Art Radar speaks to the Shanghai-based artist about his latest work on show at Beijing’s Galerie Urs Meile until 16 October 2016.
Yang Mushi talks about his most recent work, his growing up in a family of artists and what influences, shapes and challenges his generation in China.
During Yang Mushi’s fledgling career, his work has for the most part been exhibited in China, but he has also made forays into Europe and Southeast Asia. His installation works consist mainly of large-scale sculptural pieces made out of industrial production waste and raw materials and their manipulation through grinding, cutting, sharpening and re-constituting with resulting objects that evoke violence while at the same time being fragile. He thereby questions the legitimacy of China’s rapid urban development and in the face of globalisation, critiques the rise of consumerism and points at the challenges that this poses for individuals living in such a society.
Yang Mushi was born in 1989 in China’s Jiangxi Province, and currently lives and works in Shanghai. In 2014 he graduated from the prestigious Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. The artist’s mother and father are Shanghai-based visual artists Chen Xiaodan (b. 1962) and Yang Jianping (b. 1961), whose works were shown at the Venice Biennale in 2013.
Yang Mushi’s first solo exhibition entitled “Illegitimate Production” at Ai Weiwei-designed Galerie Urs Meile in Beijing’s Caochangdi art district runs from 3 September to 16 October 2016. Art Radar speaks to the Chinese artist to discuss his latest works, his upbringing in a family of artists and the ideologies that have shaped but also challenged his generation.
Why is your solo show at Galerie Urs Meile in Beijing called “Illegitimate Production”? What are the over-arching themes of your works in this exhibition?
“Illegitimate Production” is about insanity. Sudden emotions and desires can lead to illogical actions and unreasonable and ridiculous consequences, which are pointing at “illegitimate production”. You can see this a lot in China. This exhibition describes the life of a man that works in a far away factory for three years.
Are you referring here to yourself and the time and work it took to create these works?
This exhibition came about through my excessive and over the top actions (working in a remote factory for three years) and the results of my behaviour reflect on and question the value of production. These acts include wearing down, subtracting, forming, joining together, cutting off, cutting into, eroding, covering and sticking together. These actions are not only the most basic, the most common mode of production and labour, but also correspond to the level of consciousness of the social mode of production. During this process I work extra long hours and increase the scale of production so that the material reaches its “most extreme condition”, which brings out the oppression, the infinite, the ultimate and the void.
Tell us about your 2015 work called Subtracting – Pole, where we see a pile of neatly stacked and very sharp-edged black wood poles. Why did you make this work?
On the side of the road I found a lot of piled up wood beams. The farmer who was selling them said that they were left over wooden beams from old demolished houses. I thought, what a waste. I sharpened both ends of the beams. The wood beams are reduced and covered with black becoming like spears, sharp-pointed, even to the extent of [becoming] a fear-inducing object. Dongliang [from the original title of the work] in the Chinese language means a ‘pillar of construction’, like people who are pillars of society and take on difficult tasks.
I choose objects that have special social significance and are functional and that were abandoned in an era of change. The abandoned ready-made disintegrates so that the “pillars” return back to their initial state and at the same time acquire the attribute of ‘attack’. Through extreme alienation from material things, it is a time of sudden change that gives rise to consumption, leading to regression and abnormality.
Can you elaborate on the meaning of that last sentence?
By cutting off and reducing the original shape of the pillars, its quintessential properties of [structural] support disappear and what remains is a weapon, generally of a violent nature. And this condition corresponds to the “unscrupulous” and “unintentional” acts of people produced by the violent changes of society in order to survive the state of affairs. It is a retrogression of civilisation. Existentialist and harsh living conditions give rise to acts of self-defence, a feeling of violence.
Another work that is aesthetically similar to the work you just discussed, with its dark wood poles and sharp edges, yet perhaps more monumental in its scale and character is called Constructing (2016). Tell us the story of how this work came about.
This work is closely knit to my educational background. I am from the ‘89 generation and suffered from the deeply ingrained collective education [in China]. Years of learning led me to do this work. I used solid wood boards from different places and reconfigured them into sharp and pointy, awe-inspiring and oppressive forms. The main principle behind the large-scale monument-shaped objects concerns the relationship between social ideology and collectivism.
Tell us about your choice of materials as well as your working method.
In these three years I came across wood panels, plywood, used furniture, foam, building rubble and old wooden stakes. They can be seen all over my neighborhood and are relatively easy to get. My home is in the countryside of Shanghai, 5 kilometres from the airport. There are many buildings that are in ruins as well as old factories.
What is the story behind Adhering (2013-16)? Why did it take so long to make those 277 balls? What does the installation mean?
There are many construction sites near my home. I took waste from these constructions sites and pressed it into dust. Then took white latex and residues and put them together, sticking layer after layer[…]. A ball needs to be rolled six to seven times. In Shanghai the weather is very damp and it often rains. So when there is sun, you need to take [the ball] and put it under the sunshine. So it is a very time- and labour-intensive process. This work attempts to explore the destruction caused by the rapid development and reform of society to the individual and the mutation of the individuals after being forced to change.
One more work that we would like to know more about is Grinding (2013-2016). How did it come about?
For three consecutive years I have continuously been cutting, grinding and sharpening various type of timber. Combined with the black-coloured cover, it constitutes a kind of gloomy, sharp-pointed [shape], to the extent of [becoming] an ultimate form. My hope is that through this kind of extreme action and consumption that takes place day after day, this brutal process can be used so that the properties of the material transform into an extreme and limited condition.
Why do you make art?
Because of the pain. These pains usually come about as a result of making mistakes. The problems of social reality can produce a series of mistakes and these problems come from the system’s own festering and incompetence. Therefore making art means directly confronting these mistakes.
What are your greatest sources of inspiration?
The reality of trauma. Trauma causes concrete problems. These problems equally apply to everyone.
What do you think is the role of an artist in today’s world?
“Daoshi”. To view the universe in another way and through some kind of act to inspire the world’s people.
You spent some time in Paris in 2013 as part of an exchange programme and had a solo show called “Rien” at Cité Internationale des Arts Exposition in Paris. What did you exhibit there? How did you find this experience outside of China?
The exhibition had on display what I had collected during my time in Paris. I took these different objects and rearranged and reorganised them until they became meaningless. This time period allowed me to gain a new perspective on life and on how to deal with problems.
Both of your parents are practicing artists. How has their art and life influenced your life and art making?
Although I have grown up in a family of artists, we never discuss art at home. We usually talk about food and cooking. I don’t think my parents influenced my art making. All three of us are very independent and everyone gets on with his or her own work. In the evenings, after work we usually all go for a walk together.
IMAGE: Portrait photo of the artist Yang Mushi with a piece from “Adhering”. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne.
What do you think is the greatest defining factor that distinguishes your generation of artists as opposed to that of your parents? How have the challenges and opportunities changed?
I believe that this difference can be attributed to the angle from which historical circumstances caused harm. In their generation it was all about losing or saving face. I was born in 1989 and harm comes from various directions. We face a different set of problems even more complex and crueler. [For example], I have experienced the era of globalisation. I have grown up in extreme capitalism and socialism and the fusion of these in our country. I have experienced first hand the rapid transformation and development arising out of consumption.
What has been the greatest achievement so far for you as an artist? What has been the most challenging aspect so far?
I have never achieved anything. The biggest challenge always comes from your own self.
What are some future projects that you are hoping to realise? Any upcoming exhibitions you are working on? Any unfinished works that you would like to see come to fruition?
At the end of the year I will have a personal project in Miami. Then I am preparing for a lot of solo and group shows both at home and abroad. I am in the process of experimenting with different kinds of works and hope to exhibit them when they are finished.
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