彼岸的金山上(颜长江)

     

    鸦片战争以后,中国动荡不安,而恰逢北美出现淘金热,需要大量劳动力,于是广东等地的底层民众或被“卖猪仔”、或作为契约华工、或以家庭移民的方式,怀着梦想前往美洲。
    “金山”是一个地域--大洋彼岸的三藩市落基山脉有金矿、且是华人的首要落脚地,所以“金山”最先特指此地,随着华人水一般在北美大陆上扩散求生,三藩市则成为旧金山。“金山”在地域上的涵义扩大为泛指美加两国,再往后,“金山”的地域广度更是进一步扩大为澳洲、中南美等地。
    “金山”是一个梦想!是一个美好生活的象征。最先到美洲的广东先辈,他们被称为“金山伯”,留守故园的人们则隔洋强调、继续着这个梦想。直到今天,金山梦还在延续,而金山到底是现实还是梦幻?梦想背后的真实是什么?刘博智以客观、冷静、符号性的图像记录了金山梦的痕迹。


    莫泊桑(Maupassant)有篇小说,曾选入中国的语文课本,叫《我的叔叔于勒》。主人公是一个第一人称的小女孩,她贫穷的一家,就指望那传说中的在海外发了财的叔叔于勒。小女孩在海船上,见到贵妇人可以大吃牡蛎,十分羡慕,心想要是于勒叔叔回来了,要吃多少牡蛎就有多少。故事的结局似乎是,于勒叔叔的“金山梦”是一场空。记不清了,但是对于内陆为主的中国孩子来说,牡蛎的美味成为一代人的向往。对我而言,海外的叔叔也像被金光笼罩的神仙一样,神秘得要紧--因为我仅在毛里求斯岛国,就有五个叔叔--五个于勒。
    长大后回到祖籍广东,这两样我都不神秘了。广东人吃牡蛎,撒上蒜蓉、酱油、椒盐,清蒸而出,美味异常。法国人那种生吃法,还是算了吧!那是番人的搞法。另外我去海外见到了五个叔叔。他们属于拥有了金山的一群,从幼时的极端贫穷奋斗到可以让我随时见到这个小国的总统。我这才发觉,我们中国,不了解、不重视这海外伟大的一群。今年,有几个个叔叔从海外回来了。他们很虔诚地祭祖、扫墓。有意思的是,有一个洋气的最富有的叔叔,到得一个村庄,就会叫面包店用一个小破车,运来一个货架的面包,分发给大家。村人们兴高采烈地分了面包。虽然在已经发达的梅州,谁都买得起面包。但在此时,面包与牡蛎又有何分别呢!
    祖宗和面包,是两个很有关联的关键词。我写到这里,只想骂娘。结合刘老师的照片,我感到一种凶狠的劲头。我想起中国农民勒过土地的铁铧,石匠用爆裂的老手锤下鞍巨石,想起客家人用手狠狠地把肉攥成肉丸,陕西麦客在太阳下绝望地挥动着闪亮的一弯钢镰,广州的走鬼扭曲着脸与城管人员争夺箩筐,重庆的棒棒们在陡坡上被巨大的货物压成一条虾,喉咙里还要吼出沉重的号子--“嘿嗬!嘿嗬!嘿嗬!”--嘿他妈的嗬。就是这么回事。
    本来很惶恐的我写到这里,觉得我还可以写写老刘。因为我是广东人,我有海外金山伯,我也去过偏僻如赞比亚、古巴、毛里求斯的唐人街,更因为我们很有些同声共气--别看我们文化高,我们都很知道“身上衣裳口中食”,离尘土很近,有一股俗气。不会太在乎一笔大钱,但会在乎仔细地嚼尽一块白切鸡或吮吸红油凤爪油酥起皱的一圈皮。根据这个习性出发,我们彼此很能理解,对方的一些无厘头。
    中国人长期困于衣食。国内的底层族群如此,海外华侨,更是如斯。这种和土地生理胶着的事实与感情,我们很难形容,它是一种粗糙有力的声音,它是一幅尘土弥漫的画面。在中国词汇里,用于形容这种状态的词汇很动人。比如“谋生”,意思是寻求活着的方法。同样,四川人“找活路”也是令人震撼的口头禅,反义就是死路一条。广东人叫“?食”,又解为“寻找食品”--具有原始时代采集部落的感觉了。总结这些令人敬重的词汇,我想可以用一个词来表示:“实在”。这个词实在不简单。作为名词,它来自于哲学概念,表示“事实存在”,或“确实存在”;作为形容词,它意味着一种极端现实主义的个性。我觉得可以用这个词来定义和形容刘先生的摄影、刘先生其人和海外华侨这一群人。事实上,这个词并不玄妙,它在中国话里已成为口头禅,并且有着类似于铁犁划开土地的低沉、肯定的发音。
    摄影的本原,即证明“实在”。刘先生没有艺术家常有的高蹈,非常“实在”地记录“实在”。他运用大画幅的120相机,而对最微细的生活场景进行细致描述,尤其是对衣食符号和神祗的描绘--这两种东西在我看来,是一回事,敬奉关公、观音的目的就是神像边的衣、食、床铺,这两者之间其实没多少中间状态--刘先生的描绘到了不厌其烦的地步。从1979年开始,他频频回到祖籍广东,也用同样的方法拍摄各种房屋的内景。对于一个物质贫乏并且要四处流亡的群体,没有比他们的物件更有用的东西了,到这种地步,每一件物品都有符号有象征意味,不会多余。它们就如同词汇一样,构成了一个非常清晰的表意系统。对它们最好的表达就是不动声色的冷静,表面上的绝对客观。毫无疑问,这一部分摄影是极具社会学价值的,类似于法国年鉴学派(The Annales School)的以小见大的写史传统,也类似于德国贝歇夫妇(Bernd and Hilla Becher)所创立的客观摄影风格。这两样东西,是中国所缺而目前已意识到的,刘先生是做在前面了。中国的姜健、罗永进等人就在做同样的事情。
    作为一个本土的中国人,我自然能看出刘先生画面中的异常之处。因为我们拥有的物件,明显与之很不相同。我看出华侨的生活,并不只是困苦,而且是一种扭曲,他们只照顾两样东西:衣食与尊严,也就是最基本的生理要求和最主要的精神支撑,其他中间状态的丰富多彩是无暇顾及的。不会有一本闲书,不会有一根高尔夫球棒,不会有关帝、财神、观音之外的神佛。这种扭曲的事实集中反映到他拍摄的另一类作品上,那就是肖像,肖像都具有一种强烈的主观感,相信这不是刘先生的主观,而是对象具有强烈的情绪,在生理与天国之间、在环境与自我之间、在卑微与高贵之间,不留余地不加过渡,集中反映到脸庞上,是在维系一种极端的两方面,并使之不至于崩溃。“扶大厦之将倾”,人物们有这么一种焦灼与沉重,从而凸显生命、生存本身。刘先生的技巧不用多说,我面对那端坐的老板娘、佝偻的单身老汉、化妆浓烈的“女朋友”,我一下子会想到阿勃丝(Diane Arbus)。所以对刘先生的艺术价值,我觉得不必多说,对阿勃丝的一些评价可以移植到这里。
    即使我也有华侨的关联,看过刘先生的作品,我还是感觉到,华侨是被严重忽视与低估的一群。原因无它,是他们离开了主流的中国社会,而易于被东、西方两种语境共同遗忘。刘先生由此具备高度的社会学、史学意义,填补了“社会学影像”的一个大空白。而在审美表意,亦即从艺术上看,他塑造了伟大的一群,具有高度的悲剧感,其鸿篇巨制反而可以跻入中国影像艺术之主流。流徙,向来是最重要的母题之一,自古如此,中西皆然。我们都知道屈原在江畔的行吟,俄国人在西伯利亚的脚步,荷马(Homer)笔下英雄们的归家路,《圣经》里摩西(Moses)率众走出埃及,寇德卡(Josef Koudelka)视野中的吉普赛人,凯鲁亚克(Jack Kerouac)疯狂地“在路上”,弗兰克(Robert Frank)在美国长达两年的穿行,……我无需多加举例,我只是说,刘先生忠于了自己的生活,而就得了一个很好的题材。这其实是一种传统,自己流放,或面对他人的流放,或都在流放,于是直接面对生存、面对上帝。
    由此我又想到,其实有很多流亡的艺术家们不是这样一个“实在”的结果。比如张大千、郎静山等等,“出关”之后照样风花雪月,并无家、国、生、死的痛切。我想,一个重要的原因是,那种优雅地移动,并非真正的亡命。其实移动,也可以让人有新的灵感的。我因此怀疑他们的创造性已经衰竭。我知道刘先生出国谋生,是有着真正的艰辛的,哪怕做到教授的位置,衣食无忧,他还是没有“升华”,看上去还是一个“谋生”的人,所以,他能在连州的小吃摊上混个午饭,也能住进广州的城中村,一句话,非常的“实在”。
    观夫刘先生的“实在”行状,同我送面包的叔叔有点类似。他们没有什么“虚活”,离大道理很远,与生活有着会意与默契,能够脚踏实地地帮助他人。2006年底,我们一起赴连州展,在路上他就不停地和人商议,摄影怎样才能帮助他人,比如我们拍了别人,用照片可否回报什么。这是我与他认识两年来唯一听到的“理论”。他紧接着就说,在连州碰上过一个贫苦家庭,他已募捐了几千元帮这家维修房子,又帮这家的孩子找了个工作。到了连州,他又带着这个发育不全的孩子到处见世面,关心她生活的方方面面。总而言之,这“雷锋”已经细致到有点迂腐和罗嗦了。而在连州展览的第一天,中外“名士”集中起来揭开幕酒会,他却一直呆在远处,坐在石头上和一个神经兮兮的当地小孩聊天。那孩子试图想跟他学摄影,而他就很实在地说:“搞摄影好难‘?食’的哟!”就这么谈了一两个小时。这种耐心让我非常佩服。这种对人的温和关心反倒是大陆人不多见的,海外华人似乎具有更多的儒家色彩,敦厚平静。
    作为一篇评论,我更愿意讲一些生活故事,它比逻辑推理更有说服力。中国有句成语,“文如其人”,作品与人是不可分的,互相影响,风格一致。反过来说,又可把两者结合起来,作为一个整体来研究,而不只是分析其中一些具体的图片。这样的呈现,才能接近作品的本质,进入一个浩瀚的人生。人生就是一部作品。而且“人生”不是纯粹一个人的心与物,而是自然牵出一个“金山--广东”的大场域。我们面对的是个人,他前面放着作品,后面是苍茫如幕的背景。一切密不可分。对于照片、文字、生活细节,都应一并重视--这正是刘先生珍惜一切物象的方法论。
    刘先生曾给自己的作品--或者说生活--命名为“再梦金山”。我立马联想到大陆有一首歌曲,唱西藏牧民对首都的向往,叫作《北京的金山上》。开头两句是:“北京的金山上光芒照四方,毛主席就是心中的太阳。”从现实到梦想,中间没有任何过渡,对于贫穷无助的人来说,似乎那上帝一显灵,大家就发达了。我看老刘的图片,也有同感,可以来一首《美国的金山上》:“美国的金山上光芒照四方,关帝爷就是心中的太阳。”以前大家就是怀着这么一种希望去的。我相信上帝是存在的,但个人奋斗的痛楚也一点不会少,大约上帝也希望百姓一样伟大。中国人所谓梦想,就是这么回事。一笑。


颜长江


On the Other Shore’s Golden Mountain(Yen Chang Jiang)

    After the Opium War, while China was characterized by turbulence and chaos, North America was rushing for gold.  Many Chinese immigrated to America to fill the need for laborers and to try their luck at finding fortune. From the lower strata of society in Guangdong and other provinces Chinese took their dreams to America by way of human traffic, contract labor, and family emigration.
    “Golden Mountain” is a geographical place. It originally denoted San Francisco, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, and the Rocky Mountains further eastward, where rich gold fields were located. San Francisco was the first place where Chinese immigrants settled before they spread to other places in America. Chinese nicknamed San Francisco the Old Golden Mountain.” Later the denotation of “Golden Mountain” was expanded geographically from San Francisco into America and Canada. Thereafter, “Golden Mountain” further denoted Australia, Middle and South America.
    “Golden Mountain” is a dream! It is a symbol of a better life. People who remained in their hometowns in China called the first generation of men that went to America “Uncle Golden Mountain”. Today, the dream of “Golden Mountain” remains. Nevertheless, is Golden Mountain a real place or an illusion? What is the truth behind the dream? Lau documents objectively and soberly the trace of the dream of “Golden Mountain” with iconographic photography.

    In Maupassant’s novel, “My Uncle Jules,” formerly included in Chinese school books, a little girl and her poor family tell their story. The family looks forward to meeting the legendary Uncle Jules who has become rich while living abroad. Traveling on a ship, the little girl envies a rich madam who is eating a meal of mussels. She thinks that once her Uncle Jules returns, she can also eat as many mussels as she wishes. In the end Uncle Jules’s “dream of the Golden Mountain” comes to naught alas… I can’t exactly remember the exact details of the story’s end. Nonetheless, for Chinese children in my generation, a mussel became the symbol of the dream. For me, my uncles abroad resembled celestial beings--enveloped with a golden light--they were so mysterious. They were also symbols of the dream. For I have lots of relatives living abroad, including five uncles in Mauritius - my five “Jules”.
    After growing up and moving back to my hometown, Guangdong, mussels and uncles are no long mysterious. Cantonese eat mussels steamed with garlic, soy sauce, and salt pepper. This dish is certainly more delicious than the French uncooked mussels. As to my five mysterious uncles, I went abroad and visited them. They were poor in their childhood but now are rich and powerful--to the extent that they can easily arrange a meeting for me with the president of Mauritius. Not until that moment did I realize that we people in China neither understand nor pay much attention to the great overseas Chinese. This year, some of my uncles were back. They, devoutly offered sacrifices to ancestors and visited the ancestors’ tombs. This was an interesting thing about them: every time we went to a village, one of my uncles, the richest and the most Westernized, asked the bakery to use their dilapidated truck to deliver a loaf of bread to each of the villagers. Those villagers were very happy. In fact, bread is not expensive in Mayzhou, and everyone can afford it. Nevertheless, in this case, what was the difference between bread and mussels?
    Ancestors and bread are two closely related concepts. As I write, random and miscellaneous thoughts jump into my mind. With Lau’s photos, I feel a fierce impulse which brings to mind the hoeing of Chinese peasants, the sparks that burst from the dry hands of the stonemasons, the sound of making meat balls made by the hands of the Ke People, the sound of weaving sickles in the despairing wheat harvest in Shensi Province, the twisted faces of stallmen who were fighting with policemen for big baskets, and also those porters in Chongching on a steep slope: they carried heavy goods, such as shrimp, in a special way. They bellowed in low-pitched voices, “Hey Ho! Hey Ho! Hey Ho!” What a “Hey Ho”!
    I think I still can write something unique about Lau because I am also Cantonese, have overseas uncles in the Golden Mountain, and have visited some remote places, including Cuba, and the China Town of Mauritius. What is more, we have another shared characteristic: though we are well educated, we both know the idiom, “clothing and food are important,” our feet are on the ground, and we live a vulgar life. We don’t take financial fortune too seriously, but we taste carefully a piece of water-boiled chicken or the crispy skin of a red-oiled chicken leg. Because we have the same habits, we can understand each other, especially the unexplainable parts.
    Not only the lower strata in China, but also those overseas Chinese, have been plagued with insufficient food and clothing. It is very difficult to describe the facts and emotions twisted with land and body. It is a kind of vigorous, but brutal voice, a dusty scene. The Chinese vocabularies to describe this condition are very vivid. For instance, “mou sheng,” which means, “seeking out the way to survive;” “zhao huo lu,” a convulsed idiom in Si Chuan which has the opposite meaning of “no way out.” Cantonese describe this as “wen shi,” which means “looking for food.” All these vocabularies comprise one word -“real”. The word “real” is not simple. As a noun, it is derived from a philosophical concept, which means “being”. As an adjective, it refers to an extremely practical characteristic. I think Lau’s photography, his personality, and overseas Chinese people can generally be described as “real.” In fact, this word is neither abstruse nor esoteric. It has become a Chinese pet phrase. The pronunciation of the word is low, with the affirmative character, similar to the sound of plowing.
    The origin of photography is to prove “reality”. Lau practically and ontologically documents  “reality”. He uses a traditional camera to describe subtly and deliberately the scenes of everyday life in detail, especially the symbols of clothing, food, and God. Clothing/food and God, for me, are two sides of one thing. The aim of the worship of gods is in fact to secure clothing, food, and bed next to the gods. Since 1979, Lau has traveled back to Guangdong frequently and photographed the interiors of houses of all kinds. For those who are meager and exiled, everything they have is practical and functional, to the extent that every household item is symbolic. As vocabularies of a language, these items comprise a very clear linguistic system. Therefore, the best representation of them is documentation with absolute objectivity. Undoubtedly, this type of photography is valuable in the realm of sociology. It is similar to The Annales School’s tradition, which extracts big history from small, unimportant events. It is also similar to the objective photography style created by Berned and Hilla Becher. These two trends are what we in China lack of but have noticed now. Liu is the pioneer. JiangJeng, Ro YongJing, et al are also doing the same thing.
    As a local Chinese, I can naturally figure out the novelty and unusual elements in Lau’s photography, for the elements we have differ from those of Western influence. I can tell that the life of the overseas Chinese is not only meager, but also has an abnormal twist. They only consider two things: food/clothing and dignity, i.e. the basic physical need and the main spiritual support. As for those things in-between, which are not necessary, they don’t have time for them. They don’t have any books for leisure nor any golf clubs. The gods they worship are no more than Guandi, the God of Wealth, and Guanyin. All these twisted facts comprise another motif in his photography, i.e. the portrait. A portrait is generally very subjective. But, I do believe, this is not Lau’s subjectivity, but the emotions of the subjects in portrait, which oscillate between flesh and paradise, the environment and self-ego, the mean and the noble. All these are represented on the faces of the subjects.  They are like two interrelated poles of a transient balance, in a way that the life and being per se are highlighted by the anxiety and pressure of the portrayed subjects. Lau’s skill is unquestioned. The modest sitting woman, the stooped single elder, and the heavily made-up “girlfriend” in Lau’s photos remind me Diane Arbus. I don’t think I have to say too much about the artistic value of Lau’s photography, and the critiques about Arbus can be adopted here mutatis mutandis.
    Although I am familiar with overseas Chinese, while looking at Lau’s photography, I feel that this group is generally ignored and underestimated. The reason is simple - they leave the mainstream of Chinese society and are easily ignored in both Eastern and Western contexts. Lau’s photography thus fills a void in the realm of visual sociology and plays a role in the realm of historiography. From an aesthetic aspect, i.e. fine art, a great group of people is endowed with tragedy, and hence can be listed in the mainstream of Chinese photography. For exile remains an important theme both in China and the West: Qu Yuan’s poetry along the river, the footprint of Russia in Siberia, The heroes’ return in Homer’s writing, Moses’ “Exodus” in Bible, the gypsies in Josef Koudelka’s description, Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”, Robert Frank’s two years moving in America… What I would like to say is that Lau is faithful to his life. This leads to very good photographic material. In fact, this is a kind of tradition: exiled himself, he confronts another’s exile, or they all live in exile. Therefore they each face directly in their own way and hence directly to God.
    I am reminded of many artists in exile who are ipso facto not as “real” as Lau. For instance, DaQian Zhang, ChinSan Lan, et al. In their exile, they still lived with romantic themes, without confronting the poignancy of life and death. It seems to me that their elegant movements are not really exile. In fact, movement can be inspiring. I hence wonder if their creativity has been exhausted. I know Lau earns a living by going abroad; he has experienced all kinds of hardships. Even though he is a professor now and doesn’t have to worry about his living, he still must “earn a living”. This is why he can have lunch at the snack bar on the street of Lian Zhou and stay in the urban village in Guangzhou. In a word, he is very “real”.
    The “real” of Lau is more or less the same as my uncle who gave breads to villagers. They don’t pretend, nor do they have so-called “theories”. They have their feet on the ground. This is the way they live their lives and help people. At the end of 2006, on our way to the Lianzhou Photograph Exhibition, Lau discussed wholeheartedly with different people in what way photography can help people. He asked: “We shoot people, can we pay back with photos?” This is the only “theory” I have ever heard from him since we met 2 years ago. He described to us continually how he met a poor family in Lianzhou, how he has given thousands RMB to help them fix their house, and how he helped their child to find a job. While we were in Lianzhou, he brought the little child to the exhibition; he cared about her life in every detail. In sum, this “Lei Fong” is sensitive to the extent that he is pedantic and wordy. On the first day of the exhibition, all the “notables” were at the reception party. He was instead staying far away, sitting on a stone, chatting to a nervous local child. The child tried to learn photography from him. He responded honestly: “Photography is not good for living!” The conversation lasted one to two hours. I admire very much his patience. Compared with overseas Chinese, it is rare for people in Mainland China to have patience which is one of the Confucian virtues: honesty, sincerity, and peace.
    As a critic, I prefer writing more about everyday life stories, for these stories are more convincing than logical deduction or induction. There is a Chinese idiom, “the style is the man.” Writing and the writer are undividable. They are mutually influenced, they go with each other. To put this in another way, if we can do research about Liu and his photos, to treat them as a whole, rather than just analyzing some photos, then, we can approach the essence of the photos, and enter into Lau’s life, which is ipso facto “a fertile piece.” Life is not merely personal, be it physical or mental, but an interweaving net in which the field of “Golden Mountain - Guangdong” flows out and in. What we confront is a living human being with his photos lain before him and the background of deepening shades of dusk, in a way as a “Gesamkunstwerk”. Photos, words, details of everyday life, we should treasure these all. And this is the very methodology of Lau, in which he treasures all objects and scenes.
    Lau once named his photography or, one could say his life, as “The Dreams of the Golden Mountain.” This reminds me a Chinese song, “On Beijing’s Golden Mountain,” which describes the Tibetan herdsmen’s yearning for the capital. The first two sentences are, “The Golden Mountain of Beijing shines far and wide; Chairman Mao is the very sun in our heart.” From the reality to the dream, there is no transition. For those poor and helpless people, it seems they get rich once they see the God’s epiphany. I got the same feeling while looking at Lau’s photos. Here we can adapt the song into: “On the Golden Mountain of America.” “The Golden Mountain of America shines far and wide; Lord Guan Di is the very sun in our heart.” In the past, those “Uncles of Golden Mountain” went abroad with this very dream. I believe God is there, but this doesn’t help us out. Maybe God also wants us to be as great as Him. Ironically and cynically, this is the so-called dream of Chinese people.


Yen Chang Jiang

 


 



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