China – I bid you adieu…

I think we are STILL playing catch up…nearly there…just a few more Shanghai days to speak of then onto Hong Kong…the Asia Art Archive…onto the adventures that are happening now. This should be a relatively short post just speaking of wrapping up all things Shanghai…and a few unforgettable experiences. How do I get myself into these things?

At the end of the last post, I had fallen asleep on the high-speed train from Hangzhou to Shanghai. I felt groggy. We arrived back in Shanghai at about 4.30pm, jumped in a taxi from the station at the airport, and got back to the apartment at about 5.30pm. I did actually feel like I was returning home a little, which made me quietly content inside. I had about half an hour until I had to go out again for another event and happening, this time for a lecture by Professor Prasenjit Duara as part of the ‘West Heavens’ Summit and lecture series at this time hosted at Fudan University. Chang Tsong-sung (Johnson Chang) had invited me during the e-mail dialogue we were having over my conference paper, and he said I must attend as he had given the paper to all the India-China delegates to read. So at about 6pm, I left to get a taxi to the university campus, with not much of an address or final location as to where I was going. RJW took Lorna for a city cycle and tour of the Bund. Eventually, after to-ing and fro-ing on the phone with Johnson, I got there…about half an hour north of Shanghai and it was very windy that evening,  bitterly cold. For some reason I had only put a thin jacket on over my shirt dress and leggings thinking that would be enough…for the lecture maybe, but not for what came afterwards that I was blissfully unaware of until about 10pm. The lecture took place on the 12th floor of a huge high-rise university building, and the room was packed. There were people standing and leaning in through the windows, and doors. This was one popular event, and I managed to grab a seat behind where the translator was sitting next to Professor Duara. He was speaking about ‘The Historical Roots of Secularism in China‘, although not directly related to my research due to its religious aspects, it did raise some interesting points as regards universalism and self-transformation; consensus built by negotiation and communication of values; “syncretism”; tolerant to the intolerant; perspectives of the people as agents of their own history (“history from below”) versus class-defined and law governed histories (“class struggle and popular uprisings”); history as commercial pleasure and history as a reminder of national humiliation; globalisation is not negated by the desire for national authenticity and vice-versa…there is a desire for global goods and value; reorientation of national and historical identification; “synthesis”; “cultural patriotism”, a spatial re-imagination of the nation from political territorial to ethnic/ethno-cultural; absorption rather than adaptation first as a model for global society now; adapting the “cosmology” and temporal condition of Chinese art history. I also came across the notion of the “concentric circles of Chineseness” which looks relative values between people and objects and the structural principles in Chinese society, and I also recommended ‘Parting the Mists’ by Aida Yuen Wong although this largely relates to the development of Japanese rather than Chinese art. Very much food for thought over the two and a half hour lecture…so it was nearing 10pm.

As ever, Rachel records by audio and photo all the events, lectures, talks and interviews she goes to as a reference, just in case…you never know when it might come in useful. Chen Yun, the ‘West Heavens’ Project Manager, had also tried to record the lecture but her digital recorder ran out, so she passed me a little note asking if she could have a copy of my audio file…of course, I said…I passed her my name card for her to have a moment of realisation that she had read my paper and posted it online. After the lecture, see also informed me she was sending it to a few Chinese art magazines for review and possible publishing, which I am very excited about, although someone needs to translate it first. So we got into brief chats, and I also spoke to the translator who was good friends with the translator I had worked with at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou at the weekend. Small world eh…as ever. At this stage, Johnson came over and invited me to an event, the after party as such for the Professor and the ‘West Heavens’ team. It was a musical performance somewhere outside of Shanghai, he said about a forty minute drive away. There were cars waiting outside and there would be food. For some reason I felt a little off, I think mainly due to tiredness, so I said I was still recovering from the weekend in Hangzhou and would give it a miss…Johnson said I could nap in the car, and his brother had flown in at 5am this morning, or at some ridiculously early time, so I should be fine. Right, I thought, I have to go. So the team got everyone together, we jumped in the three taxis, and settled in for the journey. My phone had kicked out at this time, and when I say that I mean the sim card has stopped syncing with the phone so it wouldn’t work. Great timing. As the taxi journey went on and on, and the meter went up and up, over 300RMB, higher and higher, I realised I was a long way from home, from the apartment, from RJW and Lorna and I had no idea where I was going and no way to contact anyone, and I had no camera (hmpf)…so I decided to ask the translator if I could email from his iPhone which only had 11% battery left. He said to try while it still worked. I managed to send a message to RJW but had no idea whether he had got it.

So we eventually arrived at a huge gated driveway over a dynasty bridge just after 11pm…everyone was sleepy and ready for warmth. All I could do was look everywhere as the place was unbelievable. Where was I and how had I got here? It was a huge private residential and artist commune property and development by Johnson that had been ongoing for over 10 years. It  was all his, had a canal and a small river running through it, three different dynasty bridges on the grounds, all built from reclaimed materials including original traditional dynasty buildings too. As a wedding had recently taken place there, it was covered in flowers and multi-coloured lanterns. I didn’t feel quite worthy of being there but he wouldn’t have invited me, would he? We were all ushered into one of the buildings, a lowered single storey traditional styled narrow room where entertaining and dining happens. It had separated seating areas and a bar, and was super warm in there with an intense smell of incense. I’m never very good with incense, it seems to do something funny to my head. Or maybe I was hungry? At the round table at the end of the room was the Professor, relaxing with some rather tasty sesame salty biscuits. As the rest of the team joined us, as well as Johnson, his brother and step-sister who had flown in from Hong Kong, more and more food was placed on the table…sticky rice wedding cake, rice fruit cake (very delicious), preserved tofu, vegetables, spring rolls, samosas, egg  and spring onion fried rice…all freshly handmade…Japanese whiskey and tea for refreshments, though I stuck to my trusty water as ever. Then came the music, an Indian musician who played this tabletop string instrument I think called a zheng, also called guzheng, zither or koto…or was it an Indian instrument? It has many names and I hope I got it right…he was apparently one of the best in the world and had flown in especially from Guangzhou just for Johnson. I really do hope I got this all right. It was something else, very spiritual…I closed my eyes to sense it better, as did most of the people there. I wish I could remember the musicians name, though I am sure I could find it out if needed.

The night went on into discussions of future ‘West Heavens’ programming, exhibitions and events and then it came time to establish who and who wasn’t staying…I didn’t even know there was an option and if I did, I would have come prepared. Everyone told to me stay so I could see the sunrise and walk around the fields and village in the morning…but I just couldn’t as Lorna Hards, a fellow PhD student who was visiting China, was staying with RJW and I and I was taking her out the next day. Three other people from the team had to head back too so I didn’t feel too bad – one for an early flight, another had to go  home as you can’t smoke on the premises or grounds as it is a fire hazard and, finally Chen Yun, I felt she wanted to make sure I got back home ok. Before we all left, Johnson quickly rushed me round the premises to show me the spectacular river views, the bridges, the rooms and interiors…all something special. All I could do was thank him over and over again for letting me part of the evenings happening. The taxi that had dropped us off waited to take us home…I fell asleep in the taxi, I think getting home around 3.30am, which is very unlike me at the moment as I can’t drink. I do usually stay out late! I have no photos of what went on, but I think that is perhaps a good thing so it stays protected and special to me in my archived memory of experiences.

The next day it was adventure time with Lorna as RJW had a morning meeting with the East China Design Centre, but was to join us later on. First thing in the morning, I sent a message to my PhD supervisor Jiang Jiehong (Joshua Jiang), to see if he was to join us out on our endeavours, only to discover he had pneumonia! A complete shock to him and us. We knew he had been feeling unwell, but I never thought it was this bad. Lorna and I were taken a back a little, and hoped he got better very soon. On with the day…we found breakfast pancakes and pumpkin streets snacks, and got the subway to the ‘8th Shanghai Biennale’ where I argued with the receptionist as they wouldn’t give me student discount, a little embarrassing and apologies to Lorna. I get frustrated by things like this though. We also saw the ‘West Heavens’ exhibition down the road from the Biennale at which point RJW met up with us.

From here, we headed to the art materials place and for a shopping wander so Lorna could get gifts for people. One thing RJW and I wanted to do was make sure Lorna got to eat some real vegetarian Chinese food, so took her to this vegetarian restaurant just up the road from AIVA, where we ate a veritable feast of meat substitutes and vegetables…from here we headed in a taxi to the supermarket to get Chinese snacks for her to take back to the UK, then it was time to take her to the airport, with the said projector from ‘Platform China’…and wave her off. It was nice to have someone to stay and show around what we thought was our city for a moment, I just hope RJW and I were good enough guides.

The following few days consisted of a wholemeal chicken burger girls lunch with Lisa Juen from AIVA, shopping for Christmas and Birthday presents, last-minute hunting for accommodation in Hong Kong, Thanksgiving celebrations at an American bar the ‘Southern Belle’, dropping off the bikes in the AIVA basement, finishing off the tasty Korean honey and ginger tea…

…riding on the back of Lisa’s scooter and in the process breaking off a piece of its plastic casing with my foot (sorry Lisa), an exhibition opening  ‘Inertia’ at Taikang Terrace by curated my friend Violeta Janiero Alfageme, a final AIVA dinner at ‘LYNN’ with Joshua who had by Thursday been let out of hospital though he had to go in for medication administration each day, he still didn’t look on top form though…and two final Shanghai meetings…a PhD tutorial with Joshua, and an interview with Biljana Ciric, an independent curator originally from Serbia.

The meeting with Biljana was less than an hour, where I spoke of my research as she spoke of her past and future projects which are by chance to be linked with the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester, and the Asia Triennial Manchester 2011, which I will jointly be involved with throughout next year. Small world eh. So we discussed how they and my research might interlink and the possibility of getting involved with a project of hers at the Venice Biennale. All very exciting and I’m definitely going to keep in touch with her and no doubt see her next year. She is a very dedicated curator who finds means and ways of making distinct curatorial possibilities happen with very limited means. It is how it is right now.

My tutorial with Joshua last for over two hours where we discussed the positive and negative aspects of my interviews and fieldwork research in China, how and when I should transcribe the interviews, future funding opportunities and deadlines, venues and planning for the working case study and final outcome exhibitions as part of my PhD, my involvement with the Asia Triennial Manchester 2011, the ACLA conference I am presenting at in March 2011 in Vancouver, the CCVA website which I am about to become Editor for…what else? Many, many things anyway were spoken about, though I am sure we will have much more thorough discussions in January 2011. As if by chance, straight after this meeting, Alnoor Mitha, Director of Shisha and organiser of the Asia Triennial Manchester 2011 phoned me and we had a quick introduction discussion into how I can work with them in relation to the curatorial lab sessions, the symposium and publication development and planning, and the curatorial projects…three different facets and I was told to get thinking so we could discuss further in the New Year. All very interesting development over the final few days.

So that was Shanghai, somehow it was over and I wasn’t very content about leaving…well I was about leaving the apartment as it wasn’t the best place on earth…no heating and the windows didn’t shut properly but it was ok for the time I needed it for.

I still have a funny feeling inside about moving on from that place, that city, that period of time. It’s done something to me. Now onto Hong Kong…and so much has happened already…you would expect nothing less though, right?

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