Tag Archives: Sculpture

Unassuming Qingshan

Typically, when one mentions “half naked woman riding a dragon,” one might either thinking 1980’s heavy metal album covers or fantasy mass market paperback covers. Dungeons and dragons and role playing games might also be involved in that thought process. If you image search “half naked woman riding a dragon” on Google, you might get the following results. I sort of did.

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This is, of course, dragons in a western context.  Turns out, it can be more of cross-cultural idea in art. In Changzhou, there is a stone mural of depicting the same thing.

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In this case, the woman is holding what looks to be a shiny orb. This is likely a flaming pearl, which in some Asian cultures can be associated with spiritual energy. A lot of depictions of Eastern dragons come with some sort of pearl references. All of this is lore and mythology that, quite honestly, I need to learn more about. The above picture had me intrigued partly because it was in an unassuming park that I have passed by for years but never took the time to actually walk around in.

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The public space is Qingshan Zhuang 青山庄. It’s actually part of the ancient canal network that has been part of Changzhou for thousands of years. The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal flows into into the city and splits into what can be described as a series of offshoots, tributaries, and a moat-and-wall complex around what used to be ancient Changzhou. In the above photo, you have the characters 北塘 běi táng. This is the part of that canal network that splits off of the central city canal circular and heads north.

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A good portion of this canal is adjacent to Jinling Road, but it’s at the point where that road forks into two one way roads downtown. This is why, for example, the 302 bus route from Wujin to Xinbei is different from it’s course from Xinbei to Wujin when going south.

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Qingshan Zhuang, as a public green space, is actually split into two. There is part that straddles the Beitang Canal (where the half naked dragon rider can be found), and then there is the other part across the busy street. It’s mostly a small public space with benches.  There are also a few bits of public art here, too.

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Here we have a primate eating something oblong. Mangos are oblong. They are also quite delicious, so my personal interpretation and title would be “Monkey Eating a Mango.”

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I am not going to venture a guess as to the meaning of this.

At anyrate, Qingshan Zhuang is definitely not one of Changzhou’s major or culturally significant spaces. For many of us, it’s just something we have passed by on a bus while going someplace else.
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Inside the Changzhou Clay Art Club

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The Changzhou Clay Art Club is truly a multipurpose space. I have passed by this place for a year or two in the back of Qianbeian in downtown Changzhou. This is a tiny little historic district next to where they are building the Wenhuagong / Downtown Metro Station. It’s on a back street and near a few small cafes and tailor shops. I have had a hard time locating an address or a map location. Not too long ago, I got to see the inside of the this arts and crafts club.

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It has the feel of a sculpture gallery. The owner, actually, is a not only a skilled sculptor himself, but he is also works for Tianning Temple. Some of the religious themes have carried over into his private work on display here. Many of the pieces are available to purchase, so the Clay Art Club also functions at a place where one could get decor to spruce up a living space.

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However, I did state earlier that the place works as a multi-use space.

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It also functions as an arts education center. However, I got to know this place for the first time for a fundamentally different reason.

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There are two rooms available here for hosting events. Two good friends of mine recently held a farewell party here. They were two of long term residents who had lived in Changzhou for many, many years. For personal reasons, they opted to return to Australia. They will be dearly missed.

Beautifully Grotesque

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It’s not everyday that you look at a work of traditional Chinese art and become reminded of Millia Jovovich and sub-par horror movies, but that did happen to me, and it did happen in Changzhou. How is this possible? I was looking at the above sculpture. Specifically, I was looking at the pits, nooks and crannies in the dog’s torso, and I had a vague feeling I saw something similar once. It had something to do with tendons and ligaments stretched over bare, exposed bone. And then it hit me all at once: Resident Evil. The above sculpture was reminding me of the zombie canines featured in that movie adaptation of a video game.

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Actually, a lot of Tu Yidao’s work made my mind lurch towards the grotesque.

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Tu Yidao 屠一道, a native to Changzhou, was born in 1913, and he went on to attract fame across China for a very particular form of Chinese art: root carving.

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The tradition of carving roots extends back thousands of years to the Warring States period. In art, form is often an extension of the medium. Some of resulting sculptures take on a slightly grotesque appearance because the wood being used is oddly shaped in its natural state. It takes a skilled eye to actually look at a stump and network of roots and see a peacock. It takes even more skill to then fashion that tree root into something resembling an actual peacock or any other type of bird.

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Or a horse.

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The Changzhou municipal government began funding a small museum in Tu Yidao’s honor in the 1980’s, according to the Chinese language Baidu version of Wikipedia. So, this place has been around for a long time. I have been there a few times since I moved here in 2014. Sometimes I have gone there, and the doors were locked. Other times, it has been open. It sometimes felt like a gamble on whether the place remained open to the public or not.

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It’s relatively tiny, and it’s in a northern corner of Hongmei Park — not to far from the RT Mart near the downtown train station. It costs five RMB to get in, and each time I visited, the worker behind the front desk had to turn the lights on. Each time I have visited, though, I have always left thinking about more than just zombie movies and reanimated canines. Chinese culture is more inventive than what some foreigners give it credit for.

The Children and the Faceless

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Lanyuan Park is located next to the Changzhou Women and Children Activity Center. If you were to walk away from downtown, go over a bridge, you would pass this building. The street name changes from Nandajie to others several times, but it is the same road. This is a building maintained by the municipal government, and it works as an educational resource center. There, families have access to discounted educational programs that cover everything from English lessons to art and more. So, it is fitting to find statues of children in the adjoining park.

One is a group of kids craved from white stone. It depicts two boys and two girls holding on to each other in what looks like a conga line. Their expressions are mostly of mischief. One boy, at the end, is falling down, but he has his hands on the belt line of a girl’s trousers, suggesting he is about to accidentally pull her pants down. The other statue is worked into fountain. A boy and a girls are laying down and watching the water splash into the pool below. IMG_20160731_204742

Again, because there is a family oriented governmental building nearby, this makes sense. There is an odd juxtaposition, though, in Lanyuan. It is strange, surreal, and oddly beautiful. A series of concrete planters showcases bamboo thatches. There is a bronze-looking metal sculpture of two people sitting on a bench. They have no faces and the are huddled together, wrapped in a single blanket. Are they refugees? Old people? It’s hard to tell when the front of their heads are smooth and featureless.

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If I was had to guess, I would have to go with the elderly. That’s just a snap judgement based on my experiences in Changzhou’s public parks. Often, you will see the elderly sleeping and exercising in most public parks. Lanyuan is no different. Even during hot and humid days, you can see somebody’s grandfather swinging and flailing is arms while walking in circles.  I once saw a guy doing the “raise the roof” gesture with his upturned palms in the air. It’s not just the weird excercise. My favorite was an old guy who used to wear a white tanktop and a red sweatband around his head. In one hand, he held a portable radio. At the top of his lungs, he belted out Chinese opera. No matter where you went in Lanyuan, you could hear him. IMG_20160731_212751

Our Lady of Pollution

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People have different ways to measure pollution and how bad it is. The most obvious is to wake up in the morning, look out the window, and see how thick, thin, or not there smog is for the day. Other people tend to be more scientific and follow the Air Quality Index (AQI) numbers for Changzhou. For the longest time, I had a more arcane and most nonsensical approach, and it involved a statue.

It looks classically European, and I don’t know the story of why it is where its. It depicts a woman holding a basket of flowers, her garments are draped in a way you see in Italian sculpture, and her breasts are exposed — and so is a long bit of leg! However, the implied sexiness is muted by the “I must look askance and away” modesty thing you often see in art.

I used to pass this statue all the time when I lived in the south of the city. It’s on Heping Road 和平路, right after you cross the bridge from Wujin to Tianning. I would zip by it while on my way downtown on my eBike. This all sounds well and nice, but how did I link this weird girl to air quality?

It came down to how dirty this woman would look. At her worst, she would have black streaks across her face, and yellow smears across her breasts. Then, apparently, somebody would come scrub her and wash her. Then, she would be pristine and white again. Six months would pass, and the yellow smears on her legs and bosom would reappear — and somebody would eventually hose her down again.

As an air quality indicator, this is stupid beyond measure. I know that. Plus, I think the people responsible for the sculpture  have caught on to how nasty this gal can look. Over the last year, the smudges and smears have never returned. And really, if I actually cared about pollution, I should be looking at AQI numbers and not a statue of a woman with her tits exposed.

Sylvia Plath and The Daddy Statue

Marble heavy, a bag full of God,

Ghastly statue with one gray toe

big as a Frisco seal

 

and a head in the freakish Atlantic

— Sylvia Plath

Plath’s work as a poet has always struck me. There is usually a knack for a surreal turn of a phrase. The above lines come from “Daddy,” where a the language — the rhymes and the melody of the words — sounds childish. The content, however, is more a grown woman’s voice contemplating killing her father. Or, in some aspects, wanting to kill the memory of her father.  Brutal themes like this carry mostly all the way through her collection Ariel.

I used to think of this poem, not because I have daddy issues like Plath’s, but more because of a sculpture that used to be in Downtown Changzhou. It used to be the Future City shopping center next door to the Injoy Mall. A year and a half ago, Future City used to be empty, desolate. None of the shops were leased. There were just statues of a fat dude playing golf. Turns out, the area wasn’t a ghostly bit of real estate. The area was still being developed. The shops there have been slowly filling in. As shopkeepers moved in, the statue I used to like to look at vanished.

It was of a nude woman playing a flute.  On her pedestal, she sat semi-cross legged. However, one leg dangled over the side of the pedestal. Surrealistically, the leg became longer and fatter. Her foot always sparked the memories of reading “Daddy.”  Sure, the foot had more than one toe, but it always reminded me of the “Ghastly statue” line.  Overtime, I used to imagine that this was the speaker, the woman in poem. She was playing beautiful sounding music, but she was still deformed. And that’s how I would describe most of Plath’s work. Beautiful, but deformed.

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Zhonglou’s Child Prodigy

Classroom sculpture at Chun Gui Park in Zhonglou District.“I know this poem,” a Chinese friend and colleague told me via Skype. “This is the child prodigy poem Wang Zhu wrote. My father used to read lines of this to me when I was young. He wanted to remind me the value of education.”  She then went on to give me a rough translation. Unfortunately, my clunky old Compaq computer has been on a data-bleeding rampage as of late. It doesn’t work well, and I’ve been losing a lot of information recently – including her translations. As of right now, it’s lucky to still be in one piece; I have been tempted to throw this clunker out the window many times in a frothing rage. (I will be getting a new laptop soon). Yet, back to the issue at hand. Despite my current tech problems, I still I remember the gist of my colleague’s translations.Trust in books….

These weren’t just random lines I plucked off the Internet or out of a Chinese poetry anthology. The lines of verse come straight from a small park in Downtown, Changzhou. A different Chinese friend told me it’s called “Chun Gui Park.”  It’s one BRT stop past the Injoy Mall. Reciting student in Chun Gui Park's classroom sculpture.This would be the stretch of road that both the B1 and the B12 share with each other.  Chun Gui is across the street from another park alongside a canal. The BRT stop itself has a footwalk overpass. It’s the only one of two over-the-bus-footpaths I have seen in Changzhou thus far.

As for the park itself, it’s filled with statues dedicated to scholars, However, there is something more involved than just metal images of learned men in traditional robes.  There is one very green and lush path dedicated to different and well-known scholars that have at one point or another called Changzhou their home. Who those people are is best saved for another time.  Towards the back of this park, there is an intricate set of metal figures commemorating the spirit of Wang Zhu’s poem. You have to pass over a little bridge to get to it.

It looks like a classroom. You have the traditional Chinese laoshi standing in front of his students. The kids are all seated at their desk with three exceptions. At the very back of the sculpture, you have a child peering over a brick wall and into the classroom. It’s as if he is inquisitive and curious, but his parents did not have the means to

Not all the students in Chun Gui's classroom sculpture are invited.pay for his education. This child is standing on the back of a friend who is on all fours. This detail is very hard to spot, and you actually have to walk around to the back of the piece to actually notice this.

One boy stands in the front and off to the side. The sculptor rendered this kid with his mouth open, as if he was talking or addressing his teacher. Perhaps, he is reciting the lines of Wang Zhu’s poem that is etched on a stone slab nearby? Who knows. That’s the value of imagination. He could be cussing out his teacher for all I know, but that is highly and very unlikely. It is contrary to Chinese culture, after all.

Three of the seated students are paying full attention. They have their books open, and they seem attentive to their classmate and their instructor. That isn’t the really fun part of this scene, though. The two students and the kid peering over the wall suggest that the children all are bright and eager to learn. That Not only is the uninvited guest curious, but he's creatively using a boost from his friend.isn’t the case. Towards the back of the class, there is a kid taking a nap. The kid thinks he’s being sneaky about it. He has his book set up in front of his face, but the side of his cheek is against the desk – as in he is out and snoozing hard. In a sense, this is a more realistic detail when rendering a classroom. No matter if a teacher is in China, Great Britain, Australia, or America, there will always be some reluctant learners.  Only, in this day and age, it is easier to hide between a computer monitor in a language lab then to just merely pretend to read and nap.

There is one other thing this interpretative set of statues reminds me of. Even when I wasn’t having computer and VPN problems, I had real trouble locating any information on Wang Zhu and his child prodigy poem. Finding good information about China in English can be a challenge.  Despite a handful of websites, there really isn’t a lot about Changzhou to found. There is one thing, though, that you can easily find.  Many people in Changzhou are proud of their historical heritage; they are particularly proud of that heritage where education is concerned. This interpretative set of figures in Chun Gui Park is just a reminder of that.

Not every student can be the child prodigy suggested in Wang Zhu's poem, apparently.

Note: This was first published on now gone Tguide.org. It was reposted on my personal blog before being reposting it here.