Shi Yong's work is sceptical about the systems that define our cultural identities, control global economics, and drive contemporary consumerism. Through videos, photography, performances, and installations, Shi engages with the culture of rapid expansion that characterises modern China.Read More
Shi was born in Shanghai. He majored in art and design at Shanghai Light Industry College, graduating in 1984. Between 2006 and 2014, Shi deferred much of his art-making, working with his dealer gallery ShanghART as an art worker.
Shi Yong navigates the complexities of cultural and economic systems with an analytical, often humorous edge.
In Made in China —Welcome to China (1999), Shi paints an idealised image of a Shanghai resident onto plaster models of a waving businessman wearing a Mao suit. This image was created by Shi collaboratively through an internet project that asked volunteers to vote on the look of the ideal citizen. In this series, Shi considers notions of commodification and the acceleration of modern Chinese consumerism.
Shi is well-known for his documenta-related billboard proposals, Sorry, There Will Be No Documenta in 2007 (2006). Having worked in the advertising industry, Shi's interest in the power of language is formalised in his documenta work, a virtual billboard series that responded to the mania surrounding selection for the internationally recognised exhibition. Through proposing that the artists, curators, critics, public, and market take a break from art, Shi subverts the capitalist system that supports the art apparatus.
The politics of poetry is contemplated in Shi's theatrical neon installation A Bunch of Happy Fantasies (2009). This work recreates a Chinese poem titled A Rose Made From Water, written by his friend in an opium-fuelled drug haze. Each orange neon sign is an upside-down handwritten character, materialising a fantasy of delusional thinking out of his friend's mumbled speech. This fantasy is difficult to decipher, with Shi shifting the semantic value of the text into neon visual pleasure, suggestive of a romanticised urban nightscape. As with Shi's earlier works, A Bunch of Happy Fantasies considers this manipulation of our sensory perception a consequence of urban modernisation.
For his pared-down geometric abstractions in Under the Rule (2017), Shi uses the forms and actions of what he describes as the 'combined vocabulary of violence and ornament ... dismantling, slicing, welding, reshaping, painting the surface' to break down objects into constituent parts.
Automotive elements are reconfigured into 18 parts presented in a row, like hieroglyphs — car doors, engine parts, a chassis, and exterior siding are painted in pristine neutral tones. Through radically altering a junkyard Volkswagen, Under the Rule abstracts the object's relationship to the body, serving as a metaphor for the body's fragmentation under capitalist culture. Shi describes this as a sense of pain 'covered up by the superficial "beautiful" skin', reflecting the ways that our bodies are controlled by reality.
Shi Yong has been the subject of both solo and group exhibitions worldwide.
Select solo exhibitions include One Man's Art History, TrealmHui Art Space, Guangzhou (2020); The Ubiquitous, DRC No. 12, Beijing (2019); A ( ) Bird Be Released from the Top of a Certain Tower, Boxes Art Museum, Guangdong (2018); Shi Yong: Under the Rule, ShanghART, Shanghai (2017); A Bunch of Happy Fantasies, ShanghART S-Space, Beijing (2016); Let All Potential be Internally Resolved using Beautiful Form, Madeln Gallery, Shanghai (2015); Think Carefully, Where Have You Been Yesterday?, BizArt, Shanghai (2007); and Realistic Reality, 2577 Creative Garden, Shanghai (2007).
Select group exhibitions include Chair, Zhi Art Museum, Chengdu (2021); The Fourth Today's Documents: A Stitch in Time, Chongqing Contemporary Art Museum (2021); Duration: Chinese Art in Transformation, Beijing Minsheng Art Museum, Beijing (2020); A Rose is a Rose is a Rose, HOW Art Museum, Wenzhou (2019); _Saudade _— Irretrievable Place in Time, Museu Coleção Berardo, Portugal (2018); Nonfigurative, Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum (2015); Off Site Programme, Silent Film, Ikon Gallery, Fletchers Walk, Birmingham (2014); Surreal Versus Surrealism, Institut Valencià d' Art Modern, València (2011); and The 3rd Nanjing Triennial, RCM Art Museum, Nanjing (2008).
Peter Derksen | Ocula | 2022