In the Belly of the Dragon 

Stories of a changing China

The ambitious curators of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts have dropped a prism into one ungainly topic this fall, that U.S. frenemy of titanic proportions: China. Tourists, locals and second homeowners will have about three months to watch the many bright colors flash around town, from The Center gallery space in Ketchum to the newly partnered Liberty Theatre in Hailey.

Leading scholars will discuss Chinese art history and Beijing-style capitalism, kids will make traditional Chinese lanterns while their parents can choose from Mandarin cooking classes, a tour of site-specific installations or a documentary about renowned artist Ai Weiwei, who was detained for three months for criticizing the government and is still not allowed to travel outside the country.

Stories of a Changing China kicks off on Friday, Aug. 30, from 5-7 p.m. at The Center, where artist Ying Zhu will speak about her installation at 6 p.m.

"It is like living in a fog; everything is under a gentle haze. It seems to be within reach, but very difficult to get a firm grasp," Zhu said.

During the course of 12 weeks, the SVC will navigate through the mist. The Luo Brothers, Ren Sihong and Suo Tan make wry sculptures and collages using China's tradition of socialist-realist propaganda to comment on the invasion of Western brands into China's market. Chen Qiulin films and photographs consider the speed with which China's past is being erased. Yun-Fei Ji tackles this same issue in "Three Gorges Dam Migration," employing a scroll that uses traditional Chinese landscape painting techniques.

Hai Bo's photographs consider how the lives of those who lived through China's Cultural Revolution have changed, and Xu Bing creates work exploring the collision of East and West through an invented calligraphy style that reimagines the English language through Chinese-inspired characters. The exhibition also features work by Western artists reflecting on contemporary China.

Rachel Davis' experiences in China inspired a series of watercolor paintings that are meditations on the collision between cultural history and rapid development. Bovey Lee, born and raised in Hong Kong and based in the United States, uses the Chinese tradition of paper cutting (jianzhi) to comment on the human relationship to the natural environment.

On Wednesday, Sept. 18, at 6:30 p.m., writer Jeff Kelley delivers "Half Life of a Dream," a talk on the haunted and iconoclastic works of Chinese artists, from the New Wave of the late 1980s to the market boom on the mid-2000s. Kelley will also speak at the Sept. 16 screening of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.

Beijing Flickers, by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yuan, will show on Thursday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m. at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey, featuring worn-down characters against the dazzling lights of China's teeming capital.

China expert and author Orville Schell will give a talk on Thursday, Oct. 10, at 6:30 p.m. at the Church of the Big Wood, titled "How Did the Sick Man of Asia End Up As the Most Dynamic Economic Force in the World Today?" Schell is the director of the Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations and is a regular contributor on China for PBS, NBC and CBS.

On Thursday, Oct. 17, at 6:30 p.m., playwright David Henry Hwang will speak at the Church of the Big Wood, Ketchum. Hwang was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony Award-winner for his now-iconic play M. Butterfly.

Kim Frank Kirk will host "Lost and Found in Translation," a book discussion series at the Liberty Theatre on Wednesdays, Oct. 16--30, 5:30-7 p.m. Registration deadline is Wednesday, Oct 2. Kirk will explore the works of Hwang, Nobel laureate Mo Yan and rediscovered, celebrated pre-war author Eileen Chang.

There will also be seminars and classes for those interested in further exploring the themes of the show, led by Wharton School Professor Marshall Meyer.

Registration deadline is Friday, Sept. 6.

The shows are extensive and wide-ranging, and those interested in making the most of it should consider buying a Sun Valley Center Symposium for the Curious: China Today pass, on sale for $130 for members, $240 for nonmembers. The gallery shows at the center, including regular tours, are free.

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