Hans Ulrich Obrist and Yang Fudong
One Thousand Words
By Hans Ulrich Obrist and Yang Fudong
Essays & Press
This interview was originally conducted during the exhibition Camera ( (Chang Yung Ho, Wang Jian Wei, Jang Fudong,) co-curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Vivian Rehberg for the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (Feb 7 - Ap 20 , 2003). A shorter version of the interview as published in the catalogue Camera
HUO: Let's talk about the background to your work. Shanghai was a well-known filmmaking centre in the '20s and '30s. What has been the importance of this history on your practice? But maybe I should start by asking you whether you studied contemporary art or film first.
YF: Both of those factors have influenced me. Firstly, I studied at the China Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, where I was taught a lot about contemporary art. As for cinema, I've watched, and still watch, a lot of Chinese movies, Yuan Muzhi's Street Angels (Malu Tianshi, 1937 ) and Fei Mu's Springtime in a Small Town ( Xiao chen zhi chun, 1948), a film a lot of cinema people are talking about at the moment. There is a contemporary film director, Tian Zhuang Zhuang who redid this film, keeping its original title, and it was shown at the film festival in Venice in 2002.
HUO: You also told me that you have been influenced by the artist Huang Yong Ping.
YF: Actually, Huang Yong Ping attended the same school as me and belonged to the generation of my professors. Although I didn't know him personally, I did discover his work in various catalogues after 1989, in a rather tense atmosphere. In his artwork, I discovered something I had never seen elsewhere and in a way, I began to see him as a teacher from a distance.
HUO: The exhibition that you are partaking in along with Wang Jian Wei and Chang Yung Ho in Paris is based on the idea of multiple forms of expression, dealing with the links between art and architecture as well as between art and cinema. You started out working mainly in video, but An Estranged Paradise ( Moshen Tiantang , 1997-2002), which is maybe your best-known piece, is a black and white movie much more related to Chinese cinema of the '20s. Can you tell me about how you use or allude to old Chinese cinema in your work?
YF: The relationship between my work and the films of the '20s is pretty vague. Artists today can appropriate any medium to express their way of living and seeing, and make that choice according to their need to say something specific. I see the sensitivity that marks my films as a personal thing having its roots in my past and my experience. I am unable to be more explicit about this personal relationship that I have with cinema from the '20s, I am afraid.
HUO: In your work, you speak directly and indirectly about the city.
YF: My family lives in Beijing and I live in Shanghai, where I got married. I always have this feeling of not living in my own city, of being a long way from my family in a city that isn't really mine.
HUO: Isn't it something that goes along with the changes taking place in Chinese contemporary society?
YF: I feel like a foreigner in Shanghai and it's as if I'm trying to get things happening in a context where there are political pressures that might get in the way. Like all of us, I'm a bit like that "first intellectual."
HUO: You mean the character in your photographic series ( The First Intellectual , 2000) who is hit by a brick that someone threw at him?
YF: Yes. One wants to accomplish big things, but in the end it doesn't happen. Every educated Chinese person is very ambitious, and obviously there are obstacles, obstacles coming either from society or from inside oneself. The "first intellectual" has been wounded: he has blood running down his face and he wants to respond and react, but he doesn't know who he should throw his brick at. He doesn't know if the problem stems from him or society.
HUO: Can we talk a bit about your dialogue with the architect Chang Yung Ho. How did it go when you first brainstormed for this exhibition?
YF: We talked for a while, he explained to me what it is that he wants to do. I immediately got the impression that he is a person one could really work with. Now that I have seen the space [in ARC] and the framework that I was given to work in, I realize that I need to re-think my initial project because it doesn't fit the architectural set up.
HUO: Still, it's important to find a solution that you agree upon. The architecture should be made to fit your project.
YF: In my initial plan I wanted to use the space only with the projection of my video, but now I must find a balance between all three projects, mine and those of my colleagues. I wanted to make a horizontal picture like the traditional Chinese scrolls with images inside. But when I saw the shape of the room I realized that it wouldn't be possible. I do have other ideas that would work out fine in the given space. This isn't only my exhibition though, and I think it is important to take into consideration whatever the others are planning on doing. I really appreciate both Wang Jian Wei and Chang Yung Ho's work and I hope that my contribution to this exhibition will be an interesting piece to an even more interesting puzzle.
HUO: Could you tell me about the work you created for the Istanbul Biennial ("Egofugal: Fugue from Ego for the Next Emergence," 7th International Istanbul Biennial, 2001)? It was a video installation that gave the viewer the feeling he was in some kind of paradise.
YF: The work is called Tonight's Moon ( Jinwande Yueliang , 2000). I wanted to talk about paradise, the ideal, a dream world. It's set in a traditional Chinese garden, which is a kind of dreamy image. I really like showing this sort of atmosphere: very calm, very beautiful, but with a strange aspect that disturbs the context.
HUO: What are your Utopias, projects that you haven't been able to get off the ground, but that you would still like to carryout?
YF: There are two very important projects that I'd like to do late next year. First is this film about what I call the ideal or ideals you have when you're young, which stay with you all your life; and another one about intellectuals-but it has nothing to do with The First Intellectual ! I'd also like to prepare my own solo show, which would include film, video, sculpture and painting.
HUO: Sort of like a complete work of art?
YF: This project will be a global project of the understanding that I have of my life as well as my comprehension of intellectuals. I seriously plan on taking my time in completing this project, it will be done quite slowly, and perhaps it is too soon to even be talking about it.
HUO: In your work there's a narrative presence reminiscent of the cinema, but it's something more allusive: a narrative that's open-ended rather than completed. Could you tell me something about this narrative aspect?
YF: In fact I'd like to move into cinema, but not to tell stories or go completely into a narrative mode. I'm tempted by the idea of seeing my films shown in movie houses, but at the same time I want to stay experimental and keep on working on things for the exhibition
One Thousand Words
"My new film investigates how this dreamlike environment affects rela_tionships and discussions among the intellectuals-as well as their solitary meditations on individuality and liberty. We need to pursue some_thing, and then we have our spiritual sustenance and belief. In the subse_quent films, the intellectuals will be shown living in a building, in a metropo_lis-say, Shanghai; in a village in the countryside in the company of peasants and villagers; and on a deserted island where they'll start to invent a new world from scratch by defining new modal_ities of social life and interaction and a new distribution of labor. (Of course, the separation of material and immate_rial labor and capital will be ques_tioned.) And in the fifth and last part, eventually the intellectuals will return to the city-and so return to reality, confronting their contemporaries with their new experiences. "
Yang Fudong, "One Thousand Words," Artforum, September 2003
"At the 50th Venice Biennale, Shanghai-based artist Yang Fudong presented The Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest, 2003, the first part of his new filmic pentalogy, The Seven Intellectuals, an adaptation of the traditional Chinese stories known as "The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove." The first installment (shot in 35 mm black and white) begins the series' exploration of the ambiguous position of intellectuals in contemporary China-their longing for individual freedom in the shifting context of an emerging capitalist economy. Yang, who was born in 1971 in Beijing and graduated from the China Academy of Fine Arts, Hangzhou, has shown an interest in the conundrums of idealism in his earlier works, such as the photographic triptych The First Intellectual, 2000, where he reflects on the difficulty of finding and adopting a rebellious and critical attitude in a society undergoing changes that are as rapid as they are profound. On other occasions, his approach has been poetic and nostalgic, showing stylistic references to Chinese films of the '30s and '40s, such as Yuan Muzhi's Street Angel (1937) and Fei Mu's Spring in a Small Town (1948). Yang's Internationally praised first feature film, An Estranged Paradise (2002), tells the story of Zhuzi, a young intellectual befallen by a strange illness, a restlessness that arrives with the rainy season and disappears with its end. In Yang's own words, the film stands as "a meditation on life," in which nature seems intimately bound to psychology. It is a poignant convergence of mind and outside world that presages the first episode of The Seven Intellectuals."
HANS ULRICH OBRIST, "One Thousand Words," Artforum, September 2003
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