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Posts Tagged ‘China’

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 »


It Lurks

January 31, 2014 | by


The creature in question, ostensibly terrifying.

Today is the Chinese New Year, and as you prepare to celebrate, I entreat you to remember the reason for the season. It’s a tale of not inconsiderable woe, and for this reason children are cautioned against reading it, though they’re also, paradoxically, commanded to heed it.

In the land called China, during a period called the shànggǔ—which translates roughly to “a very long time ago”—a fearsome creature-beast once roamed the land. It was known as the Nian, because rather than howling or roaring like your more conventional monster types, it emitted a cry that sounds like the Chinese word nián. Accounts of the beast’s appearance vary, but in many depictions, it resembles the stone lions sometimes seen outside Chinese restaurants: flat faced, with a dog’s body, prominent incisors, and a barrister’s powdered wig. Some have even described it as a lion with the heart of a bull. All of which suggests that it’s fairly effete and underwhelming, with very high blood pressure.

And yet it struck terror into the hearts of men. Every year on the night of the second full moon after the winter solstice, the Nian would come down from its home in the mountains to harass people and eat their chickens and children. In order to escape its wrath, the villagers would evacuate their homes and flee into the forest. This went on for centuries, presumably, until one year the people devised a plan. They sent an emissary up through the mountains into the Nian’s lair. Quaking with fear, he approached it and he said, “Nian, if you think you’re so big, go and kill all the other monsters in the world.”

And so it was that the Nian killed all the other monsters in the world. Read More »


WTF, and Other News

September 24, 2013 | by


  • Poet Kofi Awoonor was among the victims of the Nairobi terrorist attacks. The African Poetry Book Fund will publish his final collection next year. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal runs one of his last poems.
  • Following charges of author-bullying, Goodreads has declared that, going forward, it will “delete content focused on author behavior.”
  • China is establishing a naming system for seabed areas based on the oldest known collection of Chinese poetry, Classic of Poetry, also known as the Book of Odes, which dates from the eleventh to seventh centuries B.C.
  • A concise history of WTF.


    Chicken Poetry, and Other News

    March 15, 2013 | by


    • Sheryl Sandberg: “I probably shouldn’t admit this since I work in the tech industry, but I still prefer reading paper books.” 
    • Perhaps this explains why January bookstore sales were up 5.5 percent ($2.1 billion)!
    • KFC is recovering from a Chinese chicken scandal with a Twitter poetry contest. “KFC kicked off a poetry contest on social media. The company asked fans to pen poems that include the phrase, ‘The chickens are innocent,’ laying the blame on illicit drug use at the farms. Best poem wins an iPad mini.” Yes, you just read that correctly. 
    • We can’t get enough of Nina Katchadourian and her “Sorted Books” project. 



    Chatterley Sex Advice, and Other News

    January 30, 2013 | by

  • In today’s adaptation news, Campbell Scott will be helming Didion’s Book of Common Prayer.
  • Remember these words: sub-compact publishing. You are witnessing the future.
  • Not ready for the future? Here’s Virginia Woolf’s bread recipe!
  • Ten things not to say after sex, according to Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
  • Finnegans Wake is selling like gangbusters in China.





    Street Scene

    January 3, 2013 | by

    Well into my adolescence, New York City began and ended with a single street. For a long time, it did not even seem important that I learn the name of the street; everyone simply called it the Street of the People of Tang. The Tang, of course, were the Chinese, and Americans, foreigners to the street, named it Chinatown.

    Of course, strictly speaking, I was a foreigner too. Because my mother worked in a suburban Connecticut town, all colonnaded colonials and frosty-haired WASPs, and spoke halting English, we boarded the Metro-North only when desperation over the last can of aoki mushrooms made it imperative. Later, when I grew to speak better English than she, I became the navigator. “So when we take the downtown green line, where is it that we get off again?” my mother would ask, eyes squinting nervously over the teeming throngs we would soon join at the mouth of Grand Central. Canal, I answered, always the same answer. We get off at Canal Street.

    Read More »