Bringing the world of contemporary China to us, this is the third of four substantial artistic endeavors presented during the 2006-07 season at Duke University. The first two events were the opening of the art exhibition “Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China”(October 26, 2006) and Ciompi Quartet violinist Hsiao-mei Ku’s recital on October 22, “Remembering and Honoring Ma Si-Cong (1912-1987): A Contemporary Chinese composer.” Saturday evening’s event featured choreographer and dancer Yin Mei in a program titled “Ink/Paper/Body/ Scent” in the Nasher Museum of Art. 

Reflecting a world often veiled in secrecy and censorship, Yin Mei’s compelling work “Ink/Paper/Body/Scent” speaks to us through of our senses as she creates a self-portrait through the ancient art of calligraphy.  In a multi-media work, the artist designed the dance in collaboration with Chris Salter and Dean Moss (sound design) and Rich Kless (production design). Yin Mei’s slow, sensuous dance moves, her nuanced facial expressions, the electronic music and “larger-than-life” projected images (sometimes in real-time, others recorded) work together in creating a surreal calligraphic dance.  

The work has three discernable sections, each unfolding seamlessly, slowly, that pull us into a dream world where memory flows in a rich tapestry of story and tradition. Her artistic intent, quoted in the program notes, was to create “a performance so stripped to essentials as to step beyond performance into the realm of performance art, and beyond performance art into the realm of contemplation.” We, the audience, intimately placed, take part in a spiritual event in a sacred space where the remembered and the unknown awaken us. What also drew me into the work was the subtle use of ancient and modern Chinese archetypes.

Electronically generated natural and man-made insects, gongs, phonemes, speech, foot steps and car doors underscored her story as well as the stories of the “collective unconscious.”  And yet her solitary figure cannot help but evoke the image of the “Unknown Rebel” and the disastrous effects of ink splashes on the picture of Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square. As part of the museum’s display of work by contemporary Chinese artists, the presentation by choreographer and dancer Yin Mei displaces prominence of the government’s white paper, and we, the Western observers, are privileged to be witnesses.
You can view the photography/video exhibit at the Nasher Museum of Art through February 18, 2007, and “Voices from the Margins: Contemporary Chinese Documentary Film” can be viewed beginning in January. See .