WHAT IS HERE? WHAT IS THERE?
Works on Paper, China & USA; 2009 - 2014
I love sculptor’s drawings. They have a sense of physicality like no others. I wondered where my use of layers and “looking through” to see something beneath came from in my work. My Mom was a seamstress that influenced my becoming an artist, my sense of “women’s work” and stimulated the complexity of layers seen visually and identified conceptually in my art.
These works came out of a 2-month artist studio residency in 2009 at The Red Gate Residency Program in Beijing, China. I had come to a dead end in my creative juices and wanted to shake something new loose. I found myself in the north eastern immigrant corridor of Beijing sitting in an ancient, now renovated pickle factory compound, called “Shangri-La”! The residency was as rewarding as it was extremely difficult to navigate. One of millions of other fellow immigrants to Beijing, I couldn’t read signs, or speak one of the 2000+ Chinese dialects and knew no one! I reframed my thinking by asking the questions, “WHAT IS HERE? (in Beijing)… WHAT IS THERE?” (in the US) while in China. It’s impossible in these short notes to summarize the many insights, contradictions and cultural similarities existing in both countries that showed up. A strong one however is that “Beijing-sized” makes “Texas-sized” look dinky. I felt miniaturized. Also, the Chinese people I met are like me with passionate notions of change about their way of life, too. Observations of political power (corruption) and wealth (entitlement) were very similar between us.
I have never been told what to make as an artist in the US. In China, that is not the case. US citizens have freedom of speech, so speech here is taken for granted and undervalued. In China, artists threaten the status quo by questioning authority. There wasn’t an artist I met there who felt China was opening up fast enough. All of the artists represented by The Red Gate Gallery, my host, made comments like, “If we had guns like you do in the US, all politicians would be dead in 1/2 hour in China.” As an example, my husband and I were touring the galleries in the famed art district called “798”. We came up some stairs to meet face to face two fully armed, camo dressed very young guys guarding the door to The Ghao Brothers studio gallery. If you were Chinese, you couldn’t go in, yet we could. The Ghao Brothers weren’t allowed to leave China for 17 years. International interest in their work eventually broke this down. The internet is essential for this. I asked what happened and one brother said, “The government realized in the end that we were just artists and let us out due to the pressure.” China is slowly opening yet government controls by an infinitely vain leadership areconsistently steel fisted and paranoid toward artists.
People interpret what freedom is in many ways. In the artworks seen here with Chinese characters, these spell the word “FREEDOM”. I ask, “freedom to pollute? ..to be brand name consumers?.. to speak?” This is the question that has stayed with me. Chinese people want what the US people have. We need to be vigilant to preserve the best of ourselves. We don’t have to be in China to lose our freedoms, either. We can lose them right here.