|Changing China, from Yu Gardens Shanghai, photographed in 2012|
I am slowly, belatedly, coming to the unwelcome realisation that I am unlikely ever to be able to speak fluently - I left my run far too late. In my Eurocentric youth I learned French, then Italian, and naiively and optimistically believed that I was "good at languages." Oh boy, what a humbling experience awaited when I began to learn Chinese three years ago at the age of 54! And oh for a youthfully elastic brain to soak up this difficult syntax, these impossibly subtle tones, and to remember the damn vocabulary, much less to help my quixotic attempt to learn to read characters. I sat in class in Beijing last year with 19 and 20-year old German and Dutch boys who began with no Chinese at all and soon outstripped me. I watched them soak up the language like sponges and learn to communicate pretty effectively. Perhaps in part because they went out drinking every night in attempts to meet Chinese girls. Also perhaps because they all had the hots for the very sexy young teacher, Yumi, and wanted to talk to her about bars and nightclubs and try (in vain) to persuade her to go drinking with them. Each lesson began with a discussion in Chinese about who had drunk what and how much the night before - with the frequent absence of the American boy who was too hungover to come to class at all most mornings. Memorably, one day they discovered they had all coincidentally been at the same cocktail bar the night before and Yumi confided "Zuotian wanshang wo he le wu ge 'sex-on-the-beach.'" Five 'sex-on-the-beach' cocktails and the girl still rode her motorbike home to the outer suburbs!
|My Chinese Dream: Tuanjiehu Park on an unpolluted weekend morning|
Luckily, art is a universal language (at least to some extent) and with the help of my young translators from Beijing Foreign Languages University (who tell me that you can graduate from there either as a diplomat or a spy) I have managed to have fascinating and complex conversations with artists in my visits to studios. Here is my interview with Shanghai-based performance artist Wu Meng, published today in Daily Serving.
|Wu Meng with her husband, Grass Stage Theatre director Zhao Chuan, photograph LG 2012|
In her 2013 performance work And They Chat (also called Chat with Women), Wu Meng walked the streets of the old city of Haikou in a wedding dress made of newspaper, tying discarded domestic objects such as pots and pans, a broom, and a large mosquito net onto her body as she went. Her load became heavier and heavier as she dragged herself down the road, followed by small children and curious onlookers. The performance concluded with a reading from Engels on marriage and monogamy. A new collaborative work, Metamorphosis Garden, reveals her consistent interest in exploring aspects of women’s lived experience. “… sweet fairy tales, strange, even bloody little allegories, interwoven with real-life female stories. How should women view themselves and respond to this complex and lonely world?” In asking this question, Wu Meng creates a body of work that explores the contested territory of gender in today’s China.
|Wu Meng, 'Gravity 1' 2010. Image courtesy of the Artist and OV Gallery Shanghai.|
To read more, click HERE