Emerging Chinese artist Gao Yuan tells stories through digital animation and painting that are often injected with surreal, dreamlike elements. Gao Yuan's short films have featured in major film festivals around the world, including the Vancouver International Film Festival, Locarno Film Festival, and International Film Festival Rotterdam. In 2020, she was selected for the 14th Arte Laguna Prize.Read More
Born in China's Yunnan province in 1986, Gao Yuan's parents were both painters. Seeing Chinese painting as aligned with 20th-century Western painting, they filled the house with a Western art collection. In this context, Gao Yuan developed her painting and drawing as a hobby.
Initially more interested in studying literature, Gao Yuan became attracted to animation—specifically, 1990s Japanese animation—realising its potential for combining her dual love of art and literary narratives. She completed a BA in Animation Arts at the Communication University of China, Beijing, in 2009.
Gao Yuan's primary interest is in creating animated films. The films are the outcome of a lengthy process spanning several years, which includes painting backgrounds and frames, making digital animations, and writing scripts.
While reminiscent of Studio Ghibli films in their painterly style, Gao Yuan's works are distinctly philosophical. In an interview for the Arte Laguna Prize, she pointed to her musings on the notions of dreams and the ambiguity of existence as her inspiration.
In 2019, Gao Yuan's film, Cloud of the Unknown (2017–2019), was awarded the Script and Project Development: Bright Future grant by the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR). The film was also exhibited online at the third edition of Daata fair (2021). A marriage of physical painting and digital animation, Cloud of the Unknown tells the story of a woman who flees people's company due to her strangeness, until she encounters another woman as lonely as herself. The film is punctuated with surreal imagery, including disembodied hands that flap together like birds.
Gao Yuan's earlier work Lunar Dial (2010–2016) sought to present an alternate view of time from a montage of independent animated scenes. The film was the result of a six-year process.
Gao Yuan's paintings and drawings form the basis for her films. When strung together, the still frames form the narrative of a film, yet each can also stand independently as a work in its own right. Every individual piece evokes a feeling, triggered by the atmosphere and familiar sensations of their largely urban locations and the temporal context of the scene.
Stylistically, Gao Yuan's works are relatively consistent. They combine realism with emphatically cartoon-like forms, with clear lines and bright colours. Content, on the other hand, varies along a spectrum from the surreal to the everyday.
The maze of staircases extending in all directions in A Person From the Sky (2019) is evocative of the impossible worlds of M.C. Escher. Similarly, Snares and Clues (2012) comprises a surreal presentation of the outer body and its internal nervous system standing beside each other. While the simplified forms and contrasting colours in Is it Tree or the Heart (2017) lean closer to geometric abstraction, works like Goodnight Beijing (2020) and Shougang (2014) present almost photorealistic tableaus of everyday scenes: the empty city streets late at night, or industrial railway sidings. Other works present more dystopian scenes of abandonment, such as In Shengsi Islands (2017).
Gao Yuan's work can be found in several institutional collections including M+ Museum, Hong Kong, and Sunpride Foundation, Hong Kong. Resonating with an international audience, Gao Yuan's art has featured in exhibitions and art fairs around the world, including Frieze, West Bund Art and Design, and Art Shenzhen.
Gao Yuan's solo exhibitions include The Omen (2019) and Eternal Return, Capsule Shanghai (2017). Gao Yuan's group exhibitions include A Room of HER Own, How Museum, Shanghai (2020); Pity Party, Sleepcenter, New York (2018); Intimacies and Imagined Futures, SOMA Art Space, Berlin (2018); M+ Screenings: City Limits, Broadway Cinemateque, Hong Kong (2017); Secret Love, Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm (2012); Get it Louder 2010, Sanlitun SOHO, Beijing (2010).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2021