|Jingdezhen Chinaware Hotel Courtyard|
I have been intending to write a post covering my most recent experiences in China for some weeks, but the frantic busyness of the year's end has conspired against me. Now, as I sit at my kitchen table, with food ready to go into the oven in the heat and humidity of an Australian Christmas - yes, we truly are insane - bright parrots noisily swoop on the red flowering gum tree in front of our house, their cries mixed with the noise of neighbourhood children in swimming pools, lawnmowers and the thrum of cicadas, I finally have a moment to look back at the year just past.
|Artist residency outside Jingdezhen - clear air and mountains in the distance|
The first year away from teaching since my second daughter was born in 1990.
The year of the first grandchild - such joy!
The year my first book was published - a mixture of joy and terror.
The year of my first curated exhibition - ''Half the Sky'' - in Hong Kong and Beijing, and speaking about my book to a packed house at the Beijing Bookworm bookshop.
The year of navigating a new job that challenges me every day, and allows me to focus entirely on contemporary Chinese art.
The year of starting a second graduate research degree - oldest student in captivity?
And a year of three trips to China and my first trip to Taiwan to interview artists who think and work in very different ways to those on the Mainland.
First, my best #onlyinChina moment of 2016:
In a Jingdezhen restaurant we had almost finished eating a wonderfully spicy meal, and had progressed to the too-much-drinking phase of the evening, when I began to hear the word, "laoshu" - ''mouse" (老鼠). Looking up towards the beam running between wall and ceiling, where a few diners had begun pointing, I saw a very long tail disappearing into a crevice in the wall. Then another creature ran along the timber beam above the table. Then another. Then another. And they were not mice. After some amused conversation about what would happen in Australia if large rats were seen running through a restaurant, it was decided to call the waitresses and express some degree of dismay. The Chinese members of our group were completely unperturbed, as were the assembled flowery-aproned fuwuyuan. Their response: "What's your problem? They didn't eat YOUR dinner!"
Back to the art-related highlights of 2016.
In February my book ''Half the Sky: Conversations with Women Artists in China" was published by Piper Press after a 5-year labour of love, researching and writing. The launch at Kinokuniya Bookshop in Sydney, a Q & A with curator Suhanya Raffel, was a moment that I had feared might never eventuate in the end-game struggle to complete the project. More than 40 female Chinese artists invited me into their studios and their lives, and we shared conversations about art, men, children, mothers, Chinese history, and everything else under the sun. I am so grateful to them for their honesty, fearlessness and humour, and regretful that I couldn't include every artist I interviewed. In the end, the book featured 32 of them - and one day I would surely love to produce Volume 2!
In April an exhibition of works by women in the book was shown, firstly at Art Hotel Stage in Hong Kong, and then in a different iteration at Red Gate Gallery, Beijing, curated in collaboration with Tony Scott of China Art Projects.
|Gao Rong signs a copy of ''Half the Sky"|
|A work laid out in Hsu Yung-Hsu's studio|
In December I was invited to join a research team for the first phase of fieldwork, for a Leverhulme Trust-funded project called 'Everyday Legend', exploring endangered traditional Chinese craft practices and their reinvention and renewal in contemporary art. The week began at Shanghai's Minsheng Art Museum with the exhibition curated by Jiang Jiehong. 'Everyday Legend' included works by many artists represented in Sydney's White Rabbit collection, including Liang Yuanwei, Zheng Guogu, Shi Jinsong, Sun Xun, He Xiangyu and Zhao Zhao. It was tightly curated and engaging, from He Xiangu's alarming installation of teeth to Liang Yuanwei's simulations of textiles in oil paint, from Liang Shaoji's collaboration with silkworms to Yu Ji's dismembered body parts, as if hacked from ancient sculptures.
|Liang Shaoji's chains covered and enrobed by silkworms in Everyday Legend, Minsheng Art Museum|
|Zheng Guogu's carved marble, mostly unreadable, text iinstallation n 'Everyday Legend' at Minsheng Art Museum|
|Installation View, 'Everyday Legend' at Minsheng Art Museum, with Yu Ji's cement body parts on the wall|
|''Colouring Tiananmen Square" - porcelain from the 1960s|
|Working a loom exactly the same as those used in the Ming Dynasty|
|Hiu Man Chan, Jiang Jiehong and Sebastian Liang watch Mr Wang in his embroidery workshop|
The group was led by Jiang Jiehong, a professor at Birmingham City University's Centre for Chinese Visual Art, and included Sebastian Liang and Nan Nan from the New Century Art Foundation in Beijing, and Professor Oliver Moore from Groningen University in the Netherlands. The trip finished with a discussion/workshop at Minsheng Art Museum focusing on contemporary art in China and whether artists could or should incorporate material practices from China's past. We were joined by artists Yang Zhenzhong, Zhou Xiaohu and Jin Feng, who were more inclined to dismiss the past than to repeat it, taking a refreshingly idiosyncratic standpoint.
|Porcelain worker painting the Immortals, Jongdezhen|
|San Bao Artist Residency and Studios, Jingdezhen|
|Porcelain emerging from the kiln, Jingdezhen|
|Meats drying from the eaves, Jingdezhen|
|In the workshop of Mr Wang - Sebastian Liang, Jiang Jiehong, Mr Wang, Lv Shengzhong, Oliver Moore and myself|
- Hu Qinwu at Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
- Liu Zhuoquan at Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
- 'Ink Remix', a travelling exhibition of works from the PRC, Hong Kong and Taiwan, seen at UNSW Galleries, Sydney
- Charwei Tsai's installation of incense in the evocative surrounds of Mortuary Station for the Biennale
- Lee Mingwei's poetic Guernica of sand - and its sweeping away - at Carriageworks during the Biennale
- Bharti Kher and Chiharu Shiota on Cockatoo Island for the Biennale - although much of the rest here and elsewhere belonged in the disappointments category
- Zhang Peili at Australia Centre on China in the World, ANU, Canberra
- The Kuandu Biennale, 'Slaying Monsters' in Taipei, and the Taiwan Biennial in Taichung, well-curated shows that excited and challenged the viewer
- 'Everyday Legend' at Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai
- And, of course, (my partisanship as a newish member of the team freely acknowledged) 'Heavy Artillery' and 'Vile Bodies' at Sydney's White Rabbit Gallery, curated by David Williams from Judith Neilson's extraordinary collection of Chinese contemporary art.
|Zhang-Xu Zhan. Inferiority Bat (Hsin Hsin Joss Paper Store Series–Room 003), 2014-2015; 6-channel video animation installation; 5 min. Courtesy of the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts|
In all the misery this year has brought the world, and the fear and despair that many across the globe are now feeling, I look to artists to continue to speak "uncomfortable truths" and to art educators to continue their undervalued work teaching students to think critically and apply their creative minds in unconventional ways.