A teaser for Aowen Jin’s Made in China: Factory Girls documetary about the lives, dreams and aspirations of China’s factory girls.

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‘Kaleidoscope’ By artist Jennifer Yang

My heart tinkled with delight when I marveled at artist Jennifer Yang’s work in the Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester. The work consists of large-scale sections of paper origami, which through the clever use of light and colour interact with the viewer depending on their viewpoint around a stairwell. It gives me reassuring comfort and delight in encountering artwork which is familiar but yet offers so much space for surprise and wonder.

The work challenges our current perception of traditional craft. In a world where contemporary art can mean everything, crafts are still being viewed as inferior to ‘fine’ art. It is artworks like this and others that remind us of the enchanting powers of traditional craft – just like any other art approach.

Thoughts after watching The Arrest of Ai Weiwei play.

Destroy_the_old_world_Cultural_Revolution_poster

Chinese poster saying: 打碎旧世界创立新世界 “Destroy the old world; build a new world.” Classic example of the Red art from the early Cultural Revolution. A Red Guard crushes the crucifix, Buddha and classical Chinese books with his hammer; c. 1967. From Wikipedia.

I have written a review of the play in a previous post. This post is about my concern for Ai Weiwei’s opinion on the future of China and art.

Throughout the play Ai Weiwei explained that classical art had died, and that it didn’t relate to people’s lives today. However if the play was all about free speech then surely we must respect that any artist who really enjoys doing classical art. Everyone is free to express their individuality with whatever art form one decides to pursue. If someone painted flowers that enchant me then I still think he or she is still an artist to admire and respect. I don’t think anyone is in the position to restrict the thinking of what art is or what kind of art we should practice.

At the end of the show, Ai Weiwei smashed a 4000 year old Chinese vase which symbolised harmony: to have something new is to break something old. It symbolises China’s society today, and calls for a abrupt change in Chinese government. It is a worrying view, as I strongly believe reform not revolution will serve China better.

As a person who loves China and want the best future for China,  I don’t believe that the way forward is to destroy anything just because it is old. The Cultural Revolution had the logo “Destroy the old world. Forge the new world.’ It didn’t work out well for China. Is this an overly simplistic view of China’s problems?

China just went ended over 100 years of war less than 63 years ago. Then it was the Cultural Revolution, famine and the Great Leap Forward. Most people have just started to live a better life after all the sufferings. A new war will just plunge people back into chaos and misery. I honestly don’t think Chinese people have the energy to start another revolution right now, since most Chinese want to focus their energy on improving their economical living conditions.

It takes decades to rebuild a broken country after war. Even looking at the comparatively successful example of the French Revolution, during the Reign of Terror (1793-1794) more than 40,000 people died in less than 2 years.  With the population and scale of China, how many more would die through such revolution is unimaginable. In comparison, Britain chose a series of reforms to strip mornachy of its power with much less human and economical sacrifice through the Regency era then the Reform Act 1832.

I understand how much emotional and physical torment Ai Weiwei must have gone through, but we must cool our heads and restrain from using ‘violence against violence’.  We must instead look beyond personal sufferings to think what is really the best for Chinese people.

The Official Theatre website

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The theatre was packed, and even though the majority were just white middle class people, I was still thrilled to sense everyone’s excitement and anticipation, and grateful for the fascination China has for people living in the West.

After the play, some of the audience stood up and applauded. People were clearly delighted with what they had just seen. Overall the play was interesting and engaging – with a good mixture of serious analysis and humour.

The play had a brilliant opportunity to do something original with this intriguing story, yet I was disappointed to see almost everything happened in a confined interrogation space. It is a cliché of so many other films and plays on similar topics – with people tied up in a chair. I believe it is the time to challenge this formula and break old boundaries.

The play bravely gives every character a personality. Whether it is the prisoner, the prison guards, interrogators or the politicians. By looking at these peoples’ emotions and stories, the play displayed a more direct and sensitive outlook on daily lives in China.

The play also tried to explain Chinese inner government power struggles between different political groups. I don’t know whether the Western audience was familiar with this topic but it certainly tried to demonstrate the well-known fact in China: 一个共产党,许多政治党派 (one Central Committee, many political groups). Within the Communist Party of China, there are many groups of politicians who have very different views on how to govern China. For example: Some hold the view that China should be ruled with an iron fist and anti-Western values like that of Mao Zedong; some believe in military power over economic power; and others believe in a softer approach and certain levels of social freedom, like that of Deng Xiaoping. These political groups within the committee constantly battle over the control of China.

There are some ideologies from the play which raised bigger concerns for me. I’ve covered them more in my next blog post.

The Official Theatre website

Exhibition Artwork Preview

August 10, 2010

Title: Bloodlines

This work represents the consumption of women by overpowering state control and social pressure. The text in the background comes from genuine government propaganda and is written upside down and written unevenly to question it’s validity. The slogans read “Giving birth to a boy or a girl are both equally good”, “Girls can also carry the family bloodline. Tomorrow they are the builders of our country.”

A reverse-mermaid is used to suggest that the reproductive value of a woman is more important than anything else. The fish’s mouth points to the Chinese character for “woman”, while the woman’s feet point to a character meaning “to reproduce” or “to pass on the bloodline”.

The green colour of the bowl suggests spring – the start of reproduction.

Title: Nirvana

This work talks about the One-Child Policy in the countryside, and in-particular the importance of having a son, along with the policy’s environmental impact. The slogans are this time written as if they are on the doors to a house – where traditionally words are written that bring good fortune. The text across the top reads “Family Planning”, while down the side is “Have less babies and plant more trees” and “Have less babies and raise more pigs”. Again, these are from genuine Chinese government posters found in rural China.

The woman in the picture is posing in a Buddhist position and surrounded by a halo, which suggests that her achievement – giving birth to a son – has turned her into a religious icon or magical Buddha. However even as a Buddha, she has been placed under the frame of a door, where her movement is restricted. The forest in the background represents her environmental achievement – she helped the environment by having just one child.

The painting is to be hung above eye level, so viewers have to look up to her in a gesture of respect and admiration.

Spring snow

April 28, 2010

grass, earth and flowers


I went out drawing today.

While I was walking the dog, I saw this cherry tree. The striking thing was how the blossoms had fallen on the ground. They have woven with the spouting grass and the muddy earth, decorating the ground like a luxury blanket. Yet it’s so gentle and fragile, like the first layer of snow that had just touched the ground- absolutely beautiful yet disappears with a blink of the eye.

so I took the dog home and rushed back with paints and brushes. I was too excited I felt restless like a balloon that was about to bust with all the energy inside.

As an artist, I am always looking for colours. Right in front of me, I found one of the best examples. There were so many colours in just a palm sized ground, or even just on a blossom petal. I was over whelmed with all the colours that I was lost for words. The colour of the earth, the grass, the blossoms and the passing beetle all sent little electric currents to my heart. Wind blowing; clouds passing; people chatting; dogs running; the only still things I could gasp were me and these marvelous wonders of nature. It felt like I was having an quiet and intimate conversation with them that only I could understand. Everything else blurred out of the pleasurable indulgence and satisfying solitude I enjoyed when I painted.

I ended up squatting more than three hours. By then I couldn’t hold the brushes properly because of the cold. finally I had to lay on the snow of spring flowers to relax my numbed legs and wondered whether those petals would melt away underneath me. Looking at the racing clouds above my head, I felt dizzy and drunk on my new found well-being.

Paint with style

It was a sunny day, so I decided to go out and paint. I wanted to feel proud and sexy so I hit the town with a Costume National dress, 120mm Alexander Wang heels and a Dior Lady bag. I sat in front of the fountain and pulled out my canvas. I loved the surprises on people’s faces. Of course, people expected an artist to be covered in paints and wear only rough clothes. Yet here I am, in fashionable stylish clothes but still a painter. While I was painting, suddenly the thought of those 18th century geographers came to me. They used to dig up rocks in the fields with they full length velvet gowns. Now they must be happy to find a fashion follower in the form of an artist after three centuries. Therefore I have decided to paint only in fantastic clothes from now on. It works out perfectly: I love painting and I love feeling good.

the painting - fountain