Chinese Nobel author trades pen for brush

Updated 04 July 2013
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Chinese Nobel author trades pen for brush

A dark figure stands alone in the center of a bleak, shadowy landscape in one painting, while an ethereal tree-like form claims attention in another.
The haunting black-and-white paintings are the work of Gao Xingjian, the first Chinese-born Nobel literature laureate, who traded pen for brush to explore a realm of mood and meditation in a rare exhibit in Taiwan’s capital of Taipei.
The 20 works on display in “The Edge of Reality” exhibition, the 73-year-old Gao’s first in Asia for three years, present stark landscapes of form, shade and shape that stand in sharp contrast to his detail-rich novels such as “Soul Mountain,” for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2000.
“Painting and literature are two completely different languages,” Gao, who lives in France, said at the show’s recent opening. “Where literature reaches its limits of expressive power, that’s where painting begins.”
Gao’s literary oeuvre, which also includes “One Man’s Bible” and numerous stage plays, has won him global acclaim. In his native China, however, his works were banned in 1989 after a play, “Escape,” explicitly addressed the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
He said his two artistic endeavours have been part of his life since he was a child, although as an adult he keeps a distance between them.
“For my tenth birthday my uncle gave me a notebook that was just white pages, no grid and no lines,” Gao said. “At that time I used it for both writing and drawing.
“I strictly separate the two disciplines. When I’m painting, not only do I not write, I won’t even read.”
Gao’s art began to garner public attention in the 1980s with a number of exhibits across Europe. Since then, his works have been showcased in group and solo exhibitions around the world, although only rarely in mainland China.
“His art used to be more imagistic, more concrete,” said Thomas Lee, president of the Asia Art Center that hosted the exhibition. “These pieces are more abstract; he’s opened up a more imaginative space for the viewer.”
Attendees at the opening described a sense of emotion, particularly loneliness, from the barren scenes and dreamlike vistas on display.
“You really see inside his mind,” said collector Henry Chow. “Even though we’re standing outside the work, it draws you in completely.”





Though Gao intends to keep on with his art, readers may be disappointed to find that he plans no more novels.
“It’s too tiring,” he said. “That kind of work is too intense.”
“The Edge of Reality” continues until July 28.


West End theater turns migrant camp to get London audience talking

Updated 20 June 2018
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West End theater turns migrant camp to get London audience talking

  • The Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End aims to immerse the audience in the squalid camp in the northern French port city of Calais that inspired “The Jungle.”
  • The immersive play offers a glimpse into life in the camp, telling the story of asylum-seekers, people smugglers and charity workers who used to populate it.

LONDON: London theatergoers used to spectating in comfort are in for a rude awakening after the authors of a play swapped the traditional plush velvet seating for wooden benches and covered the floor with soil to simulate the feel of a migrant camp.
The Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End aims to immerse the audience in the squalid camp in the northern French port city of Calais that inspired “The Jungle,” whose authors hope their play will stoke debate about migration.
“People often hold strong opinions about this subject because it doesn’t seem to have any immediate answer,” said Joe Murphy, 27, who co-wrote the play.
“Discussion is the only think that is going to get us forward ... and hopefully this play can provide some of that space for debate,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
Co-author Joe Robertson said the pair had “tried to depict both the terrible conditions that existed in the Jungle camp, but also the hope that existed in that place.”
Up to 10,000 people seeking ways to reach Britain used to live in the giant slum before it was cleared by authorities in late 2016.
Immigration remains a major political issue across Europe, as well as in the United States, where the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the Mexican border has caused an international outcry.
Several European leaders including those of France, Germany, Italy and Austria are to hold talks on Sunday to explore how to stop people from moving around the European Union after claiming asylum in one of the Mediterranean states of arrival.
Murphy and Robertson, 28, based the script on their experience as volunteers in Calais, where they ran a temporary theater within the camp.
The immersive play offers a glimpse into life in the camp, telling the story of asylum-seekers, people smugglers and charity workers who used to populate it.
“There were 25 different nationalities of people all forced to live side by side often on top of each other and the phenomenal story about that place was people did make an effort to come together,” said Robertson.
Theatre-goers are invited to seat at the tables of the camp’s makeshift Afghan café, where the action unfolds.
“The closer you are to the audience the better the message is delivered,” said actor Ammar Hajj Ahmad, who plays one of the leading characters.
Ahmad, from Syria, is one of many actors from a refugee background featured in the play. Several asylum-seekers the authors met in Calais are also part of the cast.
“I am proud of this, I love telling stories ... about the many people who lived in Calais,” said cast-member Mohamed Sarrar, a musician from Sudan who arrived in Britain two years ago.
The play, which premiered at another London theater The Young Vic, last year, runs from July 5 to November.