Sunday, 12 July 2009
In recent years, contemporary Chinese artists have rise to the main stage and are becoming critically acclaimed for the work they produce. I did not grow up in China, but having been through the tough Math/Science-focused curriculum typical of Asian education systems, I can say with confidence that artistic inclination is not recognised as such and, indeed, very much under-appreciated. Yet, with a society so steeped in culture, tradition and history, contemporary Chinese artists bring a point of view so radically different than what the art world is used to seeing.
I encountered Beijing artist Yue Minjun’s work years ago and it really caught my eye. One of the most important artists of the Chinese avant garde, Yue Minjun’s work is characterized by an exaggerated laughing figure which, upon closer inspection, serves as a portrait of the artist. The expression on these laughing faces, however, contain fear, animosity, and a sense of discomfort that is reaction to the reality in contemporary times.
“The spiritual essence of the silly man originates from the philosophy of Lao Zhuang. Scholars of historical times often display a sense of helplessness when faced with society’s problems, most choose to give up. I feel that the act of giving up is a state of humanity; it prevents one from conflicting with society yet maintaining inner peace. To be able to give all up allows one to be nonchalant and detached. All problems can be solved with laughter-they simply disappear without causing any heartache. This is how one may attain extraordinary peacefulness within his inner self.”
“By employing traditional painting and sculpture techniques, multiple clones of my self-portrait image have been created in order to invent a new idol; similar to the approach of television and movies. When an image is duplicated continuously, the subsequent strength in numbers produces an immense force. Once the image transforms into an idol, I am able to manipulate and utilize the image repeatedly. An idol has a life-force, it often influences our lives and regulates our conduct by setting itself as an example. A contemporary society is an idolized society, hence its culture becomes an idolized culture.”
“We are in a world full of idols. We see them everywhere. Liu Hulan, Lei Feng, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Picasso, Stalin and so on and so forth. They stand erect in your heart and your life is under their influence and control. I discovered what each of these people as an idol share in common, spreading his or her own image every where. Just occasionally I simplify and use this method in my art, repeatedly idolizing myself. I long to be an idol, because once a person becomes an idol, he or she can enter into the blood veins of others and control their ideology.”
“I paint people laughing, whether it is a big laugh, a restrained laugh, a crazy-laugh, a near-death laugh or simply laughter about our society: laughter can be about anything. Laughter is a moment when our mind refuses to reason. When we are puzzled by certain things, our mind simply doesn’t want to struggle, or perhaps we don’t know how to think, therefore we just want to forget it.” (Yue Minjun)