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For more than ten years, Yao Qingmei has steadily developed a body of work that navigates between performance and video, highlighting the movements and dynamics of human activity. These movements, which she provokes or encourages through her interventions in order to subject them to acute observation, are invariably charged with the energy released by living bodies, whatever the conditions in which they are placed. For her first solo exhibition in a museum in China, Yao Qingmei’s questioning of the body, its presence and resources, is nourished by the experience of three years of pandemic. Confronted with the closure of the country’s borders, but also with the multiplication of barriers and restrictions that invaded daily life in China more massively and for longer than elsewhere, the artist presents a set of new works that blend reality and fiction, narration and contemplation, in a joyful meditation on human destiny. The nine videos in the exhibition, filmed in Paris where the artist lives, are populated by characters who are in one way or another grappling with a constrained environment, whose total banality veers dangerously towards the absurd, when they are not irretrievably relegated to it. Whether it’s a mysterious darkness, from which emerges only the cold light of a smartphone screen, impersonally furnished hotel rooms, an open-plan office or even a simple bed, each of these spaces brutally imposes its constraints on the various protagonists. They find themselves grappling with physical and psychological adversity, in the face of which they have no other means than to deploy unusual resources, which they seem to mobilize in the most natural and spontaneous way. Through trial and error, negotiation and renunciation, as well as tiny victories, everyone emerges from the ordeal with dignity. The caustic humor that runs through these works evokes the register of idiocy described by Clément Rosset in his book Le réel: traité de l’idiotie, where the springs of the comic repetition, the absurd and the trivial are exposed as distorted reflections of the omnipotence of reality, on which human representations inevitably break down. But as Rosset points out - and Yao Qingmei is no doubt of the same opinion - it is through confrontation with reality, and not by denying it or disguising it in any way, that human beings conquer their freedom and gain access to the inner source of joy. L’omniprésence de la danse et l’hommage rendu par l’artiste aux singularités indivThe omnipresence of dance and the artist’s homage to individual singularities charge these works with the indomitable energy of bodies inhabited by the drive for life. The exhibition space, fragmented into small rooms linked together according to a joyously erratic logic, where visitors go from surprise to surprise but are not immune to a certain exasperation, reflects the strange atmosphere of the works on display. It acts as a distorting mirror of an era whose foibles and excesses weigh heavily on the individual, but have no hold on his inner self.
Curator: Paul Frèche (Centre Pompidou) , Youyou Gu ( West Bund Museum)
After her solo exhibition «Terrier» in 2021, Yao Qingmei continues to observe closed spaces on human behavior and psychology in her new exhibition «mole». From Kafka’s «cave animals» to «mole-men» losing their motivation to dig in a luxurious room, to lonely dancers in an ordinary hotel, these appropriations and rhetoric recurring in the exhibition metaphorize real social situations. Through the tense bodies and repetitive performances in images, as well as the circular halls and closed paths of the labyrinthine exhibition space, the artist alludes to the confinement of the world and individual confinement. The exhibition is permeated by two ghostly voices: the female voice silently reciting the story of the extinction of laboratory mice refusing to mate in the «Oblomov» room, and the artist’s whispering voice accompanying a striptease performance in the dark, slowly murmuring: «Look at my eyes... Look at my chest... The hips return to the chest... This is my skin...» History and the individual, reality and illusion, memory and dream intertwine closely in this physical space without end or exit...
«Extract from the article «Le corps dans la chambre: entretien avec Yao Qingmei» published in ARTFORUM.
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