Wang Yuyang

I am quite dubious about any definite, canonical statements about any artist’s work. I feel that all statements are essentially opinions based on the available facts, and opinions are contingent and temporary. But since I wrote about Wang Yuyang’s work in 2009 (for his solo show at Boers-Li Gallery), the addition of the new works has meant the extent of his work has gained an additional depth which allows for some new statements to be made about it. In this short essay I will pick up on one or two factors that I think deserve attention.

One feature in Wang’s work that may be seen as the closest thing to a principle for them, seems to be an approach to looking at the world through gaps between things – but not ‘through’ gaps: maybe a better word is ‘with’ – ‘with’ the gaps between. A simplistic example that I’m reminded of: when I was at high school, one of the first exercises we were set in art class was to draw a scene, but to only draw the gaps between the objects, not the objects themselves. Wang’s work seems to be working with this method, but on many levels. Those pieces that work with these gaps, for me become an indicator of a life of the objects themselves.

But how can the gaps give us an understanding of the life of, or in, an object? What is life, in this case? In conversation about his work, Wang has referred to Buddhist beliefs in the life that is inherent in all objects, not just our own or the bodies of other animals. Maybe, to begin with, when I look at an object I can say it has life if it appears to move under its own volition. Of course, I can be tricked by motorized objects which accurately mimic natural movement; or, in the case where I self-apply an idea of life, by anthropomorphization. Anthropomorphism seems important to Wang’s work, which in one case he describes as “a conscious act of naïveté…”. Its work in ascribing meaning onto objects serves a conceptual purpose that may—but perhaps more productively may not—match the wishful thinking that motivates it. Works such as Artificial Moon spring to mind here, as an object that is weighed down by the mythology surrounding it, taking them on like a scapegoat for humanities cultural and mystical sins.

If life is movement, there is a quality of this movement that comes from regular breathing. These two aspects, movement as an indicator of life and the specific movement of breathing, As I began to suggest in my first essay, I can see these coming together in Wang’s extended Breath series of works.

These were originally somewhat overshadowed by the spectacular nature of the artists larger-scale work. It’s interesting to see how my recognition of the importance of this series has adjusted over time. That is not to say the spectacular pieces are without value in their own right, but for me it turns out that the larger works perhaps presented a more complicated working out of the ideas onto a larger scale. For me the low-key nature of Breath provides a more succinct expression of Wang’s ideas.

Breath directly represents an addition of liveliness and life to its objects – they show the promotion of life within them. And in the form of Cuboid, this comes to something of an endgame. This particular piece represents a leap of understanding and something of a completion for the series, stripping what I can understand as extraneous detail back to an absolute representation of the idea, a Platonic ideal of sorts.

This enhanced understanding of the place of Breath in the artist’s work allows me to focus on that most important feature I mentioned to begin with: their presentation of lack. By that I mean this breath that animates them all, is really what sits in between their material forms. This pause for breath, as it were, becomes their formative element.

We can only see breath in its effects, not in direct substance. The breath is an important figurative element in this idea. Like wind, it is formless in itself and represents simply an uneasy balance of forces or pressures. It is invisible because ‘it’ is not anything but pure effect. The negative of other things, in the space they leave behind, it is occupation, and borders become its forms. We only see a form of breath because we are looking in the ‘wrong direction.’

Taking this idea from Breath (of a gap between), the most literal realization of that gap becomes the series Invisible Sculptures. These works (whose forms and titles perhaps appropriately bring to mind Modernist principles and precursors) are physical manifestations of a breath that dictates their form and as such are another way of “looking in the wrong direction.” These particular breaths are the slipping between of tenuous points of analysis, a playing with analytical resolutions one step beyond what these methods can detect.

It is perhaps inevitable that all methods of analysis have their blind spots, theoretically and physically. Conceivably these limits and lacks can then be mapped back into physical shapes and become sculptural. Those sculptures are like black-boxes: inside this solid object is the unknown for that particular analysis – perhaps the world could be known only through its absences. The Invisible Sculptures show these methodologies feeling their way into the world, following the contours of the limits of their capabilities, the pieces making concrete the inferred areas that lie out of bounds for analysis.

For Wang there is the subject matter (for example, the breath) and then there is the form of presentation, the methodology of the pieces – both exist in parallel. In his work he has shown a tendency towards a scientistic methodology – the techniques of science as highly trusted for analyzing the various phenomena of the world but which bringing their own blind spots to the table as formative elements in the artist’s installations.

So, blank spots sit in-between possible analysis, finding the holes/ gaps between the analyses that can be performed. It strikes me that a parallel with intellectual analysis could be made here – what are the objects that slip between those processes? How would they appear? Looking back to the artist’s earlier work, it’s perhaps possible to say this lack manifests itself in the place of myth in Moon Landing Project. Maybe the gaps are the myths and conspiracies we see around us against the facts as they are generally accepted? The remainder after objectivity has done its work, or which cannot be encompassed by it.

Returning to the Breath series, and taking a figurative step back from them, an aspect that also bears notice is their formal quality. Made of silicon rubber to give them the pliability to express their breathing, they are painted in a loose fashion, with brushstrokes clearly visible close up, but merging into a dirty realism from a distance. This somewhat unreal realization for the objects draws on the forms of painting to deliberately hold them in relation to this practice. Wang has made this explicit in the small series of installations titled A Painting. These ‘paintings’ literally pick apart the representations into their constituent parts and re-present them as if exploded out into the walls of the gallery. When looking at Wang’s canvases left behind after the marks have fled, faint vestiges of the form remain as a guide to their original meanings. Across the walls the paint dabs retain a form, but divorced from their context in the painting become transformed into flocks of colored patches, swarming across the architecture.

As part of the closing show of Taikang Space’s 51m2 Project in 2011, Wang presented a selection from an ongoing series of photographs that he had taken with a camera with tears on the lens (Scenery 2008–2010). The final images are distorted and blurred visions of the world. The results from this camera still remain visions of the world, though, and despite their unexpected appearance, and their unconformity to what we might consider accuracy, they still give information. Which leads me back to the idea that all the methods we use to look out into the world have their flaws. Is the knowledge we gain from any source implicitly broken, are its foundations already suspect? By analyzing the form of the flaw and taking that into account, can we compensate for it? The Invisible Sculptures seem to suggest that this understanding of the data can be productive, but the question arises as to whether we can judge what is a flaw or not. Taking this a step further, is this breakage the ‘life’ I have been seeing in Wang’s work? An understanding of life as inhabiting the defects or missing parts of what we see around us.

Anthropomorphism has parallels with the way we attribute meaning to objects and events. Breath can be seen as life, so too the life of the stories that Wang is picking apart in works like the Moon Landing Project. They represent pseudo-magical meanings we attach to the mute objects left over from great events and which Wang ‘scientifically’ presents in that installation for our analysis – these are the remnants of what we already know, applied to objects – an anthropomorphization.

It seems to me that a totally objective vision becomes like death, or at least a lack of life. As soon as we analyze we trace the outline of life in the objects. But life is not this analysis. It is what is left behind, what is hidden, what is unseen by the instruments. It can be inferred behind the data, by the data’s very form revealing the missing part that it will never attain, which forms in parallel with its actions. Myth and science come together here around life. Without this life the objects physically and metaphorically collapse and become formless.

Edward Sanderson