Found in Translation: The Coalition of Chinese Culture and Mixed Media

Black Hawk College’s most recent exhibition is “Found in Translation” by Peter Xiao, art professor at Augustana College in Rock Island. In Xiao’s exhibit, both the use of mixed media–an art form in which more than one medium is applied, and characters commonly found in Chinese calligraphy coalesce into a very culturally comparative, eye-catching art collection.

M for Mates in Heaven 

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“M for Mates in Heaven” Oil on canvas, three panels 2011

For me, this was the piece that really drew me in to the rest of Xiao’s collection. When I saw it for the first time, I was taken aback. Typically when viewers glance at the piece, the most striking image is the yellow “M” in the middle panel sitting above the yin and yang symbol. Then people notice the United States to the right, just as we’d see it on a map. Then we peer over to the left and notice another country, unaware of what country it is, and leave with an immature interpretation of the piece. Upon closer inspection, we realize that the country on the left panel is China.

The three-piece painting is mainly comprised of two colors–blue and purple. The two outside panels have a very comforting blue background. The panel in the center is made up of a warm shade of purple. The brightness of the piece is very assuaging, but the vibrant yellow “M”–in the exact shape and color of the McDonald’s Golden Arches–really gets in your face. It sits atop the yin and yang symbol in the center of all three panels.

Is Xiao saying that even in heaven, or some likeness of heaven, the wealthy are at the top of some kind of ladder? Maybe he’s implying that McDonald’s itself and other similar multi-billion dollar corporations are the center of our universe. Or maybe these seemingly materialistic and corrupt entities bring us together. In any case, the meaning behind this unique piece is entirely up to the admirer.

One, Standard Script and One, Clerical Script

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“One, Standard Script” Ink and brush 2017 and “One, Clerical Script” Ink and brush 2017

These two pieces are representations of the number “one” in both standard and clerical Chinese script.

According to Xiao’s first painting, standard script includes a basic line, slightly curved, and painted very thickly and compactly. The whole line isn’t completely filled in with black ink, and the brush strokes are clearly visible at the bottom. This style of script is very matter-of-fact, rough, and candid.

In clerical script, the lines are more clearly defined and filled out with black ink. The painting is very smooth, and the slight curves flow more gently than in standard script. The artist mostly lets the brush do the work. This is very evident when we observe the very end of the line. Just by turning the brush slightly and pressing down lightly, the line goes from having a medium girth to large, then it goes very small effortlessly.

For a more in-depth historical perspective on Chinese calligraphy, check out Columbia.edu’s article here.

In Between

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“In Between” Acrylics, enamel on wood, metal rod and screws 2011

If any of Xiao’s pieces scream out mixed media, it’s this one. In “In Between,” Xiao utilized everyday scrap-like materials such as screws and a metal rod to make an intricate sculpture about the pains of being “in between” two very different worlds.

On the wooden plank below, there lies Xiao’s home. In the center of the piece is an abstract object that resembles an airplane. This plane is connected to the bottom half and top half by the large metal rod. The United States floats above the abstract plane in the form of numerous fluffy clouds.

The bottom third of the piece represents his homeland. It remains comfortably stuck to the familiar ground. His home is rooted in reality, sturdy in structure, and commonplace. It’s his origin.

The clouds that represent the United States hover above in the sky. It isn’t as organized as his homeland because it’s unfamiliar to the artist. The United States seems more like a concept rather than a structurally-sound destination. There’s a sense of wonderment and excitement in the idea of exploring it.

The plane remains stuck in between these two incredibly different worlds. This is where Xiao resides. The plane represents feelings of unease and unrest, while also revealing a sense of stagnation. Wherever the artist is traveling in this piece, it’s evident that he’ll be taking a piece of his home with him.

More Pictures of the Lost in Translation Exhibit

If you’d like to visit the exhibition and see these wonderfully unique pieces for yourself, you’d better hurry to building four of Black Hawk College. It’s available until September 29th!

What did you think of Xiao’s work? Do you have any formal art analyses you’d like to share? Leave us a comment below and tell us what you think!

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Author: Logan Raschke

I'm just your average sophomore at BHC who loves writing articles. I can't thank the Chieftain's readers enough for their support! If you have questions/concerns/awesome stories you want shared, contact me! Email: lraschke@mymail.bhc.edu