MEET THE ARTISTS CHINA CAN'T KEEP CONTAINED

MEET THE ARTISTS CHINA CAN'T KEEP CONTAINED

Artists Sun Yuan & Peng Yu use dead babies & live animals in their creations to blur the lines of art & reality

by Peter Yeung

Images of a golden-haired angel, crumpled and wings akimbo, went viral across the internet in 2015. The heavenly creature, with its intricate wrinkles and sunspots, seemed as if it had flown too close to the sun – a modern day Daedalus – and come crashing down to earth. But, as it turned out, the angel was made by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, a pair of Chinese artists that have been expertly pin-pricking society’s fears and discomforts since the 1990s.

Sun Yuan & Peng Yu at their gun installation & performance of "If seeing is not an option" 2013. Image courtesy of the artist.

Angel, which was previously exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery in London, caused a particularly big stir after it was installed in Beijing last year. One sensational headline in response read: “BREAKING NEWS! A Fallen Angel With No Feathers Discovered”. It was hyperbole to fit with a hugely provocative artwork, perhaps, but Yuan and Yu aren’t just about shock value – though there’s plenty of that. In a statement on their website, they explained: “The angel, a transcendent being, has become powerless, unable to carry out God's will, or to help those who believe in its existence.” The duo from Beijing are here to question our values.

Detail of Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s Angel, 2008, a hype real life size sculpture made of fibre-reinforced polymer and silica gel. Image courtesy of the artist.

Yuan and Yu both studied oil painting at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, and went to the same high school even before that. An early stamp of approval came from a one Ai Wei Wei, who invited them to take part in his landmark 2000 exhibition called Fuck Off! in Shanghai. Since then, they’ve shown everywhere from Korea to England, France and the USA, and the Venice Biennale. Now 42 and 44 respectively, Yuan and Yu are maturing to the peak of their powers.

Sun Yuan & Peng Yu: Dogs Which Cannot Touch Each Other, 2003. Image courtesy of the artist.

The artists placed two rows of dogs on four treadmills that they designed and manufactured within a gallery space. They arranged the dogs face-to-face, half a meter apart so that they could never touch. The dogs barked and ran at each other, as if in an endless chase, highlighting the powerlessness of our contemporary culture.

They deal with global issues, escaping beyond the borders of China and its sanitising practices. In Body Link (2000), they explored our attitudes to life and death by injecting 100cc of their own blood into the corpse of Siamese twin babies – it was just after the pair decided to get married. Civilization Pillar (2001), a tall column of liposuctioned human fat, took a swipe at the contemporary plastic surgery culture. For Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other (2003) they put canines such as Pit Bulls and Rottweilers on moving treadmills facing each other – the bloodcurdling barks that ensued reflected on China’s dog fighting culture. More recently, with I Am Here (2006), Old Person’s Home (2007), Freedom (2009), Yuan and Yu have tackled the “war on terror”, bureaucracy within the UN and the Chinese government’s actions in the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Sun Yuan und Peng Yu: Link of the Body, 2000. Image courtesy of the artist.

The last example shows just how much more radical these Chinese artists are than some of their Western counterparts. Instead of cocktail parties, formaldehyde sharks and unkempt beds – as their socialite British counterparts, the YBAs, came to be known for – Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s reputation is purely about the art that they create. They channel this era’s great inequality and wrongdoing in such a compelling way that others are put to shame, seemingly light on inspiration.

But they are keenly aware of the risks of the spotlight. “You also witness the price of Chinese contemporary art skyrocketing on the international market, I have the feeling that many artists have lost themselves,” said Yu. “They have become less pure than in the old days, underground is underground, the artists make art, and that’s it. Take our studio in [Beijing’s art district] 798 for example, this place is so touristy now, it’s hard to position yourself. Nowadays everyone collaborates with everyone, and you participate in their game more frequently, the game is getting more and more complex.”

Sun Yuan & Peng Yu: Teenager Teenager, Sculpture and Performance, 201. Image courtesy of the artist.

It’s undeniable that Ai Wei Wei is the most renowned Chinese artist in the world, but with their relative anonymity, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu have kept their art radical. Artists such as Wang Qingsong, whose photography questions the consumerism of post-Mao China, and Ji Weiyu and Song Tao aka Birdhead, whose multimedia work takes a global, urban perspective, have taken note and inspiration. Yuan and Yu have gathered momentum with their purposeful art making, potent in both concept and execution. It’s up to the rest of the world to catch up.

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.

90'S GRUNGE WEIGHS IN ON FASHION

Smudged lipstick, lolita-esque nighties, & ripped stockings, ready to confuse & disturb

Chloe Mackey

Read more »
Share »

A SEXLESS SOCIETY IS HERE

Fashion rides the gender blending trend  

Maria Raposo

Read more »
Share »

THE HEDI SLIMANE EFFECT ON YVES SAINT LAURENT

How the designer remade the house of Yves Saint Laurent

Greg French

Read more »
Share »

NAN GOLDIN: THE BALLAD OF SEXUAL DEPENDENCY

The artist captures the essence of humanity and life on the edge

Ellie Howard

Read more »
Share »

SYNCHRODOGS: “I must be dreaming”

We speak to the photography duo about synchronicity & the power of dreams

Ellie Howard

Read more »
Share »

MEET THE ARTISTS CHINA CAN'T KEEP CONTAINED

Artists Sun Yuan & Peng Yu use dead babies & live animals in their creations to blur the lines of art & reality

Peter Yeung

Read more »
Share »

JOSEPH BEUYS: I LIKE AMERICA AND AMERICA LIKES ME

What we can learn from artist about race relations and how to heal a nation    

Peter Yeung

Read more »
Share »

THE COLLAGE RENAISSANCE

Contemporary collage is the new Pop Art collectors are buying into

Harriet Baker

Read more »
Share »

DAVID BOWIE PUSHED THE LIMITS OF MUSIC, ART & FASHION

Bowie was an artist and an explorer that embodied true individuality that our generation craves

Fiona Ma

Read more »
Share »

FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY GETS HYPER-REAL

From Erwin Blumenfeld to Nick Knight, fashion constructs fantastical images

Greg French

Read more »
Share »

90'S GRUNGE WEIGHS IN ON FASHION

Smudged lipstick, lolita-esque nighties, & ripped stockings, ready to confuse & disturb

Chloe Mackey

Read more »
Share »

A SEXLESS SOCIETY IS HERE

Fashion rides the gender blending trend  

Maria Raposo

Read more »
Share »

THE HEDI SLIMANE EFFECT ON YVES SAINT LAURENT

How the designer remade the house of Yves Saint Laurent

Greg French

Read more »
Share »

NAN GOLDIN: THE BALLAD OF SEXUAL DEPENDENCY

The artist captures the essence of humanity and life on the edge

Ellie Howard

Read more »
Share »

SYNCHRODOGS: “I must be dreaming”

We speak to the photography duo about synchronicity & the power of dreams

Ellie Howard

Read more »
Share »

MEET THE ARTISTS CHINA CAN'T KEEP CONTAINED

Artists Sun Yuan & Peng Yu use dead babies & live animals in their creations to blur the lines of art & reality

Peter Yeung

Read more »
Share »

JOSEPH BEUYS: I LIKE AMERICA AND AMERICA LIKES ME

What we can learn from artist about race relations and how to heal a nation    

Peter Yeung

Read more »
Share »

THE COLLAGE RENAISSANCE

Contemporary collage is the new Pop Art collectors are buying into

Harriet Baker

Read more »
Share »

DAVID BOWIE PUSHED THE LIMITS OF MUSIC, ART & FASHION

Bowie was an artist and an explorer that embodied true individuality that our generation craves

Fiona Ma

Read more »
Share »

FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY GETS HYPER-REAL

From Erwin Blumenfeld to Nick Knight, fashion constructs fantastical images

Greg French

Read more »
Share »

THE EVOCATIVE IMAGES OF STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

Eminent street photographers find beauty in the ordinary

Leah Sinclair

Read more »
Share »

THE ZINE SCENE IS BACK

Self-Publishing is Having a Moment and It’s Redefining Youth and Self Expression

Leah Sinclair

Read more »
Share »

PLASTIC PURGERY – BARBIE IN BONDAGE BREAKS THE INTERNET

Photographer Mariel Clayton Reinvents the Stereotype of the Female Form

Fiona Ma

Read more »
Share »

LOUIS VUITTON - SERIES 3 EXHIBITION

Nicolas Ghesquière: less mask, more man

Greg French

Read more »
Share »

REGENERATION OR GENTRIFICATION?

The changing face of London’s artistic communities

Peter Yeung

Read more »
Share »

INSIDE THE CHELSEA HOTEL

The legendary New York hangout of rockstars and Hollywood royalty

Ellie Howard

Read more »
Share »

IN CONVERSATION WITH OLAF BREUNING

The artist talks about the endless interpretations of his work and life

Ellie Howard

Read more »
Share »

REVEALED: KURT COBAIN'S ORIGINAL ARTWORK

A dark look into the mind of Nirvana’s tortured frontman

Daryl Mersom

Read more »
Share »

ABOUT A GIRL: TEENAGERS IN POP CULTURE

Exploring media fantasies from saints to bad-ass sinners of female youth

Leah Sinclair

Read more »
Share »

ART GONE VIRAL

Performance art videos are paving the way for activism through social media

Leah Sinclair

Read more »
Share »

IN CONVERSATION WITH ARTIST TOM LEAMON

The ritual experiments of painting and poetry

Ellie Howard

Read more »
Share »

COLLAGE ARTIST HOLLY-ANNE BUCK/COLLAGISM

We talk to the artist about playing with abstraction & reconstructing reality

Ellie Howard

Read more »
Share »

FROM UNISEX TO ANTI-FASHION

Meet Rudi Gernreich, the first gender blender fashion activist

Alessandro Esculapio

Read more »
Share »

THE REVIVAL OF WARP N’ WEFT

From artisan to art; the lost craft of tapestry is making a comeback

KOD Staff

Read more »
Share »

THE ALCHEMY OF COLLAGE: ARTISTS IRINA & SILVIU SZEKELY

Art is not art if it doesn’t generate misrepresentation, confusion, anger or sarcasm

Ellie Howard

Read more »
Share »

THE CREATIVE CLASS: MAKING IT THEIR WAY

Photographer Francesca Allen captures the talented, genuine and real

KOD Staff

Read more »
Share »

'80S ICON KEITH HARING’S POP SHOP

The Art and Commerce of Giving Back

Alessandro Esculapio

Read more »
Share »

THE DEATH OF BRONSON

The art and literature of "Charles Bronson"; Britain's most notorious prisoner

KOD Staff

Read more »
Share »

THE PSYCHEDELIC LOVE-IN OF THE FABULOUS COCKETTES

San Francisco’s original underground glitter troupe

KOD Staff

Read more »
Share »

THE MODERN DAY DANDY CULT

Old fashioned values and classic sartorial style returns to mens fashion

Ellie Howard

Read more »
Share »
Top