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Guan Wei  

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GUAN Wei China/Australia b.1957
Les vents (The winds) 1997
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Ten panels: 87.5 x 46.5cm (each)
Purchased 1998.
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant

Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Reproduced by permission of the artist

About the work
Les vents (French for 'the winds') uses the four winds (North, South, East, West) as metaphor for the world's different cultures and for the perpetual and cyclical waves of global human movement. In this way the winds are bearers of change.

Les vents pictures the United Kingdom and fragments of China, Australia and the United States amid the vast blue-grey seas that separate and join their coasts. Mapped across this sweep of ocean are the familiar trajectories of migrations.

The symbols for chemical compounds that appear on this painting include sulphur dioxide, referring to the acid rain brought by the winds to unsuspecting Pacific islands. Les vents ponders the potential of worldwide ecological threat through pollution. The other chemical symbol depicted has no direct equivalent, except as an 'exotic' or 'unstable' compound that exists only briefly, if at all.

Guan Wei's ancestors were part of the Manchu nobility in China in the mid-seventeenth century. 'His great-grandfather was the Comptroller of the Yihe Yuan, the luxurious Summer Palace constructed for the Empress Dowager Cixi at the end of the last [nineteenth] century; his great-great-aunt was taken into the imperial family, and gave birth to Aisin Gioro Puyi, or simply Henry Puyi, also known as the Xuantong Emperor, the last imperial ruler of China.'¹ By the early twentieth century, this family had fallen out of power. Mirroring that strange chemical compound in Les vents, in which a form exists for a fleeting moment, the ebb and flow in the fortunes of Guan Wei's Manchu family suggests an equal transience.

1 Geremie Barmé, 'Serious Manchu Whimsy - What Goes Around Comes Around', in Guan Wei [exh. cat.], Sherman Galleries, Goodhope, Sydney, 1997, [unpag.].

About the artist

Guan Wei moved to Australia in 1990 after witnessing the tumultuous events of June 1989 in Beijing, China. His first visit to Australia was as an artist-in-residence at the Tasmanian School of Art. Since then, Guan Wei has been an artist-in-residence at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and at the Canberra School of Art, Australian National University.

His work has been included in several major exhibitions in Australia and internationally, most often as a significant painter who continues to make a contribution to the art that emerged from China post 1989.

Guan Wei

Through the decade of the 1990s, Guan Wei's work drew heavily on the cultural and geographical differences between China and Australia. To mark the tenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney organised an exhibition titled 'Guan Wei: Nesting, or the Art of Idleness 1989-1999'. Guan Wei currently lives and works in Sydney.

Other lines to follow for Guan Wei

'In Classical times people used to nest in the mountains, forests and lakes and from their "nests" hatched poems about the fields and landscape paintings . . . Today it is so hard to find a place to nest. There are no mountains in which you can lose yourself, no ancient forests in which to hide, and speedboats churn up all the waters of the lakes and streams. Even the temples have become tourist spots. There's nowhere to hide in China . . . and others yet, nesting in the outback of Australia, gaze into the firmament and see the Southern Cross. But the most brilliant nest and hardest to cleave to is the one found in the jungles of steel and concrete . . .

The desire to ascend. The desire to descend,
The desire to exit, and the desire to enter
Thinking ahead, looking back
checking things out left and right,
looking up at the sky,
looking down at the ground,
gazing outwards, exploring inwards . . . '

Guan Wei, '"Wo" De Yishu: The Art of Idleness', in Guan Wei: A Contemporary Chinese Artist, [exh. cat.], Plimsoll Gallery, University of Tasmania, Hobart, 1991, [unpag.].

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