On stage and off, Yang is a quiet presence, his manner disarmingly at odds with the material he presents. For he does not resile from tough subjects. Yang is a paradox: a reserved man who has made a career of solo performance, surely the most terrifying theatrical form.
He pours green tea into tiny cups as we sit in his living room with its altar of gods – a ”decorative Daoist” is how he describes himself. Amid the tranquil surrounds, he relates a dark tale that sparked his new work, I am a Camera.
A friend invited him to join a bus trip to the NSW town of Young organised by a group of local Chinese with an interest in cultural heritage. The cherry capital of Australia, as it now bills itself, was once a flashpoint for conflict between Chinese and Europeans. In 1861, a mob of about 1000 attacked Chinese goldminers at Lambing Flat, as the region was then known, destroying their tents and looting their belongings in an effort to drive them off the goldfields.
”What made the European miners angry was they’d heard there was another boat load of Chinese coming,” Yang says. ”They thought they were going to be overrun.”
More than 1200 Chinese miners were displaced in the Lambing Flat riots. Not all the Europeans were swept up in the xenophobia. One man gave the Chinese miners shelter on his property, which Yang visited on his bus trip…
If you look with a powerful magnifying glass through William’s book Friends of Dorothy you will eventually find me, if you can recognise me around 20 years ago of course.
My friend M did rather better. I see the following image, taken in 1997 at M’s citizenship party, is not only on M’s wall but also in the National Library in Canberra. I was quite likely standing next to or near William when he took this.
I also rather like:
Christian Taylor, Photographing Matthew Mitcham – also 2009.
In today’s Herald story William also reflects on social media:
The rise of social media, especially Facebook with its posted images, has impacted on Yang’s work. He has become accustomed to quickly flicking through posted images and no longer lingers on images in his shows.
”Facebook is almost a genre in itself, ” he says. ”Everything is moving towards being public. That suits my form. That’s what I’ve always been about. I’ve been a blogger really for all these years.”
But he has experienced the downside of social media. ”What I don’t like about Facebook is it is too indiscrete … People can know too much about you. Recently, I had a birthday party and suddenly it becomes a public event and then there are people saying ‘you didn’t invite me’.”
Last time I looked William had 2,332 Facebook friends. I see I am invited to the new show but I can’t make it, alas. Night events in Sydney are a problem for me.