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. 

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