a Fat Bird performance-installation at the Guan Shanyue Museum of Fine Arts, June 22 through July 22, 2007
The organizing committee of the tenth anniversary celebration of the founding of the Guan Shanyue Museum of Fine Arts commissioned Fat Bird to create an original performance installation for the event, "Open Water Colors: An Exhibition of Contemporary Works". Fat Bird created "Draw Whiskers, Add Dragon", on display at the Museum from June 22 through July 22, 2007.
The title of Fat Bird's Chinese watercolor inspired performance piece, "Draw Whiskers, Add Dragon" comes from a talk given over 65 years ago in a Brittish Museum.
In 1942, the Chinese journalist, writer, and translator, Xiao Qian gave a talk titled, "Dragon Whiskers or Blueprints?" at the Wallace Museum in London. In this talk, Xiao Qian likened the world to a classroom and China to a student late for class. This student had a queue and four inch fingernails. What truly distinguished him from his classmates, however, was his "cultural heritage," the ability to use a calligraphy brush as thick as a beam to draw fine dragon's whiskers in the clouds. Noone else could do this. But this skill wasn't enough "to earn a diplomna". He needed to "force himself to learn to draw drainpipe plans, even if he didn't think it was easier than drawing dragon whiskers." When everyone realized he had become just like them, they started to express regret, "In the beginning you dragon whiskers were so unique! Don't you think it's boring to draw this blueprints?" All the student could do was look at them coldly and laugh bitterly, but he said, "Don't worry about my dragon whiskers. They came from my ancestors and can't be lost. But the first thing I have to do is earn a diplomma. After that, maybe I'll teach you to draw dragon's whiskers." Xiao Qian used "dragon's whiskers" to symbolize China's traditional culture, and "blueprints" to symbolize industrialization and modernization. He believed that China couldn't remain satisfied with past accomplishments, but rather needed to modernize. Otherwise, China might not be able to preserve that heritage.
"Dragon's whiskers"-----Xiao Qian created this word, using its delicate imagery to express the essence and beauty of Chinese ink painting. And ink painting itself is the most appropriate symbol of China's past, perhaps more than any of the four great inventions, even more than the great wall. As stated in the guiding principles of this exhibition, ink painting can't deny a direct link to either traditional culture or Chinese people's sence of identity. The question, however, is whether or not ink painting can represent contemporary China? In other words, does ink painting connect contemporary China to the past, or does it instatiate the distance between the two? This is a question clearly worth thinking. However, our piece is not an investigation of culture, but rather raises a different question, the question of "taste". "Cutlural heritage" and "cultural identity" may perhaps be a question of taste. In a world where art is already commodified, the advantages of "taste" increasingly dominated artistic production. Moreover, they have less and less to do with content. What may be ultimately true is that the existence or extinction of actual "Dragon's whiskers" doesn't matter anymore. What matters is the desire for them, and it is this desire that is creating them. This may worth taking up.
In retrospect, fully realized blueprints are everywhere in China, so what is needed is someone to draw whiskers (a word in Mandarin that puns the character for "emptiness"). In order for the whiskers to be recognized (something like a brand), we have to add a dragon. Whether this dragon is necessary or superfluous is in the eye of the beholder.