Anna Glynn is an Australian artist working in painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, writing, music, sound, installation, film making, moving image, digital animation and theatre. She has built a lasting relationship with China over multiple residencies, exhibitions, and collaborations in China.
China Residencies: What sparked your interest in China?
Anna Glynn: I grew up on a farm in Melbourne on the Yarra River. The area was the site of historic gold mining in the 1800s – many of these miners were Chinese. As a child I created small archaeological digs at the bank of the Yarra River, discovering broken smoking pipes and shards of pottery. From that early age I dreamt of China.
CR: Your first trip to China was in 2006, how has the country evolved over the last 8 years?
AG: Things seem to be getting faster – it is almost like a time-lapse video – buildings going up, buildings coming down, galleries opening, galleries closing…
CR: How did you first hear about the art fairs and residency opportunities in China?
AG: I was invited by Austrade in 2006 to be part of the first Australian Pavilion at the Shanghai Art Fair. This was a great surprise as the invitation came out of the blue, one of their staff had heard me interviewed on ABC Radio and took note.
During my first time in China, I met the artist Wu Guowei from Liaoning Province. She did not speak a word of English, but had a great emotional response to my work – through a translator she told me that our artworks were similar and that we were like sisters. In 2008, I went on a self-organized residency and we spent nearly six months together – working on our art, walking and sharing. We have been best friends ever since and see each other nearly every year to collaborate and exchange ideas!
CR: When you start a residency, do you come with specific project idea in mind, or are you looking for inspiration while in-residence?
AG: I generally have a specific project or theme in mind. What I love about working in China is that my work can morph and change as I go. I find it to be one of the most exciting places to work – something unexpected always happens and new opportunities always appear. It is the unknown material that is quite often pivotal in inspiring new works. I always have my sound recorder in my bag and collect hours of field recordings.
CR: Tell us a bit about the various projects you worked on while you were on residency.
AG: In 2013 I spent a semester as artist-in-residence at Lingnan University, Hong Kong where I undertook research, lectured, developed new works and mounted the ‘Wonderment’ exhibition at the university. Lingnan University was also a key location to develop and expand the MEAOW Project. The MEAOW Project explores commonly recognised animals across cultures through the onomatopoeic sounds that humans assign to them.
In 2011, at 24h Art, I had a collaborative exhibition, ‘Parallel Dreams’, with Chinese artist Wu Guowei at Centennial Hall Peking University. I also spent extensive time collecting images, sound, writing and stories relating to the ‘rabbit’ in Chinese culture. I collaborated with theatre director Anne-Louise Rentell on ‘Digging a Hole to China’ and assessed new avenues to bring the work to China. I began work on a new series of paintings,‘Hidden Worlds’ which fuse Chinese traditional ink painting techniques with a Western aesthetic. A Beijing gallery director saw the new ‘Hidden Worlds’ works and invited me to have an exhibition in 2012, which led me to work closely with Chinese curator Wang Yingxiao and director Zhang Tiejun.
The director of the Tsi Ku Chai Gallery attended the ‘Hidden Worlds’ exhibition which then led to the ‘Cloud World’ exhibition held in Hong Kong in 2013.
CR: Did your work or practice change significantly from your time in China?
AG: I feel that my work has blossomed after my time in China. It has been a life changing experiencein many ways. I now have close bonds with many people. By spending time living in the Chinese culture and environment, I see the Australian culture and environment with fresh eyes when I return.
CR: Your work often references traditional Chinese arts such as ink painting and paper cutting techniques. When did you first start taking an interest and incorporating these influences into your work?
AG: This began really in 2008 when I spent time in Liaoning Province in Northern China, working with Wu Guowei. I continually get comments from my Chinese friends and the public about how my work using Chinese traditional materials is breaking the rules. I have actually consciously avoided learning too much about the materials and their use, as I prefer to discover myself how they work and experiment with techniques. So I guess not knowing the rules has in some ways been an advantage to the development of my work.
CR: How involved are the various residencies’ organizers with the resident's daily life? Did they organize exhibitions or open studios?
AG: I have found that with most residencies that you are left to your own devices. This has in some ways propelled me to make my own contacts, which have worked well.
CR: What were the studios and accommodations like on residence?
AG: Generally the studios and accommodation are quite good – although there are differences compared to what we are used to in Australia. All have been conducive to making work. Having a bicycle with a basket and a bell, knowing where the food markets are, being open to meeting strangers and having new adventures is the key to getting the most out of your time in China!
CR: Did you give lectures or classes during your time on residence?
AG: During my time at Lingnan University I taught a course in multimedia, as well as gave lectures and created a large body of new work which was presented at the end of the residency. When I was with Wu Guowei in Northern China, I was invited to the Art Department at Fushun Normal Teachers College to meet with students, and we also worked together through the Shoalhaven Campus of the University of Wollongong giving talks and practical demonstrations. In Mao Gong village where I was guest for a number of days, I spent time at the local primary school working with the children and teachers.
CR: Have you collaborated with other artists while in China?
AG: At Huantie, I found it easy to make new friends through just doing an afternoon walk and meeting people on the streets and chatting. In 2007, I created specific work on an environmental theme for an exhibition at the Zhu Qi Zhan Art Museum in Shanghai. I also did a short video, sound and music performance collaborating with a young Chinese performer.
CR: Did you speak any Chinese before coming? If no, did you learn any during your stay?
AG: After visiting in 2006 I came home and enthusiastically enrolled in night school to learn Mandarin – but, alas, I still have an Australian accent. I have tried to learn but get embarrassed by my poor pronunciation. At Lingnan University, I enrolled for a semester in Mandarin and practiced speaking with my students. I also volunteered in 2009 as a Mandarin teaching assistant at local school to help myself learn.
CR: Did you feel you encountered a significant cultural or linguistic barrier?
AG: Our cultures are very different, but people have the same basic needs for friends, family and a safe environment. The more I visit China the more I realize how much I do not know, and it is this learning and exchange that keeps me returning.
CR: Are you currently planning your next residency or exhibition in Asia?
AG: I am working on a number of projects that I hope will allow me to return to China: a multimedia work with a large sound component based on the idea of a requiem for nature, as well as ongoing work with the MEOAW Project.
CR: Thanks Anna, anything else you’d like to add?
AG: Thank you for the opportunity to contribute. There are many threads that are being woven together to create links between Australia and China through the arts. I am happy to be a small part of this.
This interview was conducted over email by Kira Simon-Kennedy for China Residencies.