In nearly 20 years of performing his trademark slide projection and monologue shows, William Yang has shown a flair for linking strikingly disparate subjects.
In Sadness, his meditation on AIDS, he spliced observations of gay culture in inner Sydney with reflections on life as a Chinese-Australian in his native Queensland.
And in Objects For Meditation, the haunting show Yang brought to the Sydney Opera House last year, he linked travels in Britain with a Canadian drag queen and the ordinariness of suburban Sydney.
Across this diversity of subject matter, Yang finds universal themes -“ like identity, sexuality and memory -“ and ponders life’s deeper questions.
The third generation Chinese-Australian artist is sticking to his signature formula with Shadows, a show he has performed around the world and brings back to Sydney next week.
In Shadows Yang again turns his gaze to two seemingly separate communities in which the artist uncovers a shared experience.
The theme of Shadows is reconciliation, which suggested an Aboriginal story.
I did know [an Aboriginal] community in Enngonia in western NSW.
It’s really about visiting these people. It’s an experience of living in their community at various times.
Yang visited Enngonia in 1990 and 2000, taking photographs that he will show in Shadows.
He uses commentary and music -“ performed on stage by composer Colin Offord -“ to tease out an emotional response from the audience.
The artist also looks further back in time, to the experience of German migrants in South Australia who were interned during the World Wars.
Yang took up the Germans’ story on the advice of the Adelaide Festival, which commissioned Shadows with the Sydney Festival.
He uses archival photography to tell the South Australian story, which he says has similarities with Enngonia’s experience.
I’m using reconciliation in a loose sense of the word, but both those people’s histories were kind of invisible histories, he says.
These are marginalised histories that just get bypassed.
Reconciliation to me is the conversation where the actions of the past are acknowledged and a resolution sought.
I have acknowledged the shadows of the past. I suppose that the end message is moving on from acknowledgement.
Yang is too keen an observer to overlook the parallels between Shadows and his own life. Indeed, he uses the show to tell some of his story of growing up gay on a tobacco farm in outback Queensland before making his mark as a photographer in Sydney.
It’s all other people’s stories but I’m a character in the story, so I put myself in the story, he says.
Although it’s not my story, I’m travelling through it.
Has he reconciled with his own past?
I’ve come to terms with it -¦ I’m less haunted by the past but I suppose you can’t entirely escape it.
There’s always some ghost ready to jump out unexpectedly.
Shadows by William Yang is on at Glen Street Theatre, Belrose, from 9 to 14 May. Book on 9975 1455 or at the Glen Street Theatre website.