Cross Currents, paintings by Wen Jun at the Moreland Civic Centre would be almost entirely irrelevant were it not for the Chinese government currently throwing their weight around with attempts to censor and sabotage the Melbourne Film Festival. And the local debate in Moreland usefulness of having sister cities. Moreland has three sister cities: Xianyang, in China, Viggiano, in Italy and Sparta, in Greece. Moreland does have a large Italian and Greek immigrant population but the connections with China are far more tenuous.
This is the 20th anniversary of contact between Moreland and Xianyang that was established by Wen Jun, Geoff Hogg and the then Mayor of Brunswick (now part of Moreland City). During this time Geoff Hogg has become an expert in public art and cultural exchanges. In 2006 he became the first Australian to be appointed an Honorary Professor of Art at Xianyang Normal University in China.
Moreland and Xianyang City Councils jointly sponsored the exhibition. At the opening of the exhibition there were of course the usual speeches, first by Robert Dorning, the Convenor of the Moreland and Xianyang Promotion Committee. The mayor, Cr Lambros Tapinos noted in his speech that Council has 2 of Wen Jun’s paintings in the council collections. In such low level diplomacy there is always talk about the benefits of such cultural exchanges without any evidence. It is an old line and probably no longer true in a time when there are many more routes for cultural exchange than just diplomacy. Wen Jun made a speech in Chinese, with a translation delivered by his daughter in English, about his art. About 40 people, including the artist, mayor, and city councilors, attended the opening of the exhibition. There was choice of a Long Vern 2008 Shiraz and Loire 2007 Sauvignon Blanc to drink and plenty of delicious finger food, typical of Moreland Council functions.
The best of Wen Jun’s paintings are reproductions of Tang Dynasty tomb frescos. His watercolor paintings are the same size as the original frescos. Xianyang was the imperial capital of the Tang Dynasty and the location for the famous Terra-cotta warriors. In Wen Jun’s paintings of the frescos every crack, lacuna, faded colors and other blemishes on the frescos are carefully reproduced. There are extensive didactic panels in Chinese and English. His earlier work, described as ‘traditional’ or ‘spring festival’ paintings are chocolate box sentimental images.
What is the public to conclude from this display of petty diplomacy hiding behind art and culture? That is all about putting on a good face and political junkets. That art and tourisms celebrating China’s imperial past are favored by China but documentaries critical of China’s imperial present are not. Is there any evidence that after 20 years that such diplomacy there has been any positive benefit for the ratepayers of either city? There is currently a local debate about the expense of Moreland City Council’s gift of a statue of King Leonidas to another sister city Sparta. I think that the debate should be about which local sculptor will receive the commission.