In yesterday's post we looked at an installation at the 57th International Art Exhibition in Venice that combined together art, architecture and textiles. Let's continue the thread (pun intended) by looking at other works on display at the Biennale that have a textile component.
The Pavilion of China, entitled "Continuum - Generation by Generation", moves from the Chinese concept of buxi.
Buxi means "ceaselessly" but it also implies unbroken energetic transmission, resilience and adaptability to the vicissitudes of history and fate.
The mission of the pavilion is therefore to capture the energy of perserveance, cultural transmission and regeneration implicit in the concept of buxi, while providing an insight into Chinese art.
Focusing on three main themes, "Mountain and Ocean", "Ancient and Modern" and "Yin and Yang", the pavilion includes a series of possibilities for transformation and renewal envisaged by modern artists.
Visitors pass through the lights and shadows created by leather puppetry, the materiality of bamboo trees rematerializes as hand-made xuan paper, the solidity of wares formed from the heart of the earth and the sounds produced by handmade instruments.
Contemporary artist Wu Jian'an, known for combining folk crafts such as shadow play and papercuts into installation art, collaborated with puppet master Wang Tianwen on new pieces based on "Twelve Images of Water Surging" by Ma Yuan (1160ca - 1225), a work exploring the states of calm and agitation, finite and infinite, smooth and rough, far and near.
Legends and myths revolving around the sea combine instead in Tang Nanan's video installations, photographs and ink sketches; the artist also collaborated with Wang Tianwen to produce works combining shadow theatre and drawings.
Some of the most remarkable works on display are courtesy of Yao Huifen, Certified Inheritor of Suzhou Embroidery from the southern Jiangnan Region and fourth generation successor of the legendary embroidery master Shen Shou.
Yao Huifen recreated with impalpable silk threads Ma Yuan's "Twelve Images of Water Surging" and she also reworked one of the most striking and at the same bizarre paintings in the history of Chinese art - "The Skeleton Fantasy Show" by Li Song (1190-1230).
The painting derives from the Taoist tradition of "Chuan Tzu lamenting the skeleton", a reference to the shortness of life. The artwork depicts a scene from Song's daily life: an itinerant puppeteer performs in front of children while a woman nurses an infant and looks on nearby.
The puppeteer is represented as a skeleton, though, and he is manipulating a skeleton puppet as well.
Telling a story about life, death and time passing (elements implied by the concept of buxi), the painting is therefore rich in metaphors and open to different interpretations: death in this case is not a scary figure, though, but a benign teacher, while the children in the artwork and the baby being breastfed represent hope.
Yao Huifen then proceeded to collaborate with contemporary artist Wu Jian'an, and together they created eight identical compositions made with over one hundred stitching techniques from the Suzhou history of embroidery.
New techniques were also developed while making these works, reunited under the name of "Yashan Series".
The eight compositions go from simpler ones with threads in basic and neutral colours to more detailed pieces with some parts highlighted with metallic threads.
The embroidery is also used to create subtle patterns in these pieces: these patterns hint at the fact that civilisation genes are hidden in subtle forms that add another metaphorical layer to the original painting.
Those visitors who appreciate modern embroidery pieces should instead check out the collaboration between Yao Huifen and Tang Nannan: the former embroidered meteorites and bricks on a panel and Tang Nannan projected dynamic images around the embroidered ones creating a juxtaposition of static and moving images, blurring the boundaries between embroidery and video art.
Another remakable piece included in the pavilion is Wu Jian'an's "The Birth of The Galaxy". From a distance this monumental work covering an entire wall of the pavilion looks like a continuous series of colourful waves of energy or mountain ranges.
But, when you look up close, you realise that this monumental rainbow wave is actually made from thounsands of small figures representing rebellious characters from Chinese mythologies, such as Xing Tian.
The work has therefore got a very symbolic value evoking the source of power and sacrifice from the pre-historical fables and representing a memoir for all those who sacrificed their lives when the pre-historical era progressed into the historical era.
While the artworks included in this pavilion are directly linked with the Chinese civilisation, they offer visitors a universal message: buxi is indeed not just a word or a concept, but a lesson to apply to our daily lives, it inspires us to get on and overcome adversities with renewed strength or by joining our creative forces together, like the artists in the pavilion did.