Yang Fudong lives and works in Shanghai, a coastal city renowned as a filmmaking centre in the 1920s and 1930s.

Cinema and the Yuefen style, typical of the Shanghai petite bourgeoisie of the early twentieth century, are important references for Yang. This influence is evident in his nostalgic and poetic works, which display stylistic references to films such as Yuan Muzhi’s Street Angel (1937) and Fei Mu’s Spring in a Small Town (1948).

While Yang’s works have a strong cinematic, narrative component, the stories he recounts are never explicit or conclusive, but are characterised instead by fundamental change – from the overwhelming changes of personal life, urban environment and society, to the resulting disaffection of urban youth. Alienation and perception are major themes; in all of his work Yang creates a beautifully poignant, and at times melancholy, sense of ennui that reflects the inconsistency of everyday life and the reflective desires of his subjects. His videos, films, and photographic series can be read as allegories of the alienated city-dwellers’ lives. Indeed, seen as a whole, the films, in their overwhelming seductive beauty, present a cautionary portrait of China, with its shifting definition of contemporary identity.

Yang speaks of negotiating the past while imagining the present. In his films protagonists in Western dress are shown in contrast to traditional role models; the streets and buildings of the old Chinese city are replaced by modern skyscrapers; the uniform dress of the Maoist era clashes with the extreme fashion of the younger generation. The narratives unfold sometimes in high-rise apartments and office buildings, for example in City Lights (Chengshi zhi guang), and sometimes in dreamlike settings reminiscent of traditional Chinese gardens and the Chinese literary landscape, as in Su Xiaoxiao,Tonight’s Moon and Liulan. The observation of individual and collective attitudes and approaches to life, along with the juxtaposition of traditions and conventions of society with states of transition and transformation, are recurring themes in Yang’s films.

In his ten-screen installation at FACT, Yang explored some of these issues through the relationship of a young couple in love and their life by the sea – a setting he chose to connect Shanghai and Liverpool, and which he describes as ‘conveying beauty and generosity’. Threatened by death, they continue to talk about their ideals, beliefs and expectations of life.

The musical score by Jing Wang, specially commissioned to accompany the piece, assisted in conveying a strange, dreamlike, disturbing quality. This felt particularly relevant to Liverpool as the city was undergoing transformation and regeneration.

Close to the Sea, 2004
Video installation
Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial 2004
Exhibited at FACT



Liverpool Biennial
FACT (The Foundation for Art and Creative Technology)
Visiting Arts