China – Hidden Information

Every morning when I ride into work I cycle past a herb garden. The smell is so intense, it wakes up your senses and puts a little smile on my face. I AM living in Shanghai. I could also smell citrus really strongly this morning but I’m not sure where that came from. Smells can change from one street to the next in this city, and not always for the better…and it doesn’t really matter which part of town you are in either. I’m not sure that happens in England so much.

I arrived in the office a little early on Wednesday. It’s very peaceful at AIVA. Lisa had bought me breakfast…two different types of Chinese breakfast pancakes…one with egg and spring onion, the other which was more bread-like with sesame seeds. They tasted very good and filled me up until late afternoon. I thought I’d show you a little more of AIVA…so here is me on the AIVA website (near the bottom), which took me forever to find…almost completely hidden somehow. Jimmy (5th person down) used an image that was posted a while back here on my blog. I am OK with it as I like its anonymity and discreetness, the notion of hiding creativity somehow or that I’m an illusive character, but at the same time perhaps it needs to actually show my face. You can see my supervisor Joshua (Jiang Jiehong) 4th person down, and Laura Leng (3rd person down) who manages this place. A diverse, wonderfully interesting and dynamic team who each bring something different into the mix.

As I said, it took me a while to find this on the website though as it’s not on the English version. I’ll post images of the office soon too…and a few shots of the ‘Star Space’ (gallery/exhibition area) and studios just to give you an idea of my new temporary place of work.

Earlier last week, RJW received an email from a design contact he met when we were at the China-UK: Connections through Culture, British Council Design Curators Tour event at ‘Banmoo’ last week. She is the Brand Director for a “creative lifestyle boutique” called ‘Y-Town’, and invited Rich to the VIP launch, opening and private view of ‘Detour’, a touring exhibition of Moleskine notebooks that have been used and turned into creations by internationally recognized artists, architects, film directors, graphic designers, illustrators, and writers. The concept of this exhibition was “simply” fantastic and it had already been on display in locations including Venice, Tokyo, Istanbul, Berlin, Paris, New York, London…I think my brother went to the London one when it was on display in 2006. It was tailored for each location…adapting to the artists, curators, film-makers, in other words the creatives, that were in that area. So RJW and I attended on Wednesday evening, and made our way to Bund18, Shanghai’s Historical Preservation Building full of luxury brands and restaurants, after a day in the office at AIVA. The only problem was that you couldn’t really cycle on any of the roads in The Bund area…or central Shanghai (I nearly said Beijing then)…so it was a little difficult to negotiate. We eventually got close enough to park our bikes in a designated bike park area and walk up The Bund to the gallery. When we arrived, you were handed one white glove to use, to protect the precious pages and books. As you placed your hand through the perspex holes in the cabinets you were literally feeding your curiosity, and it made you want to see more and more. The exhibition space was so crowded. I won’t call is a gallery as we were surrounded by high-end jewellery and luggage shops as you can see in the images below.

From these photos, it actually looks as though the tassle screens worked to some degree…as though it keeps the works intimate and separate from whatever interactions are happening outside of that contained space.  I suppose they do on an average day with a handful of visitors, however, at the private view it was so busy, all the tassles got caught and knotted on people and objects. I had my handbag and laptop bag with me…glass of water in my left hand…white glove on the right…so you can imagine how difficult it got at stages. I think RJW had to untangle me a few time. I felt a little foolish as this really was quite an elite event. The tassled spaces do work though, as it initiates and constructs a temporary screen through which you can divide yourself away from the periphery and surroundings…however not the noise.

Some works contain extensive dialogues, notes and lists…others act as story boards or illustrative journeys…others are turned into literal pieces of conceptual art. I really do urge you to look at them all on their website here as they have made it as interactive as possible, although all the ones on the website weren’t all in the show RJW and I saw.  As I said it was location specific, so this exhibition was full of Chinese creatives amongst a handful of Westerners. You can leaf through the pages online…like we did in the flesh here. The videos were also projected onto the ceiling of the two main spaces. Note the red wine and white glove irony here…

Some of the books you spent five minutes with, others half and hour. The book above by Sigur Ros was something special, along with Joel Chu’s illustrations and huge fold out of a sea story, and Tord Boontje’s intricately cut concertina papercut book. The exhibition really presented something for everyone’s creative palette and taste and that was the most amazing thing….to get this very personal and intimate insight into some of the most famous, contemporary and creative international minds. I have a lot more revelations about this project that have arisen from an art filled weekend, and more so about the people international team of people behind it. I’ll speak about that once I get to Friday, and also in the next blog post about a very VIP weekend.

I can’t remember what time we left the event…we went for a quick look over the Hangpu river at the Oriental Pearl Tower (the Shanghai TV tower) lit up amongst the other architectural and corporate giants, and for a walk back down The Bund to go and collect our bikes. Cities always look pretty at night by the waterside. For some reason it made me think of Liverpool…I suppose some of the buildings on The Bund were rather like the Royal Liver Building  that is situated on the Liverpool Docks. I’ve always had a soft spot for Liverpool as my Grandparents used to live very local to that city.

Onto Thursday and another day in the AIVA office, filled with presentation preparations and blogging. I don’t think anything really profound happened that day until the early evening, and I wouldn’t even say then that it was profound. RJW and I cycled along the pavement to the Minsheng Art Museum for the exhibition opening ’21g’ by Sun Xun.

Again, there were no cycle lanes or paths through the centre of the city, which is beginning to become a little frustrating. Anyway…’21g’ was a fascinatingly, captivating black and white animation and film ,which referenced time and memory in relation to world history, showing a tuned in awareness of the social and political history of China, as well as its relationship to the human soul. The film features a lawless magician, recognisable in his top hat, who houses lies, deceit, and illusion through betrayal. The magician describes himself as…

“Today, I am a magician, wearing a black high top hat and tuxedo, a professional liar! I make a living by deceiving. people are willing to buy lies from me! Read here are like mental drugs. When an actual promise is broken once and again, lies can always make it up and turn everything to be confusing yet magnificent. People are obsessed with beautiful illusions…”

The title and weight of ’21g’ was in an experiment by the American physician Duncan MacDougall in 1907 identified as the “weight of the soul.” Find below some film stills of the drawings.

We also saw the paintings and work of Qin Qi, that to be honest I wasn’t that fond of in terms of content as I’m not sure what the artist was trying to achieve, if anything. I’m not questioning his true capabilities as a painter though, he had pure skill. However, I did like this small painting tucked away in a rear corner of the main gallery. It’s funny what catches your eye. It looked like a meat version of a traditional Victoria sponge. I’d have that on the wall on my bedroom.

After this late night creative engagement, we went back to the restaurant we went to when we were last in Shanghai, and at Minsheng, where we ordered dumplings by pointing at someone else’s food. I’d like to say we’ve come a long way in the realms of food ordering by now, but we, ummmmmmm, haven’t really. So through pointing, again, we managed dumplings, salted cucumber and tofu.

Tasty! We also managed to buy more DVDs on the way home…we have so many now you could call us Blockbusters. Seriously. I’m trying not to be brief about what’s happened over the last week, but I have so much to write about here, I think I’ve had to skim over a few details.

Friday, and already the end of another week here in China. Before I and you know it, it will be Christmas and I’ll be in Dubai wondering what quite happened over the past few months, but at the same time having the time of my life seeing one of my oldest and best friends, Jodie Cummings who is a Gallery Manager out there. I wish she lived closer to me…we are good at keeping each other in the loop though. So Friday was the beginning of a very, very busy few days…I’m still recovering from the chaos now. Still trying to keep my eyes open as I sit at my office desk. It began with a Skype chat with Editor of ‘Art Radar Asia’, Kate Nicholson, as regards me jumping back on board with them in a writer/researcher capacity. I’d had a few months out as China and PhD took over, but now seemed good in terms of timing to start back with them…to start reviewing, writing and submitting. We spoke just after 11am and she had a lot to fill me in on. I could now submit images with captions for a new events area on the website which sounded perfect as I needed to be able to quickly email and submit information. She also said interns could upload content for me if I was struggling for time, which helps even more. I’ll definitely be using their support with much gratitude.

Next came teaching and presenting the Fine Art Introductory session to my new 16 students…I had a PowerPoint presentation and handouts…flying through it all within 40 minutes…a little quicker than I thought. By the way, I’m accidentally making an Asian pose here…i’m not making it to the students! I must have been saying “2” at some stage.

The students then presented me with their PDF’s in order to explain and talk through their last communication-based project. They all had to make an airport welcome sign…and that sign was for me and of my name for when I arrived in Shanghai a week and a half ago. Apparently, they wanted to come and meet me at the airport with them, but they had to be stopped. It was all to do with graphics, communication and message-making and it was very interesting to see how they had, in groups, interpreted it so differently, picking up on key themes outlined within my website and blog, and ultimately my personality. Although this did scare me at times…how people who don’t know me can pick out my distinct qualities. So here they are below…

And yes, they do call me Ms. Rachel. After this discussion, which I believe went OK although a little was “lost in translation”, Lisa Juen and I took the students to see the ‘Detour’ exhibition of Moleskine notebooks that we saw on Wednesday as I thought it might be of inspiration to them when putting together and making their books during project weeks one and two at the beginning of November. RJW joined us en route…we took the subway to the gallery…

…and walked in amongst the busy shoppers to ‘Bund18’. That was my second visit to the venue and exhibition that week and by the end of the weekend I had gone there 4 times…I’ll tell you why in the next blog post as this one is getting rather long. I don’t want to be visiting the Bund again any time soon. After the Skype conversation in the morning, I went to the main reception to see whether there was a press pack available as I wanted to post some images on ‘Art Asia Radar’. I was told the Curator and PR chap were in the venue, just to left of one of the display areas, so I went over and introduced myself. Networking whilst teaching…why not…let’s combine all my job roles into one! I met Raffaella Guidobono, Curator of the exhibition, and Giovanni Pesce, PR and events Manager for Moleskine, and we had a very productive chat about press coverage, Moleskine workshops and their time in China. Earlier in the week, Philip Tinari had invited me to the LEAP magazine/Moleskine VIP party on Sunday evening, so I said I’d see them again there, and we could have longer chats as RJW and I needed to head off to what we thought was the VIP opening of the 8th Shanghai Biennale. Raffaella and Giovanni were two lovely people and I’m glad RJW and I got to meet them, for many, many reasons. We got to hang out with them a whole lot more over the coming days. Back to my students, who I believe all enjoyed the exhibition. I’m hoping they all took photographs of their favourite books as I have a Moleskine notebook workshop coming up and they might come in useful. The specifics of the workshop I will discuss in the next post like a lot of other things…I’ve still got to write about the rest of Friday!

RJW and I left ‘Bund18’ just after 4pm thinking the VIP reception at the 8th Shanghai Biennale finished at 5pm. We walked as fast as we could, again in amongst the tourists being offered fake bags and watches at every tenth pace. When we did arrive at the Shanghai Art Museum, I phoned Li Ning, my contact for the Biennale and a Curator at the museum who informed me that I had got the wrong day…it was on Saturday, not Friday. Friday was the press launch. Hmpf. That’s all I could think. I keep on getting the odd dates and times wrong which worries me. Anyway, RJW and I took some time out on a park bench by the museum. Whilst I ate two warm plain Activia yoghurts, I saw people coming and going through the rear entrance doors so I thought I’d have a go at going in and seeing what was happening. Being foreign and having issues with language often pays off…with a little mis-communication I had gained entry to the very peaceful press launch, and boy was I pleased. The camera had run out of battery at the ‘Detour’ exhibition, so RJW and I had to use our iPhones. I’ll speak more specifically about the artists in the next blog post about what happened at the weekend, but as ever with  Biennales and Biennials, there were highs and lows. One high, and rather privileged experience, was seeing the performance by ‘Verdensteatret’ of their piece ‘And all the questionmarks started to sing’, an electro-mechanical installations (2010). It was a synchronised, choreographed installation, musical performance with an overwhelming audio soundtrack. Completely engaging in every capacity as you questioned how the performers interacted with the objects and mechanics so finitely. This room was so full during the press preview. Everyone wanted to see a piece of it. The silence from the audience in relation to the sounds of the installation and performance created this intense atmosphere, almost chilling. You can’t really grasp it from these photographs below…the artists’ website shows it better, as well as the photos RJW took on Saturday.

RJW and I stayed at the press preview until about 7pm, then wandered back to AIVA to collect our bikes, stopping at (of all places and yes you UK-ers will laugh) Marks & Spencers food hall to indulge in some English necessities, which for me was tinned soups. We had to refuel quickly when we got back to the apartment, so I power-napped and got ready super quick so RJW and I could go and have a night of live reggae…dub step…drum ‘n’ bass…by ‘Uprooted Sunshine’ (for their 5th Anniversary Party), ‘Selector Twice’ and the infamous Clive Chin, an old boy in the reggae scene (he looks a lot older than his Wikipedia photo!). I seem to find reggae for RJW in every city we are in. The gig was at a place called ‘The Shelter’ downtown, about a 20 minute ride.

It was literally like an underground bomb shelter that got incredibly sweaty and smokey inside. I skanked all night like I was 16 again in ‘The Sugarmill’ (it used to be called The Stage) in Hanley where I grew up as a teenager. There were a handful of idiots in there too, like a guy who was tapping everyone on the head with this inflatable tube thing…after about the tenth time he got the stare…after the twentieth a step towards him and the “no” finger movement from side to side. A little bit of frontin’ going on. He stopped after that. Another guy from Preston  of all places said to me “Are you one of those people who stands next to and falls asleep right next to the speakers all night?”…”ummmmm, no” I replied, “I’m standing close to the musicians to appreciate them”. He says “they’re not musicians, they’re just DJ’s” and I say “you try to do it then if you make it out to be that easy”. He left me alone after that too. I do well don’t I?

Clive Chin played some seriously old reggae vinyl from about 1am onwards. It was something special, slow jammin’ with RJW to some tunes…”My girl lollipop…”…”Monkey man…”…I think we left around 4am…though I didn’t really have a clue. On the cycle home, a kitten ran underneath my bike between the wheels and survived, and I saw a cream-furred ferret scuttle across the street. Surprise happenings in a surprising city. Bedtime came around at 5am, marking the end of day one of three of a very busy weekend. Onto Saturday…onto the next blog post. See you there with a lot of visuals…you ready?


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