On the Paintings of Pan Huiting —
ou, une réflexion sur l’art …
Ce n’étaient que des réflexions sur l’art, faciles à reconstituer,
tandis qu’un manuscrit ne saurait l’être
— Maurice Blanchot
Quite possibly one of the more enigmatic lines
from a text that is always already an enigma.
Not because L’instant de ma mort attempts to hide anything — in fact, one could say it tells, that the tale shows, everything — but that every attempt to testify, to bear witness to, is always also haunted by what remains, by what is left behind, even kept out; even if the remainder is within.
Where every testimony is perhaps also
un pas au-delà.
Where in asking a work, a painting, what (s)he is attempting to say, all one can do is attempt to listen to, try to respond alongside, her response — or, to be more precise, its response — which is always already a response even as it, even as (s)he — bringing with it the impossibility of attributing not just a gender, but a referent to the object one is attempting to speak of, react to, respond with — even as it, might be responding in ways that remain beyond one, could well be offering a response to which one remains deaf.
For, even as one is opening oneself to the work, to the call of the work, it is never quite possible to tell, to distinguish, if one is listening to its call, to what one thinks is its call — to a sound that one thinks is calling one, calling out to one, for one — or merely hearing voices in one’s head.
Pan Huiting, Yam On Ring, oil on canvas, 2017
Vous lui demandez comment elle sait.
Elle dit qu’elle sait.
Elle dit qu’on le sait sans savoir comment on le sait …
— Marguerite Duras
Particularly if what is in the work — if the work itself — appeals to one, always already calls out to one. And, perhaps more importantly, draws one in beyond the very frame, draws one out of the confines, artifice — the craft, crafting, tekhnē — that is a work of art, that is required to bring forth the work that is potentially art.
Doubly so if the first call to look at a work, at a series of works, at a series which might well make up a work — can one call it a primordial call, a call before the call (after all, I was ready to say yes even before hearing what the call was about, was for) — if that very call itself, comes from a dear friend.
Which is not to say that this was not already a risk;
not so much for the work itself (it is not as if one can be objective, or say anything that might actually do anything to a work, unless one were deluded), but in the inherent risk that is in friendship; the risk that is friendship itself.
For, as Jacques Derrida tries to never let us forget, « to have a friend, to look at him, to follow him with your eyes, to admire him in friendship, is to know in a more intense way, already injured, always insistent, and more and more unforgettable, that one of the two of you will inevitably see the other die. One of us, each says to himself, the day will come when one of the two of us will see himself no longer seeing the other ».
And, even as Plato insists — through his teacher, his friend, Socrates — that philia is rational, is reasoned, might well even be rationed out, one must bear in mind the fact that one doesn’t decide to become friends; friendship comes upon one, quite often takes hold of one. And thus, at the moment of becoming friends, one is never quite certain, can never be sure, if it is philia, eros, or even agape. And here, one should try not to forget that, to make his case, Plato has to commit the most egregious of crimes against Socrates, the very one that his friend, his teacher, warns about: prosopopoeia.
Which is not just a rhetorical crime, certainly not only a theoretical one (in the form of what is shown, staged, thea), but a crime against friendship — not merely because Plato had betrayed his friend’s teachings, his teacher’s friendship, but that he has spoken over Socrates — speaking as Socrates such that Socrates is silenced, no longer needed, no longer even there.
Where there might as well be no longer a Socrates.
Where perhaps the risk I am running is that in attempting to respond to her paintings, I may not only be speaking over them, but that precisely in the attempt, in my attempts, to listen to them, the one who I efface might well be Pan Huiting herself.
Where the risk lies precisely in the fact that Roland Barthes might have been right: that the author is indeed dead.
Pan Huiting, Paella, detail, oil on canvas, 2016.
La suspension du judgement est difficile et très artificielle, c’est un exercice épuisant, car ce qui risque de venir alors à la rencontre du sujet est hétérogène à sa nature. Non soluble dans son identité, lui venant du bord non familier, non apprivoisé du réel. Ce dont la névrose ordinaire a en horreur, elle dont le mouvement principal consiste toujours à ramener l’inconnu vers le connu, à n’importe quel prix. La philosophie, parce qu’elle est par essence le premier espace du questionnement, est un art au suspens.
— Anne Dufourmantelle
We drink to slip into our own skin — be it alcohol, caffeine, or water — when we drink; we seek to become more of ourselves, to modify and alter our chemistry; it is an act of solvency, to absolve, to solve, to find a solution. We drink to dilute and concentrate in response to the world around us.
— Sara Chong
Le désir c’est la connaissance différée,
mais rendue visible déjà dans l’impatience du suspens où elle se tient.
— Michel Foucault
Pan Huiting, Satay, oil on canvas, 2017.
Which does not mean that one can ever quite do away with the one who inscribes, the one who stains the canvas. For even if one knows not from whom the work comes — from, and with, whose hands these markings come through — one also knows, cannot but know, that automatic writing is but a pipe dream. That the work — and the frame in which in the work is housed, is momentarily held — is both the haunt of the one who makes it, and is always already haunted by the author; even if (s)he is quite possibly also an impossible auctor. For, the notion of origins, of the original, can never rest easy, is constantly troubled by the fact that one must draw, sketch, paint, something; that there is something from which the work is derived, even if it is from one’s own mind, one’s imagination.
That perhaps the moment of creation, of bringing forth, is but that: a moment — a question of time itself.
Which might well be why the question of the relationship between art and time is ever-present: for, when one speaks of art, the echo of timelessness is never far from it; at the same time, no work can exist outside of time, outside of its time. Perhaps then, at the point where a work becomes art, at the moment when a work is recognised as art, it is both in and outside of time — or perhaps even, it is with its own time.
Which might be why, for something to be considered a work of art it has to stand the test of time: it has to be contemporary; even if it is always from before the time it is seen, and also seen too soon, is ahead of the time in which it is seen, is ahead of its time. For, a work of art always already draws from what comes before; echoes memories of works past, works inscribed in, onto, into, it; harkens to, resounds with a line, a genealogy, of works it is a part of — and, at the same time, breaks with these works, strikes out on its own; stands apart from its lineage, is unfamiliar to the ones before, is perhaps even unrecognisable, sui generis, a stranger, or even just strange.
Thus, in the encounter between one and a work of art, what one is seeing is the time of the work itself — the time of the work being nothing other than art.
Which is not to say that it is a separate time:
of course not.
Nor a mystical, divine, time:
at least not necessarily so.
But that it is the same time that is not the same.
Pan Huiting, Quinacridone Magenta Ripple, oil paint on plinth, 2018.
Vous découvrez qu’elle est bâtie de telle sorte qu’à tout moment, dirait-on, sur son seul désir, son corps pourrait cesser de vivre, se répandre autour d’elle, disparaître à vos yeux, et que c’est dans cette menace qu’elle dort, qu’elle s’expose à être vue par vous.
— Marguerite Duras
Which also — quite possibly — means that, until one looks at a work, it might well be slumbering, awakened only by one’s glance. Where one’s look could quite possibly be the very encounter that potentially gives rise to art itself.
That the painting itself is dormant, est en dormir, and is only aroused — is only seen as a painting — at the moment when one looks; at the moment when seeing turns to looking.
Bringing with it all the risks of being seen.
For, one should not forget that to be seen is to be witnessed —
and that the testimony of the one who sees is her, is his, very own: a testimony which might have naught to do with one, which might well be a test on one, a test for one, which might well always be testing one. And it is not as if one can bring in other witnesses, other testimonies to acquit oneself: for one, one’s work, is not seen by you all (vous) but by you and you alone (tu). Thus, each testimony can do nothing but bear witness to itself, testify to its moment of seeing, to itself as testimony.
Perhaps then, when one paints,
all one can say is that one paints.
Which is not to say that there is no responsibility in painting —
for, what is to paint but to attempt a response. As John Banville teaches us, « trying to be a painter did teach me to look at the world in a very particular way — looking very closely at things, at colors, at how things form themselves in space — and I’ve always been grateful for that. You have all this space, and you have a figure: what do you do with it? And in a way that’s what all art is. How do we find a place for our creatures, or inventions, in this incoherent space into which we’re thrown? » Perhaps then, the responsibility that is in painting is not to another who sees, certainly not to the world, not even to the one who paints, but to painting itself, to the very act of seeing, looking, to staining a surface.
And, here, we should open our receptors to the fact that Banville is one of Huiting’s favourite writers, that his writing is one that she loves; keeping in mind that the register of love is never far apart from a work of art; that one only attempts to « find a place for our creatures, or inventions, » tends to look « very closely at things, at colors, at how things form themselves in space », when one cares about, cares for — has a love for — the very thing(s) that one is responding to. For, in order to even begin to respond, one has to first open oneself to the possibility of it.
Along with all the risks this entails.
can break your heart
— Neil Young
Not just to oneself, but to the fact that being in love with the very thing that one is attempting to respond to might well lead one away, astray, from the response, the ability to response, from responsibility itself.
That, as Joy Division might say:
love, love will tear us apart …
Pan Huiting, Dim Sum, detail, oil on canvas, 2016.
In my practice, I investigate how oil paint signifies with its corporeality, constituting a reality wholly unto itself with its bodily presence, what I term, “corpo-reality.” The gustatory way in which the paint is applied means that my works cannot be understood in a detached, purely visual way, but the ingestiveness of the viewing experience must also be accounted for. My paintings provide a bridge for which an alternative viewing experience, one that is reconstructed viscerally, becomes possible. Traditional boundaries separating viewer and object are stripped away, allowing for a more intimate viewing experience that is felt directly in the viewer’s body.
— Pan Huiting
Peut-être que l’amour — ou la mort —
nous ferait dériver vers la mer
Where perhaps, the question of the drift (la dérive) is what remains with us.
Alongside that of: from — and to — what?
For, to drift implies a certain direction that one was headed from, heading to, headed for; without these indications, markers, points in relation with each other, one would just be moving.
Can one know — intend — one’s drift?
Certainly a stunt driver would say so. But even as (s)he is starting her slide, all that (s)he can know is that she is setting the car, herself, the car with herself in it, in motion: after which, the drift itself takes over. After which, all (s)he can do is attend to it.
At the point of the drift: both (s)he and the car are drifting —
here, one might not even be able to separate the movement from those involved in it. Without either of them, there would not be a drift; for, there is no drifting without the drifter.
Where, both the drifter and the drifting are in a relationship;
in which, all that they can know is that they are in-relation-with each other.
Hence, the drift itself is a relation.
And even as we might posit that the drift we are speaking of is a relation, a movement, of love — or of death — to the sea, it is not as if one can know, at least with any certainty, what love or death are. But, it is not as if we cannot speak of it. Perhaps though, we can only speak of it as if we can speak of it. Always already an imaginary gesture — where what is being imagined is the relationship between the drift and the ones drifting.
Perhaps then, what are we drifting from, or to?, is a moot question.
As is, what is drifting?
Perhaps then, all we can say is drift.
Where, to speak of drift is an attempt to, is to attempt to, speak of the unspeakable.
Not that what is speakable and what is unspeakable are antonyms: if that were so, speaking the unspeakable would make no sense, be a contradiction. But that in every act of speaking, something unspeakable is potentially said: something that opens, ruptures, wounds even. And not just that — at the point where it punctures, speaking itself moves out of the way for the unspeakable; speaking itself disappears.
… the whole art is to know how to disappear before dying,
and instead of dying.
— Jean Baudrillard
or, to drift out of sight.
Where the words themselves slip away.
For, as Jean Baudrillard inscribes, « in the Beginning was the Word. It was only afterwards that Silence came. » Where perhaps, and maybe, the wish, the hope, is that « the end itself has disappeared … »
Remaining hidden from us.
Perhaps only glimpsed when we dream.
… aye, there’s the rub …
And, once the register of dreams, of dreaming, is opened, the temptation is to slide towards meaning, to attempt to know what it means. Which, in itself, may not be a problem, an issue, but if we are to attempt to flow with the drift, then perhaps it is not depth we are looking for but, instead, it is the traces on the surface that we should follow.
Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things,
is the proper aim of Art
— Oscar Wilde
Perhaps then, what lies behind the painting is — a not-quite-wrong but is at least — a banal question. For, we should try to remember that the marks of paint, the staining by the oils on canvas, the strokes made, the layers brought forth, by Huiting’s hands, remain solely on the surface, lie right before our eyes.
Perhaps then, what lies does the painting tell?,
might be the more interesting one:
oh, such beautiful lies.
Pan Huiting, Soon Hock, oil on canvas, 2017.
For here, we should try not to forget that what is painted does not first have to exist — unlike say with photography. Which, as Hubertus von Amelunxen teaches us, might well be the tragedy of the photographic object, the object that is photographed: that « one is photographable, ‘photogenic’, and this is perhaps the catastrophe, that one can be photographable, that one can be captured and caught in time … » That in order to preserve its writing — the writing of light — the object has to be consigned into the shadows of time.
Whereas, painting might well be a writing of writing — a staining which marks that it is marking — a darkening as it were; which then releases, frees, the very object on which it is remarking.
At any rate, removing meaning brings out the essential point:
namely, that the image is more important than what it speaks about —
just as language is more important than what it signifies.
But it must also remain alien to itself in some way.
Not reflect (on) itself as a medium, not take itself for an image.
It must remain a fiction, a fable
and hence echo the irresolvable fiction of the event.
— Jean Baudrillard
Where painting might well be — as my dear friend, Stephanie Ye, might say — in a slanty relationship between the object and what is being depicted, being objectified even. And in that very tangential relationality, in that very swerve — clinamen — what is liberated, est en vie, is the very object itself.
In which one can only look upon the marks that are made — remark upon the marks, as it were — but where nothing can be said about the object; where it is not so much that there is no object to the painting, but that the stains have naught to do with the object.
Where all we have in front of us is the image —
made by the stains.
Thus, to speak of the meaning of a painting — which would require a correspondence between what is in paint and the world — would be nothing short of absurd.
History is not interesting —
what is interesting is the anecdote.
— Karl Lagerfeld
For, one should keep in mind that each response, each attempt at a response, is a relation — thus, always already both a connection and a standing apart; without which there would not be the space needed to connect, to make a connection, in the first place.
Which also means that the response might well have naught to do with whatever it is attempting to respond with; that there is the possibility of a non-response within, alongside, the response; that perhaps the very condition of this response is a certain inability to respond — irresponsibility — itself.
For, as Jacques Derrida try to never let us forget:
« the testimonial act is poetic or it is not ».
Thus, not only incomparable, unaccountable, unverifiable — where, « it », as Derrida testifies, « must invent its language and form itself in an incommensurable performative » — but, perhaps more importantly, every testimony, chaque histoire, quite possibly only speaks to, converses with, itself. All whilst bearing in mind — for this should be a burden on one — Jean Baudrillard’s reminder that « the poem lacks nothing: any commentary makes it worse. Not only does it lack nothing, but it makes any other discourse look superfluous ».
Which means that — allowing the irony of alluding to meaning to resound here — the only possible response to the testimony, her testimony, the testifying marks that Huiting makes on the canvas, on her canvasses, is to response to, is to respond alongside, the stains, her stains, with a testimony, my testimony, my story.
Colouring (pingah, ‘reddish’; from the Sanskrit) it with my own adornments (pesalah, ‘decorated’; from the Sanskrit), as I attempt to write (piesiu, ‘to write’; from the Lithuanian), in response to, as a response alongside, Huiting’s painting (peint, ‘to paint’; from the French), to the marks of her paint.
Thus, whatever my response is, all that I say, whatever I write, and have written, has nothing to do with anything, cannot be backed up by anything; is abgrund, is based — and a baseless-base at that — on a whim, or if you prefer, taste.
Even if I take care not to go on a spree,
not to paint the town red, as it were.
Which does not mean that there is nothing at stake.
For, it is not just that there is une physiologie du goût, but that every taste, every tasting, brings about, brings on, a physiological reaction, has an effect on one’s body.
For, each time one paints, there is also a possibility that a cut (primsati, ‘hews out’; from the Sanskrit) is made — just as each act of writing (l’écriture) might well bring with it a cry (un cri); that — as Nietzsche teaches us — to write (schreiben) might well be an attempt to utter a scream (ein schrei).
Which might bring us back to the very beginning —
to the testimony of, the markings made by, Maurice Blanchot.
Keeping in mind that the very opening — my opening gambit — by Blanchot was him speaking through another, through the testimony of another, through Malraux (probably André, but this remains — at best — a guess). Perhaps then, not only committing the crime of Plato — a crime of friendship, a crime as an, in an, act of friendship to a friend — but, more importantly, that the only witness to the absence of the manuscript is a reflection on art; a reflection, perhaps even my reflection, on what might well be another manuscript.
But, a manuscript in which my hand (manus) is never quite seen,
in which my hands are always already absent.
Perhaps then, not quite words on the paintings of Pan Huiting,
on the marks made by her hand.
Both as a note (une remarque) and also as a return — a second — mark.
Or, quite possibly nothing more than …
About the Authors:
Jeremy Fernando reads, and writes; and is the Jean Baudrillard Fellow at The European Graduate School. He works in the intersections of literature, philosophy, and the media; and his, more than twenty, books include Reading Blindly, Living with Art, Writing Death, in fidelity, and resisting art. His writing has also been featured in magazines and journals such as Arte al Límite, Berfrois, CTheory, Full Bleed, Qui Parle, TimeOut, and VICE, amongst others; and has been translated into French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Serbian. Exploring other media has led him to film, music, and the visual arts; and his work has been exhibited in Seoul, Vienna, Hong Kong, and Singapore. He has been invited to perform a reading at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin in September 2016; and in November 2018, to deliver a series of performance-talks at the 4th edition of the Bienal de la Imagen en Movimiento in Buenos Aires. He is the general editor of both Delere Press and the thematic magazine One Imperative; and is a Lecturer & Fellow of Tembusu College at The National University of Singapore.
Pan Huiting is an artist and is based in Singapore. She received her BFA and her MA in English Literature from the Nanyang Technological University, and her MRes in Fine Art from the Royal College of Art in London. Some of her works can be found here: https://www.panhuiting.com/