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December 4, 2009

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Art from 3G Chinese kiwi

SHANGHAI artist-in-residence, New Zealander Kerry Ann Lee, looks Chinese, but she can't speak, read or write a word of it - a perplexing dichotomy for locals who expect her to chirp away in Mandarin or Shanghai dialect.

As the third-generation New Zealander puts it: "We share the same hardware but have different software."

Lee deals with this contradiction between appearance and culture through some of her art in her debut exhibition, at Island 6 art center at 50 Moganshan Road.

An enlarged photograph of two 1980s Chinese actresses peering through steel bars is in part an expression of Lee's relationship with China.

The women - one who is sporting the ultimate in '80s fashion, a bushy mullet - appear wholesome and are cuddled up to one another like sisters, but Lee puts her mark on the image, cutting Chinese characters out of the paper surface, on their faces and forms.

"Because I am detached from the language, I can play with the characters' forms, mirroring and rearranging them to make new meanings," says Lee.

So detached, that when it comes to ordering at a restaurant it is always a fellow expat who does the ordering, which floors the waiter, says Lee.

Lee's inspiration for this inside-out looking piece came from the demolition of shikumen (stone gated houses) next door to the art center.

Through the window frames of the half-destroyed shikumen, Lee saw remnants of people's lives - posters of movie stars and pop stars.

She says her work is also about sentimentality - a reminder how difficult it is to hold onto things in Shanghai.

"The city is changing so fast so we can't be sentimental," she says.

The young artist with a punk-chic edge also shows affection for domestic objects as seen in her wire sculptures, which also are on exhibit.

Lee, who comes from Wellington with a population of 180,000, says creating simple objects like a toothbrush and slippers had helped her settle into one of the largest cities in the world.

"I was overwhelmed by the city, hypnotized by the construction," she says.

Lee clearly has a sense of humour about her pieces and likes to be playful.

Stitched into the wire-sculpture undies are her KAL, her initials - poking fun at China's growing obsession with designer brands.

Also exhibiting at Island 6 are 22 Chinese and international artists, using all sorts of different media from sculpture and photography to electronics.

George Michell, director of nearby Studio Rouge, says he was impressed with the overall standard of the artists showing.

"You can look at each piece and find a rationale why it is here, you can also see that each of the artists represented here has potential," he says.

He adds it is refreshing to see new talent instead of the same institutionalized names that often float around in art circles.

More than 100 people attended last weekend's opening although the majority were Westerners, something Michell hopes to change.

"The focus here is fairly Eurocentric, but I want to change this and encourage more collaboration with Chinese artists," he says.

The Chinese art collector is traditionally drawn to big-name art works, but there is a growing trend among some of the more acute, younger buyers to invest in emerging artists, he observes.

Date: through December 22, 10am-7pm

Venue: 2/F, Bldg 6, Island 6, 50 Moganshan Rd

Tel: 6227-7856


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