Yujun Wang: Dawn to Dawn – Taiwan Festival, Coronet Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Dawn is a magical time, Taiwanese artist Yujun Wang tells us. It is a time of day where, if one wakes at the right time, it can feel like you are the only person in the world.

The Taiwanese word 明 (“ming”), composed of the characters for “sun” and “moon”, seems to express both the cyclical nature of day and night and that cusp that is neither one nor the other. Wang’s new album, largely composed at that time of day, is a contemplative one, at least according to its presentation as part of the Coronet Theatre’s Taiwan Festival.

Appearing solo on stage, Wang plays a variety of instruments – acoustic and electric guitars, piano, and harmonica. She rarely feels alone, though, especially when she brings in abstract, distorted soundscapes as background to her music. At times, such audio material feels intrusive, the discordance and offbeat rhythms sometimes clashing with Wang’s more eclectic playing

When that subsides, and we can instead focus on the live performance, some real beauty emerges. Many of Wang’s compositions use the work of poets as their lyrical basis, the lines projected (with English translations) behind her as she sings and talks her way through each work.

There is a sense of fun in some of those works, even when they deal with otherwise heavy topics. A peaceful protestor, obstructed by police because her guitar’s metal strings and her mental acuity are deemed weapons, notes wryly that the people with greed and lust for power in their heads are wielding far bigger weapons.

Elsewhere, the cyclical nature of life is represented in a number inspired by Taiwanese sculptor Huang Tu-shui’s work Water of Immortality. Created in 1921, it was the country’s first sculpture of the female form, but over time and after several changes in regime, the work ended up “lost”, forgotten and unloved until its restoration to mark its centenary.

The projected screen also introduces us to some of the turbulent eras of Taiwan’s past, including the White Terror, the decades-long repression of Taiwanese people. But while Wang’s work comments on, and springs from, human rights struggles, there is optimism at play; after the night comes the dawn again.

When performing, Wang – whose soft, breathy voice shares qualities with many a Western singer-songwriter – may come across as intense and detached. There is not much in the way of inter-song banter, the singer choosing instead to save all that for nearer the end of the performance. But it’s clear that as well as enjoying the opportunity to showcase her own work, Wang is grateful for the chance for us all to appreciate and savour artistic works coming out of Taiwan.

In one of her several moving works, the lyrics tell us that “in darkness, write poems that blaze white.” It’s a message that Yujun Wang conveys with her whole spirit.

Reviewed on 16 April 2024

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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