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Duchamp Stripped Bare by the Chinese, Even: Rewriting Example No. 5 or A Discussion of the Duchamp Phenomenon

Publication

’85 New Wave Archives II

Publisher

Beijing Shiji Wenjing Publishing House

Language

Chinese

In light of the death of the old earl, the youngster comes into inheritance; however, this is not the whole truth. In history, a pause is created, and the agent steps into nothingness. —Anonymous1

Duchamp died in 1968; I am writing this article in 1988. Even twenty years after his death, Duchamp is still frequently mentioned; in a sense, he is still alive. Would it be at all possible for us not to mention him any longer—to let him truly fade away? Perhaps it would, perhaps it wouldn’t; in any case, my reason for writing this essay is to prevent myself from mentioning him in the future. So that Duchamp can be written off our books, just as many others have been. However, this cannot guarantee that Duchamp will be truly put behind us. There is one way to deal with this issue, and that is by killing all of Duchamp’s disciples. Then he will finally die. This is our mission today but that might not suffice. We must also kill all of his opponents to prevent his name from ever being mentioned again. People will only cease to write or comment on him when all those who want to hear about him are dead. Many fictional figures (who have names) found in history books are often mentioned in today’s publications because they are used as counterexamples, as if they truly existed. Having said that, the example we are concerned with here [Duchamp] is real. There are two interpretations of the two characters in the name Du Xiang, which is the Chinese translation of Duchamp. The first character, du, generally has two meanings. First of all, it might be a family name. The family name comes before the given name in Chinese and thus resembles a prefix. Its second meaning is “obstruction” or “prohibition”; it also refers to something that is fictional. Here, of course, it is the first meaning that applies. “Xiang” could mean “elephant,” “image,” or “form.” It also means “copying” or imitating. “Hao xiang” also means “seem” and is an equivocal expression that Duchamp liked to use:

“I don’t ascribe to the artist the sort of social role in which it seems like he is indebted to society and so he feels obligated to achieve something. This is a horrifying perspective.” (p. 79)

Why do we “pull out” Duchamp instead of a dead horse? Getting the horse onto the road might help nurture our brains. In today’s literature, all sorts of characters get pulled out and cited: Dong Qichang, Dong Cunrui, Zengjiasso, Bi Guofan, Laoni, Tzschezi, and so on. We pull them out in order to be able to insert them. In a way, pulling out and inserting are one and the same thing; this corresponds to what a text needs: if you don’t pull out some names, then at least quote some sentences. Hence, people today, whether rich or poor, can barely be considered alive without being placed in relation to the dead. “Those who do not want to be in the company of the dead are condemned to die.” This is a rephrasing of Santayana’s “Those who do not study the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Rejecting parents as a system.

“Question: ‘As far as I know, your mother was also an artist. She painted still lifes, didn’t she?’ Answer: ‘She even wanted to cook them, too, but in her seventy years of life, she was never really in touch with art. She did some Strasbourgs on paper. It never went any further.’” (p. 11)2

“That is correct.” (p. 51)

52.3 A kind of stored heat or kinetic energy
53. Duplicating a flyswatter
54. The celostomia singing technique
55. Unreliable modification
56. Ways of opening a door
57. The inner model
58. Creating art in a lying-down position
59. Family tree 60. Weighing the weight
61. Liquid solidifying quickly
62. Heating and duplicating
63. Machinery that opens things up
64. Making a mannequin (anatomy)
65. Squeezing out a new path
66. Difficulty recognizing left from right
67. A fast knot
68. To annul ( )
69. Leaning against the mirror and looking into it
70. Checking the drawers
71. The opening of an envelope
72. Pasting paper onto the wall

“Right, Breton once planned to open up a Surrealist office, to offer people ideas. What I was doing was similar to this.” (p. 73)

The back: The consequence of getting out of a crisis or a difficult situation is to end up becoming a hunchback; thus, having a hunched back enables one to escape from a predicament—idea number one. Watering, dust, food, water, wind, time, and austerity are helpful to people—idea number two. No talking—idea number three. Walk straight northeast—idea number four. Lie down or sit directly on the ground without relying on a cushion or a piece of paper—idea number five. Swallow the ashes of the medical prescription form—idea number six. Sit, stand, or lie down to pass time—idea number seven. Stand on tiptoe under the fierce summer sun; bonfires should surround you in four directions (north, south, east, west)—idea number eight. Art can cure inflation—idea number nine. Put on wet clothes in winter and stand outdoors in the northeast corner—idea number ten. Beg for food; begging is a way to survive—idea number eleven. Stand upright with your right foot in front of the left and do three moves: first advance the left foot and place it in front of your right foot; second, bring up the right foot and place it in front of your left foot; third, advance the left foot and again place it in front of your right foot; these three steps equal a distance of seven meters—idea number twelve. Here the possibilities that stem from “sub-sorcery” and “sub-performances” are the most crucial. Sorcery enables you to avoid originality and concentrate on duplication and transmission, whereas sub-performances constitute threatening behavior.

“Surely, in all the discussions about paintings, Manet’s name comes up more often than not. And Cézanne, to most people, is just a piece of meat in a pot of stew.” (p.13)

Conversing—tactics, eating—consuming; before we articulate those many names we must undergo a process of consuming them first. This is what our throat does. On the one hand, it has the esophagus; on the other, it has the articulation of language. More often than not, we exhale more than what we inhale.

“It is just that the old habits keep them on the track of making one painting each and every month, all this. . . . They think that it is as if they owe society an artwork each month or each year.” (p. 100)

“Later on Picasso became a pioneer of a kind. We often need such a character, be it Picasso, Einstein, or anybody else—and the crowd often speaks for half of the whole truth.” (p. 17)

“Many people feel as if they are being constrained by something. If not by some literary movement, then by some woman, but in the end, it’s all the same feeling.” (p. 104)

“Politicians imagine that they are doing something extraordinary! It’s a little like a notary, or like my father; politicians and notaries have similar styles. I remember my father’s documents, the language was ridiculous. American lawyers employ such language as well, and I must say I dislike politics.” (p. 57)

“The are six siblings in my family. When it came to inheritance, my father did a remarkable job, so good that everyone who heard about it was amused. My father split the inheritance into six portions, just like a notary would, and had everything written in ink on paper, along with warnings for us all.” (p. 27) Nowadays everything goes through a notary. A diploma needs to be certified by a notary, getting married—the marital relationship—also needs to be certified by a notary; this is what we all go through if we ever have such experiences. In fact, the notarial profession existed long ago but disappeared for a long time until it came back to existence.

Parents’ veto power is something that our social system has passed down from generation to generation. However, the same system has given us the chance to train teachers, doctors, officers, guards, drillmasters, and foremen, who play the role of father figures for students, patients, soldiers, and workers, respectively. We can draw up a comparative list as follows: oncology clinics—the department of sculpture—the faculty of chemistry—arsenal factory; dermatology clinics—the department of oil painting—the department of Chinese literature—latex workshop; pediatric clinics—the department of ink painting—the faculty of mathematics—cookie factory; stomatology clinics—department of art history—department of foreign languages—shoe and hat factory.

“No, one must live on; I am penniless, and I must earn my living. A man has got to eat, and that is different from painting for the sake of painting. One can certainly pursue both doings at the same time without any conflict.” (p. 72) Dieting or simply eating less can help stimulate the digestive system, and this is very important—recommendation number thirteen—in any case, eating nothing in order to follow the Daoist practice of fasting requires a certain amount of training. By practicing the Daoist breathing method, one reaches a state of “embryonic respiration” (the breathing of a child in its mother’s womb). This is suggestion number fourteen: “eating air” or “drinking water.”

“I firmly believe in artists being a medium. An artist creates art hoping that one day it may be recognized by the world, leaving his name on a page in history. This is why we say that the value of an artwork depends on both the creator and the audience.” (p. 68)

“Any masterpiece is only a masterpiece because the audience says so.” (p. 69)

“Not believing in status, not believing in oneself, makes belief a misnomer.” (p. 89)

“Exhibitions are horrific places.” (p. 80)

“I don't agree that artists bear social responsibility, as if they owe something to society and must take on the duty of creating something. This is a horrifying idea.” (p. 79)

“The word ‘judgment’ is such a terrible idea. It’s weak and problematic. That a society wields the power and right to decide whether to accept certain works, and then to select a few of them to send to the Louvre. . . . I don’t believe at all in such a thing as absolute judgment.” (p. 69)

Duchamp will never be a fan of Picasso. Here are some examples. Three terrible words: “belief,” “judgment,” and “obligation.” Further frightful words include “intelligence,” “creation,” “innovation,” “perfection,” “absoluteness,” “purity,” “totality,” “thoroughness,” “independence,” and so on—these all represent the terror of totalitarianism. There is also the word “author.” There is something about the nature of an “author” that can be observed at an auction. We all know what an auction is: there are, for example, clothes auctions and idea auctions. Sellers yell, “Shorts? Underpants?” Besides, “bold” and “impudent” both mean “audacious.” When we compliment someone by saying, “You are bold,” we are actually implying “You are imprudent.” The word “dictation” is also frightful for people who have to record words—all dictators are people who dictate. In addition, “dictionary,” “dictum,” “dictation,” and “dictate” have the same prefix: “dict.” “Neo” is a prefix used with great care: “Neo-Expressionism,” “Neo-Kantism,” “Neo-Duchampism.” Of course, there is also the prefix “post.” “Neo,” or “new,” means that something is being used for the very first time: new clothes, a new house, a newlywed woman; the fact that a bride is no longer a virgin could cause a difficult situation. Neo-Expressionism is not the earliest form of Expressionism; this is another difficult situation. Of all the words we have, the most frightful must be “preface,” which starts with the prefix “pre.” A preface is the start of something, such as opening remarks; it is “premier,” “predominant,” “preferment”; it is similar to the status of a university “president”; it is the “premise” of all and is “predictable,” predetermined,” “predecessor,” “preclude,” “prepuce”; it is like a “premature” baby is “precocious”; it is also a “prescribed,” “premarital,” “preconceived,” “precast,” and can be “prejudicial.” All prefixes and prepositions are horrible.

“Picasso is like a powerful lighthouse. He satisfies the audience’s need for a celebrity, and as long as he can keep up that energy, it might as well be good.” (p. 94)

“Question: ‘When Picasso completed Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, were you aware of the revolutionary milestone that painting was going to mark?’ Answer: ‘Not at all. We never saw Les Demoiselles. It was not on display until several years later. As for myself, I discovered Cubism when I happened to visit some gallery.’” (p.16)

Generally speaking, people tend to ask for what they do not possess; if they ask for a child, it suggests they don’t have a child. Therefore, a fortune-teller can safely assume that the person who asks is the one in need. And those who seek or ask are often anxious. So if an old widow seeks a second marriage, her children might be unfilial.

“I realized that there are a lot of things people shouldn't burden their lives with, such as busywork, a wife, vacation houses, new cars, and such. And I came to this realization early in my own life, which is why I stayed single for a very long time, so that I could avoid such mundane, everyday problems.” (p. 6)

“In 1916, when Michael Knoedler came to New York and saw Nude Descending a Staircase, he offered me $10,000 per year in advance for my future works, but I refused. It wasn't that I was affluent, in fact I could actually have used the money—$10,000 a year—but no, somehow I felt a threat, a kind of danger that I had been avoiding up to that point. By 1916 I was already twenty-nine years old, old enough to protect myself.” (p. 109)

“When I wrote about Picasso, I said that each and every time in history, the crowd always needs a superstar, be it Einstein in the world of physics or Picasso in the world of art. Crowds and audiences bear such quality.” (p. 83)

“Moreover, I have never really strived to create or felt desperate to push myself to express anything; I've never had such a need to paint and create relentlessly from morning to afternoon to night.” (p. 6)

“Anti-art. Basically, it means questioning the artist’s behavior. Feeling as if his technique and some traditional things are absurd.” (p. 51)

There is also the problem of rewriting. The act of rewriting can be comparable to the form of adoption in which a child is transferred from one family to another. “If you don’t possess a stick, I’ll take it away. If you possess a stick, I’ll give you another” (an example found in Chan Buddhism). One way to rewrite this is, “If you have art, I’ll give you art. If you don’t have art, I’ll take it away.” Another example: “Art is a type of politics with colors” (by anonymous) can be rewritten as “Non-art is a type of politics without colors.” One more example: “Art is dead. Dead, but still moving forward; still moving forward, but dead” (by anonymous) can be changed to “Our late father is still with us; he is still with us but dead” (Donald Barthelme).

“Any masterpiece is only a masterpiece because the audience says so.” (p. 69)

“I firmly believe in artists being a medium. An artist creates art hoping that one day it may be recognized by the world, leaving his name on a page in history. This is why we say that the value of an artwork depends on both the creator and the audience.” (p. 68)

In order to destroy art, the audience needs to be annihilated first; an artist or a work of art without an audience is like a street beggar who begs for affection. So why interview Duchamp?—I mean the critic who wrote that book—and why do I want to write this article?—I mean myself. The spectator, translator, and commentator rely on Duchamp for earning remuneration. Thus, it is not that artists only benefit from spectators and critics. It is also unlike what Duchamp said: “Why would you pursue it? You can’t make money from it.” (p. 36).

“I signed Mutt’s name on it to avoid any personal connection.” (p. 49)

The abbreviation for antes de comer, a.c., which is used in medical prescriptions, means that such medicine should be taken before a meal. The handwriting of doctors is always illegible when they write out prescriptions and sign their names, as if the purpose were to prevent the patient from understanding anything from a non-doctor’s point of view. The doctor’s sloppy handwriting on the prescription form actually suggests how proficient he is in his job because he has done it so many times and also implies how such proficiency in this profession is not easy to attain. Being familiar with one’s job and carelessness are both the “child” and the “midwife” of customs. A signature represents “the person himself,” but an original work does not represent “the person himself.” Therefore, an original work cannot be attributed to the person who inscribes the signature, but rather to the person whose name is written there, because the person who signs the name can be separated from the name that is signed.

Duchamp’s work The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even was finished between 1915 and 1923. In 1960 in London, the publication of Richard Hamilton’s book The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even4—marked a fourth instance of rewriting.

It was only twenty-one years [after the death of Duchamp] that by chance I had an opportunity to visit the homeland of the creator of The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even.5

The text is translated from the Chinese by Lina Dann and Yu-Chieh Li, annotated by Yu-Chieh Li. Read Huang Yong Ping's manuscript to the Chinese text here.

1.

This quotation is difficult to trace without the artist’s help. After the Cultural Revolution, Chinese students became avid readers of works of Western philosophy and literature translated into Chinese. The Chinese editions were carefully screened by the government and often contained imprecise or incomplete bibliographical references to their sources. The fact that few copies of these translations are in circulation today adds to the challenge of identifying the editions on which they are based. Huang Yong Ping noted in his notes that he read Shu Weiguang’s book about Ludwig Wittgenstein's philosophy in 1982, a biography of Wittgenstein in the mid-1980s. Read more (in English) about the “reading fever” of the 1980s in interviews conducted by the Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong: http://www.china1980s.org/en/interview.aspx (YL)

2.

The page numbers cited in this article refer to the Chinese edition of Pierre Cabanne's Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (London: Thames and Hudson, 1971), which was originally published in French under the title Entretiens avec Marcel Duchamp (Paris: Editions Pierre Belfond, 1967). The Chinese version, issued by Art Publishing Co., Taiwan, in 1986, was translated from the English by Zhang Xinlong. All quotations from Cabanne’s book that appear in this article are translations of Huang Yong Ping’s citations from the Chinese edition. (Copies of the Chinese edition were available in the Guangdong region through Hong Kong. Dialogues was not the first source on Duchamp to enter China, but it was influential among artists, especially to those in the Xiamen Dada Group.) (YL)

3.

This numbered list contains a selection of the 384 instructions for artworks that Huang Yong Ping inscribed on the disk of his Big Roulette Wheel (1987). The artist developed them after reading Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Pierre Cabanne's Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp. (YL)

4.

Possibly the book The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even; a Typographic Version by Richard Hamilton of Marcel Duchamp's Green Box translated by George Heard Hamilton (London: 1960). (YL)

5.

When Huang was writing this article in 1988, he knew that he would participate in Magiciens de la terre at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1989. (YL)