Yue Minjun: Iconographies of Repetition

By Louis H. Ho

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 25, no.2 (Spring 2013), pp. 219-248

The essay focuses on the trope of repetition in the work of Chinese artist Yue Minjun. The one enduring gesture in Yue’s oeuvre is the sustained reiteration of a singular figure: this visual strategy, however, is complicated by the fact that the replicated image of the individual comes to constitute the likeness of a crowd, engendering a dialectical oscillation between the twin poles of the subject and the body politic. Yue’s reiterated corporealities are polysemic: on the one hand, they recuperate the ramifications of the collective ontologies of the Emperor Qin’s terracotta army, which represents an originary instantiation of the phenomena of modularity and standardization. The tension evinced between individual and communal bodies signals the fact of socio-political centralization, an imperative that persists into the contemporary epoch. The broader visual culture of socialism – in all its historical permutations – is channeled, once again, in the subject-group complex of his iconography: the hegemony of Mao’s image and the visuality of communist orthodoxy; the rise of the self, both aesthetically and discursively, during the formative moment of the avant-garde 1980s; and, finally, Yue’s own repetitive subjectivity, embedded in, and speaking to, the continued centralization of the Chinese state in its present moment.