Hanging out in China local artist's adventure

By Don Farmer

Greytown artist and film-maker Vincent Ward is back home in Wairarapa from Shanghai after being the first New Zealander invited to exhibit at the Shanghai Biennale.

Describing it as an "incredible experience" Ward said he had been lucky to have a large solo exhibition right on the bund in the heart of the main tourist area of the huge Chinese city.

"I was fortunate to be one of the few artists afforded a complete exhibition.

"The solo show in the union church was a mixture of video installation and paintings on 8m- long silk scrolls."

It was not all plain sailing, though, and the Greytown artist has to use typical kiwi ingenuity at times.

He said getting his art works hung was an incredible seat-of-your-pants experience.

"One that I won't forget in a hurry."

Ward found himself alone with four 8m art works under his arm, a whole cathedral to himself but no ladder.

He discovered he was not allowed to attach anything to the walls or ceiling which "confounded my plans for suspending it" and the scaffolding erected to help hang his work was half the height that had been discussed, with no chance of having it altered.

"One of our Italian curators - a woman of great taste and keen to please - looked at the problem and suggested we could cut each of the paintings in half to fit."

Ward said perhaps the look on his face was enough to snuff out that idea.

He said a Chinese drinking mate and whisky that was 51 per cent proof helped to come up with a solution.

"In a flash came the light bulb moment - bamboo."

The art work could be suspended from long lengths of bamboo which could then be tied to the scaffolding allowing a reach of up to 11m.

Problems were not that easily solved, though, as a week-long public holiday was about to begin during which time trucks were not allowed to enter the central city or bund area without permission and the biennale had no permitted truck.

Ward, in desperation, turned to a Chinese friend Jennie Hu who, he said, had a seemingly endless support network.

She phoned the president of a large commercial development group and, after being chided for seeking help so close to a holiday, managed within an hour to convince him to help.

He supplied - at no charge - a manager, four installers, a permitted truck and discounts from a large bamboo supply company on the outskirts of Shanghai.

The biggest hurdle had been overcome but several more had to be negotiated before Ward could relax and look forward to the imminent opening of his exhibition which received a very favourable response.

An art critic wrote in the Shanghai City News that Ward evoked "harmony between man and nature through art ... one can experience and explore the transient meaning of life and nature shifting through states of flying, falling, colliding, joy, awe and fear."

Ward said a standout memory was the generosity of Wairarapa friends and supporters, who had made the trip to exhibit his works financially possible.

"A family from out of Martinborough who knew my father and probably his family right back to my great grandfather, and a neighbour from Morrisons Bush helped out, along with the Greytown Trustlands Trust.

"I would not have been able to get there without help from Wairarapa."

- Wairarapa Times-Age

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