Artyoo | Discovery | Duan Yingmei's Cradlesong

Gu Ling, Artyoo, June 11, 2018

On July 10th, the celebrated artist Duan Yingmei released her first music album “Forty Eight Years Ago, the Road an Ocean” at Capsule Shanghai.

An artist commented on the last post we forwarded on the first encounter with Duan at the East Village “East village has died out, but her voice reminded me of that time. The artists at that time had faith.“ (by Li Yefu)




Text/ Gu Ling


Who is Duan Yingmei? She is the participant of “To Add One Meter To An Anonymous Mountain”, the most frequently exhibited work of Chinese contemporary art. In 1995, on a mountain in the suburbs of Beijing, the 26 years-old Duan stacked her naked body with other artists’ of the Beijing East Village; She has been a student of Marina Abramovic and Christoph Schlingensief, she studied Performance Art at Hochschule für Bildende Künste Braunschweig (HBK); She started seeing the famous Chinese musician Zuoxiao Zuzhou in 1993, this relationship started when she was 24 and lasted till her 30s and kept on growing in her heart; she proposed the concept of “Daily Live Art Performance” and “Equal Collaborative Performance”. She just released her first music album.


A white room, the light shines through the window, and bounces onto Duan’s face as she wraps herself in the paper blankets. The paper bed looks slanted but she seems comfortable lying on it, like a little girl. Green trees and sunlight pass through the window on the back left. Paper boats of various sizes are scattered on the floor.


This is a photo named paradise, documenting an hour of the first Performance Festival in Salzau, Germany. This photo is used as the cover of her latest album in collaboration with Han Xiaohan “Forty Eight Year Ago, the Road and Ocean”.


Ten songs, ten performances, Duan sings in a child’s tone, like a little girl singing a nursery rhyme. The breath of her homeland air through the face of this Daqing-born northern Chinese lady. The title was altered by Han Xiaohan who was also from Shenyang, Northeastern China, “the road and ocean” is a metaphor for the great change that time brings to the world. The lyrics of her music are perhaps a gift to herself of her own experience for the near past half century, to make her music dream come true. It is also her time to show the world those emotional and unsettling moments.





Sleeping can lead to strong empathy. Duan sleeps or dreams in many of her works: Sleepwalker (2002), Sleeping (2004), Paradise (2005) and Sleeping in Van Gogh Museum (2005). We can still imagine the audiences’ scrupulousness by looking at these photos. Sleeping is rest, is our daily routine to return to the matrix; sleeping is security, it seems to sequester us from the dangerous world. When sleeping, we seem younger, back to childhood, back to the nurtured pureness.


"If possible
Escape the world
I wish to stay in my dream
If possible
I really wish
Every minute to live in my dream"

- extracted from the lyrics of Self-portrait





Duan has lots of works of her sleeping, but she has more works of her naked. She exposes her body, caresses, and observes her body, and she lets others touch and look as well. She opens and shares her body, collaborates with other artists through her nudity, and opens communication with strangers. Perhaps it provides an open perspective to let us understand her intention to work with different people from various fields, she calls it “Equal Collaborative Performance”.


Perhaps such unfolds started at the anonymous mountain in Beijing, with Zhang Huan, Ma Liuming and many other avant-garde performance artists. But as a woman, her recognition of her body can’t be separated from her seek of euphoria in sex as well as the perception and prejudice of nudity in public space from different cultures.


The very nature of her voice still infiltrates through after the professional remix by Han Xiaohan. Her cleft palate only got treated till she was twenty-one. After the surgery, she became more talkative, and would sing in front of other people. She said she loves singing, and is always humming. She would fuse her spontaneous music into her works as well. Such humming is like the naked body of her voice, is very equivalent to her self-exposure.




The memory of listening to Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, and Queen’s cassettes years ago resonate in Duan and formed her music dream, she found the new paradise in music. She thinks music will expand the audience of her performance works, to let more people know about performance art. The fabrication of this album followed a relative traditional way. The preparation was almost two years with about four months of active working time. At first, a lot of time was spent on converting performance art into music concepts. Han Xiaohan suggested using spontaneous creation and other experimental methods to bring down the budget, but Duan want it to be a “pleasant to hear” album, so they used standardized methods for composing, recording and remixing. From a technical perspective, it was challenging to match the performance pieces to musical notes and to transform them into something rhythmic. Duan does not have any experience in vocal training. It all relied on her talent and the guidance from a vocal music teacher. The album includes and fuses country, folk, rock, gothic, classic, ethnic, piano and singing and many other components, all modified to fit Duan’s register.


"Talk to myself lyrics in English and Chinese

The look of a small carefree animal How I wish I could be a child forever
Why does a child have to grow

up and think?
Who is to judge right from wrong?"

- extracted from the lyrics of Talk to myself


Duan shouts in her 2001 performance work Talk to Myself: “I want to stop this watch, I want to stop all the watches!... why am I so busy everyday? I may die or not wake up tomorrow. Everything will be in the past! Nothing would exist anymore!”. Everyone has a bit nostalgia and the fear of time passing. Like Han Xiaohan said, when the screaming converts to music, it becomes “a supplementary instruction for the performance art”. In his view, Duan’s performance is an austere expression of her emotions, and her music is an effective extension of her performance.




 Edited version from Artyoo, translated by Nora Wang