Curator, writer, and contributing researcher Rebecca Catching had the opportunity to sit with the artist duo Yang Hao and Alice Rensy, who were in residence at A4 Art Museum in Chengdu, to talk about their latest collaboration while in residence and their experience of Chengdu.

China Residencies: How did you hear about the residency?

Yang Hao: The A4 Art Museum was the first residency in China that I participated in. From 2016, after Alice helped me make the works “Middle,” I started to become more interested in opportunities to develop my art in China. With the help of an introduction from the French Consulate in Chengdu while Alice was there, I got the chance to meet the director of A4, Sunny, who arranged the residency for this October. 

Alice Rensy: I came to visit Chengdu in October 2016. Benoit Martin from the French consulate gave us the names of the arts institutions to visit, among them was the A4 art museum. We were lucky to meet Sunny Sun who was in Chengdu at that moment, while we talked about our art she introduced the residency to us.

CR: Did you apply with a specific project idea in mind, or were you looking for inspiration on the spot?

YH: When we met Sunny, we talked about exhibiting some previous works at A4, but when we arrived in Chengdu in October we decided to create a new work based on the geographical and architectural features of the area.

AR: Yes and no. We always have an interest in doing various artistic projects. Some ideas could not be worked out on the spot, so we will keep them warm until the opportunity arises. For that residency I thought we would work on one of my ideas which is to apply a literary method of composition to a performing arts piece. We got totally diverted from this plan when we saw the space offered by A4. Another strong idea came to us on the spot: we wanted to work with the landscape.

CR: Tell us a bit about the project you worked on while you were there.

YH: “variations on lights and people”, is a sessional piece in terms of its composition, made up of different fragments including dance, performance, visual art. But each piece is both an integral part of the whole and an independent piece in its own right. There were some parts where the inspiration of the final works were influenced by the work of other artists, these inspirations would suddenly flash in my mind like memories. And our work involves performing these inspirations/memories and re-inducing, re-enacting these memories of friends, artists and our way of associating with time.

AR: I was impressed by the landscape of the lake just behind the windows in the backdrop of the auditorium. It was a unique opportunity to work with this living backdrop: the water, the greens, the wind in the leaves and on the surface of the water, also the people passing. It had a lot of poetic potential there, very attractive. It created a meditative atmosphere that totally matches with the atmosphere we like to create. I felt there was a connection we should make between our work and this backdrop.

Stills from "variations on lights and people"

CR: Did your practice change significantly from your time in China?

YH: This time in Chengdu, we employed practiced methods. Also being a Chongqinger made the whole environment really comfortable. I also use contemporary European modes of creative expression to tell Chinese stories.

AR: No. The piece we have created iterates several concepts that we have worked on previously: The creation of a soundtrack with varied kinds of music, sounds, videos, archives. The references to our masters: here again Raimund Hoghe, and for the first time Scarlet Yu. We explicitly refer to them hoping that the audience will discover their works. They are the source of our passion and we like to share our passion. We also employ the use of humor, in order to establish a warm connection with the audience and to balance and highlight the slow and the meditative moments that we offer.

CR: What opportunities did you have to share your work with the public? Any exhibitions, concerts or workshops?    

YH: We felt that Chengdu audiences were very open to modern dance and very open to experiencing new artistic forms. And another point is that A4 is slowly building a connection with the rest of the city so I think we can look forward to some interesting cultural possibilities. 

AR: We presented our new full-length creation (1 hour) in the auditorium to the audience one evening. We also gave two workshops: one to the general public before our show, the second for professional dancers. We also performed a durational performance in the museum exhibition one afternoon.

CR: Where there other artists around you? Did collaborations occur? 

AR: Yang Hao and I wanted to work with the painter from France Nathalie Rothkoff. I had worked on a creation with her a year before in Hong Kong and it had been a productive and fruitful collaboration that we wanted to renew. Yang Hao and I collaborated together as many times before on the choreography and dance part. Nathalie was in charge of the costumes, accessories. We discussed ideas altogether. When the piece was almost finished we invited three dancers from Chengdu to join us and to perform with Yang Hao and I. It was really good to work with local dancers, sharing the stage with them created special bonds.

CR: What is the neighborhood like?

YH: The architecture of Luxelakes has a design sensibility, with lots of residential buildings in the surrounding newly built district.

AR: It is very interesting for a French person like me. Even though I have lived in Hong Kong for many years, I was still surprised and happy to discover Chengdu. People in Chengdu have a good lifestyle that reminds me of Europe a lot. I really enjoyed it and felt very comfortable in this city.

CR: Had you been to China before?

AR: I had been to China for short visits several times for work, but it was very different: the residency in A4 was one month, that was my first time staying that long in China.

CR: Did you speak any Chinese before coming? Did you learn some while there?

AR: I could not speak Chinese. Living in Hong Kong I can speak a little Cantonese only. After the residency in Chengdu I started to learn Mandarin seriously; I hope that I will be able to speak Mandarin within a year.

CR: Are you interested in going back and spending more time in China?

AR: I am. There is a theatre under construction in A4, which is very appealing to me. We have ideas of projects to do there. It would involve a videographer from Chengdu. Yang Hao and I have to find the time to arrange another residency for this, hopefully before August 2018. Luckily we will go back to China with two projects: one is Yang Hao’s creation of a performance premiering in Beijing National Theatre. The other project is a tour throughout China with Sandy Lam’s concert.

CR: What are you working on next?

YH: Working as a full time independent artist one comes across different work opportunities, both commercial and artistic. Recently I have been choreographing Sandy Lam’s tour; throughout various concertos, I have drawn on the creativity of the umbrella and applied it to this commercial performance.

AR: Currently I am preparing to perform at Para Site, the famous Hong Kong institution for a choreographer from Romania called Manuel Pelmus. The performance will run from December 8 until mid-February.

CR: Anything else you’d like to add?

AR: The support of the team from A4 was key to the positive outcome of our residency. I thank them all for their warm welcome and support.

This interview was conducted by Rebecca Catching in November 2017