Daughters of the Dragon – exhibition and workshop

This exhibition is on at Gallery Lane Cove until 27 February 2020. It “contemplates contemporary Chinese cultural heritage and identity in an Australian context from a female perspective”, and features work by three artists.

Mimi Tong
Script

Mimi Tong used ink dyed bamboo cotton yarn in her installation. It appeared to be finger-knitted to create more body and texture, with more texture from the uneven ink. It was effective in bringing energy and volume to the space allocated to her, which would otherwise have been sparse, while still at least in my eyes remaining domestic in scale.

Some of my reading lately has been around lines, writing, drawing (Tim Ingold and Michael Taussig) – both overlaps and differences. I don’t know the significance of Mimi Tong’s title, but it made me wonder if there was more there than I understood.

Chun Yin Rainbow Chan
Rubble

More clearly script-based was Chun Yin Rainbow Chan’s installation Rubble. Made of unglazed salt dough, the fairly roughly made characters were distributed on low plinths around the space. A three part video installation, Hands, appeared to show the making and cooking of dumplings.

Why “rubble”? It didn’t appear to be broken. Unable to connect, instead I wondered about the stamp making possibilities of salt dough in print-making.

The central part of the gallery space, where the visitor enters, held Tianli Zu’s immersive installation Shen Long. It was a beautiful experience.

Tianli Zu
Shen Long


Tianli Zu
Shen Long


I had the opportunity to chat in a group with Tianli Zu during a break in a workshop with her. She explained that the work was based in thinking about the water dragon. No one has ever seen this, so it is her impression of it.

There are so many elements to this. Hand cut mulberry paper, painted with many layers of Chinese ink. It was hung from the walls, and from the ceiling using a multitude of threads (representing the wind). Painted and heat distorted acetate suggest water. The projection onto walls and across the ceiling was based on stop motion photography of the cut paper. It also included text – poetry (in english) by Tianli Zu. Recorded music, composed and performed by her son Andrew Zu, played in the background. Strong currents from the gallery air conditioner kept everything in motion.

The workshop was two very enjoyable hours on paper cutting. Tianli Zu began by giving us some background and an appreciation of the philosophical basis of paper cutting. The balance of positive and negative, the duality of two cut lines needed to reveal the shape, the combination of deconstruction and reconstruction, letting the paper drop away without forcing or tearing it, were all important. We tried to find a smooth rhythm – Tianli Zu finds paper cutting a meditative process, a means of problem solving. There is a care and thoughtfulness built in. And how do you repair it if you make a mistake? Don’t repair – Make another cut!

The gallery provided A4 paper that was a little heavier than Tianli Zu would have preferred, so she reduced the number of folds for our first attempt. While she demonstrated, she was very keen for everyone to make their own choices in the cuts made.

Next up was cutting using images provided by Tianli Zu as templates. She explained the symbology of some of them (suitable as a gift for an older person as it included the character for long life, or suitable for a woman to give to a man to show love – a frog shape, suggesting fertility – as in “I’d like to have your baby”). I’m not sure about this one, but it was definitely a challenge – with the advantage of additional pleasure in finishing 🙂 We were encouraged to work fluidly, not sticking rigidly to the design of the template.

Now we were encouraged to draw our own designs – based on a teapot shape provided, but creating our own designs internally. That was actually one of the key takeaways for me: don’t just cut a shape, make it beautiful with flowers or other forms inside.

Finally I went back to one of Tianli Zu’s designs.

Cutting stencils for use in print-making was my main motivation for taking the class. As well as the cut forms I have kept the negatives – the outside frame and many of the smaller bits removed. I’ll have a session soon trying out these paper ones. Some thoughts for the future:

* Not just the outline. Add internal shapes to create beauty and interest – always with awareness of the positive and negative shapes being formed.
* Cut rhythmically, fluidly. Cut from above or below, supporting the point where the cut is being made.
* Select the tool – large or small scissors, knives… – suited to the shape you want.
* Cut small pieces first. Reward yourself with the longer cuts later.
* Develop shapes with additional meaning, even if it’s not apparent to all.
* Don’t repair. Cut.

1 Response to “Daughters of the Dragon – exhibition and workshop”



  1. 1 Printmaking: x steps forward + y steps back | Fibres of Being Trackback on February 18, 2020 at 4:59 pm

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