This is not a brush holder 《借二杜自勉》
Chinese ink, paper, bookshelf, brush holders, felt.
120 x 90 x 170 cm
This is not a brush holder is an installation at Ink and Mind, an exhibition of emerging and established artists amongst students and graduates of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Chinese Ink Specialism Programme.
The calligraphic couplet，“读书破万卷 下笔如有神“ literally translates to “Reading ten thousand books thoroughly would enable one to wield the brush marvelously”. It is a famous line from celebrated Tang dynasty poet, Du Fu, and is often used to encourage students.
Background and symbolism
Like many other artworks in the conceptual art tradition, this work is introspective upon art itself – both Chinese ink art and contemporary conceptual art.
The work is a blatant reference to Marcel Duchamp’s “ready-mades”. To the less informed, the work simply presents a few “Chinese-y” instruments on a rack, and their purposes, as suggested by the work’s title, might be to contain brushes. Yet, the obvious reference to Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe suggests that there would be more than meets the eye. While all three are commonly termed as “brush holder” in English, to the Chinese, these three instruments have separate names (笔挂、笔筒、笔簾) and usages, as suggested by the order of their placement. Furthermore, upon the笔筒 (or literally “brush canister”), there are inscriptions in Chinese, challenging audience to decipher it.
Indeed, if one were to understand Chinese and the words that accompany the work, the interpretation of this work can be deciphered at a whole different level. The calligraphic couplet literally translates to “Reading ten thousand books thoroughly would enable one to wield the brush marvelously”. It is a famous line from celebrated Tang dynasty poet, Du Fu, and is often used to encourage students. The artist wrote this to motivate herself in her studies. In the same spirit, she removed the books from one of her personal bookshelves, and the brushes from their holders in a bid to read and practise hard.
By combining conceptual art and Chinese art, this work also highlights the similarity between these two art-forms and their emphasis on “concept” and intent. It also emphasises the need to understand artworks by their references and contexts, both immediate, present context and cultural, ideological ones. Most fundamentally, it expresses the aspirations of a Chinese ink painting student, living and learning in today’s Western-influenced Singapore.
for Chinese ink painting Major Students Only
Chinese ink on paper
17 x 67 cm x 2
This couplet is cited from Zheng Ban Qiao, a revered Qing dynasty artist, and means, “Room, if elegant, need not be big. Flowers, if fragrant, need not be many.” Presently, this artist originally wrote this couplet for installation in the Chinese Ink Painting Specialism classroom in the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), as a form of “motivational poster” to herself and one other student for they are the only two Chinese Ink Specialism students in the class of 2018, possibly the smallest specialist class in the entire school. The couplet aims to be encouraging of diligent training and studies, despite their small numbers.
The work is also appropriate for installation at an upcoming exhibition featuring the emerging artists from the recent graduates of NAFA Chinese Ink Specialism, for it is not unique to the cohort of 2018 that the Chinese Ink Specialism class is one of the smallest.
The English title of work, “For Chinese Ink Painting Major Students Only”, refers to the notice that is put on the door of the Chinese painting studio.
Similar to the preceding proposal for This is not a brush holder, this work combines reference from Chinese art and conceptual art to express the aspirations of a Chinese ink painting student, living and learning in today’s Western-influenced Singapore. In particular, the idea of putting up words in spaces is best exemplified by the works of the conceptual artist, Lawrence Weiner.
spring couplet 《春联》
Chinese ink on paper
120 x 17 cm x 2
Also exhibited at the same venue were a pair of calligraphy as part of the "traditional" classical portion of the exhibition, the annual Hui Chun Calligraphy showcase. This work is donated to NAFA, and was written with best wishes to the beholder.