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Posts Tagged ‘China’

No One Can Draw Runners, and Other News

October 13, 2014 | by

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A Greek vase with runners at the panathenaic games, ca. 530 BC.

  • “Picture a person running. You’re probably picturing [it] wrong. It’s okay, you wouldn’t be alone. It turns out that artists have been drawing people running incorrectly for thousands of years. From Greek vases to drawing handbooks to modern sculptures, even our very best artists can’t seem to get the pose right.”
  • A new anthology’s narrow definition of art: “There is certainly great value in drawing attention to the historical context of a poem. We ignore an essential feature of literature when we lose sight of its power as an artifact of a particular moment, place or era. Still, it is difficult to read Poetry of Witness without quickly sensing that the editors are gaming the system to support their narrow preconception of poetry’s utility.”
  • Censorship in China: great for sales. “Having a book banned in China is often a marketing coup for publishers selling copies abroad. In the age of social media, this dynamic appears to be playing out on the mainland as well … ‘Smothering someone is as good as crowning that person … A ‘smothering’ order is a reading list.’”
  • The art of brand names: What makes for assonant, beautiful, memorable, popular branding? (Pro tip: do not name your company Shpoonkle. It will fail.)
  • Against brunch: “There’s something more malevolent at work than simply the proliferation of Hollandaise sauce that I suspect comes from a packet. Brunch has become the most visible symptom of a demographic shift that has taken place in our neighborhood and others like it … Our once diverse neighborhood now brims with the homogeneity of an elite university.”

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Calm Down with Some Landscapes, and Other News

June 17, 2014 | by

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Li Shan, Wind and Snow in the Fir Pines, mid-twelfth to early-thirteenth century

  • Robert Frost: the least understood of the great modernists.
  • Marshall McLuhan: the most understanding of early teenagers.
  • I never dreamed of being a dominatrix, as a child might imagine driving a steam train, but when I became one I learned a trade as intricate, and as British, as that of the steam-engine driver.”
  • In twelfth-century China, the Confucian elite knew how to blow off steam: “In lieu of a literal return to nature, court figures would instead purchase landscape paintings and hang them on their walls. When they felt their souls growing jaded and heavy from quotidian concerns, they’d gaze at the lush scenes and transfer themselves into the place of their inhabitants—ink-brush silhouettes holding fishing rods, gathering plum blossoms and sipping a refreshing beverage in a rustic tavern.”
  • “You would think that a theme park attraction called the Palace of Unicorns would be a charming fantasy world. You’d be wrong. Located within Suoi Tien Cultural Theme Park in Ho Chi Minh City, the Palace of Unicorns is a graphic depiction of Buddhist hell.”

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No Memories

June 4, 2014 | by

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Tiananmen Square in 2007. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre. In 2009, The Paris Review published Liao Yiwu’s “Nineteen Days,” an essay in which he chronicles his imprisonment after the atrocity. He wasn’t there, but in his outrage he recorded a poem, which was enough to get him arrested for years. His piece is a haunting testament of a nation still struggling to reckon with the import of the event:

Three years after the massacre, I was in jail. Five years later, police were stationed in front of my house. Seven years later, there were sporadic memorial activities organized by individuals or small groups—petition letters, candlelight vigils, the burning of paper money to appease the dead, poetry readings, and hunger strikes. On the tenth anniversary, I repeated my poem “Massacre” for an overseas radio station by chanting and yelling into my telephone receiver … I remembered the story of Sun Jinxuan, a poet who died of lung cancer in late 2002. On June 4 that year, he woke up with pain. He called a dozen of his friends, most of whom were poets, writers, and celebrities. The first thing he asked on the phone was: “Do you know what day it is?” … Believe it or not, I was the only one who correctly pointed out the anniversary. Sun felt embarrassed and outraged by the answers of his friends. He yelled loudly on the phone, announcing that he intended to stage a one-person demonstration on the street. His slogan would be: “Killings, killings. No memories, no memories.”

In China, June 4 is also known as “Internet Maintenance Day”; authorities censor Weibo, a Chinese social network like Twitter, making it next to impossible for anyone to recognize or remark upon the political weight of the occasion. As a post on Language Log attests, the list of redacted words is remarkably thorough: even the usage of a simple word like today is enough to merit suppression. Subversive workarounds like “May 35,” a coded reference to June 4, are blocked, too, as are many others: Read More »

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A Boiling Soup of Opium

June 3, 2014 | by

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Unknown Chinese artist, Commissioner Lin and the Destruction of the Opium in 1839

Happy Opium Suppression Movement Day! This is, according to such reputable resources as Wikipedia and career.osa.ncku.edu.tw, a Taiwanese holiday dedicated to stamping out cigarette smoking—but it all began on June 3, 1839, when more than one thousand tons of illegal opium were systemically destroyed at Humen, in China’s Guangdong province.

By that time, an estimated four to twelve million Chinese citizens were opium addicts; though the opium trade had been banned in China since 1800, smugglers continued to import massive quantities, largely to the gain of the British and the East India Company. The Daoguang Emperor, understandably fed up with these circumstances, adopted a kind of zero-tolerance policy, enforced by a Special Imperial Commissioner named Lin Zexu.

In March of 1839, tensions between the British and the Chinese came to a head, and Commissioner Lin aimed to seize the Brits’ entire supply of opium; when said Brits offered only a small bit of their contraband, Lin threatened to behead one of them. Long story short, his force paid off, and he came into tons and tons of opium. On June 3, he began to destroy it all, a task that absorbed the better part of three weeks. An 1888 account explained his process, which was ingenious, if labor-intensive: Read More »

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Beauty Is Not Truth, Truth Not Beauty, and Other News

May 22, 2014 | by

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Keats was wrong, scientists say, kind of. Keats’s drawing of the Sosibios Vase, c. 1819

  • Was Frank O’Hara the social-media whiz of his day? Well … “O’Hara’s Lunch Poemslike Facebook posts or tweets—shares, saves, and re-creates the poet’s experience of the world. He addresses others in order to combat a sense of loneliness, sharing his gossipy, sometimes snarky take of modern life, his unfiltered enthusiasm, and his boredom in a direct, conversational tone. In short, Lunch Poems, while fifty years old, is very a 21st-century book.”
  • With apologies to Keats, beauty is likely not, in fact, truth; nor, by transitive property, is truth beauty. “The discourse about aesthetics in scientific ideas has never gone away … Today, popularizers such as Greene are keen to make beauty a selling point of physics … the quantum theorist Adrian Kent speculated that the very ugliness of certain modifications of quantum mechanics might count against their credibility. After all, he wrote, here was a field in which ‘elegance seems to be a surprisingly strong indicator of physical relevance’ … We have to ask: what is this beauty they keep talking about?”
  • “The Chinese name diseases based on symptoms, so diabetes is known as ‘sugary pee.’” A few doctors wish to remedy this.
  • “Beginning in the late 1930s, Richard Edes Harrison drew a series of elegant and gripping images of a world at war, and in the process persuaded the public that aviation and war really had fundamentally disrupted the nature of geography … Harrison dazzled readers of Fortune with artistic geo-visualizations of the political crises in Europe and Asia. The key decision he made was to reject the Mercator projection, which had outlived its purpose.”
  • The anxiety (and ecstasy) of influence in Bob Dylan: “With the help of Google Books, Scott Warmuth, a fan from New Mexico, has been delving deeper into Dylan’s recent writing and finding all kinds of odd, uncredited borrowings. Passages from Dylan’s memoir, Chronicles: Volume One (2004), were taken from disparate sources: from H. G. Wells, Jack London, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald; from Tony Horowitz’s nonfiction book “Confederates in the Attic,” a travel guide about New Orleans, and an issue of Time, from 1961 … Dylan’s ‘appropriations were not random. They were deliberate. When Scott delved into them, he found cleverness, wordplay, jokes, and subtexts.’”

 

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The Message in the Meaningless

April 29, 2014 | by

Fig. 46_Zhang Huan_Family Tree

Zhang Huan, Family Tree, 2001, nine chromogenic prints. Photo: © Yale University Art Gallery.

Fig. 45_Song Dong_Printing on Water

Song Dong, Printing on Water (Performance in the Lhasa River, Tibet), 1996, thirty-six chromogenic prints. Photo: Eugenia Burnett Tinsley.

Fig. 39_Wu Shanzhuan_Character Image of Black Character Font_1989

Wu Shanzhuan, Character Image of Black Character Font, 1989, six unmounted sheets; ink and color on paper image. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Fig. 47_Liu Dan_Dictionary

Liu Dan, Dictionary, 1991, ink and watercolor on paper. Photo: courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Fig. 40_Gu Wenda_I Evaluate Characters (2)

Gu Wenda, Mythos of Lost Dynasties Series—I Evaluate Characters Written by Three Men and Three Women, 1985, hanging scroll; ink on paper. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Fig. 128_Cai Guo Qiang_Project for Extraterrestrials No. 10

Cai Guo-Qiang, Project to Extend the Great Wall of China by 10,000 Meters: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 10, 1990, accordion album of twenty-four leaves; ink and gunpowder burn marks on paper. Photo: courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fig. 113_Wang Dongling_Being Open and Empty

Wang Dongling, Being Open and Empty, 2005, hanging scroll; ink on paper. Photo: courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fig. 138_Ai Weiwei_Stool

Ai Weiwei, Stool, ca. 2007. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Fig. 144_Zhang Jianjun

Zhang Jianjun, Scholar Rock (The Mirage Garden), 2008, silicone rubber. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Late last year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art unveiled “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China,” the institution’s first survey of contemporary art from the country. Situated within the museum’s Chinese art galleries, the exhibition interspersed the old with the new, adding context—or, perhaps, simply conserving space. In the permanent Ming Scholar’s retreat, an aubergine rubber scholar rock by Zhang Jianun cast a long shadow over its limestone brethren, while unusable furnishings by the artist-activist Ai Weiwei—a wobbly stool constructed like craniopagus twins, and a table folded at the middle so its four legs have become two legs and two arms—seemed poised to animate and wander away from their sixteenth-century predecessors. Resistance to tradition is a prominent theme in Ink Art, as is the importance of writing in—subtext, of course—a country with an active policy of censorship.

The exhibition looked at the evolution of China’s calligraphic traditions, but its most powerful statement came with works that play on an idea of language, rather than on actual words. Song Dong’s 1996 performance Printing on Water (Performance in the Lhasa River, Tibet), in which the artist futilely stamped the water’s surface with a large wooden seal, alludes to the hopelessness the act of writing can evoke, particularly if it leaves no trace. The final two works in “Ink Art” are also concerned with meaningless writing—but they combined to create a more comforting message. Xu Bing’s installation Book from the Sky filled the last room with scrolls covered in block-printed Chinese characters. The text cascaded in soft arcs across the ceiling, wallpapering the room and coming to rest in neat piles on the floor. The careful organization evokes a calm—which is abruptly displaced when one learns that the text comprises four thousand nonsense characters. Most Western viewers wouldn’t be able to read the text anyway, but the realization that no one can is transformative. An expanse of gibberish becomes an inhabitable space of words: the viewer is absolved from the act of reading. Read More »

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