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Book Washer, Shaman, and Bug Keeper: A Conversation with Huang Yong Ping, Part II

“Because I am alive, I work,” says Huang Yong Ping, who has not stopped challenging the notion of art since 1986, when he and some fellow artists, who made up what is now known as the "Xiamen Dada group," burned a great number of the paintings they had just exhibited at the Xiamen People’s Art Museum. According to Huang, the purpose of this act was not to symbolize the end of art but instead to activate the critical position of the exhibition organizers, the Xiamen Dada Group, a loosely connected artist collective active in Xiamen, China, from 1986 to 1987.

In this conversation, Huang also discusses his early experiments in Zhejiang and Xiamen in the 1980s, when he aimed to eliminate his aesthetical preferences when making art. He speaks in detail about how his Roulette series functioned as a tool for this purpose. The process of using a roulette to oracle and guide his process eventually bored him, and so he moved on to washing books and newspapers in a washing machine, a series he pursued through the 1990s. His unexpected move to Paris in 1989 was a watershed, marking his transition from ephemeral practices to room-size sculptural works, some of which involved live animals and taxidermies. At this moment, Huang’s focus shifted from that of challenging his identity as an artist to exploring cultural mixing within societies and the clashes and parallels among civilizations. The different censorships he has faced in China and Europe have informed his different approaches to testing and crossing the boundaries—whether through washing books, oracling, or bringing bugs into the museum.


Yuchieh li

Yu-Chieh Li

Former Andrew W. Mellon C-MAP Fellow at The Museum of Modern Art Yu-Chieh Li was the Andrew W. Mellon C-MAP Fellow for the C-MAP Asia group from October 2013 to September 2015. At the Museum, she was a co-editor of post and organized... Read more »
Huang yongping profile photo

Huang Yong Ping 黄永砯

Artist Huang Yong Ping (born in Xiamen, China, 1954) is an artist who lives and works in Paris. Huang graduated from the Fine Arts Academy of Zhejiang, Zhejiang, China (1989).... Read more »
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Book Washer, Shaman, and Bug Keeper: A Conversation with Huang Yong Ping, Part II

“Because I am alive, I work,” says Huang Yong Ping, who has not stopped challenging the notion of art since 1986, when he and some fellow artists, who made up what is now known as the "Xiamen Dada group," burned a great number of the paintings they had just exhibited at the Xiamen People’s Art Museum. According to Huang, the purpose of this act was not to symbolize the end of art but instead to activate the critical position of the exhibition organizers, the Xiamen Dada Group, a loosely connected artist collective active in Xiamen, China, from 1986 to 1987.

In this conversation, Huang also discusses his early experiments in Zhejiang and Xiamen in the 1980s, when he aimed to eliminate his aesthetical preferences when making art. He speaks in detail about how his Roulette series functioned as a tool for this purpose. The process of using a roulette to oracle and guide his process eventually bored him, and so he moved on to washing books and newspapers in a washing machine, a series he pursued through the 1990s. His unexpected move to Paris in 1989 was a watershed, marking his...

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“Because I am alive, I work,” says Huang Yong Ping, who has not stopped challenging the notion of art since 1986, when he and some fellow artists, who made up what is now known as the "Xiamen Dada group," burned a great number of the paintings they had just exhibited at the Xiamen People’s Art Museum. According to Huang, the purpose of this act was not to symbolize the end of art but instead to activate the critical position of the exhibition organizers, the Xiamen Dada Group, a loosely connected artist collective active in Xiamen, China, from 1986 to 1987.

In this conversation, Huang also discusses his early experiments in Zhejiang and Xiamen in the 1980s, when he aimed to eliminate his aesthetical preferences when making art. He speaks in detail about how his Roulette series functioned as a tool for this purpose. The process of using a roulette to oracle and guide his process eventually bored him, and so he moved on to washing books and newspapers in a washing machine, a series he pursued through the 1990s. His unexpected move to Paris in 1989 was a watershed, marking his transition from ephemeral practices to room-size sculptural works, some of which involved live animals and taxidermies. At this moment, Huang’s focus shifted from that of challenging his identity as an artist to exploring cultural mixing within societies and the clashes and parallels among civilizations. The different censorships he has faced in China and Europe have informed his different approaches to testing and crossing the boundaries—whether through washing books, oracling, or bringing bugs into the museum.

Nantes, Huang Yong Ping’s Studio, June 22, 2014.

Transcription and translation by Lina Dann. Edited by Yu-Chieh Li.

Read the Chinese version here.

An Artist Controlled by a Tool

Li: In late 1981 you presented the Spray Gun series as your graduation project. It seems like you were still focused on painting then, like you hadn’t yet given it up. Were you still exploring new ways of painting?

Huang: I can’t really say. In fact, I don’t think I had my goals sorted out yet. I was in a transitional period. Although as students we were nurtured in the traditional canon of the academy of art, none of us were comfortable with the conventional approaches we’d been taught.

Spray gun
Huang Yong Ping. Spray Gun Painting. 1981. © 2015 Huang Yong Ping.

Li: Was the Spray Gun series criticized at the time?

Huang: No, not seriously at least; the faculty just thought it was a bit absurd: You major in oil painting and yet you’re not painting with oils? After four years of mastering the medium, you’re not displaying basic skills? It was a risky move at that time, but our teachers weren’t totally unaccepting of it. They merely said, “Well, this is a bit simple, isn’t it.”

Li: You wrote in your notes that, when creating a work, “the tools should shift from active to passive.”1 How did you accomplish this? Do you think you succeeded?

Huang: This isn’t so easy to explain. Tools aren’t alive, and so it makes no sense to refer to them as either active or passive; what I was referring to was the people using them. As for the industrial spray gun I used—it was fairly small and came with an air compressor; it wasn’t designed for painting on canvas but instead for coating objects with color. For instance, if you wanted to paint this desk black, you would just spray it and—whoosh—it would be done! So why did I question myself about tools? It was mainly because using nontraditional tools to make paintings felt fresh to us; the spray gun was something we could not control with any precision. From where we stood, painting had always been an art of control and subtlety; all the colors were supposed be delicate, with subtle variations. For example, when you use a paintbrush, you can make it go left or right as you please. However, with a spray gun, you lack control. In a matter of seconds you might have a big splash of color that you aren’t able to manage or change in a subtle way. So it was from this perspective that I was thinking about the powers of unawareness and passivity—I felt like as artists we were standing in a passive position, but not necessarily in a bad way. In fact, being passive opened up a whole new world for us. It was almost like creating with your subconscious. That is why I suggested that activeness had very little to do with it, whereas passivity was something to explore.

Li: So you went from being active to being passive largely because this tool was hard to control, and you weren’t experienced with it? Although this series has an element of “unconsciousness,” it also seems like it falls into a style of New Objectivity or abstraction, and vividly at that.

Huang: Yes, it is a rich and vivid style. Based on the working process, I would say that it resembles so-called cold, or hard-edge abstraction.2 When you spray color onto a stencil on a canvas, the results are hard-edge, which has an effect of rigidness, and therefore “cold.” Back then, I had classmates pursuing similar projects, except for that they painted by hand, and I was using a tool that caused an extreme effect. For instance, there was this very talented classmate of mine Zha Li, who painted works that resemble early works from Geng Jianyi or Zhang Peili. It’s not expressionism or impressionism; it is instead a much colder, harder-edged, and semiabstract style.

Li: Before the ’85 New Wave, a lot of artists at Zhejiang Academy of Art were already exploring this so-called cold abstraction, or at least trying to remove the idea of a personal style from their work. Why do you suppose this was?

Huang: It’s hard to say why this was exactly, but I do believe that it had something to do with freeing ourselves from political objectives or agendas. That is, every traditional artistic tool is instrumental in expressing or reinforcing some idea. But once you rid the work of such things by way of coldness or semiabstraction, it deviates from these underlying or presupposed concepts.

Xiamen Dada and Marcel Duchamp

Li: In 1983 you and a group of friends held A Modern Art Exhibition of Five Artists, which was only open for internal viewing.3 What were the prerequisites for hosting a show? For instance, you chose the Xiamen People’s Art Museum as your venue—how did you apply for or lease such a space? There weren’t curators back then, and so how did you execute everything?

Huang: Well, we didn’t really need to lease anything. We came to know a few people in Xiamen, among them a teacher [Ji Naijin] who had graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and was working at the Xiamen People’s Art Museum. We were very close to him, and he was supportive of young artists. One day we came up with the idea of organizing an exhibition, and he was encouraging. Because of this, it was all fairly smooth and simple—except for that the show wasn’t open to the public. We called it an “internal viewing” and we held it in a space that was just big enough but not too big; the museum had a standard-size space, which was roughly 100 square meters. We didn’t have a curator, just a few friends who hung out a lot, working on the project. We sent out invitations, made on a mimeograph machine, to a set number of people across the artistic community, such as teachers and professors.

Li: So it was by invitation only?

Huang: Yes. And speaking of invitations—these were really interesting. They were mimeographs printed on a paper roughly this big, with red stamps on them. I still have some of them. Later on we held a conference to discuss the exhibition; we even kept minutes. So that was it. The exhibition and the conference lasted about three days.

Li: There were quite a few abstract paintings as well as collages made from found objects. You seem to consider this exhibition significant, in the sense that you took a step forward in terms of experimentation. Were the five artists in the show the same people who made up the Xiamen Dada group that came afterward?

Huang: Yes. One of the five dropped out of the group, but the other four stayed, which is why the exhibition was considered a project by the Xiamen Dada group [which was, however, established afterwards]. After we established Xiamen Dada, we expanded our activities.

Li: In 1986 you founded the Modern Art Research Group, which I think held group discussions and did some mimeograph works. Did it function like a reading group?

Huang: No, not really. We didn’t have a strict meeting schedule like a reading group would; we were a bit less organized. Meetings were totally voluntary. The whole conference idea had to do with Ji Naijin, the man I mentioned earlier—he worked at the Xiamen People’s Museum. A while later, our meetings were relocated to the space where we started Xiamen Dada, which is where he came in. At the time I had started writing articles, such as “Image-Word-Objects.” I had written quite a stack of them, which I showed to him; he was interested and passed them along to other people. Then we mimeographed more copies. The articles I chose to print out were shorter texts. All this was happening around the time I started Xiamen Dada.

Li: Was this about the time you acquired a copy of Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp,4 translated by a Taiwanese into Chinese. You made copies of it and circulated among the group? That was in 1986, I think?

Huang: I think it was even earlier than that. I didn’t acquire the copy from Taiwan—I might have gotten it through a friend, Xu Chengdou. He was also part of A Modern Art Exhibition of Five Artists. He was a Chinese expatriate living in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Later on he returned to Xiamen, bringing some finely printed little albums of Impressionist artworks with him. I’m not sure if the Duchamp book came from him; it also may have come from a library at Xiamen University.

A copy of the Chinese translation of Pierre Cabanne's Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp.

Li: You mentioned in your journals that you read Wittgenstein’s books in 1982 and his biography in 1984. Does that mean you came across Wittgenstein before Duchamp?

Huang: I never chronicled when exactly I came across Duchamp—it’s hard to say who I discovered first.

Li: You also mentioned that An Anthology of the Five Transmissions of the Lamp5 was republished in 1985.6 When exactly did you start reading about Chan Buddhism?7 I suppose it was earlier than that?

Huang: Actually, it was around that time. In China, the only way to access that book is if it gets republished and becomes available in bookstores. An alternative would have been if my father had had such a book in his library, but he didn’t. Surely I knew of Chan Buddhism, but to come across a book as academically professional as An Anthology of the Five Transmissions of the Lamp was only possible when it was republished.

Li: That’s true. Publications in the eighties were a bit sporadic, sometimes even random—no one could tell how the selection of books was made. Judging from the articles I’ve read by artists of that time, it seems that though they talked a lot about Chinese traditions and the West, they sometimes weren’t that sure of their understanding of the so-called Chinese traditions—and in terms of the West, they seemed to have relied largely on what they imagined or speculated. So it feels like Chinese artists of the time were standing equally distant from both when it came to understanding. Do you think this is the case?

Huang: Yes, and I’ve made similar comments. I’d say that at that time, we felt like we were discovering both the Chinese traditions and the Western ones.

Li: Would you say that sometimes you discovered your own traditions through the West?

Huang: Surely you can better understand traditions through the West. Bear in mind that traditional works and canons were only republished after the Cultural Revolution. Of course, earlier publications existed, but they weren’t available for circulation. For example, you could definitely find books about Chan Buddhism, Buddhism, Lao Zi, or Zhuang Zi at a library, but it was hard to find them in a bookstore, because bookstores only sold newly printed books.

Burning Artworks: “I suggested burning the artworks, but I didn’t burn everything. I burned mostly paintings.”

Li: In 1986 Xiamen Dada held a burning event, and you said that it was because you weren’t satisfied with circumstances surrounding the exhibition. The exhibition consisted of more than just works by Xiamen Dada members—that is, besides your group of friends, there were other young artists involved. Would you care to elaborate on what happened exactly?

The article “Xiamen Dada—a Kind of Postmodernism,” published in Fine Arts in China.

Huang: The title of the exhibition was, in fact, not “Xiamen Dada” but rather Xiamen Modern Art Exhibition. I coined the term “Xiamen Dada” in an article I wrote for the art newspaper Fine Arts in China. The title is “Xiamen Dada—A Kind of Postmodernism?”(1986) and it gave birth to the term. As for our Xiamen Dada organization, it was formed when we worked on the burning project. How so? From where we stand today, A Modern Art Exhibition of Five Artists is much too mundane a theme for an exhibition, because it doesn’t really deal with any issue. “Modern art” is, in the context of language, different from terms such as “socialism” or “realism”; it represents art influenced by the West, which we call modernist or modern art. Most of the artists who took part in the exhibition were young graduates from art academies or liberal arts colleges, who brought with them their mostly abstract sculptures. And yet, why didn’t I consider the exhibition a success, and why did I hold the burning event? Because I felt that the goals and intentions of the exhibition weren’t clear. I served as the organizer because we didn’t have a curator, and when someone came to me with an artwork, it was hard not to let him or her in, because we didn’t have a clear guiding principle and therefore criteria for rejection. In the end, we had piles of artwork—some of it ink painting, other of it abstract painting. So by the time we set up the show, I had begun to think about the essence of the exhibition. I believe that exhibitions should be able to change the perceived nature and quality of artworks and to raise meaningful questions. “Modern art” as a theme seemed to me to be too vague and powerless, because it lacked a clear goal or foundation. I hoped to find a way out, which is why I proposed “Xiamen Dada” in the title of my article. And the idea of Xiamen Dada resonated quite a bit during the exhibition. For instance, I had a few pieces that were satiric and closely related to European Dadaism, and that was interesting.

Li: What are some examples?

Huang: For example, I made The Beard Was the Easiest to Burn on Da Vinci’s beard; I made a piece in which I burned holes in three photos of Picasso; and I also made Ringing Pistol, which suggests a Dadaist metaphor.

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Huang Yong Ping. Ringing Pistol. 1986. © 2015 Huang Yong Ping. Photo courtesy the artist and the Asia Art Archive.

Li: But you only burned paintings, is that correct?

Huang: That’s right. I was the one who suggested that we burn artwork, but we didn’t burn everything; mostly we burned paintings.

Li: Were you suggesting that painting is dead?

Huang: Possibly. Another reason is that most of the paintings were larger in size—whereas other pieces, such as the photos, were comparatively smaller—and so it made more of an impact when we burned a painting. On another note, we made clear that “burning” was not the ultimate objective—it was only a move or a phase. Because if burning was indeed the ultimate objective, then we really would be terminating art, and it would be ridiculous to continue working as artists after art is terminated. In fact, the burning generated a lot of discussion at the time. People would ask: “Why do you have to display the video footage after you burn them [the artworks]?” Wouldn’t simple words suffice and wouldn’t it be easier just to tell people that you burned the works and be finished with it? But the truth is . . . life goes on and I was still young, and so I was always wondering what would be next. That was my philosophy—that we didn’t even have a method of terminating artworks; we decided to annihilate artworks to make a point; burning them was merely the strategic means of getting there. It definitely didn’t mark the “end” of art.

Li: Is this why you kept pieces of some of the works you burned at the event? To serve as evidence?

Huang: No, that’s a different story. What I just said refers to the paintings. As for why I kept these pieces and whether I intended them as evidence—I can tell you that that’s not the case. In fact, I rarely ever showed these works to anyone after the burning. When you carve out a 12-by-12-centimeter piece from an artwork, the original artwork is no longer whole and so it loses its essence as a painting; it becomes a useless piece of material. There were photographs and xerox copies that I didn’t burn simply because they were too unnoticeable; these weren’t things that you would want to reproduce. In fact, anything that you would reproduce [such as drawing and painting] got burned. Then again, we didn't burn Ringing Pistol because it was stolen. It was small and nailed to the wall; perhaps someone found it interesting and so took it away. As for other things, such as a few manuscripts placed in a plastic bag—we didn’t burn those, but later on we threw them away. I think we only kept conceptual items; basically, anything material was burned.

Li: Was this exhibition censored?

Huang: No, there wasn’t any censoring of it. After all, the show wasn’t even open to the public, and so not that many people saw it.

Li: So this was an internal viewing as well?

Huang: We never specified, and we actually printed out leaflets [as a catalogue]. One of the members, Cai Lixiong, worked at Xiamen Daily—he had some connections and so was able to print out about a thousand or two leaflets there.

Li: Was Dissecting Oil Paints your first performance artwork?

Huang: Well, how do you define performance art? This piece sort of resembled the Italian artist Lucio Fontana’s cut paintings. When I cut the oil paint tubes, colors seeped through.

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Huang Yong Ping. Dissecting Oil Paints. 1986. © 2015 Huang Yong Ping. Photo courtesy the artist and Asia Art Archive.

Li: You intentionally displayed photos of the performance of the dissection of the paint tubes along with the remains of the oil paint, in a way that recorded a performance piece. However, it seems like you were also exploring fundamental painting issues, especially since oil paint is a painting material—sort of like how you worked with found objects, in which the found objects are a kind of material.

Huang: That’s right. You should bear in mind that I hadn’t used oil paint in a long time; in fact, it had been years since I had laid hands on any oil colors. Some of my earlier works, including abstract paintings, were created with house paint, and so this was, in a sense, a continued exploration of my Spray Gun series. Speaking of which, I had previously done a piece in which I burned oil painting brushes—and, in fact, I think we may have burned oil painting brushes at the exhibition. All these pieces are more about latent illustrations of painting—we took the basics of painting, such as the tools, and processed them to the point they could no longer be properly used.

“Xiamen Dada—A Kind of Postmodernism?”

Li: When you wrote “Xiamen Dada—A Kind of Postmodernism?,” you seemed to have created a whole new school of Chinese Dadaism—a bit like how the history of southern/northern schools of landscape painting in China was written following the example of southern/northern schools8 of Chan Buddhism; this history was fabricated by later generations and didn’t exist. I feel like you did the same thing.

Huang: Yes, that was my intention.

Li: You named a few artists whom you admire, including Piero Manzoni, Yves Klein, John Cage, and Marcel Duchamp. Interestingly, Robert Rauschenberg came to China, and you treated him like a readymade object when you wrote about him in your article. In comparison, I think Manzoni, Klein, and Cage all better expressed the concept of ephemerality. However, Rauschenberg used a lot of readymade objects and worked in a decorative manner. Therefore, I think he stands out in the crowd. How did you manage to include them?

Huang: Well, naturally I had more interest in Rauschenberg. This was because of his exhibitions in China. I never went, but the way he applied found objects fell in line with my creative work. For example, how did Rauschenberg turn from painting to found objects? And how did he make found objects coexist with a flat platform? I have works that explore similar issues, and so I take great interest in Rauschenberg’s work. For example, in one piece he used a bed and a chicken—that felt familiar. But overall, I would say that his works are decorative; many of them are just three-dimensional paintings. All this marks a transitional phase. At that time, I was trying to transcend traditional painting, and he served as a bridge in my process. This is why he was quite significant to me and was included in the list of Dadaists.

Li: You didn’t go to Rauschenberg’s exhibition in Beijing, but you saw the catalogue?

Huang: I think I saw the catalogue somewhere else.

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Huang Yong Ping. A Note to Robert Rauschenberg. 1986. © 2015 Huang Yong Ping. Photo courtesy the artist and Asia Art Archive.

Li: So you made A Note to Robert Rauschenberg. What was its message?

Huang: Well, was the title really referring to Rauschenberg? You could say that he was irrelevant. I was using all kinds of titles as a way of adding meaning; I treated titles as if they were individual elements of the painting. I applied Chan Buddhism because I believed that the juxtaposition of Chan Buddhism and Dadaism would create new meanings, especially since I placed an Eastern element with a Western one—a term from intellectual history with one from art history. Why didn’t I use two terms from art history instead? In order to create more distance between them, and to create more contrast. This set a foundation for my future artwork, especially in the way I moved from this history to that history; these ideas are all relevant.

Taking Waste from the Streets and Exhibiting It in a Museum

Li: The installation that Xiamen Dada made in late 1986, the one titled Exhibition of the Happening in Fujian Art Museum, looks as if it was done spontaneously, whereas it was actually an execution of a formulated plan, is that correct? You also added a wall text that forced viewers to interpret what art in general is—in a sense that emphasized the participation of the audience. I think one of the sentences was censored and eliminated by museum officials.

Huang: Yes, it was all planned out. After A Modern Art Exhibition of Five Artists, China was a relatively more open atmosphere. I met the curator of an art museum in Fujian Province, and he said that they were fairly interested in Xiamen Dada and asked if we could move the exhibition there, and so we said yes. In reality, we had burned all the artwork, but I didn’t tell him that. I was already onto something new, and so this was an exhibition opportunity earned through half-deceit; we agreed to move our exhibition, but we had no artwork to show. All four of us went to Fuzhou,9 inspected their space, and planned out everything. We were given only a week because the show wasn’t part of their official program—they were more open-minded, more tolerant of experimental stuff. We not only inspected the area, we also took photos of the waste on the street—it was indeed all planned out—and then we returned to Xiamen. The day we went back to install the pieces, we moved fast; we brought in everything we needed, put everything in its designated space, specified which objects were to be displayed, and organized the logistics and everything. The installation went fast and efficient like a sudden attack. Now, why did we need to be fast? Because we needed to get everything done before anyone could react. We planned it down to every detail, including the words and graphics to go on the artworks; everything had been completed in Xiamen beforehand. It was all very organized. It’s a shame we didn’t keep a floor plan of the project; we kept everything in our heads. Of course, some things were random; some of the stuff was damaged in transportation, and more stuff was added in order to fill the space. We pasted a lot of Dada newspapers and notes onto the pieces—such as a note stating that the audience had the authority to decide whether the piece was an artwork or not. However, the museum didn’t want to be liable, and so they covered it up.

Li: So at first it was just one person covering up a line of a sentence on the sign, and then a half an hour later, someone else came and put a stop to everything?

Huang: Yes, that was the museum director. He said that he was shutting down the exhibition, and the exhibition was taken down pretty soon after.

Li: Yet, previously, in Xiamen People’s Art Museum, you hadn’t been censored for burning artworks, correct? So getting censored for what happened in Fuzhou [at the Fujian Art Museum] seems a bit random. It seems like the decision was based solely on the opinions of local authorities—a very chaotic situation.

Huang: Yes, it was! But, of course, that is the way things were in China. The truth is that we held the burning at the Xiamen People’s Art Museum on a Sunday at noon, and so the audience was small. There were just a few people playing sports nearby; we didn’t notify anyone—some students came by to watch and a few people came over to help. There wasn’t, indeed, much of an audience. Plus, the burning was pretty fast; it was all done within thirty or forty minutes, and so the burning itself didn’t generate any complaints. The fire department saw smoke and came by out of concern, because we were in a public space. The problem we had was with the museum; they feared mishaps and accidents. Visitors would either understand the work or, if they didn’t, they would up and leave; it would have been days before the government showed up, that is, if they cared. So all in all, the censoring was really self-censoring; if anything, it was museums fearing for themselves.


Li: In 1983 you wrote an article titled “An Oracle on the Fate of Modern Painting in China.” This seems to be the first time you mentioned the term “oracle.” When did you start taking an interest in oracles? Did your understanding of them come from the I Ching?10

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Huang Yong Ping. House of Oracles. 1986. © 2015 Huang Yong Ping. Photo courtesy the artist and Asia Art Archive.

Huang: It’s quite possible that I first used the term “oracle” in this article. Often, the first time you use a term, you aren’t fully aware of its meaning. In fact, you might have unconsciously chosen to use it. It was only a while later that the term “oracle” became significant. I have a piece from 1992 titled House of Oracles; in 2005 I used the same title for one of my exhibitions. Over time, “oracles” became very important to me. For one thing, they evoke the notion of a person reaching out to a higher power for help or guidance. Oracling has been practiced for thousands of years. It has a whole, intrinsic, and complicated system and tradition; mainly the oracle’s function is to warn you against something and advise you—that is, to tell you what not to do, but never to instruct you in terms of what you should do. I was in a place where I needed someone to advise me on what I should and shouldn’t do. Importantly, you cannot ask a question twice; if you do, the oracle stops being accurate—the instruments stop working. This protocol keeps a distance between you and your instrument.

Li: Have you ever really learned how to use an oracle?

Huang: Well, no. I simply read some books on the practice and have come to understand some of its methods. But was my practice an authentic one? I cannot say exactly. Nevertheless, I always find something useful in it.

Li: When you were writing the article “An Oracle on the Fate of Modern Painting in China” (1983), you did a lot of experiments with found objects. You mentioned various movements, including Surrealism, Dadaism, Fauvism, and the Bauhaus. An interesting thing is that your criteria for these styles seems to come from an American take on European modernism. Where did you get this knowledge of art history? From books, and if so, which ones?

Huang: I can tell you for sure that it didn’t come from the academy of art, especially the part concerning modern art history. I gained my knowledge from fragments of information, such as translations of pieces or excerpts, and so it was overall a bit scattered.

Li: A lot of people were reading Herbert Read and Edward Lucie-Smith, and you quoted from their books in your artwork as well. Was this because they were significant to you?

Huang: No, not particularly. Anything that I came across would become significant because there was only so much I had access to. If I had been given more choices at the time, I might have opted to quote something else. But all in all, I think these two books pretty much encompass the most important ideas, don’t you agree?

Li: You first saw Duchamp’s works when you went to France, is that correct?

Huang: Yes, that’s right. I have elaborated my thoughts in other articles, in which I mentioned that I wasn’t partial to originals. Thus, seeing Duchamp’s originals in France didn’t change my opinion of him or his work. It’s not like I would say, “Hey, this isn’t the Duchamp that I know” or “I realize I have been wrong.” This is because I don’t formulate ideas based solely on what I see, on concrete objects, or on empirical experience. Especially with Duchamp—you can grasp his spirit and his work’s essence through reading his words or his speeches, or even through print reproductions or copies. This is to say that he is able to surpass the so-called original. Then again, the French might disagree, because they greatly value originals, and they consider them to be completely different from copies; I, however, see no such significance in the subtle differences.

The Roulette Series

Li: Here’s a photo of your studio in 1987. I find it particularly interesting because it includes the roulettes and some abstract paintings as well as some found objects.

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Huang Yong Ping in his studio in Xiamen in 1987. © 2015 Huang Yong Ping.

Huang: The person who took this photo is actually in the picture. He sat there and used slow motion to capture the scene, in which he appears as a vague silhouette, almost unrecognizable. A lot of stuff was piled up in the studio, such as the first roulette; many artworks were damaged, such as these wine bottles and this plastic tube on gypsum. I lay there and made the gypsum piece myself. And this foot piece was molded with my own feet.

Li: All of your work from this time had concrete titles.

Huang: Yes, but many of those pieces are gone; I don’t have them anymore.

Li: You made three important “roulette”11 artworks in the eighties; you made the first one in 1985, which is the one you used to create Four Paintings Created According to Random Instructions. You divided a canvas into eight equal parts, and then used a roulette—also divided into eight parts—to determine which parts of the canvas to paint. Once that was decided, you threw dice to determine which of twenty-five colors you would use. Did you personally choose and number those twenty-five colors? Did you make a sketch before you divided the canvas into eight parts?

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Huang Yong Ping. The First Roulette and the Non-Expressive Paintings. 1985. © 2015 Huang Yong Ping. Photo courtesy the artist and Asia Art Archive.

Huang: Yes, all of this was previously established. For example, why those twenty-five colors? What was so special about them, and do they share anything in common? First of all, I chose these twenty-five colors because they were easy to come by. None of them were conventional paints. For example, the selection didn’t include any oil color or gouache; most of the colors were wall paints or brush cleaner. They just came from stuff that had some pigment in it—they weren’t even regular colors.

Li: This roulette reminds me of Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel (1913), the one that spins on a stool. The original piece was never exhibited in a museum; it was only after its demolition that a replica was exhibited. Duchamp used to spin and fumble with it when he was in his studio, admiring it, and so you can see that one of its functions is to be fun. As to this roulette, it bears the function of teaching you how to paint; however, you’re the only one who has ever used it. Has it ever occurred to you to rid it of your own subjective judgment and to let another person take charge of the roulette?

Huang: Well, I fear that wouldn’t be feasible. First of all, if anyone was to use it, he would have to know the procedures—in other words, that person would need to re-create the whole process, because otherwise he wouldn’t know what to do. This isn’t the same as spinning a bicycle wheel. With a bicycle wheel, you push it once and it keeps spinning until it stops; that’s easy. But with a roulette, you can spin it and it will stop, but then what? What does it mean or what is it trying to say? All of this is confusing. That is why I had to establish a procedure. For example, I used dice to determine the twenty-five colors; I enacted this rule, but then who decided it was to be twenty-five colors and not twenty-three? It was the dice, not me. If the dice had instructed seven, then I would have chosen seven colors, you see? I spin the roulette, and then the point at which it stops contains a rule. This is how it worked.

Li: So, in a sense, the result was something that was a consequence of rules you created and yet it was independent of you at the same time?

Huang: That’s right.

Li: You have only created one piece with this roulette?

Huang: I have actually created five paintings with this roulette. I’ve only exhibited four of them, however; the fifth one remains unfinished—I never completed it.

Li: Why didn’t you complete it?

Huang: Honestly, I don’t know! I just stopped working on it. I made four paintings, and I was finished—I never used the roulette again. Later on, when I exhibited the four paintings, I showed the roulette as well.

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Huang Yong Ping. Large Turntable with Four Wheels. 1987. © 2015 Huang Yong Ping. Photo courtesy the artist and Asia Art Archive.
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Huang Yong Ping. Sketch for Large Turntable with Four Wheels. 1987. © 2015 Huang Yong Ping. Photo courtesy the artist and Asia Art Archive.

Li: Since the first roulette (1985) that was used for Non-Expressive Painting, you have made Large Turntable with Four Wheels (1987), and Roulette Wheel with Six Criteria (1988). Large Turntable is much more complicated, because it had an inner and an outer rim; the inner rim had sixty-four entries while the outer one had 384. These art statements12 regulated how to create the artwork, all working together.

Huang: That’s right.

Li: The works you created with the large turntable were usually titled according to the art statement from which the work is generated; however, you seem to have named them with only one of the entries. Take "A Wet Method," for example—many artworks derived from it, but the title “A Wet Method” was an art statement that appears on the outer rim?

Huang: Yes.

Li: How come the other art statement in the inner rim is gone?

Huang: Normally, inner rim entries don’t appear in my titles. The inner rim entries served to set the background conditions of an artwork; they are underlying. The outer rim, on the other hand, was used to create titles.

Herbert Read’s The History of Western Art and Wang Bomin’s The History of Chinese Painting washed in the washing machine for two minutes

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Huang Yong Ping. Herbert Read’s The History of Western Art and Wang Bomin’s The History of Chinese Painting Washed in the Washing Machine for Two Minutes. 1987. Destroyed. © 2015 Huang Yong Ping. Photo courtesy the artist and Asia Art Archive.

Li: On December 1, 1987, you completed several works that you titled “A Wet Method.” You took Herbert Read’s The History of Western Art and Wang Bomin’s The History of Chinese Painting and washed them together in the washing machine for two minutes, although the instructions on the Large Turntable didn’t specify “two minutes.” At another time, you washed one of your own oil paintings for five minutes. I think there was another piece in which you tied up sandbags? On that day, you happened to spin to the instruction “A Wet Method,” and so you created multiple artworks, or was it a coincidence that you got the same instruction?

Huang: I actually got a second spin with the same entries.

Li: Does it require a lot of subjective judgment when using Large Turntable?

Huang: Yes, Large Turntable wasn’t as stiffly regulated as Four Paintings Created According to Random Instructions—on the one hand, it didn’t have as many restrictions; on the other, it casts a wider net. Large Turntable isn’t about setting restrictions; rather, it’s about expanding all kinds of ideas—and whether there is any logic to or coherence among these ideas is not my concern. I think of it as not only establishing a system, but also moving beyond it.

Li: Do you ever spin to a certain art statement but then feel like you have no inspiration and so give up working on it?

Huang: Well, that does happen. If you look through my notes, you will find that there are more turntable works on paper than there are in reality. That is because some are just ideas that I never carried out but recorded nonetheless. Perhaps in the future I can put them in order and display them with the turntable. It might even be more meaningful that way. Nevertheless, finished works take time to do.

Li: Have you completed any works using Roulette Wheel with Six Criteria?

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Huang Yong Ping. Roulette Wheel with Six Criteria. 1988. © 2015 Huang Yong Ping. Photo courtesy the artist and Asia Art Archive.

Huang: No, I haven’t. Roulette Wheel with Six Criteria was finished in 1988 for the exhibition Magiciens de la terre. I had been invited to participate and was considering ideas for the exhibition, and so it was basically tailored for that venue. However, I never actually used it to create any artwork. In addition, I put it in a suitcase and brought it to exhibit at the National Art Museum of China in February of 1989.

Li: When did you stop using those roulettes and turntables to create artworks?

Huang: I used a turntable in another work, House of Oracles, which I made in 1992 after arriving in France. It resembled a calendar, but functioned like a roulette. I set up the year wheel, beneath which were wheels that stand for “day,” “night,” and “time.” It was a turntable for oracles, and you could use it to produce oracles based on the eight characters of your horoscope.13 This artwork eventually evolved into a chariot; it also goes by the title of Sixty-Year Cycle Chariot.

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Huang Yong Ping. Sixty-Year Cycle Chariot. 1999-2000. © 2015 Huang Yong Ping. Photo courtesy the artist and Asia Art Archive.

Li: So these two works were used for oracles on life and not on art, is that correct?

Huang: They were still basically related to art. There was yet another turntable I made in 1991 titled Little Gambling Turntable, which was used to determine prices of artworks.

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Huang Yong Ping. Little Gambling Turntable. 1991. © 2015 Huang Yong Ping. Photo courtesy the artist and the Asia Art Archive.

Li: Have you ever actually used this gambling turntable for setting prices?

Huang: No, I’ve never used it for that. No one would play the game with me, but I don’t see that as a problem. Whether or not the game is viable wasn’t a big issue. My main concern was to raise a question—what is an appropriate price for an artwork?

Washing Books

Li: You created a series of works that involved washing books. There are books in your Book Collection Project that are significant or particularly meaningful to you, such as Critique of Pure Reason and some books on art that you were reading at the time. You washed a lot of books. How did you choose them?

Huang: In Book Collection Project, there is a photo of books piled on the floor—those are actually books from my bookshelf. I bought a lot of books. I never washed books on art; in fact, I sealed a lot of them with glue. Although I bought a lot of books on art, I ended up refusing to read them. Did I finish reading them before I glued them shut? I’m not sure now, but I think I must have read some of them. Generally speaking, I think it is meaningless to wash things that are already useless. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is a significant book, and so washing it was not a random act. Later on, I used a lot of books as artwork material, along with newspaper, which I also washed—but that was partly because I needed a lot of paper; anyway, this is a completely different topic . . .

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Huang Yong Ping. Reptile. 1989. © 2015 Huang Yong Ping. Photo courtesy the artist and the Asia Art Archive.

Li: When you created the work Reptile for Magiciens de la terre, why did you wash newspaper instead of books?

Huang: That’s simple. It was because newspaper is used as a material; moreover, that particular project required tons of paper, which wasn’t possible with just a few books.

Li: I think you opted for a French Communist newspaper?

Huang: I also used Libération newspaper. I didn’t choose to use a specific newspaper; I was referring to the general media culture.

Li: So by this time newspaper had become a material for sculpture?

Huang: It had become a material for installation. All of this was an early example of how I would choose to work later on—when we would discuss, explore, and plan everything out in sketches and then turn the ideas into a concrete artwork.

Avoiding Art Museums

Li: Before you left the country for France, you took part in the China Avant-Garde exhibition. It was supposed to take place in 1987 under the title Young Artists’ Academic Communication. What was the process for getting in? Were you invited to participate, or did you have to apply?

Huang: China Avant-Garde was pretty disorganized to start. Everything was voluntary. Some people focused on art theory; others ran newspapers and magazines. At first they did a conference with a slide show in Zhuhai, and then they held a Huangshan Symposium. For the Huangshan Symposium, they wrote to artists from all over China, inviting them to bring slides and take part in the exhibition. At the conference, there were talks about holding a national exhibition. But how exactly would they to do that? It was up in the air. Naturally they didn’t need to call for work because they already knew a lot of artists, including Gao Minglu, Li Xianting, and Fei Dawei, all of whom I’ve met. They were all members of the curating team; we corresponded for a long while. They didn’t stipulate what the artists should exhibit; Xiamen Dada proposed some ideas, some of which were unfeasible. They were short on funding, and so couldn’t cover the cost of transporting the artworks to Beijing. Basically what we did was to bring photos—and I put Roulette Wheel with Six Criteria in a suitcase I used for train trips, and I made everything light and portable. There were some art proposals, such as Dragging the Art Museum or the project about sprinkling rice, but none of these ideas were feasible. In the end, what we could do was to hang photos and exhibit lightweight and portable items.

Li: Didn’t you propose making mimeographs on blank sheets and exhibiting them in the restroom? Another proposal mentioned killing pigs?

Huang: Well, the idea was brought up in our discussion within Xiamen Dada, but I was the one who organized the final plan. We didn’t keep minutes of our meetings; a group of people was just sitting around talking, and so it’s hard for me to remember who brought up which idea. Who came up with the awful idea of killing pigs? I cannot remember. However, I think the potential of those plans was meaningful enough, whether we actually carried them out or not. I think everyone was trying to provoke something, don’t you agree? Xiamen Dada was actually among the least provocative—at least if you’re judging by actual actions. There were many others who were actively provocative. Xiamen Dada merely translated provocative ideas into text form.

Li: In one of your notes, you mentioned that you were concerned about power structures and struggles in art: You brought up radical proposals in order to relieve the exhibition from a competition of power and influence, however it would inevitably lead to another kind of competition over power.

Huang: That is why one of our plans was titled Avoiding Art Museums. Supposedly this is contradictory; how can you avoid an art museum when you have been invited to take part in an exhibition within it? How do you stay in and out at the same time? These were themes we explored. I believe we were the first to propose this concept. Everyone was about provocation; the atmosphere smelled of provocation, and this is why an artist eventually fired a gun at the exhibition. I wrote the article on power and influence after the exhibition; as for the other article—the one about avoiding art museums—it was written a bit earlier, in 1988.

Li: Can you specify how to avoid an art museum?

Huang: We had some ideas. For one, we thought about exhibiting in a space not meant for exhibition—that would be avoidance. For example, we thought about exhibiting in the restroom, in the hallway, in the stairwell, in any unobtrusive space. On a similar note—why did we propose sprinkling rice? Because rice isn’t noticeable, and anything noticeable is also obtrusive. These were mostly my own thoughts.

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Xiamen Dada Group. Dragging an Art Museum. 1989. © Photo courtesy the artist and the Asia Art Archive.
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Xiamen Dada Group. Dragging an Art Museum. 1989. © Photo courtesy the artist and the Asia Art Archive.

Li: So you eventually settled on the plan for Dragging an Art Museum?

Huang: We never realized Dragging an Art Museum. We sent the idea directly to the exhibition organizers, listing the materials we would need—such as a certain number of pillars and other items. However, the plan was never developed, and so never realized.

Li: What are your thoughts on artist Xia Lu’s firing a gun?14

Huang: I wasn’t there when the shots were fired. There was already great chaos beforehand. I was clear on what I was going to do for the exhibition in Beijing, and I was ready to stay away, to avoid this art circle of power competition. During the Huangshan Symposium, I witnessed how people in this circle were driven by a thirst for power; everyone was there for fame and gain, fighting tooth and nail for it. Firing a gun was the most extreme measure. And yet, how do you define “extreme” when you are an artist, especially in the field of avant-garde art? To me, reflection on art is actually reflection on human beings; it is a reflection on what you should do as an artist. I knew I was going to France soon, and so I wasn’t inclined to do anything extreme, anything that would put me at risk of getting caught. Of course, I wasn’t sure what would happen with France; I could be back in Xiamen soon. After Xiamen Dada finished the extreme performances [the burning event], I started thinking about what to do next and where to head. Even before the firing of the gunshot [by Xiao Lu] at China Avant-Garde, there was already a foul atmosphere; there were artists washing their feet, hatching eggs, even distributing condoms. Avant-garde art in China had entered a period of chaos and disturbance. Then again, Dadaism sets out to cause chaos, but Xiamen Dada had already accomplished that, and we didn’t need any new disturbances. We needed to start thinking about new projects. Were there other possibilities? These questions were my main concern.

Li: Did you go to France in April, 1989? Were you still there in June when the Tiananmen Square massacre happened? What about Shen Yuan?15

Huang: She arrived a while later, in 1990. It wasn’t easy, though; we had to rely on help from friends we had met at the Magiciens de la terre exhibition and my connections at Provence Academy of Art. Friends helped issue invitation letters and such; we had to satisfy a lot of requirements and it wasn’t easy. Personally speaking, I tend to go with the flow because I’m passive; this probably conforms to my philosophy in art. For example, I was invited to participate in a lot of European exhibitions in the nineties, and so I stayed, without giving it too much thought. Before I could realize what was really happening, twenty years had gone by. I also didn’t plan for the trip to France. It wasn’t a thought-out plan for immigration or a change of scenery or anything like that; it was just an opportunity that knocked on my door, and I generally tend to go with the flow and accept the opportunities that come in my way.

Yellow Peril: An Artist Living in China and France

Li: After you moved to France, in 1993, you started creating works about and with animals. You did Bridge and Theater of the World. You seem to have a special interest in reptiles, such as snakes, and in bugs. Is this interest rooted in what the animals symbolize?

Huang: From today’s perspective, I used a wide range of animals to create artworks. The first time I even used live animals in my work was in 1993 for Yellow Peril in Oxford. Soon after, in 1994, I used a live turtle in a work in San Francisco. I probably used about a thousand locusts in Yellow Peril, placing them at the entrance of the museum. This exhibition never suffered a shutdown due to animal rights issues. The most disturbance it caused was that a few locusts fell off the wall to which they were clinging, and the scorpions on the ground picked them up and ate them; other than that, there was little interaction between them. I think that show lasted for a month or so.

Li: So the exhibit was never censored? You weren’t forbidden from using bugs?

Huang: No.

Li: Theater of the World was a completely different case. You put scorpions and all kinds of bugs, including spiders and crickets, into a tortoise-shaped box and let them fight each other to the death. This caused a lot of dispute.

Huang: The first time Theater of the World was shown was in Stuttgart, and it wasn’t censored. It was in Schloss Solitude, a castle in which artists are invited to stay and work for a few months at a time; there is a small corridor where artists can exhibit their works, and that’s where it was shown. It was meant for a small audience, to avoid disputes. A while later I did the same piece in Paris, in Amsterdam, at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and in Beijing. Once in Vancouver and another time at the Centre Georges Pompidou, things went wrong. In Pompidou, the piece was part of a large group exhibition. The staff there had heard about the project and wrote to the curator, fiercely protesting it. Eventually they captured the attention of an animal protection NGO in France, and its chairman, a renowned actress, wrote a formal letter to the museum protesting the whole thing. In the end, the police were involved, and we were sued. I wasn’t there when all this happened, however, and so lawyers handled the situation. A French socialist mentioned my artwork in the context of censorship in a chapter of his book. Anyway, I only learned about all of this after the fact.

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Huang Yong Ping. Theater of the World. 1993. © 2015 Huang Yong Ping. Photo courtesy the artist and the Asia Art Archive.

Li: Some people claim that there are certain artworks that can only be executed in China. Would you care to elaborate on how you think these censoring systems relate to the local people’s acceptance of avant-garde art?

Huang: The censoring system must be discussed within two contexts; one concerns a democratic society, and the other a nondemocratic society. Back in the 1980s my work underwent a lot of censoring in China. Censorships are based on “concepts” and “ideologies,” with the ideologies determining what could be expressed and what could not be. This was censorship in a nondemocratic society. But today, in a democratic society, censorship based on ideology no longer exists. Instead, other concerns arise, such as general safety or animal welfare. Today, there are certain lines that you cannot cross when it comes to animals. For example, when I was working with living animals, the exhibition organizers were careful about censoring my artworks for fear of crossing any line. Nevertheless, I see those challenges as positive. As artists, we often have the need to create an opposition or a confronting position; however, all this is positive because it aids our creative process. In a similar sense, I don’t think we should necessarily treat censorship as a negative thing. From my personal experience, I have been pushed or inspired to greater things due to its challenges. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that we should never transgress a line just for the sake of doing so. When I mentioned how, in the late eighties in China, some artists were recklessly trying to cause provocation, I meant that as an example of provoking for provoking’s sake. When I used bugs in my works, I wasn’t intending to generate a dispute; provocation was not my goal. After all, bugs are such small, inconsequential creatures; moreover, I acquired them legally from a pet store, and I wasn’t mistreating them—or treating them in a way a pet store wouldn’t. I simply modified their environments a bit. For example, pet stores sell bugs in small cartons; I simply placed them all in one big container. The bugs weren’t crawling out of their box, they weren’t causing any threat to people, and I wasn’t trying to be cruel to them. From my perspective, locusts are being raised in pet stores to feed scorpions—all smaller insects are sold to feed larger insects—and so when I let the scorpions eat the locusts in my piece, I wasn’t trying to be cruel. All I did was to publicly exhibit the eating; the only difference is that pet-store bugs eat each other in private and mine did it in public. I was trying to present a metaphor through these creatures, not to emphasize their cruelty. I was presenting a case in which the bugs represented different kinds of people who supposedly cannot exist together, and raising the question—what would it be like if they coexisted? Hence the metaphoric title Theater of the World. I believe that this artwork is about raising such meaningful questions, not illustrating so-called cruelty. Back to the issue of confronting censorship, I still believe that it can inspire some critical discussions. For example, my work at Pompidou received more attention because it was displayed along with some related documents, such as letters of protest, documents submitted to the government, and correspondence between the chairman of Pompidou and the curator. All of these gave the original art piece a new perspective, which expanded the spirit of the artwork. All this was unplanned; it was gained by chance.

Li: How would you define your position as an artist living in China and France?

Huang: People often compare my artworks from China with those from abroad. I am often told that it seems I have more to do in China. For example, today’s conversation covered more of my works from China, however, I have been working in the West for twenty-five years. My time in Xiamen was short; it was only six years between 1984 and 1989. I feel like this earlier part of my life was a time of learning; some might even say that it was learning through the process of imitation. So, naturally, I wonder why there is less interest in the works I’ve done in France, over a span of twenty-five years. Is it because China is not open and so all works are considered within the context of this inaccessibility, thus gaining significance—and following that, attention and interest? And yet, as I previously mentioned, if I hadn’t created the works I did in the years that followed, would those six years in China count? And I also wonder—I wasn’t the only one working in Xiamen Dada. There were five or six other members who stopped after I left, but why were their works considered meaningless? I don’t think that you can separate the works I did before I left China and those I did after. Many times an artwork is based on a foundation established years ago and over a period of time. Now, why am I still working today? Because this is where my life lies, where my whole being lies; it is where all meaning and essence lies; because I am alive, I work.


Huang Yong Ping, “Notebook 01, 1987–1989,” in Philippe Vergne and Doryun Chong, eds., House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2006), 33.


By “hard-edge abstraction” and “cold abstraction,” he means geometric abstraction.


In the 1980s some art shows were deemed too experimental and so, to prevent the spread of inappropriate or non-socialist teachings to the public, were open only to art professionals, such as art teachers and students.


The book refers to Pierre Cabanne's Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (London: Thames and Hudson, 1971), which was originally published in French under the title Entretiens avec Marcel Duchamp (Paris: Editions Pierre Belfond, 1967). The Chinese edition, issued by Art Publishing Co., Taiwan, in 1986, was translated from the English by Zhang Xinlong.


This is an anthology collected and edited in the 13th century, containing works and biographies of patriarchs and Buddhist monks regarding Chan Buddhism. “Transmissions of lamp” were books that contained both historical facts and discourses on Chan Buddhism; “lamp” refers to “dharma,” or teachings of Buddhism. These books were an important source for the history of Chan Buddhism. Among them, five were considered prominent, and An Anthology of the Five Transmissions of Lamp provided an anthology that came to be an important source for anyone pursuing or studying Chan Buddhism.


During the Cultural Revolution in China (1966–76), many books were either banned or lost, and the publishing of them was chaotic. It was only after the Cultural Revolution subsided that many previously published books regained exposure through republication.


Here “Chan Buddhism” is used to differentiate from "Zen-Buddhism", which is a term that was introduced to the English speaking word by Suzuki Daisetsu and connotes the Japanese version of this Buddhist school, which has its origin in India and evolved in different sub-schools in East Asia. Chan, or Zen refers to "Dhyana," the sanscrit word for “meditation.”


Dong Qichang (1555–1636) was a Chinese painter, calligrapher, and art critic. He constructed the genealogy for the so-called southern/northern schools in landscape painting, which is analogous to the division of the Southern and Northern Buddhist schools in China. This genealogy of schools of painters was not based on historical facts, however, it became a paradigm for the history of Chinese painting.


Fuzhou City is the capital of Fujian Province, China, and one of the largest cities in that province.


I Ching is a book also known as the Classic of Changes or the Book of Changes. It is an ancient divination book and one of the oldest Chinese classics.


Huang created a series of artworks that were essentially “roulettes.” These roulettes functioned as an oracle, giving him instructions for making art.


Huang Yong Ping inscribed very vague “art statements” or “art instructions” on the large turntable, which he used for inspiration in making works, and he would use the art statements themselves as titles. Examples are “A Wet Method” and “Singing a Song Coarsely.”


This is a Chinese method of recording a person’s date and time of birth. It consists of eight Chinese characters, using two characters as a pair to specify the year, the month, the day, and the time of birth.


On February 5, 1989, at 11:00 a.m. just after the opening ceremony of China Avant-Garde, artist Xiao Lu fired two pistol shots at her installation work Dialogue. The police responded by temporarily shutting down the exhibition. The exhibition was reopened on February 10, 1989, but again closed down on February 17, after artist Liu Anping sent a bomb threat—a piece of his performance art.


Artist Shen Yuan is Huang’s partner.

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Book Washer, Shaman, and Bug Keeper: A Conversation with Huang Yong Ping, Part II

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