Yang Guangnan：Going Back to the Default Settings
The moment there is no signal, there is no image displayed but the noise visible as a random flicker of “dots” or “snow”. On the CRT screens, the noise is simply a result of a randomly scattered pattern by the electron gun. Such is an intuitive disorderliness. What we see, however, is not the randomly-collected dot pixels. It is usually followed by various kinds of interferences, such as electromagnetic interference generated by the monitor itself or other sources, and a bit of interference from the cosmic microwave background radiation. Fundamentally, what is similar to the dot pixels is the white noise, which is a noise signal common in televisions, radios, handheld transceivers, and other electrical devices. Both the white noise and dot pixels refer to an out-of-order status, that is, a state of no information displayed. While there is no information but energy, the world returns to its default settings.
The default setting, however, is still a sort of setting. When Yang Guangnan brought together a collection of the monitors displaying the dot pixels to create a work of art, she attempted to produce an easily visible metaphor of politics. For me, all of this is more about political, philosophical thinking from a perspective of information theory. Does governance mean information? Is freedom equal to nature? Besides, could the “natural state” be possibly a hypothesis to start with? The title, i.e. “Blind Spot” indicates the limitations of cognition and the authenticity of the world beyond the scope of cognition. With such a theme, the “Blind Spot” manifests a kind of politics even an existence out of symbolic orders, that is, the hardware settings invisible in the background. In other words, the flashing “dots” and “snow” pixels on display are not random at all, as such randomness itself is a part of factory settings.
Although Yang Guangnan expected to incorporate a sense of politics into her work, the ideas of politics she ultimately exhibits are not a reference of politics as part of the work. Instead, it is an awareness of the default setting of everyday life and daily matters. She has been intrigued by the ordinary and basic objects, such as cement, gypsum, stainless steel, metal shavings, which are everywhere in the suburban factories and construction sites in Beijing and are usually overlooked by people. Yang Guangnan’s job was to draw people’s attention to the ordinariness through silent viewing rather than yelling.
Her work is full of irregular shapes made out of scrap-looking, dull stainless steel, the holes of which are stuffed with cement. The two kinds of materials, which are dominant substances used for construction in terms of productivity, have been integrated in a rather unnatural, violent manner. However, such a coupling unexpectedly manifests the tangible facts and aesthetics that are common in China. Her other works indicate a sense of helpless “bitter laugh”, such as a machine that constantly stirs dust and smog particles, and a white shirt that is pulled from time to time.
It is better to present reality than to imitate reality; it is better to discover reality than to present reality. Yang Guangnan’s work is beyond a discourse, which is a series of essential facts and experiences rather than a collection of sensational stories or stunning wonders. As the pleasure of art as a game is diminished as a consequence of its being excessively framed by theories, discourses, systems, and stances, returning to reality is precisely going back to the default settings of art where art, politics, and philosophy equally coexist.
Yang Guangnan: Blind Spot
The work of artist Yang Guangnan (b.1980 in Hebei, China; lives and works in Beijing, China) is distinguished bythe strength with which it continuously renews. It has no fear of takingunexpected twists and turns, of embracing unknown directions while preservingand being guided by a highly coherent and cohesive artistic and personal ethos.Every single piece is a step along a path that combines the micro and macro,the personal and the societal, with raresensibility in a subtle, profound and resolute way— therefore showing the artist’s ability to confront herself witha vastarray of issues in poetic yet daring tones.
Afraid of subverting the logic oftheir creation, many artists prefer to shield themselves using self-reassuringways of working which often become so mechanical and repetitive that they turninto mere decorative patterns rather than attitudes made visible. Yang Guangnancontinuously challenges herself as if art making is a never-ending process thatreflects the need and strive to find a balance between inner and outer dimensions, between clashingelements and situations which are not simply the array of different materialsthe artist employs like a perfect bricoleur, but stand as a metaphor forthe struggle of each of us to find our own place and pace in a wider context.
“Blind Spot,” the artist’s most recentexhibition at Fingerprint Gallery, pays homage to an artist whose works areinterventions taking into account spatial, social, political, and fundamentally human dimensions. Perhapsa blind spot for Yang Guangnan is not just the place where we are inexorablypushed by external forces and situations; it is the place to which the artistpushes herself in order to find new modes of creating and of being, in order tofind her own way out, not just passively and idly going with the flow. It is inthis way that, for Yang, an area of physical and cognitive impairment like ablind spot becomes the site of potential.
Among the newest pieces on view, theworks belonging to the Noise series (“噪点”)exemplify thisaspect. At first, the pieces strike the viewer for their aestheticquality, theircomposed,even delicate beauty. But going beyond their quiet appearance, theyremind the attentive viewer of their true nature: they are the battlefieldbetween two highly industrial materials—iron and concrete—that when placedtogether bythe artist negotiate their way ofexisting and create a third space that is not exclusive to either of them, butunfolds a new dimension. What we see is the result, or one of manypossibleresults, unexpected because the artist doesn’t force these elements to take adefinite shape, of a process in which the liquid material of concrete isconfronted with the limitations imposed by iron. But it is also the way inwhich limitations are surpassed and become just labile borders that open up newways of coexistence.
In this process, the artist is halfdirector, half onlooker: if the shapes of the iron structures are decided by theartist, the ways the concrete reacts to these hazardous geometries, the pathsit takes to expand, cannot be controlled. Most importantly, even though theseelements could be, the artist would not necessarily want to control themfurther. Yang doesn’t fully domesticate these materials but leaves a certaindegree of freedom to change their nature, as well as that of the overall artwork they contribute tothrough theirfriction. What is interesting is the way these materials “misbehave,” react toeach other, and try to find a way out of their structural, sharp geometries orimposed formal rigor.
Reminiscent of Yang’s earlier series Calculicreated over the last few years, the series Cold Expansion (“冷膨胀”)seems to play with the notion of purity and impurity, in that thepieces resemble paintings of a sculptural nature but also because of themultiple traces of metal embedded onto the resin in a random yet visuallyappealing way. As in the series Calculi the scrapsof metal don’tjust appear on the surface, they belong to the piece and are incapsulated init, acting as elements that remind the viewer of three-dimensional “stains,” orphysical and mental detours on the plain surface. They are paradoxical becausetheir beauty coexists with the fact that they are obstacles, impairments,difficulties to the free flow and circulation of the white resin. In the caseof Cold Expansion, the artist also intervenes by creating asymmetricalholes that break the rhythm of the compositions and become visual reminders of thefact that although Yang Guangnan can be considered a perfectionist (this is thereason why for the incubation period of many of her pieces she follows her owncreative rhythm and avoids high-speed production), she is not interested inperfection per se or in the classical idea of beauty and harmony. But she ismuch more fascinated by a new type of balance born of the encounters betweendifferent imbalances.
One of the facts that will immediatelyimpress viewers is that Yang Guangnan is at ease not just with differenttactile effects and materials—various types of iron, metal, resin, concrete,even waste materials—but also different genres, including installation,sculpture, multimedia, or video, the very first mode she employed at the startof her career given its practical nature. These genres are usedorganically in her practice andnaturally respond to different expressive needs. It is no chance that the videoBlind Spot and the two installations Action No. 2, and Smogare also presented in the show. These pieces rely on industrial/technologicaldevices to open a dialogue on issues like control, the dehumanization of laborand society at large, and the paradoxical relationship between progress andsocial development.
In Blind Spot, the artist combines fragments of signal-free surveillance camerasto create an abstract composition which nevertheless speaks of the complexrelationship between private and public, between the individual and thecollective realms, through the absence of “protagonists” that are present inreality but remain undocumented. As in most of Yang’s pieces, the short videois devoid of any narrative nature and isusedto highlight the almost sculptural nature of the elements“portrayed” or suggested.
Action No. 2 and Smog perfectly echo each other: the first presentshumanity, human life, civilization as trapped in a sort of assembly line inwhich standardization and repetition of certain patterns is standard procedure.As mechanical and cold as the noise of the devices it contains, it is areminder of what a dehumanized humanity may look like in the near future (oralready does).
Smog ismade of the collected particles of smog the artist gathered in her Beijingstudio and arranged in a machine with an almost scientific appearance. Thispiece is imbued with sarcastic tones: do viewers enjoy the sight of a devicetrying to clean itself without realizing that the more it strives to do it, theworse it becomes? It is not just smog, it is the same battle of certainlives:no matter how hard they try, they will end up caught in an absurdstruggle with no winner.