Give Me A Reason Firstly
By Huang Liaoyuan
The new works of Yang Mian are still discussing issues of “standard”. His persevering spirit reminds me of the huge and popular debate on the “standard of truth”. In fact, Yang Mian clearly knows that there is no truth about standards. So he modestly named his new works “Standard in Yang Mian’s Viewpoint, 2003”. All people familiar with Yang Mian know that he is far from modest – he can even be described as arrogant. “In Yang Mian’s viewpoint” means “he thinks”, instead of the widely accepted principle. However, the widely accepted principle for aesthetics no longer exists in this world, and the current situation is everyone has his or her own opinion. Therefore, to discuss “standards” now presents either a “positive” or “negative” implication. The extremes of something today sometimes have no difference or contradiction.
Yang Mian is not an extremely sensual artist. Before his creation, he always religiously thinks about some concept already existing in his mind – he gives himself a reason first. For example, the “Beauty Standard” took him one year from idea to execution. After numerous modifications, revisions and changes, the work is finally completed.
To discuss “standard” in the art world is a joke, because for art a “standard” means killing personality. “Standard” is a criteria, creating restrictions in the industry – by creating a model and having the world imitate. Therefore, for an artist with a “dream”, a “standard” means chains. A “real” artist can only gain the entire world after breaking these chains.
But, life today has a strange cycle, with everything uncertain.
Though the widely accepted principle of aesthetics disappears, the wisdom of human beings after thousands of years of accumulation still retains its sharp power. The power is a “standard” – public principle, collective consciousness and mass interest. Therefore, “standards” are the inbred habit of society, as well as the essence of spirit and the steps of social progress. Yang Mian’s questioning of “standards” might be obedience, reflecting his “reforming attitude”, or the ridiculous mood of facing “reformation”.
The Chinese artists in the same generation as Yang Mian have a kind of bravery and courage with broad knowledge, as well as the Yuppie style to joke about serious issues. Therefore, Yang Mian’s acrimony toward “standards” is actually completed in a playful atmosphere.
In “Standard in Yang Mian’s Viewpoint, 2003”, Yang Mian selects several female stars in advertisements that impressed him most in 2003, like Xu Jinglei, Zhou Xun, Zhang Baizhi, Quan Zhixian, Gao Yuanyuan, Zhang Ziyi, etc., and makes them his objects, thus discussing the standard of “beauty”. Images in advertisements am normally known as ambassadors of a company or a commodity, while the selection of ambassadors always reflects the social aesthetic orientation and values of the time. Yang Mian asks the question: “Who selects the ambassador for ‘us’? Is he authorized to do so?”
Yes, “he” is, because he is rich and thus has the power. It is natural. And the rich also handle the output of artistic works. Sometimes I feel artists have no hands, they are the paintbrushes held by the rich. Since the sponsorship of the Medici Family, artists have never escaped from the position of parasitism. It is possible that some artists don’t want to admit it, but the “cruel” reality is in front of us, as real and vivid as we are living.
And “he” is not, because “he” is rich and the rich serve the have-nots, which is also natural. The rich often consider the public and the world, and their standards are based on the aesthetics of the public. Therefore in most cases they represent the benefit of the public, and we can say that the public authorizes them.
So Yang Mian’s questioning of “standards” is in fact questioning social and public aesthetics, which is intended to “give public taste a loud slap”, as Mayakovsky said.
In real life, Yang Mian is a fashionable youth, with middle-class sensibilities and graceful behavior. Therefore his irony and criticism on fashion have a sense of sympathy, pity or even appreciation. Such self-mockery and ambiguity appears as a virtual attitude in his works. The colors are dim and the expressions, in particular their eyes, are moving and hesitant. But all the faces and bodies express a sexy message, which makes the figures confident, despite their expressions. We notice that in the Chinese advertisements of 2003, there appeared the idea that beauties are no longer gentle; now they are aggressive, lovely, enchanting and addicting. After years of “secret” discussion, sexiness finally comes to the stage. Maybe Yang Mian is asking if they represent the emerging sexiness in China? In truth, China is still the old China. The conservativeness of the Chinese relegates sexiness to our eyes, expressions and inevitable imagination. It is the standard of China, different from the world.
Yang Mian’s endless questioning of “Chinese standards” is not “a question of China” in my opinion, because the “indifferent and infinite duplication” is an essential outcome of western industrialization, as well as a key symbol of human progress. The future is the destiny that we are unable to change, so Yang Mian is actually discussing an international issue.
His dreamy presentation somewhat reflects the confused mood of today’s society. When the wound-like red line is punched on the back of those stars like lightening, all rusting things are equipped with a clear meaning – it is the so-called Zen? In fact, an operation knife cuts the wound and Yang Mian wants to be the operator. However, his methods are subtle and his sharpness is hidden under those beautiful images. Such hidden irony complies with the style of his generation. The “fatal beat” in his works is unforgettable. It alarms the world and makes us think. It is what’s unique in Yang Mian.
As to the standard of beauty, mine is simple – as long as she is beautiful!
At Beijing Wangjing Hotel, March 19th, 2004