Gu Xiong : Flow
Jan. 5 - Feb. 23, 2003
McMaster Museum of Art in Hamilton, at McMaster University
by Jennifer Bedford
Flow is a photographic exploration about the merging of two separate cultures. Through his camera lens, Gu Xiong illustrates a merging of Eastern and Western cultures. This series of photographs took over two years to collect, taking the artist back to his homeland, China and all across Canada. This exhibit ranges from beautiful digital prints of the Buddha, contrasted sharply with images of an Ikea warehouse exterior in China. The artist also includes two separate looping videos in this exhibit.
When I first viewed the collection of images I was surprised by the way they were mounted. The prints were simply pinned neatly to the white gallery walls. Many of the images have a snapshot quality. The image of a Starbucks Coffee in China is a prime example, with a sign that is very apparently out of focus in the foreground of the print. This is not the case for all of the images in Flow. Many of the prints have utilized colour saturation to its full advantage. There is a group of images that have crimson silk backgrounds while displaying Chinese golden statues. These images are wonderfully composed and very sensuous. There is a photograph of an Asian man smoking a handmade pipe with one hand, while smoking a traditional Western style cigarette with the other. I enjoyed the way that Gu Xiong used this subtle humour in the show. The images themselves varied greatly in terms of composition, colour and size.
I do not usually read the text panels that are often included with a show, but I found in the case of Flow it really helped me to conceptualize the images and the narrative Gu Xiong was exploring through his photographs. About his work, the artist said, "It seems that no matter how far we wander from home, we cannot escape a sense of familiarity. We can drink an original Starbucks coffee, eat Pizza Hut pizzas, furnish a home with IKEA furniture, watch CNN news. We can taste real Szechwan cuisine, drink high-quality green tea, watch Chinese Central TV broadcasts. The flow of difference, whether economic or cultural, has become undeniable and unstoppable. In this dynamic movement, each culture reacts and blends with others, creating a new hybrid identity." Understanding the artist's conception of identity helped me solidify why Gu Xiong chose to exhibit his work the way he did. The images are simple and unframed, which gave me the feeling of a scrapbook of memories and reinforced the artist's vision in the work. I felt the unfinished quality of the hanging completely appropriate for this grouping of images.
Gu Xiong compares culture to water-both are constantly in a state of instability. Water has erosive qualities that can transform the land around it. If water flows in a river, the riverbed can be altered; water's presence can be both harmful and nurturing. A river is able to define a landscape and if the flow of water is blocked, the water will search for a new direction or find another form in which to travel. This is how the artist defines culture.
The artist explains how Chinese culture is referred to as "Yellow River." The culture of Yellow River is spread through the Chinese people, mainly by migration to many areas around the globe. "Blue Culture" in China has always had a reference to that which is not from their land. It is viewed as something that has had to travel over the blueness of the ocean. Western corporate culture is that which dominates Blue Culture today throughout the country of China. Blue Culture is not about the movement of people, it is about popular western culture and availability of primarily American products in China today. According to Gu Xiong, "the Yellow River is mixing with the Blue Culture and now it flows green." The images in this exhibit distinctly identify this cultural hybrid.
This collection of images is both thought provoking and visually appealing. The show runs from Jan. 5 until Feb. 23, 2003 at The McMaster Museum of Art. For those of you who are on campus and looking for something to do with a few spare moments of your time, do take a few minutes to pop by the museum to check out this exhibit.
Assistant Photo Editor
The Silhouette, McMaster University's Student Newspaper
January 16, 2003 volume 73, issue 16