Ge Yulu: When art becomes a tool of expression | BCAF New Voice

Supporting Young Talents, Sharing Voices for New Dreams
40 potential new talents in 10 creative fields are recommended by 40 mentors.

Jointly initiated by Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation (BCAF), Caixin Audiovisual and Caixin Creative, the third season of "New Voices - Chinese Contemporary Artists Promoting New Program" aims to support young talents and share their voices for new dreams.

We invite experts from the fields of art, design, film, architecture, thought, literature and publishing, dance, theater, music, and aesthetics to recommend the young creators they are most interested in. These young creators stand out for their whimsy, boldness and breakthroughs, or for their outstanding sharpness and wisdom, or for a certain texture that is rare nowadays. Their paths of growth and personalized choices also reflect the characteristics of the times, and their pioneering, originality and individuality represent BCAF's consistent support for the concept of true expression of ideas and space for pluralistic dialogue.

The emerging creators will receive promotional cooperation from BCAF and Caixin Media across all channels and network communications, and will also be prioritized for international exchanges, creative grants, and artistic residencies.

The in-depth interview articles and short documentary films of the 10 emerging creators in the third season will be released every Friday at 14:00 starting from March 22, 2024 onwards.

NEW VOICE Season 3 Issue 1 |
Ge Yulu (Young Artist)

New Voice Mentor
Song Dong
Contemporary Multi-media Artist

Mentor Recommendation:

Ge Yulu is one of the rare young artists with a challenging and experimental spirit in recent years, who consciously keeps a distance from "utilitarianism" and "success". He pays attention to social issues and creates works in an everyday and non-everyday way, focusing his interest on the public space in the city, trying to present the hidden contradictions of life through the provocative humor of his works. He uses himself to intervene and negotiate with public space in an attempt to create new dynamic relationships. His keen insight into the relationship between art and behavior, as well as his critical spirit of diligent reflection, especially his direct access to the social life, have made his works have great repercussions in the society.

In 2013, Ge Yulu put up his eponymous street sign on an unnamed road in Baiziwan. Over the next three years, the road sign was included in all major mapping software, and all takeaways, navigations and municipalities could use "Ge Yulu" to locate the road sign, which greatly facilitated the audience. The moment it was discovered, Ge Yu Road became the center of public opinion. There was a highly praised comment on the Internet: "There was no road in the world, but when Ge Yulu came, there was a road. When many people dreamed of having a house in Beijing, this young man owned a road in Beijing." In 2017, the road sign was removed, and there were many people at the scene, law enforcement officers, reporters, tourists, and Ge Yulu, who hid in the back as a crowd.

▲Ge Yu Road, 2013-2017, behavior

Ge Yulu epitomizes his many works, with a hint of provocativeness, but is actually a expression for a group. 2016's Counterpoint saw him climb up high to stare into the eyes of a surveillance camera in a public space, until the people watching the surveillance were baffled by the large face on the screen and came out to see what was going on. 2020 saw him give the staff of an art museum a vacation in Holiday Time, where he covered his own shift to help them get back to their lives in the name of art. Before graduating from the graduate school of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in 2017, he was disciplined for something that remains unspeakable in the public domain, officially for "seriously affecting the order of education and teaching, the order of life, and the order of the management of public spaces in the school". 

After Ge Yu Road, Ge Yulu became so popular that people became superstitious about his ability to find another way, and then stopped being so polite to him. They used the term "over-the-top online celebrity" to describe his relative quietness after he exploded in popularity, and "run out of ideas" to describe his solo exhibition, "One Picture is a Painting, the Other is a Painting". In a way, people are expecting him to bring back those experiences. On the internet, the comments section of Ge Yulu's earlier interviews has appear more and more: "I look forward to his work in response to the epidemic," and "People who live on Ge Yu Road say they miss Ge Yulu," and "I'm hungry after reading this. finish eating and spend the day well."

Most of Ge Yulu's inspirations come from the society. Primary and junior high school was arranged by his father in the best school in Wuhan, and later failed to achieve the results on the vocational high school, is the local problematic teenage concentration camps, and then met with a good teacher to go to the Hubei Academy of Fine Arts to study in the university. The first time he played experimental art, he brought a small stone with him throughout the day, stirring up a thousand waves of people around him, a simple behavioral adjustment to let all kinds of people expose their various ideas. He felt that if art can constantly stimulate the other side of the world is particularly good, with this simple idea, plans to go to the Central Academy of Fine Arts graduate school, but the history of art failed, he made a living in a documentary film company, 4,000 yuan a month, there are two months without work, the second time as expected to be admitted. In addition to documentary editing, he tried to earn money as a child by handing out flyers for promotions, dishwasher, worked as a wedding photographer, product manager, and civil servant, etc. He also worked as a driver. For a while he chose to drive a hitchhiker because he wanted to continue to learn about urban spaces and the people and stories there. He states, "My core purpose is not to make so-called art, I am more interested in satisfying my curiosity about the world. Art is just one of the effective ways I promote my curiosity."

Quick question and answer

Q: What would you most like to change about your personal situation?
A: Improve the efficiency of acquiring material goods. I've been too busy lately and would prefer to be unoccupied.

Q: What is your main source of outside information?
A: Face-to-face chatting and reading the news, just like everyone else.

Q: What was the first time you made money?
A: When I was in high school, I worked for someone as a color TV promoter. I was promised ¥600, but I was always owed more than ¥200, which took me half a year to ask for. After working for more than a month, I had to take a three-hour bus ride to the other side of Wuhan every day under the big sun, and finally I was ripped off, which was like paying tuition fees for a social classroom.

Q: How much of your current career is about making a living? If you didn't have to think about making a living, how would you create/work differently than you do now?
A: It's hard to say, it's not a clear-cut thing. Making a living forces you to do things that allow you to understand the society in depth. But sometimes thinking too much about making a living can make you rush into things and miss out on opportunities to progress and improve.

Q: How long do you swipe your cell phone before going to bed? Do you ever get wrapped up in some kind of consciousness?
A: I swipe my cell phone before going to bed for as little as 10 minutes, sometimes for an hour or two, and it's becoming a very bad habit for me. Sometimes I don't even know what I'm looking at. But if I'm with my girlfriend, I don't swipe my cell phone much, and I have to have someone to supervise me.

Q: What do you think is the most pressing human social condition that needs to be changed right now?
A: Humanity is too broad, I can only talk about the land I live in and the industry I work in. I think there is a great need for vitality and resilience.

Q: Is there anything you can do to help change this?
A: Everything is a matter of doing things, and when you do things, you are sure to make a difference, it just depends on how far you can go. The real world is concrete and complex, and if you take too many steps to make change, you're just touching an egg against a rock, and it will cause a backlash, and you'll lose the whole thing.

Q: What are the three qualities you value most in an artist?
A: Independence, freedom and keeping a dialog. Even if I'm not an artist, I think this is very important.

Out of anger comes the poet

B: When did you realize you could be an artist?

Ge Yulu: Second year of undergraduate study.

My teacher told me that I could be an artist, and when I asked how, he said that I could be an artist if I did the work. I asked what if people didn't recognize me after I made the work. He said if you recognize yourself, you are an artist.

The inspiration from that chat was huge. When you realize that you don't need to rely on authority for affirmation, the energy will come out of your heart in an endless stream. It's such a great feeling, and the fact that self-recognition can be achieved without any external factors is a gift for a child growing up in an East Asian family.

B: What are you working on these days?

Ge Yulu: My work is not only in the field of art, but also in other aspects of society, sometimes I have more cooperation with online media, including participating and exploring some public promotion work at the Leping Foundation, reviewing drawings for architecture graduates in Hong Kong, and going to a forum in Guangzhou to talk about social participation. In my spare time, I also drove by car to experience other detailed information of the city. The headache is that I don't have much time left to focus on my studies...I can only try to grow while I work.

B: You saw the Halloween parade in New York and commented that it was much less creative than the one in Shanghai, and then you extended your comment to the idea that "realism is the most deeply rooted of all the Western art genres that have come to China", can you expand on this?

Ge Yulu: Modern China has a lot of suffering, which is the main narrative of Chinese contemporary art, and the beginning of personalized creation also started from Scars Realism. The group of performance artists in the 1980s and 1990s, no matter how innovative they were in their concepts, all had strong realistic factors behind them, such as Zhang Huan's Twelve Square Meters, in which he smeared honey on his body and sat in the toilet to be stung by flies, which was the scene of their lives. Song Dong's "Making the best use of everything" is also about the change of material concepts between two generations, from saving everything in the past to throwing everything away now that the material is sufficient. The old habit has become a disease that is not understood today. If we understand this work and her mother, we are actually understanding the times and the reality.

Including the fire a while ago, Zou Yaqi's 21 days of free survival, the reaction is also "loss is not enough to make up for the surplus" of the cruel reality of a work to puncture the social illusion of the ideal of fairness.

Shanghai Halloween, good cos are also dare to respond to the social reality of the problem. We are not playing the role of how exquisite, how to restore the fairy tale animation. Rather, I want to use this to express concern for society, those who usually can not say the words, some of the reality is very difficult energy, through Halloween concentrated eruption, the stronger the energy, the more powerful eruption. The more energy you have, the more powerful the eruption. That's what the old saying goes, "Anger brings out the poet".

On the other hand, if you have a skeleton on the street in New York, what does it have to do with your reality? When I look at it, I feel that it has nothing to do with the plight of survival, so I can't empathize with it, and naturally I'm not moved by it.

China's overall reality is still plagued with disasters, which is historically determined, and many people have not yet had the energy to appreciate other art genres. Appreciation requires experience and time behind it. If one is busy surviving, odds are that it is difficult to have affluent leisure for those aesthetic trainings.

Creativity is essentially a kind of bitter helplessness, for the audience, there are a lot of bottled up words in life that they want to say, and if a piece of art expresses it for them at this time, of course they will appreciate it. The core logic of the so-called out of the loop is as simple as that.

▲"Rich Also poor: two pictures taken in the U.S. gave me a great sense of contrast, and it turns out that my understanding of the world is still too limited. In the morning, I was asked how to think about class solidification and WELL BEING, and stymied." American insights recorded by Ge Yulu bot Little Red Book

Old Circle or New Flag

▲Counterpoint, 2016, single-screen video, photography

B: 2017's Counterpoint was a conversation with the system, and I'd like to ask you about the lessons you learned, the unexpected experiences you had in implementing it?

Ge Yulu: Part of the inspiration for that piece came from helping Xu Bing with The Eye of the Dragonfly. Every day, I was looking at a huge amount of material from various kinds of surveillance, and I was actually like a character sitting in a surveillance room, so "Eye to Eye" is a response to, or even empathy for, the role of the monitor.

On the outside, as the subject of surveillance, you feel like "Big Brother is watching you", you don't feel safe, and you feel that your privacy is being controlled. But don't forget that this is a systemic problem. As an individual, no one can really call themselves a big brother. The person in the surveillance room is just a part of the system, an individual. So when you stare at those images for a long time in a surveillance room, you don't feel particularly empowered or in control. For the individual, it's just work, and it's boring and very lonely.

B: There is a comment that says: "The relationship between the artist and the public is like a game of chess, where the artist makes the first move and the public makes the second move. ...... Constantly trying to complete the game, both sides make important decisions." When you make a piece of work, do you try to predict the public's reaction?

Ge Yulu: Definitely more or less, but that statement also leaves out a very important point, which is the purpose of playing chess.
Is winning the purpose? I think winning is just a means to make chess more interesting.

In fact it is possible to make art without winning, or even without winning. Whether you enjoy winning or you enjoy the thrill of playing chess, this (distinction) is important. If it's about winning, you can also do a lot of things that go against the rules of chess, such as cheating, setting up games, and all sorts of disgusting ways can be used.

Similarly, doing art in order to win would be just a jumping off point. The end goal can be to go for power, position, resources. To defeat others, to enslave others, to enjoy the victory. Once chess becomes a means to an end, rather than an end in itself, the game itself is canceled out. This is a phenomenon that all "chess players" need to be wary of.

B: What do you think is the challenge for artists today?

Ge Yulu: The feedback from the circle is weaker now. Miki introduced Bruce Nauman's exhibition, which was so well done that I thought everyone would discuss it, but the feedback seems to be very flat.

A new test in front of the artists is that every aspect of the winter can be felt by all practitioners, and many drawbacks can already be seen in the previous path, so what is the new path?

What is the contribution of this discipline to society today? What is the contribution of this discipline to society today? What should be done to promote the change of people's concepts? It seems that there is no willingness to build such a consensus. And the system doesn't seem to be able to give feedback on the various changes in society.

For example, I think it's fine to give an exhibition to Handicrafts Geng, who has made a lot of things that are very interesting and creative. But why doesn't the system accept him?

Of course, Handmade Geng doesn't care about the art world system, because people have millions of traffic at their fingertips, and the revenue that this system can bring him is too small. There might have been some art museums that invited him, but he just didn't care about them, hahaha.

▲Cai Guoqiang's exhibition "Peasant Leonardo da Vinci" at the Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology in Milan, Italy, Photo: sur

Cai Guoqiang used to do an exhibition called Peasant Leonardo da Vinci, but now no one talks about what Peasant Leonardo da Vinci is trying to express. Was it once part of his interest, or is it still his interest but it's just been suppressed? And is Handmade Geng in that context?

The traditional forces of the past still hold a lot of resources, but a lot of phenomena feel shaky, what is the new thing? What is the new thing? Why can't those who have been successful in the new thing be accepted by the old system? Does Handmade Geng belong to another circle? All these questions are particularly interesting, and I don't have answers, only observations and abstract thoughts. Under this trend, do you go to the Salon of the Loser like Courbet or Manet did in those years, and make your own new flag? Or do you continue to get drunk and hobnob and think that the system will last for 10,000 years? I think it's a funny thing.

B: So what do you think about the function and position of art museums nowadays?

Ge Yulu: I don't exclude any possibilities. But I think the art museum is just one of the many places where creativity is presented. It doesn't have the monopoly it used to have. Therefore, its kernel will gradually change, and it has to have its own positioning and characteristics. Some of them will gradually become the kind of card-carrying type, the kind that is more pleasing to the public. Some may go to the depth, to the small volume of exploration and edge. Even the definition will change, is Shake Shack a museum, is Little Red Book an art museum? If art is really like water, then no net can stop it.

More sensitive than an artist

▲The artist threw a candy into a lake near the zone where he lived, and from then on, the lake water that the people in the neighborhood drank from became a little sweeter. Sweeter, 2012, Performance 
▲East Lake is the largest urban lake in the artist's hometown of Wuhan, and as such its shoreline has suffered from the erosion of various capital forces and is no longer readily accessible to anyone of any status. In these two contexts, Ge Yulu chose to go to the East Lake and drink its water, transforming his body into urine and urinating a shoreline of his own along the lake. 1.1 meter long lake shoreline, 2012, performance

B: Did the East Lake Art Project founded by artist Li Ju-chuan directly inspire your 1.1-meter-long Lake Shoreline and Sweeter?

Ge Yulu: Those two works were made with the intention of participating in that program. Mr. Li Ju-chuan is a great teacher, and his inspiration is multifaceted. He came up with the early idea for Ge Yulu, and I've said this in many interviews, but the media has hidden this part, because they can't accept that an artist's ideas are not entirely original. Li Ju-chuan jokingly said that he had to use some more hidden methods to make art, for example, my name is like a street sign or something like that, it would be fun to hide it on the street so that people can't see it, and that's what I did in Wuhan, and then I went to Beijing to continue to do it.

You could even say that this was Li Ju-chuan's earliest idea, and that I, as an artist, was just the executor. In fact, I've always been working with similar ideas, and many of my ideas come from colliding with people. The origin of "Holiday Time" is that an employee of the museum told me that she wanted to take a vacation and that her work was breaking her down. This inspired a series of subsequent works. I think it's important to capture these moments of inspiration, not to be too superstitious about your own creativity, and to open yourself up to the community so that more things can come in.

B: I've noticed that empathy seems to be one of your creative qualities, are there times when it's particularly difficult to empathize?

Ge Yulu: All people can empathize, so it depends on where your butt sits. Sometimes reality is a bit more complicated, and wishful thinking often occurs, as well as misplaced observations from an external perspective. Artists are sometimes like witches, connecting different groups and helping them to dialog. But this empathy and intervention may also attract excessive attention from outside groups. This can sometimes be devastating for the people involved.

B: You mentioned that the greatest impact on your value was when you went to Yunnan and saw the Pu'er tea pickers and coffee farmers?

GW: Yeah, I've barely sat with my ass in that seat. The understanding of them comes from a lot of imagination from outside observation. They have a pragmatic view of the world that makes a lot of urban literati like me kind of crumble a bit, and eventually realize that the arguments they usually hang on to have no use on the ground.

You want to go and help them, but really this is a complicated thing. You want to empathize with people, but you might even be at the wrong entrance to empathize with them. That's why you need some more solid, deeper work methods over there. At the moment I simply don't have that kind of energy and determination, and these realities exist completely outside my system, and the shock is naturally so great that I can't even learn from it. It also makes me admire even more those who work on the front line, solving concrete problems, and I feel intensely guilty comparing myself to them.

*Photos courtesy of the artist
Writer/Zheng Ruonan
Editing/Comfort Wave Studio

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