Yang Fudong’s vision of young love in early 21st century Shanghai, the three-channel video installation Flutter, Flutter… Jasmine, Jasmine, pairs the suspiciously sweet optimism of a 20-something couple with a sense of creeping menace. His smitten twosome live in an urban combo at the top of the city, overlooking an asphalt jungle of skyscrapers, department stores and apartment blocks. In this private world within the every-growing megalopolis, they discuss their intimate relationship and break into song, lip-synching a Chinese pop staple, the lover’s duet.
Flutter, Flutter… is something of an anomaly in Yang’s oeuvre. In the past decade he’s become one of Chinese art’s most vaunted names with slow-burning, fragmented films, whose surreal imagery unfolds with the illogic of dreams. By contrast, this early work has something close to a plot, progressing from the couple’s recollections of their first impressions, first kiss and first time (‘it tasted like unripe apple’) through to their painfully naïve hopes for the future.
Indeed, the little Eden they’re fashioning for themselves seems fraught with danger, its foundations shaky. Mirroring familiar images of Western youth culture, the guy might pose on his motorbike like Marlon Brando, while his girlfriend dances in the street as if it were a club, but the houses around them are dilapidated, the shops derelict. More than the bigger social picture though, they seem wracked by internal conflicts. She wants to travel and have children, he wants to retreat, away from the modern world, to a private island just for them; he tells us he likes very pretty girls, while her recollections of biting little girls suggest sadistic impulses. When they embrace, it seems like they’re clinging to each other in a storm, while staring pensively across the city.
Flutter, Flutter… Jasmine, Jasmine is included in the exhibition I Know Something About Love at Parasol Unit, London until 22 May