Michele Deveze

The Red Door – and other myths

 
April 14th 2006 Thoughts on works in progress
Reflections – now that it’s open
The Red Door Is Open!
Artist Statement
Notes on Symbols used in the Works
Notes on the Works
Artists Books
The Red Door – and other myths DVD
 
Perc Tucker Regional Gallery Townsville 16th July to 13th August 2007
Tanks Artcentre Cairns 31st August to 21st September 2007
Brunswick Street Galleries Fitzroy Melbourne 26th October to 15th November 2007
The Art Factory West End Brisbane 22nd February to 28th February 2008
 
April 14th 2006
I am currently working on the pieces for ‘Somewhere Between East and West’ – It will be hung in the Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville, Queensland, Australia, in 2007.
The show will be based on my experiences and observations during my two recent artists residencies in Beijing, China, and Casablanca, Morocco, and a brief driving holiday in Spain.
 
My work is an organic entity that has an independence removed from, yet umbilicaly attached to my self. Consequently my relationship with my work is comparable to that of the romanticised horse handler who respects the spirit of the entity and gives it a loose rein while subtly guiding and controlling its development and expression. I usually think, in the first instance, that I know what a work is about, but often, when I revisit a piece, I am able to read more into that piece that I initially intended expressing. In this sense, giving the works some freedom allows the emergence of subliminal and unarticulated relationships or perceptions.
 
The show is starting to assume a life of its own - the working title 'Somewhere...' appears to be in the process of being usurped by:
 
'The Red Door - and other myths'
 
This title started off as the title of one of the works, but it is appearing to be enveloping the entire series of works.
 
It has been hard - very hard - just to get to this point. I have been struggling with contrivance and affectation. At first I was seduced by the intellectual thematic game. I planned to develop a series of works based on mythological creatures prevalent in Chinese culture - dragon, lion, carp, phoenix, kirin (or according to some references - unicorn -but markedly different to the Western European equivalent). Each of these animals is associated with human characters and the overall essence of, for example 'valour' or 'avariciousness' or 'evil' (similar to 'the humours' in the West), and has dedicated colours in Chinese Mythology - interestingly many of the colour associations are contrary to Western colour associations.
 
This structure was so excitingly 'neat' that I became very enthused with the idea, extrapolating relationships to illogical extremes. 'Somewhere Between East and West' seemed to work well as a title too - it summarised the position that I felt Beijing was in - a gawkish adolescence, somewhere between its aeonic laminated cultures and adoption of the veneer of C21 Western philosophy and values over a worn and stained ground.
 
I hoped that this title would also suit Morocco. I thought that there may be an interesting dichotomy (or the antithesis, point-counter-point tension) between the 'east' of China and the 'east' of Morocco; and the 'westness' of both being expressed, due to politico-historical and religio-cultural factors, in what I expected to be different ways. Before visiting Spain I did not have any expectations of where it would fit in culturally or aesthetically, (after all, the interlude in Spain was supposed to be a 'holiday' between the intensity of two artistic residencies!) but I felt confident that I could adapt my structure to accommodate its expression.
 
I then got caught up in the objectively pleasing 'spot the similarity' game. Curved pottery roof tiles, chili, the colour red, fans, interesting masonry work, lions, colonialisim (and expansionism) preceeding a police state and so on. And its corollary 'pick the difference' - different formed roof tiles, the youth and nervousness of the Chinese military, the 'action-man' personae of the Spanish, and the age and battlehardiness of the Moroccan; the elegant simplicity of Chinese fans and the extravagant ornateness of Spanish. Another detour to divert me - as if I didn't have a large enough choice of displacement activities!!!
 
I have now been back from the residencies for over a year. The initial contrived and intellectualised ideas were pervasive; I couldn't shake them, even though I knew they wouldn't work - or at least not for me. Fortunately I did not pursue that tack for too long - I indulged the Western penchant for 'scientific method' and categorisation in the satisfaction of constructing systematic conformity; I bent and twisted the notions to fit my perceptions (or was it the other way around?), then realised the superficiality and contrivance of the approach, and escaped the seduction - or at least my loyalty to the theme was dissociated, but I was left in a conceptual vacuum.
 
My head was full of images, reinforced by the slide show (which will be projected as an installation in the exhibition, supported by a musical score created by composer Michael Whiticker) - being my point of return and departure; my memory bubbling with perceptions, relationships, impressions - visual, emotional, cognitive; but the entity would not coalesce into a rational cohesive union of method, technique, imagery, aesthetic, essence. I took a new tack and started several works, giving some their head and keeping others on a very short rein (to continue the previously established metaphor!).
 
The works are now developing as a series of siblings - I work on 2 or 3 or 4 or more simultaneously - this takes the pressure off one drawing becoming overloaded and overworked, and simultaneously provides innate cohesion between works to be showed as a thematic group - the individuals within a cohort have chronology in common, reflected in technical/methodological/aesthetic conformity; continuity or correspondence of theme, issue and approach, expression and comprehension. Yet there is a connection established between cohorts in the duplication of certain images and the reiteration and re-expression of specific themes.
 
'The Temple Door' I am happy with. The old man - enigmatic; evocative; to me epitomised all that was Beijing - an ageless aged face, smooth taut skin stretched over 'classic' Chinese bone structure, fine wispy long long long white beard and moustache, half closed eyes and expressionless face exuding an aura of stoic resignation and ethereal peace; dressed in an impeccable 'Mao Suit', rotating 4 Baoding balls in each gloved hand. The remainder of the drawing has worked well. An interesting depth of texture lends an aura of infinite timelessness to the work. It appears that the fan is becoming an iconic theme perpetuated in some of the works; and the doily, a regular icon in my previous works, has been supplanted by Chinese paper cutouts. Images of teenage guards at Tiananmen Square, standing unmoving in sub-freezing temperatures provide punctuation to the overlaid mystery of the work. Is this about the history of the Chinese as a subjugated population, whether by harsh immovable feudalism supported by a philosophical doctrine advocating honour and subservience, or by colonial domination, or subject to the rigours of a system of social organisation taken to the extremes of an all-encompassing theology to support self-serving tyrants? Or is it about something else? Does it recognise and applaud the tenacity and adaptiveness yet resilience of the essential Chinese spirit?
 
'Once The Dragon' is part of this cohort. I knew when, in Beijing, I did that boring but technically proficient drawing of the dragon gargoyle that I would need to use it in a work for this show. I like this piece. It works aesthetically/decoratively, yet discusses the dialogue between the various dogma that the Chinese have lived under/with/through/by over time. Is it a romantic interpretation of the history of the governing Chinese philosophy? Does it mourn a romanticised Western view of archetypical Chinese culture?
 
'On Almost Any Sunday' is the third in this series. I believe it is finished now - but I never really know. It is a little cacophonic, but it was always supposed to be. Sunday is the only 'day off' that the Chinese have, and, because they live in such cramped quarters, they make good use of their open public spaces in their free time. On Sundays all of the parks are pulsing with thousands of individuals purposefully and singlemindedly absorbing or manufacturing recreation: in sub-zero temperatures a hundred people ballroom dancing to the distorted strains of a 100yuan ghetto-blaster; fifty colourful kites arguing over the limited airspace between two-thousand year old trees and TV satellite dishes; people reciting centuries old or yesterdays epic ballads to the accompaniment of wooden clappers and tongue clicking; people selling, hawking, walking, talking in a vast amorphous melee of discrete human selves.
 
I am not sure, now, if I will show this one. At one stage I thought that I was happy with it, but I'm not so sure now. It is very raw; it is not what I want to do, in fact I don't think that I could actually articulate what it is that I want to do, but I can feel it, and , like the child's game, I can feel when I'm 'getting warmer' - I think that 'On Almost Any Sunday' is a step along the way to what I think that I eventually want to do.
 
So that was the first attempt - and 2 apparently dissociated but eminently showable works emerged from that effort.
 
I can readily find displacement activity - personal 'stuff', moving house, hot weather, money/legal/bureaucratic annoyances et cetera et cetera. Why do I want to 'displace' when in my soul I dream - almost orgasmicly - of creating, yet when it comes to it, I'm afraid and I postpone the moment?
 
And this is almost the end of the 'second innings'. I have made some interesting and fun detours into technical experimentation with inkjet transparency film and various media, and monoprinting from inkjet printed images onto interesting grounds.
 
I brought some half begun drawings with me from my previous studio, and they are now evolving into a series reminiscent of Chinese ink paintings. Very very distantly reminiscent... One was 'The Red Door' which has now become 'The Myth Of The Red Door', another was the fish but is now the dancing girl, and as yet remains untitled, as does the soldiers and the two newer ones - the man on the bicycle and the windows (with or without the monkey?). These ones are a little sparse and abstract - enigmatic? Maybe, maybe not; they hold some distant if not entirely decipherable meaning for me; and I enjoy their minimal geometric visual aesthetic.
 
'The Myth Of The Red Door' - started life about pushbikes and hutongs (neighbourhoods of Beijing's traditional courtyard houses, now relegated to the status of slum, and rapidly being demolished to make way for glass and concrete residential towers), both endangered in Beijing, and both encapsulating, expressing and perpetuating an almost extinct interpretation of Chinese culture. The Tiananmen guard made a reappearance here, as did the paper cutout, and a negative image of the old man. Is the dragon becoming a metaphor for the lost political/spiritual past of he Chinese?
 
The dancing girl is continuing the concern with loss of past identities. The two dimensional line drawing of a hutong renders it almost as a transcendent entity, the dragon and phoenix are almost obliterated and bleeding under the road trauma victims - who were also included in 'On Almost Any Sunday'. The dancing girl is emotionally and spatially removed from the evidence of the incursion of Western C21 artifacts, and is coldly and resolutely turned away from an ineffectual attempt to piece together the remnants of her cultural history as viewed through the lens of solar topee'd intrepid colonial adventurers, collecting specimens - whether they be botanical, historic, artistic or human - for display to their peers.
 
The reconstructed postcard theme continues through 'The Myth Of The Red Door' and will probably be included in the man on the pushbike. At this stage the man on the pushbike is early in its gestation and I cannot further discuss it, except to state that the image is strong and it was necessary that I used it as a keystone in a work.
 
The soldiers, at this stage, is in difficulties. Probably the theme is a little too blunt and more thought needs to go into it to lift it above the obvious. Essentially it combines images of Communist propaganda and heroic statuary with modern military and social/cultural-minority tensions. .
 
The works for the show are progressing well, even if it is not all easy and the path not entirely clear; but all along I've been worried. I've been following irrelevant paths - I was stuck on collage, to the extent of approaching a 'scrap-book/journal' appearance, I realise that I'm going too far that way and I try to re-focus on 1st principles. First principles is the 'Inner Landscape' drawing. This is what worked. This is the root of the progression that I want to follow. This holds my inner truth. But the essence is illusive and evasive. When I consciously try to steer myself towards it, the work becomes tight, contrived.
 
A planned work always looks planned; I have to sneak up on 'the method'; pretend that in fact that's NOT what I really want to do - while keeping a determined if unadmitted firm focus on it. It is a precarious balance, developing rationalised aesthetic association between apparently disparate entities - while avoiding the trite, corny, simplistic, obvious, passé effects of collage; a tension between drawing the parts in a calculated manner while allowing an atmosphere of spontaneity, rather than a contrived, tight, overly structured drawing. I have to keep the imagery in my head - alive and breathing - and sneak up on it unawares. If I try to pin it down it slips away, but I can, with effort, maintain a subliminal consciousness of its essence and expression, and maintain an open conduit to tap this resource and interpret its aura in material sensory media.
 
It is reminiscent of the 'threes' that I was obsessed with so many years ago. Keeping the tripod in balance - the physical/technical; the intellectual/emotional; the spiritual/subliminal. If the physical/technical assumes dominance the work (or life) risks becoming superficial, an epicurean exploration of technique entirely to serve aesthetic curiosity and sensory gratification (not necessarily an invalid artform, but not satisfying my personal ambition). If intellect/emotion takes precedence the work skates over the surface reflecting the trite, the allegorical, the obvious, the calculated, the contrived. The soul-less. The work is dishonest - it lies by distancing itself from the essence, and then commits the ultimate sin - it convinces its viewers, and itself, that because it has reduced the intuitive to the rationalised, it has removed 'the noise' providing a succinct summary of the concept. Unfortunately, the work has become dissociated from its genesis and the mutations that gave it an independent entity. And, if the spiritual/subliminal controls the work (or life) its meaning can become abstracted, inaccessible, esoteric.
 
My ambition is to create art keeping the three elements in balance - not necessarily in equal parts, that may be the ultimate goal and might result in everything-and-nothing, black-and-white, life-and-death - who knows? Just keeping the elements in appropriate balance for the work that is being done. Trying not to let any one aspect dominate the others to their exclusion.
 
I intend perpetuating the artistic expression and grammar that has been evolving over the past several years, using shape, form, texture and image to evoke subliminal response from learned experience or cultural expectation and association, in the audience. My hope and expectation is that, while people's specific interpretation of my works may differ, although stemming from individual associated experience and posing different queries, the underlying emotio-spiritu-intellectu-perception may inhabit similar terrain in each viewer.

 

Reflections – now that it’s open

 
I didn’t realise how much The Red Door was weighing down on me until I delivered the last parcel to Pack & Send (and I am happy to recommend Pack & Send – they are a marvelous transport company – nothing is too much trouble for them). I felt such a relief, such a lightening of the spirit when I was released from what I all of a sudden realized was an obligation that had been hanging over me for 2 ½ years. Why? I think mainly because I wasn’t sure that I could do it.
I must remember never to move house – twice – during the preparations for a show! Is this me putting the bar just that little bit higher; setting myself up for a fall; providing an excuse for the work not being as good as it could be?
By and large I am fairly happy with the show. Always there are things that I could have done better. And I am only too well aware that my work still is in need of maturation, refinement and development. As soon as a piece is finished I can see, and maybe it is only I that can see it, how gauche, how obvious, but wait – there’s more!
The show developed a mind and soul of its own. This is good – it develops its own life-beat which reaches out to people. This is good, providing I remain the artist; providing I remain in control – give it its head but guide its development. The works – I sometimes think, when I’m working on autopiolot, that part of me knows what the works are about, the voice inside knows – it says ‘…now put this here and put that there and do it this way – no not like that – darker, darker, now smooth it out; now put this here to say this, and put that there to provide the antithesis…’and so on. But that is only part of the story. It is only when the work is finished (and only the work knows when it is finished) that the work tells you what it is really about. And even then, sometimes only piecemeal. I am still finding out what some of my older pieces are about. Sometimes, only by talking to someone do you find out what the works are about.
The show was successful. As an installation it assaults the viewer with a cacophony of visual stimulus, much as Beijing does. The space at Perc Tucker is too small – in one sense that works well; walking in there is like getting off the ‘plane in Beijing. So much, too much, hits you, confronts you all at once. Sensory over-stimulation. Where do you start, to translate it into a language that you are familiar with? It is transient, in flux, noise, colour, movement, smells. None are familiar, all are familiar.
Pragmatically, it could be argued that, in a different sense, the works were not given justice by the crowded conditions. Artistically, in what sense? The installation, the sense of too much all at once, the transportation of the impact of Beijing is the artistic statement. The works are just the vehicles. Certainly the works were not able to be appreciated in isolation. Did this detract from the validity of each of the works? Afterall, they are stand-alone works, combining to create the sensory impact of the installation.
I am disappointed by that one frame – it does stand out, it does not look intentional. The price of undervaluing yourself! I am disappointed that so few people from the Townsville artistic tout monde made the effort to see it – and I am grateful to those who did make the effort. I had some great comments in my visitors book – it is really heartening to receive a comment that shows that the author ‘got it’; that they understood what I was trying to say, trying to do. Thank-you to those people. It vindicates the effort, it assured me that I was not being wholly self-indulgent.
 

 

The Red Door Is Open!

 
‘The Red Door – and other myths’ An Exhibition of mixed media works on paper exploring contemporary Chinese Culture and Landscapes.
Works by Michèle Devèze.
Perc Tucker  Regional Gallery Townsville from 17th July to 12th August 2007; to be opened by Anne Lord at 11:30am Sunday 5th August 2007.
Tanks Artcentre Cairns 31st August to 21st September 2007; to be opened by Sim Hayward and Russell Milledge
Brunswick Street Galleries Fitzroy Melbourne 26th October to 15th November 2007
The Art Factory West End Brisbane 22nd February to 28th February 2008
 
China is topical; its people, its politics, its pollution, its philosophy, its phenomenal economy. We wear Chinese clothes, we buy Chinese electronics, and the Beijing Olympics are only a year away. China is emerging and evolving faster that we realise. Everyone is talking about China, everyone wants to go to China. I was lucky enough to have a 5 week Artists Residency in Beijing in 2004/2005, during a time that I now understand was a collective turning point – or rather, the period of quiet consolidation before this most recent explosion of wealth, productivity, destruction and guarded diplomacy.
 
The works exhibited in ‘The Red Door – and other myths are the product of my residency in Beijing and are strongly influenced by what I saw and felt and experienced during that time. Prior to arriving in that huge chaotic city, I had few expectations or preconceptions of Beijing.  For over five weeks I found myself the only European living in a working person’s area of Beijing, where I was quickly welcomed into the community.

 

While in Beijing I walked and looked and watched and experienced and took written, drawn and photographic notes of much that I saw and thought and felt. After returning to Australia I let the impressions and sensations synthesise and consolidate, finally producing a show which explores social dynamics in Beijung, the spiritual-political influences on Beijing’s present and history, and on the psyche of the inhabitant Beijingers, and the seemingly unrepentant loss of Beijing’s graceful if romanticised past.
My sensory impression of Beijing was the expression of the culmination of the multitudes of influences that have preceded the now – the various Dynasties and political/military invasions from Mongol to European; the archaic and the more modern philosophical/cultural invasions including Buddhism, Christianity, Colonialism, Communism, and Capitalism. I felt that these, sometimes dynamically or even paradoxically, superimposed influences found expression in the landscape, buildings, private spaces, and items, and in the people living in that environment, and gave full depth and resonance to the ‘Chinese psyche’.
What I found particularly fascinating was that both the people and the environment, despite cultural and economic pressures, appeared to have maintained a tenacious hold on an essential ‘Chineseness’. My feeling was that China was poised for a huge social, cultural and economic transformation, and what I saw and sensed in Beijing a few years ago will be hardly imaginable in a few more years. I wanted to capture the exciting essence of all the disparate elements that work together to make Beijing what it is today, before it becomes whatever it will be tomorrow.

The Show was planned in its entirety – imagery, symbols and metaphors recur as various ideas and interpretations are addressed in individual pieces, and certain metaphors or concepts are found to be applicable to a number of explored premises. The exhibition is an ‘installation’ composed of ‘stand-alone’ pieces – each piece has individual integrity, yet contributes significantly to the effect of the whole.
 

I work using mixed media and collage, building up the perceived layers and interrelationships that exist within and between various elements and ‘realities’ and the consequent varied understandings or recollections of those realities which all contribute intrinsically to the essence of an entity or concept. Sometimes elements are blurred or indistinct, or even concealed, other times they bleed through each other or may entirely obliterate another element. The layers build up giving conceptual depth to the essentially two dimensional media.
 
I lived in Townsville for over 5 years, but have recently moved to Brisbane.  Whilst in Townsville I contributed to most group shows held at Perc Tucker Regional Gallery and Umbrella Studio, as well as holding two solo shows – ‘Chamber Music Prints’ and ‘things of flesh and stone’. I continue to participate in Townsville’s performance visual art events - ‘His and Hers’ and ‘See Hear Now’, and for the past three years I have curated the visual art component of ‘See Hear Now’.
 

 

Artists Statement
‘The Red Door – and other myths’

I was lucky enough to be offered an artist’s residency in Beijing in 2004/5. The works exhibited in this show are the product of that residency and are strongly influenced by what I saw and felt and experienced during that time.
 
Beijing in 2004/5 was a city negotiating the pangs of being reborn, again. Memories of graceful or portentous pasts were being obliterated by preparations for an ill-defined future. It was adolescent, gangly and gawky, uncomfortably vacillating between the promise of unsurpassable beauty and the threat of unspeakable ordinariness, ugliness or horror. The city appeared to be only beginning to adjust to its newfound maturity, yet was preparing itself for its international debut by destroying archaic things of simple beauty and constructing visions of cheap tawdry modernity.
 
This exhibition captures my emotional and rational response to a city in which I found myself fascinated by the interplay of its multitudinous and disparate historical and modern influences, from the Dynasties and political/military invasions, to religious, philosophical and cultural invasions. Dynamic articulations and incongruously superimposed artifacts of Beijing’s cultural plethora, are apparent and find expression in the landscape and in the people living in that landscape, and give full depth and resonance to notions of the ‘Chinese psyche’.
 
I found myself overwhelmed by my exposure to, and comprehension of, the layers and expressions of a complex and intertwined history and my struggles to interpret what appeared to me to be cultural symbiosis between apparently disparate elements. The cultural assimilation and synthesis is ongoing. It is quite unnerving. Sometimes enigmatic and sometimes only too obvious; welding a new aesthetic and ethos to the generations-old papier-mâché of cultural layering, C21st Beijing presents a diaspora of, what to the Westerner, is often a bizarre amalgam of apparently conflicting philosophies that comfortably inhabit parallel strata in the Beijingers  psyche and society, unquestioningly validated, and enthusiastically, if occasionally naively, promulgated.
Whilst the remnants of Beijing’s many pasts often created ironic paradoxes and surreal juxtapositions, I found it remarkable and reassuring that the people and the environment, despite constant cultural and economic pressures, continued to maintain a tenacious hold on essential ‘Chineseness’. The present, in its many guises, both familiar and foreign, unswervingly careens ahead – as Beijing is poised for massive social, cultural and economic transformation, this exhibition captures the exciting essence of Beijing today, teetering on explosion or implosion, prior to becoming whatever it will be tomorrow.
‘The Red Door – and other myths’ explores contemporary Chinese philosophy and aesthetic, and the interplay between the artefacts of an intricate history of cultural invasions and their expression in contemporary landscapes, by juxtaposing graphic elements and cultural or personal symbols and metaphors, and creating a dynamic that can only be interpreted by the viewer in the third person, as I felt I was interpreting the life I saw and felt around me in Beijing.
One of the biggest but most obvious challenges of preparing the work for this show was to avoid creating a ‘travelogue’ or a colonial collectors itemisation of anthropological and cultural curios. Similarly, reference to Communism and the Dynasties, although necessary, had to avoid the blatant and banal. In Beijing I found myself continually aware of the synergies and tensions between translucent layerings of the paraphernalia attended by the multitude of influences on modern Chinese life, and found that my artistic interest in expressions of dimensionality - mechanical, temporal, cultural, conceptual and philosophical, found ready voice in this environment.  
 
The works are ‘layered’ to indicate the ‘layering’ of values and time as a multi-dimensional objects construct. Images or metaphors sometimes ‘bleed through’ to each other, and sometimes obscure each other. In my works I use ‘acquired objects’ as well as my own drawing and painting, and photographs that I take and manipulate. I select images as metaphors for certain concepts or conditions.
2007  Michèle Devèze

Notes on Symbols Used in The Works

 
We perceive life as layers that build up and interact with each other. How we receive and interpret the stream of sensations that we call life, how we recollect memories, is piecemeal. Scattered images, concepts and perceptions, collected and retained against unspecified criteria, ebb and flow in meaning as time passes and as other images, concepts and understandings obscure, enhance or reinterpret our remembered perceptions. Some imagery or concepts enhance or substantiate other perceptions; other sensory stimuli may counteract or establish tension between valued paradigms. Some layers cloud or obliterate other layers; some layers persist in bleeding through and permeating overlying or adjacent layers.
 
These works are constructed as layered metaphor and symbol; each with an intrinsic value or connotation, yet also defining and being redefined by the interaction between the many and the whole. The interrelationship between images and the concepts that they embody, can be interpreted at the superficial or the subliminal level. At the superficial level symbology and metaphor can be rationalised and articulated with reference to accepted concepts. At the subliminal level, each of us, rationally or irrationally may find disconnected memories or sensations triggered by certain imagery or combinations of imagery. We are all of us guardians of our own language of symbolism and relationship.
 
The following summarises and describes the more cognitive symbolism used in these works.
 
Some symbolism has been borrowed directly from the Chinese, for example mythological animals and significant colours:
 
Dragon Silver, Green and Blue; Propriety; Sorcerers and scholars; Good natured and benign; Sly; Close mouthed; Cunning; Ruthless; Guards secrets; Cool under fire; Vital potential of flowing water; Supports and maintains country; Male vigour and fertility
 
Phoenix Red and Gold; Knowledge; Noble emotional decisions rather than logical; Good luck; Appears in times of good fortune; Fair dealing; Longevity; Female; Sun; Fertility; Abundant harvest; Politically powerful; Straightforward; Loyal; Temperamental; Fiery natured
 
Lion Golden; Carnal; Sensual; Persuasive; Protectors; Valour and energy; Martial; Temperamental; Straightforward; Warriors; Superhuman strength; Guardians of buildings and temples
 
Carp Advantage or benefit in business; Artistic – singers, dancers, weavers, sculptors, painters; Carry gossip between Court of Eternity and Celestial Court; Unusual ability and good fortune; Benefit or advantage in business.
 
Red is the colour of good luck, happiness, prosperity, cleansing and revival, but it is also the colour of the Flag, the Red Army, and the Red Book. Modern interpretation allows ‘The vibrant red national flag waves proudly over Tian’anmen Square. In its shadow great developments of modern China are taking place, ushering in productive change, bringing new value to the positive importance of red.’ http://www.btmbeijing.com/contents/en/btm/2007-02/coverstory/red
 
Blue-green indicates spring when everything overflows with vigor and vitality.
 
Yellow symbolizes the earth, it is the center of everything. It was the symbolic color of the five legendary emperors of ancient China. It also represents freedom from worldly cares.
 
Other symbols and metaphors used in the works are personal and developed during the residency and whilst creating the works:
 
The, almost iconically, inscrutable Chinese man, long wispy beard and moustache, impeccable Mao suit, manipulating 5 ‘Tai Chi Balls’ in each hand with a beatific expression on his face, embodies the layering of philosophical influences and the implacability and resilience and consistency of the Chinese entity.
 
The dancers in the park. Sunday morning, sub-zero temperatures, about 200 people ballroom dancing in the gardens of ‘The Forbidden City’ to the distorted tones issuing from a cheap ghetto-blaster. The symbolism? Adoption of C20 Western culture; Chinese communal use of open space; the cultural change permitting free access to ‘The Forbidden City’.
 
Road Trauma. Images taken from a series of public education posters attempting to reduce the horrifying levels of road carnage. The photographs of real accidents, and the written descriptions, were graphic. I saw this series of posters on a kindergarten wall, at the entry to a Buddhist temple, in the admission gates of the zoo and in the foyer of ‘The Temple of Heaven’. So much symbolism! The content and placement of the posters defines a multitude of differences between Eastern and Western cultural acceptability; openness to what Westerners consider ghoulishness; the different value placed on life - use of even basic safety measures was negligible in China; the rapid introduction of C20 technology to a largely peasant population; the ugly side of the adoption of C20 technology.
 
Fans and ink painting symbolise different aspects of a lost and possibly romanticised past.
 
Torn up postcards. There are two series of postcards in use here. One is ‘historic’ postcards from the era of British colonialism, from a time when the Chinese were viewed as anthropological curios, playthings to be dressed up and posed and ridiculed, or cheap labour. The other series is overly coloured glossy modern tourist postcards. Both redefine the Chinese against European values, standards and expectations. The cards have been torn into pieces; some have been joined back together in an attempt to create another definition of Chinese landscape and culture, others remain in pieces, presented in plastic bags covered with printed intricate instruction for their reconstruction.
 
Chinese paper cutouts have an intrinsic symbolism bestowed by the animals that they depict; my appreciation of the round cut-out form has developed from the use of doyleys in my earlier work and represents sublimation, formality, the veneer of traditional proprietary, and also the demise of an intricate artform to a mass produced commodity. Satisfyingly, the Chinese cut-outs bleed into and permeate surrounding images.
 
The Guards at Tiananmen Square. Some of the symbolism is obvious, some less so. Most of the guards are very young teenagers from the country; they are not very brave; they have hardly been trained. They are scared, and they are dangerous. They stand stock still for hours on end. They hang around in lanky snickering adolescent groups when they are off duty. They were not born when the Tiananmen Square Correction occurred. Mao was long dead before they were born. In the images they have become part of the structure that they are guarding. In some of the images detail has been lost through darkness, in others the image is a vague outline fading into the larger image.



Notes on The Works

 
Once the Dragon
is about political power in China. Symbology includes the dragon – drawn from a gargoyle at The Forbidden City; denuded branches growing over the parapets of the Great Wall, the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple and monastery in China (which building used to be the home of Qing Dynasty Prince Yong) and a weak wintry sun setting behind a feeble Chinese flag.
 
The Temple Gate
is also about political/philosophical power in China. Images include the benign and inscrutable old man, Chinese paper-cuts, fans, images of Tiananmen Square guards and of the Tibetan Buddhist Temple. It is a very dark drawing with the suggestion of insubstantial nuances that rarely taking form.
 
On Almost any Sunday
celebrates the Chinese enjoyment of communal entertainment, and their extraordinary use of public space. Any park on almost any day, but particularly on Sundays, will be crowded with people performing and participating – musicians  and singers, people reciting epic poetry and ballads, people playing chess, people flying kites, people dancing and acting, people selling everything. Images include: impromptu musicians, people ballroom dancing in the park, fans, a car accident, a ‘good luck’ token, money, the old man and a temple roof.
 
Beijing Landscape Triptych
These three drawings describe a Beijing which is fast disappearing. The images are tenuous and fleeting, disappearing into a haze of mist or the gloom of smoke. Recurring images throughout the drawings are bicycle carts, hand made utilitarian equipment such as baskets and ladders, and iconic constructural design.
Beijing Landscape #1 – Calligraphy
was inspired by a calligraphers room that I walked past. The calligrapher slept, worked and lived in one room – he sat on his bed to work at his desk and examples of his work covered the walls.
Beijing Landscape #2 – Fire Station
was based on the local fire station in my neighbourhood – an interesting collection of fire-fighting tools that appeared to have their heritage in medieval war implements, buckets with conical bases and canvas hoses coiled in handmade baskets.
Beijing Landscape #3 – Hu Tong
the Hu-tongs, the labyrinthine alleyways and cluttered courtyard houses of old Beijing are rapidly being cleared to make way for modern high rise with fully plumbed apartments but little or no sense of community or concession to aesthetic.

 

The Long March – Polyptych
This series explores the historical and political influences on the current expression of Chinese culture and society
The Long March #1 – Dancing Girl
A girl in traditional royal costume dancing in an impromptu film set in the Temple of Heaven is disconnected from and turns away from images of a car accident, a hu-tong street, a Chinese paper cut and a re-made colonial era postcard.
The Long March #2 – The Red Door
An unsuccessful attempt to reconstruct a postcard has no relevance to a rough agglomeration of conflicting symbols - a translucent image of the old man, an ethereal suggestion of a guard at the Tiananmen Square monument, a circular Chinese paper cut, a dragon and a drawing of a hu-tong street.
The Long March #3 – Coke Cycle
Domestic and industrial coke fires contribute heavily to the ubiquitous smog in Beijing. The person on the pushbike is selling round coke tiles.  In this work Cokeis a metaphor for cultural imperialism. The bear is clutching an empty Coke bottle thrown at her by a bystander, to elicit a reaction from her. The attempt to combine fragments of a modern postcard into the remnants of archaic images is no more successful than previous restructuring efforts. The hand painted bamboo is a memory of the past, almost obliterated by the present.
The Long March #4 – Over the Wall
The Mongol in traditional dress is no longer a military threat, but rather, a curio, a cultural minority. The image of the dragon is stronger than the image of the guard at Tiananmen Square, the peach blossom and the formal regularity of Chinese windows and landscapes remembers the past.
The Long March #5 – The Rising
The Great Wall was built to exclude military threats. A complex instruction sheet for Chinese Chess is reminiscent of the Terra-Cotta Army. The Dragon and the Tiananmen Square guard are both feint and indistinct. The work is dominated by graphics borrowed from Communist propaganda reassigned to sell mobile telephones.
 
Screen Diptych
Both of these freestanding screens explore Beijing’s multilayered and discordant culture and history, and the interplay between past and present philosophical, political and spiritual influences on the psyche of the present day Beijinger.
An Audience in the Moon Palace Hall
looks at the influence of the Dynastic leaders of China over the centauries, and the manner that spiritual and political roles were fulfilled by the one eminent being and his entourage. Images include the iconic old man, fragments of postcards in a clear plastic bag, the dancing girl, peach blossom and commercially produced Emperor and Empress figurines.
Carp Mates Dragon
studies the usurping of the Emperor and his spiritual role, which remained intact throughout Western Colonisation, by the overwhelming seductiveness of dialectic materialism and then capitalistic materialism. Images include advertising for mobile phones borrowing from Communist propaganda graphic art styles; a plastic bamboo leaf; paper cut carp; a tokenistic money chain concealed in a paper bag, hand painted bamboo stems, an almost indistinguishable dragon and a vigorously bleeding carp.
 

Beijing Artists Books
 

A Chinese seal is a seal or stamp containing Chinese characters, used in East Asia to prove identity on documents, contracts, art, or similar items where authorship or ownership is considered important. Chinese seal carving started in ancient Chinese times, during the Qin dynasty (221-210 B.C). They evolved from a practical need to be able to affix a signature to documents and carvings. Chinese carved seals are still used today. Many business people use specially designed seals as their Chinese name stamp, to indicate their reliability as business people and to confirm their identity. Chinese seals are typically made of stone, sometimes of wood, carved using very sharp steel blades. They are typically used with red ink or cinnabar paste.
 
Concertina binding is thought to be a synthesis of the traditional book forms of both China and India. It was the first type of Chinese binding that took the external form of a booklet rather than a scroll. The earliest known extant concertina books, like many other Chinese book forms, were discovered among the Dunhuang collection. Large and small concertina books are commonly used today by Chinese for celebratory and for more prosaic purposes.
 
The pages in the Beijing Concertina Artist Books were printed using seal stones which I hand carved in the traditional method with images modified from my photographs of Beijing, and printed on rice paper using red silk ink. They contain non-traditional representations of a dying traditional culture.
 
 

The Red Door – and other myths DVD

a slideshow of the images used in the works in ‘The Red Door – and other myths’, and other images embodying nuances that inspired the works. The music was written and played to accompany the slideshow by Michael Whiticker
 

Perc Tucker Regional Gallery Townsville 16th July to 13th August 2007
 
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An Audience at the Moon Palace Hall



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On Almost any Sunday


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Carp Mates Dragon

 


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Beijing Landscape Triptych – Fire Station, Calligraphy and Hu-Tong
 

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The Long March Quinquetych – Dancing Girl, The Red Door, Coke Cycle, Over The Wall, The Rising
 

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Once the Dragon              The Temple Gate
 

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Artists’ Books and Stones

 

Tanks Artcentre Cairns 31st August to 21st September 2007
 
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Brunswick Street Galleries Fitzroy Melbourne 26th October to 15th November 2007
 
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The Art Factory West End Brisbane 22nd February to 28th February 2008