.

  • Written by Joanna Mendelssohn, Principal Fellow (Hon), Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. Editor in Chief, Design and Art of Australia Online, University of Melbourne
The Chinese-Australian artist Guan Wei is on display in a new exhibition at the MCA. The centre piece of the exhibition is the 18x6m mural Feng Shui (2004). Guan Wei, Feng Shui, 2004, acrylic on composite board. Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Cromwell Diversified Property Trust, 2017. Image courtesy and © the artist

It seems appropriate that a painting titled Feng Shui dominates the new exhibition of Guan Wei’s work at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). He is the master of working and living between two cultures: the China of his birth and Australia, his home for most of the last three decades.

A rhythmically moving ocean where creatures great and small leisurely swim in tranquillity between continents: this is Guan’s vision of a world in harmony.

Clouds of good fortune blow to encourage the swimmers on their journeys; a fleet of sailing ships join their voyage. Taking up two adjoining walls of the gallery, the work takes on a three-dimensional appearance as swimmers and fish advance towards the viewer.

Guan has a long fascination with both antique maps and mythical creatures. At the core of this work is a giant map: patterns in shades of blue echo isobars and weather maps. The grid of the 120 individually painted panels appear to define latitude and longitude.

Taking up two adjoining walls, the figures seem to advance towards the viewer. Anna Kucera/MCA

Feng shui is central to the Taoist belief of balance and harmony of nature. The words translate literally into “wind” (feng) and “water” (shui): the painting becomes both an illustration of its underlying concept, and a visual pun.


Read more: Our oceans are out of balance – can we learn some tips from feng shui?


From China to Australia

Guan is from that remarkable generation of Chinese artists who, in the 1980s, began to exhibit in private homes because the work they made was not acceptable to the state. In this scene, Guan befriended a young Nicholas Jose, who would later become Australia’s cultural counsellor in Beijing.

In 1988, an exhibition of Australian art at the embassy in Beijing led to invitations from touring curators for Chinese artists to visit Australia. At the invitation of Geoff Parr, the director of the Tasmanian School of Art, Guan spent the early months of 1989 as artists-in-residence in Hobart.

Guan returned to China before the climax of the events at Tiananmen Square, but through the support of Parr and the Australian arts community, several Chinese artists were able to emigrate to Australia.

Australia in the 1990s was especially open to contemporary Chinese artists. The MCA exhibited Mao Goes Pop shortly after opening; in 1993, the Queensland Art Gallery started its ground-breaking series of Asia Pacific Triennials.

Guan, with his wife and daughter, settled first in a small apartment in Enmore in inner Sydney, before relocating to a large house in Glenmore Park in the western suburbs. It was here, in the cavernous space of the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, he painted Feng Shui.

Strength and endurance

In 1992, the MCA became the first public gallery to collect his work. The 48 postcard-size paintings, Two Finger Exercises (1989), were painted in Beijing, and in the current exhibition they are framed by a mural of an angel, a demon, and red flags – a reference to the conflict at the time of their making.

Two Finger Exercises (1989) was the first of Guan’s work collected by a public gallery. Anna Kucera/MCA

The blob-like figures in various poses and relationships all hold up two fingers. Some appear defiant, others hectoring; one is upside down. The two-fingered sign was popular with the student radicals as they stared down the might of the bureaucracy in the occupation of Tiananmen Square.

The two fingered symbol can mean a “V for Victory” and also a defiant “up yours” gesture to authority. There is also another, specifically Chinese meaning. Ancient masters of Qigong, the meditative movement now popular with fitness classes, were supposed to be able to concentrate their Qi (life-force energy) with such strength they could balance on two fingers. In this, Guan’s paintings are a reminder of strength and endurance.

The 48 postcard-size paintings are ‘a reminder of strength and endurance.’ Guan Wei, Two-finger exercise no.48, 1989, Museum of Contemporary Art, gift of the artist, 1993, image courtesy and © the artist, photograph: Jessica Maure

Shortly after he arrived in Australia, Guan made a series of collage works, Certificate (1990), using stamps, symbols and red ink as commentary on China’s officious bureaucracy, and family photos manipulated to define, confine and sometimes eliminate particular figures.

Guan’s family were direct descendents of Qing dynasty courtiers, and so were eliminated from public life in the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s. He has a particularly intimate experience of the whims of bureaucracy.


Read more: Why China still can't make sense of the Cultural Revolution


The question of how an artist living today may react to both the events of the present and the beauty of traditional art and nature is addressed in Paper War (2003), where a facsimile of a 17th century scroll painting by the Nanjing master Gong Xian has been overlaid by silhouettes showing military invasion and death by an unnamed enemy.

Paper War is a reaction to both the ‘events of the present and the history of traditional art.’ Anna Kucera/MCA

In 2014, Guan reworked Paper War as a video, which intersperses the scroll with animated figures of fighter planes and soldiers parachuting in to create destruction. There is no land so beautiful it can’t be despoiled by war.

Finding feng shui in migration

In 2016 Guan entered the Archibald Prize with Plastic Surgery, a wry comment on the nature of immigration and acceptance.

A series of faces transition from the heavily regulated persona demanded by Chinese officialdom in the 1980s to the compromises made by immigrants to fit in with a new culture.

Guan’s art suggests it is far better for those moving between cultures to adopt another path – to find harmonious connections, to seek humorous twists in even difficult circumstances – and be guided always by the equilibrium of feng shui.

Guan Wei: MCA Collection is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, until 9 February 2020

Joanna Mendelssohn has in the past received funding from the Australian Research Council.

Authors: Joanna Mendelssohn, Principal Fellow (Hon), Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. Editor in Chief, Design and Art of Australia Online, University of Melbourne

Read more http://theconversation.com/guan-wei-review-feng-shui-for-a-vision-of-a-world-in-harmony-125064

Why do many people with Parkinson's disease develop an addiction? We built a virtual casino to find out

We knew people with Parkinson's disease were at heightened risk of developing addictive behaviours like gambling. Our research gives insight into why this is. From shutterstock.comParkinson’s di...

Philip Mosley, Research Fellow, Systems Neuroscience Laboratory, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute - avatar Philip Mosley, Research Fellow, Systems Neuroscience Laboratory, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute

Up the creek: the $85 million plan to desalinate water for drought relief

The deal to crank up Adelaide’s desalination plant to make more water available to farmers in the drought-stricken Murray-Darling Basin makes no sense. It involves the federal government paying...

Lin Crase, Professor of Economics and Head of School, University of South Australia - avatar Lin Crase, Professor of Economics and Head of School, University of South Australia

12 simple ways you can reduce bushfire risk to older homes

There are no guarantees in bushfires, but you can improve the odds your house survives a blaze. Photo by Edward Doody, courtesy of Arkin Tilt Architects, Author providedSeventy-five years of Australia...

Douglas Brown, Casual Academic, Western Sydney University - avatar Douglas Brown, Casual Academic, Western Sydney University

Robots with benefits: how sexbots are marketed as companions

Sexbot Emma, from AI Tech, is advertised as a "real AI you can talk to". She offers "warm hugs" and will "feel your feelings". YouTube/ScreenshotWhen thinking of sexbots, companionship might not be th...

Fiona Andreallo, Lecturer in digital culture, University of Sydney - avatar Fiona Andreallo, Lecturer in digital culture, University of Sydney

Holy bin chickens: ancient Egyptians tamed wild ibis for sacrifice

A scene from the Books of the Dead (based at the Egyptian Museum) shows the ibis-headed god Thoth recording the result of "the final judgement". Wasef et al./PLOS ONE, CC BY-SAThese days, not many Aus...

Sally Wasef, Postdoctoral research fellow, Griffith University - avatar Sally Wasef, Postdoctoral research fellow, Griffith University

Sonic havens: how we use music to make ourselves feel at home

Music played through headphones can immerse the listener in a more intimate experience. Stokkete/ShutterstockThe concept of “home” refers to more than bricks and mortar. Just as cities ar...

Michael James Walsh, Assistant Professor Social Science, University of Canberra - avatar Michael James Walsh, Assistant Professor Social Science, University of Canberra

Nation-building to 'national shame': the ABC's complex debate over its role as sports broadcaster

ABC once viewed sports coverage as integral to its mission of nation-building. But in recent years, it has grown far more ambivalent about sports. Dean Lewins/AAPThe ABC has announced it will not prov...

Michael Ward, PhD candidate, University of Sydney - avatar Michael Ward, PhD candidate, University of Sydney

How does poor air quality from bushfire smoke affect our health?

New South Wales and Queensland are in the grip of a devastating bushfire emergency, which has tragically resulted in the loss of homes and lives. But the smoke produced can affect many more people n...

Brian Oliver, Research Leader in Respiratory cellular and molecular biology at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research and Senior Lecturer, School of Medical & Molecular Biosciences, University of Technology Sydney - avatar Brian Oliver, Research Leader in Respiratory cellular and molecular biology at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research and Senior Lecturer, School of Medical & Molecular Biosciences, University of Technology Sydney

Bushfires can make kids scared and anxious: here are 5 steps to help them cope

More than 600 schools have been closed, and some damaged, in recent days as bushfires rage across Queensland and New South Wales. Some students have been urgently evacuated while in school. People hav...

Toni Noble, Adjunct Professor, Institute for Positive Psychology & Education, Australian Catholic University - avatar Toni Noble, Adjunct Professor, Institute for Positive Psychology & Education, Australian Catholic University

5 Things Men Need to Know about Male Augmentation Procedures

You may be surprised to learn that men are just as likely as women are to seek out more information about plastic surgery procedures. While some may be interested in a nose job, others may be inte...

News Company - avatar News Company

'Like volcanoes on the ranges': how Australian bushfire writing has changed with the climate

Bushfire writing has long been a part of Australian literature. Tales of heroic rescues and bush Christmases describe a time when the fire season was confined only to summer months and Australia&rs...

Grace Moore, Senior lecturer in English, the University of Otago, New Zealand, University of Otago - avatar Grace Moore, Senior lecturer in English, the University of Otago, New Zealand, University of Otago

Farmers, murder and the media: getting to the bottom of the city-country divide

Left, farmer Ian Turnbull being who was convicted of murdering compliance officer Glen Turner. Right, Mr Turner's partner Alison McKenzie outside court. Tensions over land clearing can have tragic con...

Tanya M Howard, Senior research fellow, University of New England - avatar Tanya M Howard, Senior research fellow, University of New England

If Australian police officers are allowed to shoot to kill, they should be better trained

There is no clear evidence guns make police safer, but officers feel safer with firearms at their disposal. ShutterstockAustralians woke to the news last weekend that a 19-year-old Warlpiri man had b...

Rick Sarre, Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia - avatar Rick Sarre, Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia

Why municipal waste-to-energy incineration is not the answer to NZ's plastic waste crisis

Since the Chinese plastic recycling market closed, 58% of New Zealand’s plastic waste goes to countries in South-East Asia. from www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-NDNew Zealand is ranked the third-mos...

Trisia Farrelly, Senior Lecturer, Massey University - avatar Trisia Farrelly, Senior Lecturer, Massey University

The robbery of the century: the cum-ex trading scandal and why it matters

Cum-ex trading, like a magic trick, involves shares 'disappearing' then 'reappearing' with a new owner to enable two parties to simultaneously claim ownership of the one stock. www.shutterstock.comIt...

Alex Simpson, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Macquarie University - avatar Alex Simpson, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Macquarie University

What did the High Court decide in the Pell case? And what happens now?

Two judges in the High Court of Australia this morning referred Cardinal George Pell’s application for special leave to appeal his convictions to a full bench of the High Court. While not a ful...

Ben Mathews, Professor, School of Law, Queensland University of Technology - avatar Ben Mathews, Professor, School of Law, Queensland University of Technology

As flames encroach, those at risk may lose phone signal when they need it most

Yesterday, New South Wales and Queensland issued fire warnings classified as either “catastrophic”, “severe” or “extreme” - and these conditions will remain in the ...

Stanley Shanapinda, Research Fellow, La Trobe University - avatar Stanley Shanapinda, Research Fellow, La Trobe University

Money and investment: A guide to 'better than your bank' choices

Being able to make your money work harder for you is essential these days. Whether you live in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne or beyond, it is crucial to think about building up your personal wealth. Doin...

News Company - avatar News Company

If you've given your DNA to a DNA database, US police may now have access to it

DNA database giant Ancestry lets members access international records including the convict and free settler lists, passenger lists, Australian and New Zealand electoral rolls and military records. Pa...

Jane Tiller, Ethical, Legal & Social Adviser - Public Health Genomics, Monash University - avatar Jane Tiller, Ethical, Legal & Social Adviser - Public Health Genomics, Monash University

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company

LifeStyle

How to Make Your Girlfriend’s Birthday Extra Special

Your girlfriend’s birthday is your opportunity to show her how much you care. But how exactly do...

A Guide to Building Your Kid’s Confidence

As your child grows, confidence is key. Having low self-esteem as a child can have a detrimental e...

3 Hacks that Will Extend the Life of Your Hair Extensions

Everybody has the right to enjoy beautiful, long hair, including you! If you’ve always heard a...

Lessons in Empathy for Children

The ability to be able to understand and share the feelings of a fellow human being – empathy ...