Huang Yong Ping

崔 永 培

Dada Theoretician, Installations,*1954 Xiamen, lives in Paris since 1989

Huang Yong Ping with a replica of Chinese South-Facing-Wagon, photo

Huang was born in Xiamen in southern China in 1954. Along with artists such as Zhang Xiaogang and Xu Bing, he was part of the first wave of students admitted to the newly reopened art academies following the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). While at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Huang gained access to Western art and philosophy books in Chinese translation, and became interested in French postmodern theory and the work of Marcel Duchamp, John Cage and Joseph Beuys. Huang found connections between Taoist and Zen Buddhist thought, with its embrace of constant change, and the deconstructive, dematerialising strategies of Dada. In 1986, he co-founded the influential avant-garde group Xiamen Dada, which staged several radical events that included burning paintings at the end of an exhibition, and installing construction materials in a gallery instead of art works.
Since 1989, Huang has lived in Paris. As with many artists of his generation, he left China at the time of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, which registered an end to the increasingly open expression that had built since the end of the Cultural Revolution. Living in France enabled Huang to participate actively in the international art world, exhibiting widely and raising awareness of Chinese avant-garde art, particularly in Europe. It also encouraged him to shift his practice to address the interaction of different cultures in an increasingly globalised world. In Huang’s works since 1989, Chinese symbols and mythology are often intertwined with those of the West, overlaid with references to the locality where the work is shown.
Queensland Art Gallery QAGOMA

Huang Yong Ping refuses to be drawn into political arguments in China. Despite his expatriate status, through the power of his intellectual and artistic insight alone he has become one of them most influential theoretians in contemporaty Chinese art.

Xiamen Dada

Xiamen Dada is an art group founded in 1986 by Huang Yongping, Cha Lixiong, Liu Yiling, Lin Chun and Jiao Yaoming. Antagonistic to pre-conceived notions of art, they found similarities between Chan Buddhism and Dada in the recognition of the impossibility of truth. The group was primarily identified with the ideas of Huang Yongping, set out in ‘Xiamen Dada—a Kind of Postmodernism?’ (Xiamen Dada—yizhong houxiandai?) in 1986. Works in the Xiamen Dada exhibition of the same year were characterized by the use of modern styles and found objects. The artists publicly burned some of the works at the end of the exhibition as an act of self-liberation, and were consequently barred from holding further public events.
On the relationship between original Dada and Xiamen Dada see

Four Paintings Created According to Random Instructions from a Chinese Wheel of Chance(1985)

Excerpt from Huang Yong Pin,“Completely Empty Signifiers: ‘Dada’ and ‘Chan Buddhism’” (1988)

Dada in Western modern art history and Chan Buddhism in the history of ancient Chinese thought can serve as examples of completely empty signifiers. Here the phrase “completely empty signifiers” doesn’t contain any ontological or metaphysical intention. “Empty” is used as the category diametrically opposed to “substantial,” without implying any metaphysical statement of “empty is substantial.” We’ll stick to the linguistic level, without going into an in-depth discussion.
Chan Buddhism as a term in the history of ancient Chinese thought can be traced back to the Buddhist classics. In the Wudeng Huiyuan, or the Collection of Five Lamps, Volume 1: Buddha, it is noted: “Buddha sat on the peak of Vulture Mountain with an assembly of monks, he then picked up a flower and showed it to them. Everybody in the assembly remained silent, not knowing what he meant by this action. Only Mahakasyapa smiled. The Buddha then said: ‘I have the eye of the true law, the secret essence of Nirvana, the formless form and the ineffable Dharma which is not dependent on speech or words; a special transmission beyond all the other teachings. All this, I pass to Mahakasyapa.”

This “manifesto” - it is much longer, of course – describes the raison d'etre behind all of Huang's work.

The House of Oracles

The House of Oracles is, by any measure, a bizarre collection of artifacts, which can only be understood through Huang's commentaries. A touring exhibition, which HYP added to over the years, ended at the Walker Art Museum in Washington,DC in 2005, who published an exemplary catalog with copious explanantrions by the artist (HYP). I will present an equally 'random' selection of objects with abbreviated comments by HYP.

The House of Oracles brings together all kinds of objects relating to the I Ching (Book of Changes) and other systems of divination that I used between 1989 and 1992. Even today, I still consult the I Ching on every project I do. This allows me to obtain unexpected possibilities and find alternative solutions to my hesitation or indecisiveness as to what to do or how to carry out a project.
Since 1987 my method of working has gradually changed from “choice guided by chance” to the use of oracles. These two methods or systems both consist in minimizing the individual power of the artist, that is, the myth that art is the creative act of a single individual. The system of divination is older than that of “choice guided by chance”; it is also a strategy that enables me to shake off Western influences and at the same time to access sources more readily (i.e., Chinese traditions).
As a system of divination, the I Ching can be used to interpret oracles. Although the result of divination is equivocal, suggestive, or metaphorical, it does have a real influence on my way of thinking. Using “oracles” implies man’s conscious acceptance of their influence on him. This relationship between man and the art of divination is immeasurable.

'Theater of the World', 1993, a box filled with live insects devouring each othter. The cover spells the Chinese character 'gu'
“Is Theater of the World an insect zoo? A test site where various species of the natural world devour one another? A space for observing the activity of “insects”? An architectural form as a closed system? A cross between a panopticon and the shamanistic practice of keeping insects? A metaphor for the conflicts among different peoples and cultures? Or, rather, a modern representation of the ancient Chinese character gu
?” —HYP

, gu is composed of two separate radicals—the first radical () denoting an insect, repeated three times and superimposed upon the second, a dish or plate (). The character also denotes the eighteenth hexagram and chapter in the I CHING, which represents decay. The hexagram comprises the first trigram (Gen, “keeping still, mountain”; one solid line above two broken lines) over the second (Xun, “the gentle, wind”; two solid lines above one broken line).
The I Ching interprets this hexagram image as follows: “[The hexagram] means decay. It has come about because the gentle indifference of the lower trigram has come together with the rigid inertia of the upper, and the result is stagnation. Since this implies guilt, the conditions embody a demand for removal of the cause. Hence the meaning of the hexagram is not simply ‘what has been spoiled’ but ‘work on what has been spoiled.’”

The Wise Man Learns from the Spider How to Spin a Web', 1994
“This work is composed of a huge lampshade (a cage), a large live spider, and the only book on Duchamp in Chinese that I could find in Xiamen around 1985. A light bulb projects the spider’s shadow on the book about Duchamp. The title 'The Wise Man Learns from the Spider How to Spin a Web comes from a book by the Taoist alchemist Ge Hong (283–363 C.E.), who regarded the spider as a mysterious and inspiring animal, just like a sage. Does the sage refer to Duchamp? Or does the spider represent him? Is the spider more important than the sage, or vice versa? What is important, the spider or its shadow? This work seems to address my relationship with Duchamp; I got to know Duchamp via this copy in Chinese by chance . I consider this kind of 'fragmentation' to be more reliable than 'completeness.' What is important is not discovering the real face of Duchamp, but what I actually got out of him. I always benefit from all sorts of 'misunderstandings' and 'distortions'.” —HYP

Amerigo Vespucci', 2002,
cast aluminium
“A Neapolitan mastiff is used here as a metaphor for Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian who documented the discovery of the American continent and after whom America was named. This bulldog’s urine forms the geographical outline of (North!) America in an instantaneous and accidental way. Here the line between the wall and the ground represents the world’s longest straight border (the United States–Canada border). Its fluidity implies extensiveness and overflowingness. It is an example of all “limits” and “borders.” —HYP

Bank of Sand', 2000 and 2005
'Bank of Sand' consisted in building a model of the former British HSBC (Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) Bank. This 'bank of sand was çast in four wooden molds. Dry sand mixed with a small quantity of cement was poured into the molds. After that, water was sprayed on it. After it had dried, the “bank of sand” would maintain its basic appearance, which, however, was only temporary and could crumble at any time. —HYP

This installation and the following are examples of several jibes on colonialism.

11 June 2002 -The Nightmare of George V', 2002
In 1911 Britain’s King George V traveled to Nepal for a hunting expedition. For three days he hunted game in the jungle. He is said to have bagged four tigers in a single day. In 2000, during a visit to a museum in Bristol, England, I came across a stuffed tiger, which had been donated by George V in 1911. By sheer luck, I discovered a group of stuffed animals from various safari expeditions in the Grande Galerie de l'Évolution at the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle in Paris, including a tiger attacking an elephant on its back. The position of the tiger on the elephant’s back happened to be the same as that of George V when he was standing up to shoot a tiger. Of course, the animal exhibited at the natural history museum had been taxidemied by the order of the Duc d’Orléans in 1887. - The years from 1887 to 1911 were the apogee of Western colonialism. I replicated this scene but replaced the elephant seat with one carrying the British royal crest and, by doing so, made it become the nightmare of George V in 2002. June 11, 2002, was the opening date of the international contemporary art fair Art Basel. —HYP

Arche Noah
Chapelle des Petits-Augustins, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris

Having successfully stuffed elephants and tigers Huang set out to fill an entire Ark of Noah with animals He got the idea in 2008 during a visit to Paris’s famed taxidermy shop Deyrolle, just after the notorious fire that destroyed most of its stock. Seeing the charred ostriches, lions and elk, Huang recalls, he immediately thought of the Old Testament fable: “It was as if the animals had survived the flood but not the fire afterwards.” He bought a few of the animals from Deyrolle and went on to acquire or construct dozens more: tigers, turtles, birds, and giraffes to populate a paperboat with them.

Wood, paper and taxidermied animals,15 m x 8 m

The installation of the Ark in the Chapelle des Petits-Augustins of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris was surrounded by 17th century sculptures and paintings culminating in a darkened copy of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment over the altar, mysteriously hinting at the pessimistic thoughts of Huang Yong Ping.

In the Bible, Noah’s ark is pro­tected by God, it is safe, and even the lions are well behaved. In my boat the animals are wounded, have been burnt, and they are fighting each other. I don’t want to know, exactly, what burned the animals,” says Huang. “In any case, the fire comes from within, not from the outside. Violence and savagery,”he adds, ”are innate characteristics of living beings and lie at the root of our society’s problems: The current crisis is a reflection of human qualities. It’s a result of the mad, depraved side of human beings.” -
Inexplicably, Noah, his wife and childre are not found on his boat.

'Wu Zei' , 乌贼, an Octopus posing as Cuttlefish

A huge Octopus/Cuttlefish, “Wu Zei”, 乌贼, at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco completes Huang's menagery of fantastic animals

Wu Zei”, a gigantic hybrid animal—an octopus and a cuttlefish—is inspired by the sea and refers to the maritime disasters caused by man. While its head is suspended around the Medusa chandelier, designed by the German biologist, philosopher and free thinker Ernst Haeckel, its tentacles invade the gallery space. One of the tentacles circles around the column, another stretches out towards the first room of the exhibition, and others reach out towards the sea and the statue of Prince Albert I.
The hybrid animal’s head is red like that of an octopus; its tentacles are black like those of a cuttlefish. One of the tentacles looks set to suck in, like a vacuum cleaner, the different objects and blackened animals lying on the floor.

By calling his installation “Wu Zei”, Huang Yong Ping creates an ambiguity in the meaning of his work. The title “Wu Zei” (乌贼) is the Chinese name for a cuttlefish. “Wu” () is the character for the colour black and “Zei” () is the symbol for stealing. Huang Yong Ping plays with language and semiology juxtaposing cuttlefish ink to oil spill and corruption to regeneration.

Buddha's Hand
exhibited in the Arsenale of the
53rd Biennale in Venice 2012

'Buddha's Hand' is the root of a Chinese medicinal plant (citrus medica sarcodactylis) used to promote longevity. Put on the floor, its gigantic form reminds one of the Buddha's hand holding an exaggeratedly oversized rosary. The monumentality of the piece amplifies the metaphor of the power of religion on man in a caricatured manner: Here reigns an apparent peace (or danger) which will be found again in the second 'hand' with its many fingers suspended from the wall into gallery space, like the articulated tentacles of an octopus in full action. This suspended hand has a strong choreographic presence in the space, while its willowy forms associate with our unconscious feelings of fascination and fear beyond any

Buddha's Intestines
First shown at Centre international dart et du paysage de lîle de Vassivière, France 2006

Buddha's intestines, made of silk, spill over the floor. The room is like a womb where one finds the viscera of the Pantheon with the wooden sculpture of Buddha, guided by a horde of vultures that rip out his innards. The appearance of the vultures not only prepares the retreat of the gods, but at the same time also predicts their return

Bugarach, Mayan Armageddon
December 2012

As the Mayan predictions for the end of the world enliven the imaginations as to the nature a of post-apocalyptic universe, superstcious Huang Yong Ping is a step ahead of most. The Chinese artist’s bitterly inventive mind has created an installation at the Kamel Mennour gallery with a vision of Bugarach, a village in the Pyrenees that some calculations suggest would just escape a global meltdown.

The decapitated animals...

Sacred Pic Bugarach
saved by a plastic helicopter

...and their severed heads

Decapitated tigers, horses, snakes, deer, polar bears and more surround the remainder of the mountainous peak, a rocky eruption from the floor of the gallery. At the rear of this unearthly scree, an enormous plate protrudes from the side of the mountain, a literal flying saucer. Animal heads are stuck to it, staring at a plastic helicopter suspended from the ceiling, as if hallucinating some post-apocalyptic angel.
This absurd farce, full of scorn, is characteristic of Huang Yong Ping’s love of paradox and sharp critical sense. – A grandchild of Dadaism, the artist expresses something simultaneously ridiculous, almost burlesque, and extremely violent. There’s nothing to rescue here, no all-powerful salvation, nothing but dead skin.
The mythological airs of the scene reference all the great religious myths and their much more fierce rites and theories. A surrealist collage of discordant elements, ‘Bugarach’ points to a violent, self-destructive destiny for contemporary society.

'Ressort 2012'
Queensland Art Gallery, Australia

'Ressort 2012', Giant Python/Dragon skeleton, cast alumminium, 175 ft

Huang's massive installations rework architectural and animal forms into complex tableaux, drawing in elements of the sites in which they are constructed. Huang’s series of snake skeleton sculptures reference a central symbol (Dragon) in Chinese culture, as well as other cultures around the world. Designed for various locations, from a bridge in Germany (2000) to a beach in France (2012), these works play with different interpretations of the snake, as well as referencing local landscapes and architecture. Ressort 2012 dominates the Queensland Art Gallery’s Watermall, spiralling from the ceiling to the floor, metaphorically linking sky and water.
Ressort has several meanings in French: Spring, resiliency, resistancy, spirit.