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

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Chinese - Tai Nan Le! - 太难了!

Laurens Tan, 'Kuai Le Wan Ju', image courtesy the artist
I have been giving myself a number of self-imposed deadlines, writing in a fast and furious fashion about my interviews with Chinese artists; reviewing exhibitions; reading numerous books (often several at a time) in an attempt to make sense of my kaleidoscopic impressions of the fast-changing Chinese artworld on my last visits to Beijing and Shanghai. At times it seems like a form of insanity. But the topic continues to fascinate. I have been reading a new book of essays, 'My First Trip to China' in which scholars, diplomats and journalists reflect on their first encounters with China - it contains some wonderful insights and fabulous anecdotes from the 1950s to today. Jerome A. Cohen, who went on a US diplomatic and scientific delegation in 1972 and met Zhou Enlai, finished his account by observing that he agreed with the humourist Art Buchwald that, after a stomach-full of China watching, an hour later you're hungry for more. I can only concur!

I am  beginning to plan a trip for later this year, when I will be staying in Beijing for a couple of months to write, research and explore artists' studios, galleries and China in general. I am hoping to go beyond Beijing and Shanghai this time, and see more of China than the view visible from the windows of the high-speed train. Although this too was completely fascinating to me.

As I write this I should be at my Chinese class. But am not. Oh dear."Tai Nan Le! Too hard! - 太难了!" I am feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of trying to learn this difficult language and feel that I will never improve beyond the stumbling baby Chinese that I can manage right now. And as for character reading, forget it! My strategy today turns out to be one of avoidance. Probably not recommended. Next week, I WILL do the homework and go to class, I tell myself sternly. We'll see.... 
Laurens Tan, Beng Beng Prototype,Made in China.
 Fiberglass, Steel, Acrylic, Plastic, Wood, Baked Enamel, 62 x 30 x 11 cm, edition of 8, image courtesy of the artist.
Meanwhile, my interview with the wonderful Beijing/Las Vegas/Sydney based artist Laurens Tan has been published on The Artlife web site. I love the way that his work also deals with the traps and slippages of communication across language barriers. His is a practice that is absolutely unique. Tan went to China in 2006 speaking little Mandarin, and discovered a way to use Chinese characters as both the form and symbolic coding in his sculptural, digital and screen-based work. "There are different ways of operating as an artist but essentially I think art is always about embracing risk and letting go. And that’s the hardest part," he told me in a wide-ranging conversation in the (very noisy) cafe of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.  For my account of the interview, 'Laurens Tan, Art as a Vehicle for Thinking" - click HERE 
Laurens Tan, Babalogic II, Installation View. Computer-cut ABS, Light, Custom Sanlunche, Dual-Channel Projection, Variable Dimensions, image courtesy of the artist
Another article (previously published in a longer, slightly different form on Artspace China) about the continuing influence of traditions of calligraphy and ink painting on Chinese contemporary painters has been republished on The Culture Trip as 'Constancy and Change in Contemporary Chinese Ink Painting' - featuring the work of three very interesting young women artists - Li Tingting and Gao Ping from Beijing, and Shi Zhiying from Shanghai. Click HERE to see the article.
Li Tingting, Chandelier, Ink on Chinese paper, image courtesy the artist
Recently, too, my interview with Hong Kong based artist Lam Tung-pang appeared on 'Daily Serving'. Lam is currently in new York on an Asia Council fellowship and residency, continuing a discourse about ink painting traditions and making new work in a number of US cities. For the interview, click this link: Things Happened on the Island: Lam Tung-pang's Floating World
Lam Tung-pang in his Hong Kong studio, photograph Luise Guest reproduced with permission of the artist
And my conversations with two emerging women artists in Beijing, Dong Yuan and Gao Rong, were published by Randian Online - click 'In Grandmother's House' to see the article.

Dong Yuan, Daily Scenes, oil on 42 separate canvases, image courtesy of the artist and White Rabbit Gallery
Dong Yuan, Hui Hua Chi Fan, oil on separate canvases, installation view, image courtesy the artist
My problem is not being able to type fast enough, nor go without sleep for long enough, to read, write and research as much as I want to. I should at least thank my mother for making me learn touch-typing when I was 16. She said, "Anyone who wants to work in the arts had better have something to fall back on", imagining, no doubt, a life of secretarial drudgery in an office, rather than adventures hiking around Beijing with a laptop.

Upcoming - an article about performance artist and painter Monika Lin and Beijing-based Huang Xu and Dai Dan Dan - 'Landmines in the Garden of the Literati' - watch this space!
Huang Xu, Plastic Bag No. 28, C-print, reproduced courtesy the artist and China Art Projects