Tian Tian Xiang Shang – Blank Boy Canvas

This exhibit, on till May 21, is a must see in the lobby at Nelson Square – 808 Nelson St., just east of the Wall Centre. Tian Tian Xiang Shang is the collaborative creation of Hong Kong artist Danny Yung.

As a school boy in the 1950’s, Yung explains how Tian Tian Xiang Shang (TTXS) was written in such enormous letters over the entire front wall of every primary school in China that it had a threatening effect on schoolchildren. The proverb TTXS “everyday looking up” or “make progress every day” was meant to motivate children. However, Yung felt the school system was rigid and had the effect of stifling creativity. His reaction was to begin drawing little boy caricatures and conceptual comics. Over the next 33 years, they evolved into an amorphous, three-dimensional all white figure of a little boy with his head looking up and finger pointing skywards. He named this little boy, Tian Tian who became a platform to inspire. Outside in Nelson Square we see several 3 m versions of Tian Tian.

The Blank Boy Canvas aspect of the exhibit provides the blank white canvas of a 50 cm Tian Tian for selected artists “to freely express, create or alter the subject while exploring the theme of infinite possibilities while capturing the inquisitive and innocent nature of youth.” The 50 cm creations are by Vancouver, North American and Hong Kong artists. There is a group of 12 cm Tian Tian created by Vancouver, Japanese, and Hong Kong children. There are 1.6m Chinese Zodiac Tian Tian by Hong Kong artists. In the glass lobby window is a 9-frame comic by Danny Yung and Hong Kong artists.

The concept of the exhibition is to create a collaboration and dialogue between government, business and creative artists that will stimulate social change. In the creation of some of the 50 cm Tian Tian here are a few of the varying messages which can be found either on small 10 cm by 10 cm cards which are free for the taking or in a free booklet with all the pertinent information about the exhibit and the artists.

North American artist – Jessica Volpe names her Tian Tian: Henry Arthur. He is under water in a threatening situation.

“Submerged to his forehead in water, a pessimist sees sinking. But an optimist sees the moment before coming to the surface, spit from the sea like a cork. Which view will persist and decide is determined by what lies beneath the surface. This narrative sides firmly with optimism, candy-coated to the point of near-complete dismantlement of all possible threat. Lions and sharks look on, but the ability to look up is the essence of the optimist. And of Tian Tian.”

Vancouver artist – Lyse Lemieux has not named her Tian Tian but has transformed him into a girl.

“Standing tall, her eyes peering through a lensed mask, she points her strong pink finger upwards, determinedly. Her gender apparent and without apology, her grey hair is a symbol of the long and productive life that awaits her. This Tian Tian iteration will I hope continue to explore and expand the conversation around Tian Tian for children of all ages and gender.”

Hong Kong artist – Choi Kim Hung has also not named his Tian Tian. It is completely covered in long off white hair.

“This is the older Tian Tian. Not sure what he is looking for, or if he has got what he desires, all I know is he will not easily give up.”

Canadian artist – Emily Mae Rose names her Tian Tian: Nature/Nurture and decorates him in a forest and rainfall motif.

“I like thinking of the figure as an abstract canvas rather than an actual figure, and portraying on that the idea of childhood innocence. In doing so, I used a forest in a rainstorm as a metaphor for growth and potential as it exists in children, who require nurturing in the same way the forest requires rainfall. With proper care, they thrive.”

All the many Tian Tian figures are as varied as the creativity of the artists and inspirational in surprising ways.

I came across this quote from physicist Stephen Hawking who was recently speaking at Oxford University. It’s much in line with the concept of Tian Tian.

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”