Thursday, 4th May, Remembrance of the Dead is held in the Netherlands, and is also the Youth Day in China, when May Fourth Movement was commemorated. On this day, workshop "Mapping Your World" was led by Yao Zhou, a passionate art historian, for an evening shared by five Chinese, two Dutch and one Turkish people in the creative space of Van Abbemuseum, by the Dommel river in Eindhoven. Using the artwork Map of Zhongshan Park by Qiu Zhijie, stories were evoked and perspectives were interwoven in two hours of dialogues and four calligraphic maps.
Participants are coming from different professional and cultural backgrounds, with age ranging from 25 to 60. The common interests in the artwork and Chinese culture brought them together. Yao took the group to see Qiu’s work first. They were immediately immersed in the artworks displayed along the way to Map of Zhongsan Park. Through Yao’s interpretation, they were attracted by Qiu’s calligraphy work Copying the Orchid Pavilion Preface a Thousand Times and John Körmeling’s installation HI HA. Meanwhile, the participants started to tell each other what they knew about these works. Finally, here it came Map of Zhongshan Park. Everyone was gathered under this 80 x 119.7 cm print and started to find a corner of their own, pointing here and there, interpreting the map in their own words. The work shows the change of public space from traditional ancestral hall based on blood ties to new public space organized by contemporary sovereign state. Zhongshan Park is a typical example of such space. After the death of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen in 1925 private parks were turned into Zhongshan Park. It is a process of transformation “from family to country” and from commoners to citizens. Zhongshan Park can be found all over the country, and it is where collective memories, leisure, culture and all sorts of social functions are concentrated. Based on field research, the work Map of Zhongsan Park shows the fascinating emerging social relationships and phenomenon of modern China.
The workshop started with personal memories of Zhongshan Park. Two young ladies from Shanghai described how Zhongshan Park to them is shopping center. It is located in a commercial area and whenever they go there, it means to go shopping. They barely use the park for its green planes and trees. Yao is also from Shanghai and she showed us two pictures taken during her recent visits to the Shanghai Zhongshan Park. On the first picture, an old man was practising Tai chi next to a Western classical style statue. On the second picture, the lawn was full of people picnicking during the national holiday. This image reflects, according to Yao, what is depicted in Qiu’s map: the bourgeois spending their leisure time in the park. These scenes depict a public space where capital gathered, new social classes emerged, the public became consumers, with old and new, east and west interacted. They all have become important components of our nation state. The other lady from Beijing told a similar story. Zhongshan Park in Beijing is situated in the most central and touristy area, with many attractions and shops. Tourists all go to the nearby attractions, such as Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City. Locals go to Zhongshan Park for exercising. For her, Zhongshan Parks also means shopping center and lots of traffic. Again, an area where local history, global commodity and various social groups meet.
Then everyone was asked to read “Zhongshan Park” in his or her own dialect or language, and it was recorded. In this way, we were reminded who we are and where we come from. We heard the differences in accents, but to what extent our personal memories and stories differ from place to place? In our current time and society, how we interact with each other, how we relate to public space and how we identify ourselves, are the questions evoked by the artwork of Qiu. After that, Yao referred to a few keywords in the map, such as “Statue of the great man” and the national holidays, to provoke further discussions among the group.
Although our participants vary in age and background, they can all find the corner in Qiu’s map they can relate to. It led to rich dialogues and four vivid calligraphic works.
One Dutch participant, who is in his 60s, was especially interested in the part “the transformation from family to country” and the political processes in relation to the park. He is intrigued with the “statue of the great man” being placed in the park, in memorizing of political leaders. He related it to the political transformation taken place in Europe--- the ending of The East German regime and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He was comparing how people were dealing the Lenin statues and the statues of Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen. In the end, he drew a calligraphy work depicting “statue of the great man”, but with Western symbols such as crown and pawn.
The part of the map that drew most attention is the “match making corner”. Chinese young ladies have their personal stories to tell, or more of a complaint to make. The discussion extended to age and cultural differences. They were joking how people born after 1992 are called “middle aged” and the age pressure of getting married was huge. Although being away from home, they still get the pressure from their parents. In the match making corner, parents are there with posters of their children. On the poster, age, height, income, property ownership and profession are displayed, in search of someone who can “match” the criteria. It may sound exaggerating but a true depicting of the dating scene in contemporary China. This, to the Dutch participants, is something unheard of. They were wondering, in a country where the elder is a symbol of wisdom, why aging is such a pressure? Two great calligraphy works were created based on the discussion. One work talks about the transformation of “match making corner”. They pointed out how the characters “marriage” in Chinese (婚姻) has such strong female implication (with radical “female” in both characters). The other work brought sarcasm to the table, telling how matchmakers are situated in a lonely planet of their own.
Finally, one of our Dutch participant stepped back to examine the overall picture. He has never been to China, does not speak Chinese, but he made his own observation from previous knowledge of Chinese philosophy and culture. “It is a crowded map, quite packed and there is no empty space”, he said, “What I miss from the Zhongshan Park map is not a name, just an empty space, a purposeless space…” To him, Chinese philosophy carries senses of emptiness and relaxation. His calligraphic work is centered around a hollow space, and spread out unintentionally, like a “journey without arrival”.
The workshop seemed to have no end, participants were still actively discussing their ideas and drawing when the clock was kicking. This is what art can do for us, the general public. It provoked our thinking on the changing culture and history, it connected different people together, and refleted on individual identity and contemporary society.
On this special day of 4th May, we, with different nationalities, commerated those who died during the World War II in Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. We were also brought together by a piece of artwork, sharing our thoughts and feelings, listeing to each other’s voices, in this connected world.
Stay tuned and we will be back with more stories in July.