A 90-year old Chinese artist An Ho finds inspiration from nature and its serene beauty. Still a steady brush in her hand, she invents nature with her visionary approach. The landscapes seem like in many Chinese classical paintings, where the vision engages in the detail. Stillness of a landscape is poetic, without rush forward, yet bearing undertones of memories and dreamlike solitude. The artist who lives in Upstate New York, shows her love towards the trees and landscapes of her environment.
An Ho’s six recent paintings are on display at the CHINA 2000 FINE ART in New York City. In a way, the works on silk and paper are telling an ancient story. Ho studied techniques that were forgotten many centuries ago. The artisthas revitalized this history by bringing the painting styles into life in modern times. Eventually, there is a play of translucent refinement that of color and movement.
An Ho’s mastery of the Chinese brushwork lays the basis of the landscapes. There is a sense of perception in the works, as her artistic vision develops in a close observance of nature. Each composition has its own reality, and perfection, or an entire world to narrate. If the works were a dream, they would be more perfect than a reality. They propose harmony and co-existence between man and nature.
An Ho, also known as Wen-ying, was born in 1927 in Beijing, China. Her father was chief newspaper editor, and mother was a painter of flowers. Her parents were senior members of Sun Yatsen’s revolutionary movement.
An Ho got introduced to famous Chinese traditional painter Pu Ru (1896-1963), who took her as his student and protégée. She studied 17 years with him, learning that Chinese painting takes into account both the fine quality of the art, and the personal approach and attitude of an artist. She studied with him initially in China and then in Taiwan. Master Pu Ru came from the Qing royal family. He was a poet, calligrapher and painter. Also, An Ho studied first classics and poetry, before starting arts and painting. The artist started with calligraphy, and finally learned the techniques of painting. Pu Ru’s teaching method cultivated her character as the basis for the skillful using of brush and ink. The brush is profound and important part of the technique, and the character of an artists rehearses for it.
In 1952, An Ho’s work began to be noticed by the Chinese art world. Her works have been exhibited in China, Taiwan, Germany, Italy, France and the United States.
Artist and global citizen Liu Shiyuan is a young generation Chinese artist. She comes from Beijing and lives currently between China and Copenhagen, Denmark. Her multiplicity as an artist has gained her presentation across continents. Liu Shiyuan’s visually colorful photography and video montage, and her approach to cultural patterns perform traditions from new angles. In her body of works, monochromatic tones meet performative arrays.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What made you decide to move to Copenhagen Denmark, as you have lived in so many places?
Liu Shiyuan: I was born and grew up in Beijing. I studied in The Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA). Then after that, I went to NYC to get my MFA from the School of Visual Arts. I´m a very typical Beijing person, my dialogue accent and my behavior are pretty local Beijing type. I got used to living in a big city where there´s a lot of competitions going on. I like it, it makes me always have to work harder and be a better person and so on. So I actually never thought about moving to a place like Denmark. But I met my husband in Beijing in 2009 while he was doing his exchange studies there. We kept the relationship going even when we were living 8000 miles away from each other. He is Danish, and that is the reason why I am living in Denmark now.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How has your choice of living in multiple places changed your artistic identity and your perspective into things?
Liu Shiyuan: I got influenced by this kind of “international” life style a lot. Meeting with people from different places, it brought me a bigger image of understanding the world. I started thinking about things in a totally different way. By living with three different languages, my words are getting less, but my emotions are getting more. There´s so many things coming to me every day that I cannot even explain, they are too big and too complicated to be expressed by any language. That is why I work as a visual artist.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are the best aspects of living in Copenhagen as an artist, in what ways do you think it is special there?
Liu Shiyuan: I found out here in Denmark that the “artists” (not including the Danish artists living outside of Denmark) are not like the “artists” I understood at all. I still don´t know what I can do here to the Danish society as an immigrant, except continue what I used to do. And I think doing art is enough for me. I don´t care where I live, as long as the life goes on. I travel a lot every year, we bring our baby with us to wherever we go. So home for us could be at any new places. We also stay in Berlin for a lot of time, since it´s very close to Copenhagen, so I guess besides Beijing, Berlin could be our second city.
Do you feel Scandinavian now?
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How about your time spent in New Yock City, how did you experience the living and studying. Could you explain what ingredients did the art education give you?
Liu Shiyuan: I went to NYC in 2010, when I was 24. And I graduated from CAFA in Beijing in 2009, so there was only one year I was doing some stuff in Beijing in the time between. I wouldn´t call it a career, I only built my own performance group, and we made two conceptual theater pieces. I´m still very proud of the works and the people I was working with in my team, because the two pieces ARE really good whenever I watch the video recordings again. It was really for fun, for doing something new, without thinking it is the beginning of anyone´s career. People from the art circle didn´t even think I was an artist. But I was a very serious student in NYC, I never wasted my time, I never gave myself a chance to do so-so stuff, I had to make sure my artwork was going in the best way as it could. It was really the fantastic two years in my life that I really put my art practice together, clear everything up. I was working very hard, having a BF on the other side of the earth, so I spent most of my time in the studio while in school.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your primary medium of working now, or are you making art with different and varying tools and efforts?
I am very hard on myself. Every time I make a new proposal, I begin from imagining I have never done art before. This is exhausted I agree, a lot of artists don’t work like this, but I just couldn´t help. I don´t have a studio in Denmark, I don´t put my works on the wall, and when I start a new project, I try not to look at my old works. So, I don´t think about the medium or the tools. Rather, the ideas are all coming from a brand new clean mind.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have created video works together with sound artist Kristian Mondrup Nielsen; how do these works usually develop?
Liu Shiyuan: I am also a video artist. But I know nothing about sound, so I work with Kristian Mondrup Nielsen when I need sound in my work. He is a very professional musician, for finishing the sound part of my work, he also needs to cooperate with other people. The process usually starts from renting a recording room, inviting people to play, then he mixes the sound by himself, and the final step is mastering.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Then your‘Wonderland’ color photography series was on display at the Frieze New York in May 2016 with Leo Xu Projects. This collage of photography brought to mind European food ingredients. Are these works influenced by Danish meals?
Liu Shiyuan: Maybe. Danish food can be very conceptual sometimes, because they really care about where the ingredients come from, if the farming is bad for the environment. So when you go to a good restaurant in Denmark, often what you get can look very minimal, no exaggerations. But the taste is just so good because of all the effort behind the curtain, the carrots taste like the best carrots you have ever had, the black coffee tastes like it has milk in it. This way that they treat the ingredients is very similar to how I treat the elements in my artwork. I show how I fully respect the pictures I use in my photos, just simply placing them on “the plate”. ‘Wonderland’ is also related to how fictions are influencing our real life.
In that series of photos, the amount of humor equals the same amount of sadness. So when you look at them, they are actually not food any more, they become the actors on the stage.
Liu Shiyuan, Wonderland, installation detail, photography digital prints / 23 x 30 cm, Frieze, NY, 2016.
Liu Shiyuan, This way or that way, installation detail, 80 printed carpets, 90 x 100 cm each, Frieze NY, 2016.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What does the word Bentu, meaning native soil, personally resonate in you? It was a title of the exhibition, in which Fondation Louis Vuitton represented contemporary Chinese artists, who are crossing boundaries across traditions and geographical places, or are transforming something?
Liu Shiyuan: Bentu was the group exhibition I attended in January 2016. The defenition of Bentu definitely doesn´t mean a location or a pin on the map. I think it´s more like the root of you, the foundation of your understanding of things.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: There is a lot of discussion going on about the role of Chinese contemporary artists as part of the art market booming in Chinese centers. Do you want to say something specific about the phenomenon?
There´s a boom of something in China, but I´m not sure if it is mainly related to the art market. Among all the money China got every year there´s only 5% coming from art. So I think the discussion is more on the economical level. It is very scary if you go visit a small city in China, you see new buildings everywhere, but they are empty. So I guess it´s like someone took a loan from the bank to build them while hoping a lot of people can also take loans to buy them. So the whole thing is holy. I am actually very bad at thinking about money, so maybe I shouldn´t talk too much about economy.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you see older generations contemporary Chinese artists like Ai Weiwei influencing your thinking or methods of working, or something like that?
Liu Shiyuan: He definitely made me thought about my art practice a lot, especially in NYC when almost everyone was asking me about him. Sometimes I explained a bit about how understandings can get twisted between cultures, sometimes I just answer he is not my uncle I don´t know.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Would you like to say something specific about the galleries, which represent you in Beijing and in Copenhagen. Do you feel that there is a common nominator now in the international art world, meaning that the patterns of working and featuring artists can be too similar?
Liu Shiyuan: Definitely. The culture of mixing thing has been going on for a long time, and now it starts to seem a bit boring. I don´t think the way most of the people use the word “international” is right.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As your art works have been exhibited in different platforms and sites; in museums, galleries, and art fairs, however, who would be an ideal collector for your art?
Liu Shiyuan: Anyone who loves the works. For me, and also my galleries I believe, the best is not always the biggest. Of course, my artworks only have few editions, sometimes they are unique, so I hope the collectors are willing to show them again somewhere, to let more people see them, to make the works live forever in a way.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think there is something unique for being a woman contemporary artist that has a new empowering resonance?
Liu Shiyuan: Actually I don´t feel any difference as being a woman. I don´t really know the art world a lot, maybe some people think there´s too few female Chinese artists, so we need to dig more out. But for me, I don´t think about it, it has been a long long long time that I didn´t think of myself as a woman, but I do remind myself all the time that I am an artist.
Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei’s exhibition opened in Helsinki in September 2015. Ai Weiwei @ Helsinki will be on view through the end of February 2016. His first solo exhibition in Finland features 25 works from 1985 to the present, including selection of wooden sculptures and installations, and taking materials from antiques and building structures of old temples. Ai Weiwei’s exhibition is connecting to historical China, raising contemporary questions and speaking of the critical voice, which requires to be heard. The exhibition narrates of the personal and the cultural, weighting the nuances that the artist has tested in practice.
Ai Weiwei is the artistic figurehead for thinking how today’s east meets west in many forms. I call my perception of the works ‘massivity of matter’. Firstly, the amount of matter in a museum space probably recalls any sculpture display as the intervention of matter over the space. In this exhibition, however, the sculptural speaks together with the space, the airy high ceilings are breathing with the objects. Second, the massivity of matter is more of a feeling that comes with the lack of scripture between the works. An echo of Chinese contemporary art, in which ancestral is disconnected from the line of reproducing the artifacts?
Map of China (2008), is Ai Weiwei’s large opening piece to the exhibition. The sculpture is tall, hard to measure, and made of tieli wood fragments that come from ancient temples. This material is centuries old and told to be very rare today. Map of China is made with traditional Chinese woodworking technique bringing the pieces together. The challenge was to create the work without any visible seams. The configuration has the shape of the country showing how there was not a single history or culture in the first place, but only a forced effort to fit all the richness into a one state.
So a question arises, how to connect historical meaning and the general meaning of the past to those issues that define a contemporary consciousness of a man, after he had to struggle with the fascist propaganda and denial? I am not proposing this question as an individualist concern, but more as a rhetorical phrase to speak of a multiple choices. The artist can mirror his personal position on the power/to shed light on the power, which one-sidedly and univocally has taken over all the other voices, eventually starting to represent masses of voices. This is where massivity arises in artistic aesthetics. And perhaps this is why there is no single narrative imposed in the exhibition, because bringing together all the objects would already be a lot. They would utter so strongly, so let them escape the definition, and let the cacophony sing its well-orchestrated noise. Needless to say, as the wood is concerned, the aesthetics is well rehearsed, well mounted, the sculptural is well organized in groups, following up the international sculptural aesthetics of the moment. Working with wood, and collecting pieces that come from a cultural place with this huge time span; say, goes far beyond our contemporary time. This makes the works epic for today. Historical load is apparent. History arrives with the same massivity, as the ancestral would drive you over.
To be a political artist is not easy from the point of view of artistic aesthetics. Our art world needs the voices to break silences, but often the politics becomes massivity. It would perhaps be different to subtly speak without ruins taking over, as objects do have their own weight without us directly attaching them to ‘art’. In this case, the objects are not simply cultural artifacts as they appear in the art museum context, however they connotate in the form of temples, for instance. Some pieces come from temples – that is the shrine nature of a house, narrating about ancestry and patriarchal dominance. These fragments are ultimate references to the age of property, practice, and material attachments.
Another sculptural work by Ai Weiwei, is called Tree (2010). It is an assemblage of different woods deriving from individual trees. The dead tree trunks were collected from various locations in the mountains of South China. Differences between components is left visible intentionally:
‘We assembled them (the parts) together to have all the details of a normal tree. At the same time, you’re not comfortable, there’s a strangeness there, an unfamiliarness. And it’s just like trying to imagine what the tree was like.’
Wood as artistic material is so much about nature. Tree as a material is beyond our dominance. It exists and grows without our appropriation. But we did cut trees, we destroyed their existence, and we were cutting down entire forests. In the exhibition, the tree-sculpture is made from pieces to look like a whole tree, an original, yet at the same it is not. It is a look-alike, a not exactly, and a make believe of a tree, a form of a tree, a powerful signifier of a tree, of nature, of origin. It is quite interesting how this sculpture ended up being the center, as other objects are made of wood as well, representing crafty continuation of the artifacts as man made materiality, a continuation of time, which was before mass production.
The modernity of artificial materials, known as the mass-production is another question. Mass production creates massivity. Perhaps the ancestral places speak in the same manner as the modernity. The history is long; we communicate and paraphrase with it. Perhaps this exhibition communicates beyond art, becoming dynamic battlefield for matter and spirit, proposing final materiality in art. Where do we stretch the line between the materials that make the essence of an artwork? We draw from culture, bringing cultural objects into museum to speak for the culture. And this takes place ultimately not in the name of individual subjectivity but for all the collective consciousnesses.
After all, the dialogue between poetic and anti-poetic is what we are looking in the massivity. Poetry does not speak with the loudness unless it was dried out of mythological meaning and it communicates more with the naturalist approach to speak with metaphors. Metaphor can be standing for something, which is not invisible, and stands for something apparent, showing the evidence, creating presence of the political as inevitable. It is standing, yet changing?
There is an evident need for change in the cultural. The aesthetic is more of a repetitive force that takes form in the massivity. The criticism toward west comes in the undertone of the material in consumption, as enlightening force. The materialism is our new religion?
Traveling Light (2007), is a sculpture mounted on a temple pillar, appearing as being a gigantic table lamp or crystal chandelier. Ai Weiwei became interested in light as an object from the point of view of illumination and environment. The large sculpture stands for the idea that objects are close to human scale to be experienced physically.
Divina Proportio (2012), is composed of huali wood, referring to the golden mean, and as mathematical proportions to geometry in the Renaissance.
The exhibition includes two previously unseen works, White House, and Garbage Container, the former speaking of China’s developments and urbanization, the latter about five homeless boys who died tragically.
A new piece in the exhibition titled White House (2015) is an entire residential house of the Qing dynasty. The composition includes different woods and is constructed traditionally using nail-less joints. The work stands for the heritage, as the new developments in China have pushed away the traditional. The new white paint on a wooden surface creates questions about past and present, authenticity and change.
But cultures change slowly. The anthroposcience of human life shortly lived, continues in the legacy of a son who outlives his father (in a natural cycle). The artifacts have a longer life than we do, and this ends building the culture as fluid and as anatomically tilted. Objects lend to the patriarchal order creating legacy and interdependency. Objects echo about history, so in the name of the poetics and dialogue whenever they are on display there is an underpinning of voices that mesmerize with their presence.
The exhibition architecture divides the show into two large rooms. On the other side there are objects, which call much of the legacy that is darker, even more personal than the first exhibition space. Ai Weiwei became a prisoner after he was arrested in 2011 at the airport in Beijing. He was sometimes handcuffed to a chair while questioned. He also kept washing his one set of clothes while in prison, drying them on a hanger.
The art in this case becomes a historical conscience of a collective. It necessarily opens as a voice for the people whose history it is part of. The objects, their material consciousness and presence appear as inevitably non-corruptive, with presentation and physical presence, as non-poetic solidity. The substance is speaking through the stone, or the stones would shout, in this case wood objects.
Ai Weiwei’s role as a seer or visionary, means a hard position at home in China. His work Through (2007), is composed of tieli wood once again, having fragments of old temples from Qing dynasty. The scale is massive, and piercing, the tables and pillars form an almost cage-like atmosphere.
He says: ‘Artists are not in a position to decide the conditions imposed upon them but they can make statements about these conditions.’
Artists have their own life, their own existential power, their own presence and saying. When it comes to power propositions with artwork, let’s say this. It is hard to assume that the artist proposes his artwork knowing that the entire nature of the artwork would stand for the resistance of power. Cultural legacy changes in a moment, when it becomes ‘art’. The objects are in a terrain of global and international exchange of matter. When it comes to materiality in the sense or meaning, would not the objects have a saying only inside their cultural reference? Legacy or cultural speaking of the history changes with the art market. When legacy becomes art, it has become layered with different meaning; yet the objects are not entirely free of their cultural origins.
The Garbage Container (2014), impresses as a valuable huali wood piece, reminiscing of a cupboard, and looking like a container when it turned on the side. Another impressive piece is the architectural installation titled Ordos 100 model (2011), which was built together with Swiss architect firm Herzog & De Meuron. Made of carved pinewood, an uncompleted, miniature city was planned to be build in Ordros. Treasure Box (2014), is another construction made of huali wood. interestingly, all the objects seem to highlight the wallpaper, titled as IOU Wallpaper (2011-2013), which has decorative appeal, yet a message that makes everything seem unconventional.
Ai Weiwei’s exhibition atHAM Helsinki in on view until February 28th, 2016.