|Entry to Zhang Peili: Painting to Video, at Australia Centre on China in the World, Canberra|
Later, in my room, I had cause to reflect on what a sheltered life I have obviously led thus far - never before has the mini bar in my hotel room included, next to the over-priced Kit-Kat bar and expensive water, both a bow tie in a box (for emergencies of the cocktail party kind) and 2 condoms in a tin (for a different kind of emergency.) Suffering from an excess of self-conscious postmodernism, the hotel design featured every possible visual trope relating to politics and politicians, from portraits of Obama to Margaret Thatcher and everyone in between, and giant mirrored murals of paparazzi in the elevators. My room card featured the famous image of Gough Whitlam on the steps of Parliament House after the dismissal of his government. Mysteriously, overlaying the image were the words of quite another Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, after Australia won the America's Cup. Deliberate pastiche or millennial ignorance on the part of the marketing team? I was relieved not to be issued a room card featuring Tony Abbott, which might possibly have come with a Paul Keating quote about Australia being the ''arse-end of the world".
|Zhang Peili 張 培力,, 1988, Single channel video installation|
In the end, apart from the anticipated themes of fluidity, hybridity and transnational discourse, the unexpected narratives that emerged were of friendship (between artists both within and across national borders, between artists and curators/critics, between scholars, between teachers and their students) and of education - dear to my heart but so often disregarded. Both Zhang Peili and Yuan Goang-Ming stressed their role as teachers. More of that in a moment.
|Zhang Peili 張 培力,, 1988, Single channel video installation|
Image source: Asia Art Archive
He knew it would be excruciatingly boring to watch, and this was intentional - after a long series of fruitless meetings throughout 1987 planning a retrospective of the '85 New Wave Movement, Zhang wanted to make a video that would be as boring and pointless as the meetings. The retrospective never happened. One may ask - and indeed, some at the conference did - why he chose a mirror, and whether there is a deeper, perhaps Freudian or Lacanian significance there, but I suspect this would be to miss the point. After years of Socialist Realism, followed by the Sichuan school (rather sentimental) and Scar Art, Zhang Peili wanted an art that denied narrative.
|Zhang Peili 張 培力,, 1993, Video installation with single channel on TV screen. Image Source: Asia Art Archive|
The exhibition, in the very beautiful surroundings of the Australian Centre on China in the World (CIW), features seven carefully chosen works. Zhang Peili: From Painting to Video is a collaboration between CIW and MAAP (Media Art Asia Pacific, in Brisbane.) The project is built around the generous gift to CIW, in 2014, of one of Zhang’s final paintings from the 1990s - perhaps even the last painting - before he shifted his focus to video and media installation art. Newly restored, never before exhibited, Flying Machine (1994) is a gift from Zhang’s friend and fellow artist, Lois Conner. The presentation of the painting provided an opportunity to explore this significant transition from painting to video, to reflect on the development of media art in China.
I will write further about other works in the exhibition in a future post - including an extraordinary work, new to me, in which Zhang recorded interviews between police officers and two petty thieves. Real and unscripted, these interrogations are both alarming and absurd as the dishevelled, hapless pair admit trying to rob their victims armed with fruit knives.
|Zhang Peili, Q & A & Q & A|
|Yuan Goang-Ming Fish On Dish, 1992 Video Projection Installation |
© Courtesy of the Artist & IT PARK
In Taiwan, video emerged in the early '80s, kick-started after a show of French video art from the Pompidou Centre at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in 1984, and by artists returning to Taiwan from study in Japan: they introduced video art into the curriculum of tertiary art education. Yuan Goang-Ming made his first video work, 'About Millet's The Angelus' in 1985. Here it is: https://vimeo.com/142410200
I first encountered work by Yuan Goang-Ming in an exhibition at Hanart TZ in Hong Kong last year. It's not an exaggeration to say that it blew me away. Later, I realised that I had in fact seen another of his works before, in the Asia Pacific Triennial, and had been deeply moved by it. In a review of the Hong Kong show, 'Dwelling', I wrote this: In the gallery space, an elegant table is laid as if for a dinner party, with crystal glasses and an ornate dinner service. Every now and then a loud clanking noise disrupts the silence, and the table shakes as if the building has been hit by an earthquake. The real sense of disquiet comes when you enter the next room, where three short videos are screened on a loop. You sit on a domestic sofa, lit dimly by a standard lamp, and reality begins to unravel entirely. In the title work, Dwelling, (2014) the focus is a blandly modern living room, the only oddity the rather slow riffling pages of a magazine on the chair, a book on the coffee table. A breeze wafts the curtains. Suddenly, and without warning, the entire room explodes. Slowly, languidly, the wreckage of the room drifts back until the room once again regains its ordinary appearance. Filmed underwater, although it takes one a while to realise this, the movement of every object seems dreamlike. Yuan suggests that what we accept as stable and fixed is in fact entirely unpredictable. In a split second, the apparently impossible can disrupt everything we take for granted. Of course, we know this is true, but it is profoundly disturbing to see.
The article from which this is excerpted, Exploding Realities: Three Video Artists in China, can be found HERE on The Art Life website.
|YUAN GOANG-MING Dwelling - Moment III 2014. Digital Photography / Colour Photograph. 120 x 180 cm Edition of 8. Image Courtesy of the Artist and Hanart TZ Gallery.|
Like Zhang Peili, Yuan Goang-Ming was trained as a painter, studying Chinese painting and calligraphy, then western painting. And like Zhang Peili, he too is an educator and influential teacher. Zhang Peili has mentored many young artists who have emerged from the school of New Media in Hangzhou, not least the often outrageously transgressive Lu Yang, whose recent work, Delusional Mandala, reveals the increasing influence of science and technology. Read about Lu Yang, Zhang Peili's enfant terrible pupil HERE. (And see her work in 'Vile Bodies', opening September 9 at White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney.)
The ANU conference made clear, among much else, the hugely important role of the teacher. In a room populated by scholars, artists and curators who are also teachers (and for whom, frequently, all these roles overlap) I reflected on why art education matters. Just as Zhang Peili reconstructed his 30 x 30 mirror over and over again, so too do teachers reconstruct, reflect and re-reflect in dialogue with their students, in a conversation that continues down the generations. They (we) make meaning - just as do artists, art historians and curators.
I had plenty of time on the long drive back to Sydney, under huge sweeping skies, to consider the significance of time - even, in the words of John Clark, "epistemically broken time."