The charm of an art piece often lies in its profundity, sometimes even the artist is unaware of its potential meaning.
Shi Yong, a representative of contemporary Chinese artists, first started working with installation and video media. His solo exhibition "I've Forgotten the Question" is underway at WS Gallery through June 1.
In the eyes of many, his early work was filled with humor, a kind of easiness that shies away from any obscurity, especially compared with his peers at that time.
Shi Yong's exhibition is underway in a century-old villa called "small white house" with a yard on quiet Huating Road.
However, the depth and value of these works fuse with new interpretations under the drastic changes of the society and people.
Born in Shanghai in 1963, Shi graduated from the Fine Art Department of the Shanghai Light Industry School in 1984.
Since 1993, his works have been widely exhibited both in China and abroad. His art pieces cover a wide range of mediums including performance, video and installation. At the end of the 1990s, Shi began focusing on the idea of Shanghai's transformations under Chinese economic reform, which contributed to a discussion of globalization and consumerism. From 2006, with the piece "Sorry, There Will Be No Documenta in 2007," he turned his attention to the art world that he is involved in, pondering how to provide a more rational perspective through his creative works.
In contrast to his peers, Shi prefers to use long and poetic sentences for the title of his work, such as "My Body Belongs to Yours/ No / My Body Belongs to Yours" or "Flickering in Another Sentence – the Accident Deliberately Created for any Expectation."
"I am quite sensitive to words and sentences. I would frequently copy those sentences that strongly impress me when I read, because one day they could be just perfect to culminate my work," Shi said.
For people who are short on knowledge of the development of China's contemporary art history and the country, Shi's artworks might be difficult to understand.
For example, the installation "Xinfu 250-A" features an irregularly curved steel base on which a line of the motorcycle fragments of the same size are sequentially arranged. These motor fragments are cut from a Xinfu 250 motorcycle from the 1990s, a symbol of happiness and wealth for ordinary Chinese families at that time.
Another highlight is "You Can Fly Higher" created by the artist in 2002, featuring a ring-like belt made of neon lights and pill boxes hanging in the air, a transparent air mattress on the ground and a video screen overhead.
Today when looking back, the work, though created almost 20 years ago, is still unwittingly filled with foresightedness and metaphors.
In the video, Shi conveys the desire of pursuit by imitating animal behavior. With neon lights, music and the screened images, the viewers might experience the state of "flying," echoing the booming Chinese contemporary art scene during that period. In fact, everyone involved in the area was over-excited, only a few realized the potential danger and falling.
Artist Shi Yong is nicknamed "handsome Shi" in the art community.
Q: How did you come up with this exhibition title?
It is taken from the homonymous work "I've Forgotten the Question," a quote from Georges Bataille's book "The Impossible." The original text reads, "I've forgotten the sentence: It was accompanied by a perceptible change, like a trip release cutting the ties."
I rewrote the "sentence" into a "question," leaving more for the viewer's imagination while directly pointing to the artist's "intervention" style of creation: the grammatical reconstruction of real life, including words.
Q: You are artistic director of ShanghART Gallery and a professional artist, how do you switch between the two roles?
I hit my bottleneck as a professional artist in 2006. The whole world seemed to be "a bit insane" toward China's contemporary art. My schedule was fully occupied. I was both physically and spiritually exhausted to respond and reflect, so I wanted to pause for a while.
As an art director, I would help the artists fully represent their art pieces in various projects, art fairs and exhibitions. The good thing is that I can observe those artworks from a new angle. Such experience later nurtures my art renderings.
I am not a person comfortable with sticking to one thing. Guess what? I always have several books to read at the same time.
Q: The exhibition is in the "small white villa," a building with historical and cultural roots, what is special about the design of the exhibition and the placement of the works in this space?
Unlike the familiar "white cube" gallery or museum exhibition space, it is a century-old villa called with a yard on quiet Huating Road. It gives my works a different feel, very surprising.
Q: As a pioneer of Chinese contemporary art, you have seen the ups and downs of Chinese art scene, do you think we are still in the best of times?
To be honest, I don't know.
Sometimes one is not aware whether he is in the best era.
Now looking back, I feel fortunate that I once belonged to that golden era of the 1990s, though at the beginning there were no buyers or market for these experimental works. Everything we did was purely for art. Back then I often spent my salary and extra money earned from my spare-time design job to create the artwork.
Q: Are you a pessimist or an optimist?
I am neither pessimistic nor optimistic, I'm skeptical about every existing rule and value.
Q: Use three adjectives to describe your artworks.
Illusionary, excited and parachuting.
Related Artists: SHI YONG 施勇