Monday, 16 November 2015

China’s Plum Blossom Luxury

Southeast of the renown Chinese city of Shanghai, accessible via the high speed ‘Bullet train’; close to the energetically emerging city of Hanhzhou, is the freshly opened, and extremely comfortable refuge of the Shui Mo Resort. The elegant Shui Mo Resort is set back within wooded mountains of the Chaoshan Plum Park, in Hangzhou’s Yuhang district, 35 kilometres, or half an hour, beyond the burgeoning Hangzhou city and just 5 kilometres from the local town of Tangqi. 
Now a very popular local tourist destination, the Chaoshan Plum Park area, also called "Ten Li of Plum Blossoms are as fragrant as snow flower sea”, is famous for its heavy carpeting of startling Spring plum blossom and its thousands of visitors every year. Within that park area ancient plum trees, many now exceeding 1,000 years of gnarled growth, still produce their fragrant flowers. Set back within the floral calmness of those plum trees, the peaceful and awe-inspiringly Shui Mo Resort itself boasts of over five thousand trees and bushes, and a serene lake for inner and outer reflection.

Overlooked by majestic mountains, the Shi Mo Resort styles itself as a ‘high end, scenic, boutique Bed and Breakfast arts resort’, covering 2,800 square meters within the Chaoshan Plum Park area. It is the brainchild of Chinese entrepreneur-chef Zhu Lian Zhong. The Resort is set beside a stunning 5,000 square meter lake. The architecture and interior designs encompass the best of Mediterranean, South East Asian and Chinese styles to bring a coterie of calming sensations to encourage rest and recuperation from the busy lives enveloping us all. 

Throughout what could only be termed a luxurious resort, Zhu Lian Zhong has spread his vast personal collection of Chinese antiques from dynasties as diverse as the Soong and Ching, as an open museum for his appreciative guests. Luckily my wife and I share a mutual friend with Zhu Lian Zhong - the Chinese Contemporary artist Luo Qi, who kindly arranged for us to stay in the Lakeview Gardens Chinese suite, Room 105, in the very lap of luxury for one night, just prior to our departure from China.

We had been traipsing around after artist Luo Qi for a week through Zhejiang Province, in Eastern China. He had led us to museum after museum, gallery after gallery, summit after forum and fascinating town after intriguing town, until we were cultured out and ready to drop. The one night’s stay at the Shui Mo Resort was a pleasant surprise, and the very fine icing on what had been a carefully crafted cultural cake.

The evening we arrived, having just travelled from the ancient Chinese town of Xitang, we were ushered to our suite with barely time to appreciate the resort’s grandeur until, that is, after dinner and during the following sunny day. 

We each took a quick shower in a resplendent wood, chrome, granite and concrete themed bathroom, actually containing a (Roca) bath. Then a nimble, disbelieving, gaze at the all-wooden Four-Poster Bed, and a not-too-leisurely walk to the dining hall. Therein lay one large, round, wooden table, bedecked with cold starters.

From a place-setting consisting of two elegant white plates with blue Chinese filigree designs, the larger at the bottom, a small bowl containing longans and melon cubes at the apex, we were to launch into the most sumptuous of Chinese meals. There were eight cold appetisers, including the softness of red and brown cold cubed beef and the sweet/sourness of chopped chicken with soy sauce dip. In time there came a sheer heavenly taste of a local lamb dish, on and off the bone, which surprised and delighted us all. A braised pork, soft, succulent in the way only Chinese can make and a health embracing soup.  It was at that dining room, within the Shui Mo Resort, that I finally became acclimatised to the combination of bacon and fish, in one dish, having tasted variations of that throughout our stay within China’s Zhejiang Province. Previously, it would never have occurred to me to combine the two. Dessert was glutinous rice balls, swimming in a slightly sweetened broth, appearing in a small, white, bowl resembling a lotus.

The softness of the luxurious bed, the weariness of the day’s travel and the quiet of the surroundings lulled us to sleep. Morning broke with gentle Autumnal rays of sunshine shining through the resort trees, glinting off the lake and highlighting a bird perched just outside the suite window. It was time to shower with the provided French L’Occitane shower cream and shampoo. Then a quick nosey around on the way to breakfast.

A white marble statue of the Chinese Kwan Yin Goddess of Mercy, had been placed within a rockery resembling Chinese mountainscapes. As we stood watching, admiring, taking pictures, subtle white mist drifted from secreted pipes, making those mini-mountains romantically misty. It was a most beguiling effect, especially with the mid-pink bougainvillaea in the background.

Inside and out, the Shui Mo Resort blended the natural and man made. Genuine Chinese antiques rubbed shoulders with innovative new designs to form a homogeneous whole. It was all so very delicately designed to make guests feel at ease, a place where Chinese calligraphy might be made, poems read and artists sit to philosophise with writers.

Our one night in the Lakeview Gardens Chinese suite of Zhu Lian Zhong's Shui Mo Resort, was a dream come true. And yet, while the resort was undoubtedly amazing at any time of year, I quickly realised that to gain the maximum from the amazing surroundings, it would be better to return at the beginning of Spring, January to February, when the plum trees are in blossom and the air resplendent with their blossomy fragrance.

The very luxurious rooms of the Shui Mo Resort, are priced between Yuan (¥) 1,380 (approximately RM 953) for the Mountain Southeast B room to Yuan (¥) 2,380 (approximately RM 1,643) for the Deluxe Continental B, depending on size and luxury required.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Asian & African and Mediterranean International Modern Art Exhibition 2015 Preface

The 12th Asian & African & Mediterranean International Modern Art Exhibition is upon us.  This November (2015) we, once more, celebrate the unity and diversity of artists, venue(s), sponsors and art lovers in the especial series of exhibitions created to enhance artistic understanding. 

The main exhibition is situated in the previous year’s, extremely spacious and well equipped, Shang Kun Luo Qi International Modern Art Museum, within Hangzhou's expanding environs. The annual international exhibition's founder and coordinator, Associate Professor Luo Qi, from the illustrious China Academy of Art has, once more, brought together a coterie of exhibitors and exhibitions of which the main 12th Asian & African & Mediterranean International Modern Art Exhibition is the vanguard.

For well over a decade Luo Qi’s diligence has enabled citizens of Hangzou, Zhejiang Province, foreign visitors, business people and those with interests in art to see a melange of intriguing artworks from a wide range of countries. This year is no exception. Countries as diverse as Canada, France, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mauritius, Portugal, Russia, Thailand, and of course from China itself, all feature in a range of exhibitions across Zhejiang Province, as well as taking part in what promises to be the most spectacular, sublime and surely the most thought-provoking exhibition in Hangzhou, yet.

To further the understanding of the scope of this series of annual exhibitions, I could express about Chinese trade routes, the Mediterranean Basin or Nanyang. I could explain that, in antiquity, Chinese peoples were explorers with great armadas of gigantic nine-masted ships, with twelve sails apiece (much larger than the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s ships). I could explain about the ancient voyages of Zheng (Ma) He (from Yunnan province), the imperial Chinese armada which between 1405 AD and 1433 AD visited the Straits of Malacca, Sumatra, Ceylon, India and across the Arabian sea. I could persuade readers that Chinese fleets visited the African peninsular, taking back giraffes, zebras and ostriches to China, then to the Swahili Coast, and finally back across the oceans to visit the Red Sea and Mecca. But this series of Luo Qi’s annual exhibitions is not about a singular collective noun, not just Nanyang, not just about the Mediterranean Basin, or even the sea voyages of the greatest fleet the world had ever known; but about Art, its divers originators, their myriad philosophies and their incipient camaraderie.

Luo Qi never disappoints. Whether it is his own stimulating works in his unique ‘Characterism” or ‘Calligraphyism’ style, blending aspects of Chinese and Western artistic practices and ideas, or whether he is collecting, collating and combining various elements to present to an excited public in his curated exhibitions, Luo Qi always demonstrates his ability to surprise and delight. This year’s series of larger and smaller exhibitions are no exception.

I am both proud and honoured to be considered to be part of this annual and ongoing revelation of the practice of art and its exhibition. I consider myself fortunate to be able to rub shoulders with some of the most important ‘makers’ from across the world, and talk with them, about their work. For this I thank Associate Professor Luo Qi, and all his sponsors, large and small. 

MyWriters Event 17th October 2015 reading poetry

Poems Read

My Clever Poem
Because it's all very intellectual here
I thought
That I would read

A clever poem
Not a cleaver poem
I'm not that kind if hack A clever poem
One that had
Filled with words like Dasein
A little Greek
Or Latin
A Beat poet
Or some
Poet from Latin America I could
My poem
Whisper my poem
I was a
Spoken word
A poet
That spoke
How original
Well I would
Wouldn't I
If I was clever enough
If I was Smart enough But as I'm
I won't

China Granted
Oil scented Fumes
I see you Stride
As gum trees Cuddly
As koala Sprite
Kangaroo Sleek Designer Boomeranged To
Hangzhou Dots
On your Tongue
In your
Is with
In your
One platypus Town
A Ned Kelly No longer
On the run.

Gaudi's Breath
She walks
Gaudi’s breath
Miro strides
Dali time
tartness of Spanish red wine

a wild gypsy
taking her fill strolling with Picasso Drinking life deep.

She’s Aphrodite, Venus, Eurydice Sauntering boulevards
a mandala child
Paint bright, charcoal

Acuarela angel of paper/canvas.
In tropical dreams Equatorial hills,
I wish her

gliding, soaring One day
To return Home

To me

until you return
And I have no thing when you are no longer here the children are silent
the dog, muffled
even the sun seems somehow listless and hesitant the moon hides her face

too ashamed to peek between the clouds birds cease their singing
the breeze is muted.

you are journeying distant lands
seeing new sights
while my sight becomes ever dimmer
the more I look into the space where you are not it is as if my soul too has departed

slipped inside your red suitcase to keep you safe
while I remain empty
until you return

Lost in Port Dickson
Trembling tide Caresses Tentative

Tamalian infant Squeals Delighted
Soft sun
Barely glances
To Brightening sky

Far Driven
Skins of Mangosteen Grounded

I too
Have been Blown By Oceanic Breezes

Called By siren songs Adrift
Washed Up On some Equatorial Shore
To comprehend

Sun burning John Lewis hat
Unaccustomed Sweat
On white cotton

Thinking Of Camus Conrad
Isabella Bird
Black crows Watching Empty Carlesberg tins On

I was not there
I could not see Brother and sister Arm in arm
A sea
Of yellow,
One legged Attendees
On yellow
A mass
Of Chinese
Indians and Malays Smiling in their pain.

I was not there I could not see Along
The roads Proudly waving Flags

Yellow Blue Red White, Slogans for clean Fervent Words For Justice Hope
I was not there
I could not see
A yellow Beetle car Proudly displaying Its battle scars, Former
Prime Ministers Lending

In humility Half million Plus souls Sharing Moments United
In a way Mere jingoism Cannot.

I was not there I could not see The jigsaw
Of humanity Finally

The Malaysian Family
At last
Rent asunder By decade
Of Lies
And half-truths.

I was not there
I could not see
For it was a time
For Malaysians
In their angst
A private time
Like grief
Over a country
Which might have been Determined
To forge one, better Cleaner.
I was not there
I could not see
But my heart
was with them. 

Friday, 11 September 2015

(Art) Fairly Inundated

Thorrrrebe by Andre Tan

Recently, Malaysia has become flooded with art. Art tourism, art conferences, art forums, art talks, art exhibitions, Expos and even art which is up for grabs. On social media we are inundated with invitations for events, the opening of this and the launch of that, so many that any ordinary mortal would have to metamorphose into Thor (the thunder god) to be able attend them all. Ordinarily that would not matter as some exhibitions are clearly more important than others, but at this late Summer juncture, in Kuala Lumpur, worthiness abounds and art lovers must make heart rending decisions about which exhibition(s) to go to, knowing that to visit one may mean being unable to visit another equally as interesting, valid, or valued.

The highlight of the past few years has been the Art Expo, now called Art Expo Plus 2015. Tottering into its ninth year, Art Expo has grown to take pride of place within the region. It is well respected, well organised and has burrowed deeply into the hearts of art aficionados. Began in 2007 by Datuk Vincent Sim Tiak Choo, he, his wife (Mary of City Gallery) and sons have raised the concept of an art fair to new heights, each year surpassing themselves with the quality of artworks on display and collaborations with a wide variety of galleries and auction houses until, that is, this year.

Is it my jadedness, or is this year's Art Expo at Matrade MECC more of a whimper than a bang? In the past Art Expo has always been an assortment of the very best, historical or Contemporary, as well as those 'artworks' which at best could be described as 'illustrations', at worse amateurish. Is this perception because my expectations of this event have been risen by the previous events. Is it that there are just too many fine exhibitions competing for our attention, or that it is just too difficult to keep up the very high standards which the Art Expo has itself set?

There is little doubt that the financial art world, which we had been persuaded to believe would continue to bring in good dividends, has suffered setbacks in Asia due to poorly performing currencies, Malaysian and Chinese included. This coupled with a large number of art biennials and art fairs across the world, to which local artists and galleries are now submitting art, time and expense, mean that there is only so much quality to go around. And, if we are totally honest, Malaysia cannot compare to Hong Kong, or even mainland China/Korea when it comes to prestige amongst art fairs. But the Art Expo in Kuala Lumpur was getting there and, sometimes, our forward progress is not linear, there are often steps backward or sideways too. This year is one of those.

I'll not be crass enough to single out the worse excesses of 'art' or 'illustration' on view this year, but suffice to say that one foreign gallery returned with a show which seemed a carbon copy of last year's, minus some of the best pieces. True we had Dalis and Miros (what again I hear you cry), and for some aficionados that would have been enough to make the Expo worth visiting, but for me there was a large dose of déjà vu.

I was confused to see Dr Cheah Thien Soong’s works at the Expo, having only recently visited them at the National Visual Arts Gallery, Kuala Lumpur. It brought quite an uncomfortable feeling of over-exposure of his nonetheless visually stunning works, which I felt had been somewhat demoted to compete with a large range of art works on offer at the Expo. Incidentally I felt the same with regards to the Dalis and Miros which, perhaps, should have had a separate viewing area.

There were, of course, many highlights to the exhibition, Syed Thajudeen’s large work The Eternal Love between Puteri Gunung Ledang & Hang Tuah and pieces by Zulkifli Yusoff, included. Surprises came from The Art Fellas (Singapore) in the guise of Yeo Siak Goon’s works, in particular his Sunny Day’s Garden (2002) and Sunny day an the Blue Night (2012), and the POPcorn Combo with Andre Tan’s work, again from Singapore. Tan won me over with contemporary Pop Art imagery which was both referential and enlightening. Pop Art has been done to death over the past fifty years but, mixing my metaphors, Tan’s work shows that there is still some blood to wring from this particular stone. Favourites included In the Mood For Love 4, Thorrrrebe and Kitty Rider 05.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

A Poem for BERSIH 4

I was not there
I could not see
Brother and sister
Arm in arm
A sea 
Of yellow,
One legged
On yellow
A mass
Of Chinese
Indians and Malays
Smiling in their pain.

I was not there
I could not see
The roads 
Proudly waving
for clean

I was not there
I could not see
A yellow Beetle car
Proudly displaying
Its battle scars,
Prime Ministers
In humility
One million
Plus souls
In a way
Mere jingoism 

I was not there
I could not see
The jigsaw
Of humanity
The Malaysian
At last
Rent asunder
By decades
Of Lies
And half-truths.

I was not there
I could not see
For it was a time
For Malaysians
In their angst
A private time
Like grief
Over a country
Which might have been
To forge one, better
I was not there
I could not see
But my heart
was with them.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Dr. Cheah Thien Soong’s ‘Lush Forest’

There is a refreshing, unforced, naturalness and homogeneity to the three panelled ink and brush work 'Lush Forest' by Dr. Cheah Thien Soong. Three lengths of Xuan (Shuen) paper, made in the Chinese province of Anhui from natural sandal wood and bamboo fibres, comprise the artist’s semi-abstract artwork. The artist’s bamboo constructed brushes wield a variety of animal hairs for a multitude of distinctive strokes, his black ink deriving from soot, and colours originating from minerals, or other naturally occurring matter.

'Lush Forest' is less graphic than many of the ink brush works Dr. Cheah has created in the recent past. Gone are the imposing tree scenes, the angular counterpoints of black and white and the representative, anthropomorphic waterhens. Instead, Dr. Cheah reveals a soft, yet mysterious, ink and colour wash of a jungle vista. The idea of sequential movement remains, as in sequential art (or comics), in the use of three strips of paper hung side by side, which may be read as movement in comic panels. It is a movement into the notion of ‘Lush Forest’, which in Malaysia may be read as "Jungle", both literal and figurative.

We are not subjected to the wilds of Mungo Park's almost impenetrable jungle (Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa), nor are we lectured by moral laden Mowgli inhabited Indian jungles (Kipling's Jungle Books). But we are guided into a land of South East Asian jungle, noted by Claudius Ptolemy and traversed by Isabella Bird, which is known as the Golden Chersonese. In many respects these three paper strips represent a very real jungle seen, quite literally, at the end of the road that Dr. Cheah’s house inhabits. For he lives on the fringes of a still verdant, equatorial, Kuala Lumpur.

I have mentioned (above) that ’Lush Forest' by Dr. Cheah is a semi-abstract work. Although trained in both Xie He's six principle Classical (vitality, use of brush, depicting form, application of colour, arrangement and observation) and four part Literati (character, knowledge, talent, and thought) influenced styles of Chinese ink brush painting (at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Art, in Singapore) Dr. Cheah soon found that his art school teachers more favoured the freer styles of Chinese Literati painting. 

While honouring the great landscape painter Dong Qi-chang, ‘Lush Forest’ becomes a fine example of a new Literati painting, resembling those paintings ever edging towards the abstraction of the Modern Literati movement (China) - a movement emanating from the late 1970s, and forever evolving, perpetuating the Literati essence. Dr. Cheah’s ‘Lush Forest’ is no straightforward Chinese ink and brush painting. Though there may be traditional Chinese symbolism infused in the skill and knowledge of the painter, the images are fine examples of a style indigenous to Malaysia/Singapore - called the Nanyang (or Southern Seas) style, in which Chinese methods and materials are fused with Western concepts and visual iconographies native to the Malay Peninsular and Singapore, e.g. the jungle, as opposed to a gentler Chinese forest.

In this three paper abstraction, Dr. Cheah renders detail enough to hold us to the idea of a mysterious, green, forested land, while simultaneously producing an ephemeral wispiness which holds our imaginations in rapture. ‘Lush Forest’ transports us into jungles real and unreal, jungles of the spirit, philosophical jungles and jungles of our imagination. Layer upon layer of watery brush strokes lead us into an unfathomably complex jungle. There is visual denseness, wrought by intense and deft brushwork, leading to a cloud-like airiness at the top of each picture. It is as if the jungle dissipates into a haze, diluted by keen perspective, as we watch. 

Balancing the brush-stroked black ink density is a small white patch at the bottom, centre, of each paper panel. The clarity of the white patch becomes our entrance to the jungle, and the beginning of our journey. The white is, perhaps, the beginning of Lao Tzu’s ‘Tao’ (path or way) guiding us through the tangle and misdirections of human existence and through into spiritual essence . Through the Forest whispers the Ch’i breath, universal Yin and Yang.

The ancient Chinese poet Li Po (Li Bai) has written Why I Make My home in the Mountain forest

You ask O why I’ve chosen to live in the mountains green;
I smile without replying, my heart sedate, serene.
Peach flowers on rivulets gambol, then ramble out of sight; ’tis
Heaven and earth with a difference, not of the world we’d been.

(Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong - Huang Hongfa, 2008) 

李白:  山中問答(答俗人)


In Dr. Cheah’s three part painting ‘Lush Forest’ we engage our imagination, we chose to make our home, if however temporarily, in that painted ‘forest’, enticed by the artist’s brush work. We observe real and imagined jungle landscapes, paths, calming skies. We hear whispering echoes of an ancient poetry, we sense, in our now heightened imagination, somewhere far where gushing waterfalls spill liquid heaven to taunt tropical jungle fern, and age old eroded rock alike. We feel, simultaneously, the solitude and togetherness of all things, us included, within those ink created equatorial forests on paper created by this master Dr. Cheah Thien Soong.