While anticipating the Berlin Art Week and its many interrelated exhibitions and events, we reached out to the Rotterdam-based artist Evelyn Taocheng Wang (born 1981 in Chengdu, China) to talk about her upcoming show titled "What is he afraid of?“ at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art. The exhibition, curated by Maurin Dietrich and Cathrin Mayer, will run from September 26th until 30th, with the artist talk taking place on the closing day.
Evelyn's work emerges from an interest in what constitutes identity and how one’s own body is culturally relative to—and intertwined with—autobiographical structures. For KW’s series “Pause“, she will present a completely new body of work, which is a result of her reflection on various versions of mythologies that have been retold over time in different cultural contexts. A particular focus is on the fairy tale of "The Princess and the Frog“ and the related questions of transformation and identity. The exhibition is set to become a space where narratives are translated into a spatial structure within KW’s main hall.
What are you going to show in your upcoming exhibition at KW?
At the ground floor of KW, I will show a two-screen installation with two videos which will be installed between two columns. In the hall there are four columns, so we will use that and work around the architecture. I will also show four huge banners to form the space where the screens will be installed. The banners are made from hospital beddings. They are really white, so when they come up, it will look like hospital walls, a bit serious and boring. There will also be few Chinese 'cheongsam' dresses that I made by myself.
Of the two videos, one is a hand-made animation based on the story of "The Frog Prince". I 'googled' this story and found many different versions. I selected two and changed one. The video has three chapters; each talks about how the frog transformed to human. It talks about the bodies changing from one form to another, so the topic of the video is focused on identity. In the story, the girl always has a relationship with the frog, so it is also focused on the cost of the change itself. Basically, it is emphasized on love. It is an important topic for patients who stay in hospital, so that is why I selected this story.
The other video is about the hospital architecture. In the video you can find a lot of pictures of hospitals in Holland. I didn't say the names because there are so many different photos taken in different hospitals, and also different architecture in Holland, especially architecture built after the Second World War, which is still in use. The video is sort of a photography-video with voiceover made of my own voice. In a poetic way I talk about the relationship between clothes, garments, fabric, sewing, stitches, how we make our clothes; and architecture, how we build it or change the old into the new. I also do a voiceover of two patientis talking about their operation, their medical situation, how are they going to deal with it, how they will become a new person, and what kind of relationship they have with their family. There is lots of gossip and small talk in this part, and lots of photos, so it gives people the feeling of something quite abstract, but in a very narrative way.
Evelyn Taocheng Wang, „Cool Smell Room“, 2018. Courtesy the artist & Galerie Fons Welters
Evelyn Taocheng Wang, „Hospital Conversation“ (production still), 2018. Courtesy the artist & Galerie Fons Welters
Why did you decide to focus on transformation of bodies and identities in this work?
Initially I was thinking about my old work. Identity, relation between the individual and the society, and the body culture and identity, is always involved in my work.
I fabricated this topic with self-invented fictional story. Fictional story is how I build up a platform to talk about certain topics through my work. The hospital and the architecture is my own experience, but also the experience of many other people I talked to about the architecture and the identity issue. I wanted to make a video just based on common sense, how everybody thinks about this topic. Somehow it is not that important because everybody has identity. The video is quite abstract and I spent quite a long time making it for the show. Why I started to make it is probably just because of the fictional – of fabrication of the story based on all this information I collect.
Could you explain the title of the show?
It is actually from a British writer Iris Murdoch. I think of her as an interesting figure in the British philosophy and writing because she seems a little bit trashy. The title comes from her philosophy book called "The Sovereignty of Good". In it she talks about the morality, the beauty, and the good. She tried to question and critique the history of philosophy, especially German and French, because they were all male and they all talked abot how morality should be formed by our thoughts and views on the social structure. She thinks they are all right, but somehow they left something out – they lack love. They try to analyse and give definitions of many different things, but somehow they have a disability of telling love and emotion. In this title she also tried to deny the Western history, the fundamentals of god as the father. I find it quite interesting how she focused on the topics of love and good. I think what she wanted is to question masculinity as weakness. In both of my videos there is a question of the position of the male dominating thoughts about life's transition. I also put a lot of fabrics in the videos to try to question the female feeling. I use the dress, the 'cheongsam' dress, which was actually only worn by men in China until 1930s when every female started to wear this kind of garment as a part of a movement. In the video of the hospital I use the usual gossip of old women about family issues. These things we always see as really strong feminine qualities, so I tried to put them together in the video and question what I would like to talk about – the transition itself. So, when I read this title from her book and the chapter on god and good, I immediately took these words for my exhibition title.
Evelyn Taocheng Wang, „Hospital Conversation“ (production stills), 2018. Courtesy the artist & Galerie Fons Welters
What kind of influence do literature and language have in your work? What do you take from it into your pieces?
Text is crucial for my work. I normally think of myself as a painter. No matter what happens, I always write down what I wanted to paint first, and then I start to paint or to make a video. Since I moved to Europe, I try to do this kind of writing in English, which is not really at an academic level. People say it is really poetic, but I think it's just bad grammar. I try to change it, but sometimes I try to keep it consciously to keep the influence from old Chinese literature.
There is also the Chinese writer Eileen Chang who is an important figure for me. Her writing influenced me a lot because her language mixes traditional Chinese and Japanese writing with the writing style of English writers, especially the modernist ones, such as Virginia Woolf. She also writes quite sad, dark stories. That sort of super emotional, intimate descriptions also influence me a lot. As well as Japanese art, their garments, and their literature from 19th and 20th century. I always try to combine these influences together, even in video editing.
© Evelyn Taocheng Wang
Can you tell me a bit about your moving to Europe – how did that influence your artistic expression?
Even while I was learning Chinese and Japanese woodprint in China, I constantly kept seeing lots of information from the West, so I always had this dream of coming here, especially to Germany. That is why I came to Frankfurt to study art. I could say that, before 2000s, I was completely into the traditional thing; landscape, painting, calligraphy. The work I knew was probably Vermeer and some French masterpieces. Since I moved to Germany I started turning more to philosophy, which was difficult for me because of this tradition of rationality. The thing that was really difficult was this need to be very clear. Everything has a word, everything is defined. For example, if I paint some green color, I have to ask what is green color. When I see it, I have to ask what is the relationship between me seeing it and the work itself. Such a thing could never be taught in Asia because there is no such tradition. It is more about the emotion. I still try to keep my energy on both sides and learn. For example, I started to make videos at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. That was a really different education for me. I tried to make a film to get used to that environment. Slowly I could film something, and it somehow changed my view. The biggest example is body culture. In China, if I paint the color green, then it is the color green. It will not make me feel anything more. But here I realise that, when the light is changing on it, or when it is painted onto different material, or when you cut it, it even gives a different meaning. I started to dig out what the meaning is, why I do what I do, and I found that it is all related to body culture. In old Chinese painting, the figure of woman is always really small and there are not many colors. Anything related to the body or sensual feelings needs to be covered. Since I moved to Europe, everything changed. Everything needs definition and a reason. Making video work made it more clear for me what I want to tell, what the information really is. I also try to keep my old feeling and focus on emotion and beauty. In China, when we learned calligraphy, the teacher would take us on a boat trip to visit a garden, drink tea, and just meditate. That was all without language. Opinion and language had to disappear and everything needed to be kept in this traditional, meditating mood. So, I have both sides – the Asian side and what I learned here – but no matter what, I need to find my own way.
What would you say is at the center of your art practice? What are some of the topics that interest you the most?
The center is language and text, what is the relation between the text an the image, and how they should be represented. Everything has a bridge, the political meaning and the aesthetic expression. For me that's a really interesting topic. For example, Instagram and all of the social media, how everybody represents themselves there.
I always try to keep the emotion in the art piece. As I said before, my work is a self-invented story. When you read it, it seems quite personal. If it's true or not – you don't know. There is a lot of psychological engagement that goes into all of the different materials I use. With text, often what I do is I just write down sentences that I have in my head and then see how they lead my thinking, which image I see, or how this image is being produced. I try to focus on this and on architecture, garments, things related to body, structure, objects... I think I will constantly focus on doing more work on that.
* * * * *
BERLIN ART WEEK | 26.—29.09.2018 | more info
Pause: Evelyn Taocheng Wang — "What is he afraid of?"
KW Institute for Contemporary Art
Opening: 26.09.2018, 19h
Artist talk: 30.09.2018, 17h
On view until 30.09.2018