Des Clark, Yang Fudong, ACMI Board Members, Director Tony Sweeney and ACMI staff, distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentleman
It is with such great pleasure that I make these remarks tonight at the opening of Yang Fudong: Filmscapes and I thank Tony Sweeney most sincerely for the invitation to do so.
The China Up Close program, which encompasses Yang Fudong’s exhibition, gives us all a too infrequent opportunity to gain greater insight and pleasure from the brilliance of contemporary Chinese cultural activity through exhibitions, talks and performances, workshops, films, student programs and symposia.
Consistent with a vision of Australia as a culturally ambitious nation and an international focus on Australian arts being without borders, the Australia Council is delighted to be backing ACMI’s China Up Close program through support for the visit of the esteemed curator Doryun Chong, currently Chief Curator at Hong Kong’s M plus Museum, under our International Visitors program, to coincide with and provide critical context to the Yang Fudong exhibition.
The notion of arts being without borders, the meaning of borderlessness, the identification of belonging or not belonging to a place or a time and the familiar and the global are themes that are deeply considered and recur in Yang Fudong’s work.
We have for the summer an exhibition that presents the work of one of the great moving image artists, indeed great artists, of the moment, at a time in his career when he is being keenly sought by major public and private venues around the world.
We also have the artist present and we are all able to hear him speak about the work firsthand.
We have this venue, ACMI, so perfectly created to anticipate that such a moment might come when audiences would crave opportunities such as this exhibition and so much else besides.
We have a heightened public discussion around the further strengthening of Australia’s relationship with China, the promotion of ‘soft diplomacy’ and the criticality of cultural exchange and, significantly, a Free Trade Agreement that has profound long term benefits for greater cultural reciprocity between our countries.
And at the heart of all of this, we have an exhibition that includes work newly commissioned and works that, on other occasions, have been described as a ‘tour de force’ and with a ‘poetic and dreamlike meditation in Chinese culture and identity.’ There is a particular vocabulary that has developed around Yang Fudong’s work and the words repeat themselves and the descriptions they give are so insightful and evocative.
The viewer navigates their way around the depths of the work with such words and expressions resonating: dreams and calmness, purity, beauty and elegance, contemplation and aesthetic balance, sensation and feeling and, in some, savagery and brutality. In the excellent catalogue that accompanies this exhibition, Ulanda Blair writes of pathos, romance and regret. In his interview with Zara Stanhope, Yang Fudong comments on artworks of others that have ‘endured over time and have a strong sense of history.’ Through his own work, the images and ideas embrace the personal and, at once, extend beyond cultural boundaries and the confines of words and a single set of meanings to the universal. The work is addictive, seductive and compulsive watching.
There is a lovely symmetry and happenstance that when I spoke at one of the opening exhibitions here at ACMI in 2003, Reverberation: Remembrance and the Moving Image, I quoted a complementary vocabulary that Bill Henson had used at a VCA graduation around that time. In relation to how we might feel about and experience works of art, he said:
How does one retain (and) nurture modesty, delicacy, tenderness? Now there are some words we don’t hear often in relation to contemporary art. You see these are the qualities that, to my mind, seem to last, seem to outstare history and yet they seem on the surface to fuel our personal reservations, our uncertainties and a lack of confidence.
The universality of that quest seems very relevant for Yang Fudong’s exhibition.
In some ways, speaking here tonight, I am closing the loop by returning for the opening of Tony Sweeney’s final exhibition as Director and one that is connected to a theme touched upon at the opening of the institution.
Over the ten years, ACMI has resoundingly delivered on the dream that so many held for it at its inception. With a consistent application of high curatorial standards and an imagination and professionalism, the exhibitions and programs presented here have had an impact far beyond Australia.
But of course the credit for ACMI’s successful evolution into a unique and much loved part of Australia’s cultural landscape must go to the boards and staff who have worked tirelessly to make it happen. And perhaps no one is more deserving of praise than Tony himself.
This is not his farewell, but as I have the microphone, I want to take this opportunity to thank him – 42 exhibitions later – for not only the pleasure that he, through this place, has brought during his tenure to our community, a wider audience, to me and my family, but for his arts leadership and for making, at the close of 2014, ACMI the world’s highest attended film or moving image cultural centre, and the second highest attended gallery or museum in Australia.
With this exhibition by Yang Fudong, we observe an ambitious institution in full stride, confident in its abilities and purpose. Each one of us, through the power of the moving image medium so perfectly harnessed by the artist, is invited to observe the work and develop an individual response that is deeply personal. In this brilliant place, we are given the possibility to consider the artists’ intentions, to reflect on our own circumstances and some of the abiding issues of our time.
Would you join me in thanking and congratulating Yang Fudong: it gives me great pleasure to declare open Filmscapes.