So, tomorrow I’m flying out of London to Bejing for three weeks. What am I hoping for or expecting from this trip?
Firstly, and most importantly from a personal point of view, I’ll be seeing Shi, my fiancée again after a five-week gap. I’ll also be meeting her family for the first time.
Secondly, I’ll be being a tourist, seeing all those things which a tourist mustn’t miss when in China (or at least as many as we can reach comfortably from Beijing in the time available). That includes all the usual suspects, the Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square, the Great Wall, the terracotta soldiers, etc.
And finally, I’ll be getting a feel for the art scene in China. This is something that I’ve only recently been introduced to, mainly through Shi, and the whole situation really interests me, both formally and theoretically.
When I look at Chinese art, I keep having to remind myself that these artists come from what may be a completely ‘other’ environment to mine – their work is based on an alternative set of assumptions. This leaves me at a loss as to how to respond to the works, much less how to read them, indeed it leads me to begin to reassess the knowledge (and the value of that knowledge) that I rely on unconsciously when I encounter “Western” art.
One could also ask whether applying Western theory and historical knowledge to this culture add anything to an engagement with their art? I already feel a dangerous(?) tendency to dismiss some of what I’m seeing of Chinese art as naïve, in that its approach seems so old-fashioned when looked at from a Western viewpoint. If I was to see a Western artist make similar work, I would read it as ironic or meaningless, perhaps, but in this context I have to almost scour away my own knowledge and try and approach this art from a completely new direction, one for which I am still lacking the necessary background.
I also worry that this may be me exoticising the situation somewhat, looking at my ‘unknown’ and reading my fantasies into it. Without spending more time with the artists and works I will not be able to know the answer to that question. Here’s to a great trip!