China today is blossoming with torrents of energy in many artistic areas, which the world now has the opportunity to see, hear, and touch. On Monday evening, two representatives of China's emerging artistic growth—avant-garde artist Wenda Gu and composer and conductor Tan Dun—appeared at the Asia Society as part of a panel moderated by Melissa Chiu, Director of the Asia Society Museum. Some brief film excerpts were presented by both artists.
During one of the excerpts, Tan Dun commented that 1+1=1, a reference to themes of young and old, past and present, and so on. Tan Dun presented this conundrum—with a sense of playfulness, I thought—as a way of expressing an underlying artistic principle that seems to capture an elusive artful essence. Both Tan Dun and Mr. Gu represent, in a sense, the idea of two separate entities or cultures unifying by striving to achieve or create a new sort of "oneness."
This theme is especially relevant, as many of Wenda Gu's projects involve efforts to construct massive structures made entirely of human hair—a common symbol unifying people of all cultures. Tan Dun's nurturing inspiration is water, another universal symbol. In Tan's works, water is often used as an instrument that accompanies other parts of the orchestra. It strikes me that both artists have a strong affinity with nature and universal symbols that emanate from a period during which China was still isolated from other cultures—which is also the China that I knew. Then, unlike today, there was little material means, food, or technology; people had to rely solely on their ingenuity and resourcefulness to survive. Listening intently to these artists describing their work and inferred struggles, expressed with such fundamental symbols—hair and water—I discovered that their music and art also resonated with something from my own memory, because everything was all very simple and bare. I never could have imagined or believed then that such raw elements could be magically transformed into art forms that could touch so many people around the world.
View a slide show from the Panel Discussion: CHINA ART(S) TODAY event at Asia Society on November 2, 2009.
Posted by Yee Ping Wu, co-founder of Knoa Software and a graduate of The Juilliard School