Ding Ho/Group of Seven
Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Sask.
May 6 to September 10, 2000
This collaborative installation by Vancouver artist Gu Xiong and Dundas, Ontario-based artist and curator Andrew Hunter includes artworks, family photos, and artefacts from the Cultural Revolution and Chinese/Canadian restaurants exhibited alongside paintings by the Group of Seven. In Ding Ho/Group of 7, the lines between artworks, artefacts, and common objects are blurred and the traditional authoritative 'voice of the institution' and official history are challenged.
In Andrew Hunter's words, "For Gu Xiong and I, this project is about dialogue and change, about rethinking one's past and seeing it through the eyes of another, about movement and migration (both physical and philosophical) and the constant struggle to form a sense of identity that is a hybrid of many identities. Ding Ho/ Group of 7 is about being Canadian.
"'In the summer of 1998 I was fortunate to be invited by Gu Xiong to travel with him to China on his first trip home since emigrating to Canada in 1989. Our trip took us to Chongqing, China's largest city, to visit his family and his former school, the Sichuan Institute of Fine Arts.
'"Gu Xiong turned to me and asked the simple question "What was your first idea of China?" After little pause, I replied, "The Ding Ho Restaurant on Upper James Street in Hamilton."
"And what was your first idea of Canada?," I asked in turn.
'"The Group of Seven," Gu Xiong responded, "It was the only non-Chinese art I saw during the Cultural Revolution."
"'During the remaining bus ride to the school, our conversation developed further. The standard menu and decor of Chinese/Canadian restaurants were discussed as were the reasons why the Group of Seven was considered acceptable during the Cultural Revolution. . . . For me, as a youth in suburban southern Ontario, restaurants like the Ding Ho projected a very strong and specific idea of what China was. . . .
"'For Gu Xiong and I, both the Ding Ho Restaurant and the Group of Seven were about individual and national identity, cultural stereotypes, private memories, official histories and propaganda. Packed onto that old bus in the sweltering heat of a Sichuan summer, crawling up a narrow road through heavy construction, Gu Xiong and I saw the potential for a compelling project."
Gu Xiong write, "During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1977), the whole nation was forced to read Chairman Mao's five essays. The most famous one was Remembering Doctor Norman Bethune. . . .
To me, Doctor Bethune was a great Canadian hero.
"'In 1975, The Group of Seven went to China. It was the first foreign art exhibition accepted by the communist government. The subject matter was Canadian landscapes.
"At the time, Chinese art and culture were totally controlled by Marx's, Lenin's, and Mao's revolutionary art theories. The artists were forced to create art work about soldiers, workers, peasants and political landscapes. Everyone used the same style and subject matter. Art was a political vehicle to spread propaganda and educate the whole nation. Western modern and contemporary art were considered "bourgeois" and rejected by the government.
"When I heard the Group of Seven was showing at the National Gallery of China, I was very surprised. After seeing the printed images in magazines, I realised that because the paintings were landscapes without political messages, they were allowed to be shown. However, as an artist, I discovered individual voices under the beautiful landscapes. The white, snowy mountains and the colourful autumn scenes, stood foremost in my mind. The white mountains stood out from the red Chinese political landscapes.
"The Group of Seven gave Chinese artists a very strong signal for individualism in art. This was my first impression of Canada. I dreamed to visit those white mountains."
This exhibition is organised and circulated by the McMichael Canadian Collection. The Mendel Art Gallery will be the only other Canadian venue.