For the occasion of her participation to the 2018 Shanghai Biennale, the Chinese artist Huang Jing Yuan talked to our local editor in Shanghai Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva.
Huang Jing Yuan: The conversation started around December 2017, when Cuauhtémoc Medina visited my studio. My paintings are physically present, so they didn’t really need much explanation.
Most of the time we exchanged ideas on my writing instead, the artist statements I wrote, my essays, and my writing collective. The part of my writings that are available in English are limited, but even that part I didn’t have the chance to discuss with many people. I was very happy to find a reader such as him.
After the formal invitation to the biennale, as well as to the Reader (we are the only Chinese contributors to the Reader as far as I know), we didn’t talk much about the details, until we met again this September in Shanghai after I was given a space.
He gave me some sense of the area that I was in. I didn’t know the architecture design, but by accident, we shared a lot in terms of approaches and concerns. It is an absolute joy to find that it is a framework I can intervene in. I think Medina trusted me on my choices, and knew when to give me more information, and when to help me understand priorities.
I like the kind of curators who care about writing, and I like to exchange writings with him. Reading his wall text, the curatorial introduction to my section, was a revealing and inspiring experience for me. What I have is a practice, and I like that I am perceived as such. I also think I was very lucky to have Hantao, the chief coordinator facilitating his exploration of the whole mechanism in China.
Maybe because I speak Chinese, the executional aspect of the presentation was mostly dealt independently and directly with the construction team PSA provided. They were equally important in helping me carrying out my vision.
The Right to Write by Huang Jing Yuan
We write, privately, with or without readers; we also write publicly, as quick as updating our social media, as mechanical as signing a credit card. In this project, I use the verb “write” in its broadest sense, taking advantage of the Chinese societal tradition where calligraphy is a form of painting and a device for expression in both literary circles and street art.
Maybe to some viewers’ disappointment, I have no provocative materials that openly call for “the right to write” to present here; indeed, the languages I am working with, in most cases, are seemingly submissive in their form and largely deprived of their political agendas. It is a temporary coming-together of works that suggests what could have been different, through materials from the world where “the right to write” is gradually being taken away.
Yes, it is an artistic (historical) hypothesis. To conduct it, I have invited sixteen participants and worked with them to exhibit (and in some cases to create) their materials together with my own paintings. This working method inevitably brought me face to face with the usual dichotomies: the textual and the visual, the practical and the conceptual, the documentary and the lyrical, art and non-art, and the prestigious and the disadvantaged, but my intention was to focus on the betrayal of category, the contingency of binaries, the accident in the prescribed, and to a certain degree, the compulsion within each of us to write. If writing is the mother of the comatose archive, I wonder if exhibiting could be the rehearsal hall for a brief spell of somnambulation.
Here we are, through the platform of a biennale, accompanied by the friendliness of physical everyday materials, unfolding an open and intimate understanding of the different available and unavailable tools for each individual at certain times. The project tries to synchronize different kinds of isolation, to create a narrative for segregated worlds to mirror each other (no, they don’t explain each other, nor can they save each other). It invites viewers to ask: What is the ordinary Chinese person’s experience and expression as they negotiate the vortex of changes and ubiquitous inequality? what do these instances of picturing the world say about the time we are in? How may we empower ourselves when faced with the past and the reality in front of us, and the world yet to come? With these questions in mind, this complex hopefully communicates my own ways of picturing the world.
- Huang Jing Yuan, Courtesy of the artist
- © Huang Jing Yuan, Courtesy of the artist