In his discussion of Richard Serra’s Hand Catching Lead (1968), Benjamin Buchloh puts forward the concept of “sculptural film”: the repetitive attempts made by the hand to catch sheets of falling lead constitute in the film a continuous “procedure”, which subordinates itself to neither the norms of (narrative) cinema nor that of (Greenberg’s modernism) art, rather, through its introduction of certain sculptural principles, the moving-image is cast anew—as what Pollock does with his action paintings, Serra’s film invokes a “communication system derived from body motion”. According to Buchloh, the movement of the dropped lead sheets we see on screen is an analogy to the motion of the film within the rolling camera—that is, the work’s visualization corresponds to the materiality of its medium—yet eventually it refers back to the field of sculpture, revealing ” the self-evident procedures of the sculptural as its true meaning”.
Nonetheless, this aforementioned “meaning” is metaphorical par excellence. In Rosalind Krauss’s interpretation, Serra’s practice enables the audience to perceive that “the hidden meaning he reads into the corporate body of the world are his own projections and that the interiority he had thought belonged to the sculpture is in fact his own interiority”. The deployment of moving-image in this (sculptural) process renders the sculpture here no more presentation of a “product”, and instead now more illustrative of a “process”, through which self-consciousness predicated on time-based experiences is evoked. As per Krauss’s prominent theorization of the “expanded field”：in the postmodernism context, sculpture unexpectedly strikes back from its then relatively rather peripheral and marginal positioning—turning the table through its simultaneous incorporation of all other mediums and the dissolving of any existing boundaries accordingly, thereby manages to take its flight from beneath modernism’s shadow. Sculptures can surely be in the form of films—as Michael Snow and Anthony McCall has respectively demonstrated with their “structural films” and “solid light films”—the sculptures in question here are extended into the phenomenologically atmospheric, and thus stand in opposition to minimalism’s rigid and enclosed systems.
The real pivot for Krauss’s discussion, however, resides in a new kind of “media specificity”, in which there is no more purity or exclusivity, but is collective and polyphonic instead. As in Hand Catching Lead, there’s no need to identify either sculpture or film as the one true basis of the work, contrarily, it’s necessary to see the two mediums as intermingling into a hybrid site, or say, a dispositif. Within this newly assembled site/dispositif, the contents and forms, as well as the structural and the material supports are highly coupled—it is precisely in these tight couplings one may see the old “medium specificity” as according to modernism reiterated. Yet where the new version differs is that in its “expansions”, the entire site/dispositif in fact gets transformed into a “medium”: “For, in order to sustain artistic practice, a medium must be a supporting structure, generative of a set of conventions, some of which, in assuming the medium itself as their subject, will be wholly ‘specific’ to it, thus producing an experience of their own necessity”.
The particularity of this new “medium specificity” justifies and further facilitates intermedia artistic practices—with video works making perhaps the only exception. As the “post-medium” theory argues, it is indeed the arrival of video that truly proclaims the coming of the post-medium moment. For Krauss, the transmissivity and spontaneity of video enables its “existing in endlessly diverse forms, spaces and temporalities”, while its unique technical apparatus generates a ” discursive chaos, a heterogeneity of activities that could not be theorized as coherent or conceived of as having something like an essence or unifying core”. Later in her essay “Two Moments from the Post-Medium Condition”, Krauss updates the concept of “material support” with that of “technical support” to better describe the medium condition emerging from artists ’practices as they are now working with much more complex contemporary technical mediums and situations. For all that, it is yet crucial to stress the point that in Krauss’s thinking, distinguishing film and video (along with the later “new media”) is an ontological difference—the former is ever so the typical medium of self-sufficiency modernism revels in, whereas the latter declares itself as the ultimate saboteur of the modernist’s reverie.
With the research and exhibition project Polyphonic Strategies, I intend to propose—building upon the above theoretical basis—a hypothesis: Does moving-image constitute any de facto “starting point” for the participating artists (in even their moving-image works)? Or else, perhaps we may properly address the relevance in between their moving-image and non-moving-image practices in the light of “moving-image operating in its expanded fields”? And conversely to further raise the question as to whether paintings and sculptures may as well be seen as certain forms of moving-image? In the contemporary conditions, moving-image has long ceased to be indicative of but a specific mode of image and its material support, nor is it possible for us to cover its all-encompassing connotations and denotations with the phenomenologically metaphoric. The fact that various mediums have mutually built into and framed each other through the means of “expansions” back then when Hand Catching Lead was made precisely indicates that boundaries enclosing each and every medium yet persisted at the time. Whereas today mediums—along with the conventions, experiences, as well as aesthetics surrounding which—have gone through drastic transformations, to the point that even the distinction between film and video within the field of moving-image art has been dissolved. It’s interesting to point out that all five participating artists in the show once received their education from fine arts academies in either the department of oil painting or that of sculpture. These experiences are more or less lasting and continue to affect the artists’ later practices in subtle and ambiguous ways, eventually inducing them to take on distinctive strategies in each of their expanded practices: in YANG Fudong we see his reactivating the spiritual core of Chinese handscrolls through films; while CHEN Dandizi drives her video and photographic installations with the universality she finds present in the emotions; and as YU Honglei pursues the rhythms and pulsations that “short-videos” and sculptures share, LI Ran makes his works in paintings, videos and archival researches accompany and nourish each other; meanwhile there is WANG Xu building up a project of complexity in his assemblage of sculpture and moving-image. In any case, Polyphonic Strategies is not aspiring to complete here the project—which shall be of considerable complexity and immensity—it proposes, rather, it’s more an attempt at shedding new light on the artists’ specific practices and the operating logic of the mediums behind which.