The First Intellectual
In this photo series Yang Fudong offers a commentary on the split world in which many well-educated young people in China find themselves. On one hand the younger generation profits from China's economic success, on the other hand they wrestle with the question of what political, social and moral values are still meaningful within it. There is a world of difference between this image of the new intellectual and the famous photograph from 1989 of the lone student standing up against the tank on Tiananmen Square.
Yang Fudong regularly makes use of characteristic film genres. For example, City Lights is a mixture of the detective film and slapstick. A young, well-dressed office clerk and his doppelg？nger move in unison along the street and around the office. Like pre-programmed robots they fit perfectly into their apparently ideally organised environment. The day is entirely dominated by work, but the evening provides space for dreams and creative thinking, allowing a schizophrenic situation to arise. In their heroic conduct the two gentlemen sometimes develop into two gangsters who engage in a form of shadowboxing.
Close to the Sea
This installation makes the viewer aware of the impossibility of watching all the projection screens simultaneously. Stories play out synchronously and asynchronously. The central projection screen shows two scenes alongside each other: a young couple riding a horse along the coast, and a couple who try to save themselves during a shipwreck. Here an initially idyllic world is disrupted; the strident sound of brass instruments reinforces the atmosphere of disharmony.
In two separate spaces two almost identical cinematic narratives unfold. Because of the wall separating them, we can not compare the two, and must call on our memory. Both spaces also contain a glass display cabinet with a suitcase full of books and neckties, and four small video monitors in it. The tangible objects and the monitors appear to connect with the large projections on the wall.
Flutter, Flutter… Jasmine, Jasmine
The images in Flutter, Flutter... Jasmine, Jasmine are both an illustration of the words of the romantic song, and a commentary on it. We see a young man and woman in a large city, dreamily staring. Just like the song, they reflect hope, idealism and emotional purity. But the changes in the city proceed rapidly, and it is a question whether their ideals and feelings will remain untouched by this.
This video appears to be a humorous stylistic reference to spy films. All the clichés – tension, eroticism, grave, cigarette-smoking men and atmospheric music – are present. The woman wears fishnet hose and a fur coat with her military uniform. This ambiguity of se duction and deceit is not only the earmark of espionage, but possibly also a metaphor for the present ambivalent situation in China.
Backyard - Hey, Sun is Rising!
Four men engage in acts simultaneously. They smoke, yawn, massage themselves and practice military exercises in a city and in a park. The seriousness with which they perform these acts contrasts with their pointlessness, which creates the effect of slapstick. Yang Fudong reveals that because of social changes, certain rituals have become totally meaningless.
Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest (Part 1)
The decline of interest in meaningful experience is a recurrent theme in the work of Yang Fudong. Here he has young urbanites with Burberry jackets and briefcases withdraw to the mountains to admire the beauty of nature. They stare dreamily at a mountain stream and gaze deeply affected at apple blossoms. The artist suggests that the young urbanites, well educated and economically independent, are still in search of profundity and poignancy.
Liu Lan tells a story about the break with tradition in China. An intellectual in a white suit meets a traditionally dressed woman in the countryside. Despite their mutual love, their lives seem incompatible. A woman's voice sings a folksong, Why are people in love always separated from one another? The film's atmosphere is melancholy and the landscape veiled in mist. Here Yang Fudong shows his connections with Chinese landscape painting.
Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest (Part 2)
In this 'sequel' to Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest (Part 1), the seven young intellectuals form a sort of commune in an urban apartment. The five men and two women talk, make music, eat, drink and have sex. A decadent, hedonistic atmosphere prevails. At home the actors pass each other without making any clear contact and seem to be seeking the meaning of their actions. Only sporadically is there contact with the city around them. Yang Fudong's intellectuals are entangled in the discrepancies of the old and new worlds, at the crux where traditional social values and personal freedom collide with one another.
Don't worry, it will be better...
This photo series looks like an advertising campaign, with apparently successful young people as models. Or are these film stills, with actors in tableaux vivants? Full of hope and expectation, these modern men try to close the gap between life after the Chinese Revolution and the rapidly advancing capitalist society.
Yang Fudong: Recent films and videos
October 1, 2005 – January 15, 2006
Opening September 30, 5:00 p.m.
The Chinese filmmaker / artist Yang Fudong (b. 1971) experiences the radical changes in contemporary Chinese society daily. The alienation that these changes are creating is a recurrent theme in his work. With an amalgam of nostalgia, romanticism and parody, he mixes traditional Chinese values and the influences of Western film and video culture into idiosyncratic but also very recognisable images.
Seven of his films, two of his video installations, and two photo series by him are being shown in the exhibition in Stedelijk Museum CS. This project was organised in cooperation with the Vienna Kunsthalle.
In his films and videos, Yang Fudong usually works in a narrative fashion, without that having a foundation in conventional dramaturgy. There is no clear story line. Scraps of dialogue or a commentator's voice feed the viewer with rich associations. The protagonists in his work are generally young people waiting for things which are still to come, sometimes in a state that borders on downright boredom. In these works Fudong comes close to the Nouvelle Vague, to Jean-Luc Godard, for instance, who also offers a sharp look at his generation of young quasi-intellectuals. The collage-like style, in which text, images and movement are independent of one another, is also something that Yang Fudong shares with Godard. He employs recurrent and varying suggestive pictorial images such as close-ups, tableaux vivants or landscapes, with composed music or a narrative voice in the background. The parallels between Yang Fudong's work and recent, internationally successful Chinese films are unmistakable.
In the first two films of the planned cycle Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest, in part one Fudong shows young urban people who are on their way to experience nature. In part two we see the same group in an urban situation, where they eat, talk and have sex with one another in their apartment. He himself says of this series of films, 'What I film is the life of today’s youth, almost with detachment. Sometimes I think that life presently is changing ever more strongly. Many people seem to have become non-believers. They have lost their faith in everything.'
The overwhelming installation Close to the Sea, comprised of twelve simultaneous projections, shows the epic love story of two lovers on a beach, and at the same time the – literal – shipwreck of the pair. On the side screens one sees musicians on the rocks along the coast, performing a symphony for wind instruments. The whole is paradisiacal and threatening at the same time. Can love blossom further, and hold its own against adversity? Can happiness go on the rocks?
In addition to these works, the exhibition includes the films and videos Liu Lan, Backyard – Hey, Sun is Rising!, Honey and Flutter, Flutter… Jasmine, Jasmine, a parody on the contemporary Chinese video clip. The photo series Don't worry, it will be better and The First Intellectual offer a picture of young Chinese urbanites as ironic as it is melancholy. In consultation with Yang Fudong, the installation Jiaer’s Livestock has been added to this selection of works, which had previously been seen in the Vienna Kunsthalle.
The exhibition in Stedelijk Museum CS is a component of the Amsterdam China Festival, which runs from September 30 through October 25, 2005.
A catalogue, published by the Vienna Kunsthalle, accompanies this exhibition. This catalogue will be available in the Museum Shop from September 30. (86 pages, ISBN 3-85247-056-0, Ger/Eng, € 19,95)
Three articles related to the exhibition, by Maarten Bertheux, Ingrid Commandeur and Saskia Dubois, are included in the Stedelijk Museum Bulletin 4/5 2005. This double issue is for sale in the Museum Shop at € 7.
SMCS on 11
In connection with SMCS on 11, on Thursday, September 29, Yang Fudong will engage in a discussion with Gijs van Tuyl. Begins 9:00 p.m. For more information, see www.stedelijk.nl
Press preview on Friday, September 30, 2005, at 11:00 a.m. For information and reservations, go to firstname.lastname@example.org
More information and visual materials: www.stedelijk.nl/press or tel. +31 (0)20 573 2656 or 2662.
Stedelijk Museum CS
Post CS building, 2nd storey, Oosterdokskade 5, Amsterdam
Open: daily from 10:00 am through 6:00 p.m.
Entrance: Euro 9,00; reduced fee: Euro 4,50; children 0-7 years and MK: free
Info & travel directions: www.stedelijk.nl