Two chances to meet and hear Chinese artist and filmmaker Yang Fudong this week at BAM/PFA in Berkeley
Yang Fudong, a leading figure in China’s contemporary art and independent film worlds for the past decade, will be in conversation twice this week in Berkeley—6 PM Tuesday (Aug 20) at Berkeley Art Museum (BAM) and 7 PM Thursday (Aug 22) at Pacific Film Archive (PFA).
Yang is the focus of Yang Fudong: Estranged Paradise, Works 1993–2013, the first midcareer survey of his work, which opens Wednesday at BAM, and of PFA’s film series, Yang Fudong’s Cinematic Influences (August 22-October 6, 2013). The Tuesday evening conversation with BAM/PFA Adjunct Senior Curator and art historian Philippe Pirotte (also director of Kunsthalle Bern) is free and so is BAM entrance. The exhibition, fresh from its debut at Kunsthalle Zürich, fills four galleries, and can be viewed from 5 to 9 PM and the conversation will begin at 6 PM. This is expected to be a more substantive conversation about Yang’s work and background than Thursday’s conversation, also with Pirotte, which will take place after PFA’s 7 PM screening of Estranged Paradise 1997-2002 (Mosheng tiantang, 2002, 74 min), Yang’s first film, a beautifully-shot reflection on life in China, circa 1997.
Yang’s work explores the ideals, anxieties, and contradictions of the generation born during and after the Cultural Revolution. These individuals are now struggling to find their place in a rapidly transitioning China. While Yang draws much of his subject matter from the consumerist contexts of contemporary urban China, many of his images recall the literati paintings of the seventeenth century. The exhibition presents film, installation and photography from the late 1990s until today, highlighting his cinematic works and their engagement with Film Noir aesthetics
Yang was born in Beijing in 1971 and first trained in painting at the China Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou before switching to photography and filmmaking. In 1998, he moved to Shanghai where, like many artists of his generation, he taught himself both photography and film. He became widely-known in China when his photograph The First Intellectual was removed by the Cultural Inspection Bureau from the controversial 2000 exhibition of experimental art designed to coincide with the first international exhibition of the Shanghai Biennial. This photograph explored the tensions between the traditional role of the intellectual and China’s urban transformation, an idea that he has continued to explore in subsequent artworks.
Yang captured the attention of the Western art world in 2002, when he premiered his film An Estranged Paradise (1997–2002) at Documenta XI. Beginning with a meditation on the composition of space in Chinese painting, the film traces the spiritual instability of Zhuzi, a young intellectual in the legendary city of Hangzhou. The film reflects the artist’s fascination with international cinema, referencing such works as Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and Jean-Luc Godard’s Àbout de souffle (1960), as well as Shanghai films from the 1920s and 1930s, a place and time in which China was strongly influenced by the West. “Yang’s films have an atemporal and dreamlike quality, marked by long and suspended sequences, divided narratives, and multiple relationships and storylines,” writes PFA’s Jason Sanders, Film Note Writer. In Yang’s more recent installations, he reflects on the process of filmmaking itself, creating spatially open-ended multichannel films that he likens to traditional Chinese hand scrolls.
BAM’s presentation of Yang’s work includes twenty years of photographs and video installations in four galleries and a continuous loop of Yang’s single-channel films daily at midday in the Museum Theater. In addition, Gazing into Nature, an exhibition of twelfth- to fifteenth-century Chinese artworks from BAM’s collection, highlights the influence of traditional painting on Yang’s work.
Yang’s contemporaries, young people between the ages of twenty and forty, who have spent most of their lives in a society in transformation, are the protagonists in his works. In an ARTforum (Sept 2003) interview, Yang discussed his five-part film The Seven Intellectuals (completed in 2007) and described a dissonance that applies to this new generation that we can all relate to—
One wants to accomplish big things, but in the end it doesn’t happen. Every educated Chinese person is very ambitious, and obviously there are obstacles-obstacles coming either from “out there,” meaning society or history, or from “inside,” from within oneself. In this work you could see that “the first intellectual” has been wounded. He has blood running down his face and wants to respond, but he doesn’t know at whom he should throw his brick; he doesn’t know if the problem stems from himself or society. Ideals and the way they distinguish people, but also the way that they can unite people and encourage them to form bands, partnerships, brotherhoods-this was something I wanted to investigate in more depth, taking my time to do so. When I eventually completed “An Estranged Paradise,” I started defining this new, vast project, which will unfold as five different films. Because I feel that this topic is extremely important to an understanding of China, both past and present, I wanted to articulate several temporalities together: one that is really ancient, the stories of “The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove”; another set during the `50s and `60s, when there was a profound questioning of the status and role of intellectuals (and so the films will have a clear `50s, `60s kind of New Cinema flavor); and, ultimately, one dealing with the concerns and ideals of today.
BAM/PFA’s film series Yang Fudong’s Cinematic Influences (August 22-October 6, 2013), co-curated by the artist, features two of his own films and films that have influenced him.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
7:00 PM An Estranged Paradise
Yang Fudong (China, 2002). Yang Fudong and Philippe Pirotte in conversation. Yang Fudong’s first film is a poignant psychological drama shot in lustrous black and white. (74 mins)
Thursday, September 5, 2013
7:00 PM Sacrificed Youth
Zhang Nuanxin (China, 1985). (Qingchunji). A young Beijing woman is “sent down” to live among the Dai minority of Yunnan Province during the Cultural Revolution in this key work from one of China’s few Fifth Generation female filmmakers. With Yang Fudong’s 2011 short, The Nightman Cometh. (90 mins)
Saturday, September 7, 2013
6:30 PM. Yellow Earth
Chen Kaige (China, 1984). (Huang Tudi). Sound, landscape, and political history are transformed into blistering poetry in the film that launched China’s Fifth Generation and introduced two major voices to world cinema, director Chen Kaige and cinematographer Zhang Yimou. (89 mins)
Saturday, September 14, 2013
6:30 PM Spring in a Small Town
Fei Mu (China, 1948). (Xiao Cheng Zhi Chun). Imported Print! With a visual panache often compared to Ophuls, Antonioni, and Welles, Fei Mu’s 1948 gem possesses a melancholy beauty all its own. Voted the Best Chinese Film of All Time in a poll of Chinese critics. (85 mins)
Sunday, September 29, 2013
5:30 PM Street Angel
Yuan Muzhi (China, 1937). (Malu Tianshi). Arguably the finest example of Shanghai’s Golden Age, Street Angel is an intoxicating blend of Chinese leftist populism, Hollywood pizzazz, song numbers, French poetic-realist doom, comedic slapstick, and city symphony. (94 mins)
Sunday, October 6, 2013
5:30 PM Suzhou River
Lou Ye (China, 2000). (Suzhou He). In this atmospheric noir thriller, which doubles as a city symphony to Shanghai’s eternal mysteries, a videographer searches for work, and for a lost love. (83 mins)
Philippe Pirotte on Yang Fudong at BAM/PFA
Details: Berkley Art Museum (BAM) has gallery entrances at 2626 Bancroft Way and 2621 Durant Avenue (both between College and Telegraph Avenues) in Berkeley. Hours: Wed-Sun 11 AM to 5 PM. General Admission: $10. Yang and Pirotte in conversation is free and so is BAM entrance. Special exhibition viewing is Tuesday, August 20, 5 to 9 PM; conversation starts at 6 PM.
Pacific Film Archive Theatre (PFA) is located at 2575 Bancroft Way, (between College and Telegraph Avenues) in Berkeley. The PFA box office theatre opens one hour before the showtime of the day. Advance tickets for Yang Fudong’s Cinematic Influences (August 22-October 6, 2013)—both the series and individual screenings—are available online here. General Admission tickets are $9.50 and are available for online purchase up to two hours before the first program of the day. There is a $1 fee for online purchases. Pick-up advance purchase tickets at the Will Call at the PFA Box Office before the show. Arrive early to select a good seat.
Parking: TELEGRAPH / CHANNING GARAGE with entrances on Durant and Channing just below Telegraph. BAM/PFA Offers Parking Validation. With validation, parking is half-price for up to 5 hours.
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