Friday, 24 December 2010

Private view/punch up

Two students - Shu Jing and Yuan chao - have volunteered to help install the exhibition in Jiao Tong teahouse. At 10 am we meet in the studio, collect the long list of 12 or so pieces that I've selected from the original 50, plus string (always essential), pegs, nails, extension leads, lights, pencils. We set up camp on one of the trestle tables in the teahouse.

Hanging work is in itself one of the arts - to speak to the surrounds and yet have the works in dialogue with one another, to choreograph still space, to state simply, but keep ambiguity. My works spark alive when there is sunlight pouring through them and the world's colours. The teahouse is a dark space and the pieces look alright only in the windows and near light sources, which are dim. We set up some discreet lamps and peg the pieces into position so that they frame the fanatic card players but don't bug people.

Wang Jun's piece is an installation of overpainted magazines - it's a work that I've loved since he first took me round his studio and it' a pleasure to see it here, abutting onto the real. He lights the shelves he's used with bright fluorescents so that they glow like a shrine in a cliche. The mugs of the regulars here in the teahouse feature as part of the work, anchoring it in Jiao Tong.

Yao Bo meanwhile has placed pots on nine tables on the raised area in the middle of the space. Underneath each is a piece of off white paper with a black rectangle screenprinted onto it. From inside two of the pots can be heard her voice, reading aloud from her response to Beckett. The tiny electric voices crackle and whisper; people put their ears to the lips of the pots to hear. It's a show-stealer.

By 2 o'clock Wang Jun has installed his piece and lit it, Yao Bo is still tweaking her lights. Mine hang in the wondows opposite the entrance with card players sitting under them. One man loses his cash and holds his head in his hands. Julia snaps a portrait. Behind him, the poem says: Protect Me.

The guys who frequent the teashop stroll between the pieces and we chat it through. Someone offers to do some calligraphy for me - showing me the steadiness of his hands.

A journalist asks me why I bother putting my peculiar poems in places where no one will understand them. I take a deep breath at all the suppositions in that statement. I explain that if the work is placed among the world's bustle, it has the chance to be more alive than in the pages of a book. The room suddenly is unusually noisy. Yan Yan taps me on the shoulder: "For example, look over there. Real life."
There is a punch up taking place between two card players and people join the scrum. Yan Yan glances at me and grins: "It's real," he says again.

Private Views are posh showbiz and this one's no different. After the fighting has died away and the sore heads have been rubbed better, the art people arrive. The official opening is at 7pm, although the teahouse remains open all day for usual business. Julia and I are invited to join a long table of the local great and good, sipping flower tea. I end up swapping lines of poems with a DJ who wants to showboat her English and quotes lines of John Donne. In reply, I try her with a line from Tony Trehy. We struggle with the translation and she passes the line "Never to have compromised with transcendence" over to Yan Yan who shoots me a pained look.

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