The best way to approach Museum of Brisbane’s new ink art exhibition, Ink Remix, is to forget everything you know about ink art.
Curator Sophie McIntyre says that even in naming the exhibition the focus was on the “Remix” rather than the “Ink”. Very few artists actually use traditional ink in these works. Instead, McIntyre says, “These artists are looking back at the past and subverting and parodying the ink tradition to engage with global issues.”
The exhibition features artists from Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as mainland China. The Chinese art world in particular is currently experiencing a boom in the popularity and demand for ink art.
“In China, with the economic boom, there’s been a growing cultural confidence,” McIntyre says. “Artists are becoming interested in discovering more about their art and their cultural history. Whereas in Taiwan and Hong Kong these works have evolved partly as a critique of China’s power, and partly as a response to their own ink traditions.”
For McIntyre the appeal of the exhibition was to tap artists who are critically engaging with the form, rather than those who might simply be about celebrating ink art.
The works are displayed around five broad themes – landscape; history; the body and gender; language; and spirituality. Many of the works mix a kind of whimsy or tongue-in-cheek attitude with serious political or spiritual questions.
Taiwanese artist Peng Hung-Chih’s Canine Monk is a playful video series in which the artist has made it appear as though a dog is writing famous religious works, broadly questioning religious fundamentalist perspectives.
There’s also Yang Yongliang's Rising Mist, a video of a moving ink drawing of what seems like mountains in fog that becomes skyscrapers covered in pollution after you sit and observe the work for a while. “A lot of the works look poetic and lyrical but they're actually engaging with political issues,” McIntyre says. “That's what helps to engage a lot of the audience who might not be totally interested in the concept of 'ink' drawings.”
Things are rarely what they initially seem at Ink Remix. One painting, by Chinese artist He Xiangyu, seems on the surface like a traditional ink work – until you find out that much of it was painted using resin from a lump of Coca-Cola, made by boiling down hundreds of thousands of litres of the soft drink.
Then there’s the work of Sichuan-based Peng Wei, who has painted traditional-style ink drawings on delicate shoes and female busts. “Peng Wei is to my mind feminising the ink tradition,” McIntyre says. “While she doesn't call herself a feminist, the mediums she's used are very feminine for a traditionally masculine form.”
For Ink Remix, McIntyre only chose artists born after 1960, and only one of the pieces in this exhibition was made more than five years ago. “That’s one of the main benefits of working in smaller galleries like the Museum of Brisbane,” McIntyre says. “Exhibitions can be commissioned and put together much more quickly, so the art still seems fresh by the time the public gets to see it.”
Visitors can experience Ink Remix in English and traditional and simplified Chinese. Acting museum director Chris Salter says he’s happy to be hosting an exhibition that has a global focus, while still remaining relevant to Brisbane’s large Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong communities and cultural influences.
Ink Remix runs until February 19 at the Museum of Brisbane.