My only regret in taking-in the Huang Yong Ping retrospective, is that I did NOT do so before reading the November selection of The Artist’s Bookshelf, “Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch” by Dai Sijie. The novel overlaps and intertwines with this massive, sprawling show in so many ways, and on so many levels, that I think I would have appreciated my initial reading even more had I experienced the retrospective first.
Perhaps because both artists left their native China for the West at about the same time, and eventually settled in France, their work shares an alliance with intellectual European sensibilities that challenge the status quo. Just as Huang Yong Ping pays homage to Duchamp, Dai Sijie pays homage to Kafka, managing to master that writer’s unique ability to find humor in horrifically oppressive situations.
Both Huang Yon Ping and Dai Sijie display a fascination with creepy, crawling things and play with our discomfort, as humans, in sharing our world with them.
“Gently, very gently, with the fingertip of his right hand, he stretches the skin where the poor insect is about to draw blood. Then, abruptly, he lets go, imprisoning the mosquito’s proboscis in the creases. He watches the insect retract its wings and fold itself up until it has shrunk almost to the size of a pinhead, after which, with a sudden flurry of wings, it takes off, passing Muo’s nose, and then swooping down into the void outside.”
– p. 176, “Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch”
Likewise, both artist and writer share a fascination with traditional Chinese healing arts, and seem to relish them as much for their sensory lushness, as for any potential clinical effectiveness.
“The jar is old, the glass scratched and dull. The poultice is dark brown this time, and the smell, though no less objectionable, is far more complex, remarkable in fact for the diversity of notes: a chaotic blend of grease, opium, beeswax, incense, tree bark, roots, herbs, poisonous mushrooms, ink, ether, resin, and a hint of the dungheap.”
And finally, on some level, one can’t help but analyze all of these images, and search for some patterns, some deeper, underlying connection to the subconscious. With Huang Yon Ping I wonder: Why all the roulette wheels? Why the I Ching? Why all the animal imagery? And with Dai Sijie I wonder: What’s with all the trains? And the shoes? And this strange obsession with virginity?
“When he came to Freud’s commentary about a staircase in a dream, it was as if a brick had been hurled through the window and hit him in the head… he wondered whether he wasn’t by astonishing coincidence dreaming the very dreams that Freud had dreamt before him…”