Sci-fi Art Machines: from writer’s premise to artist’s point of departure 科幻「藝術機器」:藝術家的創作起點

“If… were to become real, what would happen?” 「如果… …發生了,會怎樣呢?」

The ways the arts and the sciences meet are infinite and wide open. Science fiction is one such unique location. Three groups of Hong Kong artists took up the challenge to respond to  and re-imagine three short stories from computer scientist Professor Chang Shi-kuo’s acclaimed sci-fi anthology Nebula Suite (1980); to physicalize Chang’s envisioned machine elements with the desires and anxieties of the 21st century citizen.

科學與藝術的對話的可能性是無盡的,科幻小就是其中的一個特殊的「域」。三組本地藝術家接受了這個挑戰,把張系國的《星雲組曲》(1980)的其中三個科幻願景進行重新想像,尤其把張原作中的科學機械部份物理化,揉合了二十一世紀當代人的欲望與焦慮。

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The raw material of science fiction film is imagination. Imagination is not disorderly thinking or roaming as one likes, nor the convoluted ensemble of a few monsters, robots and some mad scientists… The better sci-fi movies … have a simple skeletal core like this: “if… were to happen, what would we…”
— Chang Shi-kuo: The Journeys of the Fantastic: Ruminations on Sci-fi Movies
Taiwan, 1977

科幻電影的素材是幻想,幻想並不是胡思亂想,胡湊上幾個怪物、機器人、瘋科學家… …。比較好的科幻電影… …一個簡單的公式是這樣:「如果… …發生了,會怎樣呢?」
張系國:「奇幻之旅:科幻電影縱橫談」,洪範 ,1977

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1.
The Dream Machine (2018)
Dream Team L306D (HK)
A response to Chang Shi-kuo’s Dream Snippers:

If a telepathic machine were to become possible in the form of a mass subscribable Dream Television service in individual homes, what would we be dreaming about?
心靈感應式的「夢幻天視」發明以後,會怎麼樣呢?我們會作著怎樣的夢?
素材:《星雲組曲》之「剪夢奇緣」

2.
i n / i n+1 | Untitled (Mind Cut) (2018)
TUNG Wing-hong (HK)
A response to Chang Shi-kuo’s Fountain of Youth:

If reincarnation were to become a practical reality, what would we do?
如果「轉世」真的成了可行的現實,我們會怎樣呢?素材:《星雲組曲》之「青春泉」

3.
C.sublimus 崇高隱桿智慧透明蟲 (2018)
Angela SU, Kenny WONG, Cedric Maridet
A response to Chang Shi-kuo’s How could that have been possible?:
If artificial art experiments were to succeed altogether, what would we do with them?
如果人造生命實驗成功,人造生命成了可行的實現,我們會怎麼樣呢?
– 素材:《星雲組曲》之「豈有此理」

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The Restrictive Frame of Realism 
– Leo Lee (LEE Ou-fan) on Chang Shi-kuo’s science fiction

Science fiction in modern Chinese literature can be considered a gem. Good sci-fi is almost non-existent. … For a long time, only realist works were considered fine literature. So what about (the place of) imagination, or, to dream and fantasize? Before “the dream snipper” was invented (Chang Shi-kuo’s “Dream Snipper”), everyone was supposed to be able to dream and to fantasize; and that is certainly the case for writers. … Yet there was barely any work in modern Chinese literature that honoured, and was charged with, the power of imagination. Let’s set aside for now two well known Chinese classics, The Peach Blossom Spring and Flowers and the Mirror. Since the late Qing Dynasty, most fantasy fictions are one way or another caught up with being “social” and “realist” … from May Fourth writer Liang Qichao’s xin zhongguo weilai [the future of new China], Chen Yuanhua’s shizi kao [the lion’s roar], to Lao She’s Cat County [1932] and Shen Congwen’s Alice’s Journey to China [1929]. Liang and Chen’s are both political novels, a critique of China after turning into a republic and being modernized. Lao She and Shen’s accounts are social irony: several weird characters draw out the extravagance and hypocrisy in Chinese society. From a literary point of view, none of these works qualifies for real sci-fi as the element of imagination is minimal. …

In Chang’s anthology, on the one hand he expresses his vision for a new Chinese society and its political ideals and, on the other, he stands for a kind of breakthrough. He shed the shackles of realism, roams through the four seas as his mind and spirit takes him, and that includes the ocean bed, weaving a boundless world (which includes new constellations) for his readers.

I still think Chang, after all, belongs to the traditional school that upholds “writings to convey truth” (or the moral-lesson tradition 文以載道派) and yet he is not the same as those in the “trap-machine school” (機關布景派) who often equate sci-fi with traps and strange scenic backdrops.

Source: Leo Lee (LEE Ou-fan) Preface to the 1980 version of Nebula Suite

寫實的框框

李鷗梵張系國的科幻小

… …在中國現代文學中,科幻小是「珍品」,好的科幻小,實在無僅有。… …長此以往,似乎只有寫實的作品才是好作品。那麼,幻想呢?在沒有發明「夢幻天視」之前(見集中「剪夢奇緣」一文),人還是應該有夢的,有幻想的,作家更應該有幻想。… …而中國現代文學中真正富於幻想的作品實在太少了。且不談古典文學中的「桃花源記」和「鏡花緣」,晚清以來,大多數的幻想小 – 從梁超的「新中國未來記」、陳元華的「獅子吼」、到老舍的「貓城記」和沈從文的「阿麗思中國遊記」,都逃不了「社會」和「寫實」這個框框。「新中國」和「獅子吼」都是政治小,寫的是未來的中國 – 成了共和政體,現代化以後的中國;「貓城記」和「阿麗思」卻是社會諷刺,用幾個怪角色來襯托中國社會的浮跨和虛偽,就文學的立場而論,這兩本小都不算是真正的科幻小,因為中的幻想的成份太少了… …
張系國的這一個集子,一方面表現了他自己的社會政治理想和對將來中國的憧憬,另一方面卻也代表一種突破 – 他從寫實的框框掙出來,使神思遨遊四海(包括海底),真是帶給讀者不少新世界(和新的星系)… … … …

我覺得張系國仍舊屬於科幻小中的「文以載道派」,這一派作家,與「機關佈景派」的科幻作家不同… …

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Sci-fi, a Chinese Treasure, from Utopian Narratives to Engagement with the Sciences
a short review by Linda Lai

One aspect of science fiction (sci-fi) might be defined as speculative fiction dealing with imaginative concepts such as advanced science and technology. While the degree of how rigorous, prescient or fanciful the treatment of scientific principles may be presented varies from work to work, sci-fi is always future-oriented, turning faith in and doubts about the sciences into concrete everyday situations, inherently imbricated with how one walks, eats, talks, dreams, and relates to others. In other words,  the experience of ordinary life, but a future ordinary that might contain extra-terrestrial encounters, space and time travel, and an array of new technologies.

Song Mingwei points out three popular boom periods for science fiction in China: 1902-1911 (late Qing); 1978-1982 (China’s economic open door policy); and the beginning of the 21st century. In the 1950s, science fiction was considered a children’s genre, translated as “science fantasy fiction” after Russian influence. Soon after its second boom in 1978-1982, sci-fi was officially denigrated as a source of spiritual pollution, with the exception of Kexue wenyi (science literature), which was written by scientists and often involved scientists as the main protagonists. Throughout the turbulent road sci-fi has traveled, the genre remains an engine of “reflections on China’s recent past and the representation of hope for change.” (Song, 8)

Despite the predominant presence of realist fiction, science fiction in China was one of the most popular fictional genres in the late Qing, according to contemporary scholar Liang Qichao. As Leo Lee points out, later in the May Fourth era, Liang Qichao and his contemporaries used the sci-fi genre for utopian narratives, projecting their political desire for a future China as well as critiquing China’s reform. In such a context, a technologically advanced world is the guise for precarious idealism (Song, 7). Thus we see the protagonist of New Story of the Stone (1908, Wu Jianren), Jia Baoyu, in a submarine adventure and airborne safari, which invokes Jules Verne’s works, then a key influence on Chinese imagination.

Chinese language sci fi is not only prevalent in mainland China. It is also a genre strongly represented in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia. In Taiwan, from 1945 onwards, post World War II, a policy of rapid sinification, in combination with an influx of mainland intellectuals, spurred the development of Chinese-language literature in Taiwan and along with it, science fiction. Although the first ever known sci-fi in Taiwan dated back to the 1920s, a work with a title meaning “strange encounters of an adventurous voyage to Mars”〈火星界探險奇聞〉by poet and traditional painter Zheng Kunwu 鄭坤五 around the time when the Taiwan Cultural Association (臺灣文化協會) was founded, it has boomed since the 1980s. In this exhibition Algorithmic Art: Shuffling Space & Time, that late 1980s boom from Taiwan is inserted via the lasting influence of Chang shi-kuo’s classic Nebula Suite.

References

Volka Dehs, “Introduction,” in Jules Verne (1897), The Self-Propelled Island, University of Nebraska Press, 2015. ix.

Leo Lee, Preface” in Chang Shi-kuo’s Nebula Suite, Taiwan, 1980

Song, Mingwei, “After 1989: the New Wave of Chinese Science Fiction,” Special feature (Utopian/Dystopian Fiction in Contemporary China) in China Perspectives, 2015/1, 2015, 7-13.

the-inverted-city.png
Chang Shi-kuo’s short story “The Inverted City”