Wednesday, January 28, 2015

November Works

The Chinese overwhelmingly had a positive response to the color and design of my folk sculpture 'Soldier'.
My response to the ideas of society vs. the individual.
At the end of the month in November at Da Wang Culture Highland, we had an exhibition of works created during the month by myself, Daniel Unsworth, Tom Hayes (both from Great Britain), Joop Haring (Holland) and Haitao (China).

It was a great opportunity to focus on the work accomplished during this time and wonderful to collaborate with the other artists while installing too. There were challenges in communicating about lighting and other issues to the gallery workers who didn't speak english... a very interesting experience all around.

Below are some images of the event. It was enlightening to witness the reactions and interpretations of the local Chinese to my artworks. It gave me another opportunity to understand them and their values.

Tom Hayes is a ceramicist who also works with iconography and the meaning of symbols. Here he planted grass seed beneath a porcelain slip in the image of one of his generic icon shapes.

'Ant' is my version of a symbol of emergent behaviors in an environment void of an traditional culture and ruled from the top down rather than organically from the bottom up. It's primitive color and craftsmanship appeal universally, some viewers identified it with Aztec or pre-Columbian folk art tradition and the Chinese identified with the color and pattern as their own. More on the story behind the making of this piece in the next blog post... stay tuned!

Daniel is a talented young fibre sculptor from Liverpool. Here he is exhibiting his crocheted suspension using found materials and natural dyes.

'Colony' is an installation using found clamps used for staging apparatus, and gold leaf. They are interlocked from the bottom up in a precarious agglomeration.

A good perspective of just how large the gallery is!
Joop Haring with his ceramic piece about the growing Shenzhen from 2013.
This year's exhibition is called 'Birdhouses of China.' 

Small studies of bundles using porcelain slip. While in residence where there is a fully equipped ceramics studio...
one needs to explore the medium right?

A very large bundle created from found fabrics and other materials. I saw it as a study of oppression vs. expression.
The Chinese were more optimistic, they saw it as an expression of China exploring who they are,
what shape will they become?

And of course, my embroideries...
read here to learn more about these works.

his post is part of a series documenting my experiences in China. 
Please follow previous entries by using the blog archive in the sidebar to the right. Or click here for the beginning. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015


Arriving without a plan or much in the way of materials I looked to my environment for inspiration.

1. Absorbing China as a first time visitor provided me with an astounding amount of information.
2. The grounds of Da Wang were a minefield of found objects.
3. I inherited Mao propaganda magazines from Gideon Rubin, a painter who inhabited my space before I arrived.
4. In Dafen I became smitten with the elegant craftsmanship of the traditional embroidery, particularly their strict adherence to color, material and subject.
5. Steve Johnson's book Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software.

I'm still processing words to describe what I was thinking, but to put it simply, it had to do with how emergent behaviors develop organically over time from the bottom up and Chinese culture seems to be a product of top down control. According to Johnson top down approaches aren't sustainable, and yet the chaos in China seems to eventually result in an order of one dimension or another. In the swarms of people there, and the absence of the concept of an individual, everyone seems to share two concerns. First, to work towards the betterment of society's common goals. Second, to wrestle your way to the front of the line. China is full of contradictions like this, a very real human condition.

Read here about my first days in the studio, my rubbings, the magazines and initial steps with embroidery.

The window rubbings on handmade chinese paper, layered and then torn away to reveal 'happy' imagery from
Mao's heyday in the 1960's. 

These embroidered wheels are quintessentially Chinese. A traditional stitch, called 'The Pine Needle Stitch'
that is used to illustrate pine trees. They abstract beautifully, and create space and dimension with simple adjustments to size and density. Here it is used to simultaneously impose a Chinese cultural identity while obscuring the face of a person.  

More play with the Pine Needle stitch. I chose pages by their visual design which is dangerous territory when you can't interpret the words. This was translated for me at the opening after it was completed and hung. I don't know exact words but it is about the good Chairman Mao and all his good deeds for the people. There were two camps of interpretation by the Chinese who viewed it at the exhibition. Most felt it was an affirmation of Chairman Mao with bright, optimistic and beautiful flowers. Some others totally snickered at the irony.

This is the last one I worked on before moving on to my next project. The gold thread and pine needle stitch identify the aesthetics of tradition. The children adoring a very creepy doll with faces obscured by stitching symbolize the new consumption reality of a capitalist economy and the masking of the individual.

A local Chinese worker taking in the embroideries at our 'November Works' exhibition at Da Wang.

This post is part of a series documenting my experiences in China. 
Please follow previous entries by using the blog archive in the sidebar to the right. Or click here for the beginning. 

The Bus

My favorite activity was to walk to the village and hang out at the market. I would savor these trips and use them as a reward after a few productive days in the studio. If I had my druthers, I would have spent all my time wandering around with the locals. 

One always witnessed something special on these walks. This particular morning I met four women on their way to market carrying mallard ducks and chickens. I heard them before I saw them because the ducks were very vocal and not too happy about their situation.

On one of these days I was waiting for a bus to go to the neighboring village Wutongshan alongside a young man with long hair who seemed quite agitated. He was probably impatient because the buses weren't running as frequently as they usually do and we were waiting quite some time.

The village with the bus stop to the left. Bicycles are still viable modes of transport. We experienced every
sort of item strapped to the back, including a large purple couch when we were in Beijing.
They call them totems. Click here for more examples. 

The procedure for buses is surprisingly orderly considering all the chaos everywhere else. One enters in the front and exits out the back. You pay the driver as you enter in the front. This day, the bus was full so the young man hopped into the back door instead. Since it was my policy to copy everything, and for lack of knowing any better, I followed his lead and hopped in the back too.

The tight squeeze caused my foot to jam in the door and I couldn't move to let people out. This young man who earlier seemed a bit standoffish, quickly helped and insisted I move to his position higher on the stair and away from the door.

I was very moved by what I saw next. While the bus was barreling up the mountain, he took out his metro card and with both hands handed it to the person next to him who accepted it with both hands. This person handed it off to the person next to them with both hands and the third person again accepted it with both hands. This chain continued all the way to the front of the bus where the driver acknowledged it and sent it on its journey back, one by one, until it reached its owner.  

So, once again I follow his lead and handed my fare (two yuan) with both hands to the person next to me and started the brigade. It made it to the front and into the stile without a hitch and with lots of amusement among the Chinese. I clearly stood out in the crowd and was very different, but they treated me like one of them and had good humor and patience with all my foibles.

Once in Wutongshan I met up with a new chinese friend Tracy for tea. She brought me on an informal tour the neighboring studios within winding alleys full of character and inspiration. We ended up in one of a friend of hers and guess who it was? My crazy, chivalrous bus companion! We had a very good laugh together. This time we totally understood each other. Laughing doesn't require translation.

An alley of studio spaces of the main drag in Wutong Artist Village.

My bus rider friend with some of his masterpieces. He spent his formative years working in Dafen painting Van Gogh knockoffs. You can see the influence in the energy and color present in his current work.

More of my friend's outdoor studio.
Another outdoor ceramic studio. One of many along the river.

Wutongshan had a spiritual vibe. Here artists are building totems in the river where
they stayed up for weeks for everyone to enjoy.

This post is part of a series documenting my experiences in China. 
Please follow previous entries by using the blog archive in the sidebar to the right. Or click here for the beginning.