In the cultural history of Wuxi, Abing is a heavyweight. In many respects, he is remembered as a folk hero — here was this blind and impoverished Taoist priest roaming around Wuxi while writing and playing music on his erhu or pippa. Some of his songs were topical, and some of them are still transcendent. Not a lot of his creations were written down as sheet music, and only a few have been recorded for posterity. Imagine if somebody in America like Woody Guthrie had their body of work lost to history. Abing’s surviving compositions are now considered Chinese national and cultural treasures.
In Wuxi, his home has been preserved as a museum in his honor. Upon my last visit, I was struck by the sculptural and artistic renditions of him. Some are quite surreal. Here are some pictures to that end.
Let’s start with a fairly realistic head bust for comparative value. Now, let’s move on to a selection. The following are not all of the sculpture’s at Abing’s former home. It’s just a quick sampling.
Most of the sculptures — and their dreamlike qualities — make Abing seem like a larger than life figure. But, then again, most folk heroes are just that: larger than life. And, the legend of a person may or may not gel exactly with who they actually were. Still, here was a Chinese musician who engaged the imaginations of his listeners. It’s only fitting that he have equally imaginative artistic renditions of his likeness.
I suspect graffiti and public art may be more of a American cultural phenomenon, especially in New York City, New Jersey, Philadephia, and other urban settings. I don’t really see it much in this part of Jiangnan, and so when I do, I always take notice and give it a good, long look. I always take pictures. For example, in Wuxi, there used to be stuff like this on a long wall.
This is just three selections from a bigger personal photo archive I have. This was near Sanyang Plaza in downtown Wuxi — walking distance from the subway station and Chong’an Temple. I always found these murals quirky, whimsical, and fun to look at. Now, the area looks like this.
The graffiti wall is completely gone. It seems something with traditional architecture is taking its place. A similar situation has happened with another long mural wall across the street.
So, what does this look like, now?
If you look closely, the artwork is now covered by advertisements. I am not complaining about this. I am not somebody who thinks every bit of artwork needs to physically preserved either. There are reasons why some American art lovers, like myself, always snap cell pictures of graffiti. It’s a finite experience. A city or real estate company may remove it, eventually — such as what has happened in Wuxi. In America, graffiti pieces are often covered by rival artists who hate each other. As I said, street art can be a finite experience. So, to that, I am glad to enjoy both mural walls while I could.
Imagine you are eating a chicken dinner drinking red wine. Above you, clouds move, but they are not exactly white. They seem more of a soft yellow, and they are swirling in a way that normal sky clouds wouldn’t. Eventually, these whisps fade and change into abstract and gradually shifting gradients of red. You’re not really paying close attention to this at first. After all, you are eating chicken and sipping on a glass of wine. In front of you, there is also a stage. A woman is singing with a band. You are also idly chatting with a friend sitting next to you. The next time you look upwards, the red gradients are gone. They have been replaced by images of rippling water — which eventually morphs into a cityscape.
All of this is supposed to sound like an otherworldly dream. However, such a surreal place exists in Changzhou. It’s a special events venue in Zhonglou on the grounds of the Dusit Thani Hotel near Qingfeng park. This space is as avant garde as it sounds. The structure consists of interlocking inflatable domes. A network of lighting equipment and video projectors creates a 360 degree multimedia environment. Images and patterns of smoke, fire, clouds, and a lot more are projected onto the curved walls and ceiling. The technology involved is advanced to the point where video with sound can also be played — a commercial for a automotive company, for example.
All of this is the product Oracle Projects, an international entertainment and special events production company. Before coming to Changzhou, Oracle has helped host events at the Beijing Olympics and other places around the world. Essentially, it is a high-end venue space for hire. While Oracle is working and consulting on this project, it is actually locally owned by the Shanghai Aviation Future Cultural Development Company 上海中航未来文化发展有限公司.
The event I attended was sponsored by Borgward. This is a German automotive company with a long history dating back nearly a hundred years. For a long time, this car brand was dormant, but Chinese investors helped relaunch the company recently. The evening consisted of a catered dinner, live music, dancers, a fashion show and more. To celebrate their relaunch, Borgward screened a new commercial on the venue’s curved walls. This was not a one-off event, either. Oracle Projects and its local partner have long term plans in Changzhou with other events to come.