Christopher Connery is a Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of California Santa Cruz. Since 2013 he has been Ziqiang Professor of Cultural Studies at Shanghai University. His research interests are in 1960s social movements, the ideology of global capitalism, psychogeography, contemporary Chinese political economy, and early imperial Chinese history. His books include The Empire of the Text: Writing and Authority in Early Imperial China; The Sixties and the World Event; The Worlding Project: Doing Cultural Studies in the Era of Globalization, and others. He is an editor of the journals boundary 2 and Postcolonial Studies. Since 2010 he has been a member of the Grass Stage Theater Company and his productions include Little Society 2, Little Society 1 and 2, and The Water of Life.




It is Forbidden to Forbid



Christopher Connery



The title of Boat Zhang’s exhibit happen to be the same as one of the most memorable slogans from the May ’68 uprising in Paris, a slogan that captured the liberatory and declaratory energies of that brief period, whose imaginative explorations continue to provide resources for thinking about other modes of life. For the May ’68 explosion was, as many have documented, a revolution in everyday life, a questioning of the strictures—explicit and implicit—that existed to keep the imagination from taking power. The nature of space was transformed—factories into social laboratories, schools into community centers, theaters into public forums, and as if to signify the becoming-poetic of the cityscape, graffiti filled the walls and refigured the existing text-scape: “the beach beneath the streets”, “the imagination takes power”, “let’s not change bosses, let’s change life”, and the ubiquitous “quickly”. The latter was a salient slogan at that time, and reflected the imperative of seizing time, of grasping the future that was immanent within a fleeing present. Compared with social movements that were to come, May ’68 was an under-photographed movement. We have in addition to news and wire services photography the Serge Hambourg collection, as well as the various images collected in Janine Casevecchie’s MAI 68 en photos (2008), but it is almost as if something in the fleeting present of that time resisted capture by the image apparatus. The memoirs and the collected movement documents have been much richer testament. The movement produced a vast amount of textual content—manifestos, pamphlets, posters, and several historians have noted that people simply read much more, when the structures of daily life had become so transformed. With these slogans written on walls and on posters, the city became a kind of text-scape, announcing a different future immanent in the present. This was a very different text-scape from that familiar to us in contemporary public spaces, where the ubiquity of advertising, directional signs, and admonitory exhortations or proclamation of laws make social space a scene of constant textual address.


This is one context in which to consider Boat Zhang’s work, in particular the current exhibition. Boat Zhang has long been interested in photographic and other reproductions of written texts. Her recent exhibit at the Power Station of Art in Shanghai was a collection of signatures that she had photographed, projected onto a wall, and traced in black chalk. These were signatures that had been made in times of stress: most were signatures of those persons who were agreeing for the homes to be demolished and for themselves to be relocated; some were signatures on divorce papers or marking other notable life transformations. The signatures thus captured a life-changing moment in time that haunted the representational permanence of the signature form itself. For an official signature is at once a moment of submission to an authority, and the permanent legal record of that moment of submission. Transferring these signatures out of their legal context—from the page of a contract-- and onto gallery space thus juxtaposes two kinds of permanence: the permanence of the legal agreement and the more qualified “permanence” of the art object. The current exhibition No“NO’’, Do Not “NOT’’ in Lianzhou further explores the temporal, subjective, and political complexities inherent in the photographic image of the written word.


Photographs of words inhabit a curious phenomenological state, a legacy of the charged relationship between word and image. Brazilian philosopher Vilém Flusser, in Towards a Philosophy of Photography, holds that the invention of technical photography in the 19th century represents the second decisive break in human history, the first being the invention of linear writing in the second millennium before the common era. He writes that by the nineteenth century, the capacity of written texts to “hide the world from man and no longer make it transparent to him” had reached a critical point, one he termed “textolatry”, by which he meant that life had become a function of texts. He writes:


Textolatry reached a critical stage in the 19th century. In the strictest sense, this was the end of history. History, in this strict sense, is the progressive coding of images into concepts, progressive explanation of images, progressive demagnification, progressive conceptualization. Where texts are no longer imaginable, there is nothing to explain, and history ceases. It was precisely at this historical stage, in the 19th century, that technical images were invented: in order to render texts imaginable again, to charge them with magic, and thus, to overcome the crisis of history.(1)


Coterminous with the arrival of photography in 19th century European cities was an enormous rise in regulatory and admonitory signage, a lexical/imagist technology that continues into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries on a global scale, and performs its own very different kind of magic. The ubiquity of advertising doubtless plays a part in this, an age in which all aspects of behavior are objects of visual address. But the Flusser passage quote above demands a closer interrogation of the textual-image content of these signs. Signage texts are, in the purest sense, texts-become image. They exist of course to represent a certain state of affairs, but their primary function is the regulation of bodies, to effect action in a specific place in the world. For the sign is in place in the same way that a law is “in place”: it produces behavior in its concrete location.


Documentary photography in particular has made rich use of street signs, price signs, and advertising, returning regulatory or descriptive signage to its concrete historical temporality in counterpoint to its inherent claim for supra-temporal authority. Among the most haunting photographs from Nazi Germany are those street signs regulating the movements and behaviors of the Jewish population, a stark visibility of racism and population control viewed from the perspective of our present, when these intentions are can no longer made so overtly, or with the support of the law. The more quotidian presence of prices in documentary photography also gives the photograph an ephemerality beyond its existence as a moment captured in time, and emphasizes that the temporality of the image and the temporality of the text are of wholly different orders. In a sense, any photograph of a regulatory or admonitory sign is a reminder of the Law’s impermanence or contingency, and thus a prefigural ephemeralization of the very temporal authority it exists to project.


The modification of signs—regulatory signs as well as advertising signs—to make them deliver something other than their overt intended message has been a conspicuous form of generally anonymous radical political praxis from the détournements of the French situationists around 1968 through their descendants in pro-situ groups such as Adbusters. Boat Zhang’s work here owes something to this, but her particular practice delivers it into a different register, with a new range of significance. The situationist détournements were both gestures of subversion and revelations of latent content. The modified signs were, in a sense, indications that life itself in all its variety could be détourned. Our present day is not as fecund with possibility as was May ’68 however, and Boat Zhang’s various levels of mediation underscore the predicaments of our times. The obvious way to modify the signs in the images viewed here would be technically, through software such as Photoshop. That Boat Zhang has chosen to modify the printed image itself reinscribes bodily practice into the modification, and instantiates the act of negation/revelation within the image object. By instantiating herself within the image as the effacing body, Zhang opens up another dimension of the viewer’s relationship to the image, as if to imply that every negation of the Law demands a further negation at the level of the body, an individual act of commitment that is outside the image-system and outside the apparatus. In a sense, then, this is anti-photography: refusing, first of all, the direct modification of the sign itself, so as not to make the photograph a documentation of her own individual heroism or political correctness, and then a refusal of the digital photography system by returning intentionality to the body in another, albeit unheroic scene. There is an important gesture of refusal in Boat Zhang’s work, and it is a gesture that points not only to the Law, but to the photograph/software apparatus, and the nature of viewing that it demands.


1.Vilém Flusser, “Towards a Philosophy of Photography”. European Photography number 18, 1984, pp. 5-62.





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克利斯多夫康納利是来自美国加州大学圣克鲁斯分校文学系教授,博士指导、美国普林斯顿大学东亚学博士。丛2013起,将任上海大学文化研究系“自强教授”。他的研究包括:全球六十年代社会运动,全球资本主义意识形态,心理地理,现代中国政治经济,东汉思想和文学史。他的著作包括The Empire of the Text: Writing and Authority in Early Imperial China; The Sixties and the World Event; The Worlding Project: Doing Cultural Studies in the Era of Globalization,等. 也当boundary 2 和Postcolonial Studies(学术季刊)的编辑。自从2010年当草台班成员,演了《小社会第二卷》、《小社会》(第一、二卷)与《人间一壶酒》。









张小船此次展出的作品标题,恰好与1968年巴黎五月风暴中最值得被记住的一个口号相同。这个口号反应出寻求解放和毫无畏惧的精神,而与其同时发生的充满想象力的探索仍在继续滋养我们不断思考另一种生活的可能性。如众多文献所记录的,1968年五月风暴是一场日常生活的革命,一次对所有可见、不可见的束缚的发问,试图从权利的手中保住想象之力。空间的实质被转变了——工厂成了社会实验室,学校成了社区中心,剧院成了公众论坛,仿佛是为了强调渐趋诗意的城市景观,涂鸦占尽墙面,并重塑了已有的文字景观:“行路石下的海边”,“让想象夺权”,“别换老板了吧,换种生活吧”,以及随处可见的“快”。后者作为当时最醒目的一则标语,体现了彼时的当务之急:抓住当下、把握存于转瞬即逝的当下之内的未来。与其后发生的社会运动比,1968年的五月风暴是一场未被足够拍摄的运动。除新闻摄影和电讯图片外,我们有 Serge Hambourg 的图片收藏,还有大量照片收录于Janine Casevecchie的《镜头下的1968年五月》(MAI 68 en photos, 2008),但这几乎就是全部了,就好像时间之流中潜伏着什么在不断阻止对图像的捕捉。回忆录与相关文献则远比图像丰富,从而成为更充足有力的证词。此番运动生成了海量的文本内容——宣言、手册、海报,有历史学者注意到,当日常生活的结构发生改变,人们的阅读量倒是大大增加了。这些墙上和海报上的标语,令整个城市成为某种文本的景观,宣扬着一种酝酿于当下之中的别样的未来。当时的这种文本景观,截然不同于我们所熟悉的当代公共空间中无处不在的广告、指引标识、警告规诫或法律公告,后者将社会空间变成了一个持续的文本演说场。




针对文字的摄影寄生于一种有趣的现象学状况,即图与文之间长久以来的互控关系。巴西哲学家Vilém Flusser在《摄影的哲学思考》(Towards a Philosophy of Photography)一书中指出,十九世纪摄影术的发明喻示着人类历史的第二次决定性转变,第一次转变是在公元前两千年左右线性书写也就是文字发明的时候。他提到截至十九世纪,人类为“隐藏世界而不再展露世界”的文本书写能力达到了临界点,他称之为“文字崇拜”(textolatry),意指生活成为文本的一种功能。他写道:






纪实摄影对于街头标志、价格标签与广告等东西的利用特别多,并将这些起规范或描述作用的标语带回到它们具体的历史时间中,这是对那种标语内在隐含着的超时空权威性的一个对抗。大多数纳粹德国幽灵般的照片都是对那些管制运动的街道标语、以及犹太人举手投足的记录,以我们今天的眼光来看这些照片,会发现当时这些种族主义与人口排挤的意图如此昭然,而我们当下的种族歧视,虽还存在,已不能像纳粹时代那么赤裸了,法律在今天表面上也不容许种族歧视 (尽管它仍然存在)。在纪实摄影中更为常见的价格数字的出现,也赋予了照片一种暂时性,超越了在时间长河里所抓取的一个瞬间式的存在,并强调了图像的暂时性与文本的暂时性全然处于天壤之别的秩序之中。某种程度上来说,任何一张关于规范和劝诫标语的照片,意味着规则的非永久性和偶然性,或者也可以说是,那张照片将那个标语的存在所想要投射的那个世俗的权威被可预见地短暂化了。




1.Vilém Flusser, 《摄影的哲学思考》(Towards a Philosophy of Photography). 《欧洲摄影》(European Photography)第18期, 1984, pp. 5-62.