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House of Oracles: A Huang Yongping Retrospective
    2008-04-30 15:45:30     CRIENGLISH.com
AnchorWelcome back! A Contemporary art exhibition "House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective" is in Beijing now. Featuring chance, clashes and colonialism, the show challenges viewers to reconsider everything from the idea of art to national identity, and to contemporary history.

Reporter: House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective is now on exhibit in Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, or UCCA in Beijing. Since 1989, when his work was introduced to Western audience in the landmark exhibition Magicians of the Earth, at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Huang Yong Ping has been a continuously critical presence in contemporary art. UCCA's presentation marks the first large scale exhibition of this Paris-based artist in China.

Fei Dawei, Curator and Founder of the museum, highlights the importance of the exhibition.

"This first retrospective of Huang Yongping originated at the Walker Art Centre in the United States. It was shown at Mass Moca, the biggest contemporary museum in America and then Vancouver Art Gallery, Canada, before traveling to its final venue, UCCA in Beijing. And even before the inauguration of UCCA, I've decided to put on this exhibition because as a Chinese Museum, we feel obliged to introduce the best Chinese artists. This is of great importance for the artist, as well as for the audiences in contemporary art and especially, for UCCA's image, as an institution in the art world."

Born in China in 1954, Huang Yong Ping moved to Paris in 1989 and has lived there ever since.

House of Oracles presents a large selection of Huang's most important sculptures and installations from almost two decades. It challenges the viewers to consider everything from the idea of art, to national identity, and to contemporary history.

At the entrance of the exhibition is a monumental sculpture of a disturbingly real looking elephant mounted by a tiger. This piece looks back to the approaching end of the colonial period.

David Spalding, Curator for the present show, guides us through the venue.

"This is the Nightmare of King George. Here we see this giant elephant and the tiger climbing out of the basket, which has a British seal on it. Essentially, it's a reference to the whole history of safaris."

In 1911 King George, while hunting in Nepal, killed four tigers in three days, a remarkable feat. One of the tigers attacked the king, and he donated this specimen to a museum in Britain, where Huang found it.

"So Huang Yong Ping, because he is really interested in animals as symbols for human and political and social relations, thought about this and looked at these images which are really striking. We are thinking about this as a reference to French colonialism and its legacy."

Critics interpret Huang's arrival in France in 1989 as an awaking in his awareness concerning issues like colonialism and national identity. In the next work we can see some interesting development that maybe related to his new cultural context.

As you enter the exhibition hall, you'll go through a passage like an airport customarea. Huang installed two large cages along the passage, containing lion feces and rotten bones with airport immigration signs reading "national" and "others".

The museum visitor must choose a door to walk through, as one would at the airport. But whichever choice is made, the visitor is confronted with the animal cages smelling the scent of the "other". David Spalding, organizer of the exhibition explains.

"We can imagine Huang Yong Ping was dealing with these choices a lot when he is living in Paris, coming back and forth to China if possible, traveling. Is he Chinese, is he French? And he is asking us to think about it in our own lives as well."

Then we come to House of Oracles, the installation from which the exhibition is named after. It's a large military tent housing all sorts of objects relating to the I Ching, or Book of Changes, and other ancient systems of divination in China.

"As you can see there are many different kinds of divining and fortune telling and decision making method. So there are the I Ching rods, made of copper and here you have this art history text that is made into a weapon with these hooks. This represents many devices Huang used to make decision of art practice."

Huang was traveling a lot when he made this piece for various exhibitions. So this military tent was used as his mobile studio and workshop where he developed methods for his art practice. By using the military tent and weapons, the artist became someone who was trying to address things in the world strategically. And fortune telling tools represent the artist's decision to minimize the individual power of the artist.

"Also he wanted to move away from western art history. The artist was quite interested in looking for new ways that art could be made which didn't involve the artist's own vision or will. But instead, he try to let go and let chance have a hand at it because he wanted to move beyond the western modernist model of art making."

No work better embodies the artist's attitude towards art and the world than Bank of Sand, one of Huang's iconic works. Made out of 40 tons of sand, concrete and water, the piece is meant to fall apart over the course of display. The model is based on the former HSBC bank in Shanghai. The building was builtin 1923 and is regarded as a colonial monument. Later, it housed the Shanghai Municipal Government and since the 1990s, it turned into a bank again. The subtle message is that no truth holds forever and that change is the rule.

Huang Yong Ping has shown work in most of the world's major venues for contemporary art as well as many other festivals and museums.

More impressive than his long list of exhibitions, is how he never fails to create visually charismatic projects.

Despite the prevailing notion of the "global village", Huang reminds us in this exhibition that changes, clashes and colonial legacies are very much part of the global picture.
 
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