Throughout the 20th-century, performance art has had a role in avant-grade art movements from Futurism to Dada. It is dependent on the presence of the artist him or herself, rather than an artifact made by the artist. Traditionally, performance art is interdisciplinary and set within a fine art context. Certainly, it is a growing trend in China.
By definition performance art is presented live, an audience watching as often unscripted acts are orchestrated in a spontaneous fashion. Of course, it can also be scripted and carefully planned with or without audience participation. Yimei Wang has combined all these elements with self-photography, using the Chinese obsession with the selfie to create a truly 21st-century spin on the role of performance in art.
“I began to do photography on New Year of 2015,” Yimei tells me when I ask how she started her self-photography series. “I was a bit bored sitting there so I played with my new iPhone and found it had a self-shot function. I then thought to myself: I can photograph myself in an artistic way. So I did it.”
The first group of her self-photography was successful and, soon after, she embarked upon her ‘Link the World With Her Hair’ series and later ‘City Mood’ series. The ‘Portraits of Artists & Poets’ series and ‘Nude Series’ came afterwards. All the photographs from these series were curated for a solo exhibition held in early 2016. In late 2016, Yimei began her ‘Lying Series’, which was acclaimed as more sophisticated and individualised in the way of concept and expression compared to the previous works.
Originally from Jiangsu Province, Yimei has lived in Shanghai for 25 years. “I am living in the former Concession area,” she tells me, “a place which has given me a lot of life, breath and inspirations, both for my poems and my art.”
So, how did she develop all these series from that fateful night in 2015? “When you open up yourself, the world is open to you, without any door barred,” she suggests. “In general, my access to art especially to contemporary art started many years ago, which had more or less shaped my art concept. Alongside, I have studied literature, read about psychology, philosophy and religion.”
And the performance angle, how did that develop? “The concept of ‘Use’, to use my body to its full, to use my life, emotional and spiritual experiences, to use knowledge, not just knowledge for its own sake. To use all these and, more importantly, to transform them into your own individual art form and language.”
Renowned artist Liu Bolin commented that: “The non-feminist works, in the use of a female body and hair as the materials, cut into the specific background of social critical significance, and fully expressed the consciousness of a mixture of the clear and not clear in the preparation of these images with emotional firmness and freedom of retelling, so brief that they only belong to a soul.” Does she think her art is feminist or not?
“I cannot completely say I am a feminist artist. But I express very often the bondage, struggle and freedom of a human being, including those of a woman in modern society, especially in the highly ideological society. I support the idea of equality between men and women. My performances, which are often seen to challenge the taboos and break with constraints are literally efforts and the pursuit of bravery and liberation of both a woman and a social person.”
Certainly, the ‘Lying Series’ is Yimei’s most accomplished. Her composition of realistic and surrealistic, drawing on classical elements such as symmetry, balance and order pushes her work to the next level. Rather than just looking at the performance aspect of her art, we begin to delve into the area of fine art. “I also prefer and enjoy to break the rules and routine so that my photos look rather unconventional.”
She continues, “For example, in ‘Cross’ taken in Phuket Island, I inverted the photo so that it gives the audience a feeling of strangeness; in ‘On the 5th Avenue’, I was disrupting the reality by lying on a piece of block while crowds were passing and looked at me in a rather surprised and curious manner.”
So far the ‘Lying Series’ has seen Yimei construct her performance self-photography in Europe and the US, as well as Japan and Thailand. “I would like to go to Turkey and the UK to continue this series,” she tells me.
I want to know, though, what does she want to convey to the audience with these works? “They are mainly about life, feeling tragic, love and freedom. And yet, sometimes, the messages are rather unspeakable, you cannot simply say what they are in words but you have a strange or new feeling about them.” Much like performance art, the interpretation is left to the viewer, the act of performing a mere conduit of the artist’s feelings, which often can’t be put into words.
Yimei is currently working on a new series called ‘In Your Arms’, which is an extension of the ‘Lying Series’, “but will have a higher dimension in soul and spirituality,” she explains. She also has exhibitions planned in NYC, Berlin, London, Venice, and Beijing. “My art will take me to many places of the world, some of the most culturally and historically significant places like Paris, Berlin, and Venice. I would love to go there again, to further integrate myself with the local surroundings, cultures, and people there.”
International renowned artists the Gao Brothers penned a poem about Yimei’s photographs in Paris from 2015.
Her passion surges with her hair
like a wild dance of the golden snake
She burns Paris with her passion
and covers all with her hair
Her passion starts a prairie fire like a single spark, and
her unexhausted enthusiasm has flooded the country boundaries
I really feel quite old when I see her image
The world has turned upside down since she came
Her hair looks like a flame in the wind, and
the sky is burning in the fire in Paris
She is Yimei, oh, a poet
I Need to Take Action Before I Feel Blue is a book of poetry by Yimei Wang. The book was recently published by China Literary Federation Press. The book is in Chinese but includes multi-lingual translations of five poems and two English language poems by Yimei.
This is not a common collection of poems, but rather it’s an interdisciplinary-text of poetry, performance, photographs, translations and travels. It also includes portraits of important poets in China and beyond, shot by Yimei.