Ex­hibit ex­plores clash and trans­for­ma­tion via ink

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICA - By CHINA DAILY

When the ink char­ac­ters kept shrink­ing af­ter the cal­lig­ra­pher drew them on an oil can­vas, the au­di­ence at the Cham­bers Fine Art gallery in New York oohed and aa­hed at the ef­fect as their cam­eras fired away. On the side, a video cam­era was record­ing the per­for­mance to com­plete the art­work.

The cal­lig­ra­phy demon­stra­tion took place at the open­ing of a new ex­hi­bi­tion, en­ti­tled Guan­shan Gath­er­ing, which will run through Feb 22. The ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tures col­lab­o­ra­tive works by Chi­nese scholar, cu­ra­tor and artist Zheng Sheng­tian and ac­claimed Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­pher Wang Dongling.

“The two ma­te­ri­als (wa­ter­based ink and oil can­vas) work against each other, which is why when you write on the can­vas, the ef­fect will be dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent from what nor­mal Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy looks like,” said Zheng, who is be­hind the idea of us­ing the two con­flict­ing ma­te­ri­als.

“The process re­sem­bles the con­flicts and mis­un­der­stand­ings that of­ten oc­cur in com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween hu­man be­ings, a clash and blend be­tween the East and the West,” he added.

To show the varied mean­ings be­tween dif­fer­ent lan­guages and in­ter­pre­ta­tions, the gallery pro­vided three trans­la­tions of the writ­ten text in the demon­stra­tion — from a Bud­dhist, a poet and Google trans­late.

“It is a tra­di­tional Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy with a new touch of mod­ern age, a kind of joint ven­ture of the East and the West,” said JD Hotchkiss, an art rep­re­sen­ta­tive and fre­quent vis­i­tor to the gallery. “It is very good and I like to see Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy be­ing brought to the West.”

“I think it’s a unique op­por­tu­nity for the New York art world to see a cal­lig­ra­pher,” said Stephanie Mar, a vis­ual artist and tex­tile de­signer. “I have def­i­nitely got in­spired.”

The idea of writ­ing ink on oil can­vas was de­vel­oped 13 years ago, when Zheng was in­vited to cre­ate an in­stal­la­tion for the Word and Mean­ing: Six Con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese Artists at the State Univer­sity of New York at Buf­falo, said Zheng. Back then his wife Aikang wrote Cle­ment Green­berg’s es­say Mod­ernist Paint­ing in ink on four oil can­vases, ac­com­pa­nied by a au­dio record­ing of Cana­dian artist Hank Bull read­ing the es­say.

Much like the work in Guan­shan Gath­er­ing, the ink shrank un­til only ran­dom black dots re­mained on a sheer trace of the writ­ten char­ac­ters, rem­i­nis­cent of an ab­stract paint­ing. Zheng recorded the en­tire process to show the theme of con­flict and trans­for­ma­tion.

Years later an in­vi­ta­tion from Cham­bers Fine Arts in­spired Zheng to con­duct a new in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the ink-ver­sus-oil-can­vas idea, as the pre­vi­ous work was a bit rushed, said Zheng.

“This time I in­vited my old friend, the most prom­i­nent Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­pher Wang Dongling to col­lab­o­rate on the work, and this would be a chal­lenge for him too as a cal­lig­ra­pher be­cause he had never drawn on a ma­te­rial that he was un­fa­mil­iar with,” Zheng said. “I also found a pro­fes­sional video pho­tog­ra­pher to help me record this time.”

In or­der to plan the col­lab­o­ra­tion and ex­hi­bi­tion, Zheng, Wang and oth­ers in­volved in the project met at their friend Huang Luoya’s house at Guan­shan, a fa­mous moun­tain near the an­cient river­front town of Changhe close to Hangzhou, China in April 2013. Later on they started to use “Guan­shan Gath­er­ing” as the group’s name on WeChat, China’s mo­bile so­cial net­work.

“Luoya sent a mes­sage stat­ing that her young son did not un­der­stand the mean­ing of ‘Guan­shan Gath­er­ing’, and asked whether this was a gang­ster group (‘dark so­ci­ety’ in Chi­nese). I replied ‘yes, but it’s a ‘gang of ink’ (‘ink so­ci­ety’ in Chi­nese),” said Zheng in his blog on the cre­ation of Guan­shan Gath­er­ing.

The team chose the fifth cen­tury clas­sic In­tro­duc­tion to Land­scape Paint­ing by Zong Bing, a South­ern Dy­nas­ties painter, as the text for Guan­shan Gath­er­ing’s first set of art­works com­pleted in Hangzhou. The work, writ­ten on five 110-by-160 cm can­vases, was well re­ceived in the ex­hi­bi­tion in Bei­jing last sum­mer. How­ever, due to space lim­i­ta­tions, it could not be shown in New York.

In­stead, both sets of twocan­vas works com­pleted on the open­ing night of the ex­hi­bi­tion in Bei­jing and New York will be shown, in ad­di­tion to the videos that recorded the duo’s col­lab­o­ra­tion. Zhang Yang con­trib­uted to this story.

ZHANG YANG / FOR CHINA DAILY

Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­pher Wu Dongling per­forms his skills at the Guan­shan Gath­er­ing, an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Cham­bers Fine Art Gallery in New York.

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