Textual Logic: life as gerund

For me calligraphy has been one of the real pleasures of learning Chinese. Indeed, even when I can’t read what I’m seeing, I enjoy trying to following the line and figure out the character. Yesterday morning as part of the Textual Logic (书与法) exhibition at the OCAT Contemporary Art Terminal there was a calligraphy performance by Qiu Zhenzhong (邱振中) and Wang Dongling (王冬龄). So I was kind of “wow, calligraphy onstage. Fun.” However, it turned out that I had approached the event naively; calligraphers may or may not be fun, but the event felt like a cross between a movie star press conference and an art seminar.

The audience for the calligraphy performance was not OCAT’s typical audience who tend to have western aesthetics and a passion for conceptual art. Instead, the audience (not including the calligraphers’ respective entourages) was made up of calligraphers and folks who might be classified as calli-groupies, whose comments ranged from how the room had been set up through how the ink was mixed to how difficult it was or was not to write at this scale for so long. Indeed, it was a happy, almost fair-like event with pauses for watching and then commenting. Needless to say, the audience also complained that photographers and videographers had been given front row positions and could follow the calligrapher.

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The level of audience participation in the exhibition struck me wonderful.  Continue reading

Collaboration with Elephanthouse Imagines…

Yesterday went to the Fotanian Open Studio in Fotan, HK. Good friend, Elia is the creative energy behind Elephanthouse (象舍), encouraging collaboration and participation to repurpose calligraphy — ink and rice paper and water. Recently, she and I began exchanging a traveling scroll on the 往生咒, a chant to help departed spirits crossover to the Pure Land. Our scroll was displayed during the open studio. Pictures, below.

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临摹:When is a copy not a copy?

This November, I was an assistant for the OCAT international art residency program, through which I met artists Frank Haermans and Thomas Adebahr, the artist collective of Nika Oblak and Primoz Novak, as well as curator Paula Orrell. Together, they put up the show Future Relevance, or as we translated it “明天,谁说了算?”

Interacting with the artists and curators was interesting because it inspired me to think differently about my own forays into creative ethnography and forms of representation that engage different (and frankly) wider audiences. In particular, Thomas Adebahr’s earlier work, The Benjamin Project (shown at Gallery Diet) had me thinking about contemporary art conventions that value some forms of copying and reduce other forms to “labor” albeit “skilled”. The question, of course is: how do we move across and between these social structures to create meaningful dialogue about human creativity? Continue reading

Householding perversions

I have been thinking about the Generation 90s beauty who would would give her chest as a pillow (献酥胸当枕头求降房价的90后美女), householding as a way of locating oneself in a larger social order, the phallic order of Chinese writing conventions, and the perverse nature of Shenzhen’s housing situation.

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another call for a housing boycott in shenzhen

Folks in Shenzhen continue to protest the price of housing. This time, an armless beggar wrote the boycott call on the chest of a Generation 90s young woman. The interesting twist in this story? The young woman is from Hong Kong. I’m not sure how the protagonists’ collaboration ties into the ongoing re-structuring of a grassroots Shen Kong identity and deepening cross border integration (as opposed to official planning). Nevertheless, it is interesting to think about the implications of this protest performance: it took place in Lizhi Park, Futian, neither of the protagonists is identified as a Shenzhener, and yet this protest was represented in the press (晶报) as a Shenzhen story. Details, here.

Update (Mar 1): surfing in Youtube, I discovered a report that she had first tried to get a place to live by offering her chest as a pillow. However, the “price was too high” according to a man in the street.

a character is a universe

today, i met chang hongcai, a calligrapher. teacher chang’s studio is located in liuxiandong (留仙㓊),an artist colony of sorts. the liuxian village head has rented out (at cheap cheap prices) an entire six story factory to a group of artists, who use the building as studio space. importantly, these artists are not struggling emergents, but established artists whose work is shown throughout china and the world. teacher chang, for example, is a highly respected calligrapher whose work hangs in some of china’s top museums.

we talked about many things – tea, the book of changes, and taichi – but all topics departed from and returned to calligraphy as the essential philosophy of china. according to teacher chang, how one holds the brush, each brush stroke, the actual meaning of the character, all this together forms a universe. he used the character “one (一)” to develop his point:

to write a proper yi one holds the brush with the entire body, arms loosely held as in taiji, one’s qi flowing. the brush stroke itself (and it is one fluid motion) actually follows the contours of the symbol for yinyang, stretching beyond the limits of a line and returning into infinity as the brush circles, pauses, and then quickly flicks back into itself. according to teacher change, the process of writing is itself chinese philosophy; calligraphy cannot be rushed, but must be cultivated, like breathing.

teacher chang also spoke of 势 (shi) or immanent tendency of a stroke. his explanation of 永字八法 (the 8 methods in the character yong) focused on how each stroke was in fact in motion. a heng, for example, was pulled like a bow and a gou was kicked back, strongly and decisively. a stroke that just ended because the brush was lifted, was a stroke that had been cut off, was empty. fullness came from the motion of the stroke, which had its own rhythm and spirit. in fact, when teacher chang helped me see a character, he emphasized the moving brush such that it seems possible to understand shi as traces of the calligrapher’s spirit; her body, her hand, her knowledge, her state of mind, her understanding of the world – all this comes together in the stretch and flick of ink on paper.

practicing calligraphy helps us center the mind and cultivate a good attitude because the idea that “a character is a universe” reminds us that we constantly (re)create the world. indeed, that is all we ever do.