生的擬仿。在此，一邊是由動到靜，另一邊則是由死到生，然而它們最終在鏡頭梅杜莎的眼光中成為永恆的影像。這讓人聯想到，在西方可以追溯至古希臘時代，在十五世紀以降又重新復興起來的「活人畫」(Tableau vivant)：用真人模仿繪畫、雕刻作品所擺設出來的靜態場景；或是十九世紀中到二十世紀初流行於歐美的「死亡相片」：將死去之屍體，利用同樣用來支撐活人姿勢的支架，拍攝成活人的一系列肖像照片。不管是用生的去擺出死的，或是用死的去模擬生的，當《人的莊園》透過將生的人、死的物、仿生的物、仿死的人收歸成同一個靜態影像時，它也呈現出了動與靜、生與死兩個悖反概念的共存和辯證關係。
《人的莊園》是建立在對於每一個姿態、細節與符號刻意的經營、擺設與展示上，而到了在展場動線中的最後一張在動物園裡拍攝的巨幅攝影〈人的莊園No. 05〉(圖六)，創作者似乎又讓自己的創作手法成為了畫面討論的主題：我們在畫面中看見四組由不同人物所扮演的畫家正在作畫的場景，不過，很明顯的，擺在他們之前的場景和他們呈現在畫布上的圖像之間都存在著荒謬、不合理的差異。在美術館提供的資料中，我們會讀到這件作品的主題為「貧窮」。然而，我總覺得畫面右下角被似乎被擺在攝影棚中、等待被拍攝下來的羚羊標本才是〈人的莊園No. 05〉中的重點。這是一個同樣被創作者「擺」出來的場景，可是，這個「擺出來的場景」向我們所揭示的，正是自己「被擺出來」的事實。
Illustrational specimens of the human world
But of the worlds from which man is excluded each case is only a tiny sample, torn from a natural continuum that might also never have existed, a few cubic meters of atmosphere that elaborate devices maintain at a certain degree of temperature and humidity. Thus every sample of this antediluvian bestiary is kept alive artificially, as if it were a hypothesis of the mind, a product of the imagination, a construction of language, a paradoxical line of reasoning meant to demonstrate that the only true world is our own…
Italo Calvino(The order squamata)
The sight out of focus
John Berger says in ‘A zoo is a place where as many species and varieties of animal as possible are collected in order that they can be seen, observed, studied. In principle, each cage is a frame round the animal inside it. Visitors visit the zoo to look at animals. They proceed from cage to cage, not unlike visitors in an art gallery who stop in front of one painting, and then move on to the next or the one after next. Yet in the zoo the view is always wrong. Like an image out of focus.’  Berger believes that even the purpose of a zoo is to offer the public a chance to ‘view animals’, and yet such ‘viewing’ would inevitably be ‘out of focus’ because no visitors can capture the sight of animals in a zoo. Berger explains that animals in a zoo are protected, isolated and restricted inside an artificial simulative environment and have no actual contact with other animals, and hence their reactions to their surrounding would be left to be waiting passively and stultifyingly under such circumstances. They stop ‘gazing’ and instead ‘look sideways’ and move their sights around loosely. For Berger, ‘being aware of oneself by returning the look from animals and recognising some kind of familiarity’ is ability exclusive to humans. However, while animals are gradually extinct and outcast in the modern era, the look between one another has disappeared. Visitors still look at animals, but they can only see one after another creature alive yet against their expectation. Berger writes that in z zoo, when children repeatedly asking ‘Where is it? Why doesn’t it move? Is it dead?’, their questions sound more like ‘Why are these animals less animal-like than I thought?’ Therefore, between the sight out of focus and disappointment, zoo visitors may feel loneliness of one’s own in the end.
Humans inside the scene of animals
At first glance, Ching-hui CHOU’s approach of ‘replacement’ in Animal Farm seems rather straightforward. He replaces ‘animals’ that are originally in a zoo with ‘humans’ and puts humans, who are moved from the position of ‘active observers’ to ‘species being observed’, at the centre of the stage. Moreover, the ‘replacement’ here has another layer of meaning: as John Berger makes viewing paintings in a gallery a ‘metaphor’ for viewing animals from one cage to another in a zoo, Animal Farm ‘simulates’ that mode of viewing animals in a zoo inside the museum. Where, these huge photographs, which are shot at a zoo, are exhibited under spotlights in a dim environment, viewers are like looking at scenes designed for different species through a huge glass partition from a safe distance. Additionally, the occasional howl echoing inside the museum gives visitors a false impression of being in a zoo.
Nevertheless, that is of course just an illusion. Obviously, Animal Farm does not mean to erase the line between animals and humans, nor does it plan to categorise human simply as one species such as ‘silver gibbon’, ‘chimpanzee’, ‘Macaca Nigra’ and ‘Common Brown lemur’ in Taxonomy. On the contrary, Animal Farm intends to disturb our familiar viewing habits by displaying humans in the framework of a zoo in order to create an alien and dramatic perspective for us.
Nonetheless, we must know, in any case, the function of display areas in a zoo is more then providing basic survivable environment, caging and exhibiting animals because these different sizes of ‘display areas’ also show how we classify, group, order and define living things and reflect the ‘system’ and ‘structure’ that we give the world. When visitors walk through display areas in a zoo and view animals together with their scientific names, taxonomy, characteristics, habits and distributions… visitors’ paths of ‘learning about different animals’ are actually an implicit guidance of knowing and understanding the world. As the matter of fact, in the work, the nine appropriated display settings for exhibiting humans function the same. Firstly, the surroundings are transformed into stages for showing different human states, and secondly, after the artist builds the stage, creates scenery, places characters in it and takes the photograph, the artworks then become ‘frames’ that propose ‘how to view humans’. As an exhibition inside a museum, Animal Farm resembles a zoo further in also providing ‘guides’: as indications, maps and signs are everywhere in a zoo, brochures are given to detail information of each artwork following the visiting route for the exhibition.
As mentioned above, Berger says in ‘Yet in the zoo the view is always wrong. Like an image out of focus.’ Having read this sentence, I went back to look at each of the subtitles that are given by the museum to these photographs which are taken in the surroundings of a zoo: gym, modular life, aging, infertility, poverty, melancholia, pop aesthetics, technology communications and sex, and it occurred to me to wonder about would it be too ‘explicit’ to appreciate Animal Farm via those ‘subjects’? In other words, if we view these images through such specific subject matters, could some things, which are ambiguous and cannot be properly, suitably placed in order or reasoned at the beginning, be ruled out forever?
For all that, what are those ‘some things’?
Artist uses the former display area of the silver gibbon in Hsinchu Zoo for the set of Animal Farm No.02 (figure 1). The image in front of us is divided into two parts: one presents a private home setting, and the other part looks like a public convenient store. The clock on the wall to the right shows eleven pass seven, and the supper should have been served for a while if it is in the evening. All the family members are there surrounded by things which are placed meticulously including instant noodles, cans and processed food: the housewife is preparing the last dish, the son and baby are waiting to eat and the daddy is sitting at the table already. The father sitting in front of a birthday cake and looking in the distance seems to be waiting for something; the baby who is holding a plastic spoon and sitting in front of a corn can looks like he is conscious of the viewers on the other side of the print, and the son is eating microwave food respectfully… On the other side, there is a married-like woman who has just finished her shopping falling asleep on a table, a teenage girl playing her smart phone and drinking and also a middle age male staring at a computer screen in concentration. However, it is bizarre that no one in this photograph seems to have connection. We can neither be certain about whether the son’s dinner is prepared by the mother, whose birthday it is, nor do we know what the relationship between the two settings on the left and right is. We may only be confident about recognising the role, function, purpose and meaning of each and every person, tiny object and symbol displayed here. Nevertheless, when they are connected and collected together, the one association for understanding seems to be gone. The clues that we find cannot be put together for a reasonable scenario but instead make the scene more fragmental, anomalous and suspicious.
If we move our eyesight away from the image, we will realise that there is a ‘plastic baby’ (figure 2) exhibited at the corner which is exactly the baby in Animal Farm No.2, and we will soon find that he, or we should say ‘it’, is also a character in another portrait photograph Animal Farm No.18 (figure 3), and things become even more complicated. Eventually, we might start to wonder whether the figures we see are ‘real humans’, or the photographs are actually wax settings inside a Museum of Ethology.
As a ‘sample’ of displaying infinity
Such ‘riddles’ can be found everywhere in Animal Farm, and each ‘riddle’ appears to be alive and may accumulate also reproduce itself endlessly. Even so, these mysterious people, objects and settings have a subtle correspondence with each other.
For instance, the ‘fake baby’ in Animal Farm No.02 is actually like those industrial mass product food around it as ‘manufactures’ via industrial modular production. We may easily imagine that apart from this image in front of us, there is a great number of ‘it’ which has been or going to be produced. Just like the photograph that we are looking at, there will not be some ‘it’ being more real or authentic between any ‘it’ and ‘it’ from the past, the future or being parallel to the present because they are all ‘duplicated’ out of a same mould. Here, pars pro toto, each and everyone of ‘it’ represents the whole. This is the common feature of a photograph also a product in this so called ‘ the age of mechanical reproduction.’
Nonetheless, is it not the logic of ‘displaying animals’ in a zoo as well? Even though each animal in a zoo may have its unique nickname or peculiar temper, it can never just be itself. It has to be acknowledged as an ‘example’ (from Latin exemplum, meaning ‘the thing that is taken out’) with the logic of ‘displaying animals’ in a zoo and acts like a ‘sample’ that represents a whole ‘species’ to lead viewers to think beyond individuality conceptually. Inside a zoo, each independent being would ultimately expend, spread and be abstracted to turn into a term, a concept and knowledge that includes various creatures, just like a huge net capturing the complex world. This is a technique to show ‘concept’ via ‘individual’ and collect ‘infinity’ with ‘ limitation’. Here, we may even see these two installations as some kind of metaphor for that technique: the wallpapers with repeated, juxtaposed and extended singular patterns (figure 4), which are everywhere in Animal Farm, or ‘artefacts’ of the Jinjin Asparagus Juice easy open can and the calla model, which are exhibited on the hallway and reflected in mirrors like unlimited copies.
It is the characters, objects and settings in almost every photograph that are covered with an intentionally mimicking, fictitious and ambiguous atmosphere in Animal Farm making us sense bizarreness and anxiety. On the one hand, such ‘sense of fiction’ comes from how the artist stages deliberately a real world scale life theatre with actors, costumes, props, everyday objects, specimens, settings, backdrops and artificial lighting; on the other hand, it comes from the naturalism jungle representation, artificial mimicking native habitat planation, fake rocks and simulated waterfall that are built originally to cover concrete walls and metal gates inside a zoo. However, there is still one essential difference between a zoo and Animal Farm: a zoo is a ‘forged natural world’ that its artificial essence is intentionally disguised by ‘manufactured procedures’ and tends to make visitors believe that they are viewing animals in their native habitat. Ching-hui CHOU’s Animal Farm may be also another ‘artificial scenery’ that is built theatrically inside a ‘forged natural world’ and yet it does not plan to dissemble or to invite viewers to join the play. It does all it can to make everything even more affected, false and ridiculous to let viewers be aware of the artificiality and falsehood profoundly.
By reason of that, for me, the aim of Animal Farm does not (merely) use ‘zoo’ to symbolise the status of humans being prisoned and watched severely in the civilised environment, or just take ‘animal theatre’ as a metaphor for individuals being actors on a stage whose true self-esteem is taken and may only gag or act according to the script. It means further to present images as a medium for analysing oneself and expressing one’s artificiality.
In terms of technique, Ching-hui CHOU uses so-called ‘staged photography’ (inszenierte fotograhie in German) for Animal Farm, which means the process of after all elements are diligently designed, arranged and adjusted, a photographer would then press the shutter button to capture the image. Here, I do not mean to tell the history of ‘stage photography’ or any similarity between Ching-hui CHOU and other artists in the history. In Animal Farm, I am intrigued and fascinated by the idea of ‘stage’ in ‘stage photography’ and the artist’s imperative call ‘Don’t Move!’ right before pressing the shutter button that I hear in the documenting film.
How should we understand ‘stage’ and ‘Don’t Move!’ in Animal Farm?
‘Stage’ is stellen in German, meaning place something to one place and let it stand. If we prefix dar- (meaning ‘to be there’) to stellen, it will become darstellen indicating ‘present’, ‘illustrate’ or ‘express’; if we prefix aus- (meaning ‘inside out’), it will turn out to be a verb ausstellen that we commonly use for ‘display’, and may be turned into a noun Ausstellung meaning ‘exhibition’ in German. From the perspective of Etymology, ‘stage’, ‘present’ or ‘display’ are all related to the process of moving things from their original place to another place and keep them ‘stand firmly’.
Back to Animal Farm, it not only ‘stages’ objects but also humans, and that is the reason why the artist shouts ‘Don’t Move’ before he presses the shutter button. Since any blink, slight movement or unconscious absentmindedness might result in the image differ from the design and cause smudge like ghosts. As the matter of fact, at the beginning of the invention of photography, people have already noticed the controversial essence of photography: only the stayed, still and stopped things can be captured, and because of that, photographers at that time even invent a series of supports to help people who are being photographed to keep a fixed posture.
Moving and still, live and dead
When all the actors, dolls and specimens are on-set and fixed as still images, Animal Farm reveals a situation how these images ambiguously wander in between live and dead, moving and still. Humans, who are placed in the setting being asked not to move, become ‘still life’ – ‘life being still’, and specimens, which are animals being artificially processed after their death, and their bodies being postured as if they are seized in a particular living moment, that can be seen everywhere in the scenes present the mimic of life. Here, one is from movement to stillness; the other one is from deadness to live, and ultimately they become eternal images under the sight of Medusa of a camera. All these makes me think about ‘Tableau vivant’ which can be traced back to Ancient Greek also reinvigorated after 15th century in the West: still scenes with living humans imitating the figures in paintings or of sculptures; or ‘Postmortem photography’ which is popular in the Europe and America during the mid-19th to 20th century: a series of portraits in which dead body is manipulated like a living one with the help of the stands that are also used to support the living humans. No matter using life to be dead or dead to mimic life, Animal Farm shows us the paradoxical yet dialectical relationship between moving and still, live and dead via gathering living individuals, dead objects, humans being dead objects and objects being live together into one still image.
Animal Farm focuses on intentional managing, staging and displaying every gesture, detail and symbols, and nevertheless, the artist seems to make his creating process the theme of Animal Farm No. 05 (Figure 6) which is the last exhibit of these huge photographs shot inside a zoo: we can see four groups of different characters acting painters who are painting, but it is obvious that there is a difference between the scenery in front of them and the illustration on their canvas and such contrast presents ridiculous and unreasonable situation. We may learn that the subject of this work is ‘poverty’ from the information given by the museum. However, I rather believe that the point of Animals Farm No. 5 is actually the specimen of antelope that seems to be placed inside a photography studio waiting to be taken a picture in the bottom right corner of the image. This is a setting that is ‘staged’ by the artist as well, and yet this ‘staged setting’ reveals the fact that it is all ‘being staged’ to us.
Looking at this antelope (figure 7), which is displayed and staged as a still image (specimen) and waiting to be transformed into another still image (photograph), it occurs to me that in this world, human being maybe is the only species that is capable to transform themselves and everything in the world into images. It is inside images where humans see themselves, capture the world and pursue eternity. However, humans might also be the only species that even meets their loneliness, death and the invalidity of images inside images and still never stop producing them.