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, March 27, 2013

Gao Rong (高蓉) and Dong Yuan (董媛) and the memory of things

Work in progress, Gao Rong's Beijing studio, photograph Luise Guest reproduced with permission of the artist
Two of the most interesting artists I met in my trip to Beijing last December were Gao Rong and Dong Yuan. I was especially interested to talk to these artists from a younger generation, to see how their work related to tradition and history, if at all. I found them to be thoughtful, reflective, very self-aware and sophisticated in their thinking about their practice. My article about the connections between these two artists was published today on Randian.
Gao Rong in her apartment with 'Private Phone and Public Phone'
photograph Luise Guest reproduced with permsision of the artist
Dong Yuan in her studio, photograph Luise Guest reproduced with permission of the artist

Here is the start of that piece:

“What is real?” one asks when encountering works by Gao Rong (高蓉) and Dong Yuan (董媛). The two emerging artists focus their practice on “things” — the objects with which we surround ourselves and through which we define our lives and personal histories. Baudrillard famously declared postmodernity as “the scene of the object’s preponderance.” From Rauschenberg and Oldenburg to Song Dong’s “Waste Not,” an installation of the thousands of objects collected by his mother over the course of her adult life, “things” have literally become art materials, and the private is made public. In the case of Gao and Dong, however, the things they represent are simulacra, in the sense that the objects themselves often no longer exist, swept away in the tide of demolition and reconstruction that has transformed contemporary China.
Gao Rong, Mailbox, Foam, Cloth and Embroidery, image courtesy the artist
Dong Yuan, Daily Scenes, oil on 42 separate canvases, image courtesy White Rabbit Gallery
Gao Rong and Dong Yuan live and work in the outermost suburbs of Beijing. Both grew up far from the capital, Gao in Inner Mongolia and Dong near Dalian. They have never met. But each has created a work inspired by childhood memories of their grandparents’ house, and the accretion of relationships, objects and rituals contained therein. Unsurprisingly, artists now in their late 20s are reflecting on the enormous social transformation experienced in their lifetime. And in a society where change is the only certainty, artists tend to look inward to family and personal history — and to the “things” that represent them — in a search for meaning and identity.
Gao Rong, The Static Eternity, detail, foam, cloth and embroidery,
 image courtesy the artist and White Rabbit Gallery
Gao Rong has transformed the traditions of embroidery, described as “nu hong” — no doubt apocryphally, the phrase is said to have come from the name of an emperor’s daughter in the Zhao Dynasty who spent seven days and seven nights embroidering dragons onto his imperial robes. Using fabric and thread to create large-scale sculptural works, Gao Rong stitches onto fabric which is then wrapped around sponge stiffened by steel frames and wire. Exact representations of peeling paint, electricity fuse boxes and bus timetables take the place of traditional dragons and plum blossoms. “I am a sculptor who uses embroidery, not an embroiderer,” she says. Banal yet poignant, they represent the public and private realms she inhabits — a public telephone, a Beijing bus stop, the entryway to her basement apartment and the house where she spent time as a child. Her most ambitious work to date is a replica of her grandparents’ traditional home in Inner Mongolia, now demolished. Every detail — the rust-stained pipes, enamel mugs and thermos flasks, heavy furniture and ancestor portraits — was created with embroidered fabric. The work reveals itself slowly, initially seducing through sheer technical skill, and then by its evocation of an all-surrounding memory. “The Static Eternity” is a trompe l’oeil labor of love in which the minutiae of humble domestic spaces and the lives lived within their walls are a palpable presence. Gao’s work speaks of family history, memory and filial duty. She honours the traditions of her ancestors by memorializing their vanished home."
If you want to read more about these two interesting artists, click HERE
Dong Yuan, Hui Hua Chi Fan (detail) oil on mulitple separate canvases, image courtesy the artist