Ye Hongxing is surprisingly serene and still, in contrast to her loud and fantastical art creeping off the walls in a new exhibition at Scream art gallery.
Click images to enlarge.
This is the Beijing based artist’s first UK show, exhibiting large and phantasmagoric landscapes where chaos and colour reign; from a distance the works look striking and the fairy-tale can be followed to a point, while up close the intense detail and texture of hundreds of tiny stickers and sequins lends a different effect. Helicopters, skulls, buddhas, shoes and skeletons fight for supremacy in the dream-like sequences; the message seems to be that two contracts always exist beneath the surface, two extremes co-exist, and you never know when there is going to be war, or when there is going to be peace. Hongxing’s fresh and provocative work is perhaps suggesting that it is in embracing, rather than resisting life’s dualities that some Utopia might be found.
Hongxing spoke to i-D online through her translator, fittingly adding to the effect that she, like her work, belongs to an impenetrable world. It is a bit worrying that minutes of Chinese are often whittled to one line of English; hopefully not too much was lost in translation.
You have named this body of work after H G Wells’s 1905 novel, The Modern Utopia – can you tell me why? It was actually named by someone else, but it seems a fitting description for the complex landscapes I’ve created, where animals, humans and fantastical creatures co-exist in chaotic, colourful compositions, but beneath the surface of which there is a different kind of order.
In Wells’s Utopia women are as free as men – women were traditionally seen as submissive and obedient to men in China; what do you feel it is like now? There has definitely been huge progress, and I am an independent woman, working on my own and earning a living. I have a huge amount of opportunity as a result, but I still don’t feel that perhaps I have as much as a male artist would in China.
Can you tell me a bit about your artistic training in China? I was always into art, from when I was a little girl, and my parents encouraged me. I had a fine art education at the Central Fine Art Academy in Beijing, but it was the next five years I spent in an artist’s residency programme in the South West that was really special. I experimented with all kinds of media and materials there, working with oil and on installations. I made a sculpture for the local park and really explored myself as an artist.
Who are your artistic influences? I like David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, though I wouldn’t say they have a direct impact on my work, more that I appreciate how they bring contemporary life into their art.
What is your work routine? I work in the afternoon into the night, sometimes to one in the morning. It takes a long time to complete each painting, so recently I’ve been really busy, with no time to go out, but when I do have time off I like to have dinner with friends, or look at some shops.
Mandalas and Buddhas feature quite heavily in your work, what is your own religious, or spiritual leaning? Buddhism has a long-standing history in China, but China is not very religious on the whole. Lots of my friends seem to have become Buddhist after turning 30, so it’s something I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot about from a distance. I like the philosophy behind it, though I am still learning. The mandalas are very beautiful, they have a meditative function, but I am still learning about them too.
The Modern Utopia contrasts hugely with your Fusion series of work, in which self-portraits are veiled in ornate Chinese floral motifs…. How did you make that leap? I had the idea back in 2009 for these pieces, but it was only two years ago that I started creating them. It is mapping out and drawing the compositions, and collecting the stickers, that really takes the time, but it does change as it goes; it is always a work in flux.
Stickers seem quite an unusual medium to work in… A sticker has an enormous amount of information in it. There is the link to everyday life, the games kids play, characters from popular programmes. Stickers reflect the time we are living in, and they are fragmented, mosaic, so I can give them a new order in the landscape I’m creating. I like the fact that my pictures look different from a distance and up close as a result. I buy the stickers from a local retail shop every two weeks; they are convinced I’m buying them and selling them on, they say ‘oh your stickers must be selling well’.
You call your work “a reaction to the swift change of China’s social system”; can you say a little more about this? I was born in the 70s when there was big social, political and economic change in China. This had a big impact on my later work, but people born in a different decade would have a different experience. I try not to talk too much about my work, but to let it speak for itself. It depends on a personal interpretation and hopefully everyone can find what they want in it.
Ye Hongxing runs at Scream Gallery until 13th October.
Text: Connie Allfrey