Behind the Scenes, Exhibitions and Installations, Getty Research Institute

Writing Verse for “Brush & Shutter”

Greeting you at the entrance to Brush & Shutter: Early Photography in China is a duilian, two lines of Chinese poetry that situate the exhibition. The author of that duilian here describes the process of its creation, which was spurred by a conversation with former research assistant Yilin (Linlin) Wang. The Mandarin version of the post is followed by an English translation by Julia Grimes of the Getty Research Institute.

Diulian at the entrance to the GRI exhibition Brush & Shutter

这副对联是王艺琳推荐我来写的。王艺琳为这个展览工作过很长一段时间,对展览的内容、构思十分了解,她离开后仍与策展人Fran保持密切的联系,当Fran和展览的设计者打算挂一副对联在入口处的时候,琳就把我推荐给了他们。

在我拟稿过程中,也和她有过“脑力激荡”,字斟句酌。我最初写的两副对联是:

笔端千层跌宕,
镜里万种风情。

如醉如痴,千般块垒几张纸;
亦真亦幻,百年沧桑一瞬间。

展览的名字虽然是叫“毛笔与快门”,但真正的绘画作品却很少,“毛笔”的意义是在美学上的,当时的一些风景照片模仿水墨山水画的意象,另一些则是用毛笔为照片染色。因此,琳琳对上面第一幅对联颇不以为然,将画作和照片并置对比与展览的内容不符。 第二幅的上联,她也不满意。这句话颇能表现艺术家十分个人化的创作状态,却和这个展览没多大关系。

我又拟了两三幅email给了她,两三天后,她打电话来(她人在北京),我们在电话中花了四五个小时讨论,最后才定下现在的文案:

如梦如诗,千里景色几张纸;
亦真亦幻,百年沧桑一瞬间。

中华民族历史悠久,对历史的重视、对历史的审视与感怀,是中华文化的重要传统。近百年来,中华民族经历着前所未有的历史变迁,这一变迁的戏剧化程度,在世界上也是少有的。读到展览的这些照片,历史的感慨油然而生,挥之不去。下联是一开始就写出来的,后来写了几幅其它的,还是不能放弃这一句。“吟到沧桑句自工”,古人早有定论。

下联是时间维度的慨叹,上联则是空间维度的感想。在那个年代,照片还是很稀罕的事物,真实地记录了当时人物、风情和景色。不仅有的照片融合了中国山水画的取景方式,即使那些小场景,有的是南方的,有的是北方的,形形色色,放在一起时,也超越了巨大的空间跨度。上联的“千里景色”是大,“几张纸”是小;下联的“百年沧桑”是大,“一瞬间”是小。上下联内容虽然是并列的,但情绪却是递进的。在大与小的对比中,在加入了今人审视历史而不禁怦然的情绪中,以历史宏观为基础的豁达也就在其中了。这一点琳琳和我有共识,这才定稿。

Yilin (Linlin) Wang recommended that I write this duilian (poetic couplet). She had worked on the Brush & Shutter exhibition for a long time, and thoroughly understood its content and organization; after she left [the United States], she remained close to Jeff [Cody] and Fran [Terpak], the curators of the exhibition. When Fran and the exhibition designers planned to hang a duilian at the entrance of the gallery, Linlin recommended me to them.

While I was composing a draft, having spent some time brainstorming with Linlin, I chose every word with
care. The first two duilian I wrote were:

笔端千层跌宕,
镜里万种风情。

[At the] brush tip, a thousand layers of flowing rhythm,
In the glass, ten thousand types of folk customs.

如醉如痴,千般块垒几张纸;
亦真亦幻,百年沧桑一瞬间。

Like drunkenness, like infatuation, a thousand accumulated sorrows on [only] a few sheets of paper;
At once truth, at once illusion, a hundred years of changes [pass and are captured] in an instant.

Although the name of the exhibition is “Brush and Shutter,” there are few actual painted works featured. “Brush” is here used in an aesthetic sense, as several landscape photographs from that time imitate the imagery of Chinese ink landscape painting, while in other works brushes have been used to color photographs. Due to this, Linlin somewhat disapproved of the first duilian written above, because the way it juxtaposed and contrasted paintings and photographs did not match the exhibition’s content. She was also dissatisfied with the second initial couplet line, since this sentence seemed to show a creative condition particular only to artists, and the exhibition did not bear much relation to that.

I again drafted two or three lines and emailed them to Linlin. Several days later, she called me (she is in Beijing), and we spent four or five hours in discussion over the phone. We finally decided on the version that is now seen at the exhibition’s entrance:

如梦如诗,千里景色几张纸;
亦真亦幻,百年沧桑一瞬间。

Like dreams, like poems, a thousand miles of scenery on [only] a few sheets of paper;
At once truth, at once illusion, a hundred years of changes [pass and are captured] in an instant.

The Chinese people have a long history. The significance that they attach to history, their close examination of it, and their way of recalling it with deep feeling is an important tradition in Chinese culture. During the past 100 years, they have experienced never-before-encountered historical changes, the dramatic extent of which is rare in this world. Returning to the photographs in the exhibition, the emotions associated with this history arose of their own accord, lingering [in my heart]. The second line seemingly wrote itself.

Later I wrote several others, but I still couldn’t give it up. “When composing a line of poetry about the vicissitudes of life, the line somehow polishes itself” [due to the poet’s own suffering in life, the words flow forth, already in their final form]; ancient people early on came to this conclusion.

The second line is thus the temporal dimension’s sigh of regret, while the first line contains thoughts about the concept of space. In [the 19th century], photographs were still a rare means to record contemporary people, customs and scenery. Featured in the exhibition are a few photographs that incorporate Chinese landscape painting’s methods of adopting a perspective. Coming from southern and northern China, these scenes of every description, when placed together, expand beyond the span of the gallery space.

In the duilian, the first line’s “a thousand miles of scenery” is big, “a few sheets of paper” is small; the second line’s “a hundred years of changes” is big, “an instant” is small.  Although the content of the two lines is equal, the mood progresses: when I make the contrast between large and small, when I add the emotions, [suddenly] summoned, that people experience on viewing this history, there my open and clear perspective on the basis of history at large is present. On this point Linlin and I reached a consensus, and we finally completed the draft.

Translator’s note: 风情, in the first duilian above, is difficult to translate, incorporating meanings such as “wind directions,” “winsome expressions of love,” and “local customs.”

Entrance and view into the interior of the GRI exhibition Brush & Shutter at the Getty Center

Tagged , , , , , Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  • Facebook

  • Twitter

  • Tumblr

    • photo from Tumblr

      ROSE

      This milky pink boomed into popularity because of a marketing ploy, a mistress, and its ambiguous origins.

      In an effort to compete with the renowned Meissen porcelain factory, the French Sèvres manufactory recruited the glamorous Madame de Pompadour (mistress to King Louis XV). Like a smart sponsorship deal, Sèvres gave her all the porcelain she requested. 

      Introduced in 1757, this rich pink exploded on the scene thanks to favoritism by Madame Pompadour herself. 

      The glaze itself had a weird history. To the Europeans it looked Chinese, and to the Chinese it was European. It was made based on a secret 17th-century glassmaker’s technique, involving mixing glass with flecks of gold.

      For more on colors and their often surprising histories, check out The Brilliant History of Color in Art.

      12/19/14

  • Flickr