China – “My life is a beach”

This is a phrase which appeared over lunch yesterday as it was pouring with rain outside in now a rather cooler Beijing. One of the artist duo Lutz and Guggisberg specifically Andres, was told by Monica from Raqs Media Collective that in his head he was living on a beach, forgetting about the weather…he continued and said “but there’s still a lot of up keep to be done to keep it clean”…as he sipped a beer, he was sipping beer on his metaphorical beach…it made us smile. This artist pair have been so fun to work with, hysterical at times, and have presented some really fantastic work, thoughts ideas and ways of thinking. Actually all of the artists RJW and I have worked with directly have been inspirational to work with and it’s been interesting to see how their personalities infiltrate their art and work. Friday morning began with an early start, cycling in light rain and a walk round of TAM to see how much was left to do…it was looking pretty final. We jumped straight in adjusting the lights for all of Noguchi Rika’s 25 photographic prints…and the air con was finally, FINALLY working. Um why couldn’t this be on a few days ago I ask?! We were melting the day before. We managed to get all the lights set to the frames…perfectly highlighting their beauty and innocent quiet truth that they present. After this, we helped Monica reorganise the placement of the objects in her installation ‘When the Scales Fall From Your Eyes’ with Jonathan Watkins, who had acquired a copy of the ‘Negotiations’ catalogue. Time for some book sniffing, and to be honest it didn’t smell that different from a new book in the UK, not that it really would…they commented on the fact that was the first thing I did. It’s almost a natural impulse when I get a new book now, or magazine.

Over lunch with everyone, I met the infamous bright red-haired curator Victoria Lu, who used to be based in LA but is now Creative Director of TAM. A very honest and open lady and a complete character (like many of these arts professionals I am coming across) she spoke of her Grandmother’s 17 children and the large family she was part of, and also how she is about to start a career as an actress as she is about to turn 60. I hope to speak to her about my research over the next day or so, lets hope it can happen as I’d love to just sit and chat to her for hours!

In the afternoon, we finalised the works on display with Rika and packed up the remaining photographs for storage in these perfectly sized cardboard boxes with yellow cotton bags inside to protect them. I loved this, but I would as it is attention to detail. It is very japanese and it made me think all galleries or framers should do this as it helps transportation that’s for sure. Following this, we went on to help Wit Pimkanchanapong from Soi Projects with his interactive project ‘Fruits’ which I have seen before at the A Foundation in Liverpool. I used to have a flatpack banana but I think it fell apart in transit when I was moving house last year. RJW and I sat with Wit at tables in the entrance to TAM Building 1 as they were setting up for the J. P. Morgan sponsors dinner. We were getting looks as to what we were doing…constructing flatpack cardboard fruit – oranges, pears, apples, starfruit, bananas and mangoes – which could then, in exhibition real-time, be exchanged for a real piece of fruit once made and added to the fruit stall. A brilliant concept which Wit has taken internationally and got a varying degree of responses largely due to cultural variances…such as attention to detail taking nearly three hours to complete in Japan…leaving fruit half made for others to finish in the UK…people taking them home and returning them completed in the morning in Sharjah, UAE. Out of the blue, we got handed invitations to the gallery and curators dinner at the Beijing Ritz-Carlton which we  attended on Friday evening…I wore a floor length black maxi dress with coloured toucan bird detailing…not that you really needed to know that…but there you go. I’ll let you know the details later on as I just want to show you a few shots from installation first. It was a very nice gesture after the work we’ve put in this week. Art world party time here we come, it’s always an experience and random incidents and chance happenings usually occur…and they did.

So this post is laced with images of what’s been happening – installation days and the celebratory opening party time…so enjoy!

Onto the opening event or private view for ‘Negotiations’ which started at 5.30pm on Friday. This was after a morning of fruit-making in front of this wonderful view… 

…and an afternoon nap with accidentally no alarm set which meant RJW and I woke up late…at 4.45pm…in our apartment…nowhere near ready….quick quick fast fast…I felt yukky that afternoon as tummy/renal status has been bad courtesy of Rachel eating anything she wants for some reason, when she knows and now definitely realises that she can’t eat certain things. Its made a little fearful of dinner time but RJW is a superstar making sure there’s somethings I can have. We eventually once ready hunted down a taxi and made our way to the Today Art Museum…saw all the familiar faces we had been working with all week and the best thing of all was seeing all the visitors, guests and some VIPs engaging with Wit’s fruit project…smiles all round…it was special, really special. RJW and I are going to keep tabs on the installation as it progresses to make sure it’s developing and sustaining itself…we are going to email Wit photos too. After a quick wander round the show and a drink or two we all met in the reception area were we were told cars were waiting to escort us to dinner at the Beijing Ritz-Carlton. It was at this stage that Jonathan Watkins informed me that he and the IKON gallery staff had and were reading my blog…at which stage I suddenly wondered what on earth I had been saying and writing. So hello IKON peeps and Diana, and Jonathan I hope you got back safely to the UK and your opening there goes well…thank you so, so much from one JW to another, and myself for all the opportunities, help and generosity you gave us during our stay out here. You have let us jump in and get involved from the minute we arrived and because of this we have made contacts and some new international friends for life.

So once Wit had finished up with fruit-making we headed for the cars, the VIP Subaru’s which took us to the Beijing Ritz-Carlton. The weird thing was there were photographers that took photos of you as you got into the cars, like paparazzi…um do they realise who I am? Or should I say who I’m not? It made me smile. I’m not anyone special or famous even if Monica has been comparing RJW and I to “Brangelina” all week, in a hybrid name kind of sense…we are one…although Monica did finally get our surnames and separate contact details over dinner. It was a completely random car journey, as with most things China, where the cars all drove in convoy with their hazard lights on.

You can just about see below the grandeur of the dinner at the Ritz-Carlton…it was a huge, plush affair…RJW and I sat with Andres and Anders, Monica and gallery staff and then, as every wanting to break with convention, squeezed in two extra people on our table.

The food was possibly the best I’ve had in Beijing so far…duck, scallop soup, red bean coconut soup, some sort of white fish…and so, so much more. I have a copy of the menu somewhere. Below is a picture of monkey brain mushrooms that tasted amazing but did look a like brains on a plate…I’m finding out that the food which often looks the worst, tastes the best.

As for this last photo…Monica had bought cigarettes that were called ‘Lazer Panda’, they look so sweet and innocent considering what they actually are. On the right that is Jonathan Watkin’s just before the introductory speeches. I actually in some sort of football game manner wanted to woop woop Jonathan Watkins after his speech but I didn’t as it wasn’t appropriate. They showed this video by Camera Man and Film Editor from the Today Art Museum, Zhang Shengbin…a documentary of the installation time. It was basically a short film of segments of moving image with image stills, I think virtually incorporating most of the artists, though I didn’t see Noguchi Rika or Shimabuku on there. I think it was edited quite last-minute, a few of the stills are shown below where RJW and I very briefly feature. I look massive on film, the camera adds like 10 pounds right? Zhang said he would burn a copy for me and I could get it next week. I’ll try to upload it at some stage but I can’t promise, it’s a slow upload process here and they don’t have Youtube! I also saw Wu Hung again and  it seems at this time we won’t have time to meet each other whilst he is in China, but it also might not be the right time…perhaps when I have researched and spoken to more people he should be one of the last people I speak to as I’ll have more to present.

Onto the after party, the artists drinks at a hotel near the Forbidden City, that’s all I know. As we got out of the taxi’s, one of Jonathan’s bags broke, leaving precious tinned moon cake to fall out all over the street. It was swiftly recovered by artists and his bags were distributed for carrying, as we then made our way up the stairs to the hotel’s roof terrace. Here’s the terrace and the views…

Drinks and lots of chatter later, RJW and I spoke too Simon Kirby, Director of Chambers Fine Art in Beijing, who I had met previously at a conference in London earlier in the year. He is a truly lovely genuine chap and RJW spoke to him about links to Birmingham and the Midlands, the very distinct West Midlands accent and how his siblings were sent to elocution lessons when he was younger, oh and the fact the creator of the English Dictionary came from Lichfield, Jonathan remembered that for us. We did eventually chat art and my research but sometimes I just don’t want to. It was a great conversation though. When discussing the basis of my research, he said artists here have a sense of their own cultural history, where everyone as a whole seems to have an amnesia of this. How can you understand something without delving into its history? He then reference the idea of the landscape of the mind and how everyone’s memories work to remember their own histories. He very kindly discussed in-depth and gave me a catalogue from his recent exhibition ‘River Flows East: Landscapes of the Imagination’ which is a beautiful piece of print. He inscribed it too but those words are for my eyes.

The TAM staff who had arranged return transport very kindly gave RJW and I a lift all the way back to our apartment when really they should have only gone to the hotel round the corner. I think we got home at 2am-ish, then RJW and I did some late night (UK early afternoon) in his case drunken skyping…we miss our friends, so just sending you some international loves. Speak to you all again soon and this time from Tianjin as we are heading there for a few days and for the Moon Festival to hang out with some very good friends.

1 Comment

  1. Great updates and lovely photos! You guys are having an absolute ball! What I really want to see though is a pic of you guys all dolled up for the dinner and the black maxi dress with the toucan detail 🙂 !! xxx

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