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Gu Xiong


Ding Ho/Group of 7:
China as Seen Through Canadian Eyes and Vice Versa

May 6 to September 10, 2000

Ding Ho/Group of 7 is a collaborative exhibition and publication project developed by Vancouver-based artist Gu Xiong and independent artist/writer/curator Andrew Hunter.

The idea for this project emerged during a casual conversation between Gu Xiong and Hunter on an over-crowded city bus in the sweltering Sichuan heat of a Chongqing summer (1998). Gu Xiong and Hunter were commuting from downtown Chongqing (China's largest city with a population of over 32 million people) up the steep slope of the mountain that is the city's central geographical feature. Their destination was Gu Xiong's former school, The Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, where Hunter was to meet artists and give a lecture on Canadian art.

During one of the many long stops due to construction, Gu Xiong turned to Hunter and asked the simple question - "What was your first idea of China?" After little pause, Hunter replied, "The Ding Ho Restaurant on Upper James Street in Hamilton." "And what was your first idea of Canada?" Hunter asked in turn. "The Group of Seven," Gu Xiong responded. "It was the only non-Chinese art we were shown when I was a student."

During the remaining bus ride to the school, the conversation developed further. The standard menu and decor of Chinese/Canadian restaurants (chicken balls, egg foo young, fried rice, fortune cookies - lots of red and gold and scroll paintings of the Yangtze River) were discussed as were the reasons why the Group of Seven was considered acceptable during the Cultural Revolution. Gu Xiong figured it was a combination of Norman Bethune's status and the idea of linking a sense of nation with the land that was consistent with Mao's thought. For Hunter, as a youth in Canada, restaurants like Ding Ho projected a very strong and specific idea of what China was. For Gu Xiong, growing up in China, the Group of Seven told him what Canada was. Two apparently unrelated ideas suddenly appeared to be very strongly linked - both The Ding Ho Restaurant and the Group of Seven were about projecting an identity (both individual and collective). It became obvious to Gu Xiong and Hunter that there was the potential for a highly compelling exhibition.

Ding Ho Group of Seven will combine new art works and interpretive materials with existing works by Gu Xiong, museum artifacts and documentary photographs and films. The goal of the project is to present a cross cultural dialogue exploring ideas of individual and national identity, cultural stereotypes, private memories, official histories and the propaganda that typified China during the Cultural Revolution and Canada during the period of Canada's Centennial, Expo'67 and the Montreal Olympics. The exhibition will be divided into four spaces (galleries 10, 11, 12 and 14) and will be accompanied by a publication in the form of an artists' book.

The first gallery will be treated as a kind of introductory space contrasting, under the heading "I lived on the mountain", the experiences of Hunter and Gu Xiong during the early 1970s. The mountain refers to both the Hamilton "mountain" where Hunter lived (and where The Ding Ho Restaurant is located) and the rural mountains where Gu Xiong was sent during the Cultural Revolution in 1972. This space will include Gu Xiong's photographs and notebooks along with images of Hamilton and Hunter's suburban family home. This gallery will also include a number of Gu Xiong's large cloud drawings.

The landscape will be a key focus of the second space with Group of Seven works from the McMichael Canadian Art Collection combined with classic Chinese landscape images, documentation of the contemporary urban/suburban landscapes of Chongqing, Hamilton and the Kleinburg area and Chinese revolutionary landscape images.

This material will be presented within a hybrid museum/restaurant environment referencing the McMichael's permanent collection displays and the design of The Ding Ho Restaurant.

The intent here is to create a very dense chaotic space which layers and combines Gu Xiong's experiences in China and ideas of Canada with Hunter's idea/experience of China. This space will incorporate images, objects and texts from Gu Xiong's youth in China during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and similar kinds of material from Andrew Hunter's youth during the same period. Evidence and documentation of official cultural/social exchange will be presented including the National Gallery of Canada's Canadian Landscape Painting exhibition which toured China in 1975 and Pierre Trudeau's 1971 visit to China and meeting with Chairman Mao. Of particular interest are representations of China through Canadian eyes and vice versa. For example, the Cultural Revolution as reported in Canadian newspapers and Mao's use of Dr. Norman Bethune as a model, revolutionary hero.

The third space of the exhibition will focus on Gu Xiong's individual and family struggle to form a "hybrid" identity since immigrating to Canada in 1989 and Hunter's reflections on the gaps in the Canadian history he was taught in school and through popular media. In this space, several of Gu Xiong's existing installation works will be reconfigured including Here Not There and The Mountains.

Video documentation of his performance work will also be incorporated including his 1997-98 multi-media collaboration with his teenaged daughter Gu Yu A Girl from China. In dealing with Gu Xiong's transition from China to Canada, this space will engage the history of Chinese immigration to Canada and will deal specifically with the role of Chinese workers in the building of the railroad, the head tax and legislation banning Chinese immigration from 1923-57 (a law which led Chinese Canadians to mark July 1st as Humiliation Day in Canada).

The final exhibition space will present a reinstallation of Gu Xiong's The River, an elegant and poetic work dealing with individual and societal sacrifice and transformation through movement, migration, death and rebirth. This installation features 200 suspended cast salmon, which appear to swim through the space over an arrangement of Chinese artifacts drawn from Canadian collections. The River, with its use of nature as a metaphor for cultures and combination of imagery potent from both traditional Chinese and Canadian perspectives is a fitting completion to Ding Ho Group of Seven.

A significant aspect of Ding Ho Group of Seven will be the inclusion of interpretive materials within the installation. It is Gu Xiong and Hunter's desire to have the education or public programming materials incorporated into the installation rather than separated out in separate spaces. McMichael programmers will be active participants in the installation's development and reading areas and environments will be created within the installation to present interpretive materials such as videos and hands on activities. Ding Ho Group of Seven is not a traditional gallery exhibition and as in all of Gu Xiong and Hunter's projects, the lines between art work, artifacts and common objects will be blurred and the traditional authoritative voice of the institution and official history will be challenged.

In collaboration and independently, Gu Xiong and Andrew Hunter have presented numerous projects which engage issues of identity and explore the museum process, in both cases injecting elements of the personal into the traditional museum environment. Both individuals have created installations employing museum collections, art works, and elements of popular culture. In his explorations of Chinese culture in Canada, Gu Xiong has worked with numerous museum collections including those of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and the Vancouver Chinese Cultural Centre. Hunter has produced a number of exhibition projects using works by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries for museums across Canada. Since first meeting in Vancouver in 1995, they have regularly contributed to each others exhibitions and publications.

The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, with its extensive holdings of Group of Seven material and its articulation of very specific ideas of "Canadianness" through its architecture, location, collection and program, is the ideal site for this project. The project was developed rapidly and required one trip by Hunter to Vancouver, and two trips to Ontario by Gu Xiong. The plan was to have Hunter travel to Vancouver for one week in December followed by a short research trip by Gu Xiong to Hamilton/Kleinburg in February. In May, 2000, Gu Xiong and Hunter were in residence at the McMichael for seven to ten days to execute the installation which opened on May 6.

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May 2000
Ding Ho/Group of 7
  • Exhibition Description
  • Exhibition Pieces

The 1970s Ding Ho Restaurant in Hamilton, Ontario