Cupcakes and a Ton of Tea

We visited the United Technologies exhibition at Lismore Castle’s art gallery.  I’m thinking now about Ai Weiwei’s Ton of Tea. The blurb says it was ‘made from compressed black tea and sits proudly on base of a shipping crate’. It’s a comment on how cubism is a Western art style and the colonial associations with tea. It looks good but stand close to it and, even better, you can smell the gorgeous scent of tea leaf. I associate it with my grandmother and her lacquered tin of loose leaves. A time before tea bags. For me the scent outlasted the concept. And my associations are beyond the artist’s concept, I imagine, maybe wrongly, and despite being Western belong to a previously colonised world. No doubt that wasn’t what he was aiming at.

I’m thinking about it because on Wednesday I’m hoping to hear chinese poet Yang Lian read at the John Hewitt Summer School (Armagh) and I’ve been doing some background reading. One dialogue on his website particularly looks at the discomfort of translation where.. there.. is… a… disparity of power between the languages. This has to be the most difficult kind of thing to express. Maybe more a perceived disparity of power, even that is much too simplistic.

I’d done one of those strange Facebook quizzes and apparently I’m a Langston Hughes type of poet,  apparently, so I took the time to read some of his poems, some interviews. Again language as a political proposition takes centre stage – sometimes ahead of the poem.  The poet ‘is turned into a piece of material evidence’  if I understand that quote from the Yang Lian / Adonis discussion correctly.  I’ve always had great admiration for poets who continue to write solidly, clearly, through the worst regimes where people are required to distance themselves from their own truth, disappear even, to support the system. And there is no way to put that that doesn’t sound patronising or trite.

Still when I hear Yang Lian read – I’m hoping it’s the scent that will linger, will carry across from his world which I don’t know, into mine which he doesn’t know.

After visiting the exhibition we went to a lovely cafe in the middle of Lismore and I bought re-usable cupcake cases and the following blog – cupcakes – is much more useful than this one. I envy it’s straightforwardness of purpose.

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