Sunday, April 14, 2013

Drawer # 2.1: Jam's Drawer

In a completely different mood: the one drawer in the cabinet created by someone else, the very     talented young Chinese artist, Yu Ji (于吉.) 

I met Yu Ji some 8 years ago, in my very first months of living in Shanghai. In anticipation of my 2005 show for Laumeier Sculpture Park in St Louis, I and a slew of Shanghai University students built miniature bamboo scaffolding all around the furniture in my apartment. The students were recommended to me by their teacher at Shanghai University, the artist Petra Johnson. There was lots of excitement around working with a foreign artist: some days there was up to 10 of us in my very small apartment on Tai Yuan Lu. It was my introduction to chaos China-style & it was great: cultural questions flying in all directions.

Yu Ji, or Jam, as she's known in English, was among those students. Though we are in generations & cultures far apart, we recognized a kinship in our sensibilities & so we continued to work together through the years of compiling the Cabinet. Most of the patterned boards that line the drawers are thanks to her good work cutting & gluing; in her great charming way, she has negotiated many a situation on my behalf for which I am very grateful.

I had thought of asking a number of artists friends to fill drawers but somehow, in the end, I only asked Jam. She filled hers in the weeks just after the death of her grandfather. He had been, at one time, a successful shop owner but persecutions by his neighbors during the period of the Cultural Revolution left him forever changed & fragile. He spent his days, as do many older Chinese men, tending to his birds, building and repairing their cages: the rails in the drawer are ones that Jam found while clearing his workbench. Her drawer stands as a memorial to him & has an eeriness like nothing else in the Cabinet. I feel really honored to have it; it preserves in the cabinet something of the quality of our conversations together over the years.

In case you are wondering, she really did name herself after the edible thing called jam: as a teenaged student, she says, she loved everything sweet!

Currently, she & her partner, Lam, run am art space. Located in the basement of a former police headquarters, it's the sort of artists' space that's common in the West  but extremely rare in China's highly commercial art market. It's a lively place & it speaks to Jam & Lam's commitment to art as an activity that creates community.  Foreign artists come for residencies several times a year and local artists are invited to make experimental, non-commercial work that evolves over time in the gallery space/studio. (For a pdf of "City Traceries," a show Jam & I did there together, click here.)

Jam currently has new work in "Some Like it Hot," an exhibition of emerging artists at the Shanghai Gallery of Art. Working figuratively is something of a change for her but the figures maintains the kind of quiet, internal bearing-witness-to-being that to me is the beauty in her practice.

Drawer 2.1: from top
1. Artificial flower  2. Rails for inserting bird cage rods 3. Dried seed pod from lotus plant with 3 pearls inserted
4. Tin & glass container with traditional chinese medicines
Photo credit: Drawer: Bruno David; all others: Christina Shmigel

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