Yang Shaobin’s‘anticlassic blood’
Maurizio Giuffredi

And they to laocoon and his children make;
And first around the tender boys they wind,
Then with their sharpen’d fangs their limbs and bodies grind.
[The wretched father] they next invade;
Twice round his waist their winding volumes roll’d;
And twice about his gasping throat they fold. […]
With both his hands he labors at the knots;
[…] And with loud bellowings breaks the yielding skies.


The first reaction to birth is the scream which has […]

The function of resolving the sense of suffocation in a violent way


The first reaction to birth is the scream which has
The function of resolving the sense of suffocation in a violent way

Otto Rank

The paintings by Yang Shaobin exhibited at Contemporanea will to some people prove to be familiar given that they from part of a large cycle already in minimum part shown at the last Venice Biennial. However, on this occasion a key detail was not sufficiently underlined: that of the screaming, gross and swollen faces that ooze with blood and whitish milk-like secretions, blocked in the act of a final and at the same time vain rebellion. These are the faces of Yang Shaobin himself. “Mental self-portraits” as he defines them in which the body is doubled and becomes the torturer of himself, as when from an unknown ‘inside’ arms and hands come out, seizing it/him with total lack of pity. Torturer and victim, the artist represents himself as the place of catalyzing and explosion of an unheard of violence, the extreme and paradoxical point of resolution of that enormous chorus-goat which in the west transmigrates from the sphere of the Greek tragedy to that of the Christian passion.
And yet behind the sacrifice of the divine goat Dionysus and of the passion of Christ there always seems to be something that goes beyond individual myths and religions in their circumscribed spatial-temporal determination, as Freud suggested (Totem and Taboo):that of the tragic primordial guilt of the paternal complex, the Oedipus, with its emotive ambivalence of love and hate towards the same object. The previous works by Yang Shaobin to an even better degree show that the node of the conflict he has taken upon himself is the archetypal Father incarnated by the Revolution and its military bureaucratization, become an indelible nightmare and topos of an unsupportable existential absurdity. An absurdity which is readable in all of its smallest details  starting out from a work of 1996 [260x260] in which the soldier in the foreground shameless laughs in an empty and incomprehensible fashion. On his cap, instead of the traditional red star, a packet of Marlboro indicates an irreversible contamination. On the background there is an idyllic landscape with a model building promised by modernization: everywhere the false seems to transform itself into the real, and vice versa. Between the foreground and the background, within an unspecified space, there are some men fighting. There is no narrative unfolding. It is a fight that emptily produces itself, exactly like the laughter of the soldier in the foreground.
On the background of another fighting scene in a work of a year before (1995, 180x230), with the same diffused oneiric ambiguity between the real and the false, we once again find the symbols of modernization starting out from the top of the yellow sun on a red sky and an ideal city complete with gardens and superhighway. Although here the torturer-victim couple in the foreground is given particular importance: he comes towards the spectator as if to invade the latter’s space, and perhaps in an even more evident way than in the previous painting the flesh-color already possesses an insistent monochrome red.
In a work of 1998[160x140] the red spreads from the flesh-color to all of the space, almost completely invading the painting in which the victim tries to escape from the tremendous oppression of his torturers, extending his hand towards a lipstick in the foreground, a recurrent object in m many other paintings by Yang Shaobin: bullet, phallus, instrument of sexual violence (sodomy and fellatio) and at the same time approbation and seduction, western exemplum…
In the words of Mao Zedong:“The Revolution is not a banquet, a literary work, a drawing or an embroidery. One cannot carry out the revolution with elegance, serenity and delicateness, nor can the revolution be courteous, contained and magnanimous. The revolution is a rebellion, it is the violent act of a class that pulls down the power of another”. The red which definitively becomes intrusive and engulfing in the most recent works is also the blood shed for the Revolution. In this sense it ought to nurture hope and strength, as in the archetype of the purifying Iustral blood of the expiatory sacrifice. Although in these works, as we have seen, there is no separation between chorus and goat, persecutor and victim. In the same way that to the point of fusing one has the superimposition of the object of love and veneration and the object of hate and persecution. This provokes a sort of violence shifting/sliding of the ground on which habitual categories that render identity stable are founded. In this way Yang Shaobin causes the oscillation of the reassuring experience of the familiar towards that perturbing experience of the terms Heimlich- unheimlich described by Freud. The scission or doubling- rendered by way of the making pictorially concrete of phantasmic arts- only goes towards underlining this sliding ,  projecting an extraneous and strongly aggressive double outside or the Ego.
In Yang Shaobin the excessive force and power of the irruption of pain, suffering and impotence implies the fact of undergoing it, and are also evident because it is the body that emerges, a lacerated body which screams. Whereas we usually make use of our bodies, we dominate them in order to react to determinate situations, in the face of extreme emotions like an attack of laughter and the scream of pain it is our bodies that make use of us: one can put up with pain but not accept it. It is not fortuitous that Yang Shaobin has always represented these two expressions of emotions (in the past year almost only the cry of pain) which translate and confirm the breakage of the coincidence between body and existence and the sense of impotence when faced by an extraneous force. The subjects is no longer his own master because a disorganization has taken place of the relationship between thought and body, the Ego has been overpowered by passion and can no longer exercise its functions, starting out from the control of the facial muscles. The scream renders this disorganization visible, the impossibility of given an answer to suffering. Thus the muscular actions with which Yang Shaobin’s personae try to escape from the ferocity of the aggressor have absolutely no power, only showing the desperate nature of one’s resistance which is destined to leave way to interior capitulation.
We do not know what Yang Shaobin thinks of those pained heads by Messerschmidt which with difficulty we recognize under the immense palimpsests by Arnulf Raineer. Or the Otages by Fautrier, impotent testimonies of an excess, and the sewer-faces by Dubuffet or else the terrorized heads by Baselitz. Nevertheless, in some way his painting certainly has something in common with what has been the general deconstruction of the face and its formal, sexual and social identity in the western art of the XX century. And perhaps even more still than in the previous examples it is in the cosmic scream by Munch, in the de-figuration by Francis Bacon and in the automanipulations by Bruce Nauman that in a pressing and obsessive way one sees the anti-classical torture of the face which leads to deformation, decomposition and dissipation. In western art all evidence signs of the disaster undergone between the Greek hero and the man torn apart by cocntemporaneity who is only able to manifest his condition in excess, in the extreme psychic and physical border zones. The body and the face go beyond their reflection. They are no longer the simple structure destined to mirror reality but a psychic and cultural notion. It has little importance how and what with regards this western disaster has been transmitted in China. The fact is that Yang Shaobin’s self-portraits do not take us back to the unviolated reflection of Narcissus as they do, if anything, to Marsia’s stripping of flesh.
The vetoes on the part of lessing and Winckelmann which imposed reserve and dignity both of expression in one’s relationship with others (“courtesy and decorum prohibit shouting and crying”) as also in representation (anger is to be moderated and transformed into severity, desperation in perturbation ) have not only definitively fallen by the way but, as happens in Bacon, the wounds of the body are shown and beneath these wounds the bleeding muscles. Also in Yang Shaobin’s self-portraits everything pitilessly takes place on the surface: shreds of muscles but also substances of mysterious consistency (serous exudations, mucous or purulent), candid cutaneous excrements which are nothing other than the body metaphor of the “return of the repressed”. The unheimlich, the perturbing, is according to Schelling’s well-known definition in fact “everything which should have remained secret, hidden, and which instead has surfaced”.
And yet what Yang Shaobin’s faces seem to wish to express-and perhaps more than any other thing-is the diffused sense of suffocation. His rent bodies have above all a desperate need to breathe. In this way they inevitably refer us to Ranks principle (Trauma of birth) according to which every situation of anxiety is substantially speaking a return to the physiological distress of birth that is caused prior to anything else by the need for air. In this way Yang Shaobin’ stages’ an extreme sentiment of universal unease with the clear intention of superseding it. His face-a sort neo-Laocoon-becomes a mask. And perhaps his repeated theatrically represented secretly hides an apotropaic rite.

Maurizio Giuffredi graduated from DAMS (Bologna) and completed his research doctorate in the Psychology of Art at the Department of Visual Arts of the University of Bologna. He at present teaches the Theory of perception and the Psychology of Form at the Fine Arts Academy in Venice.

His publications principally treat the relationships between art, psychoanalysis and physiognomy in modern and contemporary times.