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  • Interview with Yang Fudong

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    Posted on: 08/12/2014

    Zara Stanhope, Principal Curator and Head of Programmes at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki had an in-depth conversation with artist Yang Fudong about his influences, how he expresses his ideas through the moving image, and new horizons in his art practice.

    Many of your films reference the tropes of Western, European film genres such as film noir. Some critics have also written from Daoist and Confucian positions when interpreting your work. How can film be a bridge between ideas from different cultures?

    Each artist’s family background, local culture and education differ. I grew up in China where I received a very traditional Chinese-style education. My experience is connected with Oriental aesthetics. I studied painting as my major in university, and I learned a lot about Chinese paintings and traditional culture.

    My Chinese background, whether traditional or contemporary, has had a very significant impact on my art. I also studied Western Art, both classic and modern, and European films. My education, local cultural influence and experience all inform the general direction of my art. One single artwork cannot reflect all standards in different cultures - it should have its own taste and standard. Each artwork should reflect the artist’s own aesthetics and characteristics, yet also express something that is universal.

    Your works interrogate ideas of narrative, as well as the distinct qualities of film (for example, by means of doubling, fragmentation, veiling and tableau scenes where protagonists are staged as still images). Scripting and editing also create non-linear and unresolved content. 

    What is your attitude toward the conventions of film media?

    When I create my work, I dream about making a true ‘free’ film, a film that can release my imagination and allow me to fly. I apply the techniques used in ordinary narrative filmmaking in my art. However, sometimes I can forget about the rules or use them in other, surprising ways.

    Film as art is different to its commercial form. There are a lot of new ways of filming and thinking to explore using traditional techniques and creative processes. How should we look at the new relations between narratives? How should we view the aesthetics of digital films? We should always keep breaking the rules. We should never limit ourselves.

    Everything is possible and feasible to me, but it is also necessary to have a certain ‘limit’, which is an underlying and intangible standard for specific narrations and video editing. It is very important to handle this ‘limit’.

    Your films are usually seen in cinemas and in art galleries, locations which create distinct viewing experiences for audiences. How does the gallery, with the potential for multiple screens, allow for a different sensibility for viewers compared to cinema viewing? What is it about experiencing your work spatially in a gallery space that appeals to you? Do you consider the viewer as an individual, or in communal sense?

    When you are showing an artwork in an art space, whether it is single screen or multiple screens, it is more like a 3D video work. I said once that the audience is the second director and he/she is the crucial part of the work. When the audience enters the art space, it is up to them to decide how they think about the work. What he/she sees and reflects in the art space will be re-edited in his/her mind and become his/her own unique experience. The time length he/she watches it, the view and the choice of the screen will all affect his/her understanding of the work. They should breathe and feel together at the same time.

    You have discussed your installation New Women (2013) as reflecting China’s transition to modernity, particularly as it was symbolised by Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s. Will The Coloured Sky: New Women II (2014) relate to the former film?

    New Women was shot in Shanghai in May 2013. It is a 5-screen work using 35mm black-and-white film. It is a tribute to early Chinese films from the 1930s, including New Women (1935) directed by Cai Chusheng. His was a realistic work, and I hope mine is a more abstract expression. The film talks about the image of an ideal woman, but there is difference between reality and dreams.

    My mind was on The Coloured Sky: New Women II when I completed New Women. I was thinking about a colour film instead of black-and-white, and one that would not focus on idealism or a ‘grand’ narrative. To me New Woman II feels closer to childhood. Remember the way the wrapper of a candy had a dazzling rainbow colour when you put it against a sunbeam? New Women II is more about young girls in their room or private space. These girls have secrets which they never tell anyone, perhaps a secret present like a music box, a pearl or a necklace. New Women II is a work that attempts to convey the sensation of a girl with a special, secret gift. I would like to get close to real life by looking at this secret present.

    Your works often return to the individual experience of life in contemporary China. How has your arts practice, which began in the early 1990s, reflected the shifts of life in your country?

    In one’s work, the artist should always respect his or her life experience, cultural background and education. As you get older, a lot of things, including your memories of growing up and your feelings and understanding about life, will merge into your art practice. A single piece is not able to carry grand social goals or responsibilities. In my art, I try to express my understanding of life and society. We need to learn to respect, to understand and to express sincerely.

    What new aspects does The Coloured Sky: New Women II bring to your creative practice?

    During the shooting of The Coloured Sky: New Women II, I could feel that there had been a shift. I tried to get close to a form of abstract video, and I also explored a new type of narration and expression.

    I have made a lot of black-and-white films before, but this time I chose digital video to make a coloured work. This was a very important experiment in understanding the ways that colour video can improve or change the narration. Also New Women II makes me think that I might need to incorporate painting, installation, video and mix them together in my future works. This project has given me some fresh ideas — perhaps this kind of freestyle creation can give me the courage to explore new things and support other breakthroughs.

    The conversation continues in the catalogue for Yang Fudong: Filmscapes, which is available for sale in the ACMI Shop for $25. 

    Yang Fudong’s The Coloured Sky: New Women II has been commissioned by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in partnership with the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Yang Fudong: Filmscapes will travel to Auckland Art Gallery in September 2015.

    You can see Yang Fudong's latest work in Yang Fudong: Filmscapes as part of ACMI's China Up Close season right now through to March 2015.

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