Lucky me, last week I flew out of the polar vortex to wonderful Vancouver BC! This arresting sculpture, glowing blue in the night, lights up the park right in the center of downtown Vancouver on the waterfront.
Diagonally across from our hotel was the Vancouver Gallery of Art, so it was an easy hop, skip and a jump after a day of floral design to immerse myself in a fantastic show called “Unscrolled: Reframing Traditional Chinese Contemporary Art”. The Chinese ceramic artist, Liu Jianhua, created a mesmerizing floor installation called “Container, 2012”. In the exhibition, it was distributed more dramatically, especially as one wasn’t too sure if the containers weren’t actually full of blood as they appeared. The rich red glazes were so varied, liquid shining, and often translucent at the edges – as I said mesmerizing!!
One climbs up the stairs around Jennifer Wen Ma’s “Inked Chandelier, 2014”. This installation contains hundreds of indigenous Canadian plants, covered with black ink. The idea of hanging the chandelier is suggested by a set of slack cables rising to the roof. The plants continue to sprout and grow so the composition changes with the green sprouts of new growth.
The big star is Xu Bing, and his “Ten Thousand Li of Mountains and Rivers, Reproduction” opens the exhibition proper. Nearby is the original hand-scroll (detail above), a treasure of great importance from the Song dynasty 1127-1279.
Xu Bing has envisioned this hand-scroll as a 25’ long light box, above. On this the front side is an homage to the original work.
On the back side, the lightbox and its’ materials form a (interrupted?) work in progress with materials in and out of the box. Harsh fluorescent light strips line the box top (with a fringe of Chinese torn newspapers as an unlikely valance) and bottom.
Raw materials are dried plants and branches, papers of all kinds, bubble wrap, the odd plastic bottle, wires, straw and tapes.
I hopped back and forth, front and back, to see how much relationship the materials had with the image, but they were mostly ghostly shapes, barely reading through the surface.
Amazingly, many people never saw the connection, only the large wall installation, which they walked right past.
Xu Bing is most memorable for “Phoenix”, two 12-ton sculptures, originally created for a large Shanghai bank lobby. The tale is Xu Bing visited the site as the massive building was going up and was fascinated not only by the smallest details of the building materials but also by the workers, who mostly lived at the site in lean-to’s made out of all kinds of leftovers. This formed the inspiration for the two huge birds made from steel cables as well as work gloves, buckets, ladders, stools, tools, cans, etc., all worked in their natural state to form the intricate patterns delineating the Phoenix.
Those who commissioned the work were not so enchanted by these plebian materials for their commanding lobby. I saw the work first at MassMOCA. Now New Yorkers and visitors to the city can see these dramatic and inventive sculptures hovering over the aisle of the Cathedral of ST John the Divine (until February).
But I digress, back in Vancouver at the Gallery, turning the corner from another Chinese artist, you walk into the gallery where “Bang, 2011” has soared to the rafters! This installation of 886 Qing dynasty three-legged footstools begs to be walked through and studied.
Multiples of anything are always a powerful statement. Until the 1960’s when plastic versions replace them, these ubiquitous footstools were in every home and workshop in China.
Artist Ai WeiWei has taken this common footstool to create a structure with no beginning and no end. From the wall description: “Any one stool in Bang can be interpreted as symbolic of an individual in relationship to the rapidly developing and complex structures of contemporary society”.
Almost every stool has one replaced leg which joins it to its’ neighbor, with longer ploles creating axis for the structure. Despite the lofty thoughts, what I would have loved to have done was get down on the floor like the twenty-somethings were doing and look up through the whole thing!! However I spared anyone that ghastly sight!