現在書寫這篇文章已經是2020年六月，我不確定現在的情勢是否是我跟孟書或是其他任何相關人士，在這些年裡所預期的。美國在川普四年執政之下，失去了許多長年把持的文化勢力，所代表的民主價值也黯淡無光。與此同時， 習近平在位六年，中國大陸降低對海外市場的依賴，形成自我的消費國度，強化了民族偉大復興的思維，鞏固海外政治權利 。
You Meng-shu, Mei Li Bai Bai
Dr. Christen Cornell
I first met You Meng-shu in 2006, while she was studying for her Doctorate at Sydney College of the Arts I was writing about transnational Chinese art and You Meng-shu was making it – in my home city, and with a keen critical eye on the politics of East and West. Our friendship was almost inevitable, driven by a mutual curiosity about the effects of globalisation on art, identity, and visions of possible futures.
Writing this now in June 2020, I’m not sure that this was a future that either one of us, or anyone for that matter, anticipated in those years. The USA has lost much of the cultural power it held for so long, no longer seductive or representative of democracy after four years of Donald Trump. Meanwhile, Mainland China has built its own consumer class (making it less reliant on overseas markets), and has consolidated a formidable sense of national pride and global political entitlement under six years of Xi Jinping.
Coronavirus has closed national borders, prohibiting travel and much global trade, and anti-Chinese sentiment in the USA and my home country of Australia have led to defensive attacks from China – the most recent being a directive from the Chinese Communist Party that Chinese students do not undertake overseas study in Australia.
The very conditions that brought You Meng-shu and me together in Sydney are no longer in place, and the conversations that seemed so cutting edge at the time – the positioning of Australia within Asia, the increasingly mobility of people, ideas and capital; and the problematic allure of America – all seem so symptomatic of a previous era. National borders have been reinstated. Curiosity in one another’s cultural traditions seems far from the general rhetoric of the times.
Exhibited in 2015, Mei Li Bai Bai seems to have anticipated something of this disintegration of the cultural and political logics that defined the 1990s and early 2000s. After more than a decade of travel, study, art production, and a wrestling with her own fascination with America, You Meng-shu returned to Taiwan via Mainland China, and used this exhibition to mark the end of her long-term relationship with critiques of American power and their influence on Asian aesthetics.
Rendered in lurid, Jeff Koons inspired colours, the sculptures of Mei Li Bai Bai suggest themselves as objects of desire. Here a Mickey Mouse, there a Superman. These are objects of fantasy from so many childhoods, and those that ignite an imaginary of better and more exciting worlds.