When I went see Yang Fudong’s show at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki I had no prior knowledge of his work. It turned out to be very helpful for my own practice as well as very enjoyable as an exhibition. In this blog entry I’m not going to not going to examine so much of the content and meaning of the works, but how the works are constructed and the affect that produces.
All three works in the show were filmed within theatrical, constructed environments designed to mimic the exterior world but with no attempt to disguise their artifice; artificial light, artificial sound, artificial worlds that mimic our own. Costumes and characters that are unashamedly being ‘played’ and filmic techniques manipulating duration and speed all calling into question notions of authenticity – something I have been examining in my own moving image work.
‘Yejiang/The Nightman Cometh‘ (2011) is a surreal, otherworldly trip through a frozen landscape with mute characters who express their interior worlds through exaggerated gesture and emotion. The unapologetically theatrical staging of the environment, lighting, costumes and props were tantalising to me because this is something I have been exploring in my own work. I’m still trying to unpack the reasons behind its importance to my work, so observing it in Fudong’s work stimulated my thinking around its usage. ‘Yejiang/The Nightman Cometh‘ seems to be an alternate world that exists within the bounds of a giant snow globe. Its relationship to the real world is tenuous and there is definitely the feeling of an alternate, or internal, reality. The use of theatrical staging and point of view of the camera – it only once moved from being directly in front of the scene, as if watching from the audience – heightened these otherworldly qualities. I also enjoyed the lighting which produced a deep chiaroscuro effect and the false perspective created by the set. The soundtrack evoked tragic string-based soundtracks from early 20th, and this added to the Film Noir vibe. Funnily enough I’d been toying with the idea of using a snow-effect in some of my own work, so I really enjoyed seeing it being used here! So quiet and strange.
‘The Coloured Sky: New Women II‘ (2014) is a multi-screen video installation that exists on all 4 walls of a darkened room. The work portrayed lithe young women frolicking in a manufactured tropical beach environment with both fake and real flora and fauna. The stage-set beach has structures of brightly coloured perspex that divide and illuminate the scene, while the ‘sky’ and lighting are in rich, tropical tones rather like the physical embodiment of a fruity summer cocktail. There was something about the work that reminded me of Lars Von Trier’s ‘Melancholia’, not in subject matter, but in aesthetic.
There were a number of things within the work that I have been considering within my own work. Seeing them working within a piece of video art gave me a lot to think about:
– The use of still life shots; intense colours, chiaroscuro, still objects but on moving image
– Imagery of people that appears still, a portrait, a moment in time except that the slight shake of the hand or movement of the chest gives away the fact that it is video.
– A soundtrack that swells and recedes creating different tensions and moods
– A narrative with no set start or end
– Changes in film speed
– Notions of the authentic/inauthentic