Yangjiang Group: Actions for Tomorrow
Chinese art collective Yangjiang Group comment on society with a room-size installation and 'After Dinner Calligraphy'.
Although they’re well-known internationally, Yangjiang Group is a step back from the hype of the art world. Instead of jumping on global trends and mulling over heavyweight and hot-right-now theorists, they draw inspiration from daily activities. Last year, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring the collective to Australia. The subsequent exhibition, Actions for Tomorrow, spans both floors of the gallery.
Uprooting calligraphy from class and tradition has long been one of the group’s key preoccupations. For example, the upstairs mural GOD IS DEAD! LONG LIVE THE RMB! (2015) merges the neat artistry of calligraphy with the spontaneity of graffiti. Splashed out and space consuming, the work heralds the supremacy of finance over religion. By transforming decoration into politics, the group aims to extract calligraphy from an analysis of form and instead look at its energy.
Calligraphy is a similar departure point for Das Kapital Football (2009), a more complex installation which is made up of hundreds of metres of scrunched paper, printed with handwritten passages from Karl Marx’s canonical Das Kapital. The mess of ripped and flattened rice paper is actually the remains of a chaotic soccer match, which is played out in an accompanying video work. With six teams running among mounds of drifting paper, it is near impossible to follow what is happening. It’s also quite difficult to pinpoint where the Marxist themes emerge.
Downstairs is Final Days (2015), an installation with an apocalyptic ring to it. Set up like a boutique retail store, racks of clothes are coated in thick layers of white wax. Instead of loose individual objects, the clothes are locked into hard blocks — expanding their dimensions. Across the wall, there are slogans that act as a bleak commentary on capitalism, such as “the worker don’t get paid” and “suicide after sale”. By arresting the perpetual cycle of consumerism, it is as if this mock shop has been frozen into a specific time and space.
Of course, it’s interesting to see how this kind of “preservation” stands in opposition to the group’s disavowal of the calligraphic rulebook — where they refuse preservation. Perhaps the convoluted soccer game is an appropriate metaphor for the confusions and contradictions of contemporary life.
Generally speaking, the works of Yangjiang Group don’t have the contrived glossy finish that is sometimes seen in contemporary Chinese art — they are more potent and authentic. It is also important to note how ritual and routine feeds into Yangjiang Group’s practice. On a daily basis, the group prepares tea for the gallery staff, chosen according to certain therapeutic properties. It’s the all-encompassing nature of their practice that makes them unique.
To cap off the exhibition, Yangjiang Group are hosting a Twilight Garden Party at the Chinese Garden of Friendship, including performance pieces, to celebrate Chinese New Year. Falling on February 14, Valentine's Day, it's also perfect for a date who enjoys food, drink and After Dinner Calligraphy, where the artists transform food scraps from the event into a large-scale piece of calligraphy.
Image: Vitamin Creative Space
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