Calligraphy, Tea, Shopping and Soccer: The Yangjiang Group In Sydney

Art Life , Reviews Jan 29, 2015 1 Comment

From Luise Guest

Wax dripped over a shop full of mass produced clothing to create a frozen monument to retail therapy? Check. An installation of the remains of 7,000 sheets of paper covered with text from Marx’s Das Kapital in Chinese calligraphy? Check. A 24-metre mural juxtaposing expressive Chinese characters with scrawled English text reading “God is Dead! Long Live the RMB!”? Check. The anarchic Yangjiang Group have arrived at Sydney’s 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, with their unique brand of installation, painting, performance and calligraphy – social sculpture for the 21st century. To misquote the Chinese Communist Party’s description of socialism in the global marketplace, perhaps this is “dada with Chinese characteristics.”

#1 Yangjiang Group Das Kapital Football 2009  Courtesy the artists and Vitamin Creative Space-3 (2)

Yangjiang Group, Das Kapital Football (still), 2009, ink on xuan paper calligraphy, action, documentation, installation (two channel video: DV widescreen anamorphic, colour, with sound, ink on xuan paper carpet). Courtesy the artists and Vitamin Creative Space

This exhibition intrigues on many levels, not least because it is one of four major Visual Arts projects to be successfully funded by a Kickstarter Campaign in the first stage of Art Basel’s Crowdfunding Initiative, in which non-profit arts organisations and non-traditional visual arts projects can garner international support. For Sydney’s Chinese New Year Festival the Yangjiang Group presents Actions for Tomorrow at 4A.

On the ground floor of the gallery the installation Final Days replicates a boutique clothing store. The artists brought clothing produced in Yangjiang, which has been customised with slogans used by local Chinese street vendors. The entire installation has been encased in wax. What is local? What is global? The final impression is one of a lost civilisation unearthed from beneath layers of lava, an apocalyptic vision of the remains of a culture focused on conspicuous consumption.

#2 Yangjiang Group Das Kapital Football 2009  Courtesy the artists and Vitamin Creative Space-2 (2)

Yangjiang Group, Das Kapital Football (still), 2009, ink on xuan paper calligraphy, action, documentation, installation (two channel video: DV widescreen anamorphic, colour, with sound, ink on xuan paper carpet). Courtesy the artists and Vitamin Creative Space

Upstairs the walls are covered in calligraphy, the key practice of this collective founded in 2002 by Zheng Guogu, Chen Zaiyan and Sun Qinglin in their hometown of Yangjiang in Guangdong Province. They see calligraphy as a metaphor for the unpredictability of a confusing contemporary world. Everyday life – drinking, eating, shopping, gardening, gambling and sport – underlie their approach to writing calligraphy, far from the rarefied world of the traditional Chinese scholar.
In the early days they produced their installations after prodigious bouts of drinking, but now, they told me when we met last week at the gallery, their focus is on the healing effects of Chinese tea, unifying mind and body, daily life and art. “We are not conceptual artists,” Zheng Guogu said, explaining that the important thing is the action itself, the process rather than the end result. Rather than attempting to interpret the works the audience should simply enjoy the experience. However, interpretation is hard to avoid. In placing the Chinese currency as an alternative deity, ‘God is Dead! Long Live the RMB!’ is a sardonic response to current discourses in China, where there is much soul-searching about the loss of traditional values in an obsession with wealth. It is also inspired by Sydney, say the artists.

#3 Yangjiang Group at 4A

The Yangjiang Group (Zheng Guogu, Chen Zaiyan and Sun Qinglin) at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, photo Luise Guest

This mural of black dripping Chinese characters surrounds ‘Das Kapital Football’, an installation comprising hundreds of metres of rice paper covered in calligraphy. The artists involved more than a hundred volunteers over the course of a month copying pages of Marx’s text in Chinese characters. They were dispersed over a football field on which the artists and their friends played three simultaneous games of soccer, in six teams. Video monitors show the chaos that ensued. In the gallery, the remains of this absurdist event present an island of paper, part of which moves as if breathing.
4A director Aaron Seeto said, “The Yangjiang Group are connected to a slightly different history of contemporary art in China [than the older generation of Chinese artists] as China opened up to the world. They consider the impact of globalisation on how people think. They apply this social context to high traditional art forms, like calligraphy.” Their work is anti-authoritarian: they believe that art should be practised and enjoyed by all kinds of people, not controlled by the social and cultural elites who dominate the artworld. The final element of ‘Actions for Tomorrow’ will take place in Darling Harbour’s Chinese Garden of Friendship during Chinese New Year. Judging by previous events such as their ‘After Dinner Calligraphy’ (Fan Hou Shu Fa) – in which they used leftover food after a banquet to produce calligraphy – Yangjiang’s Twilight Garden Party live action piece promises to be both unpredictable and intriguing.

Actions for Tomorrow at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art.

Luise Guest

One Comments

  1. hemmat

    Hi…
    I am an Iranan,
    I have practiced calligraphy as well as painting ,…for 25 years and I have enough proficiency in this field .I want to send you some of my calligraphy samples to know your idea about them. If it is possible please mail your idea to me…

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