林志明 北教大藝設系 教授兼主任
這次展覽的名稱是「人的莊園」，英文則為Animal Farm，襲用了英國作家George Orwell一部著名小說的書名。在這個命名中顯然含藏了作者為何一定要勞師動眾去動物園借景，並作複雜的編導式攝影拍攝的原因。George Orwell這部被譯為「動物農莊」的寓意小說，談的原來是蘇聯創立以來的故事（第一版出版於1945年）。在這個故事中，繼承了伊索寓言留傳下來的傳統，動物都是以擬人化的方式出現：一隻被稱作老上校的豬影射著馬克思及恩格斯，甚至列寧；另一對名為雪球及拿破崙的豬則影射著托洛斯基及史達林；牠們藉著「動物主義」統治著一個革命後的農莊世界，包括烏鴉、驢子和羊群等都在其中扮演角色。這個著名的動物故事充滿了顛倒懸置，到了最後的結局也是一樣：豬違反了動物們自己設下的嚴格戒律，開始用兩條腿走起路來。
為了表達這樣的理念，周慶輝脫離了他過去慣用的報導攝影方法，改採編導式攝影（staged photography）的模式。圖像中的人物和背景、道具就像是在拍攝電影或演出舞台一樣，動員大量的演出人力和各種專業來經營畫面。這個模式曾被加拿大藝術家Jeff Wall這樣的大師鍛煉過，運用後現代和後觀念的創作方式，於談論理念的同時塑造令人印象深刻的精美印象；在台灣也曾經有謝春德以此形式生產出令國際驚嘆的系列作品。由於是在動物園拍攝，「人的莊園」的設定有朝向古典畫面經營的傾向，空間的界線明顯，甚至產生框景明確和對稱的情況。在這每一幅精心設計，如古典畫作一般經營的畫面中，還有一些統一的風格元素貫串著，比如人物的造型多以五、六零年代的外型服飾為準、光線經營偏好在強調人工光源的同時亦呈現細微幽光等特色。和此一人工化傾向的風格整體呼應的，則是以低調的方式出現在每一件作品中的普遍佈景細節：一座盆栽、一件動物標本、Owen Jones為十九世紀倫敦世博收集的中國圖案壁紙及無所不在的牢籠一角。
回溯他過去的作品，由風格演變的角度來看，周慶輝的創作一直是以特定專題的報導攝影見長。在早期拍攝樂生療養院的代表作《行過幽谷》（1995）發表之後，他曾去到中國長期旅行七年（1995-2002），為那時因為急速工業化而行將消失的各種勞動者留下《消失的群像－勞動者紀事》（展出於北美館）。《行過幽谷》由選題到長期蹲點的工作方式，都體現當年《人間》雜誌報導攝影以關懷弱勢、抗議社會不公和紀實揭露真相為主軸的工作方式。到了《勞動者紀事》這個系列，周慶輝曾表示他受到巴西攝影家塞巴斯蒂安‧薩爾卡多（Sebastião Salgado）的影響，但薩爾加多的《工人》系列雖然拍攝許多第三世界的勞動者，卻很少拍攝中國的影像。於是他走遍中國各地，甚至深入到東北及滇南拍攝即將消失的蒸汽火車頭及「馬幫」。薩爾卡多曾說彵攝影的第一大特色即是土地上長程的移動。除此之外，最能體現其攝影風格的，還有兩個特點：長時間的觀察和激發視覺震撼的構圖。比如薩爾卡多曾說過他為了拍攝一隻加拉巴戈斯群島象龜，先要長時間以和牠的一樣的方式，一起用四腳行走，獲其信任之後，才會按下快門 。周慶輝在這個系列中也是一樣，雖然長時間地跟隨其拍攝對象，但他不會輕易按下快門，而是大部份時間用在觀察和取得對方信任。薩爾卡多影像的視覺震撼力是大凡看過其影像者都會承認的，周慶輝的這些勞動者影像也是相當重視構圖和視覺震撼力，其中不少影像已接近使被拍攝人物在生活空間中擺出特定姿勢和團體形態的「擺拍」（pose）。
由這裡到他下一個主要的系列，即《野想 － 黃羊川計畫》（2009發表），雖然大部份的人都會因為他躍入了彩色攝影而認為他更加貼近造形攝影（photographie plastique），但其實就攝影的視覺風格根本原則而言，由《勞動者紀事》到《野想》並不遙遠。改變最多的其實是場景：周慶輝不再於人物原本生存的自然場景中拍攝，而是將場景轉換為重現甘肅偏鄉兒童科技夢想的黃土牆。雖然仍在黃羊川拍攝，但這已是個「人造場景」。在這個系列中，他使得這些小孩和他們夢想的放大版本一起入鏡。他同時也拍了一些特定姿勢的肖像。雖然企圖和作法離《人的莊園》仍然有不少距離，但其基本的風格原則，比如人造場景中的拍攝、以獨立但帶有特定徵象物（attribute）的肖象作為伴隨，這些原則已在此悄然立下。
和《野想 － 黃羊川計畫》相較起來，《人的莊園》是一個比較陰鬱和悲觀的系列。在《野想 －黃羊川》中，孩子們的物質生活雖然貧瘠，知識也很欠缺（由他們對科技的想像可以看出他們對科技的陌生）；但他們的夢想是天真甚至甜美的。作為背景的黃土，雖然象徵著乾渴，卻也是個明亮的顏色。反觀《人的莊園》，雖然有各種明亮的工業性色彩點綴其中（場景雖設在動物園，但比喻的對象其實是當代都會中的人群），但最常出現的，而且也是最具主宰性的色調，其實是藍色。這在談憂鬱症的作品中當然是如此，在談兒童生活中的疏離與異化、談老年的降臨、或不孕症帶來的壓力的作品中，也都是如此。
單就攝影層面而言，《人的莊園》比《野想 － 黃羊川》更進一步的是，除了採用在動物園中拍攝這樣具有強烈比喻的背景之外，各個影像更大量地採用布景搭建、燈光設計、人物造型、道具運用等「編導式攝影」的手法和資源。在這系列裡，攝影家由「獵人」轉變為「導演」，因而他必須大量依賴文本、編製文本、並且詮釋這些文本。雖然這些文本因為擔心限制觀眾的想像而未在展覽中隨著作品呈現，但他們仍是在細節的精心挑選和佈置中隱然若現 。
A Fable of Humanity in the Zoo
Text by Chi-Ming Lin
Professor and Chairman
Department of Arts and Design, National Taipei University of Education
When visited Taipei for the first time, one of my good friends and partners at work asked to visit the Taipei Zoo. Feeling intrigued by his request, I asked him why he insisted; and he replied that a zoo was important for observing the culture of a place, and one could see the worldview of the locals in the zoo.
Due to the fact that I was not familiar with what he said regarding the concept about zoos, I took his words with a grain of salt at the time. When I was studying in Paris, I once visited the exhibition, The Planetary Garden (the original French title: Grande Halle de La Villette: Le Jardin Planétaire), curated by the master of garden and landscape design, Gilles Clément; and I was deeply convinced by his elaboration on how gardens have come to represent the worldviews of different cultures. From this perspective, would it be the same when it comes to zoos? Or, could most of zoos be predetermined by modern zoology, and have become similar in general and indistinguishable in terms of their general outlook?
Animal Farm, Ching-hui Chou’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei (MOCA, Taipei), had received much attention among art professionals even before the exhibition officially opened. In addition to the fact that four of the displayed photographs had been shown previously in the Taipei Biennial 2014, another reason was that the main exhibited works, the large-scale images, were all photographed in zoos with staged sets (mainly in the Hsinchu Zoo and the Shoushan Zoo in Kaohsuing). Since the scheme was undeniably troublesome for the artist himself, it made people wonder whether if there were particular reasons that it had to be done.
The title of this exhibition, Animal Farm, used the same title of the well-known novel written by the English writer, George Orwell. The naming of the exhibition obviously beckoned at the reason why the artist had to go through the trouble of borrowing the zoos to conduct such an elaborate project of staged photography. George Orwell’s allegorical novel, Animal Farm, was a story that discussed the establishment of the Soviet Union (first published in 1945). The novel followed the tradition of Aesop’s Fables, and introduced personified animal characters: a boar, called the old Major, hinted at historical figures, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and even Vladimir Lenin. A pair of young boars, Snowball and Napoleon, implicitly referred to Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin. In the name of “Animalism,” they ruled a post-revolutionary world of a farm. Other animals such as raven, donkey, and sheep all played different roles in the book. This celebrated story of the animals had subversions and inversions throughout the book, even until the end: the boars broke the strict rule laid down by the animals themselves, and started to walk with two hind legs.
Coming back to Ching-hui Chou’s Animal Farm, it seemed a project of subversion and inversion at first glance. In the project, the human race was the one that was caged and penned in for observation. However, who was observing the humans? If one followed the logic of subversion and inversion, the observers should have been the animals, or other forms of existence that were “higher” than humans. These two options both seem to define the audience. While the former option appeared to be somewhat absurd, implying that humans were more dangerous than animals and needed to be locked up to prevent their attacks and harms, the latter seemingly flattered the observers, yet in actuality, it criticized the fact that the observers would have to place their kin in cages in order to observe and study them, supposedly inciting a sense of unkindness. Therefore, one could only assume the point of view that completely contradicted (at least on the surface) the viewpoint in the novel: just like these characters in different animal cages, their audience was still human.
If this was the case, why did the artist adopt such an extreme approach that would put himself under tremendous difficulties (both from the process of administrative application and the staging of the sets), and even a certain degree of moral uneasiness or challenge? Judging from the final appearance of this series of works, one could say that the artist has emphasized on the framing effect produced by the various pens and cages in the zoos; and this obviously had something to do with the artist’s aptitude for categorization. Here, one could detect an apparent disparity between zoos and gardens: the first main characteristic of a zoo is that it separates human beings and animals, as well as keeps different species of animals apart from each other (which is reminiscent of the world under extensive surveillance discussed by Michel Foucault). This is a major feature of zoos, which is their unnaturalness. In fact, species of animals are not separated in nature as they freely interact with each other. They intermingle and co-exist. Conversely, gardens have become a common symbol in different contexts, such as a divine heaven (like the lost paradise in Christianity), the earthly paradise (Jannah, meaning garden, in Islamic culture), the microcosm of the universe (in Hinduism), and the secluded retreat from the mundane world (as the cottage of Ju-yi Bai, the ancient Chinese scholar), in which the thorough separation and sample display in zoos would never take place (comparatively speaking, a botanical garden might be something between a garden and a zoo).
The most prominent reason why Chou has chosen to shoot Animal Farm in the zoo surfaces here: the series of artworks focuses on the contemporary life that is enclosed, restricted and structured as the entire series is aimed to serve as an allegory of modern people’s life. Taking a closer look at the relations between the artworks in this series, from the angle of a structured life, the themes of the works touched upon how human bodies have been socially structured, for example the issues of body sculpturing, beautifying and plastic surgery as well as the relationship between gender and outside appearance, or themes about the rigidified structures in an idealized life, such as depression caused by frustration felt during the process of socialization, infertility that affected the continuation of a family, and even more fundamental questions like aging and the wait for death. In terms of broader domains, such as that of the society and civilization, the artworks also discussed the consequent alienation caused by the modularization for higher efficiency and organization, the phenomenon of alienation resulted from the revolution of communication technology as well as the capital that motivated these changes and the problem of its uneven distribution. In terms of the depth and breadth these questions have extended to, Animal Farm would indisputably be the most theoretically ambitious project in the contemporary art field in Taiwan in recent years. Furthermore, its vision was not confined to Taiwan; it was also universal and could be applied to the whole globe.
In order to express his ideas, Chou departed from his past method of photojournalism and adopted the mode of staged photography this time. The characters, sets and props in the images were reminiscent of filmmaking or stages of theatrical performances, and required massive manpower and a variety of specialties to organize and construct the images. This method has been highly refined by the Canadian artist, Jeff Wall, who has used a combined approach of the post-modern and post-conceptual. He has been able to discuss his ideas while creating impressive, exquisite images. In Taiwan, Chun-te Hsieh has also used a similar approach to create series of works that have impressed the international audience. Because the new series was shot in the zoo, the design of Animal Farm was inclined towards classical images; the boundary of space was clear, and even the framing of landscape was very specific and symmetric. There were also unifying elements of style that linked each of the intricately designed images that were evocative of the design and structure of classical paintings. For instance, the styling of characters followed the fashion trend of the fifties and sixties; and the design of lighting emphasized on artificial lighting with attention to minute, subtle light as well. Corresponding to such a style of artificial construction were the pervasive set details that were presented in a subtle manner in every work: a bonsai, a taxidermied animal, wallpaper of Chinese patterns gathered by Owen Jones for the London World Exposition in the 19th century, and the omnipresent corners of cages.
For the exhibition, Chou also created nine short films corresponding to the nine main works. In addition to the photos of “actors and actresses” in fittings, there were other related works, such as installations and audio recordings, among which many of them had come to represent what the artist had understood during the process of working in the zoos.
Reviewing Chou’s past works, in terms of artistic style, his artistic creation has always focused on photojournalism of specific topics in the past years. After the publication of the representative work, Out of the Shadow (1995), an early photographic project featuring Lo-Sheng Sanatorium and Hospital, Chou travelled extensively in China for seven years (1995-2002), and photographed all types of laborers that had been rendered obsolete by extremely fast industrialization at that time, and published Vanishing Leagues: Images of Workers (exhibited at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum). From the selection of topic to the approach of long-term stationing at a chosen spot, Out of the Shadow had embodied the ideals of photojournalism in Ren Jian Magazine, which centered on caring for the minorities, protesting about the injustice in society, and documenting and exposing the truth. In terms of Vanishing Leagues: Images of Workers, Chou once stated that he was influenced by the Brazilian photographer, Sebastião Salgado. Nevertheless, although Salgado did photograph many manual laborers of the third world, he had rarely created images of China. As a result, Chou decided to travel around China, even to the northeast China and the south of Yunnan to shoot the disappearing steam locomotives and the “horse caravans.” According to Salgado, one major characteristic of his photography was the long-distance movement on land. In addition, two features that best expressed his photography style were extensive observation and image structure that provoked visual impacts. To name an example, Salgado said that, in order to photograph a Galápagos tortoise, he had spent a long period of time imitating the animal by crawling on hands and legs to gain its trust before he took the pictures. In making the series of the workers, Chou followed a similar principle by accompanying the subjects of his photography for a long time. Instead of quickly pressing the shutter release button, he took the time to observe the people he hoped to photograph and earn their trust. Just like the visual impact of Salgado’s photographs was undeniable to their viewers, Chou’s images of workers have emphasized on their image structure and the effect of visual impact. Among these images, many of them were close to the method of pose for photography, in which the subjects made specific poses or gathered in groups for photography in their living space.
From this series of workers to his next series, Wild Aspirations: The Yellow Sheep River Project (published in 2009), many people would consider that Chou had stepped into color photography and leaned towards the genre of “photographie plastique.” However, in terms of the fundamental principle of visual style in photography, Vanishing Leagues and Wild Aspirations were not that different; what had altered the most was actually the setting. Chou no longer photographed in the natural setting where the subjects originally inhabited, but shifted to the loess walls that represented children’s technological dreams in the remote villages of Gansu. Even though the photos were still taken locally at Yellow Sheep River, the setting in the works was already “artificial settings.” In this series, Chou photographed the local children as well as the enlarged representations of their dreams. At the same time, he had also created some portraits of specific poses. Perhaps such an attempt and method still varied from Animal Farm, Chou had already established a few basic stylistic principles at the time, such as photography in artificial settings and using portraits with independent but specific attributes to accompany the main works.
Comparing to Wild Aspirations: The Yellow Sheep River Project, Animal Farm was a more gloomy and pessimistic series. Although the children in Wild Aspirations did not have a life of abundance and sufficient education of knowledge (their unfamiliarity with technology could be detected in their imagination of technology), their dreams were still innocent; some of their dreams were even sweet. The loess as the background symbolized dryness and thirst, however, it was also a color of brightness. On the contrary, even though there were all kinds of luminous industrious colors scattered in Animal Farm (the series symbolized the people in contemporary urbanity despite the backdrop of a zoo), the most prevailing, dominant color tone in the series was indeed blue. It was present in the work regarding depression as well as in the works about the detachment and alienation in children’s life, and the ones about the arrival of old age and the pressure of infertility.
If one simply examined the photography per se, Chou has taken a step further with Animal Farm than Wild Aspirations in terms of both its chosen photography venue of zoos, which were highly metaphorical, and its extensive employment of staged sets, lighting design, character styling and use of props, which were means and resources often seen in staged photography. In this series, the photographer transformed his role from “a hunter” to “a director”; and thus, he had to considerably rely on texts, both the edition and production of texts and his interpretations of them. Even if these texts were not displayed along with the artworks in the exhibition due to the reason that they might limit the viewers’ imagination, they were still somewhat detectable in the careful selection and arrangement of details.
In the exhibition of Animal Farm, the use of sounds was an essential element as well. What was referred here was Chou’s inspiration that struck him during the long hours of working and photographing in the environment of zoos when he began to imagine what the zoos were like when humans were absent. From a different perspective, zoos were like a theatrical space, in which there were a stage and a backstage; the animals returned to the cages in the backstage at night, and only then, they were left alone. As a result, he recorded the nocturnal sounds of the animals for a long time and listened to the recordings extensively until he had learned how to tell the psychological state of the animals. Later, he edited these sounds and played them in a way that freely connected different spaces as the sounds were embedded in the exhibition.
In my opinion, thematically speaking, the nocturnal sounds of the animals might seem unfit for the theme at the beginning; however, because the series of Animal Farm served as an allegory in the zoo, the sounds have created a positive effect in the exhibition. Firstly, they produced a kind of contrast as the space of the humanized zoo was intermingled with the stifled animal nature released in the man-made environment. Secondly, the sullen sounds intensified the sense of oppressiveness in the environment of the zoo, and in turn, enriched the exhibition. Furthermore, although the artist was able to distinguish the animal sounds and tell whether the animals were simply dreaming or expressing something after having listened to the sounds for some time and taken close observation, the successional sounds still carried a sense of the uninhibited and the coincidental, revealing a quality that could not be controlled by humans. The presence of the sounds, as a matter of fact, generated a subtle balancing effect, enabling the exhibition that was predominantly based on staged photography to sidestep the pitfall of over-production.
In conclusion, like what was mentioned earlier, although Chou had never shot any short films, he produced nine films for this exhibition all at once, which represented another way of dealing with the same theme. These films were not shot in the zoos but in a studio. They did not tell specific or fully developed stories; instead, they demonstrated certain types of condition developed with the settings of the characters. With characters of the same or similar styles in the photographical works, they created a sense of closeness in terms of the style with the photographs as well as a kind of intertextuality.
For instance, one of the short films was performed by the children who also appeared in the photographs shot in the zoo. With the same nostalgic look of the fifties and sixties, the children were playing a game of hide and seek. Near the end, all but one child who was playing the catcher remained in the film with the four words “Bao Mi Fang Die” (meaning to conceal national secrets and keep alert of spies) written on the ground. The short film spoke of the fact that the distance and mistrust between people could be indoctrinated since childhood. Nevertheless, it had incorporated an important fragment of Taiwanese history as well as a supposedly innocent, harmless children’s game. Many of the short films were similar to this example, which were somewhat allegorical with sets designed to look like scenes that were glorious in appearance but nightmarish in reality. Another example would be the formally dressed character, who was sitting at an antique desk making an effort in writing characters in Nuhsu (ancient women’s writing) with a quill dipped in ink. He or she was actually a male character in drag, forming a contrast to the accompanying figures at the back that were also the hermaphrodite twins appeared in another photograph shot in the zoo. Unable to write in a “correct” position, he or she was finally rectified with violence by a middle-aged woman and the two accompanying figures.
In a photography-based exhibition, it was indeed a little risky to include such a large amount of video works. One of the potential risks was that the host-guest relationship in the exhibition might be reversed. From my observation of the audience behavior onsite, many people were really attracted by these films and stayed for a considerable length of time in front of the three-screen projection. Having said that, the artist honestly did not treat this phenomenon as a threat. According to his original design, each short film would be juxtaposed with the corresponding photograph, encouraging a possibility for the audience to read the mutually referencing texts. This design was renounced due to the spatial limitation of the museum. However, one could not help wondering how the viewing experience of Animal Farm would be altered if the exhibition were to be done in such a design.