Thursday, April 16
Our Half the Sky delegation was invited by LuXun Academy President Wei Er Shen to join its Vice President, Gallery Director Wang Yi Gang and some of the International Office staff in a formal dining room for a Welcome Dinner. President Wei joked that he was welcoming us at the end of our time together as a cultural exchange, but that it was also appropriate to have this time together after the opening and our events in order to celebrate their successes. Michael, our interpreter from the opening and our roundtable session sat next to President Wei and shared with us the President's official welcome speech.
In the toast and speech, he told of of some of the history about LuXun Academy, which was founded in 1938:
President Wei also spoke about the unprecedented nature of Half the Sky: Intersections in Social Practice Art. There have been women's art exhibitions in China before, but not with the intentions associated with this one, where the focus was on collaboration, interactions, sharing of women's lives as artists and concerned citizens.
On more personal notes, he talked about his enjoyment of western music, particularly that of Karen Carpenter, and US cities such as New York City.
As was customary and expected, I also made a toast in gratitude to President Wei Er Shen for inviting the Women's Caucus for Art to Shenyang, to Gallery Director Wang Yi Gang for letting us use the beautiful gallery, for the generous and kind staff and academicians who assisted us shared this rich and meaningful experience with us. I complimented the Academy's peaceful and inspiring setting and the enthusiasm of its students.
The huge round table meant that the official conversation between President Wei Er Shen, Priscilla Otani, Jing Deng and myself was difficult to hear by others, but we all shared the delicious local foods that were presented on the large glass turntable - each of us nabbing bits each as they rotated by.
President Wei announced the official end of the dinner when he noticed that our eating was slowing down. He and the Academy staff departed after much gratitude among us all. Our delegation stayed around the table to have a warm satisfying debrief of our experiences so far.
Thursday, April 16
This day we were to offer our Cultural and Community Interaction Events. At breakfast, and considering the responses and comments of the Chinese artists in the roundtable discussion the day before, we had a thoughtful revisiting of our intentions and presentational formats for these events. There was again concern about how much to push uncomfortable topics such as gender and domestic violence and rape, but agreement that this was social practice art We decided to present these events as examples of art activism and audience engagement and lowered our expectations for audience participation.
We were pleasantly surprised. Over fifty people were waiting for our events to begin.
Sandra Mueller and I opened, with Jing Deng assisting as interpreter, with an explanation about our Points of Many Connections Dome. How it was a place for viewers to contemplate the ways they take care of their loved ones, their communities and how they share they responsibility of making the world safe and habitable. We then offered pens and the golden strips of fabric - that women had begun writing on at the WCA Conference in Chicago - and asked if anyone wished to add their name, where they lived, to draw or write how they hold up the sky. We were besieged for requests for the pens and fabric. Wang Yi Gang sat next to me on the floor as we added our thoughts to the fabric. Participants sat in the dome, hung their fabric strips from the weaving inside or added them to the pile on the center of the dome floor. We felt it was an unexpectedly successful setup to the events to follow.
Neda Mordipour, of Louder Than Words, eloquently described the purpose of These Wall Can Talk, the domestic scene, with its wallpaper design (a toile version of implements of violence such as fists, knives and belts) and video of men reciting Jackson Katz' 10 Things Men Can Do To Prevent Gender Violence. She then asked participants to to place stickers that said "Don't Remain Silent" (in English and Mandarin) on the wallpaper. Immediately one tall, young man stepped forward from the crowd. The delegates were initially concerned by his body language as it seemed somewhat aggressive, but we were relieved and pleased that he was wanting to know if this installation was only about women, or if men could be victims of gender violence. Neda's response was calm and informative and after a few more questions, audience members did begin to approach the wallpaper and place their stickers, while others photographed this process.
The delegates flanked Elana Mann in front of her poster installation about Myths of Rape
for her People's Microphone call and response presentation. We had anticipated that this would be perhaps the most intense and challenging of our events. The people's microphone is a method for a large audience to hear what a speaker is saying. Those around the speaker collectively repeat the comment. Elana said a myth about rape in English and the delegates repeated it. Jing then said the same myth in Mandarin and, surprising us again, the mixed-gender audience loudly replied. We continued with the corresponding fact to bely the myth and other myth-fact statements and felt the audience and ourselves were highly energized.
From this event, we toured the exhibition, giving each Chinese or US-based artist in attendance, an opportunity to briefly describe her work. The crowd followed and listened attentively.
Alli Berman's Common Threads: Intersections of Time and Line interactive installation wrapped up our morning. With her characteristic enthusiasm, she explained how women, including herself, are challenged, beat down and then stitched back together with the assistance of the people in their lives. She then asked the audience to color in squares of pre-printed graphics of weaving lines and shapes and then to find some continuation of line in each of their squares to another square in the installation, thereby showing our commonalities and connections. This activity was excitedly embraced - especially by the art students in attendance.
From the beginning, this project was more than an art exhibition. The cultural exchange aspect was paramount to our social practice goals. This morning's interactions and responses filled us with gratitude and satisfaction and awe.
This blog documents Half the Sky: Intersections in Social Practice Art, a cultural exchange and exhibition created by the International Caucus of the Women’s Caucus for Art and in partnership with and at the LuXun Academy of Fine Arts, located in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China from April 15-30, 2014.
Delegates of Half the Sky: Intersections in Social Practice Art will post and comment on this blog.