Musical Bouquet

By Himanshu Kumar Source:Global Times Published: 2014-4-28 18:48:02

Each mini-performance draws a crowd. Photo: Courtesy of UCCA

Seconds after I walked into the lobby of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) and saw the words "Sonic Blossom" on the wall, a woman in a long black dress approached me and asked me in Chinese: "May I sing you a song?" When I said yes, she led me to a chair. As she stood in front of me, piano music started playing from the museum speakers. She began to sing in a language I didn't understand. It was melodious and calming.

She was giving me a gift, based on the instructions of New York-based artist Lee Mingwei. Last Saturday marked the China debut of Lee's "Sonic Blossom" art piece in the vibrant 798 arts district. I had been selected at random to participate in a performance-installation in which singers serenade museum visitors with German lieder, or art songs, for three-and-a-half minutes each.

All of the singers are second-year students trained in opera at the China Conservatory of Music. They spent over a month learning the lieder, songs intended to be sung with piano accompaniment only.

"I am not a singer myself," said Lee, 50. "I did choose five songs for this performance, to be sung by six college students. The theme of the songs is about the moaning of the lost nature. 'Sonic Blossom' is a time-based performative social activity or social engagement."

Lee told Metropolitan that this concept came to him last year in March 2013 while his mother was in post-surgery recovery. "When I was growing up in Taiwan, my mom and dad used to play Franz Schubert's lieder. When she was going through a very painful experience, I just wanted to play something for her to make her feel better and the beauty of a song is so healing and so peaceful," he said.

UCCA Curator Philip Tinari told Metropolitan that after he saw this performance in South Korea last year, he invited Lee Mingwei to introduce it in the Chinese mainland.

Zuo Siyuan, 19, the student who sang to me, said that the experience of singing to strangers face-to-face feels very peaceful.

 "I sing these songs as a gift for visitors and pass on the message of hope and love," said Yin Yue, 20, another of the student singers. "When it comes to choosing people randomly, I choose according to fate. If I feel there is a connection between me and that person, then I approach him or her," he said.

Shi Jian, 24, a Beijinger who studies in France, said. "I feel like I'm sitting in a chapel listening to a gospel choir," he said.

"The presentation reminds me of an old Chinese saying, xi ji er qi, which means happy enough to cry," said Chen Ling, 22, who works as a media specialist at UCCA.

 "More people will visit during the May Day holiday," said Tinari. "Usually on May 1, we get around 10,000 visitors so we wanted to do it at this particular time and keep it free for all visitors. We want to give a gift to the people of Beijing."

"I think it's a play of fate and chance unfolding using space and time. It starts with two persons and it expands to all the people who choose to stop," said Lee.

Jason, another visitor, told Metropolitan that he would go and tell his friends that instead of spending Saturday afternoon in the karaoke bar they had better come out and watch this unique performance.

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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