Category Archives: Art

Ai Weiwei, What is he up to?

I recently came across some media coverage on Ai Weiwei. The world family and politically controversail sculptor has move to live in Cambridge in England after living in Germany for the last few years. He is also setting up a business to share his sculptures with buyers to be re-assembled in one’s home. This is consistent with his signature style to shock and to make one ponder his intent.

This brings to mind his exhibition in Toronto entitled “According to What?” some years ago. The impact of his home imprisonment in China was still fresh in his consciousness. And with China in the news these days with the CO-vid19 virus spreading from Wuhan to all over China, and  globally with no end in sight, the image of his crabs is an apt parady. There is a Chinese saying, that if one spills a basket of crabs, they’ll crawl everywhere–a situation hard to contain and control. This is what it is:

Ai Weiwei has been described as provocative, political and controversial.  The exhibition of his art on a world tour and at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) originated from Japan. The curator went to his home in China where he was on house arrest to discuss the presentation. I went to the exhibition with an open-mind, albeit wonderfully how I would feel afterwards.

Ai Weiwei’s Snake meandered on the ceiling of the entrance hall.

I entered a corridor with photographs of the changing landscape of China on display. The next corridor had television screens showing a myriad of clips ranging from Ai Weiwei working on his art forms, making faces (which I guess was also his artistic expression), and his arrest by the Chinese officials. There was a write-up on the incidence and pictures of brain scan showing the brain injuries Ai had sustained from the blow of the head by his officials, and for which Ai had to undergo brain surgery.

On the opposite wall, two marble sculptures, one representing surveillance camera outside his house and the helmet worm by the rescue crew at the Szechwan earthquake paved the way for more messages from the artist.

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His works reflect his ideas about free expression and right to protest, and at the same time, his artistic brilliance shine in his astuteness in the use of lines, forms and geometry.

One passed by a life-size sculpture of Ai Weiwei himself as one left the exhibition deeply moved by the power of this giant in the artistic world.

I am wondering now if Ai Weiwei will create a sculpture with face masks in response to the Wuhan corona virus when the masks are back in supply. This may even be a piece he can shipped to his patrons’ homes to be re-assembled.

Thursday Special: Vodou

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This was an exhibition that was new to me at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. The warning that part of the exhibition might cause discomfort or surprise spurred my curiosity to take a look. As it turned out, it was a thought-provoking and educational display on the origin, history and the practice of Vodou.

Vodou came to the New World from West Africa and took root in Haiti blending with local religious beliefs. The first group of exhibits were artifacts inspired by Vodou. On display was a Vodou shrine in the size of a small closet where Vodou could be practiced at home.

A wall was dedicated to the time-line of Vodou in Haiti, where colonizers who were Catholics denounced Vodou as superstition and considered it to be evil and barbaric. This drove Vodouists into clandestine practice and they formed their secret societies.

A central belief in Vodou is the interconnection of the spiritual world after death and the world we live in. This is achieved through Lwa, which are special spirits also manifesting the presence of the Great Met (the Vodou god). Lwa can appear in many shapes and forms. This one is an example:

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Vodouists communicates more easily with Lwa and when they do, they enter into a state commonly known as “possession”. The vodouists do not suffer and they return to their own selves afterwards.

On display were drums and artifacts used in special ceremonies and a video played the dancing, chanting and trance-like condition of vodouists to the rhythm of drums.

The exhibits looked more menacing towards the end of the exhibition, as they represented the darkness of persecution by the colonists and the struggle by vodouists for freedom and independence . Vodou also became synonymous with the fight against slavery at the time.

Haiti became independent in 1804 and Vodou was officially recognized in Haiti in 2003.

One of the goals of the exhibition was to dispel the notion that Vodou was associated with curses and the popular image of a Vodou doll that people poke with needles. In this exhibition, I saw a lot of parallel between Vodou and many other indigenous folk beliefs all over the world. Believers were persecuted in the name of religion by colonizers or invaders in human history. It is unfortunate that political domination is linked hand in hand with the attempt to eradicate the collective meanings of a culture that has become the subordinate. Would it not be a better world if we were more tolerant of differences?

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For more Thursday Specials this week, please visit Paul’s blog Lost in Translation.jupiter-widget_text

Public Art On The Trails

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Other than enjoying nature’s beauty on my walks or hikes, I also notice a myriad of public art. They are usually simple, neat artistic creations, some likely commissioned by the city to decorate open spaces, yet others are contributions by unknown artistic talents who want to express themselves on the trails. They always attract me to slow down and admire the details. Here are my recent collection to share with you.

Sonel’s Black and White Weekly Photo Challenge: ABSTRACT

This is my first time entering Sonel’s Black and White Challenge with pictures for the theme Abstract. I am inspired by blog friend Michael’s post in reitreediary in which he says, “We know what abstract is when we see one.”. When I walked past these two sculptures standing across the road from each other on Broadway, Saskatoon, I did not know what they were, but they certainly appeared “abstract” to me.

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A Kurelek Connection in Saskatoon

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William Kurelek was born in Alberta Canada to Ukrainian parents and his grandparents came to Edmonton in 1924 in the second wave of Ukrainian immigration. Kurelek was a prolific painter in spite of his short life. He was renowned for depicting the life of early settlers, particularly Ukrainian pioneers in his paintings. Several members of the board of directors of the Ukrainian Museum in Saskatoon met Kurelek to commission him to paint a collection to celebrate Canada’s Centennial. Kurelek spent about three years between 1964 and 1967 and produced 20 paintings focussing on the life of the pioneer Ukrainian women. He was working in his studio in Toronto at that time. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada did not have enough funds for all the paintings, and only paid Kurelek for twelve of them, now on display in the Special Collection Gallery behind the brass door, which were the original front doors of the museum in the Ukrainian Museum in Saskatoon.
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This is undoubtedly a precious collection that I have not come across before in publications on Kurelek’s art. Six smaller paintings in glass frames recorded the daily chores of the pioneer women–serving a meal, painting pysanka (Easter egg), engaging laundry, daily prayer, embroidery, and helping a child to read. Each painting tells a story and one is naturally drawn towards the facial expressions of the figures in an attempt to guess what is on their mind or what they are saying.

Six larger paintings are about community life, such going to church, farming, an outdoor picnic and dance. This painting is unique in that it shows a meeting of the Association of Ukrainian Women in session.

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I like this one with aurelius borealis in the night sky with mother and daughter returning with their supplies.

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The community party with exudes gaiety and festivities is more well-known  and a little boy, likely Kurelek himself, has climbed up the tree to watch the activities and scenes like this are based on the painter’s recollection of his childhood in the prairies.

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This collection is painted in oil on panel. The details and the fineness of the stroke are the work of a great master. One has to be face to face with the painting to appreciate the talent of Kurelek.

The Gallery also presents a documentary made in 1983 on Kurelek. There is  sub-titles if you do not know Ukrainian.

Ukrainian Museum of Canada, 910 Spadina Crescent East, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

A Word A Week Challenge: UNEXPECTED

I was walking across Broadway Bridge in Saskatoon. When I looked over the south side of the bridge, I saw the most UNEXPECTED sight: Painted rocks and stones!  (I am very pleased that it fits Sue’s A Word A Week Theme : Unexpected for this week.)

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I had no idea who did them or how they got there along the river bank, and people I asked did not seem to know either. Anyway, it’s a fun and pretty sight. Saskatoon has more interesting things to discover than most people think. To give you a better idea, this is the location (A):

PLEASE click here to see a bigger view of where the rocks are:

https://maps.google.ca/maps?q=Broadway+Bridge,+Saskatoon,+SK&hl=en&ll=52.121459,-106.659208&spn=0.000484,0.000955&sll=49.303974,-84.738438&sspn=11.814539,31.289062&oq=broadway+bridge+saskta&t=h&hq=Broadway+Bridge,&hnear=Saskatoon,+Division+No.+11,+Saskatchewan&z=20

Tracing the History of Ukrainian Immigration in Saskatoon

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I lived near the Royal University Hospital on the eastern side of town during my recent visit to Saskatoon. Located across the South Saskatchewan River on the west bank is the Ukrainian Museum of Canada. The museum is governed by a board of directors under the authority of the Ukrainian Women’s Association, which was instrumental in establishing the museum in 1936, and for its move to the present location in 1979. The museum has been collecting artifacts from across Canada to preserve the Ukrainian heritage in this country .

The museum has three exhibit areas. The Main Gallery has a permanent exhibition on the history of Ukrainian immigration to Canada, the Special Collection Gallery is dedicated to the paintings of William Kurelek, and a  Feature Gallery displaying the other collections of the museum, which otherwise are stored in the basement,  on a periodic basis.

The Main Gallery features articles collected primarily from the first wave of immigration of the Ukrainians to Canada. The exhibits tell the story of how hardship in Ukraine around 1890 -1913, combined with the promotion of immigration from Canada motivated many Ukrainians to leave their homes and travelled to Winnipeg, Edmonton and Saskatoon. The Canadian government gave each family 160 acres of land–a homestead–for the value of only $10 with the only condition that the immigrants must farm the land. There are immigration documents, land deeds, birth certificates and baptism papers on display. Household artifacts–farming implements, spindle and loom–and a large collection of costumes and accessories from western Ukraine are among the exhibits. The embroidery is complicated and delicate. There were an entire cabinet of pysanky (Ukrainian painted Easter eggs) and detailed explanations on the symbolism of the colours and how a pysanka is made.

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The first wave of immigration was halted by the First World War. When it resumed, the second wave continued up to the Second World War, and the third wave took place in the 1950’s. The last two waves were not as massive an exodus, because there was no incentive from the Canadian government. After Ukraine became an independent state in 1981, immigration continued at a steady pace.

The collection is well presented and educational. At the end of my tour, I develop a deep respect for the Ukrainian women in the pioneer days for their hard work in maintaining the household and daily routine while the men were occupied in farming and mining. Their influence has carried on into the present day with the establishment of this museum and their effort to secure a special collection of William Kurelek’s paintings. More on this when I write about the Kurelek collection.

Ukranian Museum of Canada, 910 Spadina Crescent E., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Travel Theme: SCULPTURE

The Travel Theme of Where’s My Backpack asks for Sculpture this week. I have seen many famous and impressive sculptures on my travels, but close to my heart are two sculptures in Hamilton, Ontario.

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This is Pebbles on the Beach by Janus and is located on the Hamilton Beach Trail (about 5 Km from the Lift Bridge). Janus grew up in Hamilton and her sculpture features three children playing with pebbles. I love their body language and the look of concentration on their faces.

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Another sculpture is located at the Hamilton West Harbour, near the yacht club and I go there after I have walked on the Hamilton Waterfront Trail. Setting Sail, as it is called, presents two persons on a sail boat. I have taken this picture on a cloudy day, but the sculpture still looks majestic to me. l

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I am pleased to showcase to my readers these two local gems. Hope you like them.

Travel Theme PEACEFUL: The Interactive Garden of Walt Rickli

The Travel Theme of Ailsa’s Where is my Backpack this week is Peaceful. This photo shows the setting in which I have discovered a peaceful surrounding for a quiet walk to engage in my own meditation.

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I am talking about the Interactive Garden of Walk Rickli, nestled in the serene grounds near Bronte Creek in Lowville Park, Burlington Ontario. Walt Rickli has made his name as a stone sculptor-philosopher, who has integrated into his art the beauty of nature and reflections in the mind. While I pace along the garden path, each sculpture invites me to pause, look and think. Many pieces on display have running water, the sound of which entices me to walk over, and I discover the stillness of the stone contrasting with the movement of the water. Many a visitor will find the ‘ohm’ moment here.

This is one of my favourite pieces.

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The exhibits are rotated during the year. I find on this day several sculptures depicting the native Inuit theme. I leave them to your interpretation.

Weekly Photo Challenge: PATTERNS

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This is that pattern of a carpet that I have taken a photograph of on a visit to a carpet factory in Kusadasi, a seaport in Turkey. All the carpets were handmade and I was told that the young women employed by the company not only made the carpets during the day, they also had to make a carpet which would be part of their dowry when they got married in their spare time. Needless to say, the bigger the carpet and the more intricate the pattern are coveted by future in-laws.

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Here are a few more of my favourites:

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Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: LINES

Lines are very versatile, whether they are placed parallel to one another, at right angles or at different angles for that matter, for creating endless patterns and forms. “Lines” is the theme for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week. (http://www.ceephotography.com/2013/03/27/cees-fun-foto-challenge-lines/

Vertical Lines (Lines of trees; they are everywhere)

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Vertical Lines (View from the rotating restaurant of Centrepoint Tower, Sydney Australia)

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Verticle Lines (Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal)

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Horizontal Lines (Steps outside the Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, Australia)

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Broken Lines (Courtyard for above)

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Vertical and Horizontal Lines (Another view from the rotating restaurant, Centrepoint Tower, Sydney, Australia)

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Intersecting lines, triangles (The China Bank Building, Hong Kong; Architect, I. M. Pei)

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More intersecting lines, this time rectangles (Cages at Featherdale Wildlife Park, Sydney Australia)

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Today is Good Friday, a very important date in the Christian calendar.  The most powerful symbol for Christians all over the world is formed by just two straight lines: The Holy Cross.

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This is to wish my readers a blessed weekend.

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: CIRCLES and CURVES

There is an intrinsic beauty to circles and curves that I like. They also lend themselves to architectural designs throughout the ages. The most famous of those, in my opinion, is the Sydney Opera House, which essentially is a dissection of a sphere (a 3-D circle) and a re-arrangement the segments by its architect Jorn Utzon (see Footnotes below). Because of its curvature, I find it aesthetically more appealing than designs focusing on straight angles.

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Since an arc is also part of a circle, there are so many examples of arc forms, and I just love the Gothic and neo-Gothic designs.

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Moving closer to modern day designs, the spiral staircase inside the Louvre is a surprise element in the midst of sharp angles one encounter inside and outside the museum. The arcs of the glass ceiling also soften the lines of the overall architecture of the place.

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Finally, I want to add this pretty paved walk in Macau, because it blends in so seamlessly with the architecture of the  Portuguese style houses in this neighbourhood built during the time of colonization, now preserved as a cultural heritage site.

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Footnotes:

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John Utzon writes,” After three years of intensive search for the a basic geometry for the front complex I arrived in October 1967 at the spherical solution shown here. I call this the “key to my shell” because it solves all the problems of construction by opening up for mass construction, precision in manufacturing and simple erection and with this geometrical system I attain fair harmony between all the shapes in this fantastic complex.”

Jake’s Sunday Post: ARRANGEMENT

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This is an item on display at the Museum of Modern Arts in Sydney, Australia and I think it is appropriate that I use it for the Introduction of this post on “Arrangement”.

I have just discovered Jake’s Sunday Post and his theme “Arrangement” for this week. I associate the visual product of an arrangement (granting that one can interpret the concept from the perspective of a musical arrangement or even marital arrangement)  to be putting something in a desired order to make it look attractive, or neat, or to produce a certain dramatic effect.

What is better than an arrangement of food on a plate? I sometimes admire the arrangement so much that I hesitate eating the food. How about this presentation of quail eggs and watercress, and the Chinese birthday buns…there are more buns hidden inside the big buns!

Quail Eggs and Watercress

Chinese Birthday Buns

Chinese Birthday Buns

I like the arrangement of shiny metal cones to form a street decoration for Christmas in Hong Kong, and how it contrast with the dull and irregular buildings in the background.

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Finally, I have selected the dramatic effect of the arrangement of water sprouts on the stage production of The House of Dancing Water, the world’s largest water show, performed in the City of Dreams in Macau, China.

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The Art of Feng Zikai (Hong Kong Museum of Art 2)

I came across the cartoon of Feng Zikai (1898-1975) when I was growing up and I was only too happy to see that there was an exhibition of his works at the Hong Kong Museum of Art on my recent visit. “Imperishable Affection” was the title of the exhibition. It was probably the largest exhibition of the work of Feng with contributions from his family and friends, collectors, the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Zhejiang Provincial Museum in China.

There were two themes in the Exhibition: “Creating a World of Compassion” and “Cultivating Life and Soul”. The exhibits revealed Feng’s philosophy on his artistic creation, and his beliefs as a person living through a turbulent period in Chinese history. They also reflected the transition of the artist’s style and subject matter in response to changes in the social milieu.

Feng called his works cartoons, but unlike modern-day cartoons which were created to entertain or to satirize, he described his cartoons to be reflective, in that they serve as a record of what and how he felt. He picked his subject matter from the ordinary people he met in the street and events happening around him. His drawings were as much works of art as they were cartoons. His earlier works had a more traditional flavour–he studied Chinese painting with his teacher, Li Shutong, who also had a profound influence in his Buddhist belief. His inspiration came from Chinese poetry. His style then became more a hybrid of Chinese and western painting, and his black and white drawings were akin charcoal sketches and wood-block printing.

His lines were simple and neat. Under the theme “Creating a World of Compassion”, with a few deft strokes, his caring concerns for everything that has life were reflected by his plea not to kill.

On a more positive note, his also had several painting to encourage the love of nature and care for the environment.

His nationalism and his dislike for the Sino-Japanese War were behind a series of cartoons calling for support for the soldiers, but his humanism shone through in the painting depicting as solider playing an er wu, a traditional Chinese instrument,  and entitled “War and Music”.

Under the theme of  “Cultivating Life and Soul”, his paintings of children, family life, and ordinary people he came across came to life in a few poignant strokes.

Even without showing much facial features, he captured the pleasure of having one’s ears cleaned by another person in one cartoon, and in another, the sense of excitement of a child dragging a elderly lady with bound feet along, and the title of the painting was “The Gongs and Drums Are Sounding”.

It was a comprehensive exhibition of the art and the artist’s message. There was a lot to learn and to see in the exhibits. Feng Zikai’s style is iconic and unmatched by other artists in his genre.

It is all accolade to Feng about his influence on modern Chinese art today. However, through his trials and tribulations, Feng was labelled an intellectual, and he was ridiculed and denounced during the Cultural Revolution in 1966, even to the time of his death in 1975. He was posthumously rehabilitated in 1978. The same Communist government which had politically persecuted him then turned around to promote him and his art.

Feng’s integrity remained unwavering throughout his life. He continued to draw to extol compassion and humanity. His affection for Life and Humanity never died. He eschewed propaganda; and yet, after his death, was he being used as a tool for propaganda? This would be such an irony.

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