But is it art? Lijiang Studio exhibition opening

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Friday, March 16, 2007

  I got a text message this afternoon, saying there would be an art gallery exhibition opening in less than two hours' time, in a place in the countryside maybe 15km from my home in the old town of Lijiang. Back in New Zealand, in the capital Wellington it is almost possible to go to an exhibition opening or book launch every night of the week. But here in the borderlands of China and Tibet, such invitations are quite rare. But that is changing fast largely due to a newly established studio and gallery.

Over the last few years I've been hanging out in this part of the world, each time I've traveled between Lijiang and Zhongdian, I've seen the roadside gallery which has slowly taken shape. But today was the first time I made it inside to see the work of two foreign artists who have finished their residencies with Lijiang Studio.

A little background first about Lijiang Studio. It was set up by Jay Brown and Mu Yuming in 2004. This is what they say themselves:
Lijiang Studio provides living space, working space, and facilitation for international, Chinese, and local artists in two locations: one rural location, Lashihai, and one urban location, Kunming, both in Yunnan Province, China.

Lijiang Studio's base is at Lashihai, a rural farming community 20 kilometers from the city of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main residency facility is a traditional Naxi courtyard house, lightly renovated. Lashihai is a lake, situated at the base of 5596 meter Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, inside a nature reserve.

The Lijiang Studio aims are:

1) To benefit local people with cultural intervention that is sensitive to their communities and traditions, providing a means for them to adapt to the massive influx of Western, global culture and forces of modernization in ways that enhance, rather than deplete, their culture.

2) To complement and foster growth in China's thriving arts communities, which presently exist in the outskirts of cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. To connect Chinese artists with a community rooted in China's rural culture, as an alternative to the urban Chinese experience.

3) To provide international artists with the opportunity to experience rural Chinese village life, as an alternative to the intense pressure and marginalized status of the international "white box" art circuit.

I took a mini-bus from the old town market - 5yuan - to Lashahai with one of the artists-in-residence, and we arrived around 4pm, the designated start time, but nothing much was happening. There was this notice on the website about the exhibition:
Entitled "Globalization at Lashihai" this exhibition is the first in a diverse set of inquiries by Lijiang Studio resident artists into the relationship between existing culture at Lashihai and the globalizing forces at large.

The building itself is quite impressive, made from bottles, wood, glass, steel, rocks, tiles and a lot of thought. The entrance, for example, is a huge door with a large truck tire which revolves. A pyramid directs light down several stories into a kitchen and fireplace area.

On show were some photographs by Bangladesh photographer Joybrata Sarker, and some installations and sculptures by Portuguese artist Mariana Bacelar.

The photographs were taken in the village where the artists-in-residence reside, some 4km away. What made the exhibition of photos more poignant was the arrival of the photographer - "He's always late, someone said - with a handful of the subjects from the photos. This group of elderly men with long wispy beards, sun-toned faces and benign smiles stole the show really, and many of the people gathered for the opening ended up taking photos of these guys as they sat in the sun of the Lijiang spring afternoon, and their 15 minutes of fame.

This is what the website says about Joybrata's work:
Currently a quiet farming community with important ecological assets, Lashihai is also a potential site for commercial real estate and tourism development: Joybrata Sarker documents daily life at Lashihai, with a sense that change is imminent. Sarker's attention to natural light and the accidental composition allows life at Lashihai to expose itself to us. Against the familiar context of overworked tourism advertising dominating Lijiang, his photographs are fresh and direct.

Upstairs Mariana has a video of a boy playing with a slingshot, against the backdrop of the surrounding hills and mountains. She also had some red sculptures of a little girl, all face down with a footprint embossed on their backs, like someone had flattened them into the ground. Later she spoke about the little girl mould she had taken with her from Portugal on a two month trip overland by train to China.

She actually used the mould and filled it with the local delicacy - bean jelly - for a piece of edible art.

This is what the programme said about her work:
Mariana Bacelar shows sculpture and video made at Lashihai which subverts the innocent image of children. She shows childhood's innocence to be susceptible to a barbaric yet accepted social system where people hurt other to get ahead. Bacelar's imagery often uses little girls - archetypical, fairy tale images - and presents them in shocking, violent positions, forcing us to consider the social mechanisms which turn an inocent girl into an unequal member of our society.

Anyway, if you are in the 'hood, check out the exhibition which is on for a week. Or visit the website of Lijiang Studio which is www.lijiangstudio.org
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Cami.scout@gmail.com on

Thanks for sharing such rare data! I'm participating on a volunteer trip to Lijiang next month, and I find your travel blog more than enlightening. It's sort of a pity that in the dates I will be there you won't be back from your current trip. I hope to meet you someday!
I got your travel blog link from your Cs profile.

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