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Sculpting a Face of a New Generation

Huang Yulong

Art is always a reac­tion to the prei­rod of time in which it’s made. No art is ‘timeless’, any artist who refu­ses to accept this insight and attempts to escape from the pre­sent day risks artis­tic fail­u­re. Huang Yulong, howe­ver, is an examp­le of a young Chi­ne­se artist who salu­tes the intri­caci­es that his time so generous­ly bes­tows upon its con­tem­pora­ries, to crea­te his sculp­tu­ral works, ren­de­red in a varie­ty of media ran­ging from tra­di­tio­nal Chi­ne­se por­ce­lain to bron­ze and, recent­ly, crystal.

Born in Chi­na in 1983, in the city of Huai­an of Anhui pro­vin­ce, Huang Yulong went to what is known as the ‘por­ce­lain capi­tal’ of Chi­na, the city of Jing­dez­hen in the neigh­bou­ring Jian­gxi pro­vin­ce to pur­sue his care­er as an artist. The­re he recei­ved his Bache­lor of Fine Arts in Sculp­tu­re from the Jing­dez­hen Cer­a­mic Insti­tu­te. Short­ly after his gra­dua­ti­on in 2007, he star­ted to crea­te his pecu­li­ar ‘hoo­die’ cha­rac­ters. Best known for his sculp­tures of Bud­dhas wea­ring hoo­ded sweat­shirts, Huang Yulong’s oeu­vre of work com­bi­nes Eas­tern tra­di­ti­on and sym­bo­lism with the aes­the­tics of hip-hop. Such cul­tu­ral mash-ups con­front the sere­ni­ty and puri­ty of tra­di­tio­nal Chi­ne­se images, updating and urba­ni­sing them to reflect China’s rapid tran­si­ti­on from what was once an insu­lar and iso­la­ted socie­ty to its cur­rent inter­na­tio­nal­ly com­pe­ti­ti­ve, evol­ving and for­ward-loo­king state.

Through his art, employ­ing cer­tain cul­tu­ral sym­bols and attri­bu­tes, uti­li­sing the con­cepts, ideo­lo­gies and phi­lo­so­phies from his past and pre­sent, Huang Yulong com­mu­ni­ca­tes his ide­as of iden­ti­ty to the world. He doesn’t try to era­se cul­tu­ral bounda­ries or blur the bor­der bet­ween ‘high’ and ‘low’. Yulong sim­ply con­tours out the new rea­li­ty that he, as well as legi­ons of local ‘post-80s’ kids, who grew up under a sud­den and impul­si­ve influ­ence of for­eign cul­tu­re, belong to.

Huang Yulong’s enthu­si­asm for hip-hop has been dri­ving his artis­tic care­er for almost a deca­de. Fasci­na­ted with its free, pas­sio­na­te and rebel­lious atti­tu­de, he uses his work as a chan­nel to express the magnitu­de of emo­ti­on that takes over him when he lis­tens to rap or dan­ces to hip-hop music. Hip-hop came to his life ear­lier than art. While still in high school, the dis­co­very of a ‘dif­fe­rent’ and ‘new’ type of music ser­ved as a sheer means of dealing with stress and issu­es that a young ado­lescent usual­ly goes through at that age. The affair that star­ted off as an inf­a­tua­ti­on with some­thing strikin­gly dif­fe­rent and seduc­tively for­eign tur­ned into a life-long com­mit­ment, a sta­te of being, and sim­ply a way of life. Yet, with his know­ledge and out­look being lar­ge­ly shaped by Chi­ne­se cul­tu­re, he taps into his own tra­di­ti­on and heri­ta­ge to enrich his work as an artist.

Whe­ther Huang Yulong appro­pria­tes an image of a Bud­dha, an ico­nic image of a pro­mi­nent com­mu­nist figu­re, a mythi­cal image of cen­taurs, or sim­ply crea­tes a sculp­tu­re of a per­son – a hoo­ded sweat­shirt, one of the cru­cial attri­bu­tes of street fashion, remains an indis­pensable ele­ment of each sculpture.

His sub­jects have no faces. As Huang Yulong comments, ‘I put all my emo­ti­ons into this guy in a swea­ter. I free the body from its head and facial fea­tures not to have it affec­ted by irrele­vant infor­ma­ti­on. Ins­tead, I hint at his per­so­na­li­ty and strength through the pos­tu­re and body lan­guage. I use the hood to com­ple­te his figu­re; in fact, this hoo­ded sweat­shirt beco­mes the figu­re and the cha­rac­ter itself.’

The void that evo­ca­tively fills the space under the hood of Huang Yulong’s sub­jects is also the­re to lea­ve the space­for con­tem­pla­ti­on and ima­gi­na­ti­on of the view­er. Tra­di­tio­nal­ly, in Chi­ne­se arts, the con­cept of a ‘void’ or empty space dwells upon the noti­on of respect of an artist towards his view­er. Inde­ed, upon ana­ly­sing tra­di­tio­nal Chi­ne­se land­s­capes or brush pain­tings of various sub­ject mat­ters, and the artists’ ten­den­cy to lea­ve behind a lar­ge por­ti­on of ‘empty’ white spaces on paper or eli­mi­na­te a sen­se of per­spec­ti­ve sug­gests that the view­er is enti­t­led to his or her own point of view on art, in par­ti­cu­lar, and the uni­ver­sal order of things, in general.

For years Huang Yulong has been dedi­ca­ting hims­elf to stu­dy­ing Chi­ne­se cul­tu­re with its long histo­ry and pro­found­ly rich heri­ta­ge, but as the artist points out ‘the scope and the extent of it is hard­ly pos­si­ble to fathom’, the­re­fo­re his work only ‘scrat­ches the sur­face’ of China’s inex­haus­ti­ble source of tra­di­ti­on. Nevertheless, the artist mana­ges to lea­ve behind just enough sym­bo­lic and cul­tu­ral clues to let us make sen­se of his work and link West and East tog­e­ther. Some­ti­mes Huang Yulong’s hoo­dies, acces­so­ri­sed with a fair share of ‘bling’ and gold, bear no resem­blan­ce with the Ori­ent, until one makes an asso­cia­ti­on of a ges­tu­re of an open palm pres­sed against the fist with an anci­ent form of salutati­on in China.

What is real­ly hap­pe­ning is that the artist is taking the con­ven­ti­ons, phi­lo­so­phies and ideo­lo­gies of East and West and pul­ve­ri­zing their struc­tu­re and logic to make an indis­tin­guis­ha­ble new mass that is its­elf a new work of art and a new cul­tu­ral and social para­digm. Huang Yulong sculpts a new face of his genera­ti­on, new icon that is up-to-date with the peri­od of diver­si­ty and inte­gra­ti­on, con­fu­si­on and uncer­tain­ty, like our own. With his art, Huang Yulong doesn’t attempt to estab­lish gui­de­li­nes for anyo­ne, he only seeks ori­en­ta­ti­on, he does not make state­ments, but expres­ses emo­ti­ons and asks ques­ti­ons about the rea­li­ty that is ever more com­plex, and about the role of art its­elf wit­hin this reality.

Be by My Side with Huang Yulong
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She has been living in China for almost 10 years. With her background in International Communications, creative industries and journalism, she has been always passionate about the Chinese contemporary art scene. She worked in a number of galleries that represented Chinese contemporary artists, wrote for online art-related websites. She currently works as the Exhibition and Media Director at Art+ Shanghai Gallery, Shanghai, China.

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