Sleep No More

在下着微雨的上海冬日午后,穿着一身黑色、金发在脑后扎成一个髻的Felix Barrett在钢琴前坐下,指尖轻轻触碰琴键,一首《My Funny Valentine》便开始将整个昏暗、密闭的房间包裹起来。印着孔雀羽毛图案的朱红色墙纸、厚重的天鹅绒窗帘将房间裹得严严实实,房间里透着老家具、旧物件和干掉的苏格兰蓟混合的气味。随手拿起茶几上发黄的黑白照片,上面是两个脸被模糊不见的小男孩。伸手掀开窗帘,窗外是一片泯灭不定的树林。这里,是浸入式戏剧(immersive theatre)《不眠之夜》(Sleep No More)的创始人、艺术总监Felix Barrett创造出的存在于1930年代上海的麦金侬酒店(McKinnon Hotel)的802房间。今夜,我们将在此入眠。

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出于观众对这部“cult”剧的热爱和迷恋,在《不眠之夜》于上海演出了两年之后,Felix和他的团队决定在这里实现他酝酿了长达十年之久的想法,来创造一个能真正让“客人”来“check in”入住的房间。“上海的观众希望获得在麦金侬酒店过夜的体验,”Felix说,“因为他们远远不满足于在剧中停留的三个小时。”而802房间并不仅仅是一间可供预定过夜的房间,更是剧中故事和人物抽茧拔丝一般的延伸。熟悉《不眠之夜》的的人都知道剧中有一段男巫与酒店门童的故事,两人在剧中三次相遇,却如触不到的恋人,每每欲说还休。而802房间正是两人在酒店中的居所:神龛上别着的便签纸、收据单和随手撕下的圣经页、那些未曾寄出的礼物和明信片、花瓶中插着的孔雀羽毛和苏格兰蓟、洗手间里收集了男巫眼泪的玻璃瓶,无不在这间位于酒店阁楼的客房里,等待入住的客人去寻觅和探索这两个角色的存在以及他们的前世今生。

在2017年9月出概念和开始设计,802房间的设计在《不眠之夜》的主设计师Maxine Doyle的带领下由国际和上海本土两组设计团队共同完成。Felix指出,与其说这是一个剧场的团队阵容倒不如说更接近电影的制作团队,从设计师到木工、布景绘画师、道具买手,“整个团队都将他们各自在美学上的技能带进这个项目,而上海本土团队更带入了许多本地知识和专长,去考察了上海档案馆、博物馆、以及和平饭店去看30年代的上海酒店应该是什么样子。”整个设计和搭建历时六个月,从贴瓷砖、刷墙、搭家具、设计墙纸、窗帘,再到细节的陈设,都经过了很多轮的改造。“这个过程就像刷墙一样,”Felix回忆说,“需要刷五遍,一步一步地来,直到将其完善,让802房间与整栋楼一起呼吸自如。”

尽管与《不眠之夜》其余的五层楼相比,802只是一间套房,然而房间里的家具、装饰和摆件都无一不落实到每一个细节之中。由于在中国很难找到房间所需要的古董家具和摆件,Felix的团队在位处于纽约与波士顿之间的一个古董市场花了几个星期的时间去淘,再将所有的东西运到纽约的港口,装进集装箱运往上海。“因为所有的东西必须具有真实性,整个房间必须体现有人居住过、被那些过往的鬼魂所萦绕的感觉,而只有二手的物件才能将此体现。”

如此大体量的创意项目对Felix而言,设计的第一步,也是关键一步永远都是空间。“在我看到空间之前,我对一部新的剧将会是怎样完全没有概念,”他强调说,“只有当空间敲定下来之后,我才能够开始围绕空间去描绘一幅情感地图,通过对空间所作出的情感反应来找到这个空间中什么地方是最安全的、什么地方是最具威胁性的。”从安全到危险之间的平衡出发,Felix才开始酝酿故事的情节,再接着就是去寻找主题音乐。在有了空间和音乐之后,大概再要六个月到五年的时间逐渐去将想法延伸,将故事情节在空间的每一楼层进行扩展。“这是一个非常漫长的过程,”他说,“接着是彩排,一般的百老汇剧目用四周的时间来做彩排,而我们的剧则要十二至十四周的时间。”然而,麦金侬酒店对Felix来说却是一个特殊,“因为我们已经知道要在上海做Sleep No More,所以这栋楼是为这部剧找的,而原本只是一个空壳的楼里面的一切也都是为这部剧的需要去设计和搭建的。”

音乐亦是他灵感的首要来源,“没有音乐,我就做不了,”而对于《不眠之夜》,Felix解释说:“主题音乐均来自黑色电影中的配乐,当你听到音乐响起时,整部剧才开始脑海里视觉化。”大约30首来自希区柯克电影中的音乐分布在酒店的各个角落的音箱,而每隔一小时就会有3分钟的时间在各个角落响起同一首歌,这个时候整个空间就开始同步起来,继而又消失不见,形成氛围上的主题。三个小时的《不眠之夜》,《My Funny Valentie》反复唱响,对于这首歌Felix说,“它神秘、浪漫、忧郁、情绪化、充满爱意,叫人牵肠挂肚,欢愉却又让人黯然神伤。一首好的音乐可以瞬间将我们转移至另一时空。”

至于Felix和他的闻名全球的Punchdrunk团队是否将会把802房间的入住式戏剧体验进一步扩展,Felix说观众已经习惯浸入式体验,所以入住式甚至可能成为未来五年里新的度假方式,“当你入住酒店时,你永远不知道你遇到的人谁是真实世界的人,而谁又是戏中的演员。”

This story originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of AD China
Words by  Xing Zhao | Photos by 吴俊泽
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One House, Three Worlds

敲开艺术家弗朗西斯科·克莱门特(Francesco Clemente)位于纽约曼哈顿下城区的家门时,克莱门特身穿一件他常搭配在COMME des GARÇONS的西装夹克里面的印度长袍来给我们开门,脚下蹬着一双印度手工皮拖鞋。刚一进门,还未见到他的太太Alba的面之前,便听到她低沉且爽朗的笑声。这是我第一次见到曾在克莱门特的肖像画中见过多次,且曾是Andy Warhol、Jean-Michel BasquiatAlex Katz、以及Robert Maplethorpe等著名艺术家作品中的缪斯的的Alba Clemente

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走进克莱门特的家,仿若亲身步入这位以水彩画著称的艺术家的作品之中。色彩鲜丽、流转却又不失沉稳,大地色系贯穿了整个家的始终:墙面的赭黄、地板的庞贝红,以及其他细节上选择的土绿和生棕色,克莱门特说都是运用了传统壁画颜料,如绘制壁画一样漆成。这位曾经为许多著名艺术机构绘制过永久性壁画作品的艺术家让自己住进了自己亲手“绘制”的壁画空间里。

被公认为“超前卫艺术”(Transavanguardia)最具代表性的艺术家之一,克莱门特出生和成长于意大利的那不勒斯,70年代开始在印度建立画室,并深受印度哲学、苏菲神秘主义的浸染,而后成名于80年代的纽约。意大利、印度和纽约三个地方对克莱门特的人生和艺术创作都具有非凡的意义,而他纽约的家用视觉的形式体现了这三个地方对他的影响。客厅的六边形凳子和木头茶几,边厅的餐桌椅和皮靠椅,以及厨房的六边形桌子,均出自设计古根海姆美术馆的建筑师和设计师弗兰克·劳埃德·赖特(Frank Lloyd Wright)之手。而底部如雕塑般造型的Akrai和风纸灯和咖啡桌,则是雕塑家和设计师野口勇(Isamu Noguchi)的代表作。“美国艺术上的精华、印度宗教仪式中的器物,以及意大利的设计,共同组成了家里所有物件的欢乐大家庭。”克莱门特一语中的地概括自己对家具与物件的选择。

One House, Three Worlds 3

与他的家的色彩搭配得相得益彰的另一组家具,既是意大利的设计,又与影响他一生的印度有着紧密的联系。客厅鲜艳的橘黄色立柜、边厅的长方形矮柜、两厅之间高及天花的白色立柱,以及卧室中粉绿色的床和柜子,均出自意大利设计史上的重要人物、80年代早期孟菲斯小组的创始人索特萨斯(Ettore Sottsass)之手。卧室里,索特萨斯设计的床与印有甘地头像的靠枕、印度的宗教铜像共处一室,让人不禁想到印度。克莱门特说:“索特萨斯同样在印度看到了对高端与低端两种类型材料的结合,而我也对孟菲斯的设计抱着仰慕之情。”

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尽管家里的每一件艺术品都足以让任何一位当代艺术收藏家艳羡,然而,克莱门特并不认为自己是一个收藏家。他说纽约的这个房子是他“人生的自传、生命中的运气,以及对自己作品的灵感来源”。对他而言,这些艺术品记录和见证了他的人生和创作历史:他14岁起便仰慕的艺术家塞·托姆布雷(Cy Twombly)的一张绘画作品挂在壁炉边的墙上;曾深深启发18岁时的克莱门特的布莱斯•马登(Brice Marden)的绘画也近在眼前;客厅的Frank Lloyd Wright桌子上是Joseph Beuys的一件雕塑作品;他人生购买的第一件作品是意大利画家菲利波·德·皮西斯(Filippo De Pisis)绘画的全身赤裸、仅穿一双鞋子的男孩;他购入的第二件作品——伊夫·克莱因(Yves Klein)则还挂在厨房的墙上。卧室中的地毯则由克莱门特艺术生涯的导师阿利吉埃罗•博埃蒂(Alighiero Boetti)所创作:“当我开始绘画时,博埃蒂觉得我背叛了他,因此我们断绝了联系。在他临终前我们重归于好时,有一天我陪他去罗马的鲜花广场,他买了一大把的野黄花,之后他就送了这块地毯给我。”

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这座房子也代表了一个时代的纽约对克莱门特的意义。Bob Dylan在70年代曾经居住在这里,克莱门特于80年代末将它买下,夫妇俩与建筑师Richard Gluckman一同重新设计并装修了这里。当时的装修工队也很不寻常,其中包括了后来创立纽约著名的出版物The Brooklyn Rail的艺术家和策展人Phong Bui,而墙壁则由艺术家Jim Long亲自操刀刷的漆。可以说,他们夫妇认识纽约所有的艺术家。“那时的纽约是一个充满了创造力的纽约。”克莱门特充满感怀地说。

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他的家为他开启了移居纽约后的一个新篇章。“搬进去的那天是感恩节,我的两个双胞胎儿子刚要满一岁,”克莱门特对那日场景的回忆充满了诗意,“那天下了雪,我们吃了很大一顿午餐,诗人艾伦·金斯堡(Allen Ginsberg)祝了一杯酒,两只躲避大雪的小鸟从烟囱掉进来,飞进了屋子里……”

拜访的那天,Alba在墙上挂着一组Fornasetti于1950年代出品的陶瓷盘子的厨房里为我们做了porcini mushroom  risotto。Andy Warhol曾形容Alba:“她看起来像个星光熠熠的电影明星,更难得的是,她还擅长做菜!”独特的个人魅力不仅让她成为诸多艺术家的缪斯,作为一名舞台剧演员和剧场服装设计师,Alba更曾为许多歌剧、舞台剧设计服装,为著名乐团Pink Martini的歌曲’Una notte a Napoli’ 作词和献声,并且设计了纽约的Lexington Hotel的酒店大堂。“Alba在家里最喜欢的房间是客厅,她常在那张巨大的Frank Lloyd Wright桌子上绘制她的点缀了羽毛的舞台剧服装。而我最喜欢的是卧室,我可以在那张Sottsass床上读上一整天的书。”作为年过六旬却仍是纽约艺术界最chic的一对夫妇,克莱门特说他们的家是两人品味的结合,而品味不仅是他们之间的联系,更是一种善待人生的生活态度。

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对于像克莱门特这样一位一年只有三分之一的时间停留在纽约的“游牧式”生活的艺术家,家之于他,有着普鲁斯特式的身在此处回忆着在彼处想念此处的意味:“在纽约我想念印度,在印度我想念意大利,而在意大利我想念纽约。家给了我一个空间去记忆和想念所有我热爱的地方。”

This story originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of AD China
Words by  Xing Zhao | Photos by Manolo Yllera | Stylist: Patricia Ketelsen

夏天去巴黎,时光沙沙响

夏天去巴黎 时光沙沙响 1

夏天去巴黎时计划着去看著名的莎士比亚书店,可是却忘记了地址。但是离开巴黎的前一天,却无意中就像坐了时间机器一样,一眨眼时竟在它的门前了。仿佛是命运的引领。

Lindi和我租了单车在巴黎七月的热风里游荡,沿着塞纳河走。盛夏的巴黎午后,日光充裕,蓝天丽日。我们将单车踩的飞快,不知不觉就又到了巴黎圣母院。圣母院在河的对岸,而隔着河的我们的身后,则是传说中的莎士比亚书店

1919年,一位热爱文学的美国女人Sylvia Beach在巴黎的左岸的Rue de l’Odéon  12号开了一家英文书店,兼做图书馆以及文人聚会、朗读作品的沙龙。不想却立时吸引了许多当时以及后世的伟大作家。

莎士比亚书店成为当时左岸不可或缺的精神地标,既是由于Beach自身的文学品位,更是因为它与那个时代的法兰西有着同样的先锋精神。在詹姆士· 乔伊斯的作品在他的家乡爱尔兰被禁时,Beach出版了他的《尤利西斯》。在D.H.劳伦斯的《查泰莱夫人的情人》在英国和美国不见天日时,却在莎士比亚书店可以随意借阅。 “失落的一代”的著名作家海明威、 艾兹拉·庞德,、 F.·斯科特·菲兹杰拉德,、葛楚·史坦都曾是书店的常客,而海明威亦多次在他对巴黎充满深情的回忆录《流动的盛宴》中多次提及当时书店里的情景。

1941年的冬天,Beach因为拒绝将乔伊斯的Finnegans Wake借给某德国军官,书店被勒令关门。十年后,另一个美国人乔治·惠特曼(George Whitman)在波西米亚风格的左岸的另一个地址:Rue de la Bucherie 37号开出了一家新的英文书店,取名Le Mistral,以此来纪念自己的第一任法国女友。乔治不但袭承了Beach当初书店的风格,邀请新一代的作家来书店举办沙龙和朗诵会,而且从Le Mistral开张的第一天起,就开始为流落巴黎的年轻作家、诗人和艺术家提供免费的住所。乔治大大方方的将穷艺术家们接进书店住宿,而作为交换条件,他们只需要每天为书店工作两个小时。据说乔治对他们的要求只是把他们自己的被子叠好,以及每天阅读一本书。当美国文学迎来了”垮掉的一代”,乔治的书店也成为凯鲁亚克,金斯堡那一代作家们在巴黎的文化基地。Sylvia Beach在1962年逝世前,将莎士比亚书店的名字转让给了乔治。于是Le Mistral 在1964年改名,成为如今与圣母院隔河相对的Shakespeare and Company。 

夏天去巴黎 时光沙沙响 2

乔治也有著传奇的身世:由美国马萨朱塞移民到巴黎,一天读一本书,一生守着这一片书店。他的年纪已不可考,据说是生於1913年。他一生风流,阅人无数,但是到老年才得一女。1981年生下一个女儿,取名Sylvia.。而这个Sylvia也是现在的莎士比亚书店的女掌柜。

店堂是黄绿相间的鲜明颜色,莎士比亚的画像在门口高高挂着。新书在一楼,旧书在二楼,满满的沿着墙壁排到天花板上。门口的庭院里在木头柜子里摆了二手书。Lindi淘到小说版的《蜘蛛女之吻》(Kiss of the Spider Woman),说:”电影很好看,歌舞剧也排的好,我想你应该会喜欢这个故事。”

新书在一楼一进门就繁花似的开满在眼前,是英文语言里最新出版和畅销的书:Bill Bryson的A Short History of Nearly Everything, Jamie Oliver教煮菜的书, Jung Chang的Mao,还有新出版的Paris, Biography of A City。室内的一切都是木头构造,柜台在一大排新书的后面。女掌柜Sylvia并不在,只是一个年轻的爱尔兰男人在柜台后坐着,跟客人大声的聊天。

慢慢沿窄小的楼梯上二楼,四处都是书架,空气中散发旧书特有的味道。周遭安静得每挪动一次脚就听见木头地板吱吱作响的声音。走廊的尽头是一个大开着窗户的房间,窗户外面是巴黎典型的小阳台。明亮的光线从巴黎午后的天光里照进来,房间的天花板上是老旧的金黄色吊灯。

从这里看,巴黎仿佛在一百年的时间里都未曾有过改变,仿佛可以看到葛楚·史坦靠在小阳台的雕花栏杆上抽烟。时间静静的,走得很慢。房间的木头长椅上,倚靠着一个女人,小腿伸将出来,只看到她穿着凉鞋的脚。然后又听见一个男子说话的声音。我轻声的走动,生怕惊扰到他们的午休。另一个房间里是一张小的单人床,铺在书架与书架之间的角落。也许多年前流落到巴黎的海明威曾经在这床上睡过。如今,睡的又是谁呢?

夏天去巴黎 时光沙沙响 3

书店外得庭院,有人在树下得长凳上坐着休息,许多是拿着相机的美国游客。一个年轻男生拿着瓶子在接从小喷泉里流出来的水。金发,很瘦,穿着天蓝色T恤和黑色的长裙子,黑色帆布鞋。书店旁边的木头长凳上坐了一个很老的男人,长长的白发掉的没有多少了。我在猜他是不是乔治时,便被他喂喂的叫住了。

“你从哪里来?”他哑哑的说。

“上海。”

“上海好。我小时候就住在上海,很久以前了……现在全世界都在看中国呢。”

“你又从哪里来呢?”我问他。

“美国。但是大半辈子都住在巴黎。太老了,我就要死了。没有钱回去美国,在这里等着死。要死的,每个人都是要死的,就是中国人也是要死的。你说是不是?是不是吗?”

我不知道应该怎样回答他,只是说,”你是这书店的主人吗?”

“我吗?哈哈,不是。我只是个快要死的人。”

他一说完,楼上的窗户就吱的一声打开了,真正的乔治从窗户里探出头来,对他的年轻伙计说,”茶准备好了。”

他的出场显得很戏剧。他非常的老,白色的长发稀落着,没有穿上衣,露出年老的起了皱纹得皮肤。那个年轻的爱尔兰伙计开始吆呼在院子里的客人,他说,”书店的主人想要请你们上去喝茶,不知道你们要不要来喝杯下午茶?”他很活泼的一一邀请客人,可是就是没有走到我们面前来。我们都很想被这个有名的乔治邀请去喝茶,但是又不能不请自来,觉得有些尴尬。这个时候那个一直在长凳上看书的微胖中年男人问我,”你们要不要也上去喝茶?乔治每个星期天下午都会请他的顾客上去喝茶。去吧去吧。”

我们于是跟着其他人一起上楼。乔治的公寓是从书店旁边的门进去,老式的巴黎公寓,每一层的楼梯间都带着窗户,从窗户望出去,可以望见塞纳河。乔治的公寓,就像是书店的一个房间,依旧满满的都是书,散发出腐烂的味道。小客厅旧旧的很乱,堆满了书和成打的旧报纸。厚重的暗红色地毯上是一张大圆桌子。窗户打开着,我们围着桌子坐下,可是乔治还是没有出现。

一个年轻的美国男孩开始招待我们喝茶。他充满了青春得气息和文学的气质,问他从哪里来,他说费城,来巴黎过他的夏天,在乔治的书店里住了一个星期了。这时一个女孩端了英国人的红茶和曲奇饼干出来。她穿着充满夏天气息的蓝色印花裙子,给我们每一个人倒茶,又转身去做更多的茶。女孩从以色列一路坐火车来到巴黎,也住在乔治的书店里,读书、写作、给乔治做茶。

这时乔治颤颤的从里面的房间走出来,仍光着上身,身上的皮肤像柔软的皮草一样垂挂下来,白的头发垂在了脸上。他像一个幽魂一样飘荡,轻声说,客人可以进去参观他的”博物馆”,并且希望大家在巴黎的日子过得开心。说完就又荡回他的厨房去了。费城来的男孩带着三三两两的人进去里面参观。厕所和浴室在一个小角落里,湿湿的样子。厨房里也满满的都是书,柜子上挂了旧时名人的画像。小桌上面粉、水果、鸡蛋壳、胡乱的堆了一气。乔治定是见惯了场面的人,仿佛没有人在一样,只是顾自在垂着头煮自己的茶和做色拉。有人问他问题,他就慢慢的一句一句回答。他的睡房里面也都是书;床很高,三面都是书,被子胡乱的叠在一起。Lindi说,”真像是住在一个垃圾堆里。”

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从乔治三楼的窗户望出去,可以看到塞纳河和那一个很老的巴黎。我问起借宿书店如何使用洗手间和浴室,费城来的男孩说书店并没有可以给寄宿者使用的洗手间,“但是巴黎有好几百间公共厕所跟浴室,我们每天去那里洗澡,而且这些都是免费的。”

客厅的人仍在聊天。中年美国男人是来巴黎探望正在巴黎的艺术学校念交换生的女儿的。他喋喋的说自己跟乔治多年前就相交,曾开车带着乔治从巴黎到伦敦买书,满是炫耀的意思。这个时候楼下柜台的爱尔兰男人上来,说自己要出门了,他高声的吆喝着,说有一个热辣的约会在等着他。

Lindi问乔治他有那么多的书,但是有读完全部的书吗?乔治说,没有。但是他每天会读完一本书,读多少是多少。这个时候我在想,为什么有的人可以像这样生活呢?

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乔伊斯有一本书叫做 A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man,而有人也曾经做了一个关于莎士比亚书店的记录片,名字叫做A Bookstore As An Old Man

离开的时候我又去把那本《蜘蛛女之吻》从门口的木头柜子里捡了出来,花2.5欧元买下。柜台的人在内页给盖了一个书店的章,莎士比亚的头像底下写着Shakespeare and Company。

我们把单车推出来时,那个费城来的男生也戴上他的太阳眼镜,骑上了他的单车出门。”要出去跑点腿,”他说。这个场景,就像一部关于巴黎的电影,男孩在巴黎的蓝天丽日下穿行,白的衬衫被风吹起,心里怀着一个文学的梦想。

Mu Xi: Portrait of a Youth

By Xing Zhao

Born and bred in Shanghai, 27-year-old Mu Xi is a young gay man who drinks green tea, practices calligraphy, and grows plants at home. He is also the artist who creates delicate, yet erotic portraits of a youth with deer horns growing out his head, and tree branches germinating out of his chest, reflecting pain and confusion.

Youth, beauty and desire, Mu Xi claims are his self-reflection as well as inspiration that stimulate him to portray the loneliness and the desire of youth.

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Where were you born and where did you attend school?

I was born in Shanghai and I went to Shanghai Arts and Crafts College, majored in art and design.

When did you first start to draw?

In 2004, I started to draw the Erotic Picture series on a notepad, simply for fun. Later I drew more and more and started to fill them in with colours by using a computer programme and also with water colour paint.

Portrait of Youth is the main motif in your drawings, is it an obsession with youth?

I read the first half of Oscar Wilde‘s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and felt the affection and admiration for the beauty and youth of Dorian Gray in the novel resonates my self-reflection and expression of emotion.

Is “beauty is greater than talent”?

I think before getting to know other qualities of a person, one’s physical beauty is the first thing that strikes and moves you, without any explanation. That’s the idea I want to express in my art. 

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Why do you make deer horns, trees and flowers that germinate and grow out of the youth’s body?

The deer horns grow out of the head of the youth is a metaphor for growing pains. There is so much confusion and pain in a young man’s life when he goes through the transition of becoming a man. I also read a story written by the late Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima, who is well known for depicting violence as a form of aesthetics. In the story, when a Greek youth tied to a rock is killed by arrows, the onlookers feel thrilled. I wanted to depict that beauty and cruelty can go hand in hand. When the youth’s soul is wounded, or when it dies, a tree or a flower grows out him. It is a lot of pain, but it is also reincarnation.  

Do you use models to draw?

No. Some people say the youth in my drawings look like me, but they are not self portraits. However, he is a youth figure that I’m familiar with. He is not someone that we would consider a beautiful youth, but he is suitable for my expression.

Has the expression of homo-eroticism in your drawings caused you any troubles, especially in a rather conservative society?

Although I couldn’t upload some of the more explicit drawings online in China, the homo-eroticism is a natural outcome in my work. I think sex and desire exist in every detail of our lives. I do not particularly intend to picture that, and I do not try to avoid that either. I am happy to let viewers see what they want to see.

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Who are your artistic influences?

Oscar Wilde and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry‘s fairytales, ink and wash paintings by Bada Shanren of Qing Dynasty and calligraphy by Yan Zhenqing of Tang Dynasty all inspire me in terms of the temperament and style of my work. Gus Van Sant, Jan Svankmajer, Matthew Barney are my favorite filmmakers. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photography and Goto Shigeo’s architectural designs also give me new, fresh ideas.

What’s a day in your life like?

I water my plants before going to work (as a graphic designer) in the morning. After work, I draw at home, and upload some of my drawings online. On the weekends I often go to second hand bookstores or flower markets. Sometimes I meet my friends for tea. But I spend a lot of time alone.

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The youth in your drawing often look sad and alone. Are you lonely?

I am. But on the other hand, I really enjoy the loneliness. I need the time to be alone and think no one should waste their time if they are own their own, even when it’s lonely, because that’s the time one can have conversations with himself.

I need to eat and sleep at the exact fixed hours. I don’t work after midnight. I live like an old man.

What’s most the important aspects of your daily life?

Health and routine. I cannot work at all if I feel under the weather. I need to eat and sleep at the exact fixed hours. I don’t work after midnight. I live like an old man.

Do you have any ambitions?

Yes. I’d like to have conversations with creative people from different areas, to have a small garden of my own, to draw and paint on a quiet island or in the mountains.

This story first appeared in the Beauty Issue of OutThere Magazine.

Memories of One’s Own

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By Xing Zhao

When many people describe Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale as science fiction, I read it with my eyes wet, as an emotional journey. Indeed, it is a science fictional story set in a democratic a United States of America-turned theocratic state after nuclear, biological and chemical pollution render a large portion of the population sterile, and a terrorist attack abolishes the US constitution. Thus an imaginary state the Republic of Gilead is formed under the rule of a military dictatorship. It’s a state run by a government which degrades women’s status down to merely a means of reproduction under the name of God and the Bible. Comprising a few social critiques, including religious movements, feminism, the backlash against feminism, and terrorism, the novel presents a dystopian vision of life in a country under a totalitarian regime.

Offred, the protagonist narrates the story of her life being a handmaid who along with other women, exists in a void-like world with no trus t, love, or escape. She tells her story in fragments, with many flashbacks through which the readers slowly envision her life before and after she became Offred.  The story is quietly told in a subtle atmosphere and it exists only because you are listening.

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In a world without freedom, Offred has a lot of free time. “Time as white sound”; “the long parentheses of nothing.” She travels through time in her memories to her rebellious lesbian friend Moira, her peculiar feminist mother, her lost daughter, and more often her husband Luke. In Atwood’s poetic descriptions, these passages of memories with Luke are lovingly tender but also heartbreaking to read. “I have them, these attacks of the past, like faintness, a wave sweeping over my head. Sometimes it can hardly be borne…it’s the lack of love we die from. There’s nobody here I can love, all the people I love are dead or elsewhere.” 

Handmaid's tale cover

As the story moves forward, the Commander starts to summon Offred to his office at nights. There is a possibility of an affair between them. However, she does not like him and he only wants to play Scrabble with her. She still takes in what he has to give to the emptiness of her life: moisturizer, a women’s magazine, a cheap lipstick, a costume-like dress with feathers, and a night out in the underground brothel.

Love happens in the very last part of the book, or it almost does. In order to have a baby, the Commander’s wife Serena Joy arranges Offred to meet Nick, the chauffeur. In Nick’s single room above the garage, sex isn’t a ritual anymore. Desire and love sparkle in Atwood’s again poetic but also fast-paced descriptions. “Love, it’s been so long, I’m alive in my skin, again, arms around him, falling and water softly everywhere, never-ending. I knew it might only be once.” She herself isn’t sure how it happens either, “the way love feels is always only approximate”.

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She then takes risks and goes back to him again and again. In the glow of the searchlight filtered through the white curtains she memorizes him, to save him up so she can live on the image. “The lines of his body, the texture of his flesh… I ought to have done that with Luke, paid more attention, to the details, the moles and scars, the singular crease; I didn’t and he’s fading. Day by day, night by night, he recedes, and I become more faithless.” She knows each time with him might be the last, and if more, that is a surprise, extra, a gift. Love is a spark, lost in the dark. Her momentary happiness bears as much hopelessness as love.

However, when the story is at its climax, it also abruptly ends. Offred is taken away by the authorities that are led to her room by Nick. He tells her to go with them and says “It’s alright.” So she sets off into “the darkness within; or else the light.” Her memories end here with an ambiguous ending of not knowing whether she escapes or dies, whether Nick has betrayed her or saved her.

In this beautifully written book, it looks like nothing much happens within pages of the poetic style of writing, but at the same time a lot happens intensely like waves one after another. Atwood imaginatively creates a dystopian society, but more importantly she weaves together one’s memories of the past and the feelings of love. Love and desire are sensually described with metaphors such as flowers and water, but moreover, are heartfully perceived. She tells the story with great compassion. It is not only a story that gives you the chill to consider about society, but also a story that brings out your own memories till you’re in tears.

This story originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Zing

Santorini: the Lost Heart

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When I peeked through the glass window of the blue-framed door that morning, a man was doing his morning exercise. He was a man in his early thirties, dark hair, small and slim. He wore spectacles and a brown T-shirt from the Japanese film Battle Royale. He was surrounded by shelves of books. “I was wondering what time you open?” I asked.

This was a small English language bookshop in the town of Oia, on the volcanic island of Santorini, of Greece. In a town without house numbers, Atlantis Books was located in the basement of one of the numerous whitewashed Mediterranean cave houses. A few years ago, Craig, Oliver and Chris settled a debt, found books, shipped them and came to Santorini. Together with some others, they collected driftwood from the beach, and built a bookshop with beds. From then on, Atlantis became a second Shakespeare and Co: a home to travellers, writers and their beloved books.

“Do you have a place to stay tonight then?” Luke spoke with a north London accent. I said, “Not really.” With his invitation, I was given a bed among the bookshelves, in the back room of the bookshop. After spending years in Paris, Luke was living and travelling between Italy and Greece. As a thirtysomething man with no money, Luke knew every single book in the shop and he was writing a novel.

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When I came back from a swim in the cove, I met John, the poet. John was a good- looking young Welshman with an Oxford accent and a nervous look. He stuttered a wee bit when he spoke. He had been staying in the bookshop for a couple of weeks before moving to Berlin to write full-time. When Natalie came up to the terrace, John and I were sweeping off the remnants from a recent storm. Natalie was in her mid- twenties, tanned and spoke with a California accent. With half of her face covered under her novelty sunglasses, she stood, chatting with us while we were working. She had been on the island for a year and half. She fell in love with the place and decided not to leave, thus, she became an illegal resident after her tourist visa had expired. She worked as a waitress during the summer, and for the rest of the year, she just lived her life.

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So it is, I began my island life in a bookshop. In the mornings, I’d get up at 10 am, make myself some breakfast and coffee; watched the shop while having breakfast. I’d hear curious tourists walking down the stairs with comments like “look, here is a bookshop!” Often they were Americans, sometimes British or Europeans. I’d talk to them, or help them find books. When it was quiet, I listened to Jazz and read Greek Mythology. I’d have my lunch in the glorious Mediterranean sun on the terrace, which overlooked the dark blue Aegean. My afternoons were often spent on the beach with a book, and a Magnum ice cream on the way home. Before the dusk, I’d go to where the tourists gathered to see the one most dramatic sunsets in the world. In the dusk, the Greek girl from the shop next door would call “Luke, Luke”, telling us to turn on the lamp outside the bookshop; and you start to smell the sweet fragrance of the honeysuckle flowers. In the evenings, I’d cook a dinner for whoever was there. More tea and poetry reading would follow after dinner, and some of the night time was spent smoking cigarettes and drinking wine under the stars.

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One of my nights in Santorini was making Greek meatballs in Natalie’s cave house at 3 am. We drank lots of wine, smoked lots of cigarettes, and patted street dogs who came in for a shelter. I asked Natalie whether she regretted her decision, that she would never be able to leave this country. She was leaning on the half-opened wooden door and having a fag. Her face looked tired after a long-day’s work, but her smile was all soft and sweet, “No. I think I’ve found my happiness. This is what I want in life.”

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Santorini is a wonderland in the summer, but when winter comes, it’d become a deserted island with only whiteness but little sign of people. It’d become a lonely place with street dogs and cats. However, winter for Natalie was for fishing with a local fisherman. On this island, live many other people who know or do not know what they want in life. Nevertheless, for people who love all beautiful things in life, Santorini has its own pace, nice and slow.

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When I left Natalie’s flat, the dawn was already breaking. I walked on the edges of the volcanic town, and the ocean was just waking up in the early summer twilight. Quietly I opened the bookshop door. Luke was soundly asleep. Raki, the street dog who came to the shop all the time, quietly followed me in, jumped into one of the beds and went to sleep.

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Santorini guide

清迈的停滞小时光

我22岁时曾经独自在越南做从北到南的旅行,与旅途中认识的一对韩国男女结伴。都是同龄人,男生与女生也是在旅途中认识,并且在旅途中成为情侣。

到会安时为了省钱,我们三人同住一间旅馆房间,我跟男生睡一张床,而女生睡另一张床。半夜睡在我身旁的男生从床上掉了下来,他从地上爬起,轻声地上了旁边女生的床。我装作不知道地继续睡觉。

[Oxotel]

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这次到达清迈时住的正是会让我想起那年在会安那样的房间,就在这家叫做Oxotel的旅舍。

早已经过了背包旅行和住hostel的年纪,现在的我更喜欢酒店的舒适。但是当我在Instagram上看到这家旅舍时,仍然止不住的被它吸引。Oxotel是一家hostel,但却与我以往住过的所有hostel都不一样,它的设计感完全称得上是一家 “design hostel”,或是 “boutique hostel”。据说老板是一名喜欢住hostel的设计师,在游历了亚洲各国和澳洲之后,决定在泰国北部设计开发一家自己的hostel。于是将这栋70年代工业时期的老楼改造,在保留了其原有工业特色的同时改造出这栋用木、水泥和铁的结构的旅舍。

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来了那么多次泰国,却是第一次来清迈。清迈原本就是一座慢悠悠、睡沉沉的泰国北部小城,没有曼谷的繁华,也没有泰国海岛的喧闹。夜晚的时光在旅舍的露天长凳上靠着看书,清晨在小房间里醒来,打开收音机一边刷牙一边听泰文电台播的歌。电台播的泰文老歌好似早年台湾的老歌一样的调子,女人幽怨的唱着情歌,仿佛时间的停滞,或是牵着一根线的往回走。

Oxtel in Chiangmai by KapaZhao

旅舍的早餐并没有什么特别,简单的吐司、香蕉、麦片、茶包。坐在露天的院子里慢慢的吃一个早餐,也并不急着去哪里。只有旅途中,我们才是最活在当下的,不去缅怀过去,也不为未来而焦虑,吃早餐就是吃早餐,看书就是看书,只是在这个当下。

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旅舍除了住宿以外还附带了一家咖啡店。轻轻将大堂的磨砂玻璃门推开,就进入那家叫做Artisan的咖啡店。咖啡店的男生跟世界上其他城市的咖啡师一样对制作咖啡怀着严肃的态度,小心的磨咖啡豆,一丝不苟的打奶泡和拉出一朵花。虽然清迈有大象又有热带雨林,可是旅行的意义就在于个体在别处的存在,而在别处,让我们更加敏锐的体会到自己的存在。

在清迈的小旅舍的咖啡店喝一上午的咖啡,不去想过去,也不去计划未来。有的只是当下这一刻。

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[Baan Saen Fang]

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到清迈前除了Oxotel外一直想订一家叫Bhodi Serene的boutique hotel,但是一直订不到那一家,后来在Instagram上又发现了同一家酒店公司开的Baan Saen Fang。在住了两晚Oxotel后就跟致姐姐打了个tuk tuk搬到Baan Saen Fang去住。

Baan Saen Fang是一个以泰国北部经典的兰纳 (Lanna) 建筑风格建造的精品酒店,整个酒店只有5间房。每间房则是兰纳建筑风格的独栋villa。兰纳建筑以柚木结构为主体,房体高于地面,用来保护房子抵抗雨季的潮湿。

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我们的villa在游泳池的正对面,房子由卧室、浴室、前阳台、以及后阳台组成。前阳台用来吃早餐、闲坐、看书,而后阳台则用来晾洗了的小件衣物。

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每一天,酒店会让你选好第二天想吃的早餐和吃早餐的时间,早晨酒店的女孩便会用大托盘将你选好的早餐送到你的阳台,并轻轻敲门,然后离开,以示早餐准备好了。Baan Saen Fang就在同名的寺庙Wat Saen Fang的背面,傍晚日落时寺庙便开始敲钟,和尚也开始念经。游完泳的黄昏我们看书、喝茶,在暮鼓晨钟里看着天色渐渐黑下来。

住在Baan Saen Fang的几天里,半夜都会下很大的雨,而天亮时雨便会停。雨水顺着兰纳建筑的房顶瓦片流下来,雨声潺潺,仿佛是住在溪边。旅途中,我们比平常睡的更加安稳。

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[Raming Tea House]

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从Baan Saen Fang出来,左转再左转就可以到清迈的夜市。去夜市的路上会经过清迈的中国城,而这家青花瓷店就在中国城的边上。经过时它已经打烊,我好奇透过玻璃门向里面张望,看到的是一个漂亮的兰纳建筑。玻璃门上写着”Raming Tea House Siam Celadon”。原来青花瓷店的后面是一家吃饭的茶室,而它每天营业的时间是到下午5点就结束了。

我们第二天再回到Raming Tea House时,仿佛是爱丽丝掉进了梦里仙境。这栋始建于1915年的兰纳建筑在几经转手,从建筑材料商店变成意大利餐厅,再到2003年由Raming Tea Company茶叶公司重新开业成为前面是卖青花瓷的店铺后面是茶室和餐厅的现在。

Raming Tea Room

 

[Tong Tem Toh]

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“只有曼谷才是一座真正的都市。”我的一个住在香港的泰国朋友这样说。

与曼谷相比,清迈确实算不上一个都市。然而去到清迈的人,为的也只是小镇的闲居时光。但是在清迈最hip的Nimman区却也不乏本地人喜欢去的时髦餐厅和咖啡馆。

对餐厅的选择,我通常是以食物为先,环境其次。东西好吃是第一,餐厅漂不漂亮是要在好吃的基础上。但在一个并不熟悉的地方,我会先在Instagram上搜餐厅的照片,然后再去搜网络上其他食客对它的评价。

Tong Tem Toh这家专做泰北菜系的餐厅据说是时髦的本地年轻人喜欢光顾的。餐厅不管在环境上还是在菜的价格上都算不上高档,但是有着大榕树和绿色植物的院子却叫人觉得既有氛围又不会浮夸,亲切得像泰国人的笑容。

到餐厅时致姐姐惊叫:“满满的都是中国人啊!”可是坐下来她才发现,原来餐厅里满满的坐的都是泰国本地人。

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泰国北部菜有一点像云南菜和缅甸菜,以肉类为主,以及烤鱼,当然各种香料还是必不可少。与泰国南部菜不同的是,北部菜没有那么偏酸味,但仍旧是口味比较重的。

抱着试一试的心态去吃,结果这家餐厅一点没让我失望。点的菜里最好吃的是两道菜,一道是炭烤猪颈肉。猪颈肉本身味道鲜美,但佐配的辣椒酱却是人间极品。用极纯粹的干辣椒磨成粉,再搭配鱼露,这辣椒酱确是我吃到的最美味的,巴不得打包带走。

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另一道很特别的菜是猪肉糜和咸蛋用蕉叶包好,腌制几天之后再在火上烤过。吃的时候肉和蛋的口感很嫩,又带着蕉叶的香味,佐配花生米、生的蒜一起吃。搭配的蒜是极小的那种,它的香并不是我们平常吃到的大的蒜的味道,而是更加纯粹。这一顿又地道又好吃的午餐才吃了我们两个人折合人民币80几块钱。

曾经一度认为,在经过了那么多次的旅途之后,旅行不再新鲜有趣。

“去到哪里不都一样呢?”

可是事实是每一个国家、城市的颜色、气味都是不同,人的说话、做事方式也都不同。而世界的奇妙也在于坐上飞机就可以到达一个与我们的日常完全不同的地方,在这个时候,我们的感官都会更加敏锐,也更加能够体会到自己的存在感。想到这里的时候,不禁会为下一场的旅途而心生窃喜。

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Art Hong Kong’s Last Edition Before Art Basel Sees Asia’s Market on the Rise

By Xing Zhao

With men in their sharp designer suits and women in their black tie event dresses, a glass of wine in hand, the striding guests at the VIP vernissage of the Hong Kong International Art Fair, aka ART HK 11, gives the feeling of a high-profile fashion event. “Every time I came to the Fair I felt like I was dressed like a student” says a Shanghai-based gallery director, “People are very serious about it.”

During the five-day event in Hong Kong, art is serious business. Although still a very young art fair, ART HK has been recognized as Asia’s leading international contemporary art fair. Every May, artists, gallerists, museum professionals, curators and collectors from around the globe flock to Hong Kong for the non-stop feast of art and the business opportunities that come with. This year, the Fair opened its fourth edition on the 26th of May (with the preview on the 25th of May), showcasing 260 galleries from 38 countries, bigger than it has ever been before.

ART HK 11

Divided into three sections, the main fair section featured 168 leading galleries showing world class artists including Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson‘s new works exhibited by Tanya Bonakdar Gallery of New York, South African artist William Kentridge‘s anamorphic projection What Will Come, presented by Goodman Gallery from Johannesburg, Kazakhstani artist Erbossyn Meldibekov‘s group of politically-charged resin busts showcased by London-based gallery Rossi & Rossi and Tracey Emin‘s pink neon light installation You made Me Love You, presented by New York’s Lehmann Maupin Gallery.

Tracey Emin You Made Me Love You, Art Hong Kong, by Xing Zhao

However, what really brought out the fair’s uniqueness was its two new sections. ASIA ONE is dedicated to showcase solo presentations of Asian artists brought by galleries in Asia Pacific and the Middle East. The ART FUTURES section, which showcased emerging artists represented by 45 of the world’s best new galleries under five years old, gave guests the opportunity to spot fresh talents.

Throughout the Fair, the Hong-Kong-based non-profit research center Asia Art Archive (AAA), as the fair’s official education partner, presented a series of panel discussions Backroom Conversations, as well as a new perspective of recent history of Indian art by staging a recreated Delhi studio of critic and curator Geeta Kapur and artist Vivan Sundaram.

Despite the topic “Art Must Be Beautiful”, a debate held by the Intelligence Squared Asia Debate, remains contentious, the fair was full of eye-candies.

A Marketplace Where East Meets West

This year the fair received 63,511 visitors, including high-profile collectors from Asia, Europe and the US. Paris Neilson of Sydney’s White Rabbit Collection finds the ASIA ONE and ASIA FUTURES sections refreshing, “And that’s why experienced collectors come to the fair, to get exposed to new things” says Neilson. Don and Mera Rubell of the Rubell Family Collection and the Contemporary Arts Foundation (Miami) take the fair as an opportunity to learn about Chinese art, “There is a unique opportunity at the fair to compare and contrast Eastern and Western art, to see the similarities and the differences” say the Rubells. 

Galleries made major sales to mainland collectors see an increase in mainland collectors with a broader interest in Western art.

While high-profile Western collectors made a strong appearance at the fair, the number of mainland Chinese collectors hasn’t caught up with its Western counterparts. International galleries expecting to meet more collectors from mainland China find most of their big Asian collectors coming from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia.

Nonetheless, galleries made major sales to mainland collectors see an increase in mainland collectors with a broader interest in Western art. “We have placed works by artists including Bharti Kher, Christopher Orr, Whihelm Sasnal, Phyllida Barlow, Henry Moore and Roni Horn in major Chinese collections and private museums in Beijing and Shanghai” points out Neil Wenman of Hauser & Wirth from London, New York and Zurich.

Cheim & Read Gallery sold works by Louise Bourgeois and Zao Wou-ki to mainland Chinese collectors on the first day of the fair, and the New-York-based gallery is also pleased with its experience at the fair. “We met a large number of collectors,” says Adam Sheffer, partner of the gallery, “All from the East and all previously unknown to the gallery.”

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Many exhibiting galleries find the visitors “open, curious and interested” in what they were showing. “We really enjoyed the positive reception we received from the visitors” says Amy Gold of L & M Arts from Los Angeles and New York, “and we believe in ART HK and feel the potential.”

A Bright Future

A few weeks before the opening of ART HK 11, the Swiss MCH Group, organizers of Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach made the announcement of the purchase of sixty percent of ownership stake in ART HK. While retaining its current name and directorship, ART HK will become the third global contemporary art platform in the Basel brand. This integration further proves Hong Kong’s significant position as one of the world’s hottest arts hubs. ART HK 2012 is now set to take place from 17 to 20 May 2012, and hopefully with more mainland Chinese collectors.

This story originally appeared in Deluxe Swiss Made Magazine.

小说家那多的自由生活

Text | Xing Zhao
Photography | Elliot Richards

 

在按了小说家那多的门铃后,听到狗叫的声音。他的太太赵小姐出来开门,身后跟着一条大狗。她问我们怕不怕狗,并领我们经过院子进到他们客厅里。客厅约莫有一间小型画廊的展厅大小,带着很高的天花板,家具是古典欧式的。我和摄影师Elliot在大沙发上坐下,窗帘都是拉起来的,略微有点冷。

赵小姐在一道厚重的天鹅绒门帘后招呼我们进去。门帘前是一条过道,过道的一边是一个高到天花板的大书架,书架上满满的都是厚重的书籍。门帘后的世界是一个铺了地暖的开放式大厨房。小说家写作的悬疑故事便是从这里开始酝酿出现的。

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厨房有点旧旧的,但很暖。木头大餐桌占了超出一半的空间,好像某部电影或小说里的厨房的样子,却又拼贴不出是什么电影或小说。那多烧水、泡茶,然后在餐桌上的手提电脑前坐下来,想必是他平时坐的位子。

我们就在这里采访、拍摄了这位悬疑灵异小说家。

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▲ 小说家是一个喝茶的男人

做餐厅是否有给你写小说带来新的视角?

那多: 有帮助,虽然不是新的视角。写小说需要对社会有比较深入的了解。我在专职写小说前曾做过7年的公务员和记者。2004年离开报社专职写作,从2004年到2013年,这10年的时间一直在家里。写作中所用到的社会经验都是那7年的经验,而在做餐厅后与社会又有了全方位的接触,会接触更多的人,对写作是有帮助。

你是一个喜欢与人接触的人吗?

那多: 我不是的。

听说你当初做记者是因为喜欢睡懒觉?

那多: 其实是关于自由度的问题。之前在海关做公务员,但是觉得喜欢自由度比较高的生活方式。做记者的自由度比做公务员高,而没有比做作家的自由度是更高的了。

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▲ 普洱在书架上叠得跟书一样

半夜写灵异小说会不会觉得怕?

那多: 不会。因为是我写出来的。不过我老婆有时会有点怕。我有天生的想象力,容易想到奇奇怪怪的东西。

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什么是启发你的?

那多: 我觉得生活本身就是启发我的。只要不要长时间在一个循环里,不管是旅行或是看一本新的书,得到新的资讯,新的经验,去一个新的地方,住一个新的酒店,开启一段新的旅程,不能一直在家里,或者一直是上班下班,上班下班,要让生活更丰富一点。

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写小说也是这样,要不断有新的经验来激发你对吗?

那多: 对,脑子里的灵感其实也是由生活中的经验来的,而不是凭空的。

对你来说什么是“自由”?

那多: 自由就是可以去自由地生活。如果约束越多的话,你的生活就约没有变化,越沉闷。

Chinese novelist Na Duo

 

你抽烟吗?

那多: 不抽。

你有特别的嗜好吗?

那多: 我喜欢打牌。但是没有像有的人抽烟或喝酒那样子程度。

你平常写东西写不出来时做什么?

那多: 转转圈。

你的梦想是什么?

那多: 希望我的书能在国际上更被接受。

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那多,悬疑灵异小说家,著有《凶心人》,《坏种子》,《铁牛重现》,《幽灵旗》,《神的密码》,《过年》,《亡者永生》,《返祖》,《暗影三十八万》,《变形人》,《纸婴》,《亡者低语》,《把你的命交给我》等小说。2013年与妻子赵若虹开了餐厅“赵小姐不等位”。

 

Men in Uniform: Male Masculinity and Intimacy

An American artist based in Beijing, Ain Cocke‘s florid yet ‘historical’ portraits of soldiers from the World War I and II eras intentionally capture the nature of masculinity and the intimacy among men in the context of military and war. 

Beautiful to look at as they are, Cocke claims the portraits are his investigations into what it means to be human.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you grew up.

When I was very young I went to Israel with my mother and stepfather, who were doing work on archaeological digs, and my earliest memories began there. This is also where my first fond memories of men with machine guns were born, because of the constant military presence around us.Goff-062510 0017

Since there was a bit of the “terrorism ” going on at the time I had to leave ahead of my parents due to the heightened risks. Incidentally the next plane out after us was highjacked. On fleeing the violence and landing in Cyprus to meet my grandparents, I remember being greeted by a statue of Priapos, the greek god of sexual desire. The statue had an extremely large organ and I made a loud proclamation about my discovery to the giggles of tourists and the embarrassment of my grandparents. Sexuality and violence to me were curious, intriguing, beautiful and related.

While I was living in Los Angeles I developed a fascination with the G.I. Joe, the military, war and the television reruns of old Hollywood musicals.

What was your perception of the male identity when you were growing up? Has this idea changed over time?

I never really had any direct male role models or heroes when I was young, so the male identity was kind of a nebulous idea. I had to take my cues from other children, which could be awkward, as I never really knew how to act on my own. I watched a lot of movies for answers when I was young, and I still do now.

As I have become older I still  think the male identity is malleable, there are of course many historical precedents as to how to behave as a ‘man’, and there are probably also genetic factors, but we can still make our own decisions. Over time my perceptions have evolved. I have developed an intellect that is better equipped to analyze my perceptions.

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Are these paintings romanticized portraits of masculinity and power?

On one level the paintings I make can be seen as cultural portraits about who and where we are as humans. How we want so badly to believe we are beyond or going beyond violence but in actuality force is still the dominate vehicle of change and containment. These portraits are about power and how it is extended, romanticized, glorified and desired. As well they are an intensely personal investigations into what it means to be human for me; they are kind of questions or searchings for a way to make a self-portrait or become my own hero.

A man in an expression of masculinity is often beautiful whether we want to like it or not.

Most of your paintings and drawings have rather florid and decorative backgrounds, is it intended as a contrast to the masculinity you want to portray?

Certainly on a first impression they appear as a contrast, but maybe on closer inspection they are the reality. A man in an expression of masculinity is often beautiful whether we want to like it or not. And besides, lets face it, the military is ‘the church of man love’, and I don’t mean sexually, although I’m sure that exists. I  try not to editorialize the paintings too much, I think they speak for themselves.

Have you drawn any inspiration in terms of narrative and style from films set in the World War I and II eras?

Yes; when I was between the age of 8 and 16, I loved watching films from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. The cinematic quality that exists in some of the paintings comes directly from there; however not so much the fighting type of films, although I did like those too, I much preferred the films that provided entertainment and distraction during times of war. Maybe our distractions say more about us as people than the reality of what is happening.

Kapa Zhao interviews Ain Cocke

Besides the figures from the old photographs you collect, do you use yourself or those around you as models?

Only in the way that the accumulation of my knowledge about the human form comes from observation of  those around me, not to mention countless years of schooling. Some of the photographs I use for paintings are really not very good in quality, so in a way the finished pieces become portraits of myself and those around me just as much as the actual person in the photo.

You are based in Beijing. How long have you been living in the Chinese capital?

 I’ve been living in Beijing for 3 or 4 years. I first came to China in 2006 and eventually just stayed. It is as fascinating as it is maddening, a bit like the Wild West, essentially lawless. The expressions of masculinity are quite different here, there appears to be much less machismo, but on a closer inspection it is there, it just takes a different form than the West.

What made you decide to move to Beijing, and has the city influenced your creation of work at all?

I came here in 2006 to do a project with another artist: I just found it fresh here. There is a kind of freedom of space here to make things I may not make back in the States. My next show will have many different kinds of sculptures in it as well as paintings. I wouldn’t say there are direct Chinese influences in the work. For me, it’s more about the possibilities that working here opens up.

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Have you done any research about China during that period of time and have you thought about making work based upon Chinese male relationships during the era of and between the two World Wars?

Yes, I have done some research into that specific subject. I have also collected many photos from that time and shortly after. I have thought about painting them but I am hesitant; it makes more sense to me at the moment to focus on American soldiers. I’m now in the process of creating a series of very high-resolution photo portraits of contemporary young Chinese military men, which is a bit of a departure from the older photographs. I say in the process because it is very difficult to get into the right situation where I can take those photographs, it is not ok to photograph the military in China, especially if you are a foreigner. So the process may be the more interesting part of the project.

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This story originally appeared in the Art Issue of OutThere Magazine.