Aoluguya: A Child Soldier’s Bloodless Battlefield

“Aoluguya”: Yu Bogong Solo Exhibition

Magician Space (798 East Road, 798 Art Zone, 2 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100015) Sep 20–Oct 27, 2013

When an artist grows weary of swimming the crowded and raucous waters of cultural discourse, the numbness that washes over him can be like a receding tide—either stranding him on the shore like a polypod sea creature, splayed on the sand at the mercy of the sun and passers-by with their pointy sticks; or tangling his limbs in strands of seaweed, flotsam and jetsam, extinguishing the kaleidoscopic visions burning in his mind’s eye, while pulling him inexorably into the dark, merciless depths of the sea until all traces of his memory are gone from the world. The Yu Bogong I encountered during the exhibition—splayed or tangled—seemed to have suffered at least one of these two fates. He stood in a corner, smiling the forced smile of a stifled obsessive-compulsive, distracted and oblivious to his hosting duties, accepting the praise and applause of his viewers, unconscious of their intentionality or otherwise.

Yu Bogong, “Measure of the World,” sand, clay sculptures (500 pieces), lacquered MDF, sand table, 60 × 80 × 90 cm (×4), 2013

“Aoluguya”—a puzzling name, which I later found through an Internet search to be the name of a river and a minority tribe, but within the skeins of this tongue twister winds a strand of austere tenacity. However, the forests and meadows on either side of the river Aoluguya were not depicted in the exhibition space. Instead, there was a small, rough-hewn wooden boat moored on a white beach, with coarse cuts covering the entire vessel. The boat seemed to respond to the silence left in the wake of the flurry of marks on its body with a sullen kind of obtuseness. Though the exhibition space itself was not large, the work on show gave me a false sense of dilation which only seemed to push the artist farther and farther away until he became a small dot drowned out by the dense whiteness around him.

Yu Bogong, “The Long Expedition,” hand-carved pagoda wood, stone, 213× 35 × 38 cm, 2012

On the far shore of this sea of sand lay a scattering of white stones. Some carved to resemble seashells, while others alluded to the freedom of abstract forms in their curves, and still others revealed time’s soundless touch in their hollows, seeming to bear witness to the blunt brutality of its passage. Perhaps the artist did not intend to render a desolate wasteland at Magician Space, but as I stood on the soft, white sand and looked down at the footsteps left behind by those who came before me, the sound of the tides seemed to wash through me—a dull constancy at first, then a crescendo into an endless roar. The desiccation of the sand brought the iciness of the ocean all the more vividly to my skin, still warm from the embrace of early fall. Only, that night, in my mind, the seashore was blindingly white, and the ocean retained its true, deep blue. All of it reminded me of Turgenev’s poem, quoted in the opening of Dostoevsky’s short story, White Nights, “…or was he fated from the start to live for just one fleeting instant, within the purlieus of your heart.”

Turning into another space, I was greeted by little clay figurines of various shapes placed near the walls and arranged in four square boxes filled with white sand—mummies, space shuttles, obelisks, aspirin tablets, tanks, and so on. Arranged haphazardly, visitors were free to move and play with them according to their pleasure: a meditation on the past, strewn into the grid of time like so many children’s toys. The same white sand, slipping softly now through my outstretched fingers, revealed its softer side. Absent the wide and desolate atmosphere of stretching shorelines, the sand somehow retained its ability to tug on the cords of my memory, drawing my thoughts ever more deeply into the past. There are scattered bits of our history, which become imbedded in the joys or pains of certain times in our lives, eventually turning into memories, but destined to fade away in the end. These little figurines seemed to possess some sort of magnetic force in every facet of their imperfection; they pulled at bits of lost memories—trace metals—strewn across the sea of my forgetfulness. With their naiveté and ease, they solidified the wide-eyed wonder of my childhood and transformed it into a profound look into the future, full of gravitas and solemnity.

Yu Bogong, “Pick Up Your Weapons,” hand-carved white marble (260 pieces), 2013

On the outer of the gallery, constellations formed of stones and wires gleamed dimly in the fading light of Beijing at twilight. Apart from a planetary rover parked on the lawn, which served only to remind my drunken footsteps of gravity’s reality in its regular turnings, there was a depiction of a battlefield on a waterless planet. On the pockmarked and cratered ground, soldiers from various space-time continuums murdered each other on a bloodless battlefield. Their broken bodies retained a kind of “elegance” in Yu Bogong’s universe, linking the various craters, while behind them a luminous planet rose toward a deep, dark night-sky. Meanwhile, as the twilight receded before the shroud of night, an awkward performer moved through the vestiges of his imaginings on a lonely stage—a stage populated with warped shadows of “truth” strewn on the ground, and vague signals from outer space on the other. Similarly, I continued to switch from looking downwards to gazing upwards as my footsteps bore me toward home and sleep.

Yu Bogong, “Landing Machine,” stainless steel, PVC tube, radio, fan, motor, battery, wooden arrow, 62 × 45 × 90 cm, 2013


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