I. Exercises in Sensation: Theory and Practice (1998)
II. Shopping Utopia (2002)
III. Epidermis (2003)
"Exercises in Sensation: Theory and Practice " utilises a structure akin to a textbook to present exercises for reader to "heighten one's senses". This training course in sensitivity is compiled and edited under the moniker of Professor Wu Yuwen. It incorporates ideas and discourse from various philosophers (Foucault, Marx, Bergson, Lucretius), biologists, scientists, authors (Calvino, Nabokov, Proust), artists (Duchamp, Tony Oursler) and an anonymous meteorologist. It also includes "reference diagrams" from numerous sources, thus enabling the final coursework to be a miniature "handbook of knowledge" in the field of feeling.
This is a novel replete with satire and bad intentions: it uses the excuse of training in sensation to brutally demonstrate the power of the media in totally transforming how our senses react to the world. It offers a cynical yet humorous response to the question as to whether sensory happiness equates to happiness for humanity.
"Shopping Utopia" is a hypothesis constructed as a hexagonal shopping mall. It has a total of 10 storeys, and comprises elements within its vertical structure to highly enrich modern-day city living: specialty shops, beauty salons, real estate agencies, supermarkets, playgrounds, amusement-park horror houses, food centres... Yet, it is certainly not spotless, and just like this city, there are sinister secret cloisters despite the sparkling cleanliness of the high-rise building: damp cellers, dark alleys, locked washrooms... This shining "Shopping Utopia ®" is the city's lighthouse, with its dazzling central quadrangle teeming like a vibrant kaleidoscope of life. However, "once you leave, all there is out there is the endless night..."
The novel situates itself within a shop in this "Shopping Utopia ®", and through a multitude of narratives, it describes a day in the life of this shopping complex. It weaves together significant events occurring to 10 individuals in various spaces within the shopping mall. They come from different parts of China and possess disparate social backgrounds. Each of them have different motives and emotions. They interact with one another on this one particular day within the same place, and then are propelled separately into each of their own unknown future. Together, they form a multi-voiced structure – and it is only in the collective consciousness that is the shopping mall, in this sole remaining public space that has gradually substituted the city's public square, that such a narrative can take place.
After "Exercises in Sensation: Theory and Practice + Sex History", "Shopping Utopia" uses the background of a shopping space as a means of "sensing reality", to investigate how we construct sensory reality in contemporary times.
"Epidermis" is a collaboration between Hu Fang's fiction and Chen Wenbo's paintings, it depicts the illusions and despair in the relationships between a young man, his lover, his lover's pet as well as the architect who designed the pet's abode. In the day, the man is a white-collared worker; after hours, he becomes a drifter in a different space in the city/life. He maintains an appropriate distance from his lover, and embarks upon travels to different places in order to collect source material for consumers, which are then processed and sold. When he invites an architect to design and construct a "Fifi" house for the pet Fifi, he experiences an intense sense of release and rejuvenation, and cannot resist sliding a knife through the epidermis of Fifi. There is beauty in pain...
"Epidermis" reflects a world that has lost its stability due to over-consumption. It is a world can only recover its sensory abilities through medication and domination/subjugation relationships – a landscape that is man-made, distorted and depleted of its sense of reality.
About Hu Fang
Hu Fang, a fiction writer, art critic, works and lives in Guangzhou, China. His recent books include: Dear Navigator (Fiction, Sternberg Press, English) and Towards a Non-intentional Space (Essay, Koenig Books, London, English).
Text: The Pavilion, 2021
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