Inspiration and illumination
Breath and light
In and out
Woke up at 6.30am and couldn’t back to sleep so I had an early start and headed out to the library again. This time however, I took my trusty manual Pentax instead of my digital camera, as I have brought a load of slide film with me and it’s about time I started using it. After a long session at the library, I had an even loooonger session of trying to get out my thoughts as images.
Libraries are necessarily quiet places, but as I sat there today I imagined I could hear what the books wanted to tell me. It was a cacophony of thoughts, ideas, schemes, dreams, plans, propositions, strategies, policies and speculations – I was torturing myself really, as it is such a strange feeling to be surrounded by so much knowledge, yet not to be able to understand any of it. I looked and I saw, but I could not read much.
This unnerving sensation was heightened because I was going over notes I had taken on “Linear A”, an un-deciphered writing system that was used on ancient Crete circa 1800 – 1450 BCE. It contains hundreds of symbols whose meaning remains a mystery. There have been several theories put forward about how this language might have worked, but ignorance prevails. We simply have no idea what they were saying, which is simultaneously frustrating and pleasing, much like my library experiences here.
I said goodbye to Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts today and took one last look at the big peeking eye of its showcase building before making my way back into the city centre. As I looked at that building looking back at me, I remembered something I read a few nights ago. It was Tessa Hadley’s review of “The Woman Reader” by Belinda Jack (London Review of Books, Vol. 35, No. 18):
“As for secular images of women lost in their reading, who knows what’s in their books? There’s seductive power in a woman who neither returns nor avoids your gaze, because she’s absent even as she’s present; but there’s an envy as you look at her too, and longing for whatever hidden realm it is that she has access to, closed to those who can see only into the painting and not into the book…”
I find it difficult to imagine the picture of the “solitary reading woman” of the future. Unlike the pages of a book, a screen reflects: it is both mirror and eye, and as such does not offer a hidden realm. What is accessed on a screen will be read simultaneously by countless others, so that the “present absence” mentioned above morphs into shared, controlled distractedness rather than sustained private contemplation – and this applies equally to men and women. Perhaps this suggests a kind of equality, but what is lost in the transition?
An icy chill has descended, seemingly out of nowhere. The Public Art studios were freezing today – not as cold as Rogue Studios can be, but getting there.
I spent last night and this morning finalizing a presentation about my proposed artwork for Zhujiajiao, the water town. Unlike the students, who are working in groups, I will be working alone on this and so I’ve had to keep things as simple as possible. Time is also a major factor; the exhibition opens so soon I can’t believe it, these are not timeframes I am used to! My work often takes months rather than days to make, BUT it’s good to have normal practice challenged from time to time.
As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, Ling Min suggested I use an old boat as the site for my work. In thinking about what to do with it, I have let my visual experiences of Shanghai guide me – the vertical lines, repeated forms, covered surfaces and the collision of traditional and modern have all informed my idea – but there’s also a nod to the thirsty, as this is for a water town after all.
I’ve pitched the plan to Yijia and she seemed to like it, now all I have to do is convince Ling Min and I can get on with it…
At 8am students are already arriving at the studios. The Public Art course has a great space, or at least I thought so until Yijia, my host and lecturer on the course, says that other disciplines have much better studios. Sculpture, for example, has a cavernous and fancy space, but it’s not as scruffy as Public Art and so I don’t think it has as much charm.
The morning starts with student presentations to the Dean about how their plans for the Water Town exhibition are proceeding. Some of the groups have made great progress, however the Dean has stern words for those who have wasted time. The exhibition opens on 9 Dec and two of the groups haven’t even agreed a location for their work, let alone finalized a proper budget (good to see undergraduate students having to think about this aspect). Negotiating space for artworks in the Water Town should have been underway a long time ago, as both local government and residents have to agree to plans, which is likely to be about as straightforward as a drunken water snake.
I give feedback wherever I can, but it is a slow process as only Yijia and one student (who asks me to call her Grace) can understand any English. I decide to focus my attention on the group who are making a miniature mock-up of their “Floating Lawn”, as communication through making is an easier option. Pointing and miming is preferable to staring in blank silence at laptops filled with budget sheets/paperwork I can’t actually make any sense of.
The afternoon is full of hard work, wild hand gestures and laughing. The students are lovely. Once work is underway and they realize that their plan might actually happen, they get giddy with excitement. It won’t just be a digitally rendered floating lawn, it will be an actual one! The day ends with us walking down to the University Lake to see if their mock up will float. They lower the bamboo, string, matting and grass creation into the water and phew, it floats. They still have some hurdles to cross though – the design they have is for a lawn of 5 x 5metres and it has to survive on the river for 20 days…