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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,
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
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.
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 . . .
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.].