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HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》

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HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》 崇真艺客©HdM GALLERY

曼纽尔·马蒂厄,《观察者》,纸本综合材料,50.8x67.3cm,2020


1806 年,黑格尔在耶拿完成了《精神现象学》一书。在这部经典的哲学著述中,黑格尔反复追问主奴之间的辩证关系及其“生死斗争”的隐喻。两年前,海地建国。然而,领导黑奴革命的德萨林(Jean-Jacques Dessalines)并没有让海地成为一个真正民主的国家,而是摇身一变成了一个新的“帝王”。黑格尔在书中虽然没有提及海地,但有学者早就研究发现,海地革命与建国其实是黑格尔“主奴辩证法”的一个隐秘源头。


自建国以来,这个位于加勒比海北部的岛国从来就没有消停过,它曾尝试并经历了奴隶制、君主制、民主共和制等几乎所有政体,无不以失败告终,而频繁的政变致使其社会长期处在动荡不安之中。最近的一次是三个月前(当地时间 2021 年 7 月 7 日凌晨),时任总统若弗内尔·莫伊兹(Jovenel Moïse)遇刺身亡。殊料,这个震惊全球的事件并没有让海地人民陷入六神无主的境地,因为他们见多了政变、骚乱和屠杀,也习惯了恐惧、不安和饥饿。很难说,这种持续的政变、革命中是不是隐含着一个“主奴辩证法”的逻辑,但黑格尔可能还是无法想象,其之后的两个世纪以来,这个曾经是拉丁美洲第一个独立共和国、也是世界上第一个黑人共和国经历了什么,更无法想象其当下处境和不可知的未来。

HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》 崇真艺客

海地时任总统若弗内尔·莫伊兹(Jovenel Moïse)


1986 年,曼纽尔·马蒂厄(Manuel Mathieu)出生在海地太子港一个条件优渥的知识分子家庭。是年,以亨利·南菲(Henri Namphy)为首的“全国执政委员会”军事集团结束了弗朗索瓦·杜瓦利埃(François Duvalier)和让-克洛德·杜瓦利埃(Jean-Claude Duvalier)父子长达 29 年的独裁统治,并由此开启了一个新的混乱和暴力的时代。期间,联合国驻兵和美国的军事干涉非但没有约束,反而加剧了政局动荡和社会暴乱。这一切都在马蒂厄幼小的心灵打上了深深的烙印。然而,在所有海地年轻一代人中,马蒂厄无疑是一个幸运儿。19 岁的时候就被送到加拿大读书,并先后在魁北克大学蒙特利尔分校、英国金匠学院获得视觉与媒体艺术学士、美术硕士学位。毕业后,他并没有回到海地,而是作为职业艺术家,工作、生活在蒙特利尔至今。事实上,也正是在美国、加拿大以及欧洲各国的学习、工作经历,让他对曾经经历的动荡、暴乱,特别是对于海地的历史和命运有了更加切肤的感受和认知。这既是他绘画素材的来源,也是他创作的动能和驱力。

HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》 崇真艺客

弗朗索瓦·杜瓦利埃(François Duvalier)和让-克洛德·杜瓦利埃(Jean-Claude Duvalier)


在蒙特利尔和伦敦,马蒂厄经受了各种不同新媒介艺术的冲击和洗礼,但他始终保持着对于绘画朴素的迷恋和执着,这当然跟他在海地的成长经历与关。因为自儿时起,他便耳濡目染于当地的印第安原住民艺术、海地艺术及其神秘主义文化。在他父亲的表弟、海地著名艺术家马里奥·本杰明(Mario Benjamin)的引导下,他很早就了解了诸多艺术史上的经典之作和当代艺术家。本杰明的抽象表现主义风格显然对马蒂厄有所影响,但不是最直接的。在我看来,恰恰是在经受了欧洲视觉艺术的系统教育和训练,特别是在目睹了大量的当代艺术展览之后,马蒂厄更加深切并清醒地意识到,真正能唤起自己身体和精神记忆的还是海地本土的文化和艺术。这当然不是一种简单的身份认同,马蒂厄从未试图通过强调自己的海地身份而获得艺术系统的关注和认可,甚至在创作中,他是有意地通过抽象的方式“去身份(标签)化”,更加关心外界是如何认识和理解他的绘画以及海地的文化和历史的。

HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》 崇真艺客©Espace Lally

马里奥·本杰明,《无题》,布面油画,130x195cm,2013 年


因此,看上去马蒂厄带有强烈抽象表现主义色彩的画风似乎与原住民文化没有什么直接的关系,我们甚至会觉得它更像是欧美现代主义绘画的海地变体。如前所言,这与他在欧美、加拿大的学习、工作经历不无关系,多多少少还是受到这些艺术的熏染和影响。但正是通过这些影响,让他对自己的传统有了一个新的认识。在我看来,他是在这些欧美表现主义绘画和海地原住民艺术之间找到了一个共通的因素,即一种原始的冲动。何况,像波洛克(Jackson Pollock)这样的美国抽象表现主义画家本身就曾借助和援引了大量原住民艺术。即便是在早期德国表现主义画家中,也同样带有强烈的原始激情。而这不仅只是一种情感和形式的追求,德国“桥社”曾试图以此重塑日耳曼精神,而美国抽象表现主义亦被视为美国文化精神的一部分。马蒂厄或许没有如此宏大的理想和抱负,即便有,凭其一己之力也难以诉诸所谓的海地精神,但他的绘画无疑深植于海地的文化、历史、神话和政治。


就像海地革命是黑格尔《精神现象学》的一个隐秘源头一样,在马蒂厄这里,成立于 1973 年的“圣索莱尔画派( Saint-Soleil School)”(亦被称为“Movement Saint-Soleil” ,即“圣索莱尔运动”)同样是一个“隐秘”的源头。此画派深受本地原始宗教巫毒教的影响,其成员通常都是在巫毒教(Voodoo,又译“伏都教”)神灵附体的时候作画。不过,并没有持续几年,“画派”就解散了,其中五位成员普罗斯珀·P.路易斯(Prosper P. Louis)、列弗·埃克赛尔(Levoy Exil)、丹尼斯·史密斯(Denis Smith)、迪厄赛尔·保罗(Dieuseul Paul)和路易斯安娜·圣·弗勒朗特(Louisianne Saint Fleurant)后来重组为“五个太阳”(Cinq Soleils)团体。

HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》 崇真艺客©路易斯安娜·圣·弗勒朗特


对于马蒂厄而言,“圣索莱尔画派”虽已成为历史,但正是其神秘性让他充满好奇并吸引着他。事实上,早在十几岁的时候,他就已经注意到弗朗茨·泽菲林(Frantz Zephirin,)、乔勒斯·约瑟夫(Jorélus Joseph)、勒里森·杜布雷乌斯(Lhérisson Dubréus)等当地艺术家的作品,从这些艺术家的身上,马蒂厄了解到“圣索莱尔画派”对他们的影响。但真正引起他关注是在蒙特利尔、伦敦学习艺术之后。一个偶然的机会,他发现了贾斯明·约瑟夫(Jasmin Joseph)、乔治·利奥托德(Georges Liautaud)和罗克洛(Roklo)等, 并深深为之艺术风格及其独特的地方性和神秘性所迷惑。显然,在“圣索莱尔画派”成员这里,绘画是一种原始的本能,他们稚拙的画风显然不在我们熟悉的艺术史轨道上,无关透视、无关光影,无关笔触,也无关叙事,很难说他们笔下的人物、面孔是现实中人,还是他们内心世界的鬼神或巫者。它们大多都是线条勾勒而成的,画中人物保持着清晰的轮廓线,虽然个个形状怪异,但还是依稀能够辨识其基本人形。整体的装饰意味让画面变得更平,艺术家尤其突出人物的面孔和眼睛,它让我想起苏美尔艺术阿斯马丘神庙雕像圆睁的眼睛,它们不是普通人的眼睛,而是人神之间沟通的一种方式。诚如前面所言,这些绘画原本就是在一种神灵附体的迷狂状态下完成的。在某种意义上,他们要挑战的便是一直以来主宰我们的理性经验和认知秩序。

HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》 崇真艺客乔治·利奥托德与其作品


真正吸引马蒂厄的也正是这一点。不同的是,对于经历过西方艺术史和当代艺术“洗礼”的他而言,这不仅是本能使然,也是一种客观的知识探究。或许,正是内在于其中的紧张和精神抗争才是他真正要表达的。如果说画面中那一簇簇流淌的笔触或颜料,是一种自足性和客观性的体现的话,那么或隐或显的扭曲的人物面孔则是它神秘和不透明的一面。这是一个分裂主体,且不说这到底是一种特殊的普遍性,还是一种普遍的特殊性,但在此,二者则毫无违和地融为一体,却又充满紧张,并时刻在挑衅着观众的目光。此时,抽象化的处理固然是为了释放更多想象的空间,但对于马蒂厄而言,这些抽象的线条亦是他感知和理解现实世界的方式和痕迹。

HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》 崇真艺客©HdM GALLERY

曼纽尔·马蒂厄,《双联 1》,纸本丙烯酸粉笔和炭笔,27x27cmx2,2020


画面中的线条和笔触都充满着一种强烈的流动性和液态感。毋宁说,那些扭曲的面孔和身形就是由颜料和笔触自动流淌而成的,它看似是“奋笔疾书”的结果,甚至有意制造某种不确定性,当然很多时候,也取决于他的理性经营。相较而言,在使用水彩绘制的一系列近作(如《第一滴》《无题(粉红画像)》《双联》《无题》等,2020—2021)中更是体现了这一不确定性和非定形性,他试图将创作的能动性让渡给颜料或媒介本身,以凸显画面神秘和超验的一面。为此,他逐渐摸索出一套独特的创作方法,他会先运用擦印的技巧将颜料涂抹在画布上,然后有条不紊地进行刮擦再涂抹,整个绘画过程仿佛是一种客观的物理性在试图唤醒画面潜在的某种力量。而这种力量不仅源自画面图像及其神秘性,同时也是其线条、颜料等形式媒介所释放的。

HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》 崇真艺客©HdM GALLERY

曼纽尔·马蒂厄个展《巫毒之子》现场


马蒂厄提醒我们,色彩在他的绘画中扮演着非常重要的角色。赭石、铁蓝、土黄、粉红、青绿及灰黑等都是他常用的颜色,在他的描绘中,尤其凸显了冷暖调之间既分离又统一的有机调配。由于保留或凸显了颜料的质感和笔触的肌理,这些涂绘的痕迹既像是一个扭曲的被灼烧的人像,又仿佛是一片俯瞰中的被撕裂的地貌。新作《奥尔巴赫》(2021)是马蒂厄向德国表现主义画家弗兰克·奥尔巴赫(Frank Auerbach)的致敬之作,显然,比起奥尔巴赫,马蒂厄表现得更加野蛮和放肆。奥尔巴赫的肖像尚且还能辨识,但马蒂厄笔下的肖像不仅被大幅扭曲,而且被彻底撕裂,加之背景与肖像之间的界限变得模糊,看上去它更像是一片赤裸的地景。此时,颜料和笔触形成了一种独特的质地和层次,但很难说它到底是刚被洪水冲刷过,还是刚被一场大火焚烧过。类似的形式我们不难在圣索莱尔画家的画面中找到隐微的痕迹。

HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》 崇真艺客©HdM GALLERY

曼纽尔·马蒂厄,《奥尔巴赫》,布面综合材料,91.4x76.2 cm,2021


如果不细加辨识,也许我们会忽略掉其画面中的螺旋形构图这一重要特征。不仅《奥尔巴赫》,包括《双联1》《遗忘-虚假肖像》等在内,都不同程度地隐伏着这样一个极具动能的构图形式。本杰明的画面中亦多少带有一些螺旋主义的迹象,但其更侧重纯粹的书写,而马蒂厄更看重画面的层次、质感以及由此衍生出来的观念和意义。在他的画面中,螺旋形构图既是地景的隐喻,仿佛是美国大地艺术家罗伯特·史密森(Robert Smithson)《螺旋形防波堤》(1970)的微缩变体,同时也暗示着一种美学—政治运动。诚如阿布雷乌(Manuel Arturo Abreu)所指出的:“自 1960 年代以来,螺旋主义作为一种运动,为后杜瓦利埃(Post-Duvalier)海地恢复被国家挪用的巫毒、土著和民间美学提供了基础。……螺旋式的仪式组合和表演性重写/排练/复述将整体从片段中投射出来,就像人们在海螺中听到海洋一样。”毫无疑问,这是一股正在涌动的召唤力,来自四面八方的各种能量聚集其中,直抵螺旋形的中心。就像另一位来自海地的前辈艺术家帕斯卡尔·福布拉斯(Pascale Faublas) 在《代表儿子》(Au nom du fils, 2012 )中所描绘的,它既是一双(只)通灵之眼,也是一双(只)绝望之眼。

HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》 崇真艺客©HdM GALLERY

曼纽尔·马蒂厄,《遗忘-虚假肖像》,布面综合材料_86.3x86.3cm,2021


水与火两种对立意象的交融几乎贯穿了马蒂厄的新作。新作《连续》(2020)分左右两部分,右边是被焚烧过的痕迹,左边则是水流的局部。在马蒂厄的预想中,或许二者都是变异的面孔,右边有序排列的、“被焚烧”的孔洞仿佛一双双眼睛,而左边黑色水滴的下部也依稀可辨两个仿佛眼睛一样的灰色孔洞,其上面像变形的嘴巴一样的红色部分则佐证了这一点。这是一幅极具隐喻性的作品,如果说右边是被灼烧的民众的话,那么左边黑色的水滴所暗示的更像是巫师、魔鬼或独裁者;如果说右边是一片正在焚烧的孤岛的话,左边所暗示的则是环绕其四周的涌动暗流。二者在形式和感知层面保持着极性的对立,但其观念和寓意又高度统一。此时,画面的潜能与力量与其说源自图像和形式,不如说来自艺术家对于海地这片土地及人们的情感和精神联系。

HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》 崇真艺客©HdM GALLERY

曼纽尔·马蒂厄,《连续》,布面综合材料,190.5x203.2cm,2020

人类学家皮埃尔·克拉斯特(Pierre Clastres)在他那本经典的《瓜亚基印第安人编年史》中也提到这一象征性的意象:虽然人们从来都认为水火是典型的势不两立,但这里,出乎意料地,它们似乎很团结:因为灭火——木棍上的火被熄灭了——使止水成为可能,从而避免了大洪水的发生。在皮埃尔看来,这是瓜基亚人独特的宇宙观和他们关于世界命运的哲学思考。原始文明的超时空性也体现在这里,也许海地人信奉着同样的宇宙观和世界观。除了《连续》,水与火的对立、统一意象也体现在另一幅新作《反思》(2020)中。但与之相反,单从形式而言,如果说画面右边是水的意象的话,左边则仿佛是一具被灼烧的躯体内部。如果说整个画面是一个整体的不明物的话,不妨将左边视为右边的剖面,右边有序排列的线条象征着某种秩序的脆弱表面,而中间红白色的笔触则像是一个伤口。透过这个伤口,我们可一窥其内部——即画面左边所示——的溃烂和腐坏。这是艺术家的目光。在我看来,这亦是其绘画能量及其政治性的根源。

HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》 崇真艺客©HdM GALLERY

曼纽尔·马蒂厄,《反思》,布面丙烯酸粉笔和炭笔,120x100cm,2020


值得一提的是,当我们将马蒂厄的画面视为一片地景的时候,它不仅提示我们这里的土地即是人民的身体,更重要的是,它还提供了一个新的视角:俯瞰。当然,在圣索莱尔画派的画面中也已经普遍表露了这一点,如普罗斯佩尔·皮埃尔-路易斯(Prospère Pierre-Louis)、路易斯安娜·圣·弗勒朗特、丹尼斯·史密斯等艺术家的画面中皆有所暗示。画面中的人物与背景中的土地融为一体,他们既像站立着,正对观众,又像是躺在地上,望着苍穹。正是透过这一独特的视角,我们的目光才会真正触及这个孤岛的历史和命运。马蒂厄当然不会借助无人机这样的现代技术,他的俯瞰无疑来自他切肤的感受和“有限”的想象。或者说,对于一个画家而言,它本身就是一个身体—感知行为。且不论马蒂厄在工作室到底是如何工作的,但诚如《无题(粉红画像)》《第一滴》等作品所提示的,“水平性”(即“非垂直性”)的视角主导着画面。因为基于“水平性”,颜料才获得主权,才会自主形成非定形(formless)的形式图像。比如波洛克的“滴画”,便是“水平性”绘画的典范,其要义在于:如何通过一种无意识的卑俗、亵渎方式对抗(主流)文化。若按巴塔耶(Georges Bataille)的说法,如果人直立行走体现了一种垂直性,象征着一种文明、文化的话,那么所谓“水平性”指生物意义上的由嘴到肛门的轴线是水平的、横向的存在状态,即其动物性。概言之,这里的水平性所对应的正是画家的动物性。但在马蒂厄这里,水平性及其“动物性”所体现的不仅是一种野蛮的、原始的绘画方式和语言,同时也是身处水深火热之中的海地人民及其赤裸生命的表征。

HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》 崇真艺客©HdM GALLERY

曼纽尔·马蒂厄,《无题 (粉红画像)》,布面综合材料,60.9x76.2cm,2021


然而,马蒂厄并没有向欧美(包括中国)观众刻意贩卖这些情感,而是将它全部压缩在他带有强烈个人风格的抽象形式和表现意趣中。同样,选择抽象化的形式也同样并非为了迎合或讨好前者。毋宁说,他是在一种内在的对抗中表达个体创伤、记忆的痛苦、孤独和脆弱。对他而言,这是一种真实的情感,画面即是情感的痕迹。但马蒂厄显然并不满足于记录,更关心如何表达出情感的强度。他是“海地之子”,是“巫毒之子”,就像“圣索莱尔画派”画家习惯在神灵附体时创作一样,他相信唯有足够强度的情感投入,方可描绘出一个真实的海地;唯有透过“巫毒”般的原始与神秘之力,才能唤起更多人将目光投向海地的历史、文化、政治及其人民。

HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》 崇真艺客©HdM GALLERY

曼纽尔·马蒂厄个展《巫毒之子》现场


在《黑格尔与海地》一文的结尾,布克-莫斯(Susan Buck-Morss)尖锐地指出:“尽管德萨林为人残暴,对白人施以报复,但是,他最清楚地看到欧洲种族主义的现实。更重要的是,我们应该把思想的洞见,与行动的清醒时刻摆在一起:拿破仑派往殖民地的法国士兵听到奴隶们高唱《马赛曲》,甚至怀疑自己站错了队伍。勒克莱尔将军指挥的波兰军团违抗命令,拒绝淹死被俘的 600 名圣多明各人。这种清醒的事例数不数胜,它们不属于任何一方,不属于任何一个群体。”自不待言,这是海地的历史遭遇与当代处境带给我们的警示,也是马蒂厄绘画及其精神实践带给我们的启迪。革命的起点是同情。但此时,真正唤醒同情的不是理性,也并非道德,而是无意识的荒诞。对于马蒂厄来说,绘画作为一种生命实践的意义也正体现在这里。


曼纽尔·马蒂厄 1986 年出生于海地太子港,2016 年毕业于伦敦大学金史密斯学院,获艺术硕士学位。马蒂厄 2020 年在蒙特利尔美术馆和多伦多核电站当代美术馆举办个展,曾参加巴黎大皇宫、华盛顿博物馆、伦敦当代艺术学院、纽约 Paul Kasmin 画廊和伦敦高古轩画廊等重要美术馆和画廊的群展项目。作品被鲁贝尔家族、纽约摩根大通集团及加拿大和海地的国家纳入收藏。2022 年夏天,他将在上海隆拉蒂基金会举办一场全新的大型作品展。2022年夏天 Longlati 基金会将会在上海空间举办曼纽尔·马蒂厄的全新个展。


鲁明军,历史学博士。复旦大学哲学学院青年研究员。策展人,剩余空间艺术总监。近年策划《疆域:地缘的拓扑》(2017-2018)、《在集结》(2018)、《没有航标的河流,1979》(2019)、《街角、广场与蒙太奇》(2019)、《缪斯、愚公与指南针》(2020)等展览。在《文艺研究》《美术研究》等刊物发表多篇论文。近著有《理法与士气:黄宾虹画论中的观念与世变(1907-1954)》(2018)、《目光的诗学》(2019)等。2015年获得何鸿毅家族基金中华研究奖助金;2016年获得Yishu中国当代艺术写作奖;2017年获得美国亚洲文化协会奖助金(ACC),同年,获得第10届中国当代艺术评论奖(CCAA);2019年获得中国当代艺术奖(AAC)年度策展人奖。


相关链接| Related Links

HdM·展览 |曼纽尔·马蒂厄个展《 巫毒之子》,策展人:鲁明军

动态 | 曼纽尔·马蒂厄个展正在蒙特利尔美术馆和多伦多核电站当代美术馆展出

聚焦·HdM丨曼纽尔·马蒂厄(Manuel Mathieu)

访谈·HdM|蒲英玮对话曼纽尔·马蒂厄(Manuel Mathieu)

访谈·HdM|黄笃对话曼纽尔·马蒂厄(Manuel Mathieu)

展览· HdM | 曼纽尔·马蒂厄(Manuel Mathieu)个展《无极》



Son of Voodoo: 

A Bird’s-Eye View of Agony and Fear


Written by Lu Mingjun

Translated by Jeff Crosby


I

In 1806, Hegel completed his book The Phenomenology of Spirit in Jena. In this classic work of philosophy, Hegel repeatedly interrogated the master–slave dialectic, and its metaphor for the “struggle for life and death.” Haiti was founded in 1804 but the leader of the slave revolt, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, did not allow Haiti to become a true democracy; he became an emperor. While Hegel does not mention Haiti in his book, researchers have discovered that the Haitian revolution and the founding of the nation were a secret source for his “master–slave dialectic.”


Since its founding, this island nation in the northern Caribbean has never been at rest. It has experimented with nearly every form of government, from slavery to monarchy and on to republican democracy, all ending in failure, while frequent coups have left society in a state of long-term upheaval. The most recent instance was three months ago (the early hours of July 7, 2021, local time), when then-president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated. Surprisingly, while this event which the world, it left the Haitians unphased, as they have frequently witnessed coups, chaos and massacres, and were accustomed to terror, insecurity and hunger. It is hard to say whether this sustained instability and revolution encompasses a “master–slave dialectic” logic, but Hegel perhaps could not have imagined what the first independent nation of Latin America, and the first Black republic, would go through in the two centuries that followed, much less its current predicament and unknowable future.


Manuel Mathieu was born to a liberal intellectual family in Port-au-Prince in 1986. In that year, the “National Council of Government,” led by Henri Namphy, ended the 29-year father and son dictatorship of François and Jean-Claude Duvalier, launching Haiti into a new era of chaos and violence. During this time, not only did the stationing of UN peacekeeping forces and US military interventions fail to stop the political upheaval and social unrest, they actually worsened it. These events left a deep mark on the young Mathieu’s spirit. But Mathieu was one of the lucky ones in his generation. He traveled to Canada to study at the age of 19, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in visual arts and media at the Université du Québec à Montréal, and an MFA from Goldsmiths. After completing his studies, he did not return to Haiti, but stayed in Montréal as a professional artist, where he remains to this day. In fact, his experiences studying and working in the United States, Canada and Europe have given him a more intimate understanding of the unrest and chaos he experienced, and of the history and destiny of Haiti. This is the source material of his painting, as well as the driving force behind his creativity.


In Montréal and London, Mathieu was repeatedly confronted by various new artistic mediums, but he maintained a simple, persistent devotion to painting. This is of course connected to his experiences growing up in Haiti, where he was influenced by indigenous art, Haitian art and mystical culture. Under the guidance of his father’s cousin, famous Haitian artist Mario Benjamin, he learned about many classic works and famous contemporary artists in art history. Benjamin’s Abstract Expressionist style did have an influence on Mathieu, but it was not the most direct influence. As I see it, it was his systematic education and training in European visual art, and his firsthand experience seeing a great deal of contemporary art exhibitions, which gave Mathieu a deeper awareness that the local culture and art of Haiti was the only thing that could truly awaken his body and spirit. This is of course not just a simple question of identity; Mathieu has never leveraged his Haitian identity for recognition in the art system, and has even used abstraction to “de-identify” or “untag” his art, and is more concerned with how the world recognizes and understands his painting and Haitian culture and history.


For this reason, Mathieu’s strongly Abstract Expressionist painting style does not appear at first to have any direct connection to indigenous culture, and we would be excused for seeing it as a Haitian variant of European and American modernist painting. As stated above, this is connected in some way to his experience studying and working in Europe and America, where he was influenced to some extent by this art. But it was precisely this influence that gave him a new understanding of his own traditions. As I see it, he found shared elements between European and American Expressionist painting and Haitian indigenous art: the primal impulse. After all, Jackson Pollock and other American Abstract Expressionists did draw widely from indigenous art. Early German Expressionist painting also had strong primal passions, and this of course was more than just an emotional or formal pursuit. The German group Die Brücke used this to reshape the German psyche, and American Abstract Expressionism is seen as a part of the American cultural psyche. Mathieu’s ideals and ambitions may not be quite as sweeping, but even if they are, he cannot cover all of the Haitian psyche alone, yet his painting is no doubt deeply rooted in the culture, history, mythology and politics of Haiti.


II

Just as the Haitian Revolution was a secret source for Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, the Saint-Soleil School (also known as Movement Saint-Soleil), founded in 1973, is something of a “secret source” for Mathieu. This school of painting was heavily influenced by the local Voodoo religion, and its members painted in states of Voodoo possession. The “school,” however, disbanded after only a few years. Five of its members, Prosper P. Louis, Levoy Exil, Denis Smith, Dieuseul Paul, and Louisianne Saint Fleurant, formed into the group Cinq Soleils. 


For Mathieu, the Saint-Soleil School may be history, but their mysteriousness filled him with curiosity and drew him to them. Even in his teens, he took notice of the works of such local artists as Frantz Zephirin, Jorélus Joseph and Lhérisson Dubréus. Through these artists, Mathieu learned about the influence of the Saint-Soleil School. But what really captured his attention came after his studies in Montreal and London, when by chance he discovered the works of Jasmin Joseph, Georges Liautaud and Roklo, and was captivated by the uniquely local character and mysteriousness of their  work. For its members, however, painting was a primal instinct. Their naïve style does not fit on the track of familiar art history. It is not concerned with perspective, light and shadow, brushwork or narrative. It is hard to say if the figures and faces in their paintings are people from reality, or spirits and sorcerers from their inner worlds. Most of them are constructed from clear outlines. Though each of them has a bizarre shape, we can still make out the basic human form. The overall decorative leaning tends to flatten the picture, and the artist particularly highlights the faces and eyes, calling to mind the wide-open round eyes of the statues from the Sumerian temple at Tell Asmar (fig.1). These are clearly not the eyes of ordinary people, but a means of communication between humans and the gods. As described above, these paintings were completed in a state of possession. Perhaps they aim to challenge the cognitive order that has always dominated our rational experience.


This is precisely what drew Mathieu in. What was different was that for this artist who had experienced a “baptism” in Western art history and contemporary art, this was more than just instinct. It was also an objective exploration of knowledge. Perhaps what he really wanted to express was the tension and spiritual struggle within. If the piles of fluid brushstrokes and paints in the picture are an embodiment of self-sufficiency and objectivity, then perhaps the partially concealed, distorted faces of the figures are the mysterious, opaque side. This is a divided subject. Without delving into whether this is a special generality, or a general speciality, it is clear that the two are merged together with no reservations, yet also full of tension, constantly provoking the viewer's gaze. The abstraction here is no doubt meant to release more room for imagination, but for Mathieu, these abstract lines are also the means and traces through which he perceives and understands the real world.


The lines and brushstrokes in the picture are all filled with a powerful sense of fluidity. Those distorted faces and figures clearly arose from the dripping and flow of the brushstrokes, apparently the result of brushwork, and even the intentional creation of a sense of uncertainty. Of course, a lot of the time, it is the outcome of rational planning. A series of recent works made in watercolor (such as The First Drop, Untitled (Pink Portrait), Dyptic, and Untitled, 2020–2021) more thoroughly embodies this uncertainty and amorphousness. He is attempting to make the dynamics of creation take the back seat to paint or medium themselves in order to highlight the mysterious or transcendental side of the picture. To this end, he gradually worked out a unique set of creative methods. He begins by using a frottage technique to apply the paint to the canvas, and then scrapes and reapplies the paint in an orderly fashion. The entire painting process seems like objective physics attempting to awaken some latent force lurking in the picture. This force is not only rooted in the image and its mystery, but is also released by the lines, paints and other formal mediums.


Mathieu reminds us that color plays an incredibly important role in his painting. Umber, Prussian blue, mustard, pink, cyan, and dark gray are all colors he uses often. His depictions particularly highlight the organic arrangements of division and unity between warm and cool tones. Due to the retention or highlighting of the texture of paint and the contours of the brushstrokes, these traces of the painting resemble a distorted, burned figure, or a bird's-eye view of a terrain torn asunder. The new work Auerbach (2021) is Mathieu's homage to German Expressionist painter Frank Auerbach. We can see that Mathieu's own expression is wilder and more unbridled than Auerbach’s. Auerbach's portraits are still faintly recognizable, but Mathieu's have been greatly distorted and torn apart, while the boundary between the background and the portrait has been obscured, making it look all the more like a bare landscape. At this time, paint and brushstrokes form unique texture and layering, but it is difficult to say whether it has just been swept up in a flood, or scorched by a great fire.


If you don't look closely, you might miss the spiral composition at the center of the picture, an important aspect of the painting. Not only Auerbach, but other works, such as Dyptic 1 and Oblivious - Faux Portrait, possess some highly dynamic compositional form. Benjamin’s paintings also have traces of spiralism, but they are more focused on painting itself , while Mathieu is more focused on the layering and texture of painting, and the views and meanings that grow from them. In his work, the spiral is at once a metaphor for the land, as if a microscopic derivation on American land artist Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty (1970), and an allusion to a kind of aesthetic/political movement. As Manuel Arturo Abreu notes, “Spiralism as a movement, since the 1960s, has presented the ground for post-Duvalier Haitian recovery of the Vodun, Indigenous, and folk aesthetics appropriated by the state.... Spiralist ritual assemblage and performative rewriting / rehearsal / reiteration project the whole out from the fragment, like the way one hears the ocean in the conch.” This is a surging summoning force, energy from all directions coalescing within, converging on the center of the spiral. As depicted by another of Mathieu’s Haitian predecessors, Pascale Faublas, in Au nom du fils (2012), it is an eye of communion, as well as an eye of desperation.


III

The convergence of the dichotomous imagery of fire and water appears throughout Mathieu's new works. The new work Serial (2020) is divided into left and right. The right side has traces of being burned, while the left side is a partial view of flowing water. Perhaps Mathieu envisioned both as mutated faces. The orderly rows of “burned” holes on the right are like so many pairs of eyes, while we can barely make out two gray marks like eyes in the lower portion of the black water drop on the left, supported by a red patch that resembles a warped mouth above. This is a highly metaphorical work. If the right side is the burned masses, then the black water drop on the left alludes to something more like a sorcerer, demon or dictator. If the right side is a burned island alone in the sea, then the left alludes to the roiling undercurrents that surround it. The two sides are highly opposed on the levels of form and perception, but are conceptually and allusively unified. Here, the potential and energy of the picture comes not from image and form, but from the artist’s emotional and spiritual ties to the land of Haiti and her people.


In his classic book Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians, anthropologist Pierre Clastres also noted this symbolic imagery: while people have always felt that water and fire are natural opposites, here they are surprisingly united. That is because the extinguishing of fire on wood makes it possible to stop water, and to avoid great floods. Clastres saw this as the unique cosmic view of the Guayaki, and their philosophical thinking on the fate of the world. The transcendence of time and space of primitive civilizations is also embodied here. Perhaps the Haitians believe a similar cosmic view and worldview. Aside from Serial, the imagery of opposition and unity of water and fire also appears in the new work The Reflexion (2020). Formally speaking, it is the opposite of Serial. If the right side is imagery of water, then the left side resembles the inside of a burned body. If the entire picture is one unidentified object, then we might view the left side as a cross section of the right. The orderly lines on the right symbolize the fragile surface of some order, with the red and white brushstroke in the middle resembling a wound. Through this wound, we can glimpse inside at the rot and decay within—as alluded to by the left side. This is the artist’s gaze. I see this as the root of the energy and politics of his painting.


It is worth noting that when we view Mathieu's picture as a landscape, it reminds us that this land is the body of the people, but more importantly, it provides a new vantage: the bird's-eye view. This was of course already revealed in the works of the Saint-Soleil School—allusions can be found in the works of Prospère Pierre-Louis,  Louisianne Saint Fleurant and Denis Smith. The figures fuse together with the land in the background, so they appear at once to be standing, facing the viewer, and to be lying down on the ground, gazing up at the sky. This is the view that finally, truly draws our gaze to this island’s history and destiny. Of course, Mathieu would not use a drone or other such modern technology. His bird’s-eye view no doubt stems from his intimate perception and “limited” imagination. Or perhaps, for a painter, this in itself is a physical/perceptual act. Setting aside questions about how Mathieu actually carries out his work in the studio, works such as Untitled (Pink Portrait) and The First Shop imply that the horizontal (non-vertical) view guides the picture. This horizontality is what gives the paint sovereignty and allows it to form into formless images. Jackson Pollock’s “drip paintings” are the archetype of horizontal painting. The key is how to use unconscious vulgar and profane methods to resist (mainstream) culture. According to Georges Bataille, if people walking upright embodies a kind of verticality symbolizing civilization and culture, then so called “horizontality” implies a state of existence of biological horizontality from mouth to anus, namely, animality. In summary, this horizontality corresponds to the painter’s animality. With Mathieu, however, horizontality and its “animality” manifest not only as wild, primitive painting methods and language, but also stand as a marker for the Haitian people and their naked lives surrounded by deep seas and scorching fires.


But Mathieu is not consciously selling these sentiments to the West (or to China). Instead, he compresses all of them into his abstract forms and expressions with a powerful personal style. The choice of abstracted form is not in order to curry favor with them either. Instead, he is expressing the pain, solitude and fragility of individual trauma and memory from within an internal struggle. These are real emotions for him, and the pictures are the traces of these emotions. Mathieu is not satisfied, however, with documentation. He is more focused on expressing the strength of these emotions. He is a “son of Haiti,” a “son of Voodoo.” Just as the Saint-Soleil School painters created in a state of possession, Mathieu believes that the real Haiti cannot be depicted without a great deal of emotional investment, and that it demands a “Voodoo-esque” primal and mysterious power to be able to draw more people’s attention to the history, culture, politics and people of Haiti.


In the closing pages of the essay Hegel and Haiti, Susan Buck-Morss notes, “For all his brutality and revenge against whites, Dessalines saw the realities of European racism most clearly. Even more, Hegel's moment would need to be juxtaposed to the moments of clarity in action: the French soldiers sent by Napoleon to the colony who, upon hearing these former slaves singing the ‘Marseillaise,’ wondered aloud if they were not fighting on the wrong side; the Polish regiment under Leclerc's command who disobeyed orders and refused to drown six hundred captured Saint-Domiguans. There are many examples of such clarity, and they belong to no one side, no one group exclusively.” It goes without saying that this is the warning given to us by Haiti's historical predicament and contemporary circumstances, and this is also the inspiration that comes to us from Mathieu's painting practice. Revolution begins with empathy. But now, what truly awakens empathy is neither reason, nor morals, but unconscious absurdity. For Mathieu, this is where the significance of painting as living practice lies.


Born in Haiti in 1986, Manuel Mathieu has already been widely exhibited. He enjoyed solo presentations of his work at the Power Plant in Toronto as well as at the Museum of Fine Arts Montreal. More recently, he participated in group exhibitions at Paul Kasmin Gallery New York and Gagosian Gallery London and at Song Museum Beijing. A major new exhibition of his works will be held in the summer of 2022 at Longlati Foundation in Shanghai.


Lu Mingjun, PhD in History, Young Researcher of the School of Philosophy, Fudan University, curator and artistic director of Surplus Space. His recent curated exhibitions include “Frontier: Re-assessment of Post-Globalisation Politics”(2017- 2018), “Assembling” (2018), “River flowing without a Beacon, 1979” (2019) , “Corner Square Montage” (2019), and “Muses, Yu Gong and Compasses” (2020). His academic essays are published in Literature & Art Studies  and Art Research. Recent publications include Social Changes in the Painting Theory of Huang Binhong 1907-1954 (2018)  and “Poetic Justice” (2019). Lu was also the grantee of Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Greater China Research Grant in 2015; and the Recipient of the Yishu Award for Writing on Contemporary Chinese Art in 2016. He received fellowship grant from Asia Cultural Council (ACC) and was the recipient of 6th Chinese Contemporary Art Critic Award(CCAA) in 2017. He was the Recipient of the Award of Art(AAC) Chinese Contemporary Art Curator Award.

HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》 崇真艺客




HdM·文章|鲁明军《巫毒之子:俯瞰恐惧,与灼痛的流痕》 崇真艺客


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