|Red Gate in Redfern, at the Damien Minton Gallery|
It was a special occasion to have Dr John Yu, AC open the exhibition Red Gate in Redfern on Tuesday 13th March, 2012. You could hear a pin drop as the appreciative audience listened to his reflections on Chinese art and its relationship to Australia. John has kindly given us a transcript of his speech.
'I have been reading a book by Bruce Carpenter on “The Tribal Jewellery of Indonesia”, the subtitle is continuity and evolution. I would like to borrow those words as a theme for my remarks this evening.
To me, ‘continuity’ provides a sound cultural basis for looking forward, it is not or should not be a limitation on creativity or ingenuity but it does provide a legitimacy if contemporary art in China is to be regarded as Chinese art rather than global art by Chinese artists as valid as that may be to Chinese artists or artist from any other cultural background.
Perhaps that is an arrogant presumption .
But as I grow older, I recognize how my Chinese values have indeed contributed to the person I am. I see contemporary art in China as being based on a long cultural history and resulting from evolution rather than revolution though it cannot be denied that the Cultural Revolution has greatly influenced the Chinese artists who immediately followed that terrible event, as they fought to express themselves.
Most of the artists from Red Gate tonight reflect something of China, its culture and its history. But the experiences of Tianamen did rob many of the artists affected by Tianamen of the exuberance and joy seen in artists of other cultures when artists were emerging and breaking with the constraints of their past and seeking the newness of some future promise.
But before I make some comments on tonight’s show, may I briefly return to the concept of Chinese thought and sensitivity. The traditions of Chinese scholarship valued above all else painting, calligraphy and poetry.
Recently I was listening to some music played by Chinese musicians in a Western style orchestra and the music was undeniably Chinese but what made it sound Chinese to me ? I looked at the English notes provided but that didn’t help me until I read the opening words to the introduction words ( with some editing) –
“We think that we should no longer be moved, no longer be sentimental and weep for a poem, a picture, a song or a breath.
In fact we are…
One day you l hear a song from the wind and are not conscious of the tear on your cheek. As the tears flows into your mouth, you say with a smile “what a cold wind” and wipe the tear as you turn.
The wind is cold while the heart washed by tears is full of warmth and happiness.
Let’s thank the years which gives us such sweet age.”
Those words Ladies and Gentlemen expresses Chinese values and sensitivities better than many words from me. I hope you will be able to view tonight’s art keeping these values in mind , I think it will modify if not change the way you see things.
SONG YING’s ‘Girl No 3’ is what we have come to expect from Revolutionary art but this picture shows reserve if not restraint in the young Red Guard , a restraint not seen in the earlier revolutionary paintings which glorified the energy of youth and conviction.
But go to XIE FUJIN and ‘Youth- where is the road’ and we see the exuberance return thanks to the freedom conferred by Deng Xiao Ping and his Commercial Revolution. This freedom is also seen in HE ZUBIN sensitive painting ‘Food’ where the humour underscores the social comment.
I was going to say that GUAN WEI’s “fragments of history No 8’ continues to express humour together with profoundness that so marks his work but I guess it would be more accurate to describe it as Guan Wei being his own marvelous best. Exuberant ? No but certainly joyful.
References to classical Chinese painting is seen in WANG LIFENG’s ‘Qing mountain’ but Wang Lifeng has captured the greatness of Chinese landscape painting in a thoroughly modern way yet retaining the Chinese reverence for mountains and indeed for rocks..
I also really liked HANG CHUNHUI ‘Prophet No 2 ‘ where there is a masterful use of traditional watercolour on paper. A sensitive figure with that whimsical bird what also has references to classical painting.
I have a particular weakness for prints and what better printmaker in China today than TAN PING and his beautifully understated woodcut in black and white. I was sorry not to see a print from Su Xin Ping as he is the other great living Chinese print maker.
That leaves me with two photographs. CHEN CHEN’s “Gazing” . My good friend Liyu Yeo , the Gallery Manager at Red Gate, Beijing provided me with a quote by Chen Chen which speaks for itself, he said “ one can choose not to photograph but one cannot choose not to see”. You need to stop and think about that.
That brings me to the last work that I wanted to comment upon tonight ZHOU JUN and his marvelous image ‘Phoenix Ancient City’ which captures that sensitivity which defies definition. This of course is the image that Damien had chosen for his invitation.
I left the photographs till last as they represent something removed from Chinese traditional art and I think it says a lot for the art scene in China today that something new such as this can speak so strongly across a barrier of cultural heritage. A heritage that hopefully will always continue to inspire but never to limit or constrain China’s art and her artists.
The art tonight has captured the true elements of Chinese sensitivity and values, My compliment is to say it makes me proud to be Chinese. I am truly honoured to open ‘Red Gate in Redfern’.