Wormhole - Two Aspects from Wang Yuyang and Modern Arts Li Zhenhua (2009)


This art project is finally named after a scientific phenomenon because of a shared doubt of mine and the artists – the doubt comes from the parallel threads in our deliberation about the external and internal things of our bodies. Usually, art has an classical orientation, where every object or idea is presented in a special and specific space after the artist have given full consideration to them. Another thread comes from an orientation similar to the writing of consciousness. With this orientation, artists present their seemingly illogical actions through some specific body movements or in unconscious ways. This is exactly the starting point of this exhibition.

What is exactly the relationship between art and the threads constituted by the artists? And what is the relationship between art and the audience’s interpretation?

These relationships will directly lead to other issues based on the modern value system, which include the copyright of artists, the property rights of curators and artists, the economic relations between artists and art works, and the many associations with art as products that are revealed by the value system as a whole. I would like, by exploring these issues, to rediscuss the existing relationships between artists and curators, and (together with artists) consciously present the subtle relationships in artistic creation, between consciousness and unconsciousness, between systematic and unsystematic, between valuable and valueless, because I have always doubted whether the so-called logical value of elitism has an opposite side. Scientifically, there is a balance between two sides (we call them the positive side and the negative side in the secular world) within everything. The two sides are like black holes and white holes that are connected by a wormhole. Although the existences of the sides has never been proved with any empirical experiments, we are trying to reveal the sides associated with artistic creations and attempting to juxtapose the two sides.

As I agree more with the social attributes of art as objects, I believe there must be some kind of economic relations in each transformation of objects, which means that any existing object can be valued and purchased. However, what art needs to promote and struggle with are not the business attributes of any behavior and object, because I think these only exist in the relations between ideas and objects.

From another perspective, what should be discussed is the relationship between theories generated in the development of modern art in China and the localization and globalization of artistic practices. This relationship is like the two sides of matter, and this relationship is either rigidly interpreted as inheritance (i.e. modern art in China is a product of the legacy from the Western art history) or firmly considered detached (modern art in China is completely detached from globalization and is only a populist art). Art phenomena made up of the mysteries and unreadable elements of the emerging modern arts in China are ultimately attributed to the subtexts of some social phenomena like the Cultural Revolution and some economic phenomena.

This exhibition and the previous exhibition curated by Yang Fudong come down in one continuous line, as this exhibition also probes into the threads of the artist’s creation by exploring the artist’s individual art works, the exhibition considers the years of 2007, ‘08 and ‘09 as an interpretable creation period to discuss the multiple threads of the development of modern art in China, especially the economic phenomena within the background of globalization. I hope the individual threads can help us recognize and challenge the roots of the development of modern art.

Looking for threads in the modern art in China

The Star Painting Group and Anonymous Painting Group in the 1970s provide the development of modern art in China with a collective stance, but they did not get over the sense of certainly in some community and collective conscious. The ‘85 New Wave was more of a collective state in which artists came from small groups into a large group and contributed to the large group collectively. There were many possibilities in the group, but cultural restrictions resulting from some individual’s peculiar behavior led to the beginning of an individual consciousness, as the collective ways were transformed into some loose cooperations in the fight against these restrictions. Especially, the video art exhibition in 1996 and Post-Sense Sensibility: Alien Bodies and Delusion in 1999 both provided full threads of this aspect. The artists returning from abroad, like Wang Gongxin and Zhang Peili offered the precedents of video art in the ‘96 exhibition. Prior to this exhibition, Zhang Peili had started working on video art as early as 1988, and the video art exhibition in 1996 exactly showed that video as a new media was spreading amongst the artists. The exhibition was different from the previous ones in that the group in this exhibition was formed not out of a collective conscious but via media. The exhibition Post-Sense Sensibility: Alien Bodies and Delusion embraced more artists from different educational systems and it was not influenced by the 1980s because of the artists’ overseas study, the political factors after 1989, the input of technologies after the video art was developed, and the influence imposed by the new international art trends. The art in the 1990s started to present multiple and individual approaches. The international attention and the local strategies enabled phenomenon like Political Pop and Cynical Realism, the trends of performance art, the trends of video art and conceptual art, and various kinds of big international exhibitions featuring “Chinese symbols,” to emerge in Chinese modern art.

After 2000, modern art in China developed within a complicated and contradictory reality, which paralleled the development of independent artists who were gradually detached from the threads of the big exhibitions and social phenomenology.

Wang Yang volunteered to be an artist’s assistant in Mustard Seed Garden (Jie Zi Yuan) in 2001. At that time, Wang Yuyang majored in stage design at the Central Academy of Drama and was influenced by artists like Zhang Hui. Later, he studied in the Department of Experimental Art at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, where Lv Shengzhong was Wang’s supervisor.

A thread for modern art then comes from Post-Sense Sensibility in 1999, and another comes from the experiments in the 1980s (the creations and teaching practice of Lv Shengzhong). After 2005, Wang Yuyang gradually started the creation of a new series of work that cannot be fully explained by the threads from the 1980s and 1990s, and which made it necessary to discuss another thread and dimension which are indirectly related to the threads of video art and conceptual art in the middle of 1990s.

This special phenomenon at the ending of the 1990s was that the Internet became a media where knowledge was accessible. The information about modern art from subjects including the YBAs, the US, Japan and Europe were widely used as cultural threads by artists to better understand the development of international art. The information from the Internet was not fully interpreted or comprehended, but was appraoched under the influence of visual interpretation. A large amount of art works were misunderstood, which led to a particular aesthetic phenomenon in Chinese modern art.

The relations between local and international art made the development of Chinese modern art more complicated and diversified. As an artist born in the 1970s, Wang Yuyang is exactly

a product of this kind of phenomenon. Apart from complicated materials, a large amount of new media, such as videos, electricity and air blowers, have been used in his art works. Furthermore, some new creative ways that are not restricted to their origins (disappeared Chinese symbols and forms) formed new ideologies in modern art in China. In particular, the marketization of modern art in Chinese society in 2007 prompted many artists to copy the local art heroes (such as Zhang Xiaogang and Fang Lijun) or international art methods. Modern art in China (including portraits of Chairman Mao, Tian’anmen, pandas, miners and migrant laborers) seems to have got rid of the collective consciousness and became the mainstream of culture due to economic factors. This new direction is gradually attracting the attention of the West to Chinese society where the social issues like factories, residents’ relocation and social violence constitute new matters of social responsibility on the superficial level (the development of art is focused on phenomenology again).

Under no political pressure, the creation of modern art in China presents a collective consciousness again, which is based on freedom, democracy and economy. Is this a problem for China? Is it true that the intellectuals in China are really not capable of thinking and judging independently? Besides, there exist some artists who hold their independent attitudes, which is related not with the large art works, economic trends and the theory of developing powers but with the role an individual plays in society and how to maintain the attitudes and thinking styles of an individual.

Inevitably, Wang Yuyang has been influenced in many respects; however, his inheritance of the independent spirit overweighs the influences which, as his inheritance, although they may seem to be simple, will enable the artist to maintain his own spiritual home out of the mainstream consciousness in the long term.

The threads of modern art in globalization

The trend of globalization also cannot completely get rid of the collective consciousness, which is best exemplified by the YBAs in the 1990s. The YBA movement presented the identities of young artists in Britain as youth with its diversity and power, the exhibition appeared to be forgetful of the collective consciousness; however, the sense of recognition from society endowed the exhibition with a concept of nationality and country. After that, country-focused exhibitions have spread worldwide, such as Japanese art and American art, and art has constantly been given a veneer of politics and nationalism.

This is associated with the artistic-political strategies in the 1980s mentioned in Frank Furedi’s Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?, whose strategies are concerned with modes of contemporary artistic thinking that ingratiated themselves with the public. We are gradually secularizing the elites in popular ways, and the vested beneficiaries stay silent because of the interests they gain. Art no longer represents a unique and particular way and is going to present the largest Western collective consciousness and a vulgar social desire through contemporary art. This inclination is evident in art works after Andy Warhol, especially the works and working style of American artist Jeff Koons which clearly shows that contemporary art is to creation what higher quality commodities are to all manufactured products. The Contemporary art no longer even provides us with the interactive relationship of profound thinking. The art works are most commonly judged by their comprehensibility, and the relationship between the artists and curators have been replaced by rights and politics. The role played by the museums has changed from a place where the classical and elitist works are presented to a public as a ground of recreation. All of these are changing the appreciation and ways of thinking about art. Modern values have been exaggerated, and the classical works are no longer the art works from Renaissance but from some people we do not know who can be from any cultural background. Contemporary art starts to have its own stars.

Mathew Barney and Damien Hirst can be called contemporary myths. One came from the US, and the other from Britain. It is selfexplanatory that the origins of American culture are rooted in the social value of creating myths and promoting individual values, but Britain seems to be more conservative. However with the emergence of the YBAs, this conventional and conservative society started to be overtaken with new innovative ideas, youth, blue collar work and the cult of Princess Diana. Mathew and Damien play as heroes in the US and in Britain respectively. They did not show an elitist status in their early appearances, but after they got famous, they moved towards not only elitism, but also the peak of essentialism.

In this environment, the contemporary arts in the US and in Britain developed from the essential elements escaping from the collective consciousness to an up-and-down spectacle of modern art. A large number of foundations and universities cultivated artists who presented this new working and living style – they got money from the college education system and foundations and sometimes purchased some art works. According to the requirements of government and politics, they sent out their applications and created works in the directions suggested by those applications. The reality in Europe and in the US was that a large amount of artists presented a collective consciousness under the guidance of political consciousness, and this collective consciousness finally influenced the intellectual circle of Europe the US. Of course, this “intellectual circle” was not the individual intellectual’s status recognized by us – this “intellectual circle” might not be self-aware enough to criticize itself and can both get information from television and the Internet and give irresponsible comments.

If this is the European and American cultural phenomenon at the ending of the 1990s, this phenomenon has not changed – the thematic subjective perceptions have lingered in the politicalcultural strategies after the 1960s. Contemporary art in Europe and the US did not really present the patterns of the movements in the 1960s but acted as the constructor of the new modern art system. Contemporary art can be pursued as a strategy that has evolved peacefully, leading to some influence on the followers.

It is exactly in this international environment that Chinese contemporary art attends biennials and triennials as protests to governments and politics, the people advocating nationalism and religious objections, exposers of reality and the spokesmen for this mysterious Chinese culture. The urgent external needs and the needs for Chinese contemporary art to link with the international world constitute a special phenomenon for contemporary art in China. In this phenomenon, we are gradually guided to believe that this is the new system and to consciously bring the concepts of Western art into the development of Chinese modern art, finding roots and threads in Chinese contemporary art. Or we are led to generate thinking patterns under the corresponding succession and confrontation, finding individual threads in Chinese contemporary art, such as the patterns of Zen Buddhism, economic development and folk culture.

With the coming of post-Olympics and post-economy period after 2008, artists from China and many places in the world must think about transformation. The questions associated with

transformation include how to think independently of any system and how to construct an individual attitude that depends on neither the local politics and reality nor the external politics and realities – this attitude is more like a product of internationalism and more approximate to the nature of intellectuals, whose nature keeps the artists alert and skeptical toward any mainstream issues and enables the artists to criticize the errors in the mainstream but also recognise the correct asepcts in the mainstream, all of which need to be pondered critically.

The threads of Wang Yuyang’s art works 2007–2009

Wang Yuyang’s works were exhibited in the 2007 exhibition Sustainable Imagination: Media Art in China Exhibition Series 1999–2007 which I curated. In the exhibition Yang Fudong’s An Estranged Paradise (which began filming in 1997), Qiu Zhijie’s interactive work The West (which was first created in 1997), and Wang Jianwei’s documentary series Architecture in Daily Life (which was also begun in 1997) were exhibited. All these were initiated in 1997 within the general directions of media art, and the creations of these three artists were finished in 1999–2002. Wang Yuyang, Zheng Yunhan, Cao Kai and Yang Tao made their distinct contributions with their art works from other threads of media and concepts.

The Moon Landing Program

The inspiration for this work comes from the moon landings in 1969. The artist mentioned in an interview (from 2007) that the work is associated with the myth of Chang’e’s flight to the moon. The artist extends his investigation of counterfeit and comparison in contemporary art. The issues referred to in this work are still among the topics that attract the most attention (worldwide) and are frequently discussed in the press.

Artificial Moon

Several months after The Moon Landing Program was completed, according to the artist’s plan, his Artificial Moon was installed by the Goethe Institute on a bridge at the Workers’ Stadium. The Artificial Moon is four meters in diameter and 7,000 energy-saving bulbs were used with a power consumption of 210,000 watts. In order to extend the discussion of the moon, the artist started from the original image of the moon and reconstructed a representation of the matters of material transformation, fields and scale in contemporary art.

Dust is Dust

This work was designed in 2008. The artist collected dusts from daily life and magnified them to appear as meteors in outer space. Some of the dust was embedded in a crystal ball. This project works in connection with the relationship between mythic and scientific imagination seen in The Moon Landing Program, and echoes the practice on this issue in the modern art environment (such as in the works of Mathew Barney).

Tonight I Will Consider Who I Am

This climactic piece based on a philosophical statement enabled the artist to find another perspective on thinking, and in the creation of this work, the cycle of this series is constructed. This work, in one respect, comes from the artist’s self-reflection, and in another, comes from the recognition of objects after they are transformed. This work borrows item from The Moon Landing Program (objects created by the artist), and the items are cut up and then used to construct a space about thinking and imagination of outer space.

The creation of this series is like a practice in two directions that targets both self-examination and the history of contemporary art. The artist simulates a scientific practice via visual art, constructing an unreadable relationship between objects and art through transformation, and constructs multiple methods by juxtaposing myth and scientific imagination. After this Wang Yuyang, in his creations from 2007 to 2009, looked for possibilities all the time. And the Moon series exactly provides an interesting perspective to the contemporary art environment with no Chinese background and no features based on phenomenon, not only because of disappearing Chinese characteristics in the creation of the artist, but also because of his getting rid of his confinement to contemporary art methodologies.

A rediscussion of Chinese characteristics and individual characteristics

Chinese characteristics are shaped by the revolutionary people who finished their study abroad and came back to China in the predominate pursuit after the Vernacular Movement (1917–1919) and the May 4th Movement (1919). The Chinese characteristics were undergoing a transitional phase from colonized state to a stage where the culture was relatively open, technologies were innovating, and new ideas emerged one other another. Chinese characteristics emphasized a mainstream consciousness to save the dying country and peoples, which brought the feelings of historical humiliation (First Opium War and Xinchou Treaty) to an end and showed that China was creating a democratic republic. The positive appearance of a nation-state was gradually formed, but the sense of superiority over the local culture was gradually melted by Western culture and mechanical civilization, and the undesirable folk customs were greatly criticized. At that time, the Chinese characteristic was towards revolution – to overturn of anything from any direction. This directly led to the founding of the New China. As Chinese Communism was a version of a Western philosophy, the Chinese characteristics were replaced by an overwhelming revolutionary trend again.

From 1949 to 1975, China undertook an extreme change and the characteristics of China and individuals were completely eliminated by the large framework constituted of revolution, leader, country and nation. After 1975, due to the loss of the leader and a series of events that happened in the cities, the atmosphere of revolution was reconstructed to be a new environment where the people desired to find both their own values and a path suitable for China to develop.

The Anonymous Painting Group, Star Painting Group and the reflections and deliberations of the intellectuals made up the unprecedented cultural freedom (that sprang from the “contention of a hundred schools of thought” and the “Hundred Flowers Campaign” from 1949 to 1951) in New China since its very beginning. What was shown by the characteristics of China and of individuals were still resistant to the educational systems and other systems, and the characteristics did not establish any cultural distinctiveness. Due to the factor of time and events, the Chinese characteristics and individual characteristics deviated from the mainstream collective phenomenon again.

This kind of collective phenomenon lasted up to 2000. During the last period of the phenomenon, generations of emerging artists facilitated the advancement of Chinese characteristics and individual characteristics in collective movements that revolutionized the doctrines.

So, when will the Chinese characteristics and individual characteristics start to be separated from each other? When will the individuals be independent of the collective consciousness?

When will the individual characteristics become independent of the Chinese background and reflectiof modern Chinese phenomena?

I would like to bring forward these questions for two reasons: the first one is the necessity to find the so-called Chinese characteristics, and the second one is that I want to discuss whether the individual characteristics present similar states or not, in this free and rich environment, whether the issues individuals are interested in are still confined by modern society, time, status and geographical borders, and how the individuals need to think in unique ways.

Certainly, it is related to the fact that I prefer to cooperate with independent artists in my curatorial work. Only in this way of working can I make general observations on the history and development of an artist and then truly face the time fault in the above questions.

What should we say goodbye to?

The theme of Guangzhou Triennial in 2008 – “Farewell to Postcolonialism” has inspired me a lot on two fronts: one is how to reflect on post-colonial issues in China, and the other is why we should say “Farewell”? The former discusses whether post-colonialism exists in China in the modern context of globalization, and the latter one explores the reasons why we should say goodbye to this theoretical concept.

All these matters can be directly and constantly revolutionized and overturned by the continuously emerging modern culture. Is it the most serious difficulty for us to transform all modern matters? Since the transformations are not only on the level of art and culture but also on the level of the economy, society and politics, how should we face the uncertainties brought about by the transformations? What kind of role should art play in the transformations? How do we say farewell to the past? How do we face the future art, or how do we create the future art? If there is a wormhole between modern uncertainties and the constant settlements and establishments, I hope we could travel through it and have the courage to subvert this existing relation.

Thus, should we say farewell to the known and existing aspects of the systems? This includes farewell to the creative relations of art, to our identities and our political identities generated from our countries and nationalities, and to all the known art systems. Could we die if we identify the vanishing of ultimate existence? Or could we find the possible clue of dynamic existence by continually confirming and pushing forward the modern borders?

The question still exists: where do we come from? And where are we going?

Obviously, art cannot provide any clue to the question; however, by incessant and dynamic means, art enables us to realize that these borders and systems are so rigid and stiff. Apparently, art is not equipped with destructive powers, but art could offer some kind of guidance and probing into power.

The art of existence, art of economy, art of art. Here, art is the origin of creation, but not a visual form. I think it is time for us to say goodbye to the visualized forms and it is time for us to face other possible forms of art as well as interdisciplinary relations. The modern society we are facing will certainly provide us with a possible attitude but not a definite direction.

Is it too standardized to always do the right things at the right time? I think we should do the right things at any time.

I prefer to accept this attitude, embracing the possibility while maintaining the uncertainty.


The proposal of a solo exhibition of Wang Yuyang comes from a long-term discussion and thinking with other artists. We mainly hope to discuss the probability of art from a more horizontal perspective. I have referred to many issues in my words, which are not only considered by me but also discussed by many artists, gallery owners, scholars and in advanced books. I hope this exhibition is not a conclusion, because the artists are still developing their creation – I hope it is an exploration of some modern art forms, and I hope we can find a collection of understanding about sharing and reconstruction in the parallel worlds. The conducive revolutions are pushing society forward, and art should do more than just be the braking apparatus and lubricating oil of the society. Will art be the catalyst? Or the engine?

in Zurich

Oct 6, 2009

Li Zhenhua