Artist draws parallels with Fraser and Yangtze rivers

Gu Xiong
Gu Xiong's Becoming Rivers, 2010, acrylic on canvas
— image credit: COURTESY OF ECC

Gu Xiong sees many similarities between the Fraser River and China’s Yangtze River, a waterway on the outer reaches of his hometown of Chongqing, Sichuan.

The Fraser once served as a major route to transport workers, including Chinese immigrant labourers, to B.C.’s interior to build the Canadian Pacific Railway.

And the Yangtze, too, has been a migration path, especially recently with the building of the Three Gorges Dam that has displaced two million Chinese citizens.

“The two rivers are symbols of the flow of life and new identity,” said Xiong, a UBC professor in the department of art history, visual art and theory.

This week, Xiong will open his new installation, Coquitlam Waterscapes, at the Evergreen Cultural Centre that parallels the watercourses and their shared stories.

On Saturday, Xiong will lead a talk about his mixed media — artwork that includes a giant painting of the Fraser and Yangtze as well as large plywood cut out to resemble Coquitlam Lake; the 3D-piece will have LED lights flooding underneath it.

Xiong only recently visited Coquitlam Lake and realized its importance as one of the three reservoirs supplying drinking water to Metro Vancouver. He also recognized the value of the Coquitlam River, which has the Coquitlam Lake at its headwaters, is fish-bearing, is within the Kwikwetlem First Nation territory and is a tributary of the Fraser River.

“This watershed is so very complex for operational reasons,” the artist said in an interview last week. “It’s very socially, economically and politically interesting.”

Xiong, who fled China in 1989 as a result of his participation in Beijing’s China/Avant Garde show and in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, said he often looks for geographical links when he creates his installations, finding the commonality in cultures.

As his UBC faculty website notes, “The construction of a new level of being is Gu Xiong’s primary interest.”

Next month, Xiong plans to display part of Coquitlam Waterscapes at a show in Wuhan.

Gu Xiong: Coquitlam Waterscapes runs Dec. 1 to Jan. 19 in the art gallery at Evergreen Cultural Centre (1205 Pinetree Way, Coquitlam). An opening reception will be held on Saturday from 4 to 6, with Xiong speaking about his display from 3 to 4 p.m.





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