Art // The Art of Kung Fu: Show Recap
The starting point: During my research, I became increasingly enamored with the idea of a chronological art show that gave viewers a sense of how kung fu actually evolved.
It would include the women of kung fu that are so frequently marginalized, a couple wu xia/swordsman stories, and the religious elements (Buddhism and Taoism) that worked as catalysts to turn kung fu into a philosophy and not simply a physical discipline. It was a tall order for fifteen pages of text (only 7,500 words total), but it was an experiment worth tackling.
The artists: Coming from the worlds of fine art, illustration, comic books, and street art, the artists were selected individually for each myth or legend. In order to stay true to the spirit of kung fu manuals, the tools were only black ink and white paper. None of the artists had seen the other myths, or any of the other pieces prior to the night of the show.
The aspirations: Before the show, I had a number of nervous conversations with Kevin Staniec over at ISM. We’d been speculating for weeks about how much people would actually read in the gallery. After some back and forth, we decided we’d be happy if folks read the entire myth or legend belonging to their favorite piece.
The result: The opening went beyond our expectations. Not only did we get a larger crowd than anticipated, but those that came actually lined up and read every myth, snaking around the gallery in a long line!
We’d always wanted people to feel as though they were visiting a picture book, but we were never certain what level of success that concept would have. I think it’s safe to say now that narrative art shows like this can work, and we’ve adjusted our thinking to imagine larger, more immersive concepts for the future. Perhaps the largest vindication to date is that “The Art of Kung Fu: Myths and Legends” ended up being the best-selling ISM show in some time.
The music: I was asked on multiple occasions which Pandora channel we were streaming. When I said it was a playlist I put together, few seemed to believe me, so here it is. If some of you didn’t have the opportunity to attend, hopefully this will help give you a sense of the atmosphere.
1. “Year Of The Dragon” by Wyclef Jean from The Carnival
A necessary beginning, considering the fact that this show was all about this year of the Chinese Zodiac.
2. “Protect Ya Neck” by Wu-Tang Clan, from Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
There’s an unspoken rule about kung fu entertainment in America: if music is involved, a minimum of two Wu Tang tracks must be played and/or RZA must be consulted. Since the latter was impossible, I had to settle for the former. Wu score: 1.
3. “Ya Playin’ Yaself” by Jeru the Damaja, from Wrath of the Math
An instant inclusion for its classic kung fu music video.
4. “Don’t Sweat The Technique” by Eric B. & Rakim, from Don’t Sweat The Technique
5. “Can I Kick It?” by A Tribe Called Quest, from People’s Instinctive Travels And Paths Of Rhythm
You can’t imagine my surprise when, after agonizing over which De La track to select for the show earlier in the day, I turned around on opening night and saw Posdnous walk in the door…
7. “Surviving the Times” by Nas, from Nas: Greatest Hits
8. “Bring The Pain” by Method Man, from Def Jam 25: DJ Bring That Back
Is there a more appropriate song for a kung fu show than this one from Cheese Wagstaff? The answer is no. Wu score: 1.1.
9. “Ready or Not” by The Fugees, from The Score
10. “My Favorite Mutiny” by The Coup, from Pick a Bigger Weapon
11. “Do You Want More?!!!??!” by The Roots, from Do You Want More?!!!??!
12. “Survival Of The Fittest” by Mobb Deep, from Life Of The Infamous: The Best Of Mobb Deep
13. “Wailin’” by Outkast, from ATLiens
14. “Do It Now” by Mos Def (featuring Busta Rhymes), from Black On Both Sides
15. “Work” by Gang Starr, from Moment Of Truth
16. “Get By” by Talib Kweli, from Quality
17. “Where I’m From” by The Game, from The Documentary
18. “Run (Remix)” by Ghostface Killah (featuring Jadakiss, Little Wayne, Raekown, and Freeway), from GhostDeini The Great
Fractional points for Ghost and Raekwon. Wu score: 1.3.
19. “Caught In the Hustle” by Immortal Technique, from Revolutionary Vol. 1
20. “Two Words” by Kanye West (featuring Mos Def, Freeway, & The Harlem Boys Choir), from The College Dropout
21. “Made You Look” by Nas, from Greatest Hits
22. “C.R.E.A.M.” by Wu-Tang Clan, from Wu: The Story Of The Wu-Tang Clan
Wu score: 2.3! Success.
23. “Pay Them Back” by Brother Ali, from Shadows On the Sun
25. “As We Enter (Tinie Tempah Remix)” by Nas and Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, from Distant Relatives
26. “A Little Bit of Shhh (Smallstars Remix By Adrock)” by Lady Sovereign, from Vertically Challenged
28. “Pick It Up Drop It (Genghis Tron Remix)” by Restiform Bodies, an Unreleased Single
29. “None Shall Pass” by Aesop Rock, from None Shall Pass (Bonus Track Version)
30. “Death 9000 (Prof & P.O.S. Broadcasting Version)” by Mux Mool, from Viking Funeral (EP)
Also: if you haven’t read any of the myths or legends yet, be sure to check out “The Bull Dance” (#1), “The Battle of Zhuolu Plains” (#4), “A Daughter’s Duty” (#7), “The Snake and the Hawk” (#9), “The Bandit-King And His Fiancé” (#12), and “The Gangsters at the Docks” (#14).