Gu Xiong came to Canada after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. He started out as a bus boy but kept working on his art, eventually becoming a professor. Currently he teaches at the University of British Columbia. (Dan Toulgoet photo) ?
Artist Gu Xiong's exhibit, Drowning, has photos of Xiong's last visit to his hometown in China on one wall and swirling, charcoal drawings of his own near-death boating experience on the other.
Both walls have the common theme of drowning, as seen by Xiong: China in Western commercialism and Xiong in water.
"Both situations are controlling and have one direction," he said. "You can't give up under the pressure. You have to fight to keep your individuality."
Xiong grew up in the town of Chongqing. At the age of 18, he was sent to the countryside to work as a labourer. For four years Xiong worked in isolation, sketching daily to keep his mind alive.
"Through my sketches, I discovered myself and understood my culture and people on a deeper level," Xiong said.
He became an art teacher at a Chinese university and came to Canada after his experience with the Tiananmen Square massacre of Chinese students by the military in 1989.
"A lot of my friends were hurt, shot or arrested," Xiong said. "We tried to make our country better and we were not allowed to do it. I gave up hope after that and left."
Now a Canadian citizen, Xiong teaches art at the University of B.C. He started out as a bus boy in the cafeteria but kept displaying his art and in 10 years, worked his way up to professor.
The exhibit, which opened Thursday night, was inspired by Xiong's 1998 trip back to his hometown. Photographs display images such as the Great Wall of China in fog, construction, the Statue of Liberty, homeless people, a McDonald's restaurant and exercisers in a park.
A boating accident, which nearly killed Xiong and his daughter, ended the family vacation. Xiong used his personal experience to reflect on China and the world.
"Globalization is flooding China," he said. "One culture seems exciting but it creates homogenization. You have to understand different cultures and recognize the good things to keep. Change is unavoidable but it's important not to just accept everything from another culture. Pop culture is not what North America is all about."
In the back alcove of the gallery is Jeanette Lee's exhibit, The Ringing Earth. She originally designed the metal and wood carvings to be the sculptural interpretation of a piece of music she had heard 10 years earlier, named The Ringing Earth.
About 30 small, mound-like metal sculptures are gathered in the centre of the room with coiled springs protruding from their centres. Lee said the mounds are the first movement of the song.
"The groundworks are the earth bells, which lay the foundation for the music," she said. The walls of the gallery are lined with thick wooden hooks with metal drops on strings attached to the centres. "Those are the second movement which is a departure from the original theme."
The third movement, in the back corner, is a cluster of organic-looking pipes with openings out the tops. The shape and texture of the sculptures make the pipes look as if they are singing in a silent chorus. "The third movement is usually a reoccurring melody similar to the first movement."
Lee said she welds the pieces out of necessity to express her feelings. "I have learned to interpret my feelings with the shape and texture of metal. I would not be able to get the same result with other materials." The artwork of Xiong and Lee will be on display in the gallery until Dec. 17.