IN FOCUS: Interview multimedia artist Yuanyuan Yang | PHOTOFAIRS

IN FOCUS: Interview multimedia artist Yuanyuan Yang

Your research focuses on forgotten histories, giving a voice to subjects that have been erased from the public memory. Have you always engaged with this subject or has there been a particular moment or research of particular importance?

I think my interest in collecting photographs found in flea markets definitely influenced the way I worked in the early days.

This interest has slowly influenced my way of thinking about a lot of things: the boundaries between public and private memories; the progression of technologies of image-making and its influence on human being’s relationship in place and time; the link between individual and collective memories…

Most of the time, my projects take the research and collected historical materials as the departure, and they evolve along with individual experiences relate to specific places. By creating narratives where facts and fiction coexist, I hope the project could challenge the rigid and conventional interpretation of history and gives voices to subjects that have been forgotten, silenced, and misinterpreted.

I think my interest in collecting photographs found in flea markets definitely influenced the way I worked in the early days.

In your most recent exhibition with AIKE in Shanghai, you took the entire gallery space to create an immersive installation, where you created a seven-act play including photographs, video, sound and installations showing the different imagery of the Chinese city Dalian. Throughout the show different symbols - the spiral, the ruin, the clock - are subtly repeated. What do these different symbols signify in the context of the exhibition?
For the installation at AIKE, I divided the space into two sections: backstage and main stage.

The viewer walks into the “backstage” at first, which is conceived from a series of photographs, an installation and a single-channel video piece titled Dalian Mirage: Prologue. The images function as scenes, storyboards of the theater play; like puzzles and “vocabularies” relate to the core narrative of the play.

I hope to construct a spatial montage where time and space overlap in various ways: The silhouettes in these images from the past awaited for careful identification, with which the viewers may arrive at different destinations with the compass of time, and encounter with those people hidden within them, meanwhile, the functions and properties of the various urban spaces from different historical periods surface throughout this process.

In these images, shape of spiral and circle are extracted from different architectural structure, and these two shapes appear repetitively throughout the whole exhibition space, in both still and moving images. These two shapes are symbols of time and history in this project: it seems like an everlasting loop and it goes round and round, but every time it’s never really the same.

 


Installation view "Dalian Mirage"  solo exhibition recently displayed at AIKE
(23 March - 5 May, 2019)

 

The second part of the show is comprised of a 6-channel video installation titled Dalian Mirage:One Day, which structured as a walk following 10 characters of different times and passing through distinctive urban spaces such as harbor, staircase, square, hotel, street and theatre. I hope to take the viewers along with these ten characters of the play to experience the city at different times of a day, that seem to merge into an endless cycle.

 

How long have you worked on the Dalian project from concept to exhibition? Why did you choose Dalian and subject for this particular project? And did you have a favourite moment or object went you went through the archives of pictures, etc.

It has been a journey around 2 years. At the early stages of the project in late-2016 and early-2017, I was collecting materials like a hamster. The research covers various topics related to Dalian’s history, it was the process of learning and “world-building” prior to any artistic creation, just like collecting bricks for building the base structure of the architecture.
 

Among my research, I’ve been particularly intrigued by a writer named Takayuki Kiyooka, he was a Japanese poet and novelist born in Dalian in 1922 while it was Japan's leased territory, where he spent his youth until 1947. He received the Akutagawa Prize in 1969 for his book Dalian of Acasia Flowers. Takayuki Kiyooka was known for many stories he wrote about life in Dalian, unfortunately, none of them were published in Chinese by that point in 2017. Because I couldn’t read Japanese, I’ve spent a lot of time searching for translated fragments of his writings and was deeply touched by these pieces even though it was only a small percentage of his works. (Note: it hasn’t been an easy task to research about the history of Japanese immigrants in Chinese because most of this 40 year history are almost blanked out in Chinese history books. It’s a period of history being told in a neither-black-nor-white kind of way.)

There are many fragments that touched me deeply but the below is one of my most unforgettable fragments:

“It’s the first time you’ve experienced the expectation and fear in such an old age, it seems to be wrong whether it’s ‘return’ to Tokyo or ‘back’ to Dalian.” (he wrote this after his return to Dalian in 1982, after 35 years of separation from his hometown.)
This echo revolved around Takayuki Kiyooka’s complex feelings was the true beginning for creating Dalian Mirage. I started to build the core narrative of the project, which is based on stories of 10 characters who has a paradoxical relationship with Dalian as their hometown.

 


Installation view "Dalian Mirage"  solo exhibition recently displayed at AIKE
(23 March - 5 May, 2019)

 

Will you be continuing with this project?

The journey of Dalian Mirage is finished, but my research and relationship with Dalian is still ongoing.

One of the most beautiful stories happened during this 2-years journey was meeting Gao Ran, a writer and a Japanese translator who shares the same interest on Japanese literature related to Dalian’s modern history. It felt almost like we are two people digging in a dark cave from two different directions, and by the end of late-2017, we surprisingly found each other within the dim light in this cave. We became close friends and encouraged each other since then.
 

Congratulations on being awarded the six-month ACC Fellowship where you will be researching immigration history and engaging with artists and diasporic writers in the U.S. One of the artists you came across in your research was Chinese-American artist Esther Eng (1914-1970). How did you come across her name and where has it led you so far?
When I first arrived in the US, I was once again starting my research like a hamster. I was researching about the history of Chinese American with a focus on female filmmakers and performance artists, this is how I came across pioneer female Chinese-American filmmaker Esther Eng, who made me totally captivated. The one thought that wouldn't go away was: how is it that most information about this legendary and charismatic figure has been lost in time? Why has she been almost forgotten? Picking up the clues from Esther's life and from my contemplation on invisible images, I started a series of explorations and travels across the US, Cuba and Hong Kong, in the hope of establishing a deeper understanding of and research into other diasporic Chinese filmmakers, singers, and performing artists. During these explorations, one thing led to the other, all the beautiful encounters gradually form the foundation of my current ongoing project - a feature film titled Esther.

how is it that most information about this legendary and charismatic figure has been lost in time? Why has she been almost forgotten? Picking up the clues from Esther's life and from my contemplation on invisible images, I started a series of explorations and travels across the US, Cuba and Hong Kong, in the hope of establishing a deeper understanding of and research into other diasporic Chinese filmmakers, singers, and performing artists.

Why do you think is it important to create alternative futures, pasts and presents?
To resist the selective amnesia of history.

 

With technology especially the internet one can argue that the hierarchical nature of the classical notion of the archive no longer exists, as everyone is now able to create and save their own histories and memories. How do you think this rings true?
In my opinion, technology has always been progressing. Ever since paper and pencil was invented, people had the opportunity to create and save their own histories and memories. Human’s relationship with the world was ultimately changed when the first photograph was taken. And ever since photography has become universal, people can save their own histories and memories in both visual and textual form.  However, there’s no everlasting archive, not in any database. For example, the time when MSN Space was shut down triggered a collective global amnesia of the users who didn’t back up their content.

 

What projects are you currently working on and where will your next exhibition be?
Esther is the project I’m currently working on, which will be a feature film together with an alternative presentation as a multimedia installation. It’s going to be another 1-2 years journey full of unexpected surprises for sure, in fact, I’m going to the US this month to continue shooting this project. I feel very lucky to meet my amazing partner Carlo Nasisse, who works as the DP of the feature film, at the meanwhile we are also co-directing another short film named as Coby and Stephen Are in Love which grows from the experience of shooting the feature film, the short film’s estimated finish time will be this year’s summer.