Yang Fudong—from Yejiang/The Nightman Cometh to Dawn Breaking

Saturday, March 12, 3:30pm

Video, single channel; 35 mm b/w film transferred to HD;
5.1 soundtrack by Jin Wang; 19 min. 21 sec.

Set in a frozen wintry landscape with snowflakes gently floating to the ground, Yejiang/The Nightman Cometh unfolds in the realm of historical fantasy, suffused with haunting music by Jin Wang. An ancient warrior dressed in seventeenth-century military garb and forlorn after battle is shown camped by a fire, the set’s artificiality immediately evident from the unnatural appearance of the snowbanks. The soldier is joined by three other figures: a woman in generic antique attire, described by Yang as a “princess,” and a ghostly man and woman in white costumes associated with 1930s Shanghai. Also appearing are: the soldier’s horse, a group of deer, and a hawk.

For Yang, the figures symbolic significance is: the princess represents purity, the couple the “uncertainty of the future,” the horse loyalty and trustworthiness, the deer purity and family. The hawk is understood as a double of the soldier, as well as a symbol of spirituality. In Chinese, the title may be read as “general at night” and “imminent night,” both senses being literally descriptive, since the film evokes nightfall. Action is minimal. The soldier plants a spear in the snow and starts a fire under a cooking pot. The princess feeds a deer. The hawk beats its wings dramatically. The soldier rides his horse away. With the exception of the horse, the soldier does not interact with or display any awareness of the other figures, whether human or animal. One begins to wonder if they might be less physical presences than manifestations of the soldier’s psyche.

Yejiang/The Nightman Cometh may reflect on Yang’s life—particularly, the transition from his conservative military childhood to his cosmopolitan career as an artist. In the film, a wounded and forlorn warrior is seen after a battle, apparently now questioning his path in life. In this dramatic and hyper-realist film, three ghost-like characters appear to personify the chaos of feelings and thoughts that surface and clash within the warrior’s heart and mind as he swings from enthusiasm and happiness to disappointment, grief and despair, thus revealing what takes place in a man who is required to demonstrate strength and courage in times of war and crisis.

BACKYARD – HEY! THE SUN IS RISING (hou fang – hei, tian liang le), 2001
35mm b/w film transferred to DVD, sound by Zhou Qing; 13 min.

Yang Fudong’s first film, Backyard – Hey! the Sun is Rising was completed in 2001, before Estranged Paradise which he began in 1997 and finalized for Documenta in 2002. Leaving behind his academic training in Hangzhou (1995), Backyard – Hey! the Sun is Rising begins Yang’s aesthetic development as he moves to capture the fashion and cityscape as well as the reality and hyper-reality of Shanghai in 2001.

Backyard – Hey! the Sun is Rising “depicts a young man, or rather four young men dressed up in military uniform, as they try to retain the sentimental feeling that is about to escape them when the sun comes up in the morning.” The sound of beating drums at the start of the film is reminiscent of the background music in Akira Kurosawa’s film Ran. The film follows the antics of the four men who simultaneously engage in acts—they smoke, they yawn, and massage themselves while enacting military exercises and brandishing swords. Traipsing through the streets, plazas, and courtyards of an unnamed city, the seriousness with which they perform these acts contrasts with their pointlessness. Their desire is to break through the limitations of the world, but they end up wounding themselves and not the world.

Backyard – Hey! the Sun is Rising, along with Yang’s early works including City Light (cheng shi szhi guang), 2000, and Robber South (Dao Nan), 2001 which is on view in Zena Zezza’s exhibition, have been referred to as “sublime pieces which submerge politics into a narrative of poetic images.”