Thursday, June 19, 2008

Art (and poetry) in China

Before we get to the art, let me just put out there for everyone that if I ever write a poem this bad, please just shoot me. From Danwei:

A poem written by Wang Zhaoshan (王兆山), vice-chairman of the Shandong Writer's Association, recently caused controversy. The poem was obviously intended as praise for the government, particularly its efforts in the quake relief, but it was so badly-written some found it more disgraceful than flattering.

The poem was originally published in the June 6 issue of Qilu Evening News, a newspaper circulated mainly in Shandong Province. In the poem, Wang impersonated a victim expressing his gratitude to the government from his grave:


Here is fairly literal translation:

Natural disaster is inevitable, so why should I complain about my death? The president calls, the premier asks, the Party cares, the country is concerned, the voices go into the rubble. One-point-three billion people shed tears. I feel happy even as a ghost. Silver eagles and army vehicles came to rescue: soldiers, police officers - the great love! I am satisfied to die. I only wish I could have a TV set so I could watch the Olympic Games and cheer with others.

The article goes on to mention the Chinese Writer's Association, a consortium of, it appears, very bad writers who are government-funded and required to produce government-approved pieces of "literature."

In China, a country with a rich literary history (though utterly infuriating and unreadable, even to Chinese scholars), art means something completely different than the definition Westerners have come to know. It doesn't reflect society, or transcend it, or advance it (every artist's dream). Instead, it sort of just blends into the Party line. And that's a shame.

For an example of real art, check out the pictures I took yesterday at the opening of "Map Games: Dynamics of Change," part of the International Visual Art and Architecture Project, an exhibit at the Beijing Today Art Museum on Baiziwan Road in Chaoyang District:

Hey, you can see my apartment!

What sort of art museum would this be without a guy and girl chatting in front of a picture hanging on a white wall?


From the press release:

In Beijing the dynamics of change are so great that the process of creation, adjustment and production of the city map simply cannot keep up with the “butterfly effect” of the city's exploding construction busyness and the consequent rapidly changing dynamics of the city's geography. The daily, if not hourly changes taking place in the city creating the state of continuous flux mean that the map can only exist, like the city itself, in the same state of constant, explosive and sometimes illogical change.

Consciously or subconsciously we therefore engage in the process of mental mapping, or playing a kind of mapping “game”, that becomes an essential part of experiencing the city. Multi-layered “parallel maps” are created through one's experiences of the city and represent personal reflections on the city's dynamics. Mapping of the city becomes an all-sensual, three-dimensional experience, a synergy of elements including history and memory, time and space, language and communication. The process of mapping is layered with important cultural references yet remaining continuously fluid and inviting constant reinterpretation.

Mapping of the city becomes a map game - and a mind game.

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