Unscrolled in Vancouver

Waterfront Park VancouverLucky 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.

Container 2012 Liu JianhuaDiagonally 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!!

 Inked Chandelier Jennifer Wen MaOne 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.

 Detail Ten Thousand Li of Mountains and RiversThe 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 BingXu 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.

 Xu Bing LightboxOn 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.

Xu Bing Lightbox with MaterialsRaw materials are dried plants and branches, papers of all kinds, bubble wrap, the odd plastic bottle, wires, straw and tapes.

Light box details MountainsI 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.

 Xu Bing branches or cloudsAmazingly, many people never saw the connection, only the large wall installation, which they walked right past.

Xu Bing Phoenix MassMOCAXu 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.


 Xu Bing St John the DivineThose 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).


Ai WeiWei Bang, 2014But 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.

 Ai WeiWei Bang 2009Multiples 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.

 Footstools and the floorArtist 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”.

 Ai WeiWei FloorAlmost 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!


About Susan

Susan Detjens is a former landscape painter, she lectures, demonstrates and runs workshops on floral design for museums, horticultural organizations and garden clubs across the US.
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4 Responses to Unscrolled in Vancouver

  1. Sarah Ribeiro says:

    Some pretty amazing art work !!

  2. Alexandra says:

    wow! I love the 3 pieces in the exhibit. The stools were amazing and am so glad you said how they were connected because I was really trying to figure it out! Did the bankers reject the Phoenix for the lobby because of the materials? Is that why its on tour?

    • Susan says:

      Allie – yes the bankers thought it did not reflect well on the success of the bank because of all the humble materials. It went on show in the open air to great acclaim in Shanghai and then I think a foundation got it to MassMOCA. Not sure now, but perhaps it has a more permanent home to go to after NYC. It’s amazing! Cheers!

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