’The Virtues of Water’ Gallery Opening Reception Event Recap


Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching is an essential document from ancient Chinese culture, one of the most translated texts in history, and the focus of the Confucius Institute U.S. Center’s gallery exhibition, ‘The Virtues of Water.’ On Thursday, April 25, 2019, members of the community gathered to celebrate the public unveiling of this display at the Center’s offices in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC.

The evening began with a performance by guqin player Bojie Li, who is a third-generation student of the Min School of Guqin. Growing up in a musical family, Li developed a special relationship with his instrument and has used it to help others understand his culture. “Flowing Water,” the piece he performed at the reception, was the song selected by China to be included on The Voyager’s 1977 Golden Record Project. This project was a collection of sounds and images which were projected into space with the hopes of giving any intelligent alien life an understanding of the culture and atmosphere of planet Earth and the humans who inhabit it.

Following Li’s performance, the exhibit’s three featured artists—Abby Yang, Robert B. Bernhards, and Ting Yang—each took a few minutes to speak with the audience about their displayed work, what brought them to Chinese art and the Tao Te Ching, and how they see all of these things connecting them with nature and the rest of humanity.

Abby Yang, who produced the calligraphy for the exhibit alongside a few watercolors, spoke of water’s unifying force, and how this is taught in Lao Tzu’s text. Reminding the crowd that, as humans are made of mostly water, all humans hold more in common than they do in difference. Abby explained to those gathered at the event that competition does not help equal parts: “my left arm does not fight with my right arm. They are the same, they exist together.”

Following Abby’s reflection on the Tao Te Ching and its influence on her work, the crowd heard from Robert Bernhards, who has been studying Chinese painting for 28 years and currently teaches a class at The Confucius Institute at George Mason University. He reflected on his memory of the fateful day he found his first copy of the Tao Te Ching at a garage sale: “As I was reading [the Tao Te Ching], I noticed there were some illustrations—one painting of bamboo and calligraphy was so beautiful.” After seeing the painting in the book, Robert decided to take a class to learn more about working with Chinese ink. His first encounter taught him that this would be the medium he would stick with throughout his life as an artist.

Ting Yang was the last of the three artists to speak, offering a reflection on how her life as changed as she has aged and become more comfortable with her background as a Chinese woman from a small mountain area in Yunnan province. She explained that her practice with painting and study of Chinese art brought her closer to her heritage, even after she had moved around the world in an attempt to separate herself from it all. “After travelling the world, I became proud of my province. Although we were poor, we were rich in nature.” Ting explained that she “painted what [she] saw,” in her pieces for this collection. The mushrooms, clouds, and lake portrayed in her Chinese ink and watercolor works are representative of her childhood memories, which she now recalls with great fondness.

After the presentations and performances came to an end, guests at the reception were invited to participate in a collective art piece designed by Abby Yang and her husband, Eugene. Each member of the audience was encouraged to use paints and glitter to decorate small wooden snowflakes, which were mounted on a larger wooden snowflake on the gallery wall. Each piece came together to display the Chinese character for water “水” (shui). This work was built to represent the way in which water molecules come together to form bodies of water, which are strong and beautiful and cover the earth—the same way that humans do.