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Posts Tagged ‘China’

Shanghai 1962

August 18, 2016 | by

How my mother’s accordion led to a chance encounter in Mao’s China.

wei-tchou

For years my parents have told me about a photograph that shows my mother shaking hands with Zhou Enlai, the first premier of China under Mao Zedong. The photograph was taken in 1962, four years before the Cultural Revolution began, but it was lost until a few weeks ago, when a barrage of Instagram notifications, texts, e-mails, and WeChat messages alerted me that the picture had been found. It had turned up on Facebook, of all places, in a post detailing the history of my mother’s grade school in Shanghai. (A point of recent pride: Yao Ming, the basketball player, was a student at the same school, albeit decades later). An aunt of mine who lives in Hong Kong forwarded the picture to my father, who then distributed it across the Internet.

In the picture, my mother is fourteen. Her hair is in a low ponytail and she has an accordion strapped over her shoulders. She wears a checked knee-length skirt, a white blouse, white ankle socks, and Mary Janes. Several rows of Chinese flags fly in the background; in front of these stand many smiling girls holding bouquets of flowers. All eyes in the picture are on Zhou Enlai as he grips my mother’s hand. He’s tall and handsome, in a Mao suit and strappy sandals. Her smile is easy and uncalculated, bordering on surprise.Read More »

The Empress of Gowanus

July 7, 2016 | by

Two trees grow in Brooklyn.

Empress tree.

Empress tree.

Lately I’ve come to love the empress trees that stand at either end of the Union Street Bridge, which crosses the Gowanus Canal, in Brooklyn. The pair aren’t much in winter, but come spring their canopies grow heavy with grand cascades of lavender flowers. The display is especially remarkable because the canal that flows beside the trees is polluted by heavy metals, pathogens, polychlorinated biphenyls, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and other suspiciously unpronounceable toxins. Whatever perfume might drift from the purple blossoms is instantly overpowered by the rot that wafts from the canal’s murky, iridescent waters. Read More »

Clouds Are the New Fireworks, and Other News

July 1, 2016 | by

Marketing materials for Khmer Cloud Making Service.

  • The poet Geoffrey Hill has died at eighty-four, “suddenly, and without pain or dread,” according to his wife. “The word accessible is fine in its place,” he told the Guardian in 2002. “That is to say, public toilets should be accessible to people in wheelchairs; but a word that is perfectly in its place in civics or civic arts is entirely out of place, I think, in a wider discussion of the arts. There is no reason why a work of art should be instantly accessible, certainly not in the terms which lie behind most people’s use of the word. In my view, difficult poetry is the most democratic, because you are doing your audience the honor of supposing that they are intelligent human beings. So much of the populist poetry of today treats people as if they were fools.”
  • Hilton Als tells the long, harrowing, ecstatic story behind Nan Goldin’s The Ballad: “The Ballad was Goldin’s first book and remains her best known, a benchmark for photographers who believe, as she does, in the narrative of the self, the private and public exhibition we call ‘being.’ In the hundred and twenty-seven images that make up the volume proper, we watch as relationships between men and women, men and men, women and women, and women and themselves play out in bedrooms, bars, pensiones, bordellos, automobiles, and beaches in Provincetown, Boston, New York, Berlin, and Mexico—the places where Goldin, who left home at fourteen, lived as she recorded her life and the lives of her friends. The images are not explorations of the world in black-and-white, like Arbus’s, or artfully composed shots, like Mann’s. What interests Goldin is the random gestures and colors of the universe of sex and dreams, longing and breakups—the electric reds and pinks, deep blacks and blues that are integral to The Ballad’s operatic sweep.”

Words in Light, and Other News

April 18, 2016 | by

Jenny Holzer, Xenon for the Peggy Guggenheim (detail), featuring Henri Cole’s poem “Blur” projected on the Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Granda, Venice, Italy, 2003.

Rambling Through Rio, and Other News

March 11, 2016 | by

Kurt Klagsbrunn, Dama acompanhando a corrida no Jockey Clube (detail), Rio de Janeiro, 1945. Image via Aperture/Museu de Arte do Rio

  • Today in zits: if you like to spend your free time watching grotesque pimple-popping sessions on YouTube, you’re not alone. (I may or may not have dedicated an hour to zit vids in the very recent past.) Sandra Lee, a dermatologist, has turned her science into art, posting “extraction” videos and picking up 850,000 subscribers along the way: “Sensing an untapped audience, Lee began posting more videos of things popping from the skin, and her audience gradually grew … Her online fans didn’t seem to mind the ick; in fact, many of them relished it. Some fans reported that their mouths inexplicably watered when they saw a particularly juicy pop; others claimed that they found the videos so soothing that they used them as a sleep aid. Lee began setting videos to punnily titled music, like Duke Ellington’s ‘Just Squeeze Me (But Please Don’t Tease Me).’ ”
  • Milking the rest of it,” a new poem by Dorothea Lasky, is rich in bodily fluids, too: “Turn the faucet on / Turn the breast on / Emptied completely of milk / With the tiny hoses in a row … ”
  • The photographer Kurt Klagsbrunn captured the people of midcentury Rio as no one else could: as a stranger. Ali Pechman writes—“A Jewish Austrian refugee, he arrived in the city in 1940 and photographed its people and places until 1960, the year the government decamped for Brasília … He took no less than 100,000 photographs of his new city. The austerity of his early pictures quickly gives way to crowded street scenes with a focus on character, whether a trolley fish seller, a carnival samba dancer, or a Carioca walking her dog in Copacabana. A chic young journalist eyes the camera suspiciously as two white-coated waiters dote on her; a grisly greengrocer looks on tiredly from inside his shop … The photographer’s own off-kilter sense of humor is never out of sight.”
  • Today in critical shrugs: a critic shrugs. That critic is Barry Schwabsky, who understands the degree to which his role is in flux: “I have to admit that the critic’s loss of power doesn’t worry me much. I don’t see my job as mainly that of making or breaking artists’ reputations, or of informing collectors or curators what they ought to buy or exhibit. If they don’t listen to me, fine; I have other responsibilities toward art … If there is a crisis in art criticism, it has to do instead with an inner transformation in the nature of art itself. What if art no longer requires a public—that is, someone like the active spectator Duchamp spoke about? That would be a conundrum, for the critic would no longer have a position from which to evaluate art. It’s not impossible, and it’s not even a new idea: Back in 1966, for example, Allan Kaprow called for “the elimination of the audience”—for participation rather than a merely “empathic response.” In recent years, in great part as a result of their revulsion toward the financialization and globalization of art, more and more artists have been taking this idea seriously, avoiding the audience and instead working only with participants, with collaborators and communities.”
  • Meanwhile, in China: everyone is really into this rom-com about a mermaid. It’s called, appropriately enough, The Mermaid, and it’s just become China’s highest-earning film of all time. How, you ask? One word, my friend: environmentalism. “The Mermaid is not pure escapist entertainment. The ills it addresses—environmental pollution and rampant speculation against the backdrop of a widening income gap—are impossible-to-ignore facts of everyday experience for a Chinese audience. The film opens with a montage of documentary-style footage: sludge pouring from factory pipes, oil-smothered animals, dolphins being herded up for slaughter …  It serves a cathartic function, providing an anxious Chinese audience with an opportunity to laugh at their daily injustices, pairing an everyday violation with a larger dose of fairy tale, one in which everything will work out in the end.”

Introduction Into an Obscurity

February 3, 2016 | by

From the cover of Destruction and Sorrow Beneath the Heavens.

There is nothing more hopeless in this world than the so-called Southwestern Regional Bus Station in Nanjing on May 5, 2002, shortly before seven o’clock in the drizzling rain and the unappeasable icy wind, as, in the vast chaos of the buses departing from the bays of this station, a regional bus, starting from the No. 5 bus stop, slowly ploughs onward—among the other buses and the puddles and the bewildered crowd of wretched, stinking, grimy people—up to the vortex of the street, then sets off into the wretched, stinking, grimy streets; there is nothing more hopeless than these streets, than these interminable barracks on either side, numbed into their own provisional eternity, because there is no word for this hopeless color, for this slowly murderous variation of brown and gray, as it spreads over the city this morning, there is no word for the assault of this hopeless din, if the bus pauses briefly at a larger intersection or a bus stop, and the female conductor with her worn features opens the door, leans out, and, hoping for a new passenger, shouts out the destination like a hoarse falcon; because there is no word which in its essence could convey whether the direction in which he now travels with his companion, his interpreter, exists in relation to the world; they are headed outward, moving away from it, the world is ever farther and farther away, ever more behind them; they are shaken, jolted in advance in the disconsolate brown and yellow of this ever-thicker, indescribable fog; headed to where it can hardly be believed that there could be anything beyond the brown and the gray of this frighteningly dreary mixture; they sit at the back of the ramshackle bus, they are dressed for May but for a different May, so they are chilled and they shiver and they try to look out of the window but they can hardly see through the grimy glass, so they just keep repeating to themselves: Fine, good, it’s all right, they can somehow put up with this situation, not to be eaten up from without and within by this grimy and hopeless fog is their only hope; and that where they are going exists, that where this bus is supposedly taking them—one of the most sacred Buddhist mountains, Jiuhuashan*—exists. Read More »