An Art Critique on Yang Jia by Jiang Zhi

An Art Critique on Yang Jia
Jiang Zhi
Personally speaking, writing an art critique about Yang Jia is a loss making business. However, as an art critic, I am more ambitious than that. I won’t show off my highly developed writing skill this time. One result of watching too much TV and reading far too many newspaper articles is that I get really tired of just showing one side of the coin. So I want to quote more often from relevant personnel and some critics I greatly respect. Besides, some technical processing was applied to the quotes of those relevant personnel and commentators, to better facilitate the academic materials.

There is something I feel the need to state from the outset: I would just address “the artist Yang Jia” by his name, instead of the more commonly adopted titles like “outstanding artist Yang Jia” “rare and extraordinary artist Yan Jia” or “Mr Yang Jia, one of the most rare and extraordinary artist in the contemporary Chinese, and even the international, art scene.” I am not deliberately slighting this artist who has an audience of more than five hundred thirty thousand people. And the Ctrl, C and V keys on my keyboard work just fine (read on then you would notice how highly convenient these three keys are). The real reason is not how kind-hearted I am , but this is a free commentary with little possibility of any increase of writing fees.

First I’d like to introduce this artist briefly. He is born in August, 1980, lived but did not hold a job in Beijing, is unmarried, he said of himself that “as a not so young bachelor, the one thing I want to do is get to know some pretty girls.” He loved traveling, reading literature books and photography. As a Virgo, he was quiet and obeyed every rule. Like me, he wasn’t good at words. As for how rule-abiding he was, several of his acquaintances provided us some examples. When he was a child, he once condemned his father for tossing a cigarette butt, another time, he complained to his mother over her littering of an ice cream wrapper. Besides, he never disobeyed any traffic regulations. Huang Miao, Yang Jia’s primary schoolmate, said that although Yang Jia always kept to himself, he still enjoyed group activities, like throwing sandbags with his classmates. And he never cheated when playing.

According to the account of some insiders, the divorce of his parents made him even more quiet. Other than nature which he encountered when traveling, the internet was the world he enjoyed most. In 2000, he joined the online community for his primary school alumni. His first post was to ask everyone to hold a reunion party for the 20th anniversary of their entrance into the school. The only, and maybe the last entry of his blog, was posted in June 4th this year, describing a mountain hike in Beijing. He wrote, “If there is another such activity next time, I will join again, and strive to be among the first “. From this blog, you can also learn that he treasured his life. He wrote about how tired he was during the hiking, “I was planning to go and dine with our team leader, but at that moment I would be grateful for just being alive after hiking down the mountain”. And he typed nine consecutive “hah”.

His mother supported the whole family with her RMB 1500 pension. But for art, Yang Jia did not only quit his job, but also bought a semi pro digital camera, then installed software to generate panoramas. Yang Jia published 486 pieces of photographs, all posted in, a website created by the wife of Murdoch, the international renowned media tycoon. The name of his blog is “unusually coquettish”. I believe most of the photographs are created by him.

The first professional attention his photographs got was from the field of psychology. Psychologist Li HuiMing viewed all of his works. Her first feeling was that “the blogger arranges the perspective very properly, which demonstrates a rather strong capacity of composition. He would be thorough, specific and calm when analysing problems. The blogger rarely posts any photos of his life except when traveling, which more or less showcases his avoidance of real life. In the rare group pictures, the blogger usually stands in the back or by the side, demonstrating his self-contempt.”

Well, I should start my text now. Although in fact, the alleged texts are all quotations from other people’s articles (other people’s articles writing about other people) with a few revisions. I was going to write all quotations in italics, but was forced to abandon this responsible idea for there would be too many italics. However, I would mark down the percentage of the quotation.

Yang Jia was doomed to be abandoned by art history since the day (June, 1st, 2008) he went into the Zhabei Art Space, Shanghai when he was twenty eight, or since the day he rode a bicycle across an ordinary crossroad in the evening at half past eight of October, 5th, 2007, (see note 1). Although this time, he intervened at various levels of society in the noble name of art, and leveraged the force of society to accomplish an undertaking that any normal art form would never be able to accomplish. This undertaking was undoubtedly called art by himself, yet the refined art circle would never admit so. Instead, they consider it a ruthless conduct, a premeditated murder in today’s language. The various ways and unimaginable methods he adopted to accomplish this undertaking gradually became a part of his so called art. Unsociable, without a proper job, single parent family, quiet, testiness, cruel are the most commonly used vocabulary when he is mentioned by the art circle. Facing his undertaking, the true art elite’s attitude was avoidance or indifference. He considered himself the most despised person in the art circle, despite the fact that the majority of pure artists did not even consider him a part of this crowd. Most people would become quite emotional when talking about him, cursing him with the most malicious language they could think of. Some, even his attorney, claimed he could not escape the fate of death. If there is one thing we can be sure of, it is that he is the most notorious person. He tirelessly showed himself in all major media, created works which generated violent controversy and attracted wide concern from the media as well as from society. Controversy was an indispensable part of his activities. (90 percent)

Zhabei Art Space is one of the art spaces which emerged in recent years. In fact, their mother company hosted some rather influential exhibitions. One of them was called “Accident or committed suicide upon”. Artists in the exhibition include Huang Jing from Xiang Tan, Hu Nan, Gao Yinyin from Xiang Fan, Hu Nan, Dai Haijing from Wenzhou, Li Qin from Chong Qin, Liao Mengjun from Fu Shan, Guang Dong, Li Guofu from Fu Yang, Tan Jing from Guangzhou, Liu Ningbo from Shanghai. The exhibition was a major breakthrough in both the concept and form of traditional exhibitions, with no showing, no report and no comment. Almost every media received an oral notice not to comment or report it. However, thanks to the abundance of amateur critics on the internet with multiple screen names, these works and artists became widely known, and the exhibition unexpectedly yielded tremendous effect, despite the fact that some of artists’ families and friends who saw the exhibition expressed some different opinions which gave rise to discontent and even hostility. The exhibition was still seen as an important one with historical value, which planted a subversive seed of breaking the dilemma of art and the traditional exhibition mechanism.(50%)

If a single art space is a small kingdom, then this space represents the form of supreme ideology and culture. All these smaller kingdoms join together to form a larger kingdom. When Yang Jia was shuttling between these spaces, he was surrounded by various forces hiding inside, and was forced to face the complicated reality. Although every institution has its own style, those welding authority are shockingly similar. When Yang Jia’s blade was flying in these spaces, I believe that we could surely feel or receive another kind of knowledge. Yang Jia also created a unique and extraordinary skill with language, which exaggerated man’s potential desire towards the body and the obsession with breasts to the greatest extreme. As a result, we are at a loss with regards to his humor. With various art materials like petitioning materials , tear gas, back swords, hammers, alpenstocks, dust proof masks, rubber gloves and lighters, he exaggerated his idea of a single stabbing. He even hoped that by his blade, he could cut through the long decayed mechanism. Thus, he was called “Yang the blade” by the world. (85%)

When commenting on the work of an artist, it’s more objective if we see further than his representative pieces. When analysing his not so deliberate work, we may gain a better glimpse of his overall aesthetic preferences and inner world, even though his great number of photos are “unintelligibly repeating some trivial details, and inexplicably filming some inconsequential matters.” Another critique said: “Hundreds of photos recorded the bits and pieces of a shutter–holic. Those long forgotten travel group photos and landscape pictures, is life itself.” Someone said that “(I)n those pictures, he created a kind of ambiguous and suspenseful relationship between the background and foreground, person and group, as well as human being and environment They are all transient but somewhat solid. “

His work “pursues the simple and condensed idea and emotion of the literati in a seemingly simple picture, thus creating a pure and elegant feeling. Much is due to his reading of literature and appreciation of Chinese landscape painting classics (you could find his photos of Chinese painting and calligraphy posted in his blog) as well as his proficiency of drawing from the essence of traditional Chinese culture.”

I personally highly appreciate one of his photos of the sky. The sky occupies most of the space, and a piece of glaring cloud brimming with sunshine is the principle part of the picture. In the middle of this cloud, there is a scrap of ominous shadow; by the edge is the dark shadow of a mountain. It is just as someone had commented: “It could very well represent a specific sentiment of the artist. From its use of some basic composition rules like open and close, gather and disperse, unveil and reveal, empty and solid, contrast and harmony, segmented and whole, change and unify, we can learn the proficiency of the artist.”

And there is also a photograph of peach blossoms, “fresh, tranquil, isolated, elegant, just like a piece of poetry.” Just as a landscape painter said when introducing his own work: “I am seeking a peaceful, natural, rich and down to earth feeling.” This self-statement seemed to be speaking for Yang Jia : “When you communicate more with the natural landscape, you would naturally feel the need to express. Without a rich life experience, it would be hard to show the beauty of nature in any significant way. Even when you are facing the same scenery, the feeling would be greatly different when you are in a different stage of life, mindset or age. Carefully observe and appreciate the subtle changes of the seasons, feel it, and mark down the touching seconds. That’s how I gather the life and emotional materials of my landscape photography. It has already become a part of my life.”

His works also gained lots of comments:

One of Yang Jia’s highly controversial conduct attracted wide attention from both the central and local media in early July, many of which did special reports about him. And the shockwaves from the critique of the work itself have reverberated through the art community. As art creation becomes more and more active, we should ask such questions. Why do art? What is art for? (95percent)

Yesterday I watched the television series called “The Grand Strife”. Yang Jia who is born and grew up in the 1980s is just like those people.

The works of Yang Jia are highly similar to the television series “The Grand Strife”. It showed the temperament of an era and a group of people, which cannot be betrayed and cannot be forgotten. All of the stories dwell hazily in the trivial details. You, I and he may all be such a person. Where in real life is our chapter? (98 percent)

The way he created his works invites the audience to consider the conflict between people and the environment , the forgotten and welcomed, the present and future. The work that happened this time was filled with commentary on society and policy, describing the certain and the uncertain, reflecting the confidence of the artist on the future development of China as well as his concern about the issues generated by such development. Yang Jia put together the deprived and respected, the places that are forgotten and popular. His work grasped the almost silent, static and decaying history, and even more deeply explored and unveiled certain discontent and anger. (100 percent)

He has unique insight into space and form, as well as profound understanding of how people live their lives. Though his camera, he expressed his understanding of the world. (100 percent)

His work carried intrinsic weight and character. Such inner force came from his life and imagination instead of any form or school of art. It enabled the audience to see his life and temperament. I think this is an important criteria when judging any piece of art. (100 percent)

Like himself, his work could be illustrated in various ways. (100 percent)

He addresses learning from the essence of the traditional Chinese culture; a person with strong local color. (100 percent)

We could sense the society and human nature from his work.(100 percent )

His work expressed his feeling of the commercialised and globalized era. And he was connected to the complicated society through the expression of his work. (100 percent)

He was more concerned about the connection between the inner world and the outside world.(100 percent)

His artwork connects with the society without exception. Contemporary Chinese society is the direct experimental field grounds of the ‘Yang Jias’. His art connected with society in the closest way possible. What Yang Jia did had always been about finding a way for contemporary art to enter into the mainstream of the society. He pursued such an attitude, that life is art, and art is life. In this sense, Yang Jia is one of the most thorough pioneer artists of the Chinese style. Such an excellent artist could only be found in two places in this world, one is the Northern Hemisphere, the other is the Southern Hemisphere. (95 percent)

I am very glad this commentary is finally finished. Because of my highly limited knowledge, I was considering writing it after having acquired a better knowledge of this subject. However, the limited time forced me to abandon such a thought. During my writing, I received assistance from a lot of friends. I greatly admire their outstanding contribution to the field of critique. It would be impossible for me to write so many words without their commentaries. When encountering some problems, I always go to the gorgeous Miss Google. She found me the answer no matter how busy she was. I was almost lost in her generosity. Sometimes I complained whether she was hiding something from me. Regardless of my brusqueness, she explained quietly in a low voice, saying, “I really had to”.

August 2008, Beijing

note 1 :

During the National H oliday in 2007, Yang Jia travelled to Shanghai. A staff in Zhijiang gallery, a branch of Zhabei Art Space immediately realised that he was probably an artist. Let’s call it “suspected to be an artist”. The staff said the artist had a nice bike and asked whether he owned the copyright. The artist claimed that it’s a piece made of rent material, then showed the staff the lease. The staff considered the piece to be quite “contemporary”, then warmly invited him to see the gallery. They hit it off at once, and the gallery staff accompanied him for six hours. Of course, the six hours could not be such a nice time without a massage. That is why according to the artist, seven or eight staff gave him a massage. But the artist thought they didn’t give a nice massage and thus called their manager. The manager came, then asked his staff “Who didn’t give a good massage?”. “No one!” All denied. Thus the manager said politely: “See, no one. We are professionals.”

The artist went back to Beijing greatly angered. Later, he frequently complained to the Zhabei Art Space, and asked for an apology. Maybe the artist was allergic to massages. When he was travelling in Shan Xi in 2006, several of his teeth were massaged away by local gallery staff, and he claimed RMB 30,000’s compensation. This time, he also made a claim of thirty thousand. Though the space twice sent commissioners from Shanghai to Beijing to negotiate, the artist was far too stubborn to give in. He went to Shanghai seeking for justice again, the time was June 12th, 2008.