Monday, April 10, 2006

Cultural visits

Between 1662 and 1795, China was ruled by its last dynasty -- the Qing. There were only three emperors during this time. The dynasty and its artefacts are subject of a current exhibition at the Royal Academy. Inspired by two posts (part 1 and part 2) by Giles G-B at New Tammany College (he visited twice) , we visited the exhibit the other weekend. The links give a magnificent illustrated tour of the exhibition, so I won't write more here about the wonderful scrolls and other artefacts. What stood out for me at the exhibition was the cultural adaptability of these emperors. Even though firm and controlling Buddhists, " The Qing were curious about foreign dress and practices and recorded them in several paintings. The Jesuits had gone to China to seek converts in the 16th and 17th centuries and remained important members of the Qing Court. They were technical advisors on scientific instruments and inspired Chinese court artists to emulate foreign traditions. This room displays some magnificent paintings by the famous Jesuit Court artist Lang Shining, known by his western name of Giuseppe Castiglione. Paintings by foreign artists are included alongside comparable examples by Chinese court artists. Clocks were welcome gifts and some quite extraordinary clocks made in Britain, France and Germany have only survived in China." (Quotes from the RA catalogue, which is the first link in this post.) Isn't that just fantastic? Certainly beats execution, either of the missionaries by the host culture, or vice versa, which is the more usual account one reads or sees. The scientific instruments, and the ceramics inspired by a fusion of East and West, are well worth a visit for themselves alone. More (later) weekend attendance at the Science Museum's Pixar exhibition. Pixar has been making animated movies (including shorts) for 20 years, and following various similar popularist shows, the Science Museum is now giving Pixar house-room. Although very much looked forward to, the exhibition was only given an "ok-ish" verdict by my daughters and friend. Perhaps predictably, I found it disappointing. The artwork was good, but the amount of information provided risible (forget about anything approaching "science"). I suppose Pixar doesn't want to give anything away about its methods, but the lack of any technical information at all (other than the initial post that "Toy Story was the first fully computer-generated full-length movie, but still used conventional film") rendered the experience little more than a marketing exercise, an impression added to by the fact that no leaflet was provided despite the steep admission charge. (You couldn't even pay extra to get a catalogue, unlike the Three Emperors.) The zoetrope was great fun for 5 mins, and the final "art-movie" of two- to three-dimensional transformations OK (although any longer than 11 minutes would have stretched the patience), but I felt the exhibition scored low for interest and zero for scientific content. We stuck at it for an hour, but only because there were loops of about 5 animated shorts that some of our party wanted to watch in their entirety. I am sure others have said this before me, but what is the Science Museum trying to achieve by this type of exhibition? It has recently had an exhibit (in the same space) for Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and previously featured the likes of Dr Who and Star Trek. Of these, I have only seen the first, but again, the scientific content was zero -- though the interest-level verdict by my companion was higher. The idea cannot be to educate (scientifically). I presume these exhibitions are money-spinners for the Science Museum, which is otherwise free entry. (Optional paid extras include an IMax cinema and flight simulator). However, the museum is never empty, and I wonder if the organisers might just re-think a tad -- especially as Pixar was not well-attended and Hitch-Hiker's barely attended at all, on the days we visited.