In 1938, when the War of Resistance Against Japan started, in Xinjing, today's Changchun in Jilin Province, four young people Jin Yusong, Kaori Sakai, Mu Yishao and Shangguan Yanqiu, from China and Japan formed an art group beyond the war boundaries, named Xing'an West Art Group. They tried to go against over Western Art through landscape drawings as well as build a new form of art. As the group was located in the so-called 'Manchukuo', it announced to promote the development of culture and art in East Asia represented by 'Manchukuo.'
All of them had special backgrounds and experiences. Jin, the initiator of the group, had been born in Xingjing county, Liangning Province, in 1904. He had graduated from Agriculture department in Tokyo University and joined the Communist Youth League in Japan, after coming back to China in 1935, he was actually an Agent of the Far East Intelligence Agency of the Communist. His cousin was the mayor of Xingjing and could provide possible convenience for the art group.
Jing's wife Kaori Sakai worked for the Manchukuo News Agency as a photographer, and many of her works were published. Her father Koji Sakai was major general of 'Manchukuo', colonel of No.7 left-behind Division. For Kaori, it might be the arts that made her fall in love with Jin. However, did her or her family know the real identity of Jin? The answer would be kept as mystery with time passing by.
Mu had been born in Tonghua in Andong, 1906, he did double majors in Dyeing & Weaving Design and Horticulture and served as deputy chief of tobacco administration section, in charge of cultivating opium, as it were, a 'loyal Chinese traitor' for Manchukuo.
Shangguan Yanqiu was Jing's fellow and born in 1907. He went to Japan for university as well and followed Uchida Royhei to join the 'Black Dragon' gang organisation. When he returned to China in 1934, he became Koji Sakai 's secretary and Chinese translator. In 1936, he joined the Far East Intelligence Agency of the Communist and became Jin Yu Song's comrade. Later then, he was transferred to Manchuria Railway Investigation Department for translation in 1938, where he shouldered the translation of information documents.
The complexities of their identities and relationships added a sense of legendary to this sketch group, which could even make up a spy story. But the truth was hardly known and submerged by history. Had anything thrilling happened? There wasn't any reliable reference for Jin and Sakai's love story. The art community might be an amusement during the trouble times, or an excuse of intelligence activities for them. Which part of the group was the real? Maybe they themselves didn't know at all.
The dusty-like group disappeared with only one exhibition record. They claimed to create a new form of art belongs to East Asia. However, for viewers who cared about this, the works they left didn't achieve the goal. In any case, it is worth and valuable that the exhibition archive was brought to light. In the troublous age, all details were skipped over, while behind that, there were a lot of gorgeous lives and detailed stories.
On December 30, 1940, Xing'an West Art Sketch Group held their third exhibition in the exhibition hall of new Jingbaoshan department store. The exhibited works were selected from traveling creations in Daxinganling area. As recorded, the trip was from June to December in 1940, the four served as the accompanying staffs of the police call-setting Inspectorate of police station, and entered the Xing'an East and Mongolia border areas. The medium of this exhibition included oil on canvas, plant monotype, photography, poetry, etc.
The exhibition will be represented on July 22, 2017 in A Thousand Plateaus Art Space in Chengdu. Why can we have this chance? Because the group, its stories and literature as well as their works are all made up by the contemporary artist Liu Chuanhong. In the fall of 2015, he drove along the border between China and Mongolia with prepared canvas, sleeping bags, kitchwares and collected historical materials on the way. The car was his studio, and his inspiration also came from the road trip.
Although we know the truth, we still expect to see the group. We are looking forward to access to their time, feel the fragments that were forgotten by history. Real time always creates stories more dramatic than imagination, but always buries them afterwards. This exhibition by Liu Chuanghong is called Xing'an West Art Group, a story that does not exist anymore, in which the artist attempts to fight against the time and history with imagination.
Press release courtesy A Thousand Plateaus Art Space.
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