365bet官网 林业 Towards A World of Poets – Yang Jiechang’s work

Towards A World of Poets – Yang Jiechang’s work


  Yang Jiechang is probably the most unpredictable and chaotic artists
in his generation. For the last thirty years, he has constructed an
immense body of work. It covers a large span of media and languages from
ink-wash painting, Chinese calligraphy, drawing, photography,
installation, performance, sound, music, multimedia to simply everyday
actions while the formats vary from huge and oversized to tiny and quasi
immaterial. However, he has never tightened himself to any fixed and
established style, norm and issue. Instead, he always reacts to the
given context and momentum of each events in which he participates and
produces new concepts and forms to put forward his systematically
critical, provocative and even subversive thoughts and expressions. He
simply comes up with a new surprise every time.1.   As we all know,
the question of tradition and modernity has been the central debate for
more than a century in Chinas modernisation process. Indeed, its also a
central issue, or a battlefield in the modern history of the world
driven by the clash the Western and the Non-Western worlds. Traditional
forms of artistic expression have been regularly put in question. In the
last century, reforming Chinese traditional painting (ink painting) has
been an unsolved and somehow unsolvable obsession for the Chinese art
world. It has been widely considered as a part of the national mission
of cultural modernisation. This issue became even more crucial and
urgent in the Chinese avant-garde movement of the 1980s. Trained as an
ink painter and calligrapher, Yang Jiechang started his artistic career
in involving himself with the debate. After gaining perfect skills of
traditional painting and calligraphy and a deep knowledge of Chinese art
history and theory, he sought to escape from the double confinement of
the academic rules and the norms of the dominant Socialist Realism still
prevailing in the art world, in order to obtain the real freedom and joy
that art can offer. He spent a considerable amount of time in a Taoist
temple in Luofu Mountain in Guangdong province and learned Taoism with a
master. Instead of any fixed form of traditional expression, he has
learned that the real spirit of the tradition is to be found in the
actions of the everyday which is in infinite change. One needs to face
it in the normal state of mind (平常心) and transmit the feeling in the
immediate available language instead of any dogmatic formula. Tradition
is actually a living process of accumulation of feeling, sensibility,
knowledge and expressions that should be in constant evolution with
time, rather than any kind of dogmas and fixed rules. Its a Tao (道), an
endless route, instead of Tong (统), established rule and order. To
reform the tradition does not mean an end of it. Instead, its about
injecting new and fresh energy and forms to continuously reactivate it.
In the process, one should not simply destroy the existing and dominate
norms but deconstruct it from within in the most active and
reconstructing manner. Unlike many of his contemporary avant-gardists
who claimed the death of the Chinese ink painting, Yang Jiechang simply
continues to merge himself in the field and explores exhaustively all
possibilities that the tradition can offer and invent totally new ways
to utilise it. Ink painting and calligraphy have hence remained the red
string that conducts all his artistic adventures for the last three
decades. And, it will continue to be so. In his numerous work, he
incorporates all genres that ink painting contains and push them to the
most radical degree of their possibilities. He has developed a system
that combines huge scale abstract black-on-black works under the series
names thousands layers of ink (千层墨), meticulous brushwork paintings
(工笔画), gold-and-green landscape (金碧山水), splash-ink wash (泼墨),
and so on. What is really unique and stunning is he has decided to write
calligraphy only in an upside-down way in order to obtain the
exceptionally powerful but somehow eccentric effect that is impossible
to achieve when written in normal direction. In addition, all these
explorations of the expressions with ink are often expanded to take over
the entire space of the exhibition as if their expansions could be
totally beyond any boundary. Frequently, he incorporates any imaginable
kind of media to bring this effort of expansion infinitely further:
performance, installation, photography, video and even rock and roll!
Together they create a wonderful world of a unique cacophonic concert of
image, action, light and sound! Its in such a concert that Yang Jiechang
navigates through the very tension of extreme control and radical
abandonment of the control. In this way, Yang Jiechang opens up his own
Tao, his own tradition, that determines the very unique route that his
art will take. If one can refer to the very spiritual state that Zen
(whose Chinese version has been deeply influenced by the Taoist
tradition) reveals, as Yang Jiechang himself often evokes, this is a
powerful and effective mlange of the two opposite ways of the Northern
school that emphasizes on hard working style meditation and the Southern
school that argues for sudden enlightenment Its by nature a world of
hybridity situated in the constant evolving realm of the in-between. And
this is also highly relevant in the contemporary world in which
globalisation is driving us towards an increasingly hybrid and mlange
reality. If Tao and Zen encourage the understanding of the inevitability
of the communication and merge of Man and Nature, Yang Jiechangs
engagement with the tradition actually provokes the necessity for
everyone living in the contemporary world to embrace and merge with the
other, with everyone and everything from different cultures while any
traditional form of expression can be an effective medium to express the
state of the world todayYang Jiechangs art is somehow idealist and even
utopian. It rejects any kind of dominant and normalised rules political
recuperation of norms of expressions. But its by no means nihilist.
Instead, its always rooted on the ground in order to constantly
revitalise the route of life itself. Taking real life as it is and
absorbing it as a natural part of his work, its a cocktail of idealism
and realism, a pragmatic utopia2.  Fundamentally, Yang Jiechangs work
is seeking for a complete merge of art and life. It takes place, at
first, in the real in a literal sense of the term: art is a process of
living experience that can only be sensed through the body itself.
Understanding the circle between life and death as inevitable destiny of
Man and the world, he lays bare his own body and its destiny in front of
the public gaze: early in 1991, he announced his Testament in the form
of a conceptual installation. A pottery pot is set in front of a white
wall with a sentence written: One day I die an unnatural death. Then one
should feed me to a tiger and keep its excrements. Since then, he keeps
resorting to his own body and turning it into a test ground for all
kinds of exceptional states of being. In a series of performance and
installation works dated back to the 1990s, he cut his own hairs and
glued them to needles and nails with his own blood to form up paintings.
In another project, he installed a corridor in which the audience was
forced to receive (low-voltage) electric shocks in order to be
enlightened. In many of his recent works, he introduces human skulls and
body parts. Rather than showing the terror of death, he manages to turn
them into suspiciously playful and ironic forms that provoke
astonishment and laughter. For him, putting the body in an abnormal
state and catch the extraordinary experience is certainly the best way
to understand the very reality of his existence. This can be understood
in a particular perspective related to his own life experience, which
is, to different extends, shared by a great number of his
contemporaries. As one of the first generation of Chinese contemporary
artist settled abroad since the late 1980s, the question of cultural
identity has been a central concern in his life and work. Like many of
his colleagues, Yang Jiechang has never been entirely relying on his
Chinese background. Instead, he adopts a completely open attitude
towards all kinds of cultural influences that he encounters in his new
living conditions consisting of a multi-national family, global city
life and transcontinental travels. Its in the very process of
confronting, embracing and exchanging with other cultures and different
living realities that he has been constantly trying to reinvent his own
identity. This is also a process that involves continuous reactivation
of his own cultural background, memory and fantasy. For many immigrants,
the first difficulty to adapt to the new life is often the language
along with the difference of bodily habitudes such as instinct, taste,
gesture and facial expression, etc. This is also the case for Yang
Jiechang. However, instead of feeling inferior in the society, he
manages to turn his somewhat foreign habitudes and uneven linguistic
skill that mixes Cantonese, Mandarin, English, German and French into
his advantage as an inventive way of communication that is increasingly
gaining respects and understandings of his entourage and public. He
incorporates such a linguistic mix bag in many of his art works. This
shows the fact that, in the age of globalisation and trans-cultural
communication, hybrid and alternative forms of linguistic and corporal,
as well as artistic, expressions are indeed becoming more and more
necessary and efficient. In a way, they are even more and more relevant
in terms of the evolution of contemporary culture. Its in such an
extraordinary state of being that one can actually rediscover ones true
identity. This reveals a strong desire to subvert the socially received
common values, criteria and even taboos. Its no surprise that sexuality
has been brought to the centre of his work since his self-portrait of 40
years anniversary in 1996. Drawn with rough and strong black ink
strokes, its a full body nude of the artist with his penis erecting.
Then, another series of ink paintings, multimedia installations and
sound pieces, with or without images of love making, have been developed
simply based on the joyful screaming of sexual ecstasy: Oh My God! On
the other hand, in a number of his works depicting some extreme
situations such as plane crashing, he uses Cantonese dirty words such as
Diu(屌)and Lokchat (碌柒) as their titles and sound tracks. In fact,
there is no better way for him, a hybrid Cantonese, to express such an
exceptional state of existence, the very existence between life and
death!3.  Obviously, Yang Jiechangs subversive usage of language in
his work is a challenge to the established order of social codes and
values. This mlange of the real and the surreal, the high and the low,
the clean and dirty, etc. destroys the usual moral hierarchy of
language. It is a perfect way for him to continuously re-anchor his
shifting identity and its relationship with the changing world in order
to understand and manifest creativity in alternative forms. This
anarchism is an act of liberation of the self. It also offers him a
unique perspective to confront, observe and intervene in social reality
itself. Living in a time of global conflicts, its impossible for an
artist like Yang Jiechang, who is extremely sensitive to changes in
reality, not to express his reactions. Deeply concerned and even
fascinated by spectacular events such as 9/11, he has come up with his
own visual interpretations of them, pretty much based on rumours
circulating among people of popular classes as alternatives truths
countering the biased assumptions promoted by mainstream media and
political systems. In his installations To Emily and Crying Landscape,
he proposes the public to scrutinize the hyper realistic picture of the
plane crashing into the Pentagon building in the morning of 9/11, 2001.
The meticulous style that is capable to exhaust the potentiality of ink
painting to reproduce the real image exposes all the details with
articulations on some quasi-invisible elements to the pubic gaze.
Eventually, it renders the image suspicious: the traces of the attack
now look too real, too carefully organised, to be true This in fact
echoes the very popular theory of conspiracy claiming the image as a
forgery, resulted from political manipulations. Indeed, the question
here is not whether the image is real or not. What is important is that
by messing his work up with such a polemic, Yang Jiechang has succeeded
in making his art into a channel to make counter-reality visible and
audible in a context where one can hardly hear any other voices but the
propaganda of the mainstream media. This turns his art into a site of
experiencing with alternative views, visions and voices in terms of
definition of reality and truth. It certainly implies desires and
strategies of resistance, allowing the oppressed, or the silent
majority, to express themselves vis–vis some crucial and grand issues
of society and the world. Its no surprise that, a couple years later, in
the 2nd Guangzhou Triennial, 2005, that Yang Jiechang came up with an
audacious but intelligent provocation, the performance-installation
named The Pearl River. The Triennial with the title Beyond an
extraordinary space of experimentation for modernization, referring to
the particular historic and cultural context of the Pearl River Delta,
focused its concern on the dynamic and conflictive relationship between
global and local, between national and regional, between art and reality
in order to claim for the opening of an in-between space for alternative
models of thinking and actions. Grasping this opportunity, Yang Jiechang
created an installation with a huge flag in the form of a national
emblem along with a huge neon sign stating the voice of the P.R.D.
(Pearl River Delta): We are good at everything, except for speaking
Mandarin. On the opening, a rock and roll band played a song that
resembled an anthem In 2007, exactly ten years after Hong Kongs
hand-over to China, he showed another even more provocative series in
the city under the title The Most Beautiful Country of China. Again, its
a series of hyper realistic paintings with meticulous brushwork franked
by neon signs. Next to the phrase, one can respectively observe the
post-card style views of Victoria Harbour, Mong Kok shopping streets and
Lingnan School ink wash paintings. These are clichs that can be seen as
emblems of this international metropolis that has lived through a
complex colonial and postcolonial history and still remained in a
certain complicated relationship with the motherland. However, if its
certainly justified to consider Yang Jiechangs work, with all its
purported contradictions, suggest a claim for a form of autonomy or even
independence of the region, what is much more important is to understand
such a claim is indeed pointing to a much more universal dimension. In
the age of conflict between homogenisation prompted rapidly by
globalisation and differentiation as resistance of the establishment of
the nation-state, one should look for a third road that leads to a real
liberation of independent spirits and encourages a destruction of the
tyranny of the dominant logic of confrontation and struggle between the
dominant and dominated.  In an interview, Yang Jiechang explained his
motivation to emphasize the linguistic and cultural autonomy of the
Cantonese:  To simplify traditions has become a serious problem. It
belittles traditions and creates confusion  Culture appears,
disappears, and relives in a natural environment. If we dont remind
people how beautiful Cantonese is, it will soon be gone. Mandarin will
soon become the mandatory official language in Hong Kong, and people in
Macau already speak Mandarin. This is no good! I think such a trend is
horrible. If things continues to go this way, itll be very dangerous.
China will become one big empty shell. Its impossible for China to have
a great literary writer today. The language is empty; the newspapers are
empty. There are no poets anymore. [1]  Its time to imagine a world
that language can become rich and complex again. That will be a world of
poets instead of the one of advertisers. This can only be constructed
with multidimensional paradigms in terms of conceptualising and
structuring territory, population, culture, politics and economy. An
open society governed by hybridity instead of purity, in ethnic,
cultural, economic and political terms is the answer. And tolerating and
encouraging alternatives, minor but vital forms of expressions are no
doubt the first step towards such a new world.

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5 August 2008, San Francisco


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