Ancient Chinese mythical characters transformed in new exhibition
First published November 18, 2013
An exhibition showcasing three mythical Chinese characters extracted from the ancient book, The Classic of Mountains and Seas (c. 2000 BC) is on show at James Cook University this month.
The exhibition, by artist Zeyang Jiang (John), modernises the ancient characters and themes for today’s audiences and depicts them in two and three dimensions.
Mr Zeyang said he first heard about the book through an academic, Henriette Mertz, who used the book as a resource guide for her travels through America.
“However, I believe the illustrations in the book are inappropriate for a contemporary cross-cultural audience,” he said.
“After all, they were created in early times for an equally early Chinese audience.”
The exhibition helps to address the question: How can old Chinese mythical characters be portrayed in a way that meets the expectations of contemporary Chinese and Western audiences?
Mr Zeyang said he had concentrated on three typical characters to demonstrate his approach.
“My approach to illustration is to extract key attributes from descriptions in The Classic book and use this written data to model images in two and three-dimensions,” he said.
“By design, each set of illustrations for the three mythical characters—involving drawings, sculptures and digital animations—are synthesised from a design process developed to meet the aims of the research project and article.
“The choice of characters is not a random selection: each creature embodies the attributes of the three environments addressed in the text: land, sea and sky.”
For example, the unicorn was selected as representative of land-based creatures.
“In China, this character is known as ‘Bo’, which is a translation of the ancient description for ‘Piebald’. Unlike the Western unicorn, Bo has the added dimension of a tiger’s feet and teeth. It is essentially a frightening entity that scares enemies and eats leopards and tigers.”
The mythical character ‘Fen Huang’ (translated as “Divine Wind”) was selected as the sky-based creature, described in Western folklore as the phoenix.
“Unlike the Western phoenix, however, Fen Huang has the added dimension of a swallow’s forehead, a snake’s neck and the curve of its back resembles that of a turtle. It connotes happiness and lives in a happy environment.”
The sea-based creature described in Western folklore as the mermaid was selected.
“In China, this character is known as ‘Jiao Ren/Quan Ke’, which is translated as ancient ‘Shark Human’,” he said.
“Unlike the Western mermaid, however, Jiao Ren/Quan Ke has the added dimension of a shark’s tail and tears that form pearls.”
Exhibition by Artist Zeyang Mr Zeyang (John)
Date: Open until November 22, 2013 Monday to Friday 9:00 to 4:00
Location: James Cook University Soca eMerge Gallery (building 300), Townsville
The exhibition is free.
JCU Media contact: Caroline Kaurila (07) 4781 4586 or 0437 028 175