Meaning Patterns’s Updates

Gypsy China Chairs

A note about the cover picture we have chosen for this book. For the reasons we explained earlier in this part,§0.0 we have decided not to put any pictures in the book. Instead, we have created a slideshow of images and other media objects and put them on the web at But publishers like to have pictures on the cover. So, we have chosen a photograph of an image that we made, Gypsy China Chairs (2010).

The image comes with a story, indicative of the notion of transposition, a term which we use as an alternative to Derrida’s notions of “trace” or “supplement”§0.4d or Bodganov’s concept of “substitution.”§0.2.9a Some tormented transpositions come with this image, symptomatic of the kinds of things that we want to be able to parse in our grammar of multimodality, something we want to be able to use to make sense of such things. Several of the transpositions have already arisen in our awkward language. An “image” – but why couldn’t we say “painting”? And “we made” – why couldn’t we name the artist straight off, as the little labels beside the paintings or photographs in galleries do with such (apparent) directness?

To trace a genealogy of transpositions, Mary was born in Greece in that old house in the mountains we mentioned earlier when we said “the mountains loomed large.”§0 We go there often, to stay in the house to experience the silver-green shimmering of the leaves of the olive trees in the wind. (This is just the beginning of a chain of existential associations, but we digress too far?)

Gypsies come to the village every now and then, their trucks with loud speakers on the roof, and a haunting chant of whatever they have for sale. It sounds a bit like the Imam’s call to prayer, if this were a Muslim village (but it is not). Theirs is just a commercial call to partake in the practicalities of saleable things: watermelons or potatoes, floor mats or plastic chairs. The plastic chairs are reliably five euros each, reliably white, reliably made in China, reliably ubiquitous in Greece. And unexpectedly – if you care to notice, or at least we think so – they are elegant.

From Bill and Mary’s experience, sitting in a café one day, Bill takes a photo. We are moved to notice something of the elegance, something of the ubiquity, something of Greece-ness of this ordinary and not-so-very Greek thing. Also, we’ve been working to evaluate a Roma education project run by our dear colleagues at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.121

“Gypsy” has slightly pejorative connotations, so the word we used in our report is “Roma,” which means “man” in the language of the same name. (But do we digress?) Thinking about the way the people in the village view the people who sell them these chairs, “Gypsy” seems a word closer to our experience, though the root of the word “Γύφτος” is “Egyptian”, from where this “race,”§AS1.4.3c this people, was supposed in the middle ages to have come (incorrectly, as it happens). (We digress?)

Anyway, we thought (or at least we think now, because our thinking at that time has been overwritten by the way we’ve told the story since) just then about our in-law Nicola who is working in Hong Kong. She’s been getting oil paintings copied at a village in southern China that does such things (… we don’t know its name). So we think, or to be more honest to ourselves about this, we now think we thought, to send the photo to the artists in this village, through a Chinese friend of Nicola’s, to have it painted as an oil painting. This would be an ironical honoring of this absolutely mundane and absolutely ubiquitous thing.

The painting gets done, then it arrives in a roll in the mail. Now we find some rococo moldings from a demolished building in a second-hand store where we live in Champaign, Illinois, and make a very fancy but also somewhat ramshackle frame, for what? To laugh at framing, to exaggerate the irony, to direct attention to the many symbolisms of Gypsy, China, chairs. And of course, a nice recursion, the oil painting is made in China. A return to a source of meaning and making.

Now we’re writing this book and thinking about the idea of transposition, and more pragmatically, wondering what we might ask the publisher to put on the cover. So Bill emails Nicola, and says, could you ask Vivienne (the Anglicized version of her Chinese name that we, for convenience, use) more about that painting? For the intervening years, the painter had been unknown to us and unnamed by us. Is that because we thought this thing, this idea, was ours? Now, shamefully perhaps, we care to find out some other truths.

Nicola emails Vivienne, Vivienne writes back, Nicola forwards the email to Bill, in English except for the footer: “從我的 iPhone 傳送.”

Dear Nicola,

Here is the information of the painter: Mr. He Wei Jiang, born in 1966, focused on creative arts painting after the graduation from Guangzhou College of Art at the age of 30.

Mr. He was deeply influenced by his family culture since childhood. He was once the student of the renowned Chinese traditional painting teacher, Mr. Liao Ji Xiang and Mr. Wu Kang in ceramic art painting before graduation from college. His paintings was awarded in different Chinese arts painting contests in the last 20 years.

Besides he established the trading business in 2008 targeted on the markets in Europe and N. America; he extended the hand-crafted painting expertise in interior design area to 5 star hotels in Macau, China and Middle East – walls and roof top, and residential. He started his workshop in Shenzhen, China in 2011 to extend/share his experience and technique with his colleagues and students.

Besides, I also email you the website of the village where the painter was:

Hope this helps!



Thank you, Vivienne, for tracking back six years to find this out. She also sends us a photo of Mr. He, very much the artist. Thank you too, Mr. He (belatedly, shamefully).

If you go to the website of Mr. He’s village, you’ll find out about the awards the artists have won and the paintings they have made. In a culture that disparages some kinds of copying as “fake,” you might see some van Goghs and Michaelangelos here. But in these paintings, there’s no dissembling that might warrant such an accusation. And here were we, thinking that the painting was a mere copy of the photo, which of course it was, but also it wasn’t because that’s why we had it painted.

Oh, and the name of the place is Da Fen,

a village under the jurisdiction of Buji Neighborhood Committee of Longgang District, Shenzhen City. It is with 4 square kilometers and over 300 aboriginal people. In 1989, Mr. Huang Jiang, a Hong Kong artist came to Da Fen. He rented the residential buildings and hired arts students and artists to do the creation, imitation, collection and export of the oil paintings, thus, bringing the special industry of oil paintings to Da Fen Village and “Da Fen Oil Paintings” have become the well-known cultural brand at home and abroad.123

More than well known, an estimated 60 percent of the world’s oil paintings are created in Dafen.124

Who is this revered Mr. Huang Jiang, this artist’s artist? And what of the aboriginality of his artists and their well-known cultural brand? Where does this fit in the long history of human inequality?

Enough! There is a lot more we could find out, and a lot more that might be said, but where does analysis end and digression start? What, for the sake of analysis, can we make of the transpositions in our Gypsy China Chairs?

Reference: There can be no neatly congruent meaning of “Gypsy,” and its symptomatic slippages, its failures as reference, are as important as what the word straightforwardly seems to mean.125 And much more.

Agency: Bill, Mary, Nicola, Vivienne, Mr. He, and Mr. Huang Jiang are all at work in their visioning, but who speaks in the image? Who and what are the first, second, and third persons? And much more.

Structure: The frames of old paintings are one of the delights of galleries, and what of our frame, at once formal and scrappy? What is the picture doing as it claims its edges? And much more.

Context: Greece? China? USA? The 2010 of the painting? The 2016 of the email? And much more.

Interest: Greece-ness, at one level, the ironies of globalization at another, the refractions of global inequality, and a thousand other possible interests.

These are questions that open the painting to its parsing. And the answers? It’s complicated.

  • Cope, Bill and Mary Kalantzis, 2020, Making Sense: Reference, Agency and Structure in a Grammar of Multimodal Meaning, Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 64-68 [§ markers are cross-references to other sections in this book and the companion volume (AS); footnotes are in this book.]