Yongqi Tang

Interview by Jordan Amirkhani 

May 23, 2022

You mentioned that a major part of your work is thinking about the ways in which identity is performed and is a performance. In what ways does painting as a medium allow you to unpack this?

Painting and drawing have been the most traditional medium to tell a story, earlier than the creation of language, therefore they have a strong capacity to present a narrative. As Merleau Ponty has mentioned in his text Metaphysics and the Novel, the function of the novelist is not to state these ideas thematically but to make them exist for us in the way that things exist. Likewise, the function of my painting is to bring together history, memory and imagination to create a fictional setting that makes the performance present.

You mentioned that film is a major inspiration for your painting practice — what kinds of films and directors are you interested in? What possibilities does film create for your paintings?

I don’t have a particular genre that I am interested in; I like them as long as they are inspiring. Recently I am very into Bergman as his films are very much about the artificial bonds and emotional gaps among people, how they react to them and the possibility of love despite all that. I sometimes look at cinematography for formal reference, and sometimes the content of the films helps me examine part of me I have overlooked. 

There is such a strong sense of group dynamics and activities in your large-scale paintings. What is the significance of gathering multiple figures into your work? What kinds of social events are you interested in representing?

The works examine how we construct identities around food. What interests me is not who is eating or what food they consume, but what they are doing around the table. Now I am interested in social events where you can see a lot of artificial bonds, disingenuousness and tension. 

How will you develop this body of work? What is next for your practice? 

I plan to continue the investigation of identity performance by completing the third drawing of the Eat Drink Man Woman project. To be consistent with the two drawings I have completed, the third drawing would be made of the same size and material. While the project examines how Chinese immigrants perform their identities to achieve acculturation through the perspective of the eating culture, the first drawing (The Apartment) is about the displacement I experience in America and the second one (The Wedding) is about the alienation from my motherland; the third drawing would tackle how I could resolve the identity struggle during this period of turmoil through understanding death. As I saw and heard people around me, including my grandma, passed away in recent years, I felt that only through my relation to my death, I could understand my existence, so that I could reject the performance and arrive at authenticity. More specifically, I would investigate the food and dining ritual around death, such as funeral, and the tomb sweeping day in China.