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

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Zhong guo "Zai Jian" - for now

A large wall text at the entrance to the "Andy Warhol - 15 minutes eternal" exhibition currently showing at the Hong Kong Art Museum reads, " Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art". This is curiously appropriate in Hong Kong, a city where, artist Celia Ko told me tonight, "money is the only language that everybody speaks."

Hmmm. Money and art. Who knew? Always a hugely problematic nexus, and ideas about the relationship of one to the other are contested bitterly. In Beijing there is no denying that a number of artists became seriously wealthy in the art boom of the late 90s and early 2000s. And cynical views are expressed by some in the artworld that everything and everyone have been corrupted by that.

However while everybody needs to earn a living and artists are not exempt from the normal kinds of greed and desire for comfort and ease that we are all heir to, I am prepared to go out on a limb and say that each of the seventeen artists I have interviewed on this trip are absolutely and seriously dedicated to making art that expresses deeply felt ideas and beliefs, and work incredibly hard to develop their practice and pursue a goal of excellence, whatever the art market might be doing.
Gao Ping, oil on canvas, image reproduced with permission of the artist and China Art Projects
Gao Ping told me, "Every year I want to find something new in my work" and added, "The drawing is my heart". Lin Tianmiao said, "Being an artist is a very personal thing. We are the people who raise the questions - the critical thinking is the most important thing". You can read a more detailed account of my interview with this iconic figure, currently showing at Lelong in New York, here:

Lin Tianmiao, thread winding work viewed in the artist's studio,
 photograph Luise Guest, reproduced with the permission of the artist
Liang Yuanwei, who spent three months in Berlin after a less than happy experience representing China at the Venice Biennale, said. "My work is like a tunnel between myself and the world. It must be true."
Liang Yuanwei in her Beijing studio, December 2012
Photograph Luise Guest, reproduced with permission of the artist
Liang Yuanwei, Flower Study for the Golden Notes series, oil on canvas
Photograph Luise Guest reproduced with the permission of the artist
Liu Zhuoquan makes very beautiful works that contain within them some carefully coded meanings about issues in China today. Wu Meng makes works in the public space in Shanghai at considerable personal risk to herself and her family, raising issues of vital concern such as the suicides of workers in the factories of southern China, or the unfair treatment of migrant workers. And Lam Tung-pang in Hong Kong, whose work is currently showing at Saatchi in London, makes works which reflect his feelings of anxiety and distress about what is happening to his beloved city, and his search for quietness and repose in a re-examination of the traditions of ink painting.
Lam Tung-pang in his studio, Hong Kong December 2012,
photograph Luise Guest  reproduced with the permission of the artist
Lam Tung-pang, studio view
Lam Tung-pang, 2 sided work based on Tang Dynasty horse, photographed in the studio
Photograph Luise Guest reproduced with the permission of the artist
Lam Tung-pang, exhibition of work at Goethe Institut, Hong Kong, installation view
image reproduced with permission of the artist
I have interviewed painters and performance artists, photographers and sculptors, artists who work with found objects and found images, those who reinvent traditional Chinese forms such as ink painting or gong bi style painting and those who seek an entirely new visual language. I have met famous and revered artists, and artists newly graduated from art academies. I have met curators and gallery directors and critics.
Monika Lin, "On the Way to the Imperial Examination",
performance piece in which the artist wrote the character 'mi' (rice) 10,000 times
Image reproduced with permission of the artist
Shi Zhiying in her Shanghai studio,
Photograph Luise Guest, reproduced with permission of the artist
I have also met two wonderful and inspirational art teachers with whom I hope to collaborate on some projects with our respective art students - art that crosses national boundaries and limitations of culture and language, that sounds good!

I have learned enough to make my brain feel as if it is overflowing with new information, enough for a book! We'll see... I have loved the experience of travelling with this sense of purpose and in a spirit of enquiry, and have been warmly welcomed everywhere. I have sat in ice cold freezing studios in old 'Shikumen' houses in the French Concession in Shanghai, and in Caochangdi and Songzhuang artists' villages on the outskirts of Beijing. Today, after visiting Lam Tung-pang in his new studio in Fo Tan, I caught a local mini bus to Sha Tin Station, blaring Chinese opera all the way.

From the sublime to the truly ridiculous, Hong Kong has it. Yesterday I saw an eagle floating, suspended, high above the clustered apartment buildings as I rode down the hills from the Peak on the top deck of a bus. Today, in the shopping mall above the Sha Tin MTR station, I came across a brand of handbags and wallets called 'Shag Wear' - I swear this is true! Yesterday, in Canton Road, two young men in the jostling crowd carried sandwich boards advertising 'The Battery Operated Nasal Aspirator".

I have been observing - sometimes feeling like a voyeur - the people in each city as they go about their lives, Old men and women playing cards, mahjong, chess, doing Tai Chi, ballroom dancing, playing bowls. Such constant activity! And here in Hong Kong have been touched by the way tiny, wizened old ladies are led gently by daughters and grand-daughters down jostling Kowloon streets. And also by the general tenderness shown in every  city I have visited to babies and children. Not surprising in the land of the one child policy, changing though that may be. Often in Australia I observe parents respond to their small children with exasperation and impatience as their default position. Not so in China.

It is perhaps ironic that part of my purpose here has been to discover what the effect of international dialogues, residencies and exhibitions has been on the work of Chinese artists, and how they have been changed by these experiences. A lot more remains to discover on that topic, but in the meantime the person most changed by the dialogue is me.
Zhongguo - Zai Jian!