BY Chris Moore in Reviews | 23 JUN 09

Yang Fudong

Yang Fudong’s show at Zendai MoMA, Shanghai, is a three-act play confronting themes of dislocation from different perspectives

BY Chris Moore in Reviews | 23 JUN 09

The most interesting and successful is the denouement, the eponymous Dawn Mist, Separate Faith (2009). Comprising eight 35mm silent films played simultaneously, the work is a sincere homage to Alain Resnais' Last Year in Marienbad (1961; scripted by Alain Robbe-Grillet), involving a narrative broken up into non-sequential pieces that one must walk between to view. The actors play out melodramatic clichés – a man waiting in a noirish café, two lovers in a rowing boat and so on – but these scenes are anachronistic and inconsistent. The actors wear 1930s suits but their sensibility is somehow modern, their overt sincerity somehow insincere.

Dawn Mist, Separate Faith (2009)

As with Last Year in Marienbad, the films are a series of imperfect repetitions, not mistakes. The same objects and people appear and disappear incongruously. This is most apparent in a foyer scene, where posing young women are surprised by gangsters starting a slapstick kung-fu fight. This involves more elegant leaping than actual violence, including the random introduction (twice) of a suitcase that inevitably flies open, throwing clothes into the air. This is less a pastiche of French New Wave cinema than of its central technique, deconstructing the non-narrative film for a non-narrative society. Dawn Mist, Separate Faith is an edited, choose-your-own-adventure version of Chinese history, whereby western mores – such as schmaltz and gangster glamour – are adapted as metaphors for the mish-mash of fact and fiction.

The General’s Smile (2009)

This is the link to Act Two, The General’s Smile (2009), in which a long dining table fills the narrow exhibition space and whose surface acts as a screen for a projection of another table top. A film of an absurdly opulent ‘western' banquet is projected onto its surface, replete with silverware, whole lobsters and un-plucked game. Only the hands of the diners can be seen as they grasp the unfamiliar western cutlery and gingerly pick at the seafood. The general himself, or at least his giant overbearing portrait, towers over the proceedings, a militaristic Wizard of Oz. Is this his retirement or a wake? Behind the diners is a series of small tableaux, like Stations of the Cross, depicting scenes of public acclamation and private withdrawal. In one snapshot the general poses benignly with a breathless young woman, in others he plays his piano alone or is sleeping, alone. Surely this work is informed by the ignominious 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, inevitably lending it greater strength than it perhaps otherwise would have had. Ultimately, though, it lacks the piquancy of a work such as Yuan & Yun’s Retirement Home (2007), in which waxworks of senile statesmen motor around in wheelchairs, bumping into viewers and one another. The General’s Smile is lavish but risks slipping from intriguing ambiguity into anodyne excess.

Dawn Mist and General’s Smile overshadow the exhibition’s first and more personal act, East of Que Village (2009), which involves back-projected rice paper-screens depicting the harsh work conditions of Que in north China. Shown alone, Dawn Mist would have been perfect, but then Zendai (a property developer) seems to suffer from agoraphobia. The contrast supplied by East of Que Village is too quiet, ultimately overwhelmed by the wry drama of Dawn Mist and The General’s Smile. The ‘documentary’ story – of workers quarrying marble, carving replica Ming Dynasty sculptures, and burning marble to make lime – is interesting from many perspectives, including notions of originality and value. Perhaps a better choice would have been the 2007 video, depicting menacing wild dogs scavenging on the desertificated border of Que village (and with sound, too!).