Using Art to Build Bridges
Every time I travel to Sweden, I arrive in Copenhagen, then in Malmo, and cross the bridge over the grand Öresund channel. On my way I enjoy the fresh taste of the ocean breeze. It’s said that one hundred years ago, a young Swedish girl wrote an imaginary plan on a piece of paper, sealed it in a bottle, and cast it into the sea. Later, a young man from Denmark picked up the bottle, and looking at the paper sketched the form of a bridge… this became the Öresund Bridge which I have crossed many times. From dream to reality, the bridge connecting Denmark and Sweden took 100 years to complete. Where is the bridge connecting China and Sweden, and how long will it take?
China is rich in mountains, rivers and lakes, and naturally has a long history of bridges. The symbol of the bridge also occupies an important position in contemporary history. After the founding of the country, the first bridge designed by China as an independent nation was the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, and it became a symbolic piece of architecture for the entire country (1960). Its grand blueprint was printed on the 1962 edition of the two cent Yuan bill. Not long after in the 1980s, a film titled Most (Savage Bridge) was popular among all Chinese people. The film’s subject matter is the resistance of Fascism in Yugoslavia, and it’s widely loved theme song, “Bella Ciao,” remains a household name even today. Bridges are architectural accomplishments and the background for historical stories, and they have left deep impressions in many countries.
In architecture, bridges are comparable to skyscrapers; the former representing the ability of humans to step across states of separation, the later representing the ability of humans to live at great heights above level ground. In the ancient story of the tower of Babel, the human language became chaotic. Unable to communicate, all things fell apart. The loss of a common language represents the differences and conflicts between cultures. Perhaps for this reason, building bridges became an attempt for people to overcome obstacles and break down distance. To connect with one another once more, understand and cooperate with one another again, this project has continued until today. Today, however, the material and method is no longer limited to the architectural study of reinforced concrete, wood, and stone, but also includes communication, the internet, sports, and art. The desire among humans for mutual understanding has never stopped.
Put simply, art is a cultural experiment that can transcend daily language. It can help us open new possibilities for communication with people of different national, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds. The airline industry and the internet have greatly promoted contemporary bridges. Artists and audiences can easily travel across borders (although visas are ever more difficult to obtain) and art can easily be disseminated (although censorship organs remain). Art can be a bridge not only to provide opportunities for discussion but also to begin a process of self-understanding. After going abroad, an artist introduces the existential struggles and aesthetics of their own region to an audience of a different cultural background. In one way, art is a visual form that can transcend language barriers. In visual works, people can see the universal interest and power of art. In another way, contemporary art possesses a sharp insight, even criticism, into the situation of reality. Some works can make audiences view not only art but also issues in society with interest and care. Some of these problems can be local and regional, others universal. It’s like the words that Kajsa Haglund quoted during the bridges project exhibition in Kunming, “Art is a guerilla movement that should belong to the ministry of defense. Is the minister of war informed?” I appreciate these words, because by addressing contemporary issues, art’s constantly transforming methods have a resistant and ineradicable purpose. This is the reason people will always need art. Using art to build bridges is also a kind of guerilla warfare.
The Bridges Project brought together Chinese and Swedish artists for a joint exhibition at TCG Nordica Cultural Center in 2010 and now, two years later, for this second exhibition. I am reminded of the words of Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer in his poem titled “Gallery.” In this poem there is a scene where every artist is compared to a star. Each has its own atmosphere, temperament, movement, and orbit. Some are made of fire, and some of ice… Bringing together artists from different cultural backgrounds, life experiences, work methods, and dispositions to work together, cooperate, and exchange is like bringing 11 stars (artists) from the universe to a certain time and a certain formation. From Chaos to Order, this really is a cooperative work!
Finally I would like to warmly thank the Swedish artists for their ceaseless efforts to build a bridge of art between China and Sweden. Thanks to Uppsala Museum and Bror Hjorths Museum for preparing everything and making it possible for this bridge of art to meet with everyone in Sweden. TCG Nordica Cultural Center in China is also always striving to build bridges of art and culture between China and Northern Europe, between West and East.
Building bridges with art becomes a fusion that is both experimental and alternative. Best wishes for the completion of the second exhibition of the Bridges project!
Luo Fei (TCG Nordica Gallery Director, Artist)
July 26th, 2012, Kunming
Translated by R. Orion Martin