The concept of globalization is studied in several disciplines. Likewise, issues of globalism are represented through many different artistic media at the Art Gallery of Mississauga’s latest exhibition, “(Da bao)(Takeout)”. The show, which aims to “locate a cross-cultural and social dynamic between China and the West”, includes paintings, videos, sculptures, photography, and more from a variety of diverse artists.
The works in “(Da bao)(Takeout)” explore many different aspects of globalism. One of the most direct examples of the “China meets the West” premise comes in a series of photographs titled “Your Morning is My Night”. When collaborators Sara Angelucci and Han Xu found that they were each living in the other’s native city (Angelucci in Shanghai and Han in Toronto), they decided to each take two photographs a day to document their new surroundings. The photos are presented in pairs, one from each photographer. It’s interesting to see the similarities and differences between life in Shanghai and life in Toronto when the two photos are contrasted so directly. In some pairs, the cities seem almost indistinguishable. From mundane urban necessities like garbage bins and traffic lights to the eye-popping architecture in both urban centres, the pairing of photographs emphasizes how small the so-called global village may actually be. Yet the photographers don’t seem to be making any critical statement. They simply capture the world around them, and as a viewer it’s a treat to see it neatly laid out on a wall of vibrant photographs.
Far more critical of the American influence is Nan Hao, who contributes a fascinating photograph titled “SONG Type Study One”. The image depicts a Starbucks in Beijing’s Forbidden City. Transplanted into a traditional Chinese hutong building, it would be barely recognizable as a Starbucks were it not for the familiar green Starbucks logo hanging out front. Many Chinese citizens saw the introduction of American consumerism in the Forbidden City as a direct attack on the culture of ancient China. Hao evokes this resentment through two young men in the photograph holding a banner. The banner says “Fuck your mother”, but uses two uncommon Chinese characters, which is meant to criticize China’s embracing of Western culture.
One of the exhibition’s largest pieces is Xiaojing Yan’s “Bridge”. This installation incorporates a staggering 1,364 Chinese soup spoons suspended from the ceiling on wires. Arranged which impressive precision, the spoons form a wavelike pattern of rise-and-fall motion, manipulated by the wire. Yan, who moved to Canada recently, uses this arresting approach to depict “the experience of transmigration and the sense of being suspended between two worlds”. Even without reading the exhibition notes, though, the viewer should have no trouble interpreting the artist’s message. The soup spoons make a formation remarkably similar to that of a flock of birds, and the eerie illusion of levitation creates a sense of unease.
Other pieces, such as Laurens Tan’s large fibreglass and steel structures, are a more literal depiction of China’s culture. His sculptural rendering of Beijing’s beng bengs (illegal three-wheeled taxis) are eye-catching for both their size and their bright colours.
Each artist brings a unique perspective to their work, and each piece in “(Da bao)(Takeout)” offers a different stance on the relationship between China and North America. The cultures are now inextricably linked, and whether the artist sees this amalgamation as natural, discordant, or somewhere in between, each piece’s perspective is unique and fascinating.
In the end, this exhibition does not seem to flat-out condemn globalization. The unavoidable crossing of cultures may be problematic in some ways, but it gives artists new social and artistic inspirations to tap into. And “(Da bao)(Takeout)” is all about exploring that in artistically interesting, sometimes something provocative ways.
“(Da bao)(Takeout)” runs until January 5 at the Art Gallery of Mississauga. Admission is free.