On the afternoon of October 5, 1986, works exhibited in the "Xiaman
Dada" exhibition at The Cultural Palace of Xiamen, the coastal province
in southern China, were set on fire, turning to ashes by a sheer breathe
of the autumn breeze. "The show no longer exists," proclaimed
the initiator of the group, Huang Yong Ping, in the accompanying statement
commenting upon the burning event that day. "The way one treats one's
work of art marks the degree to which the artist is willing to liberate
himself... even undergoing an irrational process." Huang Yong Ping
intended to undermine the importance artists place on the value of their
works throughout the entire history of Chinese Art.
Among the first generation of avant-garde artists active in the 1980s,
Huang Yong Ping, like his fellow artists of the same generation, seeks
to demolish the tyranny of the doctrine of Social-realism by promoting
free expression. He has lived and worked in Paris since participating
in the "Les Magiciens de la Terre" exhibition at the Paris Museé
National d'Art Moderne de Centre Georges Pompidou" in 1989. He regularly
participates in international exhibitions, including "Hommages à
Marcel Duchamp" at the Ecole Régionale des Beaux-Arts, Rouen,
France, in 1994; the "Hugo Boss Prize 1998" at The Guggenheim
Museum of New York; "Inside Out: New Chinese Art" at the PS1
and Asia Society Galleries, New York; the installation project for the
French Pavilion in 1999 Venice Biennale.
In recent decades, Chinese artists have emerged on the international
art scene generating interest and engaging in a multicultural dialogue
regarding the re-thinking of meaning as well as that of the global structure.
In the case of Huang Yong Ping, he takes Duchamp as one of the strategic
elements--as sign--aiming at deconstructing art and traditional value
for the new. His approach is a negation process deriving from ancient
Chinese philosophy by connecting Dada with Zen--borrowing Duchamp to go
against Duchamp--for the re-thinking of text. From my interview with Huang,
the acknowledged impact of Duchamp on the conceptual development of his
art enables us to speculate on the range of issues the artist has tackled
throughout the chronological and geographic changes of his life. By means
of Huang's cross-cultural and cross-historical approach, in the end, the
aesthetic impact we experience from his works eventually validates the
hybridity of cause and effect. The linear perception of historical determinism
no longer qualifies as the single answer to homogeneity and difference
in our environment.
Rewriting example 1:
When you have no cane, I will take it away.
When you have one, I will give you one. - Zen Boddhism(1)
TF: Being an active member of the Avant-garde Art Movement during
the mid-1980s [a.k.a. the "85 Movement"] and the leader of the
'Xiaman Dada' group, please outline this influential movement, and its
contribution to the overall development of contemporary art in China?
back at the '85 Mei-Shu (Art) Movement,' it was more like the 'Peasants'
Reform.' As I graduated from the Fine Art Academy of Zhejiang, and was
deployed back to my hometown, Xiaman, to teach art, I was already seen
as member of the rebellion. At that time, many revolts had begun impulsively
throughout the nation. This countrywide phenomenon generated all sorts
of liberations and dynamics among various circles. More importantly, it
was a group of young editors of art journals in Beijing, Wuhan, and Nanjing
which introduced these personal and underground acts to the general public
and the society. In the long run, these connections disseminated and caused
the pivotal effect.
TF: What would be the goal and meaning of this
movement to the history of art in China? And, its association with the
meaning of this fractal history would be that it had surpassed the boundary
of Social-realism in the society, awakening a sense of individual vitality
among the young generations. And then, we expect to associate this vitality
with Western Avant-Garde, although this association seems somewhat abstract,
however superficial. In other words, the movement is to include China's
contemporary art into a grand background of the "Globalization,"
rather than just self-murmuring in the given political rhetoric.
TF: Under what circumstance did you first learn of Marcel Duchamp?
And to what extent has he influenced your aesthetic concerns?
then China did not have any publication on Marcel Duchamp at all. I learned
about him through any materials that I could possibly acquire. The most
influential book to me is the Chinese edition of Dialogues with Marcel
Duchamp by Pierre Cabanne, published either in Taiwan or Hong-Kong.
I borrowed the book from the library, and made copies to circulate among
my fellow friends. I even carried the copy with me when I had to leave
the country in 1989. In 1994, this copy became an essential part of my
installation work (to be mentioned below). What interests me about Duchamp
are the qualities, such as the ambiguity of languages (his use of puns),
the ability to transform a stone into gold (alchemy), and his hermetic
life style. It is also very Eastern. Yet, when I was drawn into his art
in the beginning; I was also against him. In 1988, I wrote an essay entitled
"Duchamp Stripped Bare by People, Even: Rewriting Case 5, or Duchamp
Phenomenon Study." I thought that such a study was a pure joke on
theories, without any substantial quality except gesture and rhetoric.
As a matter of fact, the more one is attempting to study, the more ridiculous
one will become.
TF: In 1986, you brought the 'Xiaman Dada' into public
attention. By definition, how does the concept of "Dada" derive,
and differ from that of the Western context?
is seventy years separating 1916 and 1987. It is in no way to evaluate
history of Western Art and that of China in a parallel or linear way.
In 1986, when I initiated Dada in Xiaman, I meant to pinpoint the "85
Mei-Shu Movement." I felt responsible of imposing the "non-,"
or "anti-" conception, in order to promote a kind of skeptical
and critical attitude. I didn't appropriate "Dada" in a strict
sense. To be honest, I was not interested in those artists who were labeled
as Dadaists except Duchamp. As an alternative, I would rather like to
include Yves Klein, John Cage, and Joseph Beuys into this category which
I identify as "Dada is Zen, Zen is Dada." You can also refer
to two papers I wrote during the period--"Xiaman Dada: A Form of
Post-modernism," and "Pointing to the Complete Void: Dada and
Yong Ping, Big Roulette, 1987
Yong Ping, Small Portable Roulette, 1987
TF: The Roulette Series (1986-88) (Figs.
1 & 2) has obvious allusions to Duchamp as you take on
the roulette wheel to construct "Non-expressive painting" by
chance. Although the approach and concept are undoubtedly Duchampian,
you adopted I-Ching to design the rules for the game. It turned out to
be the key to the entire creative process through which a different thinking
is given. Duchamp negates the retinal effect of the visual aspect; you
appropriated the roulette wheel to replace the artist's hand for non-expressive
painting. In reality, the abstraction of the resulted painting is self-evident,
albeit it is the end product of the artist's indifferent act. Are contradiction
and irony part of your intentions, or more of a surprising effect?
completed by turning the roulette wheel to determine the color, stroke
and its pictorial arrangement (Fig. 3), Non-Expressive
Painting (Fig. 4) at first glance indeed
resembles abstract expression, so to speak. It is not only self-contradictory
but also ironic, almost ridiculous. I carefully arranged a network of
conventions, excluding psychological impulse. Turning the wheel entirely
based on the pre-designed mechanism, as if a student imitates from the
given materials. As a result, the painting appeared to be automatic, and
impulsive. It is perfectly proving my original thinking--the painting
as the consequential entity in its own right is divorced from the initial
intention of the author, and does not necessarily have direct association
with it.>> Next
Photograph of Huang Yong Ping turning
Yong Ping, Non-Expressive Painting, 1988
1 2 3
Cited from Huang Yong Ping, “Duchamp Stripped Bare by People, Even: Rewriting
Case 5, or Duchamp Phenomenon Study," 1988.