For most of the time at Witte Rook, artist Donglai Meng (born in Dalian, China) was free. Or should I call her Marta Meng, her Western name? Or maybe I should introduce her to you as Marta Polo. There are two more possibilities. I could call her Marta Polo and her inner clay. Or I could be even more complete: Marta Polo and her red Hairy-Legs creatures army, made from air-dry clay, who are collecting information. Maybe you spotted them in Breda.
Anyways, For most of the time at Witte Rook Marta was free and her studio was quiet. What she saw were some branches outside the window. And on sunny days mottled shadows on the wall. Was it too quiet? “This kind of environment made me relax,” She says. “My research is about the mental state of today’s people, and of course, I am also the subject of my observation.”
Did Marta feel the need to research when everything was so quiet? “The external environment affects me, so in a quiet place I feel more able to concentrate. When I could really ignore the unimportant things and focus all my attention on the exploration of my inner world, I feel that nothing is better than this.”
“During my working period at Witte Rook I used air-dry clay to shape my research and ideas, which is really convenient. I like convenient materials. Compared to the clay, those oil paintings I made caused me some trouble. I studied oil painting during my undergraduate, but there was a time when I disliked, or was afraid to make oil paintings. I threw them away, started again and repeated this many times, also here. Oil painting has gradually become a material that made me nervous. Although, it has to be said, the children I met in the workshop helped me overcome the difficulties this time. In their opinion, painting should be free, so I imitated them and felt not bad.”
For the ‘red clay project’, Marta got the inspiration from Marco Polo. “Actually, no one knows if Marco Polo has really physically been to eastern Asia or not, for me the truth is not relevant, but his book The travels of Marco Polo indeed represents the first idea western people had of a far mysterious world. In order to realize this status of fantasy, I constructed a new world view where there are some Hairy-Legs creatures living together with us.”
Marta explains that she is an agent of the Hairy-Legs organization and came to Breda to collect information about local Hairy-Legs. “They can be human beings, animals, plants, they are everywhere.” Did she find Hairy-Legs living in Breda? ”One or more beautiful, thick, hairy legs. Hairy-Legs have different forms and meanings in different contexts. During the residency in Japan, it combined with local culture, they became Hairy-Legs gods and had their own Hairy-Legs shrines. But in the context of Breda, it represents a state of entering a moment of fantasy: when you believe that you are a Hair-Legs creature, you will see other Hair-Legs creatures. This means that as you begin to imagine new things about everyday life, you will find the hidden interests in it.”
“I like the peaceful atmosphere of Breda, which is also the main tone of this series. However, I sometimes also worry about whether it will be a bit boring to repeat the same day by day. There is a Hairy-Legs organization in Europe that was created by Hairy-Legs people, and they also live like ordinary people, or say maybe they are all the ordinary people around us.”
Kind of split
“I regard Hairy-Legs as a product, a bridge to connect to my subconscious. It is a symbol, an absurdity built on rationality. It’s a conflict that is difficult to coordinate eternally between inner and outer self. I was alone, so I got a chance to feel and explore my inner deeper, to really enter the state without disturbing. And I think that whatever I do, whether it is past, present or even future, is all about understanding my own or another human being’s inner world.”
“I sometimes feel a kind of split about my artist identity. When I wasn’t doing art I didn’t feel like I had anything to do with art, and when I was making an artwork I would understand what I wanted to express. I switch between these two states, but there is no connection between them, and this is uncomfortable.”
Thanks to Donglai’s metaphor, we now know about Marta Polo and red clay Hairy-Legs creatures. And not only that, we also know that there is red Hairy-Legs life in Breda. And actually more: we probably all carry that red inner clay.