Catalogue Essay for Liao Guohe retrospective at the Sifang Art Museum, Nanjing.
网络用语中， Troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) 是在网络上通过发起论战或打击别人来挑拨离间的人，通过在网络社群中（如消息群、论坛、聊天室或博客）发表刺激性的、离题万里的留言，以图故意干扰他人与正常的话题讨论。
纽约现代艺术博物馆在2007年曾举办过名为“进入我/离开我”（Into Me/ Out of Me）的特展，一场关于“想象中的、描述性的和表演性的进出人体的群展”。展览中有安迪·沃霍尔的小便画作，但颇令人意外的没有安德烈斯·塞拉诺的《尿浸基督》（1987）。彼时我和其他卑微实习生一起制作图录样本，边做边吐槽策展概念的无聊之处:倒不是因为它把屎尿带入现代艺术博物馆，而是那种宏大又伪挑衅的姿态。我不知道廖国核的作品在这种展览里会被如何考量。有些时候他用完全不存在的绘画性处理的画面已经是极好的坏画作品，而猥琐污秽（有时是稀奇古怪）的内容则能让这种郑重感短路。 屁就这么放出来了。它既没有那么滑稽也没有那么无礼；但余味缭绕。廖国核的余音缭绕像一首脑残但琅琅上口的歌曲，冷不丁就不自觉地哼出来，随之懊恼为啥大脑里他妈的一直在回放。
廖国核对粗俗的有效利用，以及对当代本土生存经验瘙痒的撩拨，堪比段建宇和王兴伟这样的杰出画家。 传说中王兴伟曾受邀到湖南长沙参加廖国核主持的一档电视节目《艺术玩家》(这档节目遍访艺术领域内杰出人士，旨在熏陶观众，提高对传统与当代艺术鉴赏的能力)，从而挖掘出廖国核这位真业余画家。三人中王兴伟算是神秘主义者，段建宇富有浪漫主义，而廖国核则无疑是一个语言学家。 这种语言学诡计首先与其创造性地滥用文字和书写有关，同时也在绘画语言中广泛出现。
廖国核的画面中充斥了乱字坏字。 他亦擅用粗制滥造的艺术字体拼出种种讽刺景致。草叶组成的“绝望”二字撑满稀疏的草地以及整个画面。右下角的提字甚至都不是完整汉字，而是草字头，很难不令人想到其谐音以及网络用语中的替代。连起来这么一读，画面就突然有了新的语音维度，微妙地撑开脑洞。不过试图去解释就像试图去解释笑话，灵光已泄。《绝望》让我想起朱耷现存弗里尔美术馆的那张《落花》， “涉事”二字反转了绘画主体与题字的惯常比例，为画面注入别样的充沛张力。脑洞遂开。
有时廖国核的题字是没话找话地描述画面，但更多时候则是在中断和削弱阐释。貌似同一系列的创作常会向意想不到的方向渐行渐远。 某件《无题》中，两个黑色圆圈浮于幻化背景之中，有点爱德·鲁沙的意思。一种接下来的可能是： 圆圈变成球体，质量之足可绊倒飞驰过画面的大白鹅。另一种后续则是二圆吐着金泡沫交谈：“今年贪官特别多a。” “e是a。这些文字简直没法翻译， 因为它们是一种最精确、最瞬逝的语言。得懂中文、懂流行语、在流行语流行之时掌握语境才具备解读条件。若不能完全明白领会则往往意味着全然不解。
无题（黑圆 彩色字 今年贪官特别多a e 是a），2014，布面丙烯，50x60cm
这就是廖国核在绘画中扯跑题的方式：竖起大拇指的吉祥物，呛俗的心形，大腹便便的官员，蛮横的裸体，《明年政策会更好》的乐观，《禁止大嘴巴的人的上电视》中的祈使，《对不起人民，对不起党》的沉痛忏悔，哭成五彩三角的《哭泣的艾未未》现象学，毫不色情的成人内容，各种排泄物。他感兴趣的往往不是最显眼抓人的，而是最能说明问题的。 这种晦涩而悲剧性的幽默让人想起西格马·波尔克、诺伯特·施凡科夫斯基，或者马丁·基彭贝尔格这类艺术家，而这不足为奇。波尔克的首个群展于1963年在一家肉店内举行，名为“垃圾文化，帝国主义的或资本主义的现实主义”。廖国核作为中国艺术家与他们作为德国艺术家的方式很接近， 在自己所处的文化烂菜地中挖掘最低劣、最具流通性的庸常之中的机巧。这也是唯一参与到这种泄了气、被玷污的文化之中的有效方法。归根结底他和我们一样， 时时刻刻都被这种弹幕袭击，而且他妈的避无可避。
The painter is condemned to please. By no means can he transform a painting into an object of aversion. The purpose of a scarecrow is to frighten birds from the field where it is planted, but the most terrifying painting is there to attract visitors.
–Georges Bataille, The Cruel Practice of Art, 1949
In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotionalresponse or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.
–Wikipedia!!!@#$%@!#$%!#$% accessed 2014
Starting a catalogue essay with important quotes is obligatory, but that’s about as proper as I’ll go in the case of Liao Guohe. Quite frankly, he frustrates the kind of art historical approach I’ve been trained with for the better part of my life, and he’s proven Bataille wrong: to troll as Liao does with his caustic, off-putting languages of art—both figuratively and literally—means to go against sublimation of any kind. Not the bad-but-actually-good type of art, where bad refers to a calculated “de-professionalization,” nor pop in the historicized sense of the term, which elevates banality into new ranks of beauty. Both well-trodden paths now.
He paints poorly and cheaply on un-stretched canvases, inducing neither awe nor pleasure in the beholder. For Liao Guohe, being bad is less about being reactionary—say, to the discourse of painting after its multiple proclaimed deaths—than being curious about the genuinely bad out there, which could appeal to a certain kind of twisted mind. There is a great deal of realness in these works despite a scantiness of ostensible meaning. While a good chunk of contemporary painters are perpetually, anxiously seeking validation from theoreticians, kinda like what I’m doing with the smart quotes, Liao Guohe ain’t caught up in validation. Or, as someone who rarely ventures beyond acrylic on canvas, he is secretly much more ambitious with where he’s going with not only his painting, but painting the goddamned profession itself.
I have never met Liao Guohe, and he’s very skillful at dodging my probing on Wechat, so my friend Caro recounted some anecdotes to me. He once allegedly held up a peeled orange and said: “Orange segments revolve around the core. This artist might have revolved and revolved and bore one segment; that artist about two or three, after some struggle. What I know is that an orange can only be a whole when there are so many segments wrapped under the skin, when it becomes a mad ball. I’m that mad ball.”
Let’s look at Farting Corner, a self-explanatory work from 2007. Wacky perspectives aside, you do get a clear sense of the space and its specifically generic décor found in kindergartens or grade schools all over China: little flowers drawn in the exact same way you’d be taught to draw in those classrooms and an emerald stripe of paint along the wall base. A superimposed figure rendered with the least possible care—which is the case with everything else in this image and all the other images—blasts a magnificent fart over a sign reading “farting corner.” It’s outrageously silly and transparent, but the grammar gets tricky when you try to read the painting. It’s not representation, nor sign, nor instruction; simultaneously it’s all of the three collapsed into a single—and singular—nonsense. A fleeting sense of whim materialized in a painting whimsically painted. The acrylic was running thin and dry, coloring all smudged and hasty. But the truth of it does not concern aesthetics; the truth is that somebody probably farted there, yet we’re programmed to pretend that farts don’t happen, just like how we have unsubscribed ourselves from the full spectrum of the aesthetic clusterfuck that characterizes the visual culture of contemporary China. Pay a visit today to any average city of the second or third tier, and you’ll get my point by just looking at the signposts, packaging designs, and souvenirs that are perplexingly paradoxical—their shoddiness screams: “zero shit given.” With the utter collapse of any coherent aesthetic order comes infinite shades of bad, and Liao Guohe is more tuned in to this aesthetic clusterfuck than the majority of us, running with the erratic logic of the low without attempting to elevate it.
In a 2012 variation of the same theme, The Grown Up Farts Dang Dang Dang, perverse visual poetry is to be found in the dialogue between airbrushed white balls emitted from a Hitler look-alike and triangular spits from his disheveled and disgruntled companion. There’s this gray painting where someone makes a swastikas by projecting urine; the inscription shouts: “shameless!” Then there are a good number of compositions with monumental rear-ends hovering above feces in nice little swirls. Of course not all of his works deal with fecal matter, which, however prominently portrayed, is not necessarily the subject matter, though it is often central to the authentic and inconsequential on-line debates about the merit of these works, and by extension, Liao Guohe’s strategy.
Speaking of the unholy trio, there was an exhibition at the MoMA in 2007 titled Into Me/Out of Me, a group show treating “the imagined, descriptive, and performative act of the passing into, through, and out of the human body.” There were the Andy Warhol’s piss paintings, and curiously without Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ from 1987. I remember working on mock bindings of the catalogue with other lowly interns and yawning at the stunningly uninspired idea, not because it was bringing shit to the MoMA, but because it was making such a big, faux provocateur deal of it. I wonder where Liao Guohe’s paintings would fall along that curatorial concept. Sometimes his virtuoso lack of execution produces good bad paintings, where obscenities (and in many cases trippiness) are there to short-circuit the situation. Farts happen. They are neither that funny nor offensive; they kind of just stick around. Liao Guohe can stick like a terrible song that’s incredibly catchy, the kind that you catch yourself humming unconsciously and blame your own brain for fucking with you.
The ways in which Liao Guohe deploys vulgarity and scratches the itch of lived experiences in contemporary China make him comparable to singular painters like Duan Jianyu and Wang Xingwei, who allegedly discovered Liao Guohe the true amateur when making guest appearance on a TV show hosted by Liao, a certain program called Art Players that supposedly cultivates connoisseurship of both traditional and contemporary art. Among the three, Wang is the mysticist, Duan a romantic, and Liao Guohe is undeniably a linguistic. The linguistic intrigue in his painting certainly has to do with his inventive abuse of the written word; it also manifests through his unique painterly language.
Liao Guohe’s unabashedly unsophisticated writing is consistently scribbled on painted surfaces, sometimes as poorly-drawn arty fonts that spell out ironic content. Leaves of grass haphazardly compose the characters for “despair” that fill the entirety of a patchy lawn. At the lower right corner he signs not with a full character but just the radical for herb-related characters, which is homophonic with “fuck” and thus popular in casual web-talk; all of a sudden the painted (or wreathed?) words have a phonetic dimension. It’s a subtle kind of mindfuck, and to explain it feels like explaining a joke by dispelling the aura. Despair brought to my mind Zhu Da’s Falling Flowers (1692), now in the collection of the Freer. The characters she shi, or “involved in affairs,” simply take hold of a composition in which the inscription to painting proportion is reversed, and charge it with an exuberance of spirit. Mindfuck.
The inscriptions tend to provide a deadpan description of whatever obscure situation the painting conjures, but more often they interrupt and thwart. Series have a way of producing unlikely offshoots. In Untitled (Blue background, black circles in variable sizes) (2004), we begin with two black circles afloat in unspecified, atmospheric space, a bit a la Ed Ruscha. In one possible sequel the circular shapes become globes with enough mass to trip a goose hurtling over the painting. In another they converse in sticky, gold bubbles: “so many corrupt officials this year, eh?” “I know right.” Translating is frustrating here because it is the most precise and ephemeral kind of language that demands 1. knowledge of the language 2. knowledge of the vernacular 3. knowledge of the aforementioned at a particular moment. Not getting it fully almost certainly means missing it entirely.
In The Painted Word, Tom Wolfe mockingly mused: “what I saw before me was the critic-in-chief of the New York Time saying: in looking at a painting today, ‘to lack a persuasive theory is to lack something crucial.’…in short, frankly, these days, without a theory to go with it, I can’t see a painting.” That was written in the year 1975. Here’s a moment to revisit and stretch Bataille’s theory: contemporary painters are condemned in the sense that there’s this urge, or survival instinct, to cater to “a persuasive theory,” a certain discourse (say, of de-skill), or a particular hipness of taste, including bad taste, which might just prove to be a challenge for Liao Guohe down the road. While his paintings up to this point often reek of bad taste, they are not fully intended to provoke, because provocation is cheap and cheaper than banality. These disagreeable paintings are a way to answer his own questions about the potency of painting. According to my friend Caro, Liao Guohe believes that there’s truth to be sought still in this medium.
At his best, Liao Guohe mashes up the viral internet vernacular, the inscrutable official speak, the phonetically arousing, and the sumptuously pictographic of the Chinese language—precisely when scribbled with layman skill, not de-skill because there was no skill to begin with—without trying to make sense, not least categorical sense. A whole new discourse has to be constructed around the so called “word painting” in a pictographic language, or the necessity for it in the first place, but we’ll leave that to the theoreticians of the world. Liao Guohe works like a linguist in the sense that he works with what’s in circulation: the meaningful, the meaningless, the meaningfully meaningless. He frequently transgresses, but digresses even more.
This is how he trolls in the paintings: the thumbed-up mascots, the cheesy heart shapes, the fat-bellied officials, the savage nudes, the Better Policies Next Year optimism, the whimsical imperative of Big Mouths People Are Not Allowed to Be on TV, the melancholic confession Sorry to the People and Sorry to the Party, the phenomenology of a Crying Ai Weiwei portrayed as colorful triangular shapes, the non-erotic pornographic, the excrement. He’s not always interested in the catchiest, but the most telling. There’s an obscure, tragic humor that resonates with the kind practiced by Sigmar Polke, Martin Kippenberger, or Norbert Schwontkowski. This should hardly be surprising.Polke’s first group show, held in 1963 in a butcher shop, was titled “Junk Culture, Imperialist or Capitalist Realism.” Liao Guohe is Chinese the way they are German, candidly mining the ingeniously banal and viral in the clusterfuck that is our culture, because it is the only valid way to participate in the defiled thing itself. The simple truth is that he, like us, is relentless being trolled, and there’s no fucking escape.