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Dan’er: Call of the soil

冯发轫 2018-08-14 10:22

Dan Er’s solo show,Good Cheer, brings her visual and cultural experience throughout China to the White Box Hall. For Xi’an residents and people born in mainland China, the show will bring feelings of déjà vu. I, for example, stand in the hall and feel like I’m being dragged to my hometown of Shaanxi, where walls were painted green, and door curtains hung to prevent mosquitos, and furniture handles carved in different patterns. The warm family memories are both pragmatic and aesthetically immersive. Her father was supposed to enrol in art school, instead choosing the more pragmatic option of joining the army. 


The nostalgic feeling that lingers in the mind after viewing Dan Er’s works originate through her crafting of green walls, tiger and crane paintings. They represent the traditional Chinese artistic spirit, collective visual experience and wisdom. The voyage through the sea of senses then is dragged back to the contemporary context, urging one to think of issues related to Dan Er’s works. They are old issues, proposed and practiced for decades — such as why we come back to the Northwest China from like a spiritual homecoming? In the process of folk art transplantation, how does it establish itself? How is the folk visual experience transcoded? Do the works on display carry a sense of ceremony; and is the creative process marking the rebirth of folk wisdom? 


The North Shaanxi-born Dan Er previously cooperated with Zhuang Hui. Soil and folk art are the sources of their inspiration, and they absorb experience from them and further integrate them into their art creation. Folk art stands in contrast with elitism. When folk art is applied in contemporary art, it somehow means anti-elitism, based on recognising collective wisdom in a more liberal manner. 


Driven by pragmatism, folk art usually carries scenes of celebration, infusing beauty into daily life. This romanticism is also inherited by contemporary art, and leads to another possibility — for a long time Chinese contemporary art was majorly inspired by western art. But now, the second coming of folk art is showing a more down-to-earth and genuine trend. Take the composer Tan Dun for example, whose inspiration comes from the traditional Chu culture, and who creates music pieces like Li Sao, Fengya Song and Nine Songs by combining traditional, folklore and world music. His works have been widely recognised by the world, with Tan winning an Oscar for Best Original Music, a Grammy Award and awards at the Venice Biennale. Folk art is again proving to be universal in aesthetic value. And Dan Er’s call of the soil is expected to strike the world with the life that strives within. 

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