Yang Fudong provides cinematic example of Chinese art at Parasol Unit London

By Mark Sheerin | 16 September 2011
Still from a black and white film which shows a glamourous woman in a dress
Yang Fudong: Fifth Night (2010). HD video Installation, 7 screens. Courtesy the Artist and Galerie Marian Goodman, Paris / New York ; Shanghart Gallery, Shanghai© Yang Fudong
Exhibition: Yang Fudong - One Half of August, Parasol Unit, London, until November 6 2011

Chinese art does not lend itself to easy generalisations. For every artist who appears on these shores, one imagines there are ten or more of equal note, famed at home for who knows what marvels.

But although he lives and works in Shanghai, Yang Fudong is an international name. He has shot a film for Prada (2010). He has been the toast of Venice (2007). And now in 2011, he is premiering two of his works in London at Parasol Unit.

His first piece here stitches together seven silver screens with multiple views of the old town in Shanghai. The scene is dated by the arrival of vintage cars, horse drawn carts and a blacksmith at work in the centre of a city square. 

The activities of these extras give the work an air of mystery and no less intriguing is the real stage built in the middle of this set-like location. A spiral staircase winds up and round and out of shot.

If you can call them this, the main "protagonists" are young men and women who roam the square and look lost. They have matinee idol looks, but appear to have mislaid the script. Their wanderings unfold to the sound of maudlin stings and piano.

But you have to work hard to extract meaning from this panorama, and new pieces upstairs are even more cryptic. One half of August, which lends its name to the show as a whole, is a presentation of many earlier films. Except here they are projected onto the walls and ornamental furniture of a villa complex by night.

Yang Fudong, Ye Jiang (The night man cometh) (2011). 35mm film transferred to HD. Courtesy the Artist and Galerie Marian Goodman, Paris / New York; ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai
Eight screens surround the visitor in this part of the show. It is hard to know where to look. And the diverse scenes break in on our consciousness as dreams might do. They are largely silent but for the sound of crickets on this fitful summer's night.

A final piece, Ye Jiang (The night man cometh), transports us to the snowy landscape of a region of myth. Warrior and princess like figures make appearances alongside two contemporary types and all four interact with a range of fauna, from pheasants to deer to a horse.

What this shares with the other pieces in the show is a dreamy disconnected narrative and a lush HD picture, which brings a whole new dimension to black and white 35mm film. 

Yang represents a younger generation than other famous nationals, such as Ai Weiwei and Huang Yong Ping. If forced to generalise, one might say he is more concerned with beauty, they more directly with politics.

But are there ten or more other Chinese artists making dreamy, black and white films, who we do not yet know about? Perhaps, although you'd have to say Yang may well have cornered that particular market.

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