Yang Fudong paints new image for Chinese art

By Sasha Awn

Outside a Gallery by Sara Wójcik
Photo by Sara Wójcik

In a recent New York Sun article, art advisor Kim Heirston said, “Everywhere I go – dinner parties, benefits, the Hamptons – people only ask me about Chinese contemporary art.” As students in Shanghai, we were able to experience the booming art scene firsthand. This past spring, Yang Fudong, one of China’s foremost contemporary artists, held a much-anticipated opening for a new video piece.

I was confused, but perhaps that was the point. The truth is, Yang Fudong probably couldn’t care less if I didn’t understand his work, as most of it is ambiguous, designed for audience interpretation. This particular solo exhibition entitled “No Snow on the Broken Bridge” opened at ShanghArt gallery on Moganshan Lu. Moganshan is a complex of warehouses occupied by galleries and studios—a reborn Chinese Chelsea. Fudong, who is said to be a bit of an existentialist described his collective works as, “this state we’re in…a moment when we have to negotiate our past while inventing our present.” This installation proved to be no exception.

The eight screen video installation was almost of a minimalist style, developing ever so slowly and building upon itself as it progressed with no concrete beginning or end. The music was also quite fitting; ambient, droning piano was randomly punctuated by dissonant chords without any sense of resolution, perhaps mirroring the lack of clarity in the film. The three screens to the right began with images of the lake while the left three screens were all images of land. The center images were of the disillusioned characters, wandering in silence and bewilderment from screen to screen. The characters were in their 20s, the women dressed in traditional Chinese gowns while the men donned old-fashioned western style suits, suggesting a timelessness between past and present, old and new. They drifted across the river and drank with contentment and yet there was always an existential emptiness and sense of confusion about their expressions. Several close up shots of the characters showed them staring off blankly onto the lake. Perhaps most confusing were two cross-dressing women who appeared randomly.

Visually, the work is stunning, often described by critics as “poetry in motion.” But the content is the indefinite. Rather than acting as a narrative, the work alludes to a feeling in a dreamlike fashion. Watching the film left me with no conclusive reaction, emotional or otherwise. Upon reading about the film after the fact, I began to understand and even appreciate Fudong’s style. It was the actual experience that left me lost.

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