(原文刊於 Obscura Magazine 2017 年 6 月 6 日)
藝術家Morgan Wong 決定用畢生時間去把鐵柱磨成針。
如何看見時間的流逝？四季轉移、花開花落、陰晴圓缺。事物的變遷見證時間流逝 ，逝去的時光不可挽 —— 老調卻真實。Morgan 的作品試圖去表達挽回逝去的徒勞。2011 年在赴英國留學前，Morgan 受鐵杵磨針的故事啓發，這成就了他一件畢生的行為創作。詩人李白少時不願讀書，一天蹺課跑到河邊玩耍，看見老婦正在將鐵杵磨成針，李白認為這事不可能，然老婦回答：「功到自然成耳」，用功便可達成。故事談做事要有恆心，而恆心需經時間驗證。
初時不知如何是好，獨對鐵柱，經過兩天的思考沉澱，典故成為了行為創作。Morgan 在一間畫廊內以行為藝術形式，在參觀人士面前把鐵柱磨成針。從公開表演到後來成為了個人修行鍛鍊，Morgan 後來更把過程中產生的鐵粉放進玻璃管中，是一個時間囊，也是藝術家留著逝去時間的一種方式。要將一支跟自己身高體重一樣的鐵柱磨成針，那可能要以畢生時間去完成，甚至窮一生也未能完成。Morgan希望從當中感受時間，雖然明知要挽回逝去的徒勞，鐵粉也不可能復原成鐵柱。
Morgan Wong, an artist, decided to devote his whole life to grinding an iron rod into a needle.
How can we see the passage of time? Changing seasons, flowers blooming and withering away, the moon waxing and waning, being dim or bright. Changing things bear witness to the passage of time, but forgone times cannot be redeemed — the same old tune but true nonetheless. Morgan’s work attempts to express the futility in reclaiming lost time. In 2011, before pursuing his studies abroad in England, Morgan was inspired by the story about an old lady grinding an iron rod into a needle, and this prompted him to create a lifelong performance art piece. When Li Bai, a Chinese poet, was little, he was not interested in studying. One day, he skipped classes and went to play by the riverside, and there he saw an elderly woman trying to grind an iron rod into a needle. Li thought that it was impossible, but the woman replied, “Constant effort yields sure success.” The story is about perseverance, and it takes time for it to bear fruit.
Morgan bought an iron pole as tall and heavy as his own self and brought it back to his studio.
At first, at a loss of what to do with it, he just spent time alone with the iron rod. After two days of deep thinking, he moved on to turn a classical story into performance art. In an art gallery, Morgan chose to use the form of performance art in grinding a iron rod into a needle. What began as a public performance turned eventually into a personal training. Later on, Morgan put all the iron powder generated in the process into a glass tube. It is at once a time capsule and a way in which an artist attempts to retain the passage of time. For grinding an iron rod as tall and heavy as his own self into a needle, it might take his whole life to complete, or perhaps it might not even be sufficient. From this experience, Morgan hopes to be able to feel time itself, even though he knows fully well that it is futile to redeem lost time, and that iron powder cannot be restored into an iron pole.
However, is once lost is lost forever? Does history go only in one direction, without returning? Can bygones times never be restored?
The contemplation about time in Morgan’s piece reminds one of the poem by T.S. Eliot titled Four Quartets. Poems provide hints that surpass the passage of time.
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
— Burnt Norton, Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot
In the poem, past, present and future do not form a linear line. The past can exist in the present, and the future is the total sum of the past and present. Traces of passing years on your face; abandoned buildings; persons and things forgotten but reappearing in your dreams. Between consciousness and subconsciousness, the past has always been with us. Time cannot, and needs not be redeemed.
Image courtesy of Morgan Wong; Tintype Gallery