Archives for category: China

During my trip to China in May 2010 I accumulated more than 3,000 images. From these, I chose a set of 100 images from Beijing to create my book titled One Hundred Views of Beijing, a name derived from One Hundred Views of Edo (1856-58) which later inspired artists like Vincent Van Gogh. Preceding this work was Thirty six Views of Mount Fuji, large color woodblocks, by Hokusai, created 1826-1833, and later, One Hundred Views of Mount Fuju, upping his previous number.

Technically, one of my images in this collection of 100 is of the great wall, which is not exactly Beijing. But since I felt the great wall had a close relationship with Beijing, I deemed it okay to make this stretch. (But I didn’t want to push it and only kept it to the one image; I could have gone wild with great wall pictures!) Also, Ninety Nine Views of Beijing with One Thrown In of The Great Wall would’ve been a very cumbersome title.

The organization of these images were done as a part of a graduate design studio class I had Fall 2010, and later improved upon.  I first went through an exercise of pairing photos in preparation for each spread, for an early first draft. This process was mostly intuitive. But this wasn’t enough by itself, it needed an additional form of organization. As such, I came up an idea for four themes, or chapters: Iconic, Architectural, Patterns, and People. Still, there were other issues to be solved. Tagging images wasn’t perfectly exclusive: there are people patterns, architectural patterns, iconic architecture, etc. But in general, I assigned a major attribute to each image. Most people shots were on the street, so that section was named accordingly.

Later, the Iconic split into Prologue and Epilogue, joining the two ends. Doublends Jined as Joyce would put it. Now I had a continuous loop when you considered Epilogue and Prologue as a split-Iconic. Every chapter had a one before it and one after it. Now I could make use of each image’s secondary attributes and sort them according to what section preceded and followed. For example, architectural images when from iconic in style to pattern. The pattern section began with the most architectural looking images and ended with people-patterns. Likewise for the other two sections, On the street (people), and Iconic. I had a system for placing every image appropriately to a spread.

Given the symmetry which emerged from this project, when I went to add a preface, it seemed to throw it off balance, looking at it holistically. So that gave me the impetus to create a colophon to put at the end, and why not describe my work? Except I didn’t go into as much detail about the organizing principles in the colophon as I did here, but rather kept to typeface choices and other interesting details which I did not include in this post.

It was a very satisfying book project and a great accomplishment. Now I’m ready to start another.

The other day, I found myself wandering the periphery of Tianamen Square trying to figure out how to enter.  I had no idea it was so surrounded by busy roads so wide that they could easily be considered expressways.  The tunnels are the way in, security check included.  In the process of wandering, I ran into a guy who called himself Tom.  He is a middle school history teacher on one of the cities outside Beijing, returning to Beijing for some training and now seeing the sights.  He and I hung out for a while, and he showed me the ropes at Tianamen, and the old part of the city just to the south.  We stopped at a shop for a beer and a bite to eat when he told me about Friday nights at Renmin University, the regular event called English Corner.  English Corner at Renmin University happens every Friday night, starting about 8pm.

Friday evening I was on my own and not terribly far from Renmin, relatively speaking, I decided to go to English Corner.  It was about a 25 RMB taxi ride, so not very close either.  I arrived shortly after 8pm at the east gate entrance to the University.

I entered and found the park area, just inside.  It was dark, but the open space in the middle of the park was very crowded, and, as expected, everyone was speaking English, various levels.  People were in groups of various sizes, some very large, actively discussing.  Inhibited to interrupt any of the goings on, I nearly circled the whole area before finding someone alone.   I said ‘hello’ and we started talking.  I soon found myself surrounded by at least 5 or 6 people, which peaked later at some higher number.  We talked about photography, art, politics, philosophy, opinions and attitudes, comparing China and the USA.  I was like a celebrity, talking constantly and constantly being surrounded by the curious and the engaged conversationalists.  Many were engaged with very thoughtful, challenging questions.  I handed out many of my business cards, and received a couple in exchange.

I’m not usually good at standing for long periods of time, and I knew some time had passed when the crowd starting thinning out, but I was surprised to find out it was nearly midnight when I looked at the clock.  Nearly four hours had passed since I had arrived!

To anyone traveling to Beijing: reserve your Friday night for this!  Highly recommended.

Internet access for me has been difficult while in Beijing, at least from the Hotel where I’m staying.  I found a nice little Internet cafe called Sculpting in Time, and this evening I’m here catching up on my online stuff.

Today, we presented our works for the faculty and students in the photography department at the Beijing Film Academy, which was well received.  Everyone has been great.  There was a lot of interest generated from the presentation.  The Beijing Now blog has a little more detail about this.

(And I hope to have some photos posted soon.)

Media was an ancient empire which directly preceded the Persian Empire.  This area of northeastern Iran existed along the collective trails which would later be known as the silk road.  Media, as we now know and pronounce this word, was “madiya” or “madhya,” inherited from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) into their pre-Iranian languages such as Avestan, Old Persion, Sanskrit, and which means “middle.”  To name an empire based on its middle-ness (spatially, I presume) privileges the recognition of its central status, say, perhaps in mediating commerce along the silk road between China and the Mediterranean.  (Which is a conjecture on my part.)

The concept of “middle” came into Latin, also by inheritance from PIE, as “medius.”  Its related Latin forms are mediatorum (one who mediates), mediatus (to mediate), mediocris (middle quality), and so on.  English gets a lot of its Latin roots through French, so going from “medius” to “medium” or “intermediate” is not a difficult stretch.  As reported in the OED the phrase “intermediate agency” meant “channel of communication,” first recorded in 1605.  A nineteenth century “medium” could be one who communicates with the dead, or a splotch of oil paint on canvas, both arguably a channel of communication.

The phrase “mass media” was born about 1923 when used as a technical term in advertising, and applied to newspapers by about 1927.  By the 1960s, media in all its forms as “channel of communication” was further abstracted by media theorist Marshal McLuhan to mean “any technological extension of ourselves.”

Looking up “media” and “medium” in the OED will deluge you with a number of definitions perhaps exceeding 60.  How’s this one: “the middle layer of the wall of a blood vessel or lymphatic vessel,” or this one: “a voiced stop in ancient Greek”?

The common thread running through all of these seemingly wide and varied set of definitions is the concept of “intermediation between two things,” a form of being in the middle.  When the intermediation occurs between a human being and something else, we come back to a channel of communication, or a tool, or as McLuhan said, an extension of ourselves.

The past semester for me was a brutal one, in that it consumed all my available time in addition to displacing the nearly the rest of my life.  However, that was to be expected, taking a full-time graduate load while remaining at full-time status at my place of employment.  All that, and a family of four.

It was a good semester and the grades were decent.  Because of the Beijing Now photography class, I was introduced to the Chinese students from Beijing Film Academy, and their professor.  They visited us in Minneapolis in the first week of December, right before the snow hit the fan.  It seemed cold then, but that was only our introduction, as those early-season introductions are usually felt in their more extreme while we acclimate, albeit slowly, as this season progresses into the depths of darkness, snow and lower temperatures.  It was only within a week of their leaving that the snow came and with a petty vengeance.  It was late in coming this year, or shall I say ‘that’ year because now I am speaking of the other.  That petty vengeance was followed by the real one in the days leading up to the 25th, with well over another foot of snow layered on top of what had already accumulated before.   (I have photos, and will try to publish them as soon as I can.)

One of my big accomplishments of 2009 was finishing the book Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce.  I actually read the whole thing!  To anyone not familiar with this work, that accomplishment in our literate society might not sound like much.  I believe it was 628 pages which took Joyce 17 years to write, about half of his creative life.  The book is a fictional depiction of a dream.  Its language is twisted with double and triple meanings (maybe more), multiple and layered voices (often competing), and a highly disconnected flow (this sentence pales by comparison).  Finnegans Wake is psychedelic.

These mechanisms succeed in creating a dream like state.  But the book is a very slow read.  It crawls, and when I return to the bookmarked spot I end up re-reading the page I knew I read previously, only to reinterpret in yet another way.  The highly ambiguous text yields many interpretations.  The meanings are deeply layered.  All this is why I find this book so inspiring.

Of course there were many other accomplishments and highlights of 2009, other books finished (Name of the Rose, to name one other, and many text books and non-fiction which work like text books, such as Roland Barthes’ Semiotics), acceptance and entrance into graduate school, camping in the Porcupine Mountains last June, to list a few but not exhaustively.

What this reflection has to do with New Media or Photography is yet to be revealed.  Suffice it to say, the seeds of inspiration are about to germinate.

Last night, I attended a well-attended panel discussion at the Art Department (INFLUX) at the University of Minnesota.  On the panel were two artists from China, Li Shuan and Liu Xuguang.  Their show, the past re-configured, is at the Nash Gallery.

The works based on certain Chinese characters retain the idea of past Chinese art, but with new methods and materials.  Their thought process seemed very holistic to me.  I also couldn’t help wonder, in a McLuhan sort of way, the advantage these artists have, embodied in the Chinese pictographic writing system, the more directness of the imagery in the signs used, such as Li Shuan’s use of the Chinese character for person ( rén) in a visually repeated way to represent a sense of humanity; the  character itself resembling the outstretched arms of a human being.  I wish I knew Chinese; I would like to better understand the role this writing system plays in one’s thinking process–especially the visual thinking process–and the significance and type of impact it has.  McLuhan has a lot to say about the impact of typography on social structure and social roles, but I will keep this article short.

Liu Xuguang talked about his life’s influences in his art, especially of the Yellow River, and compared this great river to the Mississippi River on which the University campus rests.  This was Liu’s first visit to Minnesota.  Liu is professor of fine art at the Beijing Film Academy and his current work involves New Media, however the brief time I had talked with him after the panel discuss did not allow any in-depth discussion.

Also attending the panel was Wang Chunchen, curator for CAFA Art Museum (Central Academy of Fine Arts).  One theme discussed at length during the panel session was the rapid change that China, and Beijing itself, is going through, and the impact this has on artists, and on the people of China in general.