June 10th, 2017
Lisa Batacchi extends her art research among traditions, rituality and slowness. In her narration time flows through events that come to us as remote echos telling of those populations between China and Mongolia, far from the frenetic concepts of globalization, where memories and customs are still relevant and history is trasmitted orally through songs and rituals such as embrodery. This is the world where the artist introduces us by exploring distant realities with a careful social and cultural analysis of those territories.
Yours is a work that has developed over time, to produce it you lived for a long period in different places between China and Mongolia, especially with the Miao tribe, a minority ethnicity, in a Province of Southwestern China. In this work, your purpose is to embrace and emphasize tradition criticizing our culture of globalization. Can you talk to me about it?
The research that I’m pursuing with my latest project, “The time of discretion”, was inspired by traditional textile techniques, and how some are no longer existing in Italy and in other countries.
From here the desire to seek specific areas of the world where certain traditions are still alive in favor of an ecstatic form of temporary disappearance from today’s frenetic rhythms. Likewise, living and learning with “discretion” certain textile craft techniques with a community enables to discover some of their cultural, philosophical, religious, historical and social elements.
The first chapter of “The time of discretion” began taking shape by traveling the first time in China, Inner Mongolia and Mongolia between July and September 2016, invited to create a work for the 4th edition of Land Art Mongolia Biennale by Valentina Gioia Levy.
What moved me to go back for the second time from early March to early May 2017 in Qiandongnan County in Guizhou Province, a Chinese region so far away from our culture, habits and comfort, was to deepen my encounter with the Miao tribe, especially with an ethnic group
called Hmong, and in particular with my friends, now as sisters, Lala, Napoon, Chun Yan. From them I have learned, despite the impossibility of communicating verbally, (rather with gestures, smiles, singing, desire and curiosity of an intercultural exchange), to practice the hot wax
technique on fabric and the Indigo’s natural coloring. In the villages you can still breathe a humanity full of spirituality, sociality, cooperation between families, in work as in daily life, and a strong will to resist to the “chinesisation” that advances.
In fact, most Hmong do not speak Chinese, but what struck me most is that they do not have their own written literature. They carry their traditions orally with songs or rather with rituals such as embroidery, shamanic practice, and an ancestral relationship with the Indigo plant growing on their mountains. True and respectable Hmongs can not fail to adopt certain customs as these are the only way to communicate with their ancestors who will be able to guarantee them, once they die, to return to their place of origin, the boreal polar star.
Today Guizhou is an independent Prefecture of the Miao and Dong ethnicities, and is one of the poorest provinces in China still largely away from a rapid expanding glo- balization in almost all the rest of the country. To try not to disperse their millennial culture, I had the pleasure to meet and start collaborating with two Chinese NGOs dealing with projects to protect and disseminate Miao culture, one in Shanghai and the other in Guiyang, and I hope to develop some ideas with them soon.
Now that I have returned to Italy, I am continuing my wax designs on raw silk fabric but I still have a lot to say and do from here. I will soon begin to work on my first short movie, which will document the last 5 months of travel, and on an art book publication.
Can you talk about the importance of spirituality in your work?
There have been some key moments of my life in the past that have formed me and accompanied me to become the woman I am today developing a personal relationship with components in my work with a strong spiritual view. As brief flashes, memories of the 8-year intensive studies of disciplines such as Tai Ji Quan, Pa Kua, Qi Gong, and Chinese Traditional Medicine, slide in front of me; a trip to 2004 in a non-westernized yet Cambodia, authentic of wonderful smiles; to then hear a recall, like an epiphany, that led me to leave my work as a designer for Vivienne Westwood in London, to find myself a few years later graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence with a thesis on Taoism and contemporary art.
I have quickly mentioned these four moments as I feel that this long-term project “The time of discretion” starts from my past and from many facets gathers together the energy and spirituality that are in me.
All this brings me today to find the same timeless dimension that I have lived in the past, of love and listening to the flow of life. From the songs and rituals of the places that I have recently visited, guided by more intuitive insights, I have composed drawings which I enlarged and traced with the hot wax technique on rough silk fabrics, or realized sketches for site specific installation-performance in places such as Dariganga, south-east of the Gobi Desert, or thought of future places to explore.
Coming across the Hmong tribe and the Mongolian people has finally led me to make many of my inner visions, passions and spiritual researches reality. Was it a fortune? More than I go on in my investigations more I understand that nothing here was just a fortuity.
Last year for “Catching the axis. Between sky and earth” the 4th edition of Land Art Mongolia Biennale, I sought a precise shade of blue that could represent my abstract idea of an imaginary axis between sky and earth. I have been searching for a long time the possibility of finding a tribe in Mongolia that worked on natural Indigo color batik but I received rather informations from a friend that my idea could be realized rather in southern China with the Miao ethnic group, in particular with the Hmong people.
I found out only later that the origin of the Hmong goes far back in time, perhaps up to the last Ice Age and that from oral traditions, legends and funeral rituals, their native lands are thought to be areas of high latitude such as Siberia, the north of Mongolia and the northern corners of the Chinese territory. The scholars theorize that the Hmong have arrived in today’s China about 3000 BC. before the Han Chinese ethnicity. Through the centuries, Han’s wars and persecutions led the Hmongs to reside, after various migratory flows, in Guizhou as well as in other Southeast Asian nations.
I quickly mentioned this, because towards the end of my second trip, conversing with Xiao Mei Wang, journalist and founder of a Guiyang’s NGO, I closed a first important circle with an interesting turn of event!
Although, even if the coexistence has never been peaceful between the two ethnic groups, the Hmong in the past millennia have absorbed the Taoist culture from the Chinese Han.
And so, after Mao Zedong’s cultural revolution, China has completely lost its relationship with its ancient traditions and beliefs, and Taoist culture can today be sought again, lively as thousands of years ago, rather in distant regions as South China where all the Ethnicities not considered Han Chinese had migrated, as well as, less significantly, in Hong Kong and Taiwan since at Mao’s times they were British and Japanese colonies.
These are some of the many coincidences found during the months I spent in Asia to build the first chapter of “The time of discretion” where, starting from my personal spiritual relationship with Taoism, I was able to deepen historical, social, philosophical and anthropological roots, widening prospects and thoughts between countries, political boundaries and ideologies.
Rituals have a preponderant position in your artwork, as well as elements with a very ancient cultural heritage like I-Ching. Can you explain their meanings, how they intervened in the work and where they brought you?
I am used to consult the oracle of I-Ching for my self as also for friends or acquaintances if they ask me to. The confrontation with this ancient Chinese text started in 2003 and since then it became an occasional precious habit which helps me to relate events and to project ideas of possible changes into my daily life.
Before leaving a year ago for Inner Mongolia, China and Mongolia, having just a few clues to follow for my starting project “The Time of Discretion”, I asked the oracle advice. For the first time I could finally relate to ancient Chinese knowledge such as I-Ching to find out the future of our planet starting from the socio-political present condition of a big economic country such as the People’s Republic of China which is, on the other hand, loosing the bonds with its past and its identity!
The question to the Oracle was the following:
“Dear Oracle, will human beings, during this century, be able to decrease from this accelerating materialism freeing themselves from the chains of the capitalistic major vision of our time reconnecting with predestination of our life and of our planet?”
From the I-Ching’s response I saw some key elements that accompanied me and guided me on my journey, looking for coincidences with certain indications of this ancient Taoist text; and so I found myself assisting and practicing shamanic rituals, both of the Hmong and Mongolian populations, and I studied some local cults and ancient Tibe- tan Buddhist astrological representations in Inner Mongolia. As well I made an analysis of the many cultural changes that the Mongols, who are resident In Inner Mongolia, have had over the last 70 years of Chinese government over their nomadic culture. I then put together in a drawing the many connections found, which had correspon- dence with the response given me by the Chinese Oracle. From here I went on working to form the big stage-curtain used for the performance in Dariganga, South East of the Gobi Desert, for The Land Art Mongolia Biennial, 2016.
In my second recent trip, in March 2017, starting from the same question and response that I had had in 2016 from the Chinese Oracle, I created a work of 200 cm x 140 cm that represents in an abstract form the “dialogue” between me and I-Ching (Hexagram 40 and Hexagram 2) regards the future of our planet and the cosmic-cause-effect energies that gravitate around us. This last work has this way become a preface to the stage-curtain of the year before.
Can you talk to me about the big stage curtain that you produced with the Miao tribe, the meanings it contains, the allegories?
As I have already begun to explain in the previous question, before planning my itinerary, I consulted the I-Ching for guidance on my project “The time of discretion” and from the responses that I received I was guided by some suggestions derived from it.
I interpreteted the I-Ching answer as a difficult moment for the world today where one can not hope for great changes. We will have to wait for a liberating rain that will bring forth new seeds on earth that will sprout in the future (Esagram 40); And yet the world of our century will be able to rise again with another aura if humanity succeeds in progressing in society with a new equilibrium. To do this it suggests human beings to seek out the spiritual creative energy of a “horse”, that represents the egoic male impetus, balanced with the female devotional character of a “cow” and her spacial energy that can nourish our planet.
My goal was to create a curtain of 490 cm x 320 cm with at the center my astral imagined animal drawing of a male horse with a cow breasts.
In Asia, many political decisions were taken, making predictions about the future, by observing astrology. My cow-horse is therefore immersed between stars and constella- tions narrating, with its “spiritual” and “spatial” components, the course of our past, present and future history bringing a message of hope as well as of attention to danger. The stage-curtain, during the 4th edition of Land Art Mongolia Biennale, was mounted on a wooden structure and moved to specific areas of Dariganga, south-east of the Gobi Desert, particularly opening the scenery in front of the sacred mountain area of Altan Ovoo where one can pray to fulfill his/her own desires; and so during a procession the secret suggestions of the participants were released in the surrounding space.
Only recently, on my second trip, I was surprised to be contacted by Xiao Mei Wang, a journalist and researcher, who invited me in residency for few days at her NGO. I have talked to her about my work and, with great emotion, I have got proof from her of my many intuitions on the bond that the Hmong have with animistic beliefs that I could find with the same intensity and symbolism in Mongolia.
Xiao Mei finally made me discover an ancient Hmong textile representation called “the horse print” that is not figurative but abstract and leads to a strong bond not only with the Taoist philosophy but also with astrology significants. Infact the horse for the Hmong is the animal that reconnects the dead to their ancestors, as well as for the ancient Mongolian culture the mare is imagined as a heroine that runs to the limits of life and death on the boundary of the universe.
In Venice in the Garden of Palazzo Rossini at the Arts & Globalization Pavilion on 19 May you presented a performance curated by Valentina Gioia Levy entitled “The time of discretion. Vanishing acts # 05” which was followed by a talk. Do you want to talk to me about it?
The work behind this recent performance started from the desire to document ancient traditions, as well as to record forms of life and vitality in remote areas of the world that resist to a globalization that, while approaching, has not yet completely arrived.
This has led me to search for sounds, songs, and rituals that I have collected during my travels between China and Mongolia.
The idea of the performance is based on the use of simple Hmong and Mongolian elements (stool, basket, hat, yarn dyed with Indigo color, rice, milk, shamanic object) and five volunteers reinterpretating these rituals.
The actions of the performers are divided into nine moments where sounds and silences, actions, pauses, gestures emerge and where specific movements are studied for each one. The music has been assembled in 5 tracks and each of these, repeated in loop, has become a beautiful mantra: the song of a fruit and vegetable vendor in a village, followed by a Hmong woman singing to a friend; a Hmong Shiaman in a village performing a ritual of healing; percussion sounds of a Mongolian Shaman in the Gobi Desert; a Hmong women singing while drawing with hot wax on fabric. All portraits of an authentic ancestral spirituality.