For over 40 years, ING Belgium has been a loyal partner of Europalia. This year, working closely with the Capital Museum of Beijing, ING Belgium is organising the exhibition The Mandarins Three Dreams, which will run from 22 October 2009 until 14 February 2010 at the ING Cultural Centre
in Place Royale/Koningsplein in Brussels.
For almost 1,500 years, China had an original political system based on the recruitment of its governors through a stringent selective examination. The content of these examinations was based on a vast body of text going back as far as Confucius. Candidates were judged on their knowledge and the quality of their style and calligraphy. In this climate, a scholarly culture developed, which was at once broader and more restricted than that of the men of power, the mandarins. Broader because there were a great number of men (and some women) who were educated. More restricted because to be a true scholar, they were obliged to go beyond academic knowledge in order to sit the examinations, and show a life-long artistic and literary commitment. This often meant stepping outside the strict framework of Confucianism to take an interest in Taoism and Buddhism, and sometimes to develop a non-conformist culture.
The Mandarins Three Dreams exhibition is made up of two parts, which each aim to show a different facet of this scholarly culture. The period chosen runs from the 16th to the 18th century, based around the critical period of the conquest of Ming China by the Manchus, in 1644.
First of all, the exhibition portrays the scholarly mandarin in their working environment. In turn, their learnings, the links binding them to their masters and ancestors, their work tools known as scholars treasures (paintbrushes, ink, paper, ...) are shown, along with their collections of books, bronze, porcelain and jade.
The second part is largely devoted to painting. It is based around the scholar with no official affiliation, on the artist, the writer and the poet. It is made up of three sections known as dreams since they often appear more like distant aspirations than a reflection of prosaic reality. These dreams are art, love and freedom, each displayed in its own emblematic space:
The dream in the bamboo grove refers to the origins of the scholarly vision of existence which took root during the first centuries of our era: an ideal of independence in terms of power, and friendship between peers enhanced by an intense artistic practice.
The dream under the shadowy plum blossoms illustrates the sentimental life of scholars. The 16th and 18th centuries witnessed the development of a culture of love between young people with the same literary and artistic leanings. These themes were widely illustrated in both theatrical and decorative arts.
The butterflys dream deals with the close and profound relationship which the Chinese have with nature. These sentiments take shape in the garden which is a domestic, tamed space, but also in the mountains where scholars could both find and lose themselves.
Visitors follow an itinerary which is both spatial and mental in its composition, leading to greater intimacy and freedom. At each stage of their route, they will find a vegetable chosen for its power to evoke notions: bamboo (resistance), plum tree (delicateness) and lotus (purity).