Gleeful, parodic, youthful – the current exhibition of two Shanghai-based artists Funa Ye and Pengfei Yin is unexpectedly, and even absurdly, light-hearted. Unstableness, curated by Yuanyu Li, has brought together two exuberant voices of contemporary Chinese art. Ye is an established experimental artist, currently working and teaching at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, while Yin is a commercial fashion photographer and model who, during the pandemic, began to share some of his own photography projects on his Instagram.
Ye’s latest video work, Big Dream Show, re-interprets and revives the Chinese internet sensation, Sister Phoenix, a character played by the artist herself. An average Chinese woman with big aspirations, Sister Phoenix went viral in 2009 for handing out flyers in Shanghai looking for a man with excessive qualifications. Ye uses this irreverent character as the basis for a video collage embedded with a lowbrow, freewheeling 2000s and 2010s aesthetic, following the main character as she travels from China to New York City. Blithely revelling in western capitalism, she gyrates to rap, speaks to a non-existent audience on Wall Street, takes selfies with the Statue of Liberty and much more. It’s a hilarious, kitsch and relatable point of recent history, yet also a thought-provoking juncture of reality and internet subcultures.
The walls are lined with Yin’s photographic series, I Shoot Myself, which also playfully blends the online and real world as he explores growing up in 21st century China. A highlight is his subtle and irreverent parody of the Chinese ‘tu hao’ class, which refers to the rapidly growing Chinese nouveau riche, who come from a peasant background. He styles himself as a young, confident male of this class, dressed in head-to-toe denim visiting ‘hair salons’ which are in fact brothels, and riding his flashy motorbike. Through a comical and tacky appropriation of western capitalist symbols – denim, fast vehicles, sex and independence, Yin depicts the crazy Chinese experience of sudden affluence. The Bathhouse series is a nostalgic complement, as it delves into the specific space of Chinese bathhouse culture. Yin seems like the anomaly here, as he is surrounded by older men, as they bathe together and play Chinese checkers. With himself as the main character in each of the series, Yin inserts a self-concerned, fluid millennial identity that moves between memory and the present, the internet and reality.
Unstableness taps into the eccentricity and expressiveness of contemporary Chinese art that is borne especially out of internet subcultures. This is because the internet enables endless creativity and roleplay, which is an important unifying theme of the exhibition, evident in the artists’ self-reflexive, exaggerated comic contemplations. The way we see the world, and see ourselves, is shaped by the layers and layers of photographs, videos and sounds made in the late 20th and 21st century. Where would we be without YouTube and memes? It’s art that makes fun of both the establishment and the anti-establishment and is both as political as it is non-political. Boiled down, Unstableness is the perfect exhibition for our meme-wired brains.
While you’re there, check out Airspace’s other current exhibitions. Symbiont: Reconnect by Marta Ferracin is a cooperative effort with the most ancient and resilient organisms on Earth: lichens; Gemini by Nikki Morgan-Smith explores synaesthesia; and retrograde//anterograde is a group show that brings together multidisciplinary artists for a contemporary investigation into the human experience of time, perception and materiality.
Take the long way via an Inner West café or bar and visit Unstableness on Fridays (11am-6pm) or Saturdays and Sundays (11am-5pm) until April 24. Entry is free. (Note the gallery will be closed from Friday April 15 to Sunday 17.)