Wednesday, 25 May 2016


Easter Melbourne (2/2)

I've really messed up this time - I just seemed to never find the time to finish up the second part of rounding up Melbourne. It's so strange to think that I went from a state of great contentment and relaxation to my current state of muscle pain, period pain, and never-ending stress is pretty surreal - all in the space of a few months. So now that I'm home, on a Wednesday, catching up on my Torts notes on pure economic loss, I figured now is as good a time as ever to catch up and get this content out. If only just as a record that I was there, and I felt things, and I have these good memories that are worth reliving.

Leo and I went to the Ai Wei Wei x Andy Warhol exhibition at the NGV. Personally, I think Melbourne has more delightful art offerings - not that Sydney doesn't - but in the couple of times we've been down there, they've really blown us out of the water. With that said, I haven't had a chance of check out the Biennale - maybe I will, seeing that it's there for a while - but maybe not. Life gets in the way. I also know that that really isn't a good excuse. I know better. I'll plan it into my already-packed life, just you watch.

With that said, the Ai Wei Wei exhibition was delightful. Personally, I felt a lot more connected with Ai Wei Wei's work - if only because there was this strong cultural and historical dimension to his work. Admittedly, I don't know everything - not even close to anything - about Chinese politics and history. I know as much as the next child of a first generation immigrant. Snippets of injustices, the occasional corruption story, the sweeping condemnation of the cultural revolution & the communist government, and a curious comment on Taiwan.

What I do know for sure though, is that China is as complicated - if not more complicated - than every other nation on earth. And this means that there are so many social injustices that have happened and continue to happen. Certain exhibitions left a lasting impression on me - Ai Wei Wei's efforts to name the victims of the Sichuan Earthquake in particular was moving. It's easy to lose a connection with the sufferings of others. We hear about disasters too much, and I, like many, have grown desensitised. But to see him document the names of those who died brings it closer to home. People cannot be characterised and valued in terms of numbers. It is all well and good to count the dead, but to know the names of the dead is entirely different, and wholly more important.

I think on some level, this is why we need artists. Sometimes, you need a different kind of medium or method in order to communicate. Sometimes, traditional news media isn't going to cut it. We live in a world today where our attention is constantly divided and demanded, and it's so easy for entertaining, light-hearted things - senseless things, to win. Internet memes and OOTDS. To go to an art exhibition and to become informed of a grave injustice and so much loss is something we need. It's something I needed. I have never met any of these people - so many children - who passed away in Sichuan. But Ai Wei Wei's work has brought me closer to them than any news report or number could possibly have.

With Flowers was also a remarkable body of work. To walk into a room in the exhibition and be confronted with so many flowers was on one level - delightful. Flowers are a powerful signifier in our culture. We give flowers as gifts, to celebrate almost everything - birthdays, mothers, weddings, babies, even to mourn deaths. And here, Ai Wei Wei placed a bouquet of fresh flowers in a bicycle outside his studio until he gained the right to travel freely. Flowers for freedom. I had never encountered something so poetic, powerful, and simultaneously beautiful.

Seeing the progression of Andy Warhol's work was also incredible. We tend to only notice artists' most acclaimed work. Like Andy Warhol's Campbell Soups. But I found his sketches of people - distorted, exaggerated - and flowers in bold colours and lines - equally delightful. Great artists develop their work and ideas just like the rest of us - taking the time to try things out, to sketch, until something is more fully formed and ready. The same goes for Ai Wei Wei's early work. He did some absolutely incredible ink landscape sketches.

I think in the process of immersing myself into photography, I had gotten lost - I had started to dismiss landscape. I didn't understand it. I guess this is partially because photographs depict reality very truthfully, in their raw form. Photography is limited in that sense. What is in front of the lens is what you get behind the lens. It's only after you go into the darkroom, or into photoshop, that things start to change. And for a while now, landscape photography has been what you see, in a picture. I wasn't drawn to it, because you couldn't make a view of a mountains, or a sunset, or architecture look dramatically different from the reality. These things are beautiful, but I couldn't do anything with them. This sense of being confined to what it was killed me. So I didn't really bother.

I had forgotten how remarkably different that was in art. On paper, on canvas. Anything else that wasn't photography. When it comes to replicating your view of the landscape into another medium, purely through use of your own hands, remarkable things can happen. Clearly I'd forgotten. I even feel somewhat ashamed right now. I know better.

I guess that's why seeing Ai Wei Wei's early sketches were so delightful to me. These renderings of real places did justice - you could look at these sketches and imagine the scene and the place, and yet they are still so unique to the artist. This is one person's perspective. How someone else views the world. This went on my bucket list when I got back - to sketch someplace in this style, relying on lines. Someone hold me to it. We'll go for a picnic.
On top of all these great artistic revelations though, there was also this.

Very few, if any of these packets exist anymore. San Lu was the main producer embroiled in the 2008 scandal. But there were many more. I don't think there's really a need to go into what happened. But looking at this did make me think and want to say - to all those who criticise those who buy formula here and ship it to China - yes, it is unfair that mothers in Australia struggle to get their hands on formula for their babies. There is a major supply and demand problem. But imagine being a mother in China, who needs to to get her child's food from overseas, because the formula more available to her is untrustworthy and might kill her child. This is the injustice.

I'm really glad I went to this exhibition. Of many exhibitions I've been to, Ai Wei Wei x Andy Warhol really made an impression, and made me think and feel more than any other. To any doubters who don't value art - this is why it's important.
I'm going back to do liability of statutory authorities now. Happy end of the semester, good luck for exams, and I'll see you all on the other side with another blogpost. I actually have more content backlogged than I thought.

Take care, M. x
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