It’s a bit of a shock! Ahead of you is a metal mesh fence and gate with chain and padlock, leading into a black and murky darkness. Gently, you manage to open the gate, and enter into the blackness, coming out into the dark space in film extracts are showing on tv monitors, flat screens and, at a larger scale, projected onto the walls, alongside decorative prints, with subtle connections between them and the over-painted photographic prints on show.
Then another mesh fence and gate, which you gently open to continue with the story and, seeing light ahead, you gently tread up the staircase to the first floor, where antiquated paint-splattered video monitors are playing more excerpts, while on the walls are hanging a series of seven swirling crimson over-painted prints, like Chinese landscapes ‘Beyond GOD and Evil – The Divine Assembly’.
Yang Fudong, born in 1971, is one of China’s most important contemporary artists, exhibiting internationally, and he is here in London, at the Marian Goodman Gallery. His film and video work ‘Dawn Breaking’ provides an interpretation of life during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), a period of scientific, technical and cultural development in China, perhaps most famous for the issue of the first national paper currency, the first known use of gunpowder and the discovery of true north using a compass. To create this work, Yang spent several weeks filming with actors in the Long Museum in Shanghai, inviting museum visitors to view and take part in the film now edited into 20 diaries, often including excerpts of the film crew themselves at work. Film makers being filmed by film-makers……
The metal mesh fence and gates are replicas of those that were used to protect filming at the museum and perhaps reflect something of the complexities and contradictions of Chinese art in the 21st century as it tries to balance its history and traditional culture while breaking out into the contemporary world and creating a new 21st century Chinese artistic identity, which can be seen in the crimson overpainted photographic prints in the top-lit first floor gallery where production photographs have been digitally manipulated and then overpainted to create contemporary works that retain a hint of Chinese classical paintings.
There is obviously a strong link too in Yang’s choice of period as inspiration for his film, given that history may well say that the current era is another one of great scientific, technical and cultural development for China.