Photo by Nolwenn Voléon
“Formes” the sculpture by Chinese artist Mr. Yiming Min may combine the artistic heritages of East and West, however, it profoundly divides student opinion.
Mr. Yiming Min – the Chinese visual artist behind the sculpture that was installed in the main hall on February 8th, “Formes” – has displayed some of his artwork in London and Paris, and has also worked on an architectural project in Germany. In 2004 however, he shifted towards more contemporary art, seeking to deconstruct shapes and predefined perceptions, to allow us to interpret his work more freely. Formes first arrived in France in 2014 and was exhibited in Paris. It is heavily inspired by the Louvre’s Hellenistic sculpture of Nike, “The Winged Victory of Samothrace” this time, with an Oriental twist: pagoda roof-looking tiles fused with the feathers, on which porcelain doves give a military salute. After the inauguration of the sculpture, musical performance by students Mark Ma and Ziyu Deng took place to honor our prestigious guests. Then, in the presence of Dean Florent Bonaventure, representatives of the Chinese Embassy in Paris, and the Mayor of Le Havre, Mr. Yinming Min gave a talk to the student body in Mandarin, being translated live by student Meixi Zhang. The essence of his talk was his development of a comparison between Oriental and Occidental Art.
According to Mr Min, art in the Eastern world is more figurative, less realistic, and less scientific than it is in the West. Seeking to use Western techniques, he took what he called an impressionist approach to his work. This crux of his talk came down to the following sentence: Western art emphasizes on objective perception and accurate representation, while Eastern art concerns of the “whole picture”: the atmosphere, the imagery. The artist further showcased his transition from statues to his works in landscape and architecture. Mr. Min told us how happy he was about the increase in cultural exchanges between China and the West, as he believes these dialogues are as crucial as economic exchanges. We, as students on the Euro-Asian campus also have a role to play in these increasing cultural relations, and this was reflected in the way Mr. Min addressed the student body by saying, as a conclusion to his first speech, “The world is yours and the future is yours.”
“I believe that as much as our campus is honored to have Mr Min’s work showcased here, the work itself is quite crude. I do not appreciate how he considers Formes as the embodiment of the convergence and proof of similarities between Eastern and Western art. The simple reference to The Winged Victory of Samothrace representing the West, and changing the wings to resemble the traditional Chinese eaves does not, in my perspective, have much value and artistry in reflecting the ideas it claims to represent. During the Q&A session, someone asked why birds were included in Formes, why there were so many, and why they were posed as if it were saluting; Mr Min let out a crisp laugh and answered that he thought it would be fun.
There was another question raised by a Chinese student from a nearby University in Le Havre. She asked in genuine concern, what direction is the Chinese art world heading towards? She continues, saying that society has become to an extent, materialistic and superficial. How can art and artists stay true to themselves? This question pins directly to the heart of Chinese art turmoil. How can art, as a form of expression, survive in its true forms in a world that has no place for personal diverging expressions? Mr. Min was optimistic and vague, responding “I think it is heading to a very positive direction.”
“I walked into the hallway last Thursday and found myself having to stop. Something did not feel right. The usually open, bright corridor that I liked so much now seemed like it had been cut in two. Standing in my way was a brown statue with saluting birds, elevated on a pedestal and looming way above everything else to appear friendly. Other people stopped and we all shared our curiosity, doubts and observations concerning the cumbersome newcomer. Although confused as to what the artist’s intention was, I decided to give the statue a chance and wait for the explanation scheduled to take place in the afternoon.
I think that the whole reason of how the statue got to our campus remains rather mysterious. Why is this statue standing in our hallway, when it was given to the city of Le Havre? How long is it going to stay here for? While I believe we need more art to be displayed around campus, I also think the priority should be given to our students. We are gifted with a talented batch of students practicing their art in a variety of domains, yet visual artists don’t have the occasion to showcase their work as often. By doing so, we miss out on the artistic prowess of our fellow students who enjoy photography, writing, or other forms of visual arts; students who are not necessarily performers but have stories to tell, and images to share. During the BDA campaign, plenty of candidates expressed their will to provide a platform for students to share their personal artwork. While LDD has begun to display our artists’ work, it should also be a recurring presence on campus. I believe through whatever means possible, individual artists should have the opportunity to publicize their work to allow us to have the chance to get to know them and their artwork.”
But not all students have such a harsh opinion of the installation.
“I took some time to reflect on the meaning of this statue and ended up liking it. It is a singular and pedagogical embodiment of European and Asian cultural exchange. The “Winged Victory of Samothrace” is a direct representation of European culture: like the Joconde or the “Venus de Milo,” it has been celebrated as a masterpiece of ancient Greece sculpture since its discovery in 1863.
Mr. Min’s “Winged Victory of Samothrace” comes with a twist, namely bamboo-shaped tiles in its feathers, which are not really noticeable at first and come as a symbol of Europe’s subtle links with Asia. On top of the statue, little porcelain doves come to reinforce the idea. The artist seems to have put the emphasis on both culture’s art traditions: classical Greek sculpture for the West and porcelain for the East. As for the military salute of the birds, which the artist said to have put it “for fun”, I still like to see a link between the idea of victory and triumph that the “Winged Victory of Samothrace” embodies with the idea of military triumph for the birds.
I think that as our campus really embodies the link of Europe with Asia, the choice to put the sculpture in our lobby is logical. The fact that a famous and recognized artist would accept to have his production in our little campus rather than anywhere else in Le Havre is pretty impressive and shows that the spirit of the piece is in line with the one of our campus. What I like with this sculpture is that it conveys a message that is not totally blurry to us. Through some observation, it is easy to come up with subjective interpretations.”
Visibly, the sculpture has been a divisive topic on campus. Its location is less than ideal. Indeed, between cheerleading and Bollywood practice, the main hall of our campus has a functional use that is now being impaired. Indeed, students fear accidentally toppling the installation. Furthermore, the color of the clay sculpture, placed in direct sunlight since the hall has a glass roof, already seems to be fading. It is an honor for our campus to receive such a gift from the city of Le Havre, and the idea behind it truly does reflect the philosophy or our campus: intercultural dialogue, particularly between Europe and Asia. We will simply have to wait and see if students get used to its presence.
Nolwenn Voléon is a first year French student at Sciences Po Paris, Campus du Havre.
Alice Morisseau is a second year French student at Sciences Po Paris, Campus du Havre.
Meixi Zhang is a second year Singaporean student at Sciences Po Paris, Campus du Havre, and was the Mandarin – English translator for Mr. Yiming Min’s conference on Thursday, February 8, 2018.
Edited by Emma Dailey and Paxia Ksatryo.