Created by the Chinese artist Yang Fudong, East of Que Village 2007 is a six-channel black and white video installation with sound that explores a sparsely populated village within a desolate landscape. The videos are projected on six detached and synchronised screens that are arranged around the perimeter of a darkened gallery space. Each of the six videos has a separate soundtrack, broadcast through two speakers hung on the gallery wall either side of their attendant screen. Three of the six videos depict wild, untethered dogs as they roam, fight and scavenge for food – sometimes seen from a distance within a barren rural environment and at other times shot in close up from a perspective near to the ground. The other three videos include further footage of the dogs, but also focus on the inhabitants of the village, who are seen in small, simply furnished homes, in local shops, working in fields, and on one occasion taking part in a festival that features musicians in ceremonial dress. All six videos are characterised by long takes with little or no camera movement, stark imagery, and a sense of quiet that is only briefly punctuated by the sounds of the rustling wind, the dogs’ barking and barely audible conversations between local people. The version owned by Tate is the first in an edition of six plus two artist’s proofs.
East of Que Village was commissioned for The Real Thing: Contemporary Art from China, an exhibition staged at Tate Liverpool in 2007. Yang shot eighty hours of footage on high definition video in Que, an isolated village in Hebei, a province in northern China close to Beijing where the artist was born in 1971. Yang subsequently edited the footage in Shanghai, where he has lived and worked since 1998. The work is displayed as standard definition video.
The desolation that marks this work offers a sharp contrast to conventional narratives emphasising China’s economic growth, increasing population and infrastructural expansion in the early twenty-first century. In 2007 the curator and critic Karen Smith suggested that East of Que Village explores ‘the sense of isolation that is increasingly present within China’s contemporary society as communities are broken up and scattered on the winds of redevelopment, and as economies drive a wedge between the have-everything-imaginables, the have-a-littles, and the have-nots’ (quoted in Tate Liverpool 2007, p.148). In this respect, East of Que Village may be compared with other works that have questioned the consequences of China’s social and economic development, such as Cao Fei’s video Whose Utopia? 2006 (Tate T12754), which examines the lives of factory workers in the Pearl River Delta.
In East of Que Village Yang seems to invite comparisons between the lives of the wild dogs, which forage and scrap among animal bones and dry earth, and those of the local people, who face a similar battle for survival with limited resources. The artist explored this comparison in a 2007 statement: ‘Like their human masters, the dogs in Que Village fall ill, die, are abandoned, or sold for cash. Yet, the dogs will never see that a little way to the east of Que Village, there is a path to the outside world’ (quoted in Tate Liverpool 2007, p.149). In alluding to the existence of a route out of this bleak environment, the artist’s comments suggest that the title of this work may hold some hope of escape for the local population.
In the context of Yang’s broader work – which has included photographs, films and video installations often characterised by dream-like narratives concerning the lives of young urban dwellers – East of Que Village is unusual in its emphasis on rural poverty and an aging population shot in a more documentary style. The artist initially trained as a painter at the China National Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou (1991–5). His first film installation, An Estranged Paradise 1997–2002 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), focuses on a discontented young man in Hangzhou, and draws upon Chinese cinema of the 1930s as well as contemporary American independent cinema. Between 2003 and 2007 Yang completed the five-part film series Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest (shown in its entirety at the fifty-second Venice Biennale in 2007), which explores the relationship between rural and urban living and the role of individual freedom in both ancient and contemporary cultures. Although he has primarily worked in black and white, in 2014 Yang completed The Coloured Sky: New Women II, a five-channel video installation with bright, saturated colours that examines questions of nature and artifice within a beach setting.
The Real Thing: Contemporary Art From China, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool 2007, pp.142–9.
Li Zhenhua, ‘Yang Fudong’, trans. by Ying Liu, Bomb, no.118, Winter 2012, pp.56–63.
Sarah Tutton, ‘Unpacking Filmscapes: East of Que Village’, Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne, 14 December 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRvic9_mFzc, accessed 8 June 2015.
Supported by Christie’s.