⟨ Art ⟩

What are we, after all?

Chen Chieh-Jen

Words / Vennes Cheng
Translation / Iris Heung

陳界仁的錄像作品是一貫的單色沉重,還有紥實的文本及低沉縈繞的社會控訴。《金融風暴與自動化生產之後》是他最近在台北的個人展覽,他籍著兄長的故事探討在極端資本主義及高科技發展下,人類已經被包覆性及具穿透力的全天候監視所控制,並處於一種不自省的「無明」狀態。「無明」,泛指無智、愚昧、煩惱,為一切苦之根源。無始無明即似盲者不見,盲者作為眾生無明的表徵。身處「無明」之狀,人類/我們仍是萬物之靈嗎?還有其他的出路嗎?

九十年代末期的金融風暴讓陳界仁兄長失了業,更是在這之後患上憂鬱症,後來更自殺,幸好獲救。《中空之地》是沿於哥哥的經歷。長達六十一分鐘的錄像影片虛構其靈魂徘徊在一處——既非生也非死、既非來程也非回程的——中間存在狀態。這裡,上演一場伴奏著南管樂曲〈推枕著衣〉的出殯。隊伍最前排,哥哥的身體平躺著,以類似靈柩的方式被數位壯漢扶護、前進著。他身後依序排列著一個個裝著心肺子宮等器官的神龕、扶著一面鏡子說著妄語的女子、一個巨碩樓宇的模型、一群念念有詞並唱著歌謠的婦女,及一位從嘴裡不斷吐著字詞的身障男子……。其中婦女們以客家話不斷反覆唸著:「名字沒了,怎麼辦?」,仿佛要把「無明」而不自省的人類呼醒過來。那種沉重在迴旋,是一種個體生命在龐大的體制下,無可奈何緩慢並順從著的日復日存活。

這種狀態介乎於生與死之間。《中空之地》影片開始不久便是從未現身的妹妹旁白,她敍述哥哥自殺未遂,幾天後自行離開醫院並從此消逝無踪。但媽媽卻平靜地告訴她:「妳哥,只是去了一個比西方更遠的地方……。」到影片的後段,妹妹表示一直也打聽不到哥哥的消息,媽媽改口說:「妳哥,只是還在回來的路上……。」影片中的出殯儀式一直在進行,死者的告別式沒有像尋常般完結,一直在往生又回來的哈上。這種無盡回來、永遠在中間的狀態就像「無明」。

活在科技提供的無遠方便之中,我們的喜好、近況、面上特徵、朋友身份都變得清晰無比,一切都是公眾的。我們依賴科技,一切現世實物變成多餘並逐漸消失。在這之後,我們可能有一天自己名字也會忘掉,處於一個沒有生氣也非死物的「無明」狀態。

Chen Chieh-Jen’s signature black and white videography is always accompanied by a very well-written script that brings out an underlying discussion on social problems. After the Financial Crisis and Automated Production is Chen’s recent solo exhibition held in Taipei. Through the story of his brother, Chen attempts to explore the state of our lives in the extreme capitalistic and digitalized society. He tries to elaborate on his observation of how human beings are controlled by an extensive, intrusive and powerful surveillance system, which ultimately led us into a state of Avidyā that is lacking self-reflection. Avidyā literally means irrationality, ignorance, and worry; it is the fundament of all kinds of suffering. Without anyone who can actually see the fundamental reality, the phenomenal world is trapped in Avidyā. Being in Avidyā, can human still be considered the highest form of all creatures? Do we have any other way out?

Back in the late 90s, Chen’s older brother lost his job due to the financial crisis. He got depression after the misfortunate event and eventually attempted suicide. Luckily, he was saved. A Field of Non-Field is a 61-minute video inspired by his brother’s experience. In the video, we would see a soul lingering in an imaginary realm that is between life and death, departure and return. In the meantime, the video shows a funeral with Nanguan music A Plea to Lady Chang’e playing in the background. At the front of the procession is the older brother who is lying flat inside of a casket-like box carried by a few strong men. Coming after him are altars that contain internal organs like heart, lungs, and ovary, a woman mumbling nonsense, a massive architectural model, a group of women humming folk songs, a disabled man who keeps muttering and so on. The women are repeating a line in Hakka, “Now that the name is gone, what shall we do?” as if they want to wake up the Avidyā human beings who are so in lack of a self-reflection. A strong sentiment keeps lingering; inside of an impregnable system, individuals can only reluctantly go with the flow to survive.

This is a state in-between life and death. Soon after the film A Field of Non-Field begins, the audience can hear the younger sister who never appears on the screen narrates the story. After the failed suicide attempt, her older brother discharges himself from the hospital. Hereafter, he is nowhere to be found again. Her mother calmly tells her, “Your brother simply went to somewhere even further than the West…” Towards the end of the video, the younger sister still has no news of her brother, her mother gives a different answer, “Your brother is only on his way home…” The funeral in the video never comes to an end, the usual way of proper farewell to the departed is never complete. People are moving back and forth between the afterlife and reborn. This continual movement towards an unreachable destination greatly resembles the state of Avidyā.

Living in the digital era where everything can be conveniently obtained, a lot of information has become public — our interest, our updates, our facial features, as well as our social circle can be easily seen by everyone. Our dependence on technology has turned the reality with physical existence somehow obsolete. In the next era, maybe we would forget our names, we would be lifeless yet undead objects stuck in the limbo of the Avidyā state.