As a kid, I remember getting my hands on a copy of the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. I loved that book! My very Catholic mother would have denounced it as demonic had she discovered it (it was the 80’s, after all), but I just couldn’t get enough of that art.
Over the years, I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed the imaginative creatures featured in Magic: The Gathering or just random stuff on DeviantArt.
Just recently I came across a book in a book store called 观山海 (Guan Shanhai), just filled with very Chinese illustrations of the beasts from the Chinese classic 山海经 (Shan Hai Jing). I was thoroughly impressed and had to buy it. I’m just sharing a few of the images from the book here.
观山海 (Guan Shanhai) is illustrated by 杉泽 (Shan Ze), edited by 梁超 (Liang Chao), and published by Hunan Literature and Art Publishing House, 2018. (Each page has a passage from the Shan Hai Jing as well as commentary, but I skipped all the commentary for this blog post in favor of the gorgeous artwork.)
Saw this Game of Thrones / Chinese culture mash-up gem last night on a Chinese friend’s WeChat “Moments” stream. Too good not to share! Apparently a Chinese Photoshop artist created these, and I’d like credit this person, but I’m still trying to figure out who it is!
Too bad they’re not high-quality images… it seems they were intended for a smallish smartphone screen.
P.S. If anyone knows the original artist, please let me know, and I’ll credit his/her ASAP!
2017-08-17 Update: The Photoshop artist is Weibo user 青红造了个白. He/she has tons of other similar works. Thanks to Danielle Li and Rachel for the info!
Stylized letters and characters are interesting to me, but how abstract can you get with Chinese characters? You kinda have to retain the strokes and radicals and stuff, right? Maybe not…
The characters represented above are 小燕画院.
Although the name is readable, it might take a bit longer to decipher than most Chinese text, even for native speakers. Have you ever spotted characters that have been taken even further into the abstract?
As a result of a rather whimsical decision made by my wife, I found myself at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre for the first time last Saturday, attending a Chinese language version of the classic play Twelve Angry Men. I enjoyed it way more than I expected to.
To begin with, I was surprised by how “Chinese” the story seemed. The part about there being no air conditioning and the fan not working, and one of the guys wanting to be done with jury duty in time for a ball game (it was baseball originally, I believe), and the murder weapon being a knife rather than a gun–all just seemed to work well in the setting of Chinese society. It wasn’t until towards the end, when one of the characters started talking about how the jury’s deliberation was their duty as part of a “democratic society” and that “democracy made their country great” that the illusion sort of fell apart.
This isn’t to say that I think that modern day China is equivalent to the 1954 America in which the original story was set, but it’s interesting to me that it worked so well in this case.
I should also mention that the legal system of mainland China doesn’t make use of juries, so the “illusion” that it could be a mainland Chinese story was never very convincing to begin with. It did make for a good show, though.
I brushed up a little on my legal vocab before the play (ChinesePod has a fair amount), but it turned out that I didn’t need a whole lot. Some of the more difficult key vocabulary from the play:
Finally, a note on the title. This version of the play was simply titled 12个人 (12 People), but the previous movie version was called 十二怒汉 (12 Enraged Men). The classic version of that film is on Tudou under that title.
In a recent post, Deconstructing the Chinese Character Creativity of Japan, I highlighted some creative work with Chinese characters by Japanese artists. What I didn’t say at the time was, “I wish the Chinese themselves would do more stuff like this.” Well, they are, and just recently I saw some great examples of it, first sent in by reader, and then later on Kaixin Wang (China’s Facebook).
I’m not going to deconstruct them like last time, because these are just way too complex. Just keep in mind that the squares and circles framing many of them are not actually a part of the characters like they were in the Japanese designs.
I’ve recently made two trips to Shanghai’s Suzhou Creek Art District (more info). It’s in the Moganshan Road area (Google map), and it’s probably easiest reached by taking the subway (Line 1) to the Shanghai Train Station, then Changshou Road west over Suzhou Creek, then making a right, following the creek north. The road there deadends into a complex of buildings which make up the art district. You’ll see a bunch of graffiti as you head in.
Some of the graffiti in the area:
The when I went just this month I checked out the work of a an art collective called Liu Dao (六岛), AKA island6. The group likes to mix traditional art forms with newer media, like animated LED displays. Quite interesting (check out their website for examples).
Yesterday I checked out the exhibits at “Things from the gallery warehouse 2” [PDF intro].
> In the Fiction between 1999 & 2000 (2000), Hu Jieming takes on a more universal challenge, the daunting proliferation of media and information engendered by the Internet. Hu’s huge information labyrinth is constructed from screen captures collected from across the Web and network television during the twenty-four-hour period from midnight of December 31, 1999, to midnight of January 1, 2000. It represents the difficulties we all face in navigating through a world where information can be empowering, but only if we can filter through the barrage of useless images and texts that cloud our minds and dull our instincts. Hu asks, “What will we choose to do when we are controlled by information and lose ourselves?”
I liked this one a lot… The piece actually makes up a maze that you can wander through. There are so many screen captures which make its point rather well: there’s no way you can look at it all. You find yourself wanting to just get out before too long. Nicely done.
This other piece, Massage Chairs, while perhaps less aesthetically appealing, answers an engineering question I’ve always had: what, exactly is inside those electric massage chairs?? The massage chairs below were stripped of their padding, the moving parts laid bare, but still powered up and moving.
> Massage Chairs – Then Edison’s Direct Current was surrendered To the Alternating Current (2003) consists of six massage chairs of various designs – found objects, readymades – stripped of their upholstery. Still in operation, their mechanisms are clearly visible, the cogs and belts moving the various shapes intended to knead and gently pummel the backs of human bodies requiring relaxation. Without their padding and soft surfaces, the chairs themselves are skeletal, strangely anthropomorphic and not unreminiscent of electric chairs. The sounds they emit,
the whirrings and rhythmical clickings echo ominously in the gallery interiors they now occupy, evoking a response that is a far cry from any of the desired effects of massage.
Finally, the pieces at Mr. Iron were really fun and imaginative. It’s that style where sculptures are created out of old scrap metal. Some of them were really amazing, and quite a few are strongly commercial (see the site’s classics section for examples.) My favorite one, already long sold, was a recreation of Giger’s Alien (sorry, it’s a picture of a picture with a cell phone camera, so not very clear):
I guess it’s pretty obvious that I’m personally most interested in art’s intersection with technology, but there are lots of different styles of art in the Suzhou Creek Art District, so I recommend you check it out, no matter what your interest. A word of warning, though: there’s extensive construction going on right now (2010 World Expo prep?), so it’s quite messy.
The comic says that the character 明 actually derives, not from 日 and 月 as is commonly taught, but from 囧 and 月. This etymology seems to confirm it. So one of the earliest character etymologies we learn (sun + moon = bright) is either a lie, or actually just a bit more ambiguous than we were led to believe? Interesting!
My friend Illy passed on to me a link to the blackout poems of Austin Kleon. Here’s the one that most caught my eye:
The craziest thing is that I actually had this idea before. I tried to do it with stories about China, and I failed miserably. I’m not sure whether it was the material I had to work with or my own lack of creativity at fault. Cool to see that Austin has more than pulled it off…
Mouse Umbrella is a “free beautifully illustrated Chinese/English children’s book.” I probably would have written about it sooner if it were e-mailed to me rather than submitted as a new blog on the CBL.
The author’s explanation:
> As an educator I was hoping you would take a look at my book and give me some feed back. This beautifully illustrated 6 page haiku is intend for Pre-K children who speak Chinese as a first language or English speaking children learning Chinese as a second language. A little mouse is enjoying a bright red cherry at a restaurant when he is washed away by a flash flood. He has only a drink umbrella to help him. Originally written and illustrated by me – Tansy O’Bryant as a bridge between Chinese speaking children and English speaking children. Chinese translation was provided by and Chinese student who was afraid to write because her characters where not perfect. It was esteeming for her to know that the act of not writing is far worse than a little “wobbly” writing. Helps children understand both the power of writing and the beauty of reading with Mouse Umbrella.
It is a nice book, and the illustrations are great. The art reminds me of one of my favorite illustrators ever, Graham Oakley. It’s not the best book for studying Chinese, perhaps, but I’m sure some of my readers will enjoy it. (Anyone out there reading stories to their children from an on-screen PDF file yet?)
Jonathan Yuen has a really cool Flash design site. Check it out; it is totally unannoying, and pleasantly imaginative. It also uses Chinese. Unfortunately, the Chinese characters are small and hard to read, and Flash’s normal zoom option is turned off. So here’s my transcription of the Chinese from the site:
> 思源 寻找的终点最终依然是起点
> 创意 能感动人心的才是至高境界
> 童心 用中庸的心态来审观一切
> 邂逅 尽管是僵然也应顺其自然
Sorry, no time for a translation now. Try copying and pasting into AdsoTrans. Maybe I’ll get a chance to put up a translation later. Also, I’m a little unsure of two unfamiliar words (which were a little hard to make out): 审观 and 僵然. Anyone who wants to jump in and translate in the comments, knock yourself out!
Ode to Summer is a 3D animation by Ron Hui. The concept was inspired and the execution is amazing. The animation clip starts out with an ordinary Chinese painting… those familiar faded colors on yellowed parchment. Then the camera zooms in and takes you on a 3D tour of “Chinese painting land.” At first it teases you, making you think that it’s just some 3D objects interacting with a rather flat “3D” Chinese environment. But then things get all 3D-rotational and cool. I especially liked the effect of the Chinese calligraphy verses hanging in the air. Check it out.
Kid art! Dontcha just love it? I mean, how can you not get some interesting results when you combine children’s undeveloped fine motor skills, a severely incomplete understanding of the world in virtually every aspect, and ART? It’s a clear recipe for entertainment, I say. Sure, you may get the occasional four-year-old’s disgustingly pathetic attempts at cubism, but you also get some real gems.
About a year ago, a kindergarten gave me a pack of postcards which were made from their students’ artwork. It’s actually some really innovative work. The design company, “Redo Studio” (上海瑞德美术设计有限公司), created most postcards by combining several children’s artwork and adding fancy Photoshop effects. The results are worth a peek. I scanned them and put them in a new “Chinese Kids’ Art” Flickr album. Some sample thumbnails:
I was briefly tempted to do Maddox-style art evaluation, but apparently I’m just not that mean. Plus I really do think these postcards are a cool idea.
When was the last time you felt infatuated? You met a new person, and there was just chemistry and excitement, and you couldn’t wait to see them again. But pretty soon, the spark was gone. You start to wonder what happened. Were you out of your mind before, or are you in a funk now? Pretty soon it doesn’t matter… the infatuation is over.
I have to admit: that’s how I feel about the Shanghai band Cold Fairyland (冷酷仙境).
Don’t get me wrong — Cold Fairyland is an awesome band, and I respect them a lot. They do an amazing and artistic mix of traditional and modern sounds. I also like how they almost never use English, no matter how many foreigners are at their shows.
The first show of theirs I saw at the Ark left me reeling. It was a truly amazing set, paced and executed expertly, driving the whole place into a dizzying climax. I was totally infatuated after that show. The two shows I have seen since then–one at the Ark again and one at the Creek Art Center–have led to me falling out of the infatuation.
I realized that they only have two songs that I really like. Those are their two rockingest songs. The others are cool, but when it comes to music, I have pretty simple tastes. For me, going to a Cold Fairyland show is kind of like going to an art museum to see an exhibit where I only end up liking one or two paintings. It’s sort of interesting, in that artsy “I’m appreciating culture” way, but it’s not exactly fun for me.
After the show on Saturday Brad and I headed over to Tang Hui (唐会). Ever since I first caught the live performances there, Tang Hui has been the only bar in Shanghai that I can say I really like. The shows I liked were put on by the owner, 张笃, a Chinese guy from Xinjiang who goes by the nickname of 竹马 (get it? 笃 = 竹马). He’s also the front man in his own band. He does a wicked cover of “No Woman No Cry” (who would have thought a Chinese guy could do such an authentic-sounding Jamaican accent??), some classic rock, and some cool ska Elvis covers. He and his friend from Xinjiang (who does a great “Nothing Else Matters” cover) also do some amazing rock versions of Xinjiang folk songs. I have no idea what they’re singing, but it sounds great. I thought Shanghai entertainment didn’t get much better.
Well, it gets a little better. Recently Tang Hui started giving this one Chinese woman a lot of time on stage, and she is amazing. She’s got a low, throaty voice, and the way she belts out songs makes for top-notch entertainment. Her songs are covers, and on Saturday night she did a bunch of Nirvana covers. Holy crap, I never thought a woman could do such awesome Nirvana covers. They weren’t even all the ones you’d expect, either — she did a few not on Nevermind like “Stain.” I was enthralled.
I was never really into cover bands before, but damn… that’s entertainment.
P.S. If you go to Tang Hui for the live music, don’t sit in the outer “hallway section.” It reduces the experience by approximately 60%.
I bought this book a while back solely because of its title: 老外也会喜欢你 (“Foreigners Will Like You Too”). The author was a twenty-something Chinese woman and, judging from the book’s cover (oops), the intended audience was Chinese women. It seemed likely that the laowai referred to in the title were male ones. Like me. This was going to be entertaining, I thought.
I was very wrong. Every time I tried to read the book, it failed completely to hold my interest. I demoted it to “bathroom book” status, figuring I’ll read anything on an extended visit to the commode. But even as a bathroom book, and even read in the “open to a random page” fashion, the book was utterly uninteresting. I was intensely disappointed. Of the few sections I did read, I remember virtually nothing. I vaguely recall a few ridiculous generalizations.
Please keep in mind that this is not a book review, because I didn’t read the book. I did, however, look at the pictures. Thoroughly. They were pretty.
In keeping with an incomplete treatment of the book, I will loosely translate the table of contents:
1. Where there’s a will, there’s a way
2. Where are the laowai?
3. No barriers to communication
4. Using charm in communication
5. Etiquette when getting to know each other
6. Communication’s visual etiquette
7. Dealing with a foreign boss
8. Foreigners’ taboos and customs
9. A beautiful mood
10. Foreigners have something to say
11. My view of foreigners
OK, now for the pictures. As I said, I found them the most interesting part of the book. I like the style. The question, however, is: what do these illustrations communicate to the reader? (more…)