Yuanyuan Yang: "The Past Is Not Even Past"
"Less than two months since I arrived in the U.S., I have had all kinds of amazing encounters..."
Yuanyuan Yang is a Beijing-based visual artist whose works in photography, art books, performance art, film, and text are invested in the topics of time, memory, and history. In March, she began her six-month ACC Fellowship researching immigration history and engaging with artists and diasporic writers in the U.S. ACC placed her in residency at Art in General to receive guidance of contemporary art curator Laurel Ptak.
In support of her research, ACC introduced Yuanyuan to many contacts in the fields of contemporary visual art, theater, and media studies. These have included contemporary theater director (ACC 1995) Ping Chong to MoCA (Museum of Chinese in America) co-founder Jack Tchen, and Professor Zhang Zhen who serves as Director of Asian Film & Media Initiative at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Below, Yuanyuan speaks to the connections—both personal and in her research—made possible through her ACC Fellowship to the U.S.
"Less than two months since I arrived in the U.S., I have had all kinds of amazing encounters. When I first arrived, I started collecting a vast array of research materials related to the history of diasporic Chinese. When I learned about the life of female Chinese-American filmmaker Esther Eng (1914-1970), I was so captivated. The one thought that wouldn't go away was: how is it that most information about this legendary and charismatic figure has been lost in time? Why has she been almost forgotten?
Picking up the clues from Esther's life and from my contemplation on invisible images, I started a series of explorations and travels in the hope of establishing a deeper understanding of and research into other diasporic Chinese filmmakers, singers, and performing artists. During these explorations, one thing led to the other, all the beautiful encounters and coincidences turned out to cement my belief that one can always find the association between entities, and that these associations can transcend borders and the limits of time and space. Just as theater director Ping Chong had mentioned when I visited him, 'the past is not dead, because the past is not even past.'
At the beginning of last month, I set foot in Havana, Cuba, a land once settled by 200,000 overseas Chinese now left with only about 40 who can speak Cantonese. I was there to visit two Cantonese Opera actresses in its Chinatown (bottom photo). Later, I travelled to Las Vegas and San Francisco, and visited a group of female dancers who witnessed the last days of the legendary nightclub in 1960s Chinatown "Forbidden City" (top photo).
All along, my work has been related to historical research. While we may use the word 'research', I would rather think of myself as more of an admirer and a fan of these historical diasporic Chinese figures. The stories of all these remarkable people that scatter around the globe are like stars that scatter across our time and space. I long to be a tiny spider, constantly on the move to document history and weave together fragments in search of the ties between entities."
For more feature stories from ACC’s China, Hong Kong, Macau program fellows, see our website.