|Jitish Killat, Public Notice 2 (detail) in Go East, image The Gene & Brian Sherman Contemporary Asian Art Collection and the Art Gallery of New South Wales|
They have spent the last two years with me, immersed in contemporary art from around the globe. At first they had been frankly sceptical - we'd had a few of those "But how can that be art?" conversations that every teacher knows. So it delighted me to hear their earnest discussions of Song Dong's endurance performance, in which he lay prostrate on the winter-cold surface of Tiananmen Square, and then upon a frozen lake, discovering (rather to his surprise) that in that location his warm breath had no discernible effect on the ice. They talked about the subtle symbolism - and clever satirical intent - of any Chinese work produced after 1989 that uses the potent location of Tiananmen. Some saw a comment on the continuing elemental power of the natural world in comparison to the puny efforts of humanity. Others discerned a comment on the failure of artists and pro-democracy demonstrators to change the tragic course of events 26 years ago.
Family Tree, 200
C-type prints. Suite of 9 images
227 x 183 cm (Framed)
Image courtesy: The Gene and Brian Sherman Collection, and Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Sydney
Photo: the artist
|Nortse, Zen Meditation, 6 monks' robes, butter lamps, Chinese money, scriptures, sand, metal frames, |
image courtesy the Gene and Brian Sherman collection
|Ai Weiwei, 'An Archive', huali wood, xuan paper, edition of 2 + 1 AP, image courtesy the Gene and Brian Sherman collection and Art Gallery of New South Wales|
I listened to their impassioned discussions in response to my question - why a wooden box? Why stacks of paper that cannot be read? Why transcribe something so essentially ephemeral as tweets? I cautioned them against identifying Ai Weiwei as a secular saint - the patron saint of free speech according to some western observers, or alternatively as a giant ego who "hoovers up all the oxygen" in the Beijing artworld, according to others. And with four (yes - four!) concurrent shows at four major Beijing galleries, nobody could say he's invisible, or unheard, even despite the continuing and constant surveillance to which he is subjected. Nevertheless, polarising though he might be, his practice provides rich and fascinating opportunities for my seventeen and eighteen-year-old students to hone their artwriting chops. I confess I would be a little happier if I didn't occasionally read responses that told me that Han Dynasty urns were important artefacts of the Cultural Revolution, but hey, you can't have everything!
At the end of the day, the bizarre rite of passage that is the Higher School Certificate examination aside, what I take with me from this afternoon is the genuine interest my students showed in looking carefully, slowly and with keen intelligence at contemporary art that is not easy or quick to decipher. Even more importantly, that critical ability to make connections, to "join the dots", to make informed inferences and logical deductions, as well as those all too rare intuitive, imaginative leaps that make the heart sing. Robert Storr, Dean of the School of Art at Yale. He was talking about art criticism, but what a principle for an intelligent, interesting and thoughtful life! I believe that my students (maybe not all, but certainly most) will take this with them into their adult lives, and be the richer for it. And THAT is why an academically rigorous and challenging art education matters.
|Ai Weiwei, 'Overcoat', military coat and 2 digital prints, image courtesy the Gene and Brian Sherman collection|