Tag Archives: Art

Surreal and Unrelated

Someone be a rose tree
Some be the wind’s daughters
Some the rose thieves

The rose thieves creep up on the rose tree
One of them steals a rose
Hides it in his heart

The wind’s daughters appear
See the tree stripped of its beauty
And give chase to the rose thieves

Open up their breasts one by one
In some they find a heart
In some so help me none

They go on opening up their breasts
Until they uncover one heart
And in that heart the stolen rose

–Vasko Popa

These are the lines of “The Rose Thieves,” a poem I have found perplexing for a while. It’s cryptic, but one might usually argue that poetry is cryptic by nature. Yet, Vasko Popa — a luminary within Serbian verse — had a penchant for purposefully trying to misdirect his reader. For example, he poem “Horse,” one of his more famous pieces translated into English, famously starts with “It has eight legs.” The combination of that and the title leads to a rather surreal of an eight legged horse. If you could look hard enough, though, one could argue that the title is referencing a spider. My problem with “The Rose Thieves” is I’m trying to figure out what the “thieves” actually are, and that is a mistake. There are no skeleton keys for unlocking a good bit of verse. Each should poem should be considered its ownspecial puzzle box.

When it comes to Popa, “The Rose Thieves” was one of his works that I had never read before. I found it in Nanjing, of all places.

This was posted outside of a café and art gallery in the China Lane complex. This is near the Confucian Temple. China Lane is basically a collection of restaurants, galleries, and boutique shops dressed up in the architecture of Chinese antiquity. The Gan Xi Former Residence is also here as a historical attraction. However, back to the poem; Elegant, I believe, is the name of the gallery in question.

As challenging as Popa’s poem is, it’s next an equally perplexing statue. It’s a figure standing with a rigid posture with his head tilted towards the heavens. There is also a curious thing sitting on this figure’s face.

What on earth is on this man’s mouth, nose and eyes? Could it be some sort of space amoeba trying to force its way past the guy’s lips and down his throat? Um, no. Amoebas don’t operate that way. They stretch out pseudopods around something like a sinister hug and draw their food towards them. They ingest by absorbing their prey directly into their body. So, no, amoebas are definitely out. It could be an intergalactic gelatinous blob trying to find an entry point — via the mouth — to ultimately gain parasitic control over a human host. But, why does everything have to be sinister? Maybe that gelatinous blob is just an extra terrestrial pet that’s giving his man-friend an affectionate kiss?

What on earth does this have to do with Vasko Popa’s poetry? None, actually. Except, the poetry was posted next to the statue. Give me time, a lot of alcohol, and cigarettes, and I likely could conflate an answer. But, I’m not going to do it here. The truth is, the statue is a permanent fixture in this part of Nanjing. “The Rose Thieves” poem, however, was not.

Essentially, the poem was linked to a gallery exhibit dedicated to painting of roses. Since the public display of verse is quite a thing in China, it’s likely that one of the gallery employees searched the English Internet for rose-themed pieces. So, even though there is no obvious linkage between the two, it still interesting how they parallel each other, even if accidentally and temporarily. One day, I went back to see the actual art exhibit, but the paintings had already been taken down and replaced with a new themed display.

Faces of Abing

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.

Sanyang’s Vanished Murals

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.

 

 

A Surreal and Ambient Place in Zhonglou

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.