Well here is the take on Shanghai. Just so you know, I had not been overseas before so I was like a wide-eyed kid on the loose. I had studied Shanghai so much on the net before I left that I even knew which buildings to expect coming in on the plane.
I was picked up at the airport and driven (no, rallied) to the hotel. I soon learned that traffic lights and double lines may as well be decorations because my driver ignored both - I suppose one has to when in traffic of 12 million or so. I knew I was in a huge city when we had been driving for over an hour on a freeway and we were still in a sea of high rises!
After the eleven hour flight I only spent about 20 minutes at the hotel before I was out on the street looking for food and soaking up the atmosphere. I had never seen so many people, scooters, cars, shops, restaurants, temples and high rises before in my life. It was almost like blade runner, you know, the 90’s version!
I was instantly in love. I know I was born into Shanghai with a silver spoon in my mouth, translators, guides, five star hotel, but I felt a vague connection with the place, and of course that persistent excitement that accompanied me everywhere! After much chatting and food I finally fell into bed, with tomorrow’s opening crammed tight in the front of my mind.
The next morning had me in awe. Shanghai seemed even bigger than last night, all the dark gaps between the lights had given way to solid concrete, and the hustle and bustle was on full-throttle. By the time my guide turned up I’d had breakfast, walked to a local park, seen a temple that pre-dated my ancestors’ invasion of Australia and had funny tourist talk with some of the locals.
7pm and my nerves were through the roof. I was driven to the Shanghai exhibition centre in a mercedes, amazed to find the centre lit up like it was ready to explore the deepest ocean. The enormity of the building was reinforced as I was greeted by the grand entrance, guards everywhere, and glamorous people that you only ever see in Bond films adorning the stairs and huge halls.
I finally got to see my work framed and felt satisfied and nervous to see it up there on the wall. Before I could really adjust to the setting floods of people poured into the centre (I later found out that five thousand people attended the opening night!) I pretended they were all there to see my show.
As the night went on I became more confident, til I was asked to autograph a book of my work. I couldn’t believe my ears - the morning before I’d been in the megalong, now there I was nervously holding a pen and scribbling nonsense for a perfect stranger who was looking at me as though I’d just split the atom, before walking away bowing and thanking me profusely! I don’t know how many books I ended up signing that night, or how many times I spelt Australia wrong on account of my nerves!
I went to Shanghai contemporary expecting to do more observation than interaction, I think partly because I felt a bit out of my depth. But I was approached by all kinds of people from many walks of life and I got a lot from these exchanges. There is a deep appreciation for art and artist in Shanghai and this allowed me to really communicate my ideas. I’ve had the same in Australia too, and Australians really get my work. It must be the fact that I use the land for my art, and that I am passionate about my home country. I don’t know if the Chinese still have to work out where I am coming from or whether they have to find their connecting point with my work. All I know is that pretty much everyone told me they had never seen anything like my work before. You would think this would be really good news, and it is, but it’s almost like people have to digest it for a while first - maybe they are waiting to see how strong it really is - I don’t know. I know I am not intimidated by the huge machine that is the contemporary art world, though I do have a very sobering respect for it. I did notice that there is a lot of empty sadness out there that is desperately trying to be all things to everyone, and I don’t want to get caught up in that. All I can do is stay true to my process and the way I handle ideas and stay with it. I’m very committed to my art and I only want to become better and clearer in what I do. Sharing with people is what really makes one’s work take on a deeper meaning, so I look forward to sharing with you.
Kindest and most sincere regards