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Artist Yan Xing dissolves the barriers between disciplines such as history, literature, and social theory to broaden the scope of his investigations into various subjects, including negativity, resistance, and order. Far from being didactic, his works are often presented as open-ended, realistic yet poetic narratives.
Yan’s new work Old Friend (2019) is distributed throughout many parts of the exhibition space. It consists of a series of printouts of digital documents that tell an incomplete story, awaiting completion by the viewers. The reason why this story has become fragmented may be due to the original author’s own elisions. It tells about the journey of a worker who, at the age of fifty, spends half a month traveling to the Volga region. His goal in undertaking this trip is to visit the relatives of a deceased friend and to request that, once he dies himself, his body be buried next to his friend’s. This is a trip about friendship, ruptured relationships, catastrophe, trust, betrayal, ethics, remedy, and atonement. The narrative frames the experience of time as inherently non-linear, for the present cannot exist independently of the past that continually haunts and disrupts it. The fragmentary nature of the narrative, which allows it to be re-constructed in different orders, further reinforces this notion of time. The past, much like the protagonist’s old friend, never dies. And perhaps, instead of performing an exorcism in the name of progress, we might finally make peace with our ghosts.