Im­ages of peo­ple’s anx­i­ety and hope

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By KELLY CHUNG DAW­SON in New York kdaw­son@chi­nadai­

Yang Fudong’s staged photographs of­ten feel like stills from a film noir, strik­ingly dream­like in the sto­ries they im­ply. In the se­ries Ms Huang at M Last Night, a lovely young woman and her ad­mir­ers are de­picted in black and white in var­i­ous scenes that em­u­late the voyeuris­tic eye of a pa­parazzo.

“Some­times I think that pic­tures are films,” Yang said. “That one ‘pic­ture’ is only one im­age in a larger story. You can look at both photographs and larger films in­de­pen­dently, but for me the most in­ter­est­ing thing is the ex­is­tence of the im­age it­self.”

That se­ries is among an ex­pan­sive ex­hi­bi­tion span­ning 20 years of photographs, video in­stal­la­tions and films now on dis­play at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley Art Mu­seum and Pa­cific Film Ar­chive. Yang Fudong: Es­tranged Par­adise, Works 1993-2013 is the first mid­ca­reer ret­ro­spec­tive for the artist, who first shot to promi­nence with his 2002 film An Es­tranged Par­adise, a med­i­ta­tive psy­chodrama based loosely on the Amer­i­can di­rec­tor Jim Jar­musch’s 1984 film Stranger than Par­adise.

Cu­rated by BAM’s own Philippe Pirotte and Beatrix Ruf of Switzer­land’s Kun­sthalle Zurich, the ex­hi­bi­tion show­cases Yang’s thought­ful ex­plo­ration of themes ev­i­dent in all his work: the in­ter­play be­tween anx­i­ety and in­dif­fer­ence, re­mem­ber­ing and for­get­ting, and a mood of dis­con­tent he be­lieves to be the mark of a rapidly chang­ing so­ci­ety.

“Yang Fudong’s ca­reer spans a pe­riod of change and brings a pow­er­ful artis­tic per­spec­tive to life in China dur­ing this mo­men­tous era,” Pirotte said. “In par­tic­u­lar, Yang’s work ex­presses the as­pi­ra­tions and anx­i­eties of his own gen­er­a­tion, born dur­ing or just af­ter the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion” (196676): un­moored from both tra­di­tional cul­ture as well as the guid­ing prin­ci­ples of Com­mu­nist or­tho­doxy, this gen­er­a­tion has yet to find its bear­ings in a cul­ture that cel­e­brates con­sumerism and ram­pant growth.”

His sub­jects ap­pear against a chang­ing back­drop, un­cer­tain about the fu­ture.

“They tend to be young peo­ple in an old coun­try, young peo­ple who, in other words, em­body a long cul­tural his­tory while their own ex­pe­ri­ence of life is still rel­a­tively fresh,” Rey Chow writes in the ac­com­pa­ny­ing cat­a­logue.

Yang is un­con­cerned with po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy, Pirotte said. His in­ter­pre­ta­tion of avant­garde cul­ture is not pre­sented in con­trast or in con­flict with the state, but in a choice to de­fine art in re­la­tion to so­ci­ety and what he sees as com­mod­ity cul­ture, Pirotte writes.

Yang’s influences are both Western and deeply Chi­nese, born of a love of film noir and Chi­nese cin­ema from the 1930s and ’40s, and still deeply marked by his train­ing as a clas­si­cal Chi­nese painter.

“Tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture and ed­u­ca­tion in­spire and in­flu­ence me a lot,” he said. “I love Chi­nese paint­ings, fea­tures, land­scapes, and ar­chi­tec­ture. Ev­ery­one has his own place to grow-up and res­i­dence to live, and ev­ery­one’s back­ground and ed­u­ca­tion is dif­fer­ent, but a per­son also needs in­de­pen­dent think­ing. Some­times, I con­trast my ideals with my re­al­ity, and my hopes for the fu­ture as a kind of pur­suit of real life.”

Pirotte be­lieves Yang’s work to be re­lat­able to both Chi­nese and Western au­di­ences for the ease with which he ex­plores both tra­di­tions, he said. Yang’s love of film noir will put Amer­i­can view­ers at ease, and his many ref­er­ences to tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­tural land­marks will do the same for Chi­nese visi­tors.

“Yang Fudong sug­gests col­lec­tive modes of sto­ry­telling, and throws the claims of ‘Chi­ne­se­ness’ to­day into a ne­go­ti­ated and shared, open-ended ba­sis of dis­cus­sion,” he said. “His work brings to­gether the ar­chaic and the con­tem­po­rary, con­cil­i­ates doc­u­men­tary and fic­tional aes­thet­ics, and by do­ing so in­vites the au­di­ence to look be­yond ori­en­tal vis­ual dis­play, or ‘Chi­ne­se­ness.’”

Other influences in­clude the Ital­ian film di­rec­tors Fed­erico Fellini and Michelan­gelo An­to­nioni, and the Chi­nese di­rec­tor Fei Mu, he said.

Open through Dec 8, Es­tranged Par­adise also presents the artist’s cin­e­matic influences in a se­ries that spot­lights both his own work and the films that have in­spired him.

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