Wang Yuyan on “One Thousand and One Attempts to Be an Ocean” / interview

Born in China in 1989, she studied at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and at Le Fresnoy – Studio national des arts contemporains in Tourcoing, France. She takes an immersive approach in her work which, inspired by commercial media production, she develops into multiple visual forms. Her installations, performances and short films have been presented around the world.

What was your starting point for “One Thousand and One Attempts to Be an Ocean”?

I don’t know when I became obsessed with the stress-relieving videos since they were continually being pushed to me by social media algorithms. The longer my eyes linger on these oceanic images, the more my digital environment gets immersed by these oddly satisfying videos. I lamented the amount of time I had spent being hypnotized. So during the covid lockdown, I decided to recycle all these sequences and compress them into a film instead of feeling guilty. Paradoxically, I end up spending much more time hunting on the Internet to escape that vicious satisfying circle.

In my previous works, I’m always interested in the endless media production underpinned by industrial productivity. This industrialization of satisfying images fascinates me. They are so intensely consumed, fanatically produced, and just as fervently copied and spread. They might not only be taken to be seen but rather to be shared, moved, and manipulated, sometimes by humans, more often by algorithms. 

My catalog of the ocean doesn’t intend to produce any objective truth but a moment of absorption and enthrallment. It’s a documentary about an impossible experience or an experience of the impossible. I somehow felt this futile attempt to hold the ocean with your bare hands expressed one of the most shared emotions of our time: this desire to manage our vertigo confronting infinite possibilities.

Do you have a favourite moment in the film? Which one and why this one?

The film is a wave pattern, a nearly symmetric arc. My favorite moment is at the peak of the curve. Words that have been shredded to the point of losing their meaning restructure and unfold before being smashed again. I like it because it’s the only moment making me feel synchronized during the whole editing process. There’s something strange about the rhythm. Every time I watch it, I have to restrain myself from this urge to keep modifying forever, because I always noticed that its pacing point changed somewhere depending on my mood, concentration, surroundings, volume, and screen size. The whole editing part, in a sense, is auto-therapy for me as a process of recognizing the changeable course of things, correlating with it situationally, and deriving reconciliation from it.

What do you like about the short form?

I find the short film so attractive as a veritable playground. It’s like a game: you have to tell your epic story only with one sentence. We need to invent something witchcraft to keep the meaning open-ended, escape the stabilized contexts of limited time, and deliver a perpetual state of becoming. Much like writing a poem. And more poetry is needed.


To find out more about One Thousand and One Attempts to Be an Ocean, go to 23:26 in the video.

Photo © Daniel Seiffert

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