On Display: QAG, Gallery 3
In this epic work, Guan Wei reconstructs and grafts images onto the famous Chinese landscape painting Jiu Ri Shi Cheng Tu Juan by Wang Yuanqi (1641–1715). In doing so, he juxtaposes the ‘grand genre’ of European history painting of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries with the equivalent aesthetic achievement of China during the same period — while China had become culturally introspective, Europe was aggressively expanding into other cultures through exploration and colonialism.
Guan’s use of a muted palette suggests ageing maps and historical, sepia-toned reproductions. He simultaneously draws the viewer’s attention to the contemporary meaning of the painting by inserting symbols such as telescopic weapon sights — which remind us of contemporary warfare — electronic camera viewfinders, and other visual aids from computer imagery.
Guan Wei uses these diverse elements in dialogue with each other to remind us that we are living in a time and place where cultures, technologies and races are much more integrated than in the past. The painting’s title suggests that the past continues to influence the present but will, with time, diminish like a fading echo, allowing new voices to resonate into the future.
Guan Wei was born in Beijing in 1957. He graduated from the Department of Fine Arts of Beijing Teachers’ College and became an art teacher in a middle school.
From 1989 to 1992, Guan Wei was a visiting artist at the University of Tasmania, and he commenced a twelve-month residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney in March 1992. His work is informed by his interests in history, the environment and cross-cultural migrations.
Guan Wei’s Echo 2005 is a collision of cultures. Across the vast composition there are layers of national honor and resilience. Aboriginal warriors defending their country, British colonisers expanding their empire, the accomplishments of Chinese and European painting, the evolution of weaponry are all captured within one uniform grid of fragments. With all of the various elements that Guan brings together, its the contemporary issues that he addresses that are not as visually evident. The contemporary artist is painting historical images through historical traditions to comment on the current treatment of immigrants and refugees in a nation that is defined by it’s multiculturalism.
Look for evidence to support the description that Echo 2005 is a ‘contemporary historical painting’. Research historical painting from Australia and China to justify your visual analysis. Search the composition for visual codes that are indicative of a contemporary artist’s practice.
1. Can an artwork be historical and contemporary at the same time? How does history help us with the present?
2. What role does a contemporary artist play in communicating ideas about history? What can be gained by exploring history through contemporary art?
Think of Echo 2005 as a collage. A collage of traditions, styles, images and symbols. For this activity you’ll work through a process of collage called photo-montage to design a composition that you’ll then paint into a grid.
Select a nation to research and find an image of a landscape from that nation’s tourism website that you can use as a background for a collage. Go in search of images and symbols about that nation by researching the country’s history (art, military, leaders, international relations), as well as other facets of their national story that could fill your composition (i.e. language, sport, farming, shipping). Use a grid to enlarge your image onto one large sheet of paper or card. Render your grid with your preferred medium (pencil, pastel, paint). Cut your work using your grid lines and display on a wall in your house.