This is a video of an installation I made during the spring and summer of 2012 at the Jia Yuan. The Jia Yuan is a Qing dynasty classical Chinese garden located in Suzhou, China, and where I have and artist in residence for the past several months
One of the videos from my show at Suzhou Museum… . It is a silent movie, but the rhythm of the image sequence roughly follows the opening lines of Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik.”
You can. Here’s the guy who always wanted to stand on his head on the lawn two million people walk past every day:
He also wanted to take off his shoes and have his umbrella for a companion. This is a new age. You can do it too. Or, if it’s one of those days where you just need to make your world a little smaller, stop mid-walk, face a tree, and press some darkness into your eyes, you have permission.
You can’t hear it, but the tree answered back with its own little rustling and slight bow. I think the world always answers the genuine, brave heart.
It would be a waste of daylight if we weren’t all up and productively engaged by 7 a.m. on a Monday, a rainy Monday following a rainy Sunday which was also Father’s Day, which meant there were some paintings of peacocks and a chocolate cupcake and Other Gifts given to note worthy appreciation of fine fathering. A quiet morning following not to be included in the deal. Instead, it appears Someone Important is about to walk up the red carpet (astro-turf in red) and into this building:
Note the cymbals and the drums. Which are loud. At 7am. Sure, we’re already up, oatmealed, and coffeed by this time, sure, but it’s still a surprising time to say it with cymbals:
Apparently the instructions were to play the drums and cymbals (loudly, exuberantly, tirelessly) either until Someone Important showed up or two hours passed. At any rate, at 9am the cymbals and drums played under the windows of hundreds of wakeful apartments ceased. This occurrence is not rare. Here’s a photo I snapped from the window of our apartment a few weeks ago. It’s hard to see the cymbals. But they were there:
There is something awesome in the bright flash and noise of the cymbals. It is hard to play them dourly. As a quiet-morning person, I would like to reject the cymbal as an appropriate morning choice, but they’re just so damn joyful. Who wouldn’t love to arrive into the great clanging of metal disks announcing the beginning of their day?
Rhymes with Baby
Yesterday started with my slow eyes opening to Gavia pouring my tea just beyond the mosquito netting of the bed. Mother’s Day. The tea was too sweet (two spoonfuls of honey—she couldn’t remember how I liked it), and this made it perfect, because the way I like my tea is Made By Gavia for Me, Early in the Morning. It is best to wake up to the kindness of others, and therefore Mother’s Day began well, with tea, and ended well, with wine. Somewhere between those beverages, I decided I needed to get back on the blog machine. Somehow, this coincided with doing a lot of situps. I must be into repairing the slide of neglect caused by a too-long winter.
So here was the first thing we looked for:
The lizard hanging out on our downstairs friend’s door. There are no screens on the hallway windows here, so outside our doors the mosquitoes and flies swarm, hoping for a tasty bite as we emerge from our apartments. Alas, the lizard is here to eat. We nod to the lizard wherever we see it, and imagine it roams from one floor to another, following the migration of our blood-seekers. However, there is no lizard today. It has taken the day off, and will hopefully return with a lizard troupe, one for each door. Or at least one for ours. We want a lizard.
Next, everything exploded, more or less right on time (~10:30a.m.), because someone is always getting married, dying, or encouraging us to shop, all the usual uses for four solid minutes of fireworks. Here’s what it looks like after about two minutes of the explosions on an otherwise lovely day. This picture is taken from the balcony just outside our bedroom (to note: it’s hazy):
And finally, of the balcony itself. Gaiva has transformed it. Ian has been up to his birdseed heads, and Gavia decided to plant the birdseed and to leave it out for the birds. We now have sunflowers growing on our balcony, and sparrows that arrive all day to fuss over the seeds. They do not leave the balcony neat. Better, they make it alive. With feathers and droppings and rustlings and the constancy of tending and observing. They need more all the time. They bring their young, who ruffle their feathers and turn into round little balls of warmth. They hop among the sunflowers. This is what I wanted for mother’s day: birds and a living space outside my window. With tea too sweet and a girl who reads to me out loud and has learned to bike with one hand so she can scratch her mosquito bites with the other. Oh yes.
Here: two young sparrows just outside the window:
I am delighted to announce that I have an enormous interview published in this month’s issue of Chinese Calligraphy 《中国书法》. This is a big score for me, as this is the major calligraphy journal in China, and my interview with Zhang Ping occupies a full thirteen pages (!) with lots of illustrations. In this interview I talk about ways my work has been influenced by Chinese calligraphy and allied arts, and I reflect on a host of things in my life from making nibbed pens with my first teacher, Margot Voorhies Thompson, to encounters with Ch’an monks on Wutaishan to the implications of reading the calligraphy found in meteorites. I have uploaded an English translation of this interview on my website, which you can check out here: http://ianboyden.com/?p=shufa_interview.
Here’s an excerpt of the first paragraph:
Ian Boyden: My first interest in Chinese art is what has also proved to be the most enduring one: I am interested in the relationship between ink and paper, how the word can be understood as image and physical form, in the ways the written word can give shape to experience and bring us closer to an understanding of enduring spirit.
By now, you all know about the failed N. Korean missile launch. But what you do not know is that I was also in the air at the same time, flying from San Francisco to Shanghai—a flight that usually crosses Korean airspace! And so, my flight was rerouted northward so I flew over the icy Bering Strait and I got to look down on that place where all the humans crossed tens of thousands of years ago and thus occupied the Americas. And I also then soared above Siberia, where they are now finding a lot of mammoths frozen in the permafrost. And thus the pilot totally avoided the Korean peninsula. This added a bit of time to my flight. As some of you know, I share the same birthday with the late Kim Jong-Il and so it came as no surprise that his son would launch a rocket on the same day that I was in the air near his country. This kind of thing happens to Aquarians all the time. I am certainly not trying to take any credit for the rocket’s failure. Really, for most of the flight I kept my window closed and watched the movies provided which included Ben Stiller beating a solid gold replica of a Ferrari owned by Steve McQueen, and Robert Downey, Jr . detonating a bomb in an Egyptian sarcophagus. And when I landed I happened to see a flock of flamingos migrating northward. Happy to be home with my family.
We are going to have an exhibition of Gavia’s paintings this coming Saturday in our apartment. Here’s a link to a preview of it on YouTube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gs67VdIIArU
It has been raining here, a lot, day after day. And so I have been walking around holding an umbrella (over my head). It is not my style, but works to shield me from the rain, and even more to protect my eyes from all the other umbrellas. My umbrella has a little tie on it that holds the umbrella tight when it is wrapped up. When the umbrella is unfolded this little tie dangles down off the outside edge of the canopy. This is where things get strange: as I walk, my umbrella mysteriously manages to rotate around until the tie is swinging right in front of my face and stays there. This is really annoying. And so I turn my umbrella very deliberately so that the tie is dangling behind me and keep walking. And I tell myself to hold the handle tightly to keep the umbrella from turning. But then after a few minutes there it is again dangling in front of me, insidiously, crying for attention. It is almost as if the umbrella were animate or something.
Here’s the dangling tie. If you look closely, you will see that it reads “PARADISE.”
So this morning as I was walking along and pondering this mischievous umbrella of mine (a rumination reminiscent of Beckett’s Molloy) and wondering what it might mean to be plagued by this tie and the periodicity of its rotation, it occurred to me that I could use it to great effect. I happened to be passing by a market and I stopped in and found a carrot,
which I then purchased. And because I was unable to hide my excitement about the carrot, the shopkeeper charged about ten times the normal price. But no matter, I’m used to such offenses, and, as you can see, it was a really excellent specimen. I then used the Strap of Paradise to attach the carrot to my umbrella.
The results were spectacular. First, I was surprised to find that the umbrella tie was the perfect size for holding the carrot, as if it had actually been made specifically to hold a root vegetable. It transformed my walking experience. I have never before felt my walk filled with such a sense of yearning for the proximate coupled with exhilaration, purpose, and drive. My umbrella stopped rotating, remaining in a fixed position with the carrot hanging in front of me, sometimes swinging to the left or right when I turned corners. I entered into a timeless state.
It occurred to me then that a large percentage of Chinese landscape paintings feature donkeys—donkeys hoofing through magnificent landscapes. To such an extent, in fact, that I think it could be argued that the totem animal of the traditional Chinese landscape painter is none other than the donkey. These donkeys are the embodiment of the painter’s imagination. These donkeys are actually self-portraits, they are the painters wandering through their own creations. Think about it, if the painters were to paint themselves in human form then they would be roundly criticized and mocked for placing themselves in their own paintings. Truly unacceptable hubris. However, disguised as a donkey they are free to roam as they please. Here’s an example by the Song dynasty painter Fan Kuan. Donkeys are in the lower right.
Look, here’s a detail:
One of my close friends has pointed out that these donkeys always appear to be “well-beaten pack animals, not free spirits wandering happily through the natural world.” And he has used this logic to dismiss my argument. But I actually think his logic only bolsters my own position. I mean, if the donkey were freely cavorting about, it would call undue attention to itself. It would be vulgar, perhaps enough so to anger the Emperor, which would surely curtail (perhaps permanently) one’s enjoyment of one’s own landscape. Surely the great painters of old were not so naïve!
I myself have dreamed of owning a donkey and wandering through the hills around my home. Alas, I do not have a donkey, and therefore I have no choice but to follow the example of all these ancient painters and become the donkey myself. However, I have no need for ink and paper. To make such a transformation, all I need to do is attach a carrot to my umbrella. Further, it allows me to coax my own self through my own landscape. If I may be so bold, this seems like a fairly significant contribution to the tradition of Chinese landscape painting.
Here is a photograph of me (as a donkey) walking over a small bridge by my studio, and beyond the bridge you can see one of the famous Suzhou canals that smell so wonderful.
And here is another photograph (I am still a donkey) with a pagoda in the background.
People on the street really love my transformation (so nice not to be seen as a foreigner anymore). So, I bray you all to strap carrots to your umbrellas and experience asininian liberation.