wisdom holds that 99% of what we do each day is an automatic response.
That is to say, we go through each day conveniently simplifying the
world around us. We simplify to generic shapes, images and phenomena-
red, shiny, flickering, flag. We don't stop to consider why the flag,
why red, what makes them suitable for one another, or even why they
exist where they do; We don't have the time. What is uncommon about
the common after all?
In that other
1% of the time we say or notice things specific, unique, worth small
moments of wonder or even sustained meditation. Feng Yan's photographs
compel us increase that 1%, to consider what surrounds us and why
the details are significant. Through careful minimalist cropping
and choice of tone, form and subject he is capable of then expanding
those moments to spheres of personal significance, historical allusion,
and political weight. He mixes the aesthetic joy of strong composition
and moody tones with suggestions towards the deeper layers of subliminally
manipulated symbols that surround us daily.
In his 'Power
Series' Feng Yan's eye carves into the forms of PRC symbolism with
a sensitive curiosity. People's Conference Hall places the viewer
at the base of an intimidating red staircase. From our lowly perspective
the crimson terraces stack and recess up to the slim golden horizon
at the top of the image, and from our vantage we know beyond doubt
that to surmount these Olympian levels would require the ability
of a god among mortals. With a similar pureness of form, Car Door
presses our vantage to the side of Chairman Mao's limousine. Whether
we know this is the Chairman's vehicle or not is unimportant. Our
relationship to the door is established; it is firmly shut against
us, the common viewer is barred from entry. By splitting the image
equally along the horizontal axis of silver trim, Feng Yan brings
our attention to both the handle and the muted reflections on deeply
tinted windows. The bottom half offers potential entry while the
upper half has voyeuristic potential but only reflects our view
in the slick black surface. Though these photographs titillate through
strong color, light and form, they do so in order to call our attention
to the established hierarchies that surround us.
is an even purer manifestation of this play of simplified from and
complicated meaning- a single ribbon set against a bloody velveteen
carpet torques horizontally towards the right, condensing the English
words 'security check' printed on the reverse. The barrier here
seems negotiable, able to bend, warp, and be manipulated. It is
after all only a thin, light phrase against a sea of red. As the
banner is both reversed and twisted, we become unsure which side
of this security check we are on. 'Security check' is a simple two
word phrase, printed with heavy intention and twisted to wring out
any number of meanings. But the minimalism of Feng Yan's Power Series
reaches its apex with Four Flags, a centered red grid of four blocks,
perhaps the side of a billboard or sign. Four red rectangles, free
from decoration, called flags, could stand for any number of countries
or posses equally as many meanings. As we marvel at the simple shift
in tones across the four segments our curiosity helps to brew insecurity;
eventually we become intent on knowing just what this red intersection
is, a red cross, a seam in a banner, or? It is through such seemingly
simple choices of minimized content that Feng Yan pulls our imaginations
into the moody shifting tones of his work and then reflects them
back out again to consider the greater dimensions present in the
details of our daily lives.
the political, Feng Yan's 'Rockery' series forces classical allusion
and living reality to share an uncomfortable silence. In Pine Car,
an evergreen is pushed to the front of the image in muted tones
of gray-green-blue. Wrapped in snaking holiday lights the tree serves
as little more than a bumper-stop to the off-white automobile filling
the background. This evergreen is particularly at odds with the
pine's traditional symbolism of scholarly virtue and perseverance
in painting and porcelain imagery. Zoo Pond reveals this same uncomfortable
grating between past and present. The central form is a limp cement
approximation of a scholar's rock, ringed in a polished bench, creating
an empty grey pool in an empty grey room. Generic animal pens line
the side walls, and the stain of charcoal smoke defines the path
of old heat up the back wall. It is with relief that our eye finds
escape in the sunlit doorway of the upper right corner, like the
ever-present doorway in classical Dutch interior painting. When
Pine Car is placed alongside Zoo Pond and Bamboo Car, Feng completes
the Chinese scholarly allusion triumvirate of stone, pine, and bamboo.
But set in the new, awkward contexts of contemporary life, and photographed
in the low light of overcast skies, or a moody interior, these symbols
instead allude to the conflict of modern times with older values.
inquisitions also bend towards private spaces with an equally deep
consideration. With Inside Drawer we are invited into a more personal
space. A pile of pink gloves, rags and capped tea mugs show a tender
daily vignette, possibly a pause in chores, or the search for that
certain elusive necessity that always hides at the bottom of such
drawers. The colors and textures of the objects show a space that
is instantly and inexplicably recognizable as from a Chinese house.
Yet there is nothing that screams 'I represent contemporary China.'
As a foreigner it makes me imagine what the quite space between
events in a Chinese home is like.
minimalist compositions and subtle choice of form and light, Feng
Yan's photographs remind us to examine the details in the world
around us with greater care. Through his purified form we notice
that in our daily public and private lives exists a range of political
to historical meanings that we rarely deliberately see.
By making the
quotidian monumental, and favoring overlooked details with minimalized
form, Feng Yan impregnates both personal and public spaces with
implied meanings. His photographs offer a much subtler vision of
what it means to be a modern Chinese person on a daily basis, with
the particular set of historical and contemporary tensions that
apply to the most common moments in China.