The Sydney Morning Herald “The Fleeting Beauty of Art That is Made to Perish”


CHARWEI TSAI’S creations, unlike many in art, are not made to last. She writes Buddhist mantras and more on bonsai trees, lotus leaves, blocks of ice and even tofu, and it is not long before the elements take hold of her natural canvases and they die.

But that is part of the appeal for the Taiwanese artist, 29, who lives and works in New York, Paris and Taipei and recently enlisted Yoko Ono in a project.

“It’s a message that’s reflected from the Buddhist mantras about the impermanence of life and our environment,” Tsai said. Things around and within us were constantly changing.

As the Herald visited to find the artist painting ink numbers on a big block of ice under the midday sun and them smudging and losing form within seconds, the notion of transience that pervades her work was unmistakable. ”Uh oh, it’s cracked,” she said of the morphing ice as a bunch of bonsai trees stood nearby, some covered with Chinese script, and others soon to be.

Fortunately, as she continued in the courtyard of the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation in Paddington, where her Water, Earth and Air exhibition opens next Thursday, her fleeting ice craft was being filmed in far-longer-lasting video footage, as is common for her work.

The installations in Tsai’s Sydney debut include those bonsais, lotus leaves and rose petals adorned with Chinese text on different themes, a time-lapse video of tofu rotting and footage of her writing the Buddhist ”heart sutra” – which she learned as a child – on a mirror reflecting the sea at Bondi, as well as earth and sky elsewhere.

Tsai, a protege of the Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, has had a remarkable rise in just four years creating art. She has exhibited in New York, Athens and Tokyo and heads to Brisbane soon to show work at the sixth Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, opening December 5.

She later exhibits in Bogota, Mumbai and Paris.

She also puts out a biannual art journal, Lovely Daze, and recently had Ono contribute the cover image of her compilation album Walking On Thin Ice. The exchange was ”amazing”.

Tsai’s Buddhist approach looks to have helped her rise.

“I think things have been going well because I’m not so attached to the career part. I think the less attached you are with things, the smoother it goes.”

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