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Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest by Chinese artist Yang Fudong. This five-part black-and-white cinematic masterpiece references the legendary Seven Sages, a group of 3rd-century Chinese intellectuals who distanced themselves from government service to take up an existence of Daoist-inspired reflection and heavy drinking in the countryside. Their legendary rebellion has long been depicted in traditional East Asian art.

The films are shot over a period of five years in China, mostly in Shanghai, Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest is imbued with an avant-garde, film noir aesthetic. Neither time nor location is specified, and scenery is alternately urban and rural. The films offer a glimpse into the contradictions and uncertainties facing China's urban youth today. The works depict the new experience of modernity in China while also illustrating universal themes of isolation and alienation.

Yang Fudong
"Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest"
1-5 parts films in black & white

Part I is about a trip to the Yellow Mountain. The 7 young people are greatly touched by the beautiful scenery. At the beginning of the film, the seven characters appear naked. They dress themselves in business attire and begin to wander around in the dreamlike atmosphere. All kinds of thoughts about life come to them.
2003, 29´32” single video from 35 mm b&w film transferred to DVD, sound by Jin Wang.

Part II exposes closed city life in a noisy metropolis, such as Shanghai. The 7 young people live in the city, but seem to have little connection with the city. The characters are shown mostly in an apartment, eating and drinking and discussing desire, sexuality, life and death.
2004, 46´15” single video from 35 mm b&w film transferred to DVD, sound by Jin Wang.

Part III the 7 young people try to change their identity and have a different life. They choose to live in China's Southwestern villages, where they can get closer to nature, and to their own hearts. It begins with the shocking image of the beheading of an ox. The ox plays a key role in this part of the film as both a sacrificial animal and as a symbolic connection to the land.
2006, 53´ single video from 35 mm b&w film transferred to DVD, sound by Jin Wang.

Part IV is composed of random scenes that depict two incarnations of the seven intellectuals: as rural fisherman hard at work and as a group of travelers wandering in a new locale. In Chinese legend, there is an island of Peach Blossoms—the very ideal place to live, where ones thoughts can fly freely.
2007, 70´ single video from 35 mm b&w film transferred to DVD, sound by Jin Wang.

Part V is about the return to the city and to reality. The 7 young people live in the city and identifies with it. They are shown drinking in a banquet hall, and as the scenes take on an increasingly surrealistic tone, the nonsensical seems to be analogized with the nature of urban life.
2007, 91´41” single video from 35 mm b&w film transferred to DVD, sound by Jin Wang.

About the artist

Yang Fudong
was born in 1971 in Beijing and now lives and works in Shanghai. Yang initially studied painting at the China Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou. While still at school, he developed an interest in photography and film. He is self-taught in both media and quickly excelled in their practice. His works are filled with psychological and existential questions.

Stylistically, his videos, which are originally shot on 35mm film, recall both the black-and-white prewar films of the 1930s and 1940s and postwar avant-garde film noir. Yet, any perceivable references to past film traditions seem to be largely subconscious on the part of the artist, and stem from his love of film. Yang is an avid watcher of films of all genres, which has given him a massive creative base from which to conjure up his own vision.

Yang’s work has been shown at many international exhibitions including: Documenta XI, Germany, 2002; the Shanghai Biennale, China, 2002; the Carnegie International, United States, 2005; the Asia Pacific Triennial, Australia, 2006; and the Venice Biennale, 2007.