The ongoing thoughts of an art teacher in China - and home in Sydney

A continuing diary about my travels in China, and thoughts about China and Chinese art from home and abroad

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A tangled web of Chinese grammar...

trees and powerlines, photographed near Duolun Street, Shanghai, April 2011
My second term of Chinese classes has come to a close. Am I any closer to feeling confident to speak? Shamefully, the answer would have to be no. I am struggling with the basics even now - word order in Chinese sentences so often seems completely counter intuitive and my tones come and go - sometimes apparently quite accurate and sometimes hopelessly wrong - and as for remembering vocabulary, what a disaster! Every week is a process of coming face to face with my own hideous inadequacy, and sometimes I think 'What am I doing?' 'Who am I kidding?' or, more primally, 'Oh my God, let me out of here!' Sometimes I think of excuses for not going, and almost drive home instead, but then tell myself sternly to get in there and have a go. And, amazingly, find I am enjoying myself. I love learning the phrases and grammatical constructions, as language has always been totally fascinating to me. I love listening to the speech cadences of the very patient Xiaoyu as she corrects our mangled speech. How clumsy and barbaric we must sound to her. And I am always amused by the surreal dialogues between people who inhabit a parallel universe of ice skating, karaoke, shopping and dancing: people found only in foreign language textbooks. If only I could find a trick to shift it all from my short term to long term memory, I'd be as happy as a clam.

The tangled jumble of Shanghai powerlines and rooftiles is a good metaphor for my hopelessly tangled brain attempting to understand, then reproduce, and then remember, the complementary adverbial adjunct...
And  for the other part of my Sinophile obsession: art. As is usually the case now, there is an enormous amount of Chinese art to occupy my mind,ranging from the Shen Shaomin exhibition at Gallery 4A in Chinatown to the big show of contemporary art currently on at the National Museum in Canberra. More on Shen Shaomin in a later post - suffice it to say that we eventually worked out that the naked man in the corner of the room at the opening was not an amazingly life-like sculpture! I opened a recent edition of Artist Profile magazine and was surprised to see an ad for a local gallery featuring a work by Pu Jie that I last saw and photographed leaning against the wall in his studio in Shanghai.
 Pu Jie, 'Heavenly Gate', to be shown here in Sydney at Gallery Barry Keldoulis, photographed by the author in the artist's studio, April 2011 and reproduced with the permission of the artist

I enjoyed this artist's articulate and thoughtful explanation of his technique - of the images that are hidden below the beautifully painted red, yellow and vivid green surfaces of the work, usually images relating to unspoken and terrible events of the Cultural Revolution, events which profoundly affected his own family. Layered one over the other, in semi transparent glazes, the present is literally hiding and overshadowing the past, and yet the past is always there, just under the surface. In the painting above, a sad male figure from the revolutionary period lies under the Tiananmen Square image: still a potent and politically charged sign of dissent. In other works, the pop-infused images of modern Shanghai and consumerist desire are underpinned by Young Pioneers in their red scarves. The works are simple on one level, and visually slick and appealing, yet they possess an undeniable and powerful charge, that sense of the extraordinary pace of change and transformation that is everywhere in China, and most particularly in contemporary artworks of every type.
Pu Jie in conversation with the author, Shanghai, April 2011

It seems that artistic barriers between China and Australia have dissolved into a state of complete permeability, and the constant ebb and flow of international exchange between artists will have unanticipated consequences. Is art a kind of visual Esperanto? Can artists be thinking locally and acting globally?

Works by Pu Jie are reproduced with the permission of the artist