China – Interviews Intervene

I still have three weeks of Shanghai catch up to do before I’m square, including everything that happened back in Beijing and Hangzhou, this is all before I can start talking about all things Hong Kong let alone where I’m at now…so lets swiftly run though another working week in Shanghai…from the 8th November onwards. A week when interviews intervened and interrupted teaching to very positive outcomes..this post will be image and video heavy rather than text as the specifics have gone out of my head already. I am working from very messy notes in my Filofax diary.

Still revelling in the aftermath of the Ai Weiwei “party of politics” from the day before, I began teaching a week of bookbinding at AIVA. The students started the week by putting together the images created from the week before, working them into their book pages, ready to use in the sewn-bound books later the week.I’ve just remember I can now show you the video of how the paper RJW got for me is made. It is called “mino washi” from a Japanese company called ‘FLAT Inc.’

The AIVA team also decided to jump in and make one for themselves. Here you can see the jewellery lecturer and my good friend Lisa Juen on the left, the graphics lecturer Jimmy, and RJW’s sewing fingers.

They managed to get about halfway through the process that day before it had to be left to dry. The students were able to be left for the afternoon to create, making some really beautiful things which you will see later in the post.

Onto Tuesday, and it was a mammoth day…a day that unfolded minute by minute into an epic PhD adventure which I was completely unaware of when I woke up first thing in that morning. It began with an interview, interview number 8 with artist Wenda Gu at his gallery and studio in the Moganshan art district of Shanghai.

We discussed his practice in relation to my research focussing on points including the concept of “inbetween” due to his shared time between Beijing, Shanghai and New York; coined terminologies such as global, universalism, othernisation, and revisionism; the question of whether cultural meaning and cultural context translatable; the different levels of culture today and their accessibility; how misunderstanding is the essence of new creation; visual arts versus conceptual art; and the notion of “to define is not a punctuation, it is a process of development”. He also showed me an animation and short film, presenting his new work ‘China Park’ which combines,

“…traditional Chinese concepts such as yin and yang, Chinese calligraphy and the architectural idea of traditional Chinese gardens, China Park offers a blueprint for an ecologically-friendly future city and makes a spectacular contemporary garden scene.”

Here, Wenda Gu is combining the visual with the conceptual arts, in addition to referencing architecture, urban planning and development, and community arts to create an all-encompassing global concept. He was a particularly lovely man, very open to discussion and future communications, someone, like many of my other interviewees that I will keep in touch with in the future.

The afternoon continued on the bookbinding train with the students filling their book pages and the AIVA staff continuing on with their books. The evening came quickly, and it turned out to be incredibly random. I had emailed curator Chang Tsong-zung (Johnson Chang) earlier in the day to see if we could meet for interview at some stage. He replied saying, today, tonight…so this impromptu interview, interview 9, with Johnson Chang, commissioner of the West Heavens exhibition ‘Place-Time-Play: India-China Contemporary Art Exhibition’ took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Shanghai, straight after work. He said there was a private view that evening at the gallery and we could meet there before it all started at 7pm. Meet on the terrace. So I arrived early and waited with RJW in the dining area where they were getting things ready for the private view. Johnson was still installing the last works at one of the venues for the India-China exhibition so he was a little delayed on arrival and was accompanied by a female journalist, I think from Time magazine…or was it Life? Is that even a magazine? I can’t remember. She followed my interview and I felt terrible the whole way through for holding her up from her evening plans.

I really do have to thank RJW for being my PhD research photographer and right-hand man during this whole process, as it will really change the visual documentation side of my research. This photo was hard to take as it was incredibly dark in the restaurant and nobody wants a flash going off whilst you are engaged in academic discussion. There is so much to disseminate from this encounter I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

Earlier in the day, I had also phoned Victoria Lu to see if she could see me when I was in Beijing the following week, only to find out she would be at the same opening that night at MOCA Shanghai…so straight after interviewing Johnson, RJW and I quickly met up with Lisa Juen who had joined us for the remainder of the evening, and then went over to interview, interview 10, with Victoria Lu. The opening event and happenings had got very loud by this time and I thought it would be an impossible situation in which to have a professional and informed discussion…but it happened and it happened well.

Halfway through the interview two things happened…again quite randomly…firstly, Victoria told us all it was her 59th birthday that day, and I still can’t believe she spent some of it with us three. We felt incredibly privileged to have been able to share the night with her special occasion. Secondly, this intense drumming musical feast kicked in…choreographed and timed to perfection.

At this point we thought it appropriate to go and indulge in another feast, a feast of food, and it was possibly the best food I have had in a long time…and I mean Western food by the way. I’ve had some damn good Chinese, Korean, and Japanese food since I’ve been here. The desserts were something else and came in these bite-sized portions as you can see. A miniature crème brûlée! I was happy…and for many reasons. So back to the Victoria Lu interview, which we did manage to continue…we spoke of her curatorial career and how she had to rely a lot on herself at the beginning to establish and curate exhibitions as well as supporting artists. She is a true believer in things happening fluidly, only through doing the things she likes, showing the things she likes. She had such an infectious creative positive personality. We also spoke of her theory of ‘animamix’ art which is explained in this rather “polished” and slightly cheesy creative piece of film below…

The night was finished off with a small dance with the birthday girl before cycling home ready for another day in Shanghai. These kind of happenings bring a small smile to my face…these occurrences don’t really happen in the UK as much as they do here in China. I think that’s why I like it…the unpredictability and spontaneity of the place, the city, the culture and of course, the people.

Wednesday I can keep super brief…it just consisted of the students starting to bind their book pages together as you can see below. Some of them had a real sense as to what they were doing and didn’t need much guidance at all…I was very impressed as to how quickly they picked the process up.

Onto Thursday, and another interview, interview 11, with another artist, this time with Chen Hangfeng who I had met at the exhibition opening of Christina Shmigel’s work at the artists’ studio complex located at 696 Wei Hai Lu, just round the corner from AIVA. If I remember correctly, I don’t think he wanted images used, so just in case I won’t show them on here. Lisa came with me that morning to be my designated photographer as I wanted to let RJW get some super sleeps. Hangfeng and I spoke of his ideas of logomania and logophobia; incorporated global and Western branding into his practice; the relationship between traditional Chinese visual arts and conceptual art; consumer culture; his experience of working in the West; the idea of invasion and invasive practice such as guerrilla gardening; and his notion of “cultural transmutation”. A very interesting discussion. He and his cousin, came into AIVA later on in the day to see the students bookbinding and to say hello again. I gave him a step-by-step guide and handout just incase he ever gets the urge to make a book. A great contact for Lisa and I, and hopefully next time I am in Shanghai we can chat further and continue our conversations.

So onto the students’ books…this is what they came up with…

…and here they are along with their books…and I’ve just realised Miss Lisa Juen is there in the photo too on the top right. Fantastic, as I don’t have many pictures of her from my time in Shanghai. I dedicate this little section to my bookbinding tutor Karen Legg, who taught me at Loughborough University. She is now Associate Professor at the College of Fine Arts and Design at the University of Sharjah in the UAE. Your legacy has been passed on Karen, in a further international location. Global I think? A global legacy. I hope to catch up with her whilst I am in Dubai over Christmas and meet her beautiful baby girl. I felt a little funny when this photograph was taken with the students, and a little emotional as they all asked me to write in their newly created books. It was like a celebrity book signing in a strange kind of way.

I wrote whimsical, philosophical phrases about the future adventure and journey of life…motivational thoughts to feed creativity. I hope so anyway. Jimmy, the graphics lecturer, took these photos by the way. I didn’t ask for it at all. It seems the routine and ritualistic thing to do when someone finishes here. I’d really enjoyed my time teaching at AIVA and I couldn’t believe it was nearly over, only one day left which went too fast.

The final day of the week came…f-f-f-friday…and it was Moleskine notebook workshop day as part of the ‘myDetour’ project. The Moleskine people had sent new notebooks in various sizes in the post earlier in the week for the students to tear apart and put back together and eventually send back to them. I think they have all been sent back, well I hope they have. I should check that. We were hoping there would be a few extra for the AIVA staff to have, however they were keeping tabs on how many were used. Beautiful, beautiful notebooks…oh well. A fantastic idea for a workshop though. The day and working week was finished off with an excursion with Miss Lisa for a well-needed Japanese oil massage…it literally made me want to sleep for a week…they gave you ginger tea and slices of pear and sweet potato as an  afterwards. Actually, I’d like one now please as I sit in my den and corner at the Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong.

For some reason I have it in my head that I have to catch up with everything before I can move onto the now…so bear with me readers…I’ll get there.


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