Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Green art, traditional inspiration

China Park, Gu Wenda's future city plan.
By Wu Ziru
Known as one of the most avant-garde and successful Chinese artists in the international art world, 55-year-old Gu Wenda has recently turned to reflect social issues such as environmental protection in his work and is trying to offer a solution for a green future city life. Gu spoke exclusively with the Global Times while in Shanghai over the weekend.
His latest achievement China Park, a model of future city planning, is part of his large-scale Green Calligraphy Landscape Art Project. It attracted a lot of viewers Saturday on its release at Shanghai Pujiang Overseas Chinese Town, where the model is set in a square.
"I do not want my art being something just kept in the hands of collectors or displayed in museums," Gu told the Global Times. "Artists should be responsible to the world they are living in and offer solutions no matter how long is needed to put them into practice."
Combing traditional Chinese concepts such as yin and yang, Chinese calligraphy and the architectural idea of traditional Chinese gardens, China Park offers a blueprint for an ecologically-friendly future city and makes a spectacular contemporary garden scene.
According to Gu, the green calligraphy garden has been designed to be crafted out of natural evergreen trees and artificial streams and ponds together form the shapes of Chinese calligraphic characters. People in the garden can enjoy traditional Chinese culture while living in harmony with beautiful natural landscapes.
Art critic Huang Zhuan spoke highly of Gu's creation: "It is a unique gift of ecological utopia from Chinese contemporary art to this world, which is crisis-ridden, but also full of opportunities."
The project, combining the artist's several loves - natural landscape, calligraphy, ink painting, architecture and city planning, is Gu's first attempt at integrating his art in a functional way into human society.
He explained that he hopes someday his blueprint of a green city can be realized, either in the form of a large-scale public entertainment park, or residential area.
"Today in China there are too many real estate projects that are Western in style and name, since people here admire everything from Western countries. Real estate developers tend to attract buyers with such elements," Gu said.
"Not only our residential buildings, but in many other aspects within Chinese modern life, we need inspiration from traditional Chinese culture, not just the West," he continued, "I do believe the time will come someday."
Gu added that in traditional Chinese culture, people enjoyed natural landscapes, which coincides with the green life concept currently gaining momentum around the world.

Artist Gu Wenda.
His other recent work, Heavenly Lantern-Tea Palace, exhibited in central Brussels during the Europalia China Art Festival in October, also revealed his love of traditional Chinese culture.
At the festival, The Dynasty Building in The Mont des Arts, a historic site in the center of Brussels, was transformed into a huge Chinese tea house, decorated with more than 5,000 Chinese red lanterns. Staying true to his vision, Gu used the lanterns to create the two Chinese characters cha (tea) and shi (drink), the old building hinting at something both traditional and modern, both Eastern and Western.
Born in 1955 in Shanghai, Gu graduated from the Traditional Chinese Painting Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1981. He moved to the US in 1987 with the aim to further develop his craft and ideas in New York, considered the center of the contemporary art world. Since that time, Gu has made great achievements in the contemporary art field.
With a background of both Chinese and American cultures, Gu is known for successfully combing cultural elements from both the East and West and is interested in making his own unique artistic reflections toward the cultural collisions during contemporary times and globalization.
Forests of Stone Steles: Retranslation and Rewriting of Tang Poetry, is one of his representative works of this kind. It deals with verses from Tang poems, which have been translated into English and then literally translated back into Chinese again according to the pronunciations of the English words.
These works are carved in large-scale stones that resemble the stone steles popular in ancient China.
"There are of course misunderstandings between two languages and culture," Gu explained. "However, I wasn't try to be critical, on the contrary, there is always something new happening during the process of misunderstanding itself."
That is why, he said, the seemingly ridiculous Chinese sentences translated back from English are also carved on stone steles, meaning that they are also worth remembering.
Gu's work China Park will show at Shanghai Pujiang Overseas Chinese Town until November 15.

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