Desire, Shaping, Concretized, …, Termination – On the Photography of Beat Kuert
By Gu Zheng, Beijing, November 2008
Born in Switzerland in 1946, Beat Kuert is a contemporary artist involved in different fields including film, video art and photography. No matter what form his image work takes, one thing is unchanging: the focus on mankind’s desire. To discuss desire through images, the destination is not desire itself, but the essential topic of life and death triggered by desire.
In Chinese, the words 色情 (pornography) and 情色 (Eros) share the same character: 色 (color). From the word formation of色欲 (lust), we can see that color(色) and desire（欲）are inseparable. The works of Beat Kuert center on female bodies, but they depart from body photography’s traditional routine of accurate depiction. With an overwhelming sense of expansion and extremely expressive colors, they put desire directly in the face of the viewers, while the use of large areas of warm or cold colors directly connects the viewers with the picture, giving them an experience that is vivid and real. The body images by Beat Kuert convert bodies into flat images by means of large fields of color. Through resolute compression of shapes and colors of tangled bodies, through the simplification of details, he weaves out a more subjective visual reality of bodies: purer, and consequently stronger. Such a visual reality has certain characteristics of painting, and also some characteristics of image because of the technical nature of photo imaging. Apparently, Beat Kuert’s dramatic employment of colors can’t be analyzed separately from his profound contemplation on desire. To him, color is both stress and the restriction of desire. From his arrangement of various colors, we can feel the complexity of desire that he wants to display, and also his own complicated feelings about desire.
One of the consequences of compressing and simplifying bodies and shapes is a defocused and sometimes incomplete body image, and as we watch them there will certainly arise some difficulty in identifying shapes, and we will naturally make guesses and speculations about specific details. What’s even more confusing is that these human bodies are usually stained or covered with something. In some pictures, brick walls even emerge where skins are ripped away. In such pictures, his body images either look like they are in the process of decaying or as if they were from a vague dream of memory, with a sense of uncertainty. With the employment of intense and provocative colors, the pictures impact our retinas and become an indicator to display and detect the intensity and nature of desire, as they simultaneously remind us of the texture of desire. And all these pictures actually come down to one ultimate image: the image of ruins. Yes, for Beat Kuert, the body has actually become the synonym of ruins. The blooming of desire and the ensuing devastation of body and desolation of human nature are so intricately connected that they even interact as both cause and effect, all of which has already been confirmed in his imagery of ruins.
The human bodies in Beat Kuert’s pictures, no matter their behavior or their form, are bold and unrestrained, stressing the sense of existence of the noumenon of life. And his body image is often in a state of motion, the shape of the body often blending with its surroundings, and the boundary of body image unclear. Fading or emerging, it’s all up to the viewer to judge. Different from the body photography that depicts the beauty of human bodies, his photography does not appeal to the viewer’s interest in the body itself with a fine and elaborate depiction of the body. In this sense, Beat Kuert’s photography cannot simply be termed “body photography”, for the pictures loaded with human body images are merely a confirmation of a series of life facts and events he happened to see, and he recorded them with the identity and stance of someone on the scene. What he acquired is man’s desire itself as well as desire’s shadows and traces recorded on a CCD camera or prints. These mental activities happening during viewing also challenge one of our inborn bigotries to watch man’s desire. And this bigotry plunges us into anxiety over our inability to identify a certain image; meanwhile, it makes us realize the depth and diversity of desire lurking within our hearts. Viewing Beat Kuert’s pictures, we find that desire not only appears before us as an object or “the other”, but emerges in our heart as a part or a form of ourselves.
As a Western artist, Beat Kuert discovered the dual functions of Oriental characters in plastic arts, that is to say, artistically and spiritually. In some pictures, characters also play the role of indicating some of his thoughts on life. For instance, by means of overprinting, characters like “坎” (ridge) and “险” (danger) are imprinted on bodies as well as the space where the body moves, so that the nature of desire acquires a philosophical tone because of the intervention of characters, which is also an intervention of culture; and as a symbol of desire, the meaning of body becomes more complicated and confusing. To Western audiences in particular, Chinese characters with a strong modeling effect are both an exotic charm and an impedence to reading, and such inconceivability veils the work with a kind of mystery. As to the characters he has chosen, it is obvious that all of them embody his thoughts and reflection on life. “Ridge” reminds one of a physical obstacle, but at the same time it implies a destiny that may be surmounted, or may not even with great effort. Being a “ridge” that mankind has to face and try to surmount, desire is hinted at in a visual way. “Danger” reflects his essential cognition about desire. In Chinese, when combined with “壑”(ravine) 欲 (desire) forms the phrase “欲壑”(avarice)，indicating that the “ridge” of “desire” is also an abyss full of temptation and danger. To face desire is no doubt to confront “danger”. How to handle one’s desire, to make it thrilling yet not dangerous, is apparently a major challenge in life. Beat Kuert inserts Chinese characters into pictures, emphasizing an exotic tone and raising the efforts of defining human desire to a more philosophical level.
In a certain sense, such a juxtaposition of characters and bodies in pictures is also a symbol of the oppositional and interactive relationship between culture and Nature; furthermore, it creates a stunning effect for an instant. In such a juxtapositional way, he unfolds man’s struggle and escape between sense and sensibility. And the intervention of characters in images anchors our thinking and guides its direction, while creating an effect of alienation because our mind can’t fix on a specific body image, but rather gets distracted by characters (sense). Thus, the body（sensibility）and the character (sense) intermingle, opening for us a wider space of imagination to ponder on desire and life. Such a space for imagination may not only communicate with man’s desire, but also directly link with human culture and history, and can always intrigue the viewer’s aesthetic curiosity about body images. For Beat Kuert, the body has certainly become a clue and a venue for tracking the viewers’ own imagination and subconscious about desire.
With the groundwork of the human body, his approaches to pictures gain an effect similar to that of daubing, scratching and glazing, which inevitably reminds us of the Pictorialism that prevailed Europe and America at the end of 19th century and was later introduced to East Asia in early 20th century. Yet differently from the reverence to paintings typical of Pictorialism in the 19th century, Beat Kuert’s aesthetic aim is exactly the opposite, although his pictures do have a certain pictorial effect. If the body theme in the Pictorialism of the 19th century attempted to reflect a harmonious beauty of the human body created by God, then Beat Kuert’s “Neo-Pictorialism” in the 21st century aims to mirror man’s huge spiritual crisis after two centuries. Such a spiritual crisis is demonstrated especially via the field of body. This is a huge crisis of the body that borders on disintegration or is already disintegrated. He distorts the image of the body not to achieve an aesthetic purpose, but to visually verify the devastation from within the body, evidence of the restlessness of soul. His daub-like effect, to some extent, is both a concealment of mankind’s anxiety in the 21st century and an indexing track directly displaying man’s inner conflict. Without these vestiges, we can’t go deeper into a rich soul that can be traced back from the reproduction of desire to the revelation of spiritual crisis. Beat Kuert’s image, in essence, is a serious dialogue and visual dialectic about life and existence, unfolded by painting-like body images.
The body, as his works tell us, has actually become a device for mankind to dialogue with itself and probe its inner world. Meanwhile, for Beat Kuert, the body is also an oscillator that, with its struggle against and compromise with desire, creates new energy for contemporary culture. Just as Beat Kuert’s pictures demonstrate, the body will surely become a field where desire shows its power, and also a space where desire gets concretized. But at the same time, the body is also an exploratory means by which mankind artistically expresses how it controls desire, how man deals with desire, including how he deals with it in images. Perhaps he wants to terminate desire with the image of desire. Desire is shaped and concretized in the picture, and will also end here. Maybe this is the orientation that Beat Kuert strives for with his unique body images.
(Translated from the original Chinese text)
作 为一个游走于电影、录相与摄影等几个不同领域里的当代艺术家，1946年出生的瑞士艺术家Beat Kuert的影像作品，无论其作品采取何种形态，但有一点却是始终不变，那就是聚焦于人类的欲望。而通过影像来讨论欲望，所抵达的终点，并不是欲望本身， 而是由欲望所牵动的生与死这个根本命题。
在中文里，无论是色情（pornography）还是情色（Eros），都有一个“色”字。从“色欲”的构词看，“色”也无法与“欲”分开。Beat Kuert的作品虽然以女人体为主要内容，但一反传统人体摄影对于人体精准呈现的常规，而是以极具表现主义性格的色彩，以一种强势的扩张感，通过色彩直接 将情欲推到观众面前。而或热烈或阴冷的大面积的色彩运用，则把观众与画面直接联系起来，令观众产生一种置身画中的现场感。Beat Kuert的人体影像，以大片色域将形体转化成平面形态，通过将芜杂的身体现实的形体与色彩的断然压缩与细节简化，编织出一种更具主观性、更单纯的因此也 更强烈的身体的视觉现实。这种视觉现实，既具有某种绘画性，又因为摄影成像的技术性而具备影像的特性。显然，Beat Kuert的夸张强烈的色彩运用，是无法把他对于欲望的深刻思考分开来加以考虑的。在他这里，色，既是一种对于欲望的强调，也是对于欲望的限定。从各种色 彩的铺陈，我们能够感觉到他所要呈现的欲望的复杂性以及他对于欲望的复杂感受。
而这种对于形体与形状的压缩、削简以及单纯化所带来的后果 之一是，失去焦点的、有时是不完整的身体形象，造成了我们观看中自然会产生的形体辨认上的一定困难、对于具体细节的猜测与揣想。更令我们深感迷惑的是，这 些人体形象往往都沾染或被覆盖上某些东西，有的画面中，甚至露出揭开皮肤后的砖墙，这些画面，使得他的人体形象看起来或像是处于腐烂的过程中，或像是来自 记忆的某个不确定的梦境，有一种不确定感。而借助强烈而又刺激的色彩，画面在冲击我们的视网膜、并且成为展示、检测欲望强度与性质的指标的同时，也提示欲 望的具体质感。而所有这些画面趋归的终极意象，其实只有一个：那就是废墟意象。是的，在Beat Kuert那里，身体其实已经成为废墟的同义词。欲望绽放与随后而来的身体的溃败和人性的荒芜，是如此地紧密相随，甚至互为因果，这一切并且已经在他的废 墟意象中获得了确认。
Beat Kuert的 画面中的人体，无论是行为或形象，奔放而粗放，突出了一种生命本体的存在感。他的人体形象也经常处于一种运动状态，身体形态与周边环境时常交融，人体的形 象边界并不确定，隐退与浮现端赖观者自己判定。有别于以突出人体形体美为追求的人体摄影，他的摄影不是以精细的人体描写来召引、唤起观众对于人体本身的兴 趣。因此，Beat Kuer的摄影，在这个意义上说，并不能简单地直呼为人体摄影。因为那些载入了人体形象的画面，只不过是确认了他所遭遇的一系列的生命事实与事件而已，他 以在场者的身份与立场就此摄制下来，而他所获得的，是人类欲望本身以及这些欲望刻录在照相机的CCD 上或相纸上的影子与痕迹。这些发生于观看中的精神活动，同时也无形中挑战了我们对于观看这个人类欲望之一的一种与生俱来的莫名的偏执。而这种观看上的偏 执，既让我们陷入了无法具体辨认某个形象的焦虑之中，也让我们同时意识到潜伏于自身内心的欲望之深、欲望之多样。经过Beat Kuert的画面，我们发现，欲望，不仅是作为他者与客体出现于我们面前，也作为我们自身的某个部分或某种形式显现于我们内心。
作为一个来自西方的艺术家，Beat Kuert发现了东方文字在造型艺术中的艺术与思想的双重功能。在一些画面中，文字，也起到了提示他对于生命的一些感触的作用。比如“坎”、“险”等汉 字，被Beat Kuert通 过叠印的方式，烙印于身体与身体的活动空间中，使得欲望的性质由于文字、同时也是文化的介入而变得具有某种哲思性，也令作为欲望符号的身体的意指更显其扑 朔迷离。尤其是对于西方的观者而言，强烈造型性的汉字，既是异国情调，也是一种阅读障碍，而此一不可解性则更令作品带上一种神秘性。就他所选择的汉字而 言，显然都代表了他对于生命的思考与反思。“坎”者，虽然令人想起物理障碍，但也喻示一种可能跨越、也可能虽经努力但最终无法跨越的宿命。欲望本身作为人 类的一个必须面对并且要努力超越之的“坎”，被以视觉的方式加以提示。而“险”字，则反映出他对于欲望所具有的一种根本性的认识。欲望，在中文里与“壑” 相组合形成“欲壑”的词组，表示“欲”是“坎”的同时，也是一个充满了诱惑但同时危机四伏的深渊。面对欲望，即是涉“险”无疑。如何处理好欲望，做到有惊 而无险，显然也是生命的重大挑战。Beat Kuert用汉字插入画面，既强化了一种异文化色彩，也将定义人类欲望的努力提升到了更具哲理性的层面。
这种出现在画面中的文字与身体的并置，在某种意义上说，也 象征一种文化与自然之间的对立与对话关系，并且在这种并关系置中，也产生出瞬间的错愕效果。人类处于理性与非理性之间的挣扎与突围，被他以这样的并置方式 展开。而文字对于形象的介入，既锚定我们的思维，指引我们的思维走向，也产生令我们的思绪无法固定于具体的身体影像而被文字（理性）所带离的离间效果。结 果，身体（非理性）与文字（理性）的相互交错本身，为我们思考欲望与生命本身打开了更大的想象空间。这种想象空间，既可能与人类的欲望相通，也可能直接联 接到人类文化与历史，并且也总是激起观者对于身体形象所引起的审美的好奇。在Beat Kuert这里，身体理所当然地成为一种追查观看者自身有关欲望的想象与内心潜意识的线索与场所。
在保留了人类形体基础的前提之下，他对于 画面的处理取得了类似涂抹、刮擦与覆盖的画面效果，这无法不令人由此联想到19世纪末盛行于欧美后来又传入20世纪初的东亚的画意摄影。但是，与19世纪 的画意摄影所表现出来的对于绘画的仰视心态不同，Beat Kuert的画面虽然有着某种画意效果，但其美学上的目标恰恰与19世纪的画意摄影相反。如果说19世纪的画意摄影中的人体主题，意图反映一种作为上帝造 物的身体的和谐之美的话，那么21世纪的Beat Kuert的 新画意摄影（姑且这么说），要反映的恰恰是人类历经两个世纪后所感受到的巨大精神危机。这个精神危机尤其是通过身体这个场域表现出来。这是一个身体正在面 临解体或已经支离破碎的巨大危机。他并不是要通过对于身体形象的篡改来达成某种美学目的，而是要通过这样的画面，来视觉化地印证一种发自身体内部的溃坏以 及由此所获得表征的灵魂的不安。他的类涂抹效果，既是某种程度上的对于21世纪人类心灵焦虑的掩饰，也是一种展示内心冲突的直接的索引式的轨迹。如果没有 这些痕迹，我们无法据此渐渐深入地追溯一个从欲望的再现而上升到倾诉精神危机的丰富的内心世界。而Beat Kuert的影像，从根本上来说，是一种通过具有绘画性的身体形象所展开的对于生命与存在的严肃对话与视觉辨证。
身体，如他的作品所告诉我们的，其实成为了一个人类以之对话自我、探测内心的手段。同时，在Beat Kuert这里，身体也是一个以其对于欲望的斗争与妥协而令当代文化产生新的能量的振荡器。正如Beat Kuert的 画面所显示的，身体当然会成为欲望来展示其强度的场域，也会成为欲望借身体具体化的空间。但是，与此同时，身体也是人类通过艺术来表现人如何驾驭欲望、人 如何处理欲望，包括在影像中如何处理欲望的一种探索手段。也许，他是要以以欲望的影像来终结欲望。欲望在画面中成形、凝结、并且也在此终结。这也许是 Beat Kuert通过他的独具特色的人体影像所要探寻的方向。