Chinese-American Artist Seeks Intercultural Dialogue through Art
    2013-10-28 14:31:39       Web Editor: Liu Kun

The photo shows the painting piece of Xu Jianguo's latest art work "The Harmony". []

The photo shows the installation piece of Xu Jianguo's latest art work "The Harmony". []

Xu Jianguo is a Chinese-American artist. []

Dialogue and interaction between China and the west has never been a fashionable topic. But getting people's attention through distinctive artistic expression is a relatively new method. In an effort to gain such attention, Chinese-American Artist Xu Jianguo recently displayed his art work in the National Museum of China. Liu Kun takes you there for a closer look.


Visitors might be surprised when they first come across Xu Jianguo's latest work, entitled "The Harmony". The work contains three pieces of art. The first is a painting in which the left half is an image of Confucius created via the method of traditional Chinese painting. The right half of the painting features an image of Plato created in the traditional method of painting commonly used in the west. Surprisingly, though the two halves are in complete contrast, they join together to create a harmonious painting and atmosphere.

The second piece to "The Harmony" is an installation featuring a large ball covered with wood resting upon a desk. At either end of the desk are two empty chairs.

Rounding out "The Harmony" is a video detailing the process of human life, from embryo to death.

Xu Jianguo says "The Harmony" crystallizes his 34 years of experience in China and 29 years in the US.

"My personal experience in both countries makes me think what is the difference and what is the similarity. That also reminds me of who I am and where I came from as a Chinese-American. But also, my experience tells me the importance of different cultures."

In the painting, Xu expresses his idea by portraying Confucius and Plato in a lively yet smooth dialogue. In the installation piece, the ball represents the earth while the two empty chairs symbolize that the real dialogue between east and west hasn't started yet. Playing in the background of the installation are sounds of children saying hello to one another in different languages. Xu says this represents his wish that real and sincere dialogue will continue into the next generation.

Xu explains that the use of three different art forms allowed him to combine the advantages of each form and make his point explicitly.

"I think the art form has its own language. For the two dimensional painting you need certain kind of knowledge. Probably that's more for scholarly audiences. The installation creates a kind of environmental language and has visual impact which expresses the meaning more clearly, more direct to the public. Then I find installation is three dimensional piece, but lack of time change. For multimedia, you have from beginning to the end to be covered. And people can get into the sense of history. Also I want people to appreciate different art forms."

It took almost a year for Xu to finish "The Harmony". Apart from inspiration drawn from years of shuttling back and forth between east and west, Xu believes it is the responsibility of an artist to arouse public attention in order to resolve misunderstanding and communicate better.

"In the information world, our groups get closer and closer and communication is so easier to reach out to almost everywhere in the world, but the cultural exchange is so limited, difference in nations and cultures involved always caused confrontation and misunderstanding. That worries me a lot. I regard it's my duty to do something about it. I believe it's very good to raise this question, how we are to live together, be harmonious and keep the difference."

Born in the 1950s, Xu spent 8 years working as a stage designer at the Shanghai Opera House before going on to complete a Masters of Fine Arts in 1984 at Bard College in the US. During his early years of studying overseas, Xu was instructed to master the best elements of western art. But later, Xu tried to revitalize his Chinese heritage and went on to create his own unique artistic style.

"I was having a lot of difficulties at school because the faculty don't like you to have your eastern flavor. Why you come to the States for? You should learn our culture. Yes, I learn culture from you. But in the meantime, I can not get rid of who I am. I have the Chinese culture behind me and that is part of my blood. But I am willing to take something new. So I am thinking to put Chinese painting and western painting together and create something new."

The conscientious artist also maintains that in a world where every nation is striving to get their culture across to other nations, China still has to improve in several ways in order to gain a better global understanding.

"When you want to promote your own culture, you have to know it. This 'know' is by heart. The second thing is that our education should have much wider, broader views of the group of cultures. And then I think the most important thing is we really have to have a group of people, specialist, professionals, to devote themselves. If this is not established, nothing could be accomplished. I think the problems is the academic circle, they don't have passion for their ideas, for their beliefs and for this culture. I am sorry to say this, but this is true. In China, I find so many culture organizations, but I don't find they have concrete plans."

Xu is exhibiting more than 50 pieces of his artworks in the National Museum of China, including his most well-known "A New Vista of Shanghai," featuring a combination of traditional Chinese painting and western painting and a panoramic view of the city of Shanghai.

For China Now, this is Liu Kun. 


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