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In her first solo art exhibition, former singer Ai Jing shows a love for the Earth and humanity. Chen Nan finds out more.
More than 20 years ago, singer-songwriter Ai Jing rose to fame with the song, My 1997. It expresses her love for a man living in Hong Kong, and how she eagerly awaits the year 1997 and the return of Hong Kong to China, so she can visit him.
The former singer-songwriter Ai Jing makes her comeback in a contemporary art exhibition at the National Museum of China. [Photos by Zou Hong / China Daily]
Soon after, she signed a contract with Sony Music Entertainment of Japan, which helped Ai's career and led to the release of albums in the United States such as Made In China and concerts all over Asia.
Ai, however, became disenchanted with success and traveled to Europe for further inspiration.
"Songwriting requires passion and meditation on one's life, but I couldn't feel that any more. I needed to slow down and figure a way out to express myself," Ai says.
The 42-year-old has been studying since 1999 to become a visual artist, with the artist Zhang Xiaogang. Now, after two years of preparation, she is holding her first solo exhibition, I Love Ai Jing, at the National Museum of China in Beijing, from Nov 19 to Dec 9.
With nearly 100 artworks, ranging from installations to oil paintings, Ai presents a decade of work in the 2,000-square-meter exhibition hall.
"Making choices in a life journey is like opening unfamiliar doors. You don't know what lies behind," Ai says. "Believe in the good, do not be afraid of the unknown, there must be flowers behind every door."
"Love is an eternal theme and is everywhere in my visual artworks. When I searched for the source of love, I naturally thought of my mother and my hometown of Shenyang."
Winter in Ai's hometown means temperatures that dip to -30 C, so she used to wear woolen clothes made by her mom to keep her warm. For the exhibition, she invited her mother to do an artwork inspired by her knitting.
In the end 55 people, including her mother, friends and hometown relatives, helped with the artwork.
By knitting with yarn from old woolen garments they no longer wear, they made a tapestry of more than 2,400 pieces of fabric, with the word "Love" on it.
The tapestry installation is 6-meters wide and 16-meters long. Rich in color and titled My Mom and My Hometown, a statue of Ai's mother has been placed at the end of the work, diligently knitting.
"It was easy as almost every woman in the north knows how to knit. Whatever my daughter does, I support her," comments Ai's 63-year-old mother Bo Zhongying.
Ai was raised in the Tiexi district of Shenyang, Liaoning province, an area with a lot of heavy industry.
Her mother married her father at a machine tool factory. He was good at playing folk instruments such as the erhu.
"My music teacher was my father," she sings in her hit song My 1997.
In 1987, Ai Jing came to Beijing, joined Beijing Oriental Song and Dance Troupe. Two years later, she went to Guangzhou and released her breakout album.
"The song's success was overwhelming, just like giving me a pair of wings, enabling me to fly high," she recalls.
During her trip to Europe in 1995, she was fascinated by the artworks at the Louvre Museum and Pompidou Center in France.
Sitting on the steps outside the Pompidou Center, she felt as if she was in love. "It was the moment when I felt I'd arrived as an artist."
Zhang Xiaogang, who originally met Ai in 1998 in a Beijing bar, says US graffiti artist Keith Haring was a huge influence on her for a long time.
In the summer of 2009, Ai submitted a plan for an exhibition to portray New York. She went to ground zero of the World Trade Center, recording the sounds of construction, and the sounds of wind at the Empire State Building.
It led to her installation Sound of New York, which was displayed at the exhibition, The Drop-Urban Art Infill, in New York, 2009.
Richard Vine, senior editor of Art In America magazine, said he was impressed by the artist's progress and picked out her video installation work My Hometown for particular praise, saying Ai focuses on preserving her memories of family and home.
"I have a particular feeling about this installation because I came from a similar industrial hometown," Vine says. "Her vision is unique and the materials she employed are also interesting."
This is the first time for National Museum of China to present a contemporary artist's works. Chen Lusheng, deputy director of the museum, says Ai's artworks are rebellious yet show a love for Earth and humanity.
"As an artist, Ai is full of dreams and uses the simplest approach to express her ideas," says Chen, who is also the curator of the exhibition.
"Her artworks are all closely related to her experience. She has come a long way and her identity keeps changing."
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