Huang Yong PingShen Yuan Is Paris Burning? 2019 at kamel mennour, Paris
December 9 – January 29, 2022
All images courtesy of kamel mennour
How to Become Parisien?
Notes on the exhibition
Two years after Huang Yong Ping passed away, the everyday dialogue between him and Shen Yuan, his more than four-decade-long life companion and art collaborator, continues: they continue to discuss and share their imaginative ideas and creative practices to experiment how to live, for better and for worse, in Paris, their adopted city for more than 30 years. In the end, it’s about how to become real Parisiens… This time however, the conversation, which unfortunately can no longer be carried out in words, is being developed, with much more strength and determination, in actions—the realisation of their ultimate joint project, a two-person exhibition at the Galerie kamel mennour.
The project was brought about by a seemingly unimportant event. One day in early 2019, Yong Ping showed the book Paris brûle-t-il ? (by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins, adapted into a film by René Clément) to Shen Yuan, who was working on her project Samedi, representing the disturbing scenes of the clashes between gilets jaunes and the police on the Champs-Élysées.
Having lived in Paris for three decades, both artists came to recognise that Paris is not only the capital of love and beauty, but is also a hotbed of revolution and violence. It’s a field of fire, both potential and real. And this is what has made it a heaven of freedom, but also a hell of oppression… Paris has seen numerous events take place that have marked French history: the Revolution, the Restoration, the Prussian invasion, the Paris Commune, the two World Wars, then the student movement of 1968 (without forgetting the bloody oppression of the Algerian independence movement in 1961), as well as waves of terrorist attacks from the 1970s to the present day. In other words, there has always been fire in the heart of the city. It’s almost as if, to become a real Parisien, one must go through all sorts of baptêmes du feu!
Huang Yong Ping and Shen Yuan, in their respective works, were actively engaged in investigating the complex causes of these “burning” events. They created works such as Trois pas, neuf traces (1996) and AlleyBattle (1997). In the former work, Huang Yong Ping explored the cause of the tension between the terrorist attacks in 1995 and the government’s response. In the latter, Shen Yuan depicted the violent scenes of street protests happening almost daily across the city. Then, on 15 April 2019, they were deeply shocked by the live broadcast on television of NotreDame burning and the fall of the spire, one of the most renowned symbols of Parisian pride. Huang Yong Ping could not help but decide to “reconstruct” the destroyed spire. However, it would have to be shown upside-down, behind a curtain hanging at the entrance of a mosque… On the occasion of the exhibition and in order to pay homage to Huang Yong Ping —who passed away in October 2019— an exceptional round table is organized on 10 December 2021 at the Amphithéâtre d’Honneur of the Beaux-Arts de Paris. The exhibition “Is Paris Burning? 2019” is accessible from Tuesday to Saturday from 11 am to 7 pm at 5 & 6 rue du Pont de Lodi, Paris 6. For further information, please contact: Emma-Charlotte Gobry-Laurencin Jessy Mansuy +33 1 56 24 03 63 [email protected] Press contacts: Margaux Alexandre Pierre-Maël Dalle comm[email protected] HUANG YONG PING SHEN YUAN Is Paris Burning? 2019 9 December 2021 – 29 January 2022 5 & 6 rue du Pont de Lodi Paris 6 Apparently, this accident was not the only sign that Paris had to face its destiny: the gilets jaunes movement kept going full steam ahead despite such a dramatic event. Instead, it became wilder and wilder, with more and more fires burning… Shen Yuan, also, has not stopped deepening her exploration of this new baptême du feu. In this hustle and bustle of current events, and with a clear desire to revive the memory of and the dialogue with her beloved Yong Ping, she eventually finished her Samedi.
Fire is everywhere: it’s not only burning in Paris. A baptême du feu has always been a “rite of passage” for people everywhere in the world seeking freedom and justice, facing political oppression and social crises. This turns out to be even more intense in a city like Hong Kong, where people are fighting for freedom and justice in the complex and wrestling negotiations amongst post-colonial transition, globalisation, claims for democracy and neo-totalitarian domination. Over the last few years, the Umbrella Movement and Anti- Extradition Law Amend Bill Movement have marked the ultimate rise and fall of this territory, which is so crucially important for the future of China and further afield as well. The burning flames in Central and on the Polytechnic University campus represented a new baptême du feu for the whole world… For their Hong Kong Foot exhibition (Tang Contemporary Gallery, 2017, Hong Kong), Shen Yuan came up with Yellow Umbrella/ Parasol to represent, quite literally, the protests unfolding across the city and their impact on urban spatiality and social transformation. At the same time, Huang Yong Ping, with Les Consoles de Jeu Souveraines, aimed at unveiling the complicated entanglements—between history and the present, between the colonial situation and postcolonial emancipation—that have eventually determined the fate of the city today.
Travelling and working between France and China, as well as other parts of the world, both Huang Yong Ping and Shen Yuan have understood this kind of destiny-making more profoundly than most of us. This comprehension, in turn, has helped them to confirm their strategies to become real Parisiens: it’s always about travelling between cultures, societies and politics, and bringing everything they can pick up on the trajectories together to form a new mode of existence, in permanent confrontation and negotiation with contradictory values, ways of living, ideologies and systems.
In other words, being Parisien means being a global citizen with great courage, critical intelligence, and an energetic imagination to face the geopolitical challenges of today and tomorrow, with a profound understanding of the causes and influences of history. This is a kind of Ping-Pong game, similar to what is happening in Shen Yuan’s installations with “battles” taking place on Ping-Pong tables. This is echoed, “remotely”, by Huang Yong Ping’s small-scale work Ping-Pong (light boxes, 2003), alluding to Alighiero Boetti’s game with multiplicity, but also making a pun on his own name…
The Cold War was a baptême du feu for the entire world. It was marked by many spectacular and stupefying events leading to the brink of new World Wars – from the competition of conquering outer space to the Cuban crisis, from the construction of the Berlin Wall to the Vietnam War… However, one anecdote regarding a detail of everyday life is particularly interesting. On 24 July 1959, United States Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev were arguing about the difference between capitalism and socialism while visiting a modern American kitchen at the American National Exhibition in Moscow. This modern kitchen has since been seen as a symbol of the American Dream, which “affected” the whole world and indirectly caused the final fall of the Soviet Union. However, today, this American Dream seems to be gradually falling apart. At one point, people were even thinking the Chinese Dream would replace it. Are we stepping into a “New Age” in which “the East is rising while the West is sinking” (東昇西降)? Ironically, as Huang Yong Ping’s last work for the Garage Museum in Moscow shows, the American kitchen has taken on in many Chinese homes, but cockroaches are climbing all over it… Has the dream become a nightmare? What if a fire were to break out due to a short circuit caused by this insect? The modern kitchen, in spite of all its technological advantages, could therefore still not avoid the fate of being destroyed by fire…
There’s a baptême du feu for all of us. How could we get over it? Huang Yong Ping was always interested by the inexplicable destiny of things revealed in all sorts of divinations. He was deeply passionate about the mysterious connections between the most improbable elements that have configured the world as it is. This is exactly how he persuaded us, through his practice, to question who we are and where we are going. Appropriating and twisting Balzac’s legendary novel, he created his own La Peau de chagrin [The Wild Ass’s Skin] and incited us to face the dilemma of choosing to be successful but ending up having a terrible life. Can one fulfil one’s desires but still escape from a preordained destiny? And how? This seems to be a particularly interesting question for anyone who wants to become a real Parisien…
Then, as Huang Yong Ping’s last work demonstrates, one can sit on a lion and read Platon’s Republic. There may be some kind of revelation of truth there. But one can only do this by hiding one’s face. It’s in ultimate concealment that one can really enjoy the absolute freedom of “a heavenly steed soaring unconstrained across the skies (天 馬行空)”…
For the moment, the real spire of Notre-Dame is yet to be rebuilt, while more fire may come to burn the ChampsÉlysées soon… Les Parisiens, encore un effort !
— Hou Hanru Rome, 22 November 2021