blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Another provocateur

This man, said Ming Tiampo (lecturer in Asian Art at Carleton University), is the most powerful figure in contemporary art, not only in China, where he is seen as a threat, but internationally. At a CCFS event on May 15th, she was introducing a packed audience––I was sitting near the back on a borrowed office chair on wheels––to the creations of Ai Weiwei, the famous dissenter. This summer the AGO in Toronto is going to be exhibiting some of his work.

Ai's father (who died in 1996) was a poet, deeply patriotic but of suicidal tendencies, since he was sent to a "re-education" camp in the far west of China despite his support of the Communist régime. The family returned to Beijing in the 1970s but most of the boy's childhood (Ai Weiwei was born in 1957) had been spent in exile. In 1979 he was one of the Xingxing artists ("Stars"), outsiders denied exhibition space in the China Art Gallery, so they hung their pictures on the fence outside, saying: we demand democracy and artistic freedom! Their works tended to be surrealist, cubist, in style instead of the social-realist paintings preferred by the authorities. In 1983 they were disbanded and dispersed, Ai being the first of them to emigrate––he moved to New York, lived in the then un-gentrified Lower East Side, talked a lot and smoked pot. "Act up!" was his motto. His hero was Marcel Duchamp––the subject of his Profile of Duchamp, Sunflower Seeds (1983)

Ai Weiwei is no new phenomenon but the latest in a long line of rebellious Chinese artists dating back to the 12th century and earlier. Some "literati" painters of the Song Dynasty were also dissidents. In that meritocratic society, the Chinese civil service examinations included painting and caligraphy with the brush. Mi Fu belonged to the intellectuals. He, like Ai Weiwei, collaborated with others to create his works of art. Su Shi (whose statue I saw in Hangzhou) was exiled for his implied criticism of the government of the day. These were free spirits, not servants of the Emperor. After the conquests of Kublai Khan, southerners were treated with suspicion and had to wait for the right moment to step forward. Zhao Mengjian's 13th century flower paintings (of the early Yuan period) have political connotations. Like the artist's family, the narcissus he painted had no roots. "Three Friends in the Cold Season" (a pine twig, plum blossom and bamboo leaves, painted in ink) represented those who had no friends among the Mongols. They are plants that bend but do not break and that live through punishment, surviving the winter. Ming Tiampo also commented on Gong Kai's "Emaciated Horse"––a picture from the Yuan Dynasty and an obvious comment on the artist, who had to get by on minimum rewards.

Silence, in Ai Weiwei's opinion, equals death, therefore he keeps on commenting. In his "Study of Perspective" photographs (1995-3003) he gives Tiananmen Square the finger, and the Eiffel Tower, the White House, Hong Kong, the Mona Lisa ... In 1995 there also appeared a photo triptych of him "Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn" (that he'd picked up cheap at a flea market!), a symbolic comment on the destruction of history that shocked the world. Chairman Mao's view was that "we can destroy the old world but build a new world"; Ai Weiwei wants, rather, to bridge the two worlds. In 2007 he made "Coloured Vases", for example painting a Coca Cola logo on a real, neolithic, Yangshao urn. Is this a tongue in cheek comment on the commercialisation of art or something angrier? According to Ming Tiampo, he is patriotic. His "Table with Two Legs on the Wall" (2008) was made from disassembled and re-assembled Qing Dynasty furniture. His "Map of China" is from recycled rosewood.

The famous Bird's Nest Stadium in the Beijing Olympic Park is his crowning achievement to date, created with the approval of the government in collaboration with Swiss architects. Ai didn't approve of the "fake smile" of the Olympics so withdrew from the public gaze and became suspect again when he began documenting the Sichuan earthquake which probably killed 90,000 people. He called his work the Citizens' Investigation Project, displaying the names of 5000 school children lost in the earthquake as a result of shoddy "tofu" construction of their schools. On August 18th in Toronto, this year, their names will be read aloud. (This has also occurred at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington.) The exhibition at the AGO will show his "Snake" on the ceiling, made of the children's backpacks. It has a threatening look.

In 2009 Ai was arrested and detained by the Chinese police. He managed to take a photo of himself using his cellphone as he was being taken for interrogation in a lift and to publish the picture there and then, via Twitter, on the world wide web. In 2010 he needed emergency brain surgery as a result of his treatment and took and published photos of that process as well. His Shanghai studio, that broke all the rules, was due for demolition in November 2010 so he threw a party there the previous day. A film ("Never Sorry") was made after this, to thank the people who had sent him money in support. Art galleries in China are often foreign owned and his work is shown there. In April 2011 he disappeared for a while, but resurfaced under house arrest. He blogs and twitters constantly, sometimes playing the fool on video (for a serious purpose) or being rude in general.
Human rights activists and journalists in Hong Kong believed that Ai offered himself to the authorities on a platter with this provocative art. (Wikipedia)
He has publically named the man who beat him up in detention and has posted photos of him on the Internet. In answer to a question from the audience, Ming Tiampo assured us that Ai Weiwei is not going away. Another member of the audience took a look at his Tweet of the day and read it out to us:
There are no outdoor sports as graceful as throwing stones at a dictatorship.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Riopelle's dancing colours

Riopelle's "Pavane"
Yesterday morning I listened to a talk about Jean-Paul Riopelle at Anne's house, taking notes in French.

...un des plus grands peintres canadiens... bien représenté au musée à Québec. Né à Montréal... le tour du monde... pied à terre à Paris et au Lac Masson aux Laurentides. Expos à Londres, Tokyo, en Italie...

... peintre de la grande nature... "Hibou" plus que 2000 fois! ... aussi des sculptures. ~6000 oeuvres, la plupart "Sans Titre" ... tapisseries... bouteilles

...membre du Refus Globale... peinture automatiste... contre la religion

...préférait l'abstraction complète... mosaïques... couleurs très pures = une façon de rendre la vie heureuse et mouvementée... immenses tableaux comme "Pavane" où les couleurs représentent les 4 saisons, comme une roue... couleurs qui dansent... peint avec couteau et spatule...

...à l'âge de 7 son frère meurt... traumatique, ça l'a marqué énormément aimait les femmes! ... relations parfois violentes avec Joan Mitchell, par exemple

... dernière oeuvre, "Hommage à Rosa Luxemburg" (40m de longueur)... grands panneaux sur 3 murs ... utilisait l'aerosol

... finallement à l'Ile aux Grues... oies sauvages... reçut L'Ordre du Canada... et du Québec... etc.

... sa fille Yseult écrit 9 volumes sur son père.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

More about Saguenay

A river boat at Chicoutimi awaits the tourist season
Wild amelanchier trees were in bloom on the hillsides and the fields had only just been ploughed; it looked like dry, sandy soil, poor quality. June to mid-October is the manic season when tourism flourishes. The car rental man who picked us up at the airport told me that the first ship of the season, carrying people from Florida, had docked last week, 1800 disembarking. Later this year, especially in September and October, other ships will follow up and down the navigable waters of the Parc Marin du Saguenay-St.Laurent, 1000ft deep in places. They have a desperate need for tourism to succeed in a part of Quebec that's rather too remote for winter attractions, although the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec does advertise long guided hikes on snowshoes through the national parks, with nights in a yurt. That sort of pleasure is only for the dedicated.

Snow on the hills above L'Anse St. Jean, late May
According to the Sépaq, the 3.5km sentier de la statue which we ventured along on Sunday (a trail labelled "difficile") is the most popular of the region's summer trails. It leads from the beach in Baie-Éternité to the summit of Cap Trinité and it was impressive to see how park keepers had laid the steps and bridges for our benefit, like a rock garden 350m high. After passing the 280m point we realised we should have brought something to drink with us if we were going to keep climbing up and down for another couple of hours, and turned back. At the end of the trail is a giant Virgin Mary erected by Charles-Napoléon Robitaille in 1881 after she had saved him from drowning in the icy cold Saguenay a couple of years before. We had no particular desire to pay her close homage though the views down the fjord from there must be magnificent.

St. François-Xavier cathedral
The area is impregnated with Catholicism. Wayside shrines abound, including dozens of larger than life crêche scenes at Rivière Éternité. We lost count of the churches and other religious institutions at Chicoutimi. Even the hospital was adorned with a cross. Until recently, the tradition in Quebec was for the second son from each family of standing to train for the priesthood. (We saw a detention centre too, looking just like the seminaries but with bars on the windows and with the word PRISON carved over the door.) Chris found Radio Galilée on the car radio, a station broadcasting rather fine religious music interspersed with Bible readings and sermons in French or interviews with people who'd seen the Light. As we walked up the main street in Chicoutimi hand in hand one evening, Chris and I were blessed by a passing clergyman.

On the other hand, the World, the Flesh and the Devil obviously put up a fight against the religious message in Chicoutimi where nightclubs, bars and gambling halls abound as well. Even at our (very decent) Hotel du Fjord was a room full of one armed bandits with elderly men playing them at breakfast time on both mornings, a sad sight. We were next to the bus station but didn't see many busses. A Place Centre Ville is currently being constructed at Chicoutimi to link the shopping street, library, city hall, etc. to the waterfront park, which used to be an industrial dockland, by means of a partly covered, vast concourse, an ambitious landscaping project. Rue Racine, the main street (named after a Monseigneur), will then become a pedestrian zone. Our respects to the mayor and city councillors of Chicoutimi for their leadership and vision––good for them!

Attempts to tame the Saguenay River at Jonquière
Another feature worth mentioning is la petite maison blanche, a museum that like everything else including the pleasure boats doesn't open to the public until June. It's a museum on the site of the only building to survive a disaster in 1996 when flash floods destroyed 100 home in Chicoutimi alone. Other communities, such as La Baie and L'Anse St. Jean which we visited at the weekend, were similarly devastated. Before we flew home on Monday we took a last look at the river, upstream from Chicoutimi, as it narrowed and swirled around an island beneath a series of dams, where placards alerted us to the ...courant fort et remous dangereux. Brusque variation du niveau d'eau! Le niveau d'eau peut s'augmenter de façon importante et soudaine, que la sirène se fasse entendre ou non. I pointed out to Chris the apposite use of the French subjunctive in that last warning. As the grammar books would say, there's an element of doubt.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Back from Saguenay

I shouldn't have worried about the weather. It was foggy and wet in Chicoutimi this morning, the low (700ft) ceiling just beginning to lift as we climbed into the 'plane, and we did fly back in IMC as predicted, but it was what Chris would call "easy IFR" or "the reason why I got my licence"––a few minutes ascent through thinning clouds followed by a hundred or more minutes of smooth flight above the fluffy whiteness, with increasing breaks in it to give us an idea of the landscape we were travelling across. We could see where we were at all times by virtue of the instruments.

It's been a great little holiday (although I'm too tired to write about it tonight, almost falling asleep at this keyboard). Even this morning's drive in the rain was fun: we found a place where the Saguenay River narrows and tumbles around a cluster of islands, with a big dam above. We got out of the car and walked down a steep slope to look at part of it and saw the rest from the air through a hole in the clouds as we began to head for La Tuque on the St. Maurice River, about an hour away.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

By the Saguenay Fjord

The brisk wind that has been blowing since we landed at Chicoutimi / St. Honore airport yesterday lunchtime has finally calmed down and the water of the great, wide Saguenay River just visible from the balcony of our hotel room is silky, now. Earlier this evening, at low tide, it was choppy with breaking waves and the municiple flags were flapping wildly on their long poles. At La Baie des Ha! Ha! (a place name I must research forthwith) paragliders were having an exhilerating ride on the waves, sometimes flying into the air on surfboards that had integral boots.

La Route du Fjord
I don't know how long the fjord is, but in the last day and a half we must have seen some 100 km of its scenery; Chris says we've driven 360 km in the car we rented from the downtown "National". Yesterday afternoon, after the flight here from Ottawa over exciting terrain, we only drove as far as La Baie. I love the curves in the country roads and roadside cottage roofs of eastern Quebec. We had the thrill of seeing a flock of brilliant-white, migrating snow geese land in a field beside the Route du Fjord, and I spotted them again this afternoon.

La Baie Éternité
Today we explored as far as the Baie d'Eternite and the Anse St. Jean, following a hiking trail at our first stop that took us along the shore of the inlet and half way up one of the massive cliffs that line the fjord. There is an 8 metre high Virgin at the top, but we didn't have time to climb far enough to see her.  We did see masses of trout lilies and a porcupine (porc-épic, in French) chewing leaves.

The region is very different from Ontario, very Catholic, with a plethora of huge churches, especiallly in Chicoutimi itself. More tomorrow, after our homeward cross country flight. I have a great deal more to say!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Continuous juxtapositions

Springtime in the local park
There's a large pile of papers on my desk nearly all relating to blogposts I haven't written yet. Life gets in the way of reporting, again. At the end of April I had a subscription to the Health Club at the Château Laurier for a birthday present, which for my purposes means the swimming pool. I love the pool. With its classical music and statuary and its salt water it gratifies all the senses. However, swimming time, especially if I include my walks to and fro through the Byward Market, with all its springtime temptations, detracts from writing time.

Receiving my Spirit Award from the Chief Flying Instructor
We had a burst of warm, anticyclonic weather for two weeks when all the leaves and flowers came out, on cue for the Tulip Festival. I have been gardening at home and at the Flying Club. Elva is calling me Head Gardener, though to be honest I'm only one of a team. At our Wings Dinner this year, the Rockcliffe Flying Club presented me with the Spirit Award for personifying the club's motto, this year: where friends come to fly. (I'm more of a friend than a flyer and not even a club member but it appears I was nominated for my editing of Crosswinds, for my contributions to the gardening and "for keeping Chris in order.")

Edward from Alberta, addressing the VIPs
We had our basement wall and ceiling repaired and our stairwell and landing walls painted, only the Canadians don't use the word landing the same way as Brits do, so I've discovered, which causes confusion. What British people call a landing, the North Americans call an upstairs hallway. A new carpet's been fitted on our stairs and landings (sic), but there's still more decorating to be done. By the last week in April, we'd completed enough to make our latest visitors comfortable. These were the 17 year old students sponsored by the Rotary Club to come to the Adventures in Citizenship event. Edward travelled here from Edmonton and Sean from Sioux Lookout. They stayed four nights, were great company, and we're missing them now. At the final lunch, Edward represented his province and gave an admirable, confident speech at the Convention Centre to about 400 people. I'd been to another formal lunch the previous week on the other side of the Rideau Canal, at Le Café (at the NAC), in aid of students at Dr. Simar's Gawarshad Institute in Afghanistan whom our CFUW study group supports. We raised $7000, and in the process were entertained by a young Ukranian-Canadian violinist (Carissa Klopoushak) giving a solo recital. At this event, according to some, I sold my husband in the Silent Auction; i.e. the highest bidder won a ride in his aeroplane. I was also one of the designated photographers.

Thirteen of the Spanish speaking conversation group came to my house this week and the German conversation group that I organise is thriving too. We've had lengthy discussions about mathematicians and Dresden and asparagus! Next week's topic will be how the State rules our lives, with reference to the pervasive legislation in Germany (one of our group has found an article in the Spiegel about this and wants to share it).

Before the end of April, our tax returns had to be submitted to the CRA, a dreary job, when Chris and I would much rather be making music of an evening. Well, the job is done, and we have managed to attend a few concerts since I last blogged––a performance of Schittke, Bach and Kodaly cello music at a private house, another, bigger performance by "four of Canada's top 'cellists together" (morning coffee concert), then a flamboyant Verdi "Arias and Choruses" occasion towards the end of another day and a more gentle concert the following evening, featuring quartets by Frank Bridge and Vaughan Williams. After the Verdi we went straight to the Pub Italia in Little Italy with friends who'd been at the concert and didn't leave till midnight. Such fun.

Edward Du Hobbs, a few hours old
Life's not so much fun for my mother now that her eyesight is failing; she carries on valiantly but my sister and I have been worried about her which has led to some longish phone calls. Other members of the family caught my attention in no uncertain terms, besides, my grandson Thomas scalding his arm in London, for example, and then, most momentous of all, our son and his wife in Australia had their baby this week!