Critics’ Picks

Yang Fudong, Close to the Sea, 2004, ten-channel video installation, 23 minutes. Installation view.

Yang Fudong, Close to the Sea, 2004, ten-channel video installation, 23 minutes. Installation view.

Beijing

Yang Fudong

ShanghART | Beijing 香格纳北京
261 Cao Chang Di, Old Airport Road, Chaoyang District
May 12–June 15, 2012

ShanghART’s Beijing outpost and the adjacent ARTMIA Gallery have given over their spaces to two of Yang Fudong’s majestic and baffling videos: Close to the Sea, 2004, and Revival of the Snake, 2005. Although the works premiered at the 2004 Liverpool Biennial and in 2006 at the Parasol Unit Foundation, respectively, this occasion marks Yang’s first solo exhibition in Beijing and the debut of the two videos in China.

Each piece is made up of a ten-screen video installation, with eight monitors lining the darkened walls of the room and one hanging in the middle with projections on either side of it. Close to the Sea is the most successful at taking advantage of this format: The eight screens each display one or two musicians, standing on craggy rocks by a brown, turbulent sea. Intermittently, they sound their instruments with single notes, which combine cacophonously. In the center of the room, one side of the screen portrays two lovers happily frolicking on the beach, while on the other they cling to a raft that is being mercilessly tossed around in the same sea. If the seaside orchestra is meant as accompaniment to the dueling narratives of young love and bleak survival, its dissonance amplifies the conflict between the two stories.

Best known for his works that explore the ennui and romance of being young, cultured, and cognizant in modern China, Yang focuses his attention here on existential issues. There’s a chilling poignancy to showing Revival of the Snake now in Beijing: Yang, born into a military family here, tells the story of an exiled soldier wandering a harsh northern Chinese winter landscape. The soldier’s isolation ends only once, briefly, when he crosses paths with a rural funeral procession. Is this the beginning, the end, or some in-between point of the soldier’s journey? Yang leaves the viewer with no clues.

This exhibition is also on view at ARTMIA Gallery, 261 Caochangdi Airport Service Road, until June 15.