Geneva Anderson digs into art

Two chances to meet and hear Chinese artist and filmmaker Yang Fudong this week at BAM/PFA in Berkeley

Yang Fudong, born 1971, who lives and works in Shanghai, is one of the China’s leading contemporary artists and independent filmmakers.  The first mid-career survey of his works is at Berkeley Art Museum (BAM) August 21-December 8, 2013 and he is co-curating a film series at Pacific Film Archive (PFA). Image: BAM/PFA

Yang Fudong, born 1971, who lives and works in Shanghai, is one of the China’s leading contemporary artists and independent filmmakers. The first mid-career survey of his works is at Berkeley Art Museum (BAM) August 21-December 8, 2013 and he is co-curating a film series at Pacific Film Archive (PFA). Image: BAM/PFA

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 Fudong: Mrs. Huang at M Last Night, 2006; black-and-white C-print; 47¼ × 70⅞ in.; courtesy of the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris/New York, and ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai.

Yang Fudong: Mrs. Huang at M Last Night, 2006; black-and-white C-print; 47¼ × 70⅞ in.; courtesy of the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris/New York, and ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai.

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.

Yang Fudong: An Estranged Paradise (mo sheng tian tang), 1997-2002 (digital still); 35mm digital film transferred to DVD; black and white, sound; 76 min; courtesy of the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris/New York, and ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai

Yang Fudong: An Estranged Paradise (mo sheng tian tang), 1997-2002 (digital still); 35mm digital film transferred to DVD; black and white, sound; 76 min; courtesy of the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris/New York, and ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai

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. 

August 19, 2013 Posted by | Berkeley Art Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s film festival time again– SFIAAFF 28 Opens on Thursday March 11, 2010


It’s film festival season again and this year’s 28th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival opens its 10 day run on Thursday March 11, 2010, with a gala premiere at the Asian Art Museum of  David Kaplan’s food-centric romantic comedy “Today’s Special,” starring “The Daily Show’s” Aasif Mandvi and celebrity chef Madhur Jaffrey.  This year’s festival offers a fantastic program, showcasing 109 of the very best new Asian and Asian American films and videos from around the globe, with 4 films mkaing their global premieres.  Thirteen films have special connections to our Bay Area.  I always attend SFIAFF because the films are wonderfully diverse with fantastic storylines and I love their “out of the vaults” selections of old classics like the 1960 South Korean black and white cult thriller, “The Housemaid” (“Hanyeo”) whose director Kim Ki-Young is South Korea’s Luis Buñuel.  This film was discovered in the West in 2003– 40 years after its debut in Korea and considered one of the top three Korean films ever made.  The story revolves around a music teacher and his live in help–rat poison, blackmail, abortion, suicide and murder—all contribute to a farfetched but engrossing story.    The Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), in San Francisco, is actively involved in producing a lot of these films, so the screenings have a warm familial quality to them.  This year, there is a strong emphasis on Filipino and Filipino American media-making through retrospectives, exciting new films and a CAAM-produced mobile game. The festival takes place in San Francisco (Castro Theatre, Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Landmark’s Clay Theater, VIZ Cinema), Berkeley (Pacific Film Archive) and San Jose (Camera 12 Cinemas).  Most of these films sell out early, so buy your tickets online in advance, or you can try on the day of the event at the screening venue.  Here are ARThound’s top picks:

Catch a Lino Broca flick—This year’s SFIAAFF featured director is Filipino Lino Brocka (1939-1991) and if you aren’t familiar with his work, you need to be.  The festival offers a unique chance to see four of his rarest masterpieces, beloved classics that delve into the heart of being Filipino and melodramatically capture themes of marginalization, family life and honor.  His 1985 political commentary “Bayan Ko” (screens Thursday, March 18 at PFA) had to be smuggled into France to be shown at Cannes which led to his citizenship being revoked by an angry Marcos regime. But even Marcos could not stop him, and he and a few others made the 1970s and early 1980s a golden age for Tagalog films in a country whose people are still among the most avid filmgoers in the world.  “Insiang” (screens Saturday, March 13 at Kabuki) may be Broca’s greatest film ever– depicting motherhood turned on its head–offering a mother so selfish and treacherous that we can hardly believe the impact of her poor judgement and cruelty as it plays out on her daughter, Insiang, in the slums of Tondo.  

“In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee(world premiere)  Berkeley director Deann Borshay Liem journeys back to Korea to explore her true identity  after living with the knowledge that the name on her adoption papers “Cha Jung Hee,” given to her at age 8, is not her true identity at all.  Liem was adopted at age 8 from the The Sun Duck orphanage in South Korea in the 1960’s and sent to America as “Cha Jung Hee” for her eager American adoptive family–Borshays.  Liem grew up as “Deann” in this very loving family and lived her life quite successfully.  She ultimately became the executive director of the National Asian American Telecommunications Association.  She essentially forgot who she was before she came to America.  Through dreams and events that jarred long-suppressed childhood memories, the urge to know her story became an obsession.  She began to believe that she was both victim and complicit in a complex hoax that altered the course of her life and the life of the real Cha Jung Hee, whose place she had taken in America.   The film captures her attempts to heal as she pieces together her identity with what facts she can find and people she meets along the way.  Masterful editing, blending scenes from the Korean war, with stills of the orphanage, with Liem’s home movies from the 1960’s, with Liem’s experiences in Korea  add to the dreamlike quality of this film.   This is a sequel to her Emmy award winning “First Person Plural” from 1999.   

“Tehran without Permission” is Sepideh Farsi’s intimate portrayal of contemporary life in this mysterious Persian capital city that was thrust to our attention last year with its notorious election scandal.  The film was shot entirely and discretely with a Nokia cell phone and captures the pulse of what’s happening in Tehran’s streets as well as within private residences—the only havens where people can literally let their hair down.  What’s amazing about this film is its testament to the human spirit—these courageous, stubborn and hopeful people have adapted to the bizarre restrictions imposed on them with a kind of national schizophrenia that allows them to lead one life on the streets and another behind closed doors.  (In Farsi with English subtitles.) 

“Agrarian Utopia” is Thai director Uruphong Raksasad’s cinematically stunning acccount of the beauty and hardships of daily life in a traditional Thai farming community against the backdrop of globalization.  The film captures two tenant farmers and their families through a harrowing but typical rice crop season by focusing on their daily lives from dawn till dusk.  The pace is slow and unhurried and draws the viewer into the sublime experience of living in nature and being subject to its whims–floods, electrical storms, thick morning mists and spectacular sunsets.   Seductive were it not for the need to survive and the desire to offer a better life to your children.  They face crippling debts,  uncertain market prices, uncoopertive water buffalos, the forces of nature and a daily struggle for food.   Facing pressure from their wives, they refuse to abandon what they have and know for uncertain  factory jobs in an alienating urban environment.  They hold out against increasingly unsurmountable odds, hoping for a turn of events but distrustful of the electioneering politicians in distant Bangkok who are crying for reform and a return to farm subsidies with reasonable repayment rates.  We watch them trap and eat rats, snakes, dogs, worms, and honey-whatever they can find and–they remain genuinely thankful for daily survivial.   One neighboring farmer, divorced, and with no obligtaions, has embraced organic farming which requires more work initially but has long-term benefits.  Sadly, these families feel they do not have the luxury of time and chose to struggle on.  (In Thai with English subtitles.) 

“Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest, Part 4-5” The West Coast premiere of Shanghai conceptual artist Yang Fudong’s (born 1971, Beijing) five-part black and white cinematic extravaganza that explores the uncertainty facing China’s new generation of urban youth as they confront the disparities between their real and imagined lives set against the backdrop China’s new and rapid modernity.  The highly-acclaimed series made a splash at the Venice Biennial and recalls the black-and-white prewar films of the 1930s and 1940s China and postwar avant-garde film noir.  The title references the legendary Seven Sages, a group of 3rd century Chinese intellectuals who separated themselves from civil society to lead Daoist-inspired lives (fueled with heavy alcohol consumption) in the countryside.  Parts 4 and 5 complement the Shanghai exhibition at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.  Part 4 covers incarnations of the seven intellectuals as fishermen and travelers in a new frontier isolated and alienated.  In Part 5, the seven intellectuals return to Shanghai, where they take up meaningless jobs. They are shown drinking and cavorting (full frontal nidity) in a banquet hall, and as the scenes take on an increasingly surrealistic tone, the nonsensical seems an analogy of contemporary urban life. 

The festival closes with a gala premiere of Bay Area-native Arvin Chen’s campy romance “Au Revoir Taipei,” set in Taipei’s markets, back alleys and karaoke bars.

March 10, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment