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Australian artists drawn by Chinese artistic orbital pull

By Christian Edwards (Xinhua)    14:16, September 09, 2014
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SYDNEY, Sept. 9  -- A growing fascination with Chinese culture and art is drawing Australians across the Pacific including musicians, artists and leading Australian icons as the Australian Studies in China Conference kicks off Wednesday.


It's a big picture way of thinking, believes Professor David Walker, the inaugural BHP Billiton Chair of Australian Studies at Peking University.

It was Walker who masterminded the'Reflecting on Chinese/ Australian cross-cultural engagement, past and present'; the Foundation for Australian Studies in China(FASIC) Australian Studies in China Conference; The Big Picture; Lives, Landscapes, Homelands in Australian and Chinese Art, hosted by the People's University in Beijing and comes as the lauded Australian String Quartet (ASQ), embarks on its first tour with its current lineup.

The alignment of Australian artists deriving inspiration and motivation from sharing their experiences with Chinese audiences and their counterparts signals a growing momentum of artistic exchange in Australia.

The ASQ embark Wednesday -- in conjunction with the University of Adelaide on a series of master-classes and mentoring sessions at two of China's most distinguished music schools, the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and the Shenyang Conservatory of Music.

China has become an increasingly important touring destination for Australian classical music ensembles and orchestras; the Quartet's forthcoming tour marks the start of a broader commitment to cultural exchange and partnership-building in the region.

"Certainly at the moment, Asia is the largest market for classical music in the world; they're lapping up all the performances at the moment, and the CD sales reflect that," said the ASQ's Stephen King.

"It's also a bit of cultural exchange we're doing a lot of master-classes and that type of thing, hoping that we may also end up with some new students at the university," he said.

The not-for-profit Foundation for Australian Studies in China ( FASIC) supports existing and future initiatives which aim to deepen awareness of Australia in China across a range of disciplines and fields of study -- a program conceived and led by the tireless Professor walker.


Although deeply immersed in his life in Beijing, Professor Walker remains a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and the Australian Academy of the Humanities, leading Australian artistic initiatives to China.

His knowledge of the ways China has influenced the growth of modern Australia is providing a valuable platform for a new generation of young Australians to engage with China in creative ways.

"The Chinese presence in Australia dates from the 1850s, but ' exotic' China has excited the Western imagination for centuries. However, over the last thirty years there has been a substantial two-way exchange of artists and curators, whose reflections on ' lives, landscapes and homelands' are central to our conference theme," he told Xinhua.

"For many Chinese, Australia is now an exotic land of strange animals and landscapes, a mysterious place of beauty and beguiling difference. There is a great deal of instruction and enjoyment to be had from seeing how each country sees, represents and imagines the other," he said.


Only last month, Broached Retreat, the first design show to be commissioned for exhibition at the prestigious Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA), Beijing, and curated by Australian-based design studio Broached Commissions, Broached Retreat sought to explore Australia's strange, unique and sometimes disquieting position as a halfway point between European cultural traditions and a 'longstanding intellectual engagement' with its East and Southeast Asian neighbors.

Conceived by Broached Commissions' creative director Lou Weis and designed by Chen Lu, the exhibition features objects by Adam Goodrum, Trent Jansen and Charles Wilson (AU) and guest designers Azuma Makoto, Keiji Ashizawa (Tokyo), Naihan Li (Beijing), Max Lamb (London) and Susan Dimasi (Melbourne).


In the same spirit the ASQ will focus primarily on contemporary work -- including two pieces by Australian composers: Stephen Whittington's Windmill and the late Peter Sculthorpe's String Quartet, No .11, Jabiru Dreaming.

"We're taking two works that are contemporary Australian works . .. and then we're also taking as an encore a very popular string piece from China called "Butterfly Lovers" which is a bit of a YouTube sensation at the moment; something to add to the cross- cultural mix," said King.

The ASQ Executive Director Angelina Zucco said, "Audiences in China have an appetite for classical music and are privileged to experience performances from the world's finest musicians."

"The tour will provide an opportunity to showcase the ASQ's fresh and dynamic approach to string quartet playing and the unified sound of its rare set of Guadagnini instruments," Zucco added.


For Professor Walker, he has the world of China at his fingertips, while also interacting and supporting the approximately 30 other Australian Studies Centers located at other universities around China.

And after an extensive search and consultations with the many stakeholders, Walker materialized as the ideal candidate for the BHP Billiton Chair of Australian Studies at Peking University.

Founded in 1898, Peking University is China's most prestigious university and an icon of learning and Sinology around the globe.

Walker is also currently Alfred Deakin Professor of Australian Studies at Deakin University. He has made a major contribution to the debate on Australia's engagement with Asia through his ground- breaking study: "Anxious Nation: Australia and the Rise of Asia, 1850-1939" and has recently co-edited with Dr. Agnieszka Sobocinska,"Australia's Asia: From Yellow Peril to Asian Century."

A collection of his Asia-related essays has been published under the title Encountering Turbulence: Asia in the Australian Imaginary and his recently published personal history, "Not Dark Yet" has been translated into Chinese and published by The People' s Literature Publishing House, Beijing.


Certainly Australia is transfixed by what is more than just a passing love affair with Asia, and, in particular, Chinese art.

In June this year, Sydney's Shapiro Auctions saw a Chinese ' huanghuali' table snapped up for 66,000 U.S. dollars. They very next day Melbourne's Mossgreen followed up by selling a pair of hardwood chairs, probably of zitan wood for an eye-watering 146, 400 U.S. dollars -- an Australian record for Chinese furniture, according to Mossgreen.

Again in June, after a bidding war, an Asian buyer paid the same figure, 146,400 U.S. dollars, at Bonhams' Asian art sale in Sydney's luck Paddington for a Chinese blue and white porcelain dragon box, also thought to be a record for this type of porcelain.


The FASIC conference is certainly the most ambitious of its kind to address and stimulate discussion in a field that has become increasingly important to both Australia and China, but which may not have received the kind of attention it deserves within the broader Australian Studies community in China, Walker says.

The program will also feature a special performance by acclaimed Australian photographer and storytelling artist William Yang.

Professor Walker says leaders from all walks of life will share their insights over two days of panel discussions, keynote presentations, interviews and special performances and exhibitions, running on Thursday and Friday at Renmin University.

Additional public talks will also run on Saturday at the Red Gate Gallery and Capital M Restaurant in Beijing.

(Editor:Liang Jun、Gao Yinan)
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