张文心

Beast by the Waterfall Guesthouse

Published by Witty Kiwi

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Foreword

Light Extremities

Timothy Leonido

 

“The hotel lobby accommodates all who go there to meet no one.”  

-Siegfried Kracauer 

 

            Writing in the early 1920s, Siegfried Kracauer identified the hotel lobby as a site of singular emptiness.  Guests came here to escape the rigidness of everyday life, and to dispense with the various costumes of the professional and social sphere.  But instead of arriving at authentic communal experience, they found themselves drifting in mutual purposelessness.  In the hotel, their estrangement from one another was more palpable than ever; their performance of leisure was patently absurd.  The very decor — from the dreary red carpet to the smooth, reflective countertop — seemed tailored to encompass these superficial interactions.  Yet, as Kracauer insisted, this realization was not necessarily a dispiriting one.  Temporarily detached from practical life, one could gain awareness of its precarious foundation.  The critical observer might be able to restore to it “a sort of language[1].”  

            In her book of writing and photography, Wenxin Zhang takes the hotel lobby as her entry point. Beast By the Waterfall Guesthouse begins with a trio of vacant, muted scenes from the interior of an old hotel.  In certain respects, these are spaces of accommodation: twin beds are made neatly with white blankets, awaiting potential guests.  But such arrangements throw into relief the eerie emptiness of these rooms.  In the absence of human figures, the residue of previous tenants rises to the surface. Barren white walls reveal a faint discoloration; a pink rolodex is partially used.  The rooms are saturated with the same debased activity that Kracauer described in his century-old writings.  Zhang, in her own writing, considers how previous guests might have passed time in these spaces: “they further tainted the space with puffs of smoke, then proceeded to produce a complete set of milky white mahjong tiles from their suitcases; or, they dialed some mysterious number to summon an unknown woman of average looks, then spend a wet night together.”  The tally has an almost comical bleakness, but the effect is not entirely disheartening.  From this vantage point, she takes the opportunity to reframe, to disfigure, and to make strange. 

            By distorting traditional images of leisure and tourism, Zhang upsets the value system that we typically attribute to travel.  Returning to the image of the hotel, we see the dark brown, shadowy door of our designated hotel room.  It appears tight enough to detain a prisoner.  Beside the doorway is a photograph depicting an iconic site: the twin towers on Jingting Mountain.  Yet the image is so wrinkled and overlit that its content is barely legible.  This kind of distortion is analogous to Zhang’s practice.  As the subject of her work, she takes sites that may ordinarily possess some kind of tourist currency— from cosmopolitan cities to natural landmarks.  In these images, however, the perspective is situated so remotely that the effect is one of disorientation rather than voyeuristic pleasure.  Watching from afar, a city is reduced to a luminous cluster.  We feel it is familiar, but we are given a strange and vulnerable position from which to view.  Our immediate surroundings are dark and uncanny.   

If we return to the scene of the hotel lobby, we find that the porter is missing.  Perhaps he is around the corner, or outside smoking a cigarette.  With no one to attend the front desk, we feel that the security is at risk: Who will turn away strangers, undesirables, and miscreants?  Who will distinguish guests from trespassers?  In a sense, Zhang prefers to send the porter home early, leaving the spaces open to any sort of intervention.  When figures do appear in the series, their identities are held in suspension: bodies are curled in a protective posture; faces are concealed.  We see limbs without the face of the proprietor.  An erect male member is held under water, and small, delicate hands feel about in the manner of inspection. The figures are also literally in suspension: they are floating in the still water of a bathtub or submerged in shallow end of a pool.  Light extremities— hands and hair— rise to the surface, but there is rarely a face to examine or a gaze to return. 

One image, however, is distinguished by its relative directness.  From pink, fleshy lids a dark blue eye emerges in the center of this image. But the gaze does not belong to a human.  We are confronted with the frosty face of a horse, whose matted fur brings him to the foreground of a barren, snowy landscape.  An affinity with beasts is an underlying current in this series, where concepts of communication and reciprocity are made uncertain.  In the hotel interior, there was a poverty of exchange in which guests merely produced and received empty glances.  With the capacity for interaction battered, Zhang takes this opportunity to present the viewer with a perhaps troubling alternative.  A classic philosophical distinction between man and beast is in the capacity to return the gaze.  Animals, in this human-centered system, are relegated to tame or wild— they can only respond to commands or perceive threats.   But to think beyond this system is to realize one’s inner primal interiority.  An affinity with beasts is what truly shatters the notions of organized, regimented society.     

Once again we return to the hotel lobby.  Behind the desk is a quaint analog clock.  It’s minute hand is blurred, caught in the moment just before striking 12.  Time serves a limited range of functions in the hotel:  at the base level, it dictates who is a guest and who is a trespasser.  Money of course plays a secondary role here, but it is time that serves a dominant, binary function, one that keeps the hotel running smoothly.  Such a strict conception of time brings one to a contemplative state.  In the images that follow, there are alternative conceptions of time which, as Zhang writes, “wage war against speed and order.”  Time as a river that relentlessly flows— this old analogy is extended in her images: Time is also depicted as a waterfall, made visible only by its violent conflict with the guiding stone; time is frozen into an upturned icicle; it is made viscous in a slow drop; it is impregnated with eggs; it is isolated in an otherwise empty snowscape, an oval of stagnant green against endless white space.     

Beast By the Waterfall Guesthouse ends with a brief collection of stories, adding an ambiguous autobiographical element to the series.  Like the preceding photographs, they occupy a slippery space between the documentary or hypothetical.  The narrator recounts what are perhaps memories from a simpler youth.  Upon first impression, she seems to yearn for a pure perspective, one that might act as an antidote to the present emptiness.  On the contrary, the mere suggestion of returning to one’s origin is exactly what produces the most profound disorientation.  Nostalgic stories come to invest the images with an uncanny effect.  In the proper Freudian sense: the images mix the familiar and the strange.  Freud began his classic study by examining the unheimlich, a term which, after years of linguistic change, had come to collide with its opposite meaning.  As the multiple meanings suggest, the strangest sensation is not necessarily the least familiar one.  In fact, what feels or appears strange might paradoxically bear traces of the familiar.  In certain respects, Beast Behind the Waterfall Guesthouse is a story of returning to one’s origin— a comforting state lost to the pressures of the everyday.  But Zhang is highly ambivalent about this search, as she demonstrates (obscurely) in certain images: a moist and sticky spider web suggests the trap of origin; an upturned tree has its roots exposed, where human hands emerge and grope around.  These images are powerfully affecting yet vaguely satirical.  They continue in the uncanny theme that permeates the entire series.     

 “I can no longer remember the last time I came upon a completely strange place.” The Freudian uncanny brings the viewer back repeatedly to the familiar place, though each time it appears more severely distorted than the last.  The narrator refers again and again to the ideal 90s, to the thrill of travel and the excitement of new experience.  At the same time, this narrator also describes with cool detachment the behavior of the adults around her, and the debased nature of social life.  It is worth noting that the central site of nostalgia here is the hotel itself— the quintessential site of transience and constant flux. 

 

[1] Kracauer, Siegfried, and Thomas Y. Levin. "The Hotel Lobby." The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, p.173, (1995). Print.

前言

之极境

蒂莫西·列奥尼度


        酒店大堂收留所有那些不为与他人相遇的人。
        -齐格弗里德·克拉考尔
 
        1920年代早期,齐格弗里德·克拉考尔在写作中将酒店大堂定义为一个纯粹空无的地点。住客们下榻至此,是为了逃离死气沉沉的日常生活,并脱掉为职场或社交场合准备的各色华服。然而,与其说这些住客在此获得了什么真正的共同体验,倒不如说他们都发现自己正在共同的无目的中漂荡。在酒店里,人与人之间的疏离感比平常更为清晰可触,而人们在闲暇时的举止亦比平日更为荒谬可笑。酒店的标准装饰-从沉闷的红色地毯到光滑、反光的台面-似乎就是为了这些浮于表面的交往而精心准备的。不过,正如克拉考尔所说,拥有如此的领悟不一定是一件令人沮丧的事情。如果一个人真的有机会得以与日常生活暂时脱节,他就会马上意识到这种生活之根基的不确定性。而一个批判性的观察者,也许还可以将这种体验还原成“一种语言[1]”。

 
        在张文心的摄影、写作书中,她把招待所大堂当作入口。《瀑布招待所旁的巨兽》以三张空寂无人的老旧招待所的室内图像开始。就某些方面而言,这些空间是专为住宿而设的:两张单人床上整洁地铺着白色床单,静候着客人。但这样的布置也唤起了异样的空无感。在住客的缺席之下,以往的住客遗留下的痕迹便会浮现出来。乏味的白色墙壁略微有些变色,粉色的卡片夹也没用完。这些房间中充满了克拉考尔在一个世纪以前所描述的幽微活动。在张文心自己的写作中,她设想了曾经的住客在这些房间中打发时间的方式:“……也许会用香烟把房间熏得刺鼻,然后打开手提箱拿出一整套乳白色麻将牌,或者拨打某个神秘的号码召来一个姿色尚可的陌生女人,度过湿漉漉的一夜。”所有这些透着一种几近诙谐的阴冷,却又不至于让人彻底灰心丧气。从这一点出发,她开始破坏、重组,塑造陌生而奇妙的变化。
 
        通过对传统旅游休闲照片的叛变,张文心颠覆了通常情况下被加于旅行上的价值体系。回到招待所的图像,我们看见一扇深棕色,幽暗的门,通向指定给我们的房间。它看起来严实得几乎可以关押一个犯人。在走廊边,挂着一张景点的照片:敬亭山双塔。不过照片本身的皱褶以及反光,让它的内容几乎难以辨认。而这种扭曲失真缺却又与张文心的创作方式暗合着。作为被摄主体,摄影师使用了许多公认的旅游胜地-从大都市到风景名胜。然而,在这些图像中,因为视点太远的缘故,原本那种游览能带来的偷窥感完全被迷失感所取代了。远远地看去,城市变成了一片光团。熟悉感犹在,但画面给予我们的视点却是奇怪而脆弱的,而我们的周遭更是黑暗、离奇。
 
        如果我们再回到招待所的大堂,就会发现门房不见了。也许他就在角落,或者在外面抽烟。由于前台无人值守,我们为对招待所的安全颇为担心:谁会遣走陌生人、不受欢迎者,或者坏人呢?谁会区别开住客与擅闯者呢?从某种意义上说,张文心有意让门房提前下班,从而让招待所开门迎接各种不速之客。当人物出现真的出现在这个系列中,他们的身份却又悬浮于未知:身体蜷缩成保护性的姿势,面孔也被藏了起来。我们能看见肢体,却看不到它们归属何人。一名勃起的男性沉在水中,他小巧、细腻的双手仿佛是在探查着什么。这些人物实实在在地悬浮着:他们漂浮在浴缸的静水中,或者淹没于泳池地浅水区。轻之极境-手与头发-浮至表面,却鲜有一张脸抑或一个凝视投以回应。
 

        然而,有一张照片却因为它相对的直接性而被凸显出来。从粉色、肉感的眼皮底下,一只深蓝色的眼睛出现于画面正中,但这凝视却并不属于人类。我们面对的是一张饱经霜雪的马的脸庞,被粗糙的毛发包裹着的它伫立在荒凉的雪景中。与野兽的亲近是这个系列中一条隐匿的线索,而在这条线索中,沟通与相互作用的概念愈发显得含糊不定起来。在招待所的内部,在住客们匆匆的相互一瞥中产生了一种交流的匮乏感。而张文心则以这种相互交流的空间的离散状态为契机,为观者提供了一种有些令人不安的替代方案。区分人与动物的经典原则之一就是他们对凝视的回应能力。动物在人类中心论的系统中,被贬低为驯化的或野性的-它们只会回应命令或者感知威胁。而超越这一系统的思维方式,就应当着眼于审视自己内心原始的内在性。与野兽的亲近真正动摇着一个秩序森严的社会所传达的观念。
 
        我们再次回到招待所大堂。前台的后面是一个古朴的机械钟。它的分针模糊了,时间恰好停在12点之前一点。时间在这间招待所中扮演着有限的几种角色:最基本的来说,它指出谁是住客,谁又是擅闯者。金钱在这里扮演的自然是次要的角色,而时间却拥有主导的、二元的功能,它支撑着招待所的平稳运行。如此严苛的时间概念将人带入冥想的境界。在接下来的图像中,我们看到了对时间概念的可供选择的新方案,正如她所写:“变成速度与秩序的敌人”。逝者如斯夫-这一古老的类比也延伸至了她的图像中:时间被描绘为一条瀑布,仿佛只有水流在岩石上猛烈的撞击中,时间才是可见的;它被冻结成为一条倒立着的冰柱;它在缓缓滴落中变得粘稠;时间受孕、结卵;它在一个空寂的雪原中被孤立,化为一片椭圆形的绿,停滞在一片茫茫的白色之中。
 
        《瀑布招待所旁的巨兽》以几篇短小的故事为结尾,它们或多或少地为这个系列增添了些自传的意味。就像之前的照片那样,它们处于纪实与虚构间不稳定的夹缝之中。叙述者似乎讲述着一个来自于天真年少者的回忆。从第一印象上看,她似乎渴求着一种纯净的视角,一种对空虚现实的解药。然而,仅仅追求回到原初,只会导致最严重的迷失。充满乡愁的故事让图像为一种离奇的效果所包围。如果以弗洛伊德的方式来说,则会是:图像混合了熟悉与陌生的东西。弗洛伊德通过对“恐惑"(unheimlich)的考察开始了他精神分析的经典研究。经历了多年的语言学上的流变,这个词承载了多种相互冲突的意义。这些意义表明,最奇怪的感知不一定源自于你最陌生的那个。事实上,看似传递陌生感的事物也许正自相矛盾地带着某种熟悉的痕迹。从某些方面上来说,《瀑布招待所旁的巨兽》是一个回归到原初的故事-一种脱离了日常压力的放松心境。但张文心对这种寻求的态度又是高度矛盾的,就像她在其中某些图像中(晦涩地)表现出来的那样:一个湿黏的蜘蛛网暗示着对原初的诱捕;一棵翻倒的树,裸露着根茎,人的手掌在盘根错节中摸索着。这些图像意图强烈,而又略带讽刺意味。它们贯穿在整个系列的离奇主题中。

       “我已经记不清上一次来到一个完全陌生的地方是何时了。”这弗洛伊德式的离奇将观者反复带回熟悉的地方,虽然每一次回来,这些地方都比上一次更加扭曲变形。叙述者一次又一次地提起理想中的90年代,提起对旅行的兴奋心理以及对新经验的激动之情。同时,叙述者也描述着她身边成年人的冷漠疏离与社会生活的低劣本质。将招待所作为乡愁的中心,必然会是一场空无-这里是无常与变迁的集中所在。

 

[1] Kracauer, Siegfried, and Thomas Y. Levin. "The Hotel Lobby." The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, p.173, (1995). Print.