|The China-Australia exchange exhibition Process-Journey opened in October at Red Gate Gallery and at the Australian Embassy in Beijing. Process-Journey commemorates the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Australia. Eight Chinese and Australian artists explored and interrogated concepts of cross-cultural exchange.|
Jayne Dyer on Process-Journey
The China-Australia exchange exhibition Process-Journey opened in October at Red Gate Gallery and at the Australian Embassy in Beijing. Process-Journey commemorates the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Australia. Eight Chinese and Australian artists explored and interrogated concepts of cross-cultural exchange.
Each artist has developed a significant relationship within and across both countries. Born in Beijing, Li Gang studied in Australia from 1991 to 1996; Australian artists Rose Farrell and George Parkins, Jayne Dyer and Lindy Lee were awarded Asialink residencies in Beijing in 2000, 1995 and 1994 respectively; Guan Wei left China in 1989 and now has studios in Sydney and Beijing; Melbourne artist and curator Tony Scott first exhibited in Beijing in 1994; Laurens Tan had an Australia-China Council residency in 2006 and like Scott and Dyer now lives in Beijing.
To co-curators Tony Scott and Paula Payne, the curiosity that drives these experiences highlights the impact of cultural exchange on personal practice. It also raises questions about whether contemporary artists from different regions are able to communicate in a broader cultural context, and whether language can extend beyond the boundaries of an individual and national identity.
For Traces – 80 Shoes, Li Gang collected discarded footwear found throughout Beijing in disused factories, demolished housing sites, and on streets. Each shoe, whether a remnant of a worker’s boot or a leather sandal, tracks a personal history and when cast in bronze, becomes a permanent memorial to ordinary daily lives, usually overlooked or forgotten. The objects themselves are an evocation of the dramatic social change being experienced across China.
Red Gate Gallery, situated in the imposing Dongbianmen Tower on the southeast corner of the old city wall, is one of the few surviving Ming towers. The site is critical to Jayne Dyer’s work A Reading. She constructs and simultaneously conflates China and Australia’s parallel histories. Two large-format digital prints of actual doorways in the first governor’s colonial residence in Sydney hang framed by the Watchtower’s monumental interior. By partially obscuring the prints with two impossible to reach white constructions piled with open, blank books, Dyer intentionally leaves the scope of each country’s future open for conjecture.
Lindy Lee’s concertina books titled Jia (home) trace her genealogy and form a poignant record of an individual history of Chinese migration and personal dislocation. The work reflects her ongoing investigation into issues of selfhood, identity, and authenticity. Banners with images of Lee’s mother and other family members also integrated into the Embassy forecourt are particularly powerful reminders of the blur the can occur between national boundaries.
Transmigration is central to Guan Wei’s large, multi-panelled painting Day After Tomorrow No. 7. Large expanses of land and sea resembling early cartography of unknown territories are inhabited by strange anthropomorphic figures that cling to flimsy open boats and small islands. Irony undercuts hard-hitting issues including migration policies and the status of refugees in Australia and China.
Rose Farrell and George Parkins’ work collaboratively on photographic projects that situate themselves within elaborately constructed tableaux. In the provocative photograph Mandarin Ducks at the Great Wall Farrell and Parkins face each other, exposing their almost naked chests to the viewer. Their skin is covered by a second skin—traditional Chinese paper cuts. Two cultures collide as two bodies indignantly gaze over the divide.
Tony Scott’s long-term relationship with China is reflected in his expansive collection of Chinese memorabilia. New Health Plan 10 appropriates objects and charts generally associated with Eastern and Western medicine—wooden acupuncture demonstration models, unexplained Chinese hospital machinery, his personal MRI scans. The installation is disconcerting; by placing himself squarely in the work Scott moves from voyeur to participator, complicit in the systems he presents.
Laurens Tan’s recent series Risk Beijing considers the notion of a Chinese design nationalism. With a past and present already prescribed, he is interested in the hypothesis of a blueprint for China’s future. Tan’s fiberglass and steel sculpture Dan Sheng is part-automobile, part-bicycle. He created a strange mutant alternative that is one part then and one part now, combining tradition shot through with sci-fi, a “somewhere in between” hybrid, flexing its muscles, ready to fly.