Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Huang Yong Ping

One of the delights of retirement is being able to do things that there never seemed the time to do before. After nearly 50 years of constant work, I did take quite a bit of time to adjust to the new life. I do miss the salary coming in, but that couldn't go on for ever. I certainly don't miss the pressures of work, and really appreciate the time available to read more, attend music evenings, see more of family, make new friends, visit new places, and to write. The latter is becoming a bit obsessive, but hey, I love it. To have time for a wide range of interests makes you a more rounded person I think. (Please, no comments about my girth). I'm finding that Nottingham and district is giving me all that I'm looking for at this present time, and to think that previously all I knew about was Robin Hood. There is so much more to do and see in this wonderful place.

Nottingham Contemporary
Travelling into town today, I decided to get off the bus at the Lace Market and see what was on at the Nottingham Contemporary. I decided that this would be one of my art days, as I'm still fairly clueless about the meaning of it all. Currently there is an exhibition by HUANG YONG PING (more of which later).

External Lace Effect Walls
Nottingham Contemporary was opened on the 14th November 2009, and is one of the largest contemporary art centres in the UK. It is undoubtedly an impressive building, but I'm still struggling to decide what I think about it.

The building was designed by award winning architects Caruso St John, based in London. The site is said to be the oldest in the city - it was the site of a Saxon fort, a medieval Town Hall, and finally a late Victorian railway cutting. The steps at the side of the building have recreated a historic right of way.

The architects, in explaining their design, say, "The site of the new building is in a part of central Nottingham called the Lace Market, whose history and built form has parallels with the cast iron district of New York, giving the centre a loose cultural connection to its site. In our design, we set out to offer a wide range of interiors that will have the variety and specificity of the found spaces of a factory or warehouse, within a new building: rooms that will change the installation and production of contemporary art and offer new ways for performers and audiences to interact. The exterior of the Centre takes its inspiration from the amazing 19th century buildings of Nottingham, and in particular, from the impressive facades of the Lace Market".

Granted that I'm a layman in these matters, and having already stated that the building is impressive, I don't want to come over all Prince Charles here. I love the Lace Market with its fantastic buildings, and I just think that the Nottingham Contemporary building is out of keeping with its surroundings, albeit that its on the edge of the area, rather than right in the middle of it. However, that's only my view, and contemporary art can get away with murder. But, it's up and running now, and is there to be enjoyed, and additionally in my case to be puzzled over. Who ever said that art appreciation comes easily.

Huang Yong Ping
So what of the exhibition that I saw? It will come as no surprise to learn that I'd never heard of the artist before today, and lest you think that I've become all pretentious and 'arty', the descriptions of the exhibits mainly come from the exhibition catalogue and from the artist himself. Please direct any questions to the Director of Nottingham Contemporary.

Huang Yong Ping was born in Xiamen, Fujian Province, China in 1954. He graduated in 1982 from Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in Zhejiang Province, China.

Because of turmoil in China, and the reaction to some of his work, he moved to France in the late 1980's, where he lives today, though making frequent visits to his homeland. He is described as a contemporary visual artist, though because of the size of much of his work, they could best be called 'installations'. I'll draw attention to three of the exhibits, and the rest you'll have to see for yourself.

Bat Project IV, 2004
Bat Project IV, 2004
Bat Project is a series of related works created between 2001-2004. They refer to an incident in 2001 when a US spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet in Chinese airspace. The US plane - an EP3 packed with sensitive surveillance equipment - was forced to land and its 24 crew were arrested. The Chinese fighter jet crashed and its pilot is presumed to have died. A diplomatic wrangle followed, but eventually the US was allowed to dismantle its plane and ship the pieces home, as the two countries attempted to paper over the cracks of a newly emerging economic relationship. Bats now roost in the cockpit - an allusion to the bat logo on the tail of the spy plane, but also a direct reference to the cultural differences between East and West. In Chinese mythology bats symbolise happiness and good luck. They are also credited with healing sight defects. In the West they represent the furtive threat of the night.

Huang Yong Ping says, "If the spy plane had been repaired and openly and honourably flown back to the United States, it would have been a rather ordinary and dull ending. When an airplane is dismantled and transported by another aircraft, however, the whole process in itself resembles a 'work of art' in my eyes. It was censored many times, and artistic creation was caught up in the complex, ambiguous games of international diplomacy, internal policy and individual identity".

Amerigo Vespucci, 2003
Amerigo Vespucci, 2003
Commenting on this installation, Huang Yong Ping says, "An Italian-bred bulldog, the Neopolitan mastiff (mastino napoletano) is used here as a metaphor for Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian who documented the discovery of the American continent, and after whom America was supposedly named.

The bulldog's urine forms the geographical outline of America in an instantaneous and accidental way. Here the line between the wall and the ground represents the world's longest straight border (the United States - Canada border). Its fluidity implies extensiveness and overflowingness. It is an example of all 'limits' and 'borders'".

Marche de Punya
(The Market of Merits and Virtues), 2007
The Market of Merits and Virtues, 2007
The market stall is typical of a small street shop in China. This one sells Buddhist statues, incense, candles and fake banknotes used as offerings to the dead.

In keeping with a rapidly expanding economy it has diversified - selling brooms and household goods too. It is a market of 'merits and virtues', or punya - the image of China's economic prosperity.

The elephant is often the guardian of Buddhist temples and a symbol of mental strength. Here it lies dead, overpowered perhaps by market values.

"Religion today is not disappearing, it is stepping back. Another way of looking at this withdrawal is that it now has a substitute ... globalisation itself". - Huang Yong Ping.

So there you have it. An exhibition well worth seeing. I've visited Nottingham Contemporary a number of times, and I believe that this may well be the first time I've come away saying that I liked that, and that I could see what the artist was getting at. Have I really just said that? There may well be artistic hope for me yet.

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