The Fourth Day 2007
Place: Hu Mingfs Studio in Beijing
In 2007, I got a call from Hu Ming when I was visiting relatives in Beijing. Shefs already been painting in Beijing for ten months.

She told me that she rented a studio in Beijing and invited me to go over and have a look. The studio is located in an old building back from the 70s in the city center. 

Go along the narrow staircase, an old unit on the third floor is the one. There were ten large scaled (about a personfs height) paintings standing along the wall. Another new series of works. It was a scrolled oil painting, 14 meters long, 1.4 meters high. She added historical characters in <87 Immortals> from Song Dynasty. All the male immortals are disappeared, and a bunch of female passerby with cloths from different periods replaces their positions. From Qing Dynastyfs Manchu costume in the beginning to the bikini in the end, itfs a hundred year timespan. They are surrounded by line sketched female fairies, walking from the space-time of civilization alternation. The color tone is sunset melting gold, marble like evening clouds, fascinatingc

Hu: This painting is called < Relic of the New 87 Immortals-Following the Sun >. Itfs about the transformation of female cloths in the past centenary. Let me introduce to you from the beginning: at the beginning of these are the odalisques, imperial concubines and ordinary women back from Qing Dynasty;

They are the women from the 20s, large cuff, high collar, scissors hairstyle, Western hat;

These ladies are from Shanghai in the 30s, all kind of hetaera, Western maxiskirt, cheongsam with jacket outside;

These are the costume of female street beggars, student uniform of the May 4th and the attire of progressive youth whofs on their way to Yanfan;

This one, female soldier from the Liberation War era, and this is the female militia; the one with mask on is the female cadre down South, and also the Northern girl with mourning dress;

These are the female textile workers, female intelligentsia, female construction works and female salesperson;

Here comes to the 60s, female red guards from middle school, unisex Mao style cloths;

The mid-aged women in the market from 70s or 80s, flared trousers, afro hairstyle and portable cassette player;

These are the trendy new generation from the 90s to 2000, bikini and beanie.

Ling: I think rather than saying the depiction of women in various cloths indicates the costume change of a hundred years, the fashion change reflects the political transformation and changing times.

Hu: Ifm flattered. Ifm not that profound. I have no in depth study toward politics and history. My original intention was not to display womenfs liberation or historical revolution. My focus was on people, through the change of fashion to represent the transforming people. Look how gorgeous the cloths of the 87 immortals are. Women from every period have their own facial appearance, new meaning is created when they have been put togetherCand the contrast among aesthetics from diverse era is established. Do you know which one if my favorite? This one, the cadre down South. With a flushed face, she insists to wear the then fashionable mask, her cheongsam and menfs shoes both reveal her mastership.

Ling: Ha ha, how interesting.

Hu: The last one, which is couchant, wearing a pair of flowery underpants with red star on the forehead, is me.

There is always a sense of humor and tease in Hu Mingfs paintings.

The Fifth Day 2008
Place: Hu Mingfs Home in Kangaroo Valley
Hu Ming told me that she had created another batch of paintings. She invited me to the mountains and took a look of those new paintings. More than two hundred kilometers away from Sydney in the hillside into the wood, a grey house is located on the grassy slope.

There is a wooden cabin around fifty meters away from the house, and that is the studio that Bob has customized for Hu Ming. It has excellent lighting. Hu Ming loves to be left alone and painting in the mountains, no news, no newspaper, no one speaks English or Chinese, but only winds and birdsf twittering. The idea of time is faded here. She always continues to painting for one or two months without coming out of the mountains.

Hu Ming produced another series of female soldiers. As early as 2003 or even earlier, she started painting female soldiers. I especially love this series because it arouses my spiritual resonance, even though I have never had any military life experiences. But I have lived through that era, the era when our youth thrived, both soldiers and non-soldiers.

Lin: Did you hear that, your female soldier paintings have been labeled as Russian artworks online, they even condemned the Russians of spoofing and smearing Chinese female soldiers.

Hu: Of course I know that. In fact, for people who have lived through the 70s, they would know these are not painted by foreigners immediately when they see the paintings.

Ling: You are right, you can just tell the weight of army career in your life through your paintings.

Hu: Itfs way too important! Think about it, I joined the army when I was 15 and retired from there in the year of 35. I dedicate my juvenile period, youth and half of the middle age to the army, how can I forget.

Ling: I like the expressions of your female soldiers, very innocent and pure, that is the manner of dedicating youth and blood to the Party.

Hu: Naive, and real.

Ling: Exactly! This is the common feature of our young people from that era. I also like the way you depict the details very much. The peeling walls, cracks on doorframe, slogans with dripping ink, broken mirrors, naked light bulbs, the dried sweating shoes, menfs plastic sandals, these are all the symbols that mark our period, they take me back to the old times in a second.

Hu: Thatfs a foolish and pale era, with harsh and rough environment. Both the material and spiritual lives are extremely poor.

Ling: Well, the "paleness" is in sharp contrast with the beauty and aliveness of the female soldiers. What I want to know is, most of the female soldiers that you have painted are naked or half naked, but they are different from sexy big girls. Although the latter is naked, the entire image is dissociated outside reality, in the world that you have created. They have dressed up extremely sexy, naked, half naked and transparent military uniforms. I have this kind of feeling: these nude female soldiers are the subversion in the world of army men, they might be the reflection of your unconscious sexual repressionH     

Hu: I have never carefully thought about it in this way, I donft feel like I was sexually repressed. I started dating boys since 17, which was fun.

Ling: I thought dating was banned in the army? Tell me more about it!

Hu: Soldiers were not allowed to date, but cadres can. I was promoted before turning 18. My first boyfriend was a thoracic surgeon. The way we dated was just like a spy movie. We used specific gestures to pass on the time and place of our next date. During the dating, he was always out of the hospital door first, I followed him a bit later because a commander was always on duty. Once, he was out first, I took a big broom on my shoulder to pretend. I walked out unhurriedly. We were walking along the seaside with the broom on my shoulder all the time. Itfs really funny to think about it now. Dating boys was the most interesting thing in that boring era

All in all, during my adolescence, "Libido" was released healthily.

There are also some paintings that recorded my military life, such as <Forgot to Wear Underpants Again>. We often had readiness exercise or emergent assembly at night. I had the habit of taking off the underpants and changing into the slouchy unisex one that the army sent out when I was sleeping. When emergent assembly call was on, I jumped off the bed and could not find the underpants, so I rushed out by wearing outside army pants directly and without underpants.

And also that one of injection, that depicts the basic skills of training nurses. In order to be accurate of the injecting position, we used gentian violet to mark a cross on the buttocks. Finding a point at the one-third of the upper buttocks, practiced on each other. I was feared on pain, so only practiced on pillows.

The old times can never come back, I can only go back to the army in my dreams. Over the years, I still dreamed of being late at the emergent assembly, sometime I forgot the quotation book even I had the underpants on, and sometime I just could not find my troop during the march; or, I found out I was the only one wearing vintage uniform, when my comrades were in new uniforms. I also dreamed of the public bathhouse, I could even smell the steam and the soap of Lighthouse brand in the dream.

Dreams become eternal when they fall on the canvas.

Ling: Army is the masculine world, everything about the place makes women forgot their own gender, and lost their feminine consciousness. This kind of "collectively unconscious" gender distortion has also been revealed in your paintings.

Hu: In the army, it is considered as praise if any female soldier has been regarded as "tomboy" by the commanders. I have often been praised as "tomboy", which made me feeling very proud. I thought it was not too far away to join the party every time when I heard this.

The Sixth Day 2008
Place: Hu Mingfs Home in Kangaroo Valley
I stayed in the mountain at night and went to Hu Mingfs studio on the second day. She was painting a large scaled painting of transparent army uniform. Bright red background, grass green military uniform. Underneath the transparent military uniform are the strong and fit waist and the rounded buttocks, which are indistinctly visible.

Ling: In the female soldier series, "transparent military uniform series" is a very distinct one. It has significantly gone beyond reality, Ifm afraid itfs not only the celebration of the beauty of human body.

Hu: Well, I can never understand politics. In the common logic, I joined the army since I was 15, I should be politically matured in this "revolutionary melting pot". But the organization was testing me all the time because they thought I was politically immature. In fact, I do love the party very much, but I donft know why I cannot join the party.

Here is a joke. During the political examination of my entrance test to Tianjin Academy of Fine Art in 1979, they asked when the "Great Strike of February 7, 1923" happened. I did not remember at all, suddenly I remembered the dialogue of Granny Li in "The Red Lantern": "In the year 23 of the Republic of China, the Beijing-Hankou Railway workers established a general union in Zhengzhouc." I also had no ideas of how to convert between the Republic and AD, so I answered: "Year 23 of the Republic of China." The last question was what the superiority of socialism is, which worth 30 marks! I completely donft know how to answer, however, I suddenly remembered the song <Socialism is Good>, so I just wrote down the lyrics of this song and handed in my examination paper as the very first.

I didnft pass the political examination in the end. The school went to the army and investigated me. The elder commander of the Political Department said: "This emuddlef comrade has bad memories. But the organization can guarantee shefs competent and politically reliable." 

Ling: Thatfs marvelous. There are many people saying you have bad memories, but I donft think so. You have excellent memories, itfs your brain that filters and excludes the uselessness for paintings outside the memories.

Hu: You said right, politics is the first to be excluded. In my opinion, it narrows the coverage of any artworks when political element is added, which also shorten the vitality of the artworks. I start creating from my own direct experience, using painting to express my personal feelings. It would be too narrow to interpret my paintings only from political viewpoint.

Ling: I actually would like to hear your interpretation of the transparent military uniform.

Hu: That kind of thing does not exist. I purposely create it. Just imagine the absolute beauty of the young bodies underneath the transparent military uniform! Maybe I have addiction to uniforms. I used to kept several sets of uniforms back from the 70s, but my mother gave them to the victims, only left few military caps of all kinds: with brim, without brim, big brim ones and cotton-padded ones. I can paint uniforms from that period even with my eyes are shut.

Ling: The transparent uniform that you painted is the reflection of you-rebellion.

Hu: I have always been a rebellious child, until I went abroad, my rebellious nature was able to be gradually revealed. My transparent uniforms subvert myself first, then subvert the tradition and the public visual habit.

The body of the female soldier is nearly finished. After looking at it for a while, Hu Ming said: "Do you think there is something missing? There should be a gun in the hands." She pulled out the picture of guns from a pile of data, "if Ifm going to paint a gun, then the hand needs to be repainted, and also have to do some changes to the arm." After she has done the changes to the arm, she quickly painted a AK-47. "Ifm so familiar with this gun." She looked at it with few steps back, "well, the composition of this painting is stable now, isnft it?" I laughed: "It is a fortune that Ifm the one seeing you like this, if itfs other people, they must add extra sexual fantasy onto this gun."

We both laughed out loud.

Frog raise, the wood became invisible at one time, and we placed ourselves in the white mist. Another while, mountain breeze started bursting and it brought the rain. "Itfs going to be raining." Hu Ming said.

The Seventh Day 2008
Place: Kangaroo Valley
It was pouring outside. I should be back in the city center, but I had to stay in the mountain at that moment. The rain was scary in the mountains, everything disappeared in a distance, and you could not see anyone there. I was a bit nervous: "The rain is terrible." But Hu Ming was kind of relaxed: "The rain in the mountain is like this. The rain is Godfs tears, the wind is Godfs laughs and the lightening is God opened up his eyes to look at you." I asked: "Are you scared?" Most of the time, shefs staying on her own in the mountain. Hu Ming answered: "Not at all! I especially love raining days. Everything disappears, only left very limited space- the painting and me. I can fully enjoy the status of isolation after excluding the entire visual disturbance. This is my gift from God.

The rain stopped in the evening. We went back to the kitchen with a torch. Hu Ming opened up a bottle of wine, said: "come on, letfs have something to drink." I said: "I donft do alcohols." "Then you are missing a great pleasure in life. Tipsy feeling is the best, painting becomes easy and relaxed." I said; "Yes, drinking and painting, thatfs the momentum of female hero."

Hu Mingfs ancestors were from the Hun (Xiongnu) tribes. Huyaner is one of the four major ancient Hun surnames. Huns ruled the northern central plains during Han Dynasty, which was banished later, split into South and North branches. Northern Huns moved westward from Mobei. Southern Huns then moved into the central plains, changed their surname from Huyaner to Huyan, and part of the clan simplified it into "Hu". Hu Mingfs family was derived from the latter. These descendants eventually settled in Liaocheng, Guan County, in Shandong province. Up to the present, there are still more than a dozen of Hu families living in her home village.

Ling: Ordinarily, your painting should be more masculine according to your character. However, feminine absolutely dominates your paintings from your "Big Girl Series", "Female Soldier Series" to "Transparent Military Uniform Series", the very few male character in your paintings are just props. Why do you exclusively paint women?

Hu: Because Ifm familiar to that. I joined the army when I was 15, my whole military life was spent in a female surrounded environment. We did everything together, just like a big family. There was no secret among us. I could grasp all their moods, and any emotional changes of theirs; I could even catch their manners without open my eyes. But it will be totally different with men.

Ling: Can we consider your painting as the female art of the female artist?

Hu: In fact, it is a discrimination to single out the term such as "female artist" and "female art". This kind of concept is based on the viewpoint from a patriarchal society. Why donft we say "male artist", "male art"? Both men and women are the same in creative thinking. The special and extra attention to female art has always had the pathetic feeling. I also dislike the idea of International Womenfs Day. It is actually a declaration of "women are weak". When I was little, my mother used to have half day off work, but she had to do the housework for the next half of the day. What a "laboring" day!

Ling: These make you sound like a feministc

Hu: Although I am a woman, I am a human being in the first place. I put myself on the same level as men. In fact, there is no difference between men and women despite the genital system. I did the same work as men in the army, even works that male soldier could not do, I did better than them.

I like the beauties under my aesthetic frame, the beauty of women should not be just for men, but also for women. Women should be strong and confident. I like womenfs expression and the change of their muscles when they are laboring.

Hu Ming had already drunk half a bottle at this point.


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