Sep 29, 2012


Xu Zhen - In The Blink of an Eye (2005)
The illusion - A person is suspended in mid-air
New Directions from China
Hayward Gallery, London

Saatchi Gallery, London

Performance vs. Craft
Experiential vs. Speculative
Conceptual vs. Handmade
Virtual vs. Feet on Ground
Accessible vs. Inaccessible

 Can you train a silkworm to do your bidding?  Apparently so, if you are Chinese.  

Liang Shaoji began his career at the age of 40.  For the last 32 years he has been working on his Nature Series, which involves working with silkworms over the course of their life cycle.  There are worms who have woven their cocoons over chains, toy beds made by Liang,Chinese screens and a labyrinth of rocks.  The installation Listening to the Silkworms consists of two rooms.  One with headphones, where you listen and wonder what you are listening to.  Walk into the next room and you see the silkworms eating, spinning and metamorphosing.  In an interview, Liang suggests that that the act of listening to silkworms implies listening to Zen: to search for self-improvement and inner peace.
These vagaries are too much for the Koreans.  The show at the Saatchi Gallery impresses me with its degree of craftsmanship.  I am a sucker for porcelain, especially a 50 ft. room filled with vases from 16th century China made for Western consumption.  All the vases are sitting on wooden crates.  Is the basement of the Met?  

On closer inspection, Meekyoung Shin's piece, Translation Vases are made out of soap.  It's a feat of tremendous mastery.  A Korean makes a copy of a Chinese vase; an American momentarily assumes they are real.  Shin's piece is full of humor and irony.

Koo Sungsoo

Cho Duck Hyu
These are charcoal drawings of vintage photographs transformed to life-sized proportions with fabric flowing from the drawing to the floor

I laughed and moved onto the next room and the next room; finally out the door; awed by the Koreans and challenged by the Chinese.

Sep 25, 2012


Amy Winehouse's words... "I said NO, NO, NO..." had a different meaning coming from James Hitchmough, Professor of Horticultural Ecology in the Department of Landscape at the University of Sheffield. 

I wanted to say, "BUT, BUT, BUT..." but I refrained and just listened, for once.

Olympic Meadow
All gardeners know that soil is the bedrock of all horticulture endeavors.  In the case of meadow-making, Hitchmough has a different protocol, that calls for the absence of what we novices call soil.  In the UK, Hitchmough's meadow communities are sown in situ using a gritty sand as the base.  This coarse layer provides a sterile surface for plants to germinate.

The photo above was taken at the Oxford Botanical Garden.  Hitchmough was recently hired as a consultant to plan three meadow areas in the botanical garden.  This area feature three different plant communities:  South African  Prairie and Mediterranean plants.  Each area was planted in the same fashion, using seeds.  The only exception were a few stipa plants to give the area a little interest until the following season.

"The overriding reason why we don't do urban meadows is that this is an alien concept to many traditionally trained horticulturists.  The sustainability gains are however clear, increased biodiversity, increased visual drama and seasonal change ...

The critical factor in public support for meadows in urban parks is that they must produce a sufficiently dramatic floral display to be seen as a positive addition by the ordinary person in the street"

After a week in Sheffield, looking at many meadows in blighted urban areas, even those planted in construction rubble, I've changed my mind, perspective and ambitions.  If you see sawdust in a fallow area on Randall's Island, don't worry it's just me sowing seed.