‘Flying Brush, Dancing Ink’

Published 30 June 2009

calligraphyA public art exhibition at the University of New England is delighting visitors with its vibrant blend of Oriental tradition and contemporary Western sensibility.

The exhibition – “Flying Brush, Dancing Ink” – comprises works created by students of Chinese calligraphy at UNE. After just one semester’s practice of this ancient art form, they have succeeded in using it as a basis for self-expression.

All the works display not only technical competence, but an appreciation of the aesthetic principles underlying the art of Chinese calligraphy.

Dr Cuncun Wu, a Chinese scholar and UNE Senior Lecturer who is herself an accomplished calligrapher, initiated the University’s one-semester calligraphy course in 2004. She has been impressed by the application and creativity of her students – this year no less than in previous years – and points out that some of them have achieved outstanding results without any knowledge of the Chinese language. This year’s class includes students of – for example – business and law as well as students of Chinese.

“Traditionally, calligraphy is regarded as the highest Chinese art form,” Dr Wu said, “and is an important part of Chinese cultural life. It integrates mind and body, has a strong meditative component, and is believed to promote longevity.”

The students have triumphed over the initial difficulties of the exotic script and calligraphic technique. “As I practised more, and the characters got more complex, I came to enjoy it more,” said Emma Pracy, a fourth-year student of Chinese. For her exhibition piece, Emma transcribed a Chinese poem onto a Chinese lantern, and created a background scene depicting an ornate, Chinese-style window. “It’s a reflection of my experience last year as a student in China,” she says, “and expresses the emotions of a person looking at the moon and thinking of home. The poem conveys a sense of longing and wonder, while the lantern reflects the poem’s night-time tone while creating a feeling of warmth and security.”

Belinda Rowe’s work comprises a series of portraits of her children, with calligraphic inscriptions describing their qualities as individuals. Adele Lovi has painted Chinese characters onto iced cup cakes displayed as part of a traditional English high-tea setting as a way of depicting the contrasting “tea rituals” of Chinese and Anglo culture. Jean-Paul Shanahan has depicted his family “tree”, with each leaf – including a Chinese character in the form of a personal seal – representing an immediate member of his family. Katie Williams has built a lamp and decorated it with characters translated as “Cherish the moment”, while Anthony Rummery has transcribed a poem from the Tang Dynasty – “Watching the Hunt” – onto a mirror “after long deliberation of different kinds of material”.

“I’m amazed at what I’m seeing,” said the Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of UNE’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Professor Margaret Sedgley, when officially opening the exhibition today. Professor Sedgley said she was impressed by the creativity of the students, and their extension of ancient techniques and traditional aesthetic principles into a contemporary Australian environment.

The exhibition will remain on show in Room 102 of the Arts Building until the 4th of July.

THE IMAGE displayed here expands to show Belinda Rowe with her exhibition piece.