Untitled (Collecting and Dropping)

Untitled (Collecting and Dropping) No.52
Untitled (Collecting and Dropping) No.1

Helen Couchman’s Untitled (Collecting and Dropping) is comprised of 245 photographic prints arranged in a strict narrative sequence. Couchman is seen in these works first of all adding a series of abstract shapes to the front of a large, initially pristine fan, going on to dissemble the object even as she decorates its surface. Positioned behind this ancient symbolic form, naked and ostensibly vulnerable, the artist deploys the device both as a surface on which to construct a composition, and as a kind of shield.

The fan, clearly displaying its own fragility as it dissolves into tears and tatters becomes both an aid to artistic expression and a line of protection, a sleek, adaptable construction behind which the artist can conceal her identity and nakedness.

Even when the fan, after myriad compositional shifts, becomes severely worn most of Couchman’s body, and certainly her facial features remain, for the most part unseen, imparting to this closely recorded performance a sense of ingenuity, daring, and wit. As the poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–1898) remarked in his poem Fan*:

With nothing that speaks
But strokes in the air
The verse to be breaks
From its most choice lair

Couchman’s deracinated fan, like that of Mallarmé, makes of a few tatty fragments of wood, colour and paper (albeit manipulated by a nimble body) a concise yet simultaneously expansive aesthetic object, a teasing assertion of presence, absence and its various transformatory forms.

Untitled (Collecting and Dropping) like the fan around which the piece revolves, is an open work, touching upon a range of overlapping issues and ideas. It raises thoughts about the artist’s relation (as a citizen of the UK residing in China) to tourism, to observation and to being, in turn, herself observed. It also raises thoughts about the inevitably esoteric codes of a foreign culture in which one finds oneself still a stranger, an outsider, no matter how long one stays.


*Mallarmé S, The Poems, translated and introduced by Keith Bosley, Penguin, 1977, p. 139

Helen Couchman于2007年至2009年创作的作品《无题(收集与丢弃)》,是由245张照片印相以严格的叙事顺序排列而成的。在这个系列中,我们可以看到Couchman本人。她首先是在一个素面大扇子的正面添加一连串抽象图形,然后一边装饰扇子的表面,一边又将其拆分。艺术家以裸体出现,用一种表面上易受伤害的形态,将自己置于这个古老象征形式的背后;她调整着这一装置的位置,使这面扇子既是一个能够构图作画的表面,又是一种保护盾。而这面逐渐被撕碎的扇子又清晰地显现出它本身的脆弱性,这面扇子不仅有助于艺术表达,还成为隐藏艺术家身份及裸体的一条防护线,是一个圆滑且适应力强的结构。作为一位旅居中国的英国人,这一作品所引发的思考涉及到艺术家与旅游、观察以及存在之间的关系,而她本人在这个作品中也成为被观察的对象。作品同时还引发了对外国文化中不可避免地各种深奥代码的思考,一个身处异国文化中的人,无论停留多久,都觉得自己还是一个陌生人、局外人。