Published on Wednsday, May 11th, 2011
He is considered one of the most unpredictable artists of his generation because he has well understood the role of the artist in the XXI century: to go beyond the distinctions between genres, to truly live and react to today's world issues, to make life and art a single thing. This is clear reading his own testament, written in 1991, where a pottery pot is set in front of a white wall with just a sentence written on it: "One day I die an unnatural death. Then one should feed me to a tiger and keep its excrements
". Traditions and contemporary art, life and death, poetry and the dirty part of each existence merge in these words giving us the key to understand the research of Yang Jiechang
His works are often really different from what he did before, that's why he never tries hard to force reality into his own schemes, but he rather adapts himself to what life proposes him. It can be a site specific work, an exhibition or just an idea to be expressed: it seems that no challenge is too big for this artist involved in a large span of media and languages, from ink-wash painting and Chinese calligraphy to drawing, photography, installation, performance, sound, music. Jiechang demonstrates it again in his last exhibition, hosted from the 6th of May to the 5th of June 2011 in La Criée, Centre for Contemporary Arts, in Rennes, in France, featuring a group of three works under the umbrella title of 'Stranger than Paradise
'. These works are set in the process of analysis of the globalized world that is a constant topic in Jiechang's production: a planet ruled by fluctuating borders, in precarious balance between control and instability, where people try to let intelligence be stronger then instincts, where the attempts to enter Paradise maybe result stranger than Paradise itself.
Yang Jiechang knows very well what globalization means: born in 1956 in Foshan, Guangdong Province, in China, he lives and works in Paris since 1988. He gained international attention thanks to the exhibition 'Les Magiciens de la Terre' in the Centre Pompidou in 1989 where he showed the first work of the series called 'Hundred Layers of Ink'. "I created these works in a period of transition
- the artist said in an interview - I had left China and had just arrived in Europe. These works express a process of self reflection and self cultivation. My earlier works are concerned with the question of how to deconstruct traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy by using the very means of these disciplines. Yet in Europe working on these questions that are specifically related to Chinese culture did not make any sense. I therefore chose the strategy of retreat to advance in the new environment
The strategy was to preserve his spirit and his technique but to merge it with the European way of creating art, for that was the only solution to be in the same exhibition with great artists of that period such as Nam Jun-Paik or Alighiero Boetti. "I understood that I shouldn’t expose myself to much, neither my personality, nor my art. I therefore returned to the basic elements I had distilled during my process of deconstruction in China: the process of applying ink, water and paper itself; thus the 'Hundred Layers of Ink', a monochrome black square, on which layers and layers of ink were applied, appeared. I applied the ink on the same square day by day, as if I was writing my diary
". In this way the long training in calligraphy at the People’s Art Institute in Foshan and in traditional Chinese painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Canton became essential for his new way to look at art.
The process started in 1989 never ended and it's still evident in 'Stranger than Paradise'. The three works on display, two of them specially created for the exhibition, recall traditional Chinese culture and aesthetics through the use of a specific medium, like ceramics and painting on silk, or through distinctive object like a bronze gong. On show in the main exhibition space, the installation 'Stranger than Paradise, Mountain Top
' (2011) is made of 200 ceramic sculptures on wooden stands of different heights. The sculptures are painted with scene of animals having sexual intercourse: each pair involves different species, elephant and tiger, stork and puma, wolf and monkey, in a defying of physical singularities and incongruities, meaning the impossibility to simplify the concepts of identity and sexual life in a traditional family idea. This surreal sculptural landscape is associated with the video projection 'Gong…
' (2011), showing the artist striking a bronze gong with his head: each impact produces a sound that spreads through the exhibition space, hitting the visitors, trying to make them face what is going on around them. In the third and last work the above-mentioned bizarre animal scenes reappear on panels of ink-painted silk with the title 'Stranger than Paradise 1
' (2010–11). The exhibition, however, doesn't end here because Jiechang couldn't renounce to include also one of his famous sport performances in the project. On May 12, with the help of the artist, La Criée will be organizing the event 'Gong… Party
': the evening will be focused on the performance 'Waving Basket: Eurasia Versus Paradise
', created by the artist: two teams of young people will challenge each other in a basketball mini-match that will really put their stability and dexterity to the test. The big united continent of Eurasia, central concept in the production of Jiechang, will fight the ideal of Paradise, in a match that maybe won't have a clear conclusion, demanding each visitor to find his or her own answer.