Zuni experimental theatre arts archive: Danny Yung
Restructuring Images Series

In Search of New China

40 Years of Danny Yung's Experimental China
Zuni experimental theatre arts archive: Danny Yung
Restructuring Images Series
In Search of New China

40 Years of Danny Yung's Experimental China

Introduction

In 1978, China reformed and opened up. In the same year, Danny Yung also returned to Hong Kong from New York, kicking start experimental Journey to the East. Starting from reading China through the Italian lenses of Marco Polo and Antonioni, Yung started to experiment the visual and audio structure of the Chinese language, the symbols of Chinese propaganda, the One Table Two Chairs installation common in traditional Chinese theatre, the content structure of Chinese Beijing and Kun Opera, the debates among international Chinese cities. This is a historical retrospective: Yung has invited his creative partners spanning his forty-year-career, from Jim Shum to Susie Au, Ellen Pau to John Wong, and Benny Woo to Steve Hui… in search of the new China of the past and of the future.

Scene

1. Prologue

2. About Jim Shum

3. Jim Shum’s work Media Event 6

4. About Susie Au

5. Susie Au’s work One Hundred Years of Solitude

6. About Ellen Pau

7. Ellen Pau’s work China is a Big Garden

8. About John Wong

9. John Wong’s work In Search of New China

10. Post-screening Dialogue

Creative Team

Artistic Director & Curator Danny Yung

Guest Artists Jim Shum, Susie Au, Ellen Pau, John Wong

Media Event 6 Live Music Lee Ching-Yang

One Hundred Years of Solitude Video Performance Cheng Po Chi, Pia Ho, Winnie Ho, Janet Tong, Wong Pik Man

In Search of New China Video Designer Lam Chun Chau

Sound (Prologue and About Guest Artists) Steve Hui

Video Design (Prologue and About Guest Artists) & Operator Benny Woo

Lighting Designer Alice Kwong

Sound Designer Soloan Chung

Ticketing

$160

Free seating


Full-time students

$100
  • Running time approximately 60 minutes with no intermission
  • Chinese & English surtitles
  • No latecomers will be admitted, until a suitable break in the performance.
  • Zuni Icosahedron reserves the right to add, withdraw or substitute artists and/ or vary advertised programmes and seating arrangements.

Curator's notes

1。
Seventy years ago, I immigrated to Hong Kong with my family.
The air was moist. Sound and tempo of the language were fresh.
I was seven years old then. We lived in Tak Shing Street in Tsim Sha Tsui.

2。
In 1970, I was studying in Columbia University in New York.
I saw the documentary about the parade of 20th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.
The 32 minutes long film made me disbelieve in documentaries since then.

3。
Carma Hinton came to Hong Kong to document the 1997 Handover of Hong Kong.
She asked me to be her witness and I took the chance to discuss her documentary The Gate of Heavenly Peace.
In return, she gave me a series of propaganda documentaries on the New China, including that particular one.

4。
That year, I organized an exchange program with universities of the Mainland.
Six Hong Kong teams of One Table Two Chairs pieces were brought to Shanghai, Nanjing and Shenzhen.
In Nanjing, once again we experienced the taboos of the New China and the incident of power outage.

5。
In 2007, I started to conceive the theatre work Tears of Barren Hill on Cheng Yanqiu’s experience,
It’s also a reflection on what artists experienced in the pre-World War II Europe,
Among them included the experience of Leni Riefenstahl in Triumph of the Will.

6。
Since that year some animation news began to disturb people in Hong Kong
Virtual reality films were once again on the cultural ecology agenda.
We even more cherish the stage as the last line of defense for public space.

Media Event 6, Jim Shum

In 1980, during Journey to the East Part 4-Morphology, Jim Shum used live broadcast to connect the inside and outside of the Hong Kong Arts Centre, aimed to discuss the idea of “Present” inside and outside the theatre. We also discussed the comparison between experimental film and video art. Jim is one of Zuni members who paid much attention to art and technology. In 1982, I accepted Wayne Wang’s invitation to join the preparation and shooting process of his movie Dim Sum in San Francisco. Also in 1982, Zuni Icosahedron was formed due to the efforts of Edward Lam and his friends. As a diverse experimental group, Zuni also tests the nature of organised Experimentation in a group, including the acceptance of the inevitable instability of being Experimental. Jim Shum is one of the important founding members who is always promoting experimental film. I remember he wrote me a detailed letter about his latest works and the growing pain in the process of setting up such an artist collective. One year later, Jim and I created Media Event part one to five together. This cooperation defined the direction of Zuni’s experimentation on “Media Technology and Art Creation”. This happened 36 years ago. Also thanks to Media Event, Zuni and Goethe-Institut Hong Kong collaborated to create the first video art festival in Hong Kong called The Hong Kong International Video Arts Exhibition. Barbara Hammann from Munich and I were artistic directors for the Festival. We discussed how new media acts as commentary on old media and its deconstruction of the old media. This discussion also started the creative project analyzing the notion of virtual vs real. Over a period of just two weeks, the Festival presented talks, discussions, workshops and public exhibitions. This festival also nurtured Hong Kong’s first group of key video artists, including Jim Shum, Edward Lam, Jacob Wong, Wong Ka Chi, David Yeung, Johnny Au, Pia Ho, and Lee Tsui Ling. It was the summer of 1983. It is also the era when video camcorders started to replace the super 8mm camera.

 

Hundred Years of Solitude, Susie Au

In 1982, before I left Hong Kong for work, I introduced to Zuni friends the Nobel awarded book Hundred Years of Solitude, which was used as a beginning of experimental exercises on a collective creative platform. Afterwards, Hundred Years of Solitude became Zuni’s resident repertoire. The production appeared once every few years, directors who have participated include Pun Tak Shu, Meng Jinghui and Mathias Woo. In 1982, everyone in Zuni was concerned about the concept of collective creation. The focus was on how much individual creative participation can be accommodated in a theatre work; and how each of the members can share the experiments of time and space. In 1982, I set up some guidelines for performances. For example, participating artists need to pick some excerpts or a character from the book Hundred Years of Solitude to develop into a series of short scenes, each lasting less than 3 minutes. Then performers entered from Stage Left and exited from Stage Right, forming an loop of a journey with each performer appearing on the stage several times. The scenes on stage became a horizontal scroll. We made use of this experiment to explore the notions of “ways of seeing” and “editing”; form and content; leader and people; destiny and anti-destiny; history and anti-history; performance and non-performance. The experiment also explored the ways of finding pluralistic co-existence and collective creation among artists and groups, while ensuring that individual creativity is respected in the collaborative spirit. Afterwards, one of the Zuni members Susie Au, together with her camera, left Hong Kong for New York to study film. At the Kai Tak Airport farewell, it was the first time for me to see many Zuni members crying so much. I could feel the emotional unity of Zuni as a team. Not long afterwards, I met the diligent learner-cum-loner Susie in New York. Then 35 years later in Berlin, I met the diligent learner Susie again and she was still with her camera. She looked like she had never stopped. Again, we talked about “Ways of Seeing” and “Editing”. We said goodbye to each other, and I watched as she walked away alone. A creative journey is a lonely one.

 

China is a Big Garden, Ellen Pau

Ellen Pau and I talked about 1989, the crucial year in the relationship between Hong Kong and Mainland China. In those years we chose to avoid being sensational. However, this does not mean we are emotionless. Ellen Pau’s work is the best example. In 1989, we declared our support for the students in Beijing, and in heavy rain we walked silently with 1.5 million people in the street. Afterwards, I wrote about the experience in Good Wind Like Water. Also in 1989, we started to deal with the Handover cool-headedly. It makes me laugh whenever someone uses “love” or “Love Country, Love Hong Kong” as a slogan. How could you abuse the word “love” like this. Such kind of propaganda wordings that existed 50 years ago are outdated and can only be laughed at. Also in those few years, with Ellen Pau’s help, I completed Memorandum of the Rock. Our doubts about the political culture seemed to have reached the top limit, and our feelings for theatre had fallen to freezing point. In 1990, I directed Deep Structure of Chinese Culture in a relatively plain way and adopted a children’s song in Beijing China is a Big Garden as the theme. I was really grateful to the friends who participated in the experiment. Simultaneously they experimented together on space and time, low-limit and simplicity, and the agony behind the frozen sentiments. I remember I spent those days with Yuewai Wong, Mark (Piu), Mathias Woo, David Yeung, Jessie Pak, Comyn Mo, and Cheung Fai. I changed the title of the work to The Square when it was performed in London. The audience in the theatre was sparse. Anthony Wong showed up behind my seat and hugged me tightly. Not long after, Liu Sola came too and stood in the last row. Together we shared the sense of disappointment, emptiness, helplessness, and exhaustion. Later, China is a Big Garden became a re-created work by Evans Chan. The sound after 30 years seemed to come from just yesterday.

 

In Search of New China, John Wong

It was a story in 2002. It was also the time when Photoshop technology began to mature. I was in Singapore preparing for the commemoration activities of Kuo Pao Kun. My short piece is In Search of New China: Descendants of the Eunuch Admiral. For front-stage I collaborated with Cedric Chan and Pia Ho; for backstage I worked with John Wong. With John’s help, I managed to use Photoshop and turn the famous 1962 photo of the six Chinese leaders, who were at the National People’s Congress meeting, into a video art piece with narrative structure. The photo showed six leaders with names not listed in order: Zhu De, Liu Shaoqi, Chen Yun, Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Jiang Qing and Lin Biao were not included. In the mid-1990s, I experimented on this photo for the first time. A 12-page special feature was created for Lee Ka Sing’s magazine The Art of Photography. But it turned out to be censored. Actually, I always want to explore how People’s Daily will modify and edit the pictures of politicians when they gain or lose power in order to discuss what is “information” and “truth”.  The 2002 experimentation focused on the position, eye contact, attitude, direction, behavior and expression of these six leaders who founded new China. From a photo it was developed into a “film”. In 1984, the photo taken in 1962 became popular in every bookshop all over the country. We are all asking how history should be written and read; how to remain cool-headed and objective when we are reading history; and how to be careful of “standards” and critical of “information”. Talking about “standards”, a central red line that transverses across the stage started to appear in my installation and theatre works during that period.

 

Remarks:

In 1998, In Search of New China was a commissioned work by the Hong Kong Museum of Art. This creative work provided us with very good experience in learning and interacting with systems. I used Photoshop to turn a photo taken in 1962 of six Chinese leaders into six 36”x24” painting-like works. The museum overlapped six painting-like works and they became an actual installation art. In 2004, it was with our wishful thinking that through organising theatre cultural exchange, the relationship in terms of exchange and collaboration between Hong Kong and the Mainland experimental theatres would be improved. Therefore, Zuni created In Search of New China/New Hong Kong: One Table Two Chairs project. In Cattle Depot Artist Village, we selected six Hong Kong performing art groups to join this project. These six teams went on an exchange tour to Shanghai, Nanjing and Shenzhen for dialogues with teachers and students of Shanghai Theatre Academy, Nanjing University of the Arts, College of Art & Design Shenzhen University respectively.

Fifteen years later, we concluded this exchange with three important points:

1. Exchange should be continuous and sustainable, but government policies related to cultural exchange are lacking in vision. They only support performing activities singly but not the documentation, analysis and future planning of performances. Exchange has become a one-off event.

2. Exchange was originally conducted among artists. Yet behind them there is the exchange between cultural organizations; and then there is exchange between departments related to cultural exchange policy; and then there is political policy and foreign policy playing further behind. Exchange has become more like a course for learning, expanding and comparing the cultural exchange systems of theatre, both frontstage and backstage, between Hong Kong and the Mainland. Therefore, it is more important to have cultural exchange platforms that are community-driven with greater flexibility and less constraints.

3. Exchange should be the starting point for establishing an exchange and cooperation platform to promote interactive commentary and discussion. However, the result was the incident of power outage which halted the performance in Nanjing. It became a footnote in the learning of the cultural differences between Hong Kong and the Mainland. The use of power outage to stop a performance lets us think about the relationship between technology and art in new China.

Ticketing

Month-08_en

23

8:00pm
Studio Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Month-08_en

24

8:00pm
Studio Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

The Team

Artistic Director & Curator: Danny Yung

Guest Artists: Jim Shum, Susie Au, Ellen Pau, John Wong
Media Event 6 Live Music: Lee Ching-Yang
One Hundred Years of Solitude Video Performance: Cheng Po Chi, Pia Ho, Winnie Ho, Janet Tong, Wong Pik Man
In Search of New China Video Designer: Lam Chun Chau

Assistant Artistic Director & Producer: Cedric Chan
Sound (Prologue and About Guest Artists): Steve Hui
Video Design (Prologue and About Guest Artists) & Operator: Benny Woo
Lighting Designer: Alice Kwong
Sound Designer: Soloan Chung

Production Manager & Stage Manager: Chow Chun-yin
Creative Assistant: Wu Zonglun
Assistant Stage Manager: Onki Chan
Stage Crew: Kenneth Chan

Acknowledgements:
Rangers Picture Production Limited
Hilda Chan

Company Manager (Administration and Finance): Jacky Chan
Company Manager (Programme): Doris Kan
Senior Programme Manager: Bowie Chow
Programme Manager: Ho Yin-hei
Assistant Programme Managers: Rachel Chak, Ricky Cheng
Programme and Art Administration Trainee: Megan Hung, Stephy Yeung
Interns: Marco Chan, Fion Lee, Christine Tong

Graphic Design: Tin Lau
Graphic Design Assistant: Coco Cheung
Promotional Video: Wild Lin
English Translation : Mona Chu (Promotional), Moyung Yuk-lin (Promotional and Curator’s Note)