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Yang Fudong: Dream–Like Reality

Author: Harada Yukiko 2006

Although many people take Yang Fudong to be an emerging shanghai artist, in reality he was born in Beijing. after graduation from the Hangzhou Academy of fine arts in 1995, he moved to shanghai, where he first embarked on his career an artist.

New wave out of shanghai

Together with other shanghai-based artists such as Xu Zhen and Yang Zhenzhong, Yang Fudong has been organizing and staging various art events since the mid -90s. The styles popular at the time were political pop, Cynical Realism and Gaudy Art, all of which incorporated symbols of Chinese ideology into contemporary art. And it is precisely for this reason that this exotically flavored contemporary art caught the eye of novelty-seeking western galleries and second -and-third-rate muse-ums, and created a sensation. The sensation, however, reflected the Western preoccupation with certain ideological questions more than it did questions about the art itself. meanwhile many Chinese artist were spellbound by the cheap and easy success, and began, one after the other, to throw themselves into the production of a torrent of similarly "exotic" works. it was against this backdrop that Yang Fudong appeared on the art scene.

For away from Beijing, the political, cultural and artist center, Yang Fudong and the aforementioned artists went about making their art in shanghai, a place more on the fringes of the art world at the time. in one respect, they were influenced by the then emerging new median art (these new median artistes resisted the "production "and other nontraditional forms of art that were impossible to retail). In another respect, the period in which they began their work was a time when marketization was sweeping shanghai. Their works explored the way ordinary everyday life was being changed profoundly by abstract ideology. All of this distanced them further from the artists of the past.

Yang Zhendong. Xu zhen and Yang Fudong first attracted national attention with their Art for sale exhibition in 1999. For this they asked each artist to produce works that would supply the audience with something to purchase, and in this way turned the exhibition overturned the conventional practices of Chinese contemporary art exhibitions.

In 2000, the three young arties organized an exhibition called Expiration Date, where they succeeded in displaying art that was radically different from Chinese contemporary art to date. Their attention to everyday life, the body and visual language itself, gave the exhibition an all new appearance. Yang Zhenzhong focused on the adaptation of regularities of everyday life, and Xu Zhen on corporeality Yang Fudong, in contrast, explored visual language and the possibilities of narrativity. Because they challenged the tendency in Chinese conceptualize, these approaches drew attention, Yang Fudong's The Moon Tonight interwove the traditional delights of the Southern(South of the Yangtze, that is ) literati with modern life, thereby offering an interpretation of the psychological significance of the urbanization process.

A penchant for film

In terms of subject matter, Yang Fudong's work has consistently followed two directions. One focuses on the cities in which he has live :shanghai and Hangzhou.

The "white –collar" world and the small-time intellectuals of the modern metropolis are a newly emerged social strata in Chinese society, as well as the subject matter of Yang Fudong's works since he moved to Shanghai. His early City Lights also uses romantic techniques to present the "sexual fantasies" and "daydreams" of this city's bustling "white-collar" workers. As a metropolis rife with ambition. Shanghai continues to expand, not only economically, but also culturally. The white-collar worker is a driving force of that development and expansion, as well as a consequence of it. These dynamic postures of young people, full of ambition, are very unnatural. and their empty gazes betray their deadly feebleness.

The lives of city people-Yang Fudong's works are like a caricature that does not distort, and his ability to make use of the actors' dress and relevant opposing symbols give rise to an element of humor. Simultaneously, an illusive dream-like feeling is an important constituent element in Yang Fudong's work. Virtually all of his works express the dreams and illusions of city people. This dream-like state performs the function of making even reality appear illusory.

Stealing South (2002) also expressed the dreams of the migrant laborers on the low end of Shanghai society and those of white-collar youth as well. Over the course of many years, Yang Fudong's penchant for the classical sensibility and visual narrativity developed to the extreme. At the 2002 Shanghai Biennale, he exhibited a video installation titled Flutter Flutter Jasmine Jasmine. Jasmine. On three screens, three different "tones", that of a man, a woman and an on looker, depict the same love: three visual texts broadcast in the same space simultaneously, forming at times a connection and at other times an oppositional narrative connection.

Unlike many of the Chinese artists working with video image, Yang Fudong is especially partial to the image quality of movie film stock. The particular grainy of the medium gives his works a distinct difference, in terms of digital video images, thereby revealing a kind of classical sensibility.

And it is this classical sensibility that achieves another direction, namely, the "sentiment of the petit literati". This sentiment emerged from the ancient Chinese teaditions of Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinece, where painting and poetry consistently possess a courteous and restrained, desolate beauty, lacking a sebce of movement but still replete with the feeling of wordly comprehension. This style of literati sentiment once dominated Chinese culture, but at the start of the 20th century, was gradually abandoned by political and cultural revolutionaries. Yang Fudong, conversely, attempts through this petit literati sensibility to get a fix on the anthentic psyche of the contemporary urban person, thus forming an investigation of the individual character. According to his perspective, regardless of whether in contemporary art or in the rapidly changing reality, these qualities are all important and have been neglected. Yang Fudong ‘s works are not an attempt to rehabilitate this literati sensibility, as much as use the external shell of a traditional mentality to repackage the realities of contemporary life. So in his film and photography the main characters are always procative, but they are also ceaselessly gushing with a "world weariness" from deep inside. This is the inner meaning of this body of his films; it is also the ailment of the century in rapidly urbanizing China.

From white collar to petit literati

In this early work, Estranged Paradise, reality, scenery and mood were combined in the midest of a contemporary setting. The film was completed in 1997, but it was not until 2002 that it was re-edited and exhibited at Documenta XI. A calendar-like tableau of 70s scenery present the love, joy, life and hurts of city youth. The film begins with a five-minute sequence of traditional Chinese painting, and the stories from their innocent and hurt-filled lives. The entire film is permeated with the "petit literati sensibility" that Yang Fudong painstakingly created, a kind of emotive, elegant or casual style of film. Filming in black and white draws the audience into a world that stands at a distance from reality. The "estranged paradise" has three pools of water reflecting the moon, with a willowed place by the moon, with a willowed place by the banks to watch fish swim, yet it is no longer the Hangzhou of the Song Dynasty nostalgia. It has been endowed once again with a kind of beauty, but the power of this kind of beauty seems to be only in the past, maybe yesterday, or maybe a time much further still.

This kind of visually extreme aesthetic also impelled him to plan his epic Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest. The project is composed of at least five feature films (of which two are already complete). Although the title is derived from the unconventional life of the "scholar-recluse" of Chinese traditional Northern and Southern Dynasties, its substance displays the intrinsic" ailment of the century": the modern person facing modern life in panic.

Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest is a story without narrative arc. For this reason we cannot treat it as a movie, per se. To a certain extent, one can regard the film as a voyage of indeterminate interchange between the extremely visual. In these films, we see an unfamiliar world that has left its mark on today. The main characters, moreover, are somewhat frail, and not furious. They are young people living in a city where nothing big happens. they are a little big greedy, a little bit suspicious, their attitudes towards life unclear, This is what Yang Fudong seeks to show us and what he calls the "Southern(Jiangnan) petit literati.

To Yang Fudong, the greatest appeal of the Southern petit literati lies in their attitudes, but at the same time, they lack "courage". If they lack courage in the face of reality, they inevitably turn to "illusion". Illusion is the connection through which he engages in dialogue with reality. Now his aim is to enlarge this attitude into an extreme visual "dream-like reality. "

Selected from ART iT Winter/Spring 2006 Vol. 4 No. 1

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