Sunday, 15 August 2010

Too many legs for those cranes

... there are some images that keep stirring around my head. One, are those of Lucia Noguiera's film Smoke (1996) that I saw in parts at the Tate on Tuesday. I wish I hadn't been so annoyed by Francis Alys's posturing and would have gone back again to see this rather quiet film about a performance involving kites, umbrellas, two kiosks, a bench and little else.

But: the other image is captured and a bit more considered than this glimpse at Smoke.
It involves a colourist woodblock print, done in the Great Norther Wastes somewhere in China, and is part of the current exhibition at the British Museum on The printed image in China.

 Country Sentiments/ Xiangqing by Hao Boyi (b. 1938), 1983,
Woodblock print in oil-based inks and colour on paper, c40x55cm

After having seen a couple of printmaking exhibitions in the gallery space of the BM I find the space too stuffy and archival for prints that were so clearly concerned with the world around those who made them, commissioned them and used them - like those in the Mexican revolution or now the 20c Chinese prints.

The texts that go alongside the prints are in part banal, in part patronising: either it's political as in propaganda, or it's not political as it concerns a landscape.

This print here is thus, arguably, about a backward, idyllic rural scene. Done by a generation of printmakers and other artists, the Beidahuang movement, who joined 100,000 demobbed soldiers in the late 1940s to 'cultivate' the plains.

The print caught me (unsurprisingly) for its colourist qualities: those fields of hue and contrast.
Yet, upon closer inspection:
  • Why are there so many more legs than cranes?
  • And, why does the sedge grow across the birds' bodies? 

Surely, the artist would have been able to match up his separate woodblocks in a way to match bird body with bird legs; and surely he would know that sedges don't grow on bird bodies?

So, why did he divert, subvert or at least distort such realistic representation of rural life in the Northern Wastes. I wonder if the author of the accompanying text is right with their comment that  such "nostalgic scene is typical of his lyrical, colourful style".

So, is political only accepted as party political ideology? Is there not so much more going on, that is not easily read from without? Says she, thinking of the great commentary that Frontier Blues provided of northern Iran, also part of the culture programme in the big city last week.

As for the printmaking:
  • many of the prints make explicit use of water-based inks and how they disperse on damp paper. There are some very good examples of that, e.g., Dawn Melody/ Chen qu by Lu Fang (born 1932), 1983
  • also: it seems common to handcolour part of the prints later
  • as David Hockney mentioned, there is something curious going on with perspective. - It's obvious in some of the prints, such as Sunrise at Nanhu/Nanhu richy by Shi Handing (born 1930), 1981. - The horizon line is variable and objects don't necessarily recede. I need to have a closer look at this and what possibilities it affords.
  • as to Hao Boyi, the artist of Country Sentiments, there seems plenty more of him around the inet. Look at his work and the context. Maybe I'll even find something about the missing cranes' bodies?

1 comment:

SKIZO said...

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Good creations