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Australia-China Connections
146 ArtSpace
20 June – 15 July 2011


Opening speech
by Professor Wong Shiu Hon


The Premier, Sir Guy, Mr Bill Bleathman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.


Good evening, I am most honoured  today to be invited to speak on this special occasion and to open the Exhibition entitled NEW AGE: NEW MEDIA.


Thirty nine years ago, I left behind me a great and big country—China, and came to another great and big country—Australia, which I now settle.


The journey was long and difficult. I remember very well.


Lao Zi, one of the greatest Chinese philosophers had once said in his book The Book of the Way and Virtues (Tao Te Ching) written about 2,600 years ago:


Ruling a big country is like cooking a small fish. To cook a small fish properly is very difficult. One has to make sure what ingredients to use and how much to put in and how long the small fish has to be cooked. One has to watch the temperature of the fire very attentively and carefully! As Lao Zi had pointed out and everyone knows that, it is complicated and difficult to rule a big country, but I have to say that, it is not at all easy and actually equally difficult and complicated to understand the culture of two different peoples.  Lack of understanding often resulted in conflicts and clashes.

I was born in Hong Kong—an island in the southern part of China, and now I am residing in Tasmania—also an island in the southern most of Australia. Since we relocated to Tasmania from Western Australia three years ago, I have been trying my best to engage in the promotion of cultural exchange between the two great countries, one of which is my mother country, and the other which I call my home. I am pleased to mention that one of the accomplishments is the establishment of the Wongs’ Gallery at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.


This gallery houses the Wongs’ Collection of 278 items of Chinese antiquities and artifacts. I consider this as the first and significant step in introducing Chinese culture to the people of Tasmania. Another event worthy of mention is the important exhibition of the paintings and calligraphy of the most renowned Chinese scholar and artist Professor Jao Tsung-I in 2009, also held at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. The introduction of Professor Jao to Tasmania has resulted in the acknowledgement of his achievements by the University of Tasmania and an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters was conferred on Professor Jao in May in Hong Kong.  All these serve to illustrate both the peoples of Australia and China have held high regard and are working hard to promote culture exchanges between them.


Undoubtedly, today’s exhibition of art works by 12 new media artists from Australia and China is another concrete example of cultural exchange between these two countries.  In fact, there are more than 12 artists involved.  To be exact, there are 7 artists from China and 9 artists from Australia. Therefore, totally there are 16 of them. But it is right to say that there are 12 small groups if one artist can represent one group.


I think it is very clever for someone to use 12 for the number of artists in this exhibition. Twelve is always an auspicious, popular and important number in Chinese culture. Let me cite a few examples for you. In traditional Chinese social life, 12 persons form a full table, not 10 or 8 as in the western custom. A cycle of 60 years is made up of 10 heavenly stems and 12 earthly branches. Another example is that we have the 12 animals corresponding to the 12 branches in horoscope. This year, as all of us know, is the year of the rabbit, and that next year is the year of the dragon, and then followed by the year of the snake, horse and so on. Let me give you another example, in the traditional way, one day is divided into 12 periods of time, each period lasts for two hours. We call it shi-chen. So, in traditional China, one day had 12 shi-chen, and not 24 hours.


This exhibition includes the works of six small groups of artists from China and Australia. Six is also an important and popular number in traditional China. For example, we have the Six Confucian classics, the Six arts (rites, music, archery, driving, writing and mathematics), the Six desires in Buddhism and so on. There are so many important and beautiful components of Six.


I like the title of this exhibition - NEW AGE: NEW MEDIA. Now we have entered a new age - the 21st century. We have new concepts, new ideology, new environments, new technology, and new media for our art. New age should make use of new media to create new forms of art.


I remember very well the novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932). Though I did not like the novel too much, yet I like the title. I like the word brave and the word new. I firmly believe that one has to be brave in order to be new. Without bravery no one can be new! In art, without bravery no artist can create new works. Without bravery, there will be no new art!


Video art is comparatively speaking a new form of art. It is the product of the bravery of the artists, and at the same time, the product of this new age.


Video art came into being in the 1960s. It started in America, then gradually it spread into Europe and then to other continents.  So video art does not have a long history. Its development in China is even shorter. The form was picked up from the western world in late 1980s and began to grow in the 1990s. In 1996, the first exhibition of video art entitled Phenomenon and Image was held in China. The Chinese title of this exhibition was even more meaningful than its English name. In Chinese, the term “video” means reflection, while “image” indicates “response”. The reason why young artists chose video as the medium is that video art embodies reflection, which is regarded as deeper and closer to the nature of art than traditional art forms. In 1997, China held its second video art exhibition and since then, video art developed at a fast pace in this country coupled with its fast economic development. In China today, there are a large number of young artists who get themselves involved in this new form of art. Without any doubt, the Chinese artists whose works are being displayed here are among the remarkable ones.


This new form of art is new to many of us, because the media it uses is new. It can be digital video, digital animation, computer animation etc. It makes use of all sorts of video technology, for example, moving image technology, new sound effects and so on. As a traditional Chinese artist, I came into actual contact with video art when I was a visiting professor in the Sorbonne University in Paris in 1989. During the course of my two month stay in Paris, as the teaching load was not too heavy, so my wife and I could afford to spend most of our time visiting museums and art galleries in Paris. Occasionally we visited exhibitions of video art. I have to confess that I did not fall in love instantly with these sort of exhibitions, but we were stunned by them, because they were so new to us! At that time, we did not understand this new form of art. I must admit that I am an artist of the old Chinese tradition. For my painting, I am still using the traditional Chinese brushes, rice papers, inks and colours! But I admired the creativity and the new spirit embodied in video art. Just as what we can see right in front of us in this exhibition.


I have been asking the same question for a long time—“Is this video art real art?” If not, then, what is art? This is indeed a serious and thought provoking question!


I think not many of us here can give a good and perfect answer. There are so many definitions for art. Some of them are so close, but some of them are so different. I believe that there is, so far, no ideal or perfect definition for art. Art has been so controversial! The father of abstract painting Wasily Kandinsky (1866-1944) once said, “Art is the expression of internal necessity”. To a certain extent, the definition is right, but not good enough. The “expression of internal necessity” is not necessarily art. Am I right? Can we say that “Art is the expression of what one feels, thinks, sees or interprets, etc. in a beautiful manner which appeals to the audiences and spectators”? Does this sound better than the definition put forward by Kandisky? 


Disappointingly, in the long history of Chinese art, so far, no satisfactory definition for art has been derived.  The artists, art historians or art critics were only interested in the functions of art. The authority on the history of Chinese art in the Tang dynasty (618-907) Zhang Yan-yuan said, “As far as painting is concerned, it achieves an educational role, it helps to build up social orders, it penetrates into the divinity and changes, it examines the ambiguity and subtlety. It has the same merits of the Six Confucian classics - Zhang did not give a clear definition for art.  To me, art is always controversial! In a way, this is good. If there is a universally accepted definition for art or if there is only one definition for art, the art world would not flourish and art will eventually die! Let the hundred flowers blossom, let us have different or varied definitions for art. Let us have different forms of art! Let us have video art—art of our age!


I consider it a great privilege for me to be able to preview all the art works of the 12 or rather 16 artists here. I like all their works. I love some of them and I admire a number of them. Not all of them are 100% creative and new, because we can still perceive in them the shadows of the art movements of the 20th century, for example, Dadaism, futurism, surrealism, constructivism, abstract expressionism, orphism, optical art, pop art etc. But they are the achievements of the video artists. They can be regarded as the soul and spirit of the artists.  They should be respected and highly valued. As artists, these artists are very fine artists and some of them have exhibited widely in various parts of the world. Some of them have even made a big name in the art circle.


I think it is not too important whether all the exhibits are good or not, to me, the more important thing is that they serve the purpose of promoting cultural exchange between Australia and China. They help the two great peoples - Australians and Chinese, to have a better understanding of the culture of each other.  For, through all these works, the heart and mind of the two peoples are reflected. I look forward to more exhibitions of this kind in future. For I believe that by doing so, the heart and mind of the Australians and Chinese could be brought closer to each other.


Let the two great peoples in one mind and in one heart be brought together and hand in hand, enter this new age with a new form of art - video art created with new media, and hope that the relationship between Australians and Chinese could make another step forward or even great leap forward through such significant cultural exchanges.


This is indeed my hope and my wish! Excuse me for my long and boring speech.


Again, I remember what our wise old man, our great philosopher, Lao Zi,  did say in his book, “Those who know do not talk, those who talk do not know.” So, I think I better stop here, otherwise I could become one of those “who do not know”. In fact, I know only very little.


Now I would like to declare the Exhibition officially open. Thank you.


Professor Wong Shiu Hon
Monday, 20 June 2011