(me when in 2007, in the 798 district in Beijing…taken by Kathryn Garcia)
Sometimes I forget all that I have done in the past few years, I have a tendency to put a lot of pressure on myself to move onto the next thing, to continue changing, to accomplish more.
Often times I never get a chance to properly reflect on the places I have been or the events that I have experienced. Any successes I have seem to pale in comparison to the goals I am currently trying to acheive.
But today while I was walking in the rain, I started remembering China…..the place that truly changed my vision of what art is, what life is, who I am…
Not that I even really know who I am yet, but something happened while I was there and I’ve only recently started to comprehend it in my recent paintings and writings….
People find out that I went there, that I studied there with a program, and they always look at me as if I went to another planet….I guess, in a way, I did.
It was a completely different realm at least.
Why did I go? What was my urgency? With my mother’s failing health and my own issues I guess I could say that I thought I was losing my mind. I must say that at the ages of 19 and 20 I was aware that I needed to educate myself by exposing myself to something deeper, something more.
I felt that I needed to challenge myself, my perceptions, everything really.
I have never felt so alone as I did in China, not even when I was in Italy, not even when I was in adolescence suffering from the alienation that is so common amongst high school kids-
No, I was very alone in Beijing, but there was a comfort to it that I can’t explain. I was so transfixed by color and sound that I found myself a voyeur, and at that time I needed to be. What happened to me there would not appear in my work until recently, but the change was evident….it just took two years for me to fully start to understand it.
I could talk about riding a bicycle through the traffic of Beijing and finding that I was still stared at for the whiteness of my skin and the european features that were undeniable. I think I needed to be in a minority to understand something more. I wanted a challenge, something catalystic, I had to put myself in a place where just the tone of a word could change its meaning.
And what about the government? The history? The cultural revolution was something that had fascinated me for years. What happens after you silence a nation? There seemed to be an explosion of visuals coming out of China while I was there, as if the artists that were emerging out of the woodwork after so many decades of silence were finally finding their voice.
In the 798 district I found a world of this language, more powerful than anything I had seen in the western world. Perhaps the only thing matching it were the gleaming beauties of Botticelli that I faced in Florence at the Uffizi years later. Imagine, during the cultural revolution artists were killed, intellectuals, teachers, one of my professors in Beijing spoke candidly of his youth during that time…how as a student he was made to spit on his teachers, to be, in his words, “a red guard”….what a strange strange time it was, and generations later the echoes of this revolution are still heard. When dreams meant death, how can one truly live?
(paintings by Zhang Zhen…these brought me to tears, but I couldn’t find any further information about this artist.)
The process of flight, explosion, the body, it all came together for me while I was there….
I fell in love with the work of Zhang Jie…who’s self portraits captured me in a way that I never thought anything could. She wasn’t merely painting herself, she was painting her heart….
(for more, my favorites even go here-www.artscenechina.com)
The 798 district is a district of over a hundred galleries….it was originally built for soviet families, so the architecture is harsh, but even within the concrete you know you are in a place where people are transferring their dreams onto paper…
I found myself immersed in color…it was as if I was in a Wong Kar Wai film. Everything felt so saturated, even as the heat forced smog down my lungs I felt this need for the color that surrounded me.
Or the history, the beauty and spirituality that had been so denied…and still is…now functioning as a spectacle for people with a foreign tongue…
Or the people..
needless to say…
I felt like Alice in Wonderland, and perhaps it started my addiction to travel…I haven’t lived in one place for very long since…
(taken by the ming tombs 2007)
But sometimes, sometimes I remember it and I wish I could go back, I always seem to be longing for another place…
No matter where I am.
for more pictures (and trust me there’s a shitload more) from when I was in china go here-