Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping’s once-banned ‘Bat Project’ gets first European showing

CHINESE ARTISTS SOLO EXHIBITIONS

A solo exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary (UK) presents five key pieces created by by leading Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping within the last ten years. One of them, Bat Project IV (2004), is being shown in Europe for the first time.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Amerigo Vespucci', 2003 (foreground), 'La Pêche', 2006 (background). Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Amerigo Vespucci', 2003 (foreground), 'La Pêche', 2006 (background). Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

The exhibition was the result of a collaboration between renowned Chinese curator Hou Hanru and the Director of Nottingham Contemporary, Alex Farquharson.

Huang Yong Ping is all at once an artist, magician, fortune-teller, alchemist, healer, teacher, philosopher and writer.

– Curator, Hou Hanru

Click here to read more about Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping’s latest solo on Nottingham Contemporary’s website.

Bat Project: first time in Europe

Bat Project IV (2004) presents a series of related works, created during a three-year period from 2001 to 2004, that refer directly to an incident in 2001 when a US spy plane with a bat logo on its tail fin collided with a Chinese fighter jet in Chinese airspace. Seen as one of Huang’s most ambitious works, it incorporates a real Lockheed EP-3, the same type of plane involved in the 2001 incident, and viewers have the opportunity to enter the fuselage to investigate its fabricated and politically weighted contents.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Bat Project IV', 2005. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Bat Project IV', 2005. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

As the viewer climbs the small staircase into the plane they are confronted by a series of display cases filled with historical reference material and memorabilia in relation to the incident. The stuffed bats that hang in the blasted windows of the cockpit reflect the logo on the tail fin of the original US aircraft and can be seen as an example of Huang’s play on the double meanings of symbols.

The bats also reference the cultural differences of East and West and Chinese mythology, as bats are sometimes feared in the West but are believed to symbolise happiness and bring good fortune in China.

Huang uses this [‘Bat Project’] as an anecdotal thing to dig deeper into historical and global complexity to provoke other consequences and questions.

– Curator, Hou Hanru

Huang Yong Ping, 'Bat Project IV', 2005. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Bat Project IV', 2005. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

Bat Project was to be shown initially in 2001 at the Fourth Shenzhen Contemporary Sculpture exhibition in China, however once the content of the work was revealed it led to a diplomatic feud between the French, Chinese and US governments. It was immediately censored and removed from the exhibition, and was banned from the 2002 Guangzhou Triennial. It was eventually shown, however, as part of Huang’s retrospective exhibition “House of Oracles” at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis in 2005.

Numerous sculptural works

In addition to this piece, artworks shown in this solo exhibition include Construction Site (2007), a 12-metre minaret angled like a missile and based on the minarets added to the Hagia Sophia, the former Christian cathedral in Istanbul, which became a mosque in 1453 when Istanbul fell to the Turks. The canvas screens are modelled on those used during the renovation of Hagia Sophia and suggest at a sacred enclosure. The title, Construction Site, makes reference to different religions, their universality and eternity, as well as their varying distinct histories.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Construction Site', 2007. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Construction Site', 2007. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

In Marché de Punya (The Market of Merits and Virtues) (2007) a market stall, typical of a small street shop in China, sells Buddhist statues, printed prayers, incense sticks, candles and fake banknotes, which are used as religious offerings to the dead. An elephant, often the guardian of Buddhist temples and a symbol of mental strength in China, lies dead in front of it. The work is overwhelmed by high market values and is a metaphor for the commercialisation of ancient traditions and the loss of religious integrity.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Marché de Punya', 2007. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Marché de Punya', 2007. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

He [Huang Yong Ping] is not particularly interested in animals per se but how humans build relationships with animals, how they incorporate them into their lives and, vice versa,… how Chinese medicine uses animals or other non-human objects and materials [and] turn them into the life system of human beings…. He [has] tried to explain the concept of life [using] this relationship, this mixture of human and animal.

– Curator, Hou Hanru.

The sculpture La Pêche (2006) depicts an angel offering a small carved wooden statue of Christ on the cross and seven Buddhas as the bait to catch the Leviathan, an enormous terrifying sea monster. According to the Old Testament, specifically the book of Job, Leviathan guarded the gates of Hell. This piece refers to a twelfth century illustration within the story of Hortus Delicarium (The Garden of Delights), written by the nun Herrad of Landsberg. Here Huang has substituted the seven prophets of the original book with laughing Buddhas, an allusion to prosperity.

Huang Yong Ping, 'La Pêche', 2006. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

Huang Yong Ping, 'La Pêche', 2006. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

Finally, in Amerigo Vespucci a metallic fighting dog cocks its leg against an immaculate gallery wall. The pool of urine that forms as it is marking its territory resembles the shape of the USA, a metaphor for the Italian who documented the discovery of the American continent and after whom America was reputed to be named. Here the line between the wall and the ground represents the world’s longest straight border between the US and Canada and therefore makes reference to limits, borders and transition.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Amerigo Vespucci', 2003. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Amerigo Vespucci', 2003. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

Huang challenges the hierarchy of different cultures, how the division of cultures should somehow be re-understood. He looks into how to redefine the contemporary by introducing time systems. Behind [these time systems] are different cultures, especially those cultures that are marginalised, forgotten or censored in different moments of history. [These cultures stand] on the same platform as an ongoing negotiation that doesn’t reach a conclusion.

– Curator, Hou Hanru

Allegorical art

Huang Yong Ping’s sculptures act as allegories. They combine references that are topical and traditional, political and mythological, natural and fabricated and animals are used to explicitly symbolise recent political events. Huang interprets the world today through his manipulated images and materials with humour and word play, and through examining how cultures collide and transform as a result of massive moral, political and economic forces, including imperialism and rapid economic globalisation.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Marché de Punya', 2007. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Marché de Punya', 2007. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

World religions are a key theme in his work where, in this exhibition alone, there are references to Islam, Buddhism and the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Religion today is not disappearing, it is stepping back. Another way of looking at this withdrawal is that it now has a substitute… globalisation itself.

– Huang Yong Ping

About Huang Yong Ping

Curator Hou Hanru first encountered Huang’s work in 1996 when China was going through its first avant-garde wave. At that time Huang was experimenting with painting where, instead of traditional or academic social realist paintings, he created “anti-paintings”, inspired by Duchamp and the Dada movement. Since then, he has endeavoured to express himself through experimentation with different types of media including sculpture and installation.

He shouldered anti-culture whilst re-interpreting what culture is, then he explored a lot of issues about the limit of language, the limit of signifiers, the difference between the real facts and language, which was an important philosophical ideal for him. He looked at geopolitical conflicts, the understanding of different cultures, the paradox of all this desire of understanding the other.

– Curator Hou Hanru

Born in 1954, Huang moved to Paris in 1989 after participating in the renowned “Magiciens de la Terre” exhibition at Centre Pompidou that year, held not long after the demonstrations of held in China’s Tiananmen Square. He has been coined as a contemporary French visual artist of Chinese origin, even representing France at the 1999 Venice Biennale, and for the majority of his career he has largely worked in Paris, France. Today, he divides his time between studios in Paris and Fujian province in southern China.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Bat Project IV', 2005. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Bat Project IV', 2005. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

In my eyes, interactions and mutual influences between different cultures are very important. ‘West’, ‘East’, ‘I’, ‘Other’ are not fixed concepts; they can shift. I was very interested in the West when I was in China. I considered it as something outside me and it provided a source for my imagination. On the contrary, I talk more about China now that I am in the West.

– Huang Yong Ping

In 2006, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis organised and premiered the artist’s retrospective “House of Oracles”, which travelled to Mass MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts; Vancouver Art Gallery; and Ullens Center, Beijing. Other solo exhibitions include: CCA Kitakyushu, Japan; De Appel, Amsterdam; Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris; Atelier d’Artistes de la Ville de Marseille; Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo; Barbican Art Gallery, London; and New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Construction Site', 2007. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

Huang Yong Ping, 'Construction Site', 2007. Photo: Andy Keate. Image courtesy Nottingham Contemporary.

Huang Yong Ping’s latest solo exhibiton is on display at Nottingham Contemporary (UK) until 26 June 2011.

RM/KN/HH

Related Topics: Chinese artists, UK art events, gallery shows

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