追寻(史芬逊·高达/刘博智)

     

追寻

史芬逊·高达  刘博智

    2007 年秋天,堪萨斯大学史班斯美术馆高级研究员史芬逊·高达先生,曾多次与刘博智就其摄影作品进行交流,现将文字归纳如下。

    史芬逊·高达:
    几年前,你在作品年表中这样写道:“1970年前往加拿大哈利法克斯(Halifax),在美美酒家做帮厨。与当地小城镇华人团体的亲密接触,成为了我以后30年纪实摄影的源泉。”重新审视这30年来全球华人社会所发生的变化,能否对你的作品作一总结:你最想传达的是什么?这些摄影作品的主题与哈利法克斯的经历有关吗?
    刘博智:
    首先,人们要理解,有很多人和我一样不得不当“桌底工”(黑市劳工)维持生存。1970年,我被加州布朗士摄影学院录取,需要挣钱交学费。小时候旁观父母经营士多店,让我学会了如何和别人建立良好的关系。当时不少餐馆缺人手,一位香港老主顾在加拿大东部的哈利法克斯帮我找到一份帮厨工作。由于远离多伦多,我们估计应该不会被加拿大骑警发现。像我们这样的人经常为被抓到而担惊受怕,但大家在异国他乡会互相扶持照顾。有些老华侨甚至躲藏了数十年,偷偷谋生。在这些社区里我亲眼目睹了贫穷和人的坚忍,也明白了“金山梦”不是那么简单的一回事。知识、个性和状况使每个人的境遇都各不相同,同时也产生了自有文化的丧失,就像我父母从台山移民到香港一样。在美洲我迫切希望与台山、四邑人沟通,所以就很快地学会四邑话并开始寻根之旅。这种学习随着我到世界各地工作而分了不同层次却又互相联系,无论我到哪里,这个经历都能慰藉我的乡愁之苦。主流文化不应该将弱势阶层的文化边缘化,而是要像在哈利法克斯那样,让二者慢慢融合。
    史芬逊·高达:
    你的混血儿肖像系列作品是否也由哈利法克斯开始,还是有其他渊源?
    刘博智:
    我的家族混血经验是从我姑妈和邻居开始,后来我大姐也生了两个混血儿。但这些孩子常常成长于单亲家庭,我很少看到他们的白人父亲,都是以“港式华人”方式抚养成人,而且备受宠爱。但我早年在美洲遇见的混血家庭大都生活在贫民区。记得我第一次吃火鸡宴就在那种家庭,是一位叫欧启(Au Kai)先生的家里(移民官将他的名误认为他的姓了,所以他的小孩都姓Kai。在华人社区里面,人们都叫他欧阿昌)。开始时有点不自在,后来这些只会说英语的混血儿让我听歌,听60年代赛门与葛芬柯的《书签主旋律》。这是个好现象,因为一般来说混血的第一代与中国人都没什么交流,主要是彼此之间语言、认知、价值观和视野都很不一样。我总是努力尝试打破僵局,在二者之间建立良好的连系。
    史芬逊·高达:
    你曾提及肖像作品其实是人与人之间交往的副产品。这传达出了你的作品的“人之本质”,可以详述一下这种观念吗?
    刘博智:
    我家的士多店位于屋宇的楼梯底,后来发展成一个4平方米的小店铺,这种环境使我每天都与中下阶层的人们打交道。当时,我常从邻居口中听到“标会”的事,这是一个由街坊自发组成的信贷系统,自发集资贷款给需要用钱的家庭。我想父母就是这样筹钱将我们兄弟姐妹送出国,10年后才得以聚首。多变的环境使我对人的需要有种本能的理解。每当我拍摄人以及他们的居室时,我始终关注被拍摄者内心的安宁。祖先神位、菩萨和领袖画像都是他们的心灵/精神生活的一部分。尽管很多家庭都不愿再谈及痛苦的过去,但是我也能猜测出八九分来。有些场合并不适合拍摄,有时构图或光线也不足。有次,我在一个来自广州的移民家里住了好几个星期,是在旧金山的政府廉租屋,被他们对患有唐氏综合症的儿子无微不至的照顾深深打动。虽然是麻将照打,和街头的广州人一样粗话照说,但后来得知,他们一家都是基督徒,并为孩子起了个名字叫“恩赐”。在这情况下拍出来的照片就是副产品,我自己则可能一张也不打印出来。事实上,如果人们愿意向你敞开心扉,他们就会告诉你很多很多。这时候,我更愿意倾听他们的故事,尤其是在过去那个动荡年代里的家庭经历。
    史芬逊·高达:
    你的作品一个重要的组成部分是与过去展开复杂的对话,很多照片可谓是对历史进行考古式的发掘。我在想,你的一些合并图,其影像与墙上已剥落文字只会引发一部分人的回忆,但并不是所有的人都能够理解。你的作品将庄重的艺术性与文本和历史意义结合起来,你所要追寻的究竟是什么?
    刘博智:
    这组作品仿佛是超越时空的梦--梦可以很逼真甚至超现实。在12年的时间里,我阅读了无数关于动乱与血腥的政治运动的书籍,对每个事件都细细咀嚼,但从未亲眼目睹其中任何一件--母亲曾叮嘱说,如果要去美洲就不要回大陆。那段岁月影响甚至伤害了好几代人。1979年、1981年和1982年回到中国时,我已经找不到那段岁月留下的痕迹了。街头的柱子和墙壁都被重新粉刷过,直到2005 年,一些油漆剥落,或者房子被拆,我才得以追寻到一些线索。有一次,我借了一把梯子去拍摄柱子顶端的文字,一个六旬男人从帆布椅中坐起来插话说:“那时候街道一片海红。”说完后便躺下,闭上眼睛沉默不语。人们都希望忘却那段艰难而动荡的日子。我自己则希望超越这些隐喻性的符号意义,而像柬埔寨红色高棉
    一样去追寻人类行为中难以理解的本质所在,并做一本画册命名为“他的拙作天天读”。
    史芬逊·高达:
    你有很多作品都强调对变化的观察。1997年香港回归中国必定对你的创作一定有特别的意义。具体有什么代表作吗?
    刘博智:
    有两张照片,一张是一面巨大的五星红旗飘扬在香港的建筑工地上,拍于1997年6月28日(见206页图)。生活在这块英国殖民地上的人们都承受着某种压力,精神尤其紧张,对过去50年的苦难仍然心有余悸。另一张拍摄的是最后一艘英国军舰在交接仪式举行之前驶离香港,1997年6月30日(见207页图)。当时乌云压顶,大雨倾盆,但天边一道亮光划破长空,也许是预示一个新的开始。英国海军在过去的一个世纪征服了世界各地不少地方,统治香港近150年。和这几代人一样,我也在这样的环境下长大,心情很复杂。英语的优势为我们带来许多机遇,但同时也令我们失去了很多传统和价值观念。香港人不得不融入到混杂的全球文化浪潮当中。
    史芬逊·高达:
    有人也许会将你的作品归入到关注难民生存困境和近代全球人口大流散(Diaspora)的艺术作品行列。是否需要将这些故事联系起来思考?有没有想过将这些艺术家的声音集合起来,抑或这些单独的历史和声音必须放置在各自的语境中孤立地考察?
    刘博智:
    人口流散(Diasporas)与文化、宗教、资源、权力更替与时代变迁的差异有关,由此在任何的时空下都会产生人际矛盾。利用多媒体来传达的故事最能有效地联合各方,致力解决纷争。这些声音汇集起来,将成为一种集体发生,在全球范围内获得共鸣。一些被挑选的故事获得重视,其他相关的也会因此而得到关注,这就是需要策略与合作。举个例子,2008年3月我将会在美国休斯顿摄影节上做一个装置,关于中国难民如何从中国大陆游泳、爬山偷渡到香港。同时,画廊将做另一关于墨西哥难民偷渡潜往美国的装置。这时,水和土地将两个大流散联系在一起。我们并非为了去指出谁是罪魁祸首,谁是受害者;赞成什么,反对什么。我们只是想借这样的艺术装置揭示人的生存状况。


Pursuit

Stephen Goddard and Pok Chi Lau

    In the fall of 2007 Stephen Goddard, Senior Curator of the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas had several exchanges with Pok Chi Lau about his work.  The dialogue below is a condensation of these written and spoken dialogues.
    Stephen Goddard:
    There is an entry in a chronology you wrote a few years ago, "1970 - Leaves for Halifax, Canada, and works as a kitchen helper at Mei Mei Chinese Restaurant.  Has first-hand exposure to small town Chinese ethnic communities.  This becomes the root of his social documentary work of the next three decades."  If we pull back and look at this thirty-years of change for Chinese communities around the globe is it possible to summarize what we can learn from your work - what are the most urgent issues to communicate?  Do these big ideas still connect to those experiences in Halifax?
    Pok Chi Lau:
    First, as human beings, it is good to understand that there are workers like myself who have to work without proper documents.  Some businesses, like restaurants, can’t find qualified workers.  In 1970 I was accepted to Brooks Institute of Photography and I needed tuition money.  Watching my parents in their small business I learned how to build good relationships between people.  An old neighborhood customer from Hong Kong found a kitchen help job for me in Halifax, eastern Canada.  Far from Toronto, we assumed the Canadian Mounted Police wouldn’t be able to find me there.  People like us are always in fear of getting caught but we always help each other in a foreign land.  Some have to hide eking out a living for decades.  I have seen poverty in these communities and observed the people’s endurance, and realized that the Golden Mountain Dream is not always what it is cracked up to be.  Knowledge, character and circumstance make all the difference in the ways we get on with our lives.  Then there is the loss of identity like my parents who came from Taishan migrating from the old villages to Hong Kong.  This is such a global phenomenon.  I felt the urgent need to connect with the Taishan folks in America so I quickly learned the dialect and began to find my roots.  The learning is layered and inter-connected as I work in different continents.  No matter where I go this experience provides a critical psychological satisfaction that fills the voids of home.  Mainstream culture should be sensitive not to marginalize minority culture, as hybrid as it has evolved, like the one in Halifax.
    Stephen Goddard:
    Do the roots of your important mixed-race portraits have roots that go back to your time in Halifax as well, or did they have a different beginning?
    Pok Chi Lau:
    My own family has a mixed-race experience that began with my aunt, my neighbors then my oldest sister who gave birth to two children.  It was more one-sided because I never saw much of the Caucasian fathers.  So these mixed-race children were Hong Kong Chinese by upbringing.  They were dearly loved.  But my early American exposure to mixed-race families was in the slums, almost.   My first turkey dinner was in such a home, Mr. Kai Au's family.  (The immigration officer mistook his first name as his last name.  So his children last name is Kai.  In the Chinese community he is known as Au, Ah Chong.)  It was rather awkward, and later, the Caucasian/Chinese-looking children, who spoke only English, asked me to listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends.  It was great because normally the first generation had very little to do with the Chinese from the homeland because languages, identities, values, and visions were so different.  I made efforts to break ice and to connect.
    Stephen Goddard:
    You once mentioned that a photograph of people is a by-product of an actual exchange between people.  This suggests a human core to your work.  Can you expand on this idea?
    Pok Chi Lau:
    My family ran a tiny general store at the bottom of a staircase and the businesses expanded into a 2x2 meter room.  This background gave me daily contact with people who lived from paycheck to paycheck.  I often heard conversations of neighbors discussing "Bidding for the Pot."  It was a community system that gathered money to loan to families in need without going to the bank.  I think my Mom had to do that to get myself and my siblings to come to America.  We were apart for almost ten years.  In this coming and going environment I developed the sensitivity to understand people’s needs.  Whenever I photograph people, including their living quarters, I am always concerned about their well-being.  Ancestral altars, deities and portraits of leaders are part of a mental/spiritual health system.  Many families won’t talk about their painful past though I could guess what that would be.  Sometimes it wasn’t appropriate or sometimes the composition and the light just were not there.  In a San Francisco housing project I spent many weekends with an immigrant family from Guangzhou, China.  I watched with great admiration how this family cared for their son that had Down Syndrome.  Though the family played their share of Majong and swore and used foul words as expressively as a typical street Cantonese; they revealed themselves later as Christians and named that child "Blessed by God."  If there is photography in this sort of situation then it is a by-product, and I may not make any prints for myself.  When people open their inner sanctum they are willing to tell you something.  I better pay attention and ask how their families are doing, especially during tumultuous times.
    Stephen Goddard:
    An important body of your work involves a complex dialogue with the past. Many of your photographs seem to be an almost archeological layering of historical strata. I’m thinking of photographs of walls with images and texts that have come and gone only to reappear as reminders that can be read and understood by some, but not by all.  What are you after in these works that combine formal, artistic qualities with textual and historical meanings?
    Pok Chi Lau:
    This body of work is like a time-lapse dream.  A dream can be vivid and surreal.  I had read so much chaos and bloodshed about the political movement for over 12 years that the events were all mumbled up.  But I had never seen any of it in real life as my mother told me not to go into China if I wanted to go to America.  This period wounded and affected multiple generations.  When I went to China in 1979, 1981 and 1982 I could recognize very little traces of this period.   Street pillars were whitewashed until twenty some years later, in 2005, part of the paint came off or buildings were torn down and I discovered the clues for locating these markings.  When I borrowed a ladder to photograph some of the characters near the top of a pillar, a man in his sixties sat up from his lean-back canvas chair, and said to me, "In those days when the streets were seas of red."  He leaned back down with his eyes closed.  Many people try to forget about decades of hardship and chaos.  I want to know more beyond the almost cryptic characters symbolic to the incomprehensible nature of human behavior like the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia, and make a diptych book with text, "Read His Writing Every Day."
    Stephen Goddard:
    Much of your work concerns the observation of change. The transfer of Hong Kong from British sovereignty to that of the Peoples Republic of China in 1997 must have been especially significant for your work.  Are there particular photographs that stand out for you?
    Pok Chi Lau:
    There are two images.  One is of a big Chinese flag in a construction site in Hong Kong shot on June 28, 1997.  People in this former British colony really felt the pressure and were psychologically tense as they bore five decades of haunting wounds.  The second one is of the last British vessel to leave Hong Kong prior to the handover ceremony Hong Kong, June 30, 1997.  The clouds hang low and rainy.  But there was a spark of light illuminating the clouds, signaling a new beginning.  The British navy conquered many parts of the world in the last century and ruled Hong Kong for 150 years.  I, among many generations was born under such circumstance.  Emotions were mixed.  Learning English opens up many opportunities, but then we lose part of older traditions and values.  Hongkongers inevitably join the hybrid global culture.
    Stephen Goddard:
    One could consider your work in the context of a loose collective of artists who are dedicated to the plight of refugees and the general phenomenon of Diaspora among many populations in recent history.  Is there a merit to considering these stories together?  Are there ideas to be found by bringing these artistic voices together, or are these separate histories and voices that need to be heard with a certain respect that only comes in considering them in isolation?
    Pok Chi Lau:
    Diasporas are about differences in cultures, religions, resources, the changes in power and times that create conflicts for people in any given time and locations.  Stories using multi-media are most effective in bringing parties together to resolve conflicts.  These voices become collective and resonate in a global dimension.  When selective stories are emphasized similar ones become supportive as well.  It is a matter of strategy and collaboration.  For example, I will be doing an installation on Chinese refugees who swam from China to Hong Kong at the FotoFest in Houston in March 2008.  The gallery will have another installation on Mexican refugees crossing the river to come to the US.  So the water and land tie these two Diasporas together.  We are not trying to point out villains and victims, for or against.  We are only indicating the state of human conditions.



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