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Chinese Video Artist Yang Fudong’s Exhibit Opens in Singapore

The Show Is His First Major Solo Presentation in Southeast Asia Author: KRISTIANO ANG 2014-12-11

Yang Fudong has emerged as one of China’s most prominent video artists over the past decade, with his moody, fragmentary films that serve as meditations of sorts on a nation that has gone from the privations of the Cultural Revolution to breakneck economic growth and widespread social change in one generation.
His videos have explored such subjects as the psyche of a young Sichuanese actress on the cusp of fame, and the lives of workers in Shandong province who make their living carving stones. Many of his works are shot without a written script, in black and white, and on 35mm film, the latter in part because of its warmer, more “human” texture, the artist said.
Mr. Yang’s work isn’t primarily aimed at the masses and much of his oeuvre is collected by museums. Still, he has made a name for himself in the art world. An early production, “Estranged Paradise” (1997-2002), was met with acclaim when it featured at Germany’s Documenta 11 arts festival in 2002.
Since then, Mr. Yang’s works have traveled to the likes of the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo and the Asia Society in New York. In the commercial sphere, the 43-year-old is represented by ShanghART and the Marian Goodman Gallery.
Before Mr. Yang became known as a filmmaker, he studied painting at the China Academy of Fine Art in Hangzhou.
“Painting and filmmaking achieve the same ends,” said Mr. Yang, who lives in Shanghai. “Filmmaking is another brush, and the things that I wish to express manifest themselves through this other brush.”
Two Asia-Pacific museums are playing host to large-scale exhibitions dedicated to Mr. Yang’s work, which sometimes also includes photography.
Singapore’s NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, or CCA, on Friday will unveil “Yang Fudong: Incidental Scripts,” a presentation of four works that span the entirety of his career. It is his first major solo exhibition in Southeast Asia.
Last week, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne opened “Yang Fudong: Filmscapes,” featuring four installations, including a commissioned piece about modern Chinese women.
“Estranged Paradise,” which took five years to complete and is part of the Singapore exhibit, features a Hangzhou hypochondriac trying to find a cure for his illness only to discover that life has become more abnormal after he has healed himself. Mr. Yang’s breakthrough piece, which is 75 minutes long, was also the last he filmed with a script, a practice that he abandoned in favor of greater improvisation.
“Must it exist on paper for it to be considered a script?” Mr. Yang said. “There is a script that is hidden in the director … and while there’s a lot of uncertainty if you follow a script that exists within, this is also the happiest part of creation.”
“He’s part of a generation that came out of the fall of the Bamboo Curtain, and he has his own way of thinking,” said Ute Meta Bauer, director of CCA. “It’s very different from other art.”
This is in part because of the noirish elements in Mr. Yang’s works, which reference French New Wave cinema and pre-War Shanghainese movies.
“His characters are ambiguous and they shift inside and outside, between real life and on-screen personalities,” said Khim Ong, who co-curated the Singapore show with Ms. Bauer.
The artist acknowledges being shaped by 1950s French films and Shanghai of the 1920s and ’30s but said that he was primarily influenced by daily life.
“Growing up in northern China and going to university in the south, as well as all my other living experiences, have affected my work,” said Mr. Yang, who was born to a soldier father in Beijing and grew up in post-Cultural Revolution China.
“He grew up in an environment with a lot of changes, and his early works are a commentary on the conundrum faced by young people” just as China was reopening its doors to the world, Ms. Ong said.
Also on view at the CCA is “About an Unknown Girl—Ma Sise” (2013-2014), for which Mr. Yang followed around Ms. Ma, a Chinese starlet, for more than a year in a bid to capture how real life and working in cinema intersect to affect a young Chinese woman.
The project, which includes several videos and two sets of images of Ms. Ma, was originally intended to last three years, but Mr. Yang had to halt it after Ms. Ma began getting more work.
Mr. Yang said that after working on the two current shows he intends to take a break before planning to embark on an even bigger film. He said he hasn’t yet decided on the project but hopes to make a feature-length art film. He also hasn’t closed the door on returning to work with Ms. Ma.
“Some things require patience, just like the title of my 2000 film ‘Don’t Worry, It Will Be Better’ suggests,” said Mr. Yang. “Don’t worry, it will be better.”
“Yang Fudong: Incidental Scripts,” NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, Singapore, Dec. 12 to March 1; “Yang Fudong: Filmscapes,” Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne, until March 15.

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