Three Easier Pieces opens at Messums London

Yan's solo exhibition 'Three Easier Pieces' opens at Messums London on the 22 April 2024. To quote from the gallery: 

This exhibition presents the debut appearance of Chinese-British photographer Yan Wang Preston’s Three Easier Pieces, new works that explore the complexities of cultural migration by restaging iconic artworks in different geopolitical and cultural contexts. These works have been three years in the making.

The first piece in the series, After ‘To Add a Metre to an Anonymous Mountain, 1995’ was made in August 2021. The original work saw ten young Chinese artists piling their naked bodies on top of each other in the suburb of Beijing as a solidary protest against the societal expulsion that they suffered. Facing the ever-present gender, cultural and racial segregations within our societies, Wang Preston restaged the work, inviting people from diverse backgrounds to participate. Nine local volunteers performed with her, nakedly, with skin-to-skin contact. Together they formed a new conglomerate body on a post-industrial moorland in Lancashire, UK. In so doing, Wang Preston not only re-considers traditionally influential artworks from the lens of eco-feminism and interculturalism, but also celebrates Britain’s multicultural society with its politically aware citizens, suggesting a possible future when integration and empathy transcend boundaries between peoples, cultures, and countries.

Continuing her exploration in landscape representation, gender, the gaze, and western colonialism, Wang Preston restages Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1817), a work selected for its highly problematic iconisation of (western) men. Wang Preston, together with friends, performed the painting nude, standing on a rock forming a comparable composition for as long as they could endure. She describes, “It scrutinised our exposed bodies mercilessly while sharing our vulnerabilities with the viewers. Such discomfort continues when I face so many reclining female nudes in western history of art.”

The third work in the series restages Manet’s Olympia (1863). To overturn the painting’s hidden power hierarchy, Wang Preston first replaced the white prostitute with a white man before taking the place of the prostitute herself as a non-white woman and a performing photographer, not to endure, but to return the gaze. Further studies explored the details of the painting, including the splendid bouquet, and subsequently identified the main flower as a white peony. Such discovery further places Manet’s modernity within western colonialism with the introduction of peonies to the UK from China in the eighteenth century.

Wang Preston comments, “One needs a community to make change. All three pieces were made with multi-ethnic volunteers who were fully aware of the works’ critical intentions. To re-photograph is to have a conversation with history. To re-stage with such naked bodies is to have an intimate, personal, and transcultural encounter with history. With this extreme sense of vulnerability, dis-placement and re-placement, a set of new understandings towards the past, the present and the self may emerge. This is what Three Easier Pieces are finding out.”