For artist Frank Yu, the inspiration for Back to the 1980s, a sound installation activated by user interactivity, comes from the ubiquity of the bicycle as a mode of transportation in 1970-90s China. “Beijing, my hometown was once the Kingdom of Bicycles. Bicycle had played a very special and important role in the life of each single Chinese, as a status symbol every citizen had to have three things: a watch, a sewing machine and a bicycle during the old time. People could hear the random collection of the sounds of bells during the rush hours and these phenomena had been continued until 90s”.
This sound, now absent of the streets of contemporary China, understandably generates a sense of nostalgia, “The sounds left a deep impression for me and were a sweet memory, which accompanied me to grow up since childhood. I have no chance to hear them anymore since I moved in Toronto or even now in modern China. Therefore, the idea of this project comes up with such kind of memory. That’s why the shape was designed as a clock that represented the past time and three arms rotated backward represented that I wish I could turn back time”.
What initially drew you to creating Back to the 1980s?
The power drew me to creating this project actually relates to my memory of China’s bicycle culture. I was born in 80s, which defined as a unique post-1980 generation experienced from post culture revolution to the period of “reform and opening” (1980 to present). Since China is changing in radical ways for the past 20 years, the perception of the bicycle has changed. The bicycle is considered old and dirty and is perceived to low working class. After 1980, the bicycle, a Chinese cultural icon, came to represent Chinese backwardness.
During my growth, I saw men got off bicycle and get in to Benz, women threw away the old bag and wear Louis Vitton. People are tracing fancy car and bigger house. They say “to get rich is glorious”. The tinkle of bicycle bells can always bring me back to simple and unadorned days. I would rather to slow down a little bit and quiet my mind into those good old days.
Through the making of this project, how did your relationship to your subject matter change?
The original plan of this installation was to making a proper sound by hitting different size of bicycle bells, which is operated by certain physical computing technology called Arduino. I only focused on how to make sounds, not pay much attention to the visual parts of the subject. However, the more time I spent on the bells, the more I realized that sounds of these bells were good enough to represent my childhood memory, but there is something deep behind these sounds, that is history. In other words, the memory could not make any meanings without been putting in the proper history discourse. And, the meaning of this art work should have a responsibility to evoke resonance among the audiences. Therefore, for visual parts, I tried to use the rusty pedal and old used bell to represent the lumpish and old industrial age.
What sort of work do you see yourself creating in the future?
Currently, I plan to working on “Back to the 1980s” Version II. The number of the bells units (black boxes) on both sides will be increased to 50 with proper layout on the wall, and all units will be still controlled by pedals (red box). The purpose is to strengthen the feeling of the rush hour in my memory through the loudness. I hope when the audiences rotate the pedals, they will feel like they open the door of time, the post culture revolution.
For long-term, I try to build up a mix-culture as my own style. I would like to reveal some real society problems by using the modern artistic style.
Frank sometimes swims as a dolphin in the sea of graphic arts; sometimes he jumps out of it as a flying fish into 3D animation world. Frank enjoys getting inspired and then creating arts under the influence of multiple-culture wave. “Everything in our life can be a piece of art” he said and he is working hard on it.