A quick trip to Yangjiang
A quick trip to Yangjiang
Last week 4A’s Director Aaron Seeto, Assistant Curator Toby Chapman and Project Assistant Joanna Bayndrian traveled to China to undertake research for Actions for Tomorrow in Yangjiang Group’s home city and namesake, located in southwestern Guangdong Province, and meet the Yangjiang Group artists Zheng Guogu, Chen Zaiyan and Sun Qinglin.
The journey began early one morning with a flight from Beijing to Guangzhou, followed by a three-hour car ride to the coastal city of Yangjiang. By Chinese standards, Yangjiang is a small city with a population of about 2.6 million. The city itself runs along the Pearl River Delta, with the humidity, near tropical vegetation and expanse of blue sky a constant reminder of the city’s location.
After meeting with Zheng Guogu, we were taken to the artist’s awe-inspiring project,The Age of Empires (2008- ), a complex of unfinished buildings and structures, an artist studio and sprawling gardens. This mythical project, developed as part of Zheng’s own practice, was a project that we had read about and eagerly explored. It gave us a glimpse into the working process and conceptual ambition of Zheng, his connection to the city of Yangjiang, and his interest in how art can be integrated into life, and life into art.
After a studio visit and a tour of his new work, Zheng led us on a walk through his garden to a series of elevated pavilions nestled in the treetops and overlooking the property. These pavilions were specially constructed for tea ceremonies, which we happily participated in. After some time of drinking, heavy rains and strong winds swept through, which we later discovered to be Typhoon Kalmaegi, heading towards Hainan.
As the afternoon passed, Zheng told us that we had been invited to the wedding banquet of a friend, where we would then meet the other members of the Yangjiang Group, Chen Zaiyan and Sun Qinglin, as well as other local artists and friends. This generous hospitality and openness to visitors would continue through the rest of our time in Yangjiang. At dinner, many of the guests remarked how excited they were that visitors from so far away had come to Yangjiang, and that they were proud that Yangjiang Group would be coming to Australia. The other main topic of conversation was food, and the quality of Australian seafood.
The following day we ventured to the Yangjiang Group studio – a massive concrete building, constructed out of compound geodesic shapes and surrounded by gardens. Zheng designed the building himself, and when asked what his neighbours thought of the studio he simply said, ‘they think we are aliens’.
During the morning we were given a tour of the building and talked about earlier projects – Yangjiang Group’s take on shu-fa (calligraphy); After Dinner Shu Fa at Cricket Pavilion (2012); Waterfall an important sculptural work constructed out of calligraphy and wax; as well as more recent projects that incorporate clothing sourced from Yangjiang.
The rest of the day was left to drinking tea and discussing the influence that various teas can have on the body, as well as the upcoming project in Sydney. It was a rare and great privilege to spend this time discussing and reflecting upon the relationship between life and art for Yangjiang Group, and how both life and art exert influence upon one another. How one expresses themselves in space; how one considers the built environment; the contemplation of the cultural value of tea and food; what one does with the left-overs from dinner; these are all opportunities for reflection for Yangjiang Group.
From this trip and the time spent with Yangjiang Group in their hometown it’s clear that their artistic process is an expression of everyday life and an exploration of the connections between social action and cultural meaning.
We’ve now proposed to Yangjiang Group that they take over all of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art – to incorporate the office and administrative functions into the installation and to allow us (the staff) to think carefully about the roles that we assign to culture in our daily lives. In the coming months, Zheng Guogu will travel to Sydney for a site visit as part of the development of the exhibition and performance in January 2015.
Stay tuned for another update about Zheng’s visit to Sydney, and an invitation to all of our Kickstarter supporters to attend a private artist talk by Zheng about the Yangjiang Group.
Drinking tea with Yangjiang Group