Studio Chongqing

Happy Easter everyone! Now who’s taken the three days off  next week to make an eleven day break?? I feel as though the world has indulged in this opportunity just because of the Royal Wedding. I haven’t written here for a while and I’m blaming it on the vast change in weather. Hello sunshine! and sunshine smiles. Certainly very good for the soul. So I’m blaming that and writing a manuscript for the World Art journal/conference paper for next week, which invaded my life for over a week. I lost my job in the last few days too and am therefore out of “employed” work (still have the odd bit of self-employed work) courtesy of the arts funding cuts…but I’m a true believer in things happening for a reason to take you to bigger, better and different things. It’s nice to get out of your comfort zone for a while right? I’m proactive in body and mind and with this positivity something always comes along, so let’s see where the world takes me.

On Thursday afternoon, I got the train to Manchester to attend the afternoon symposium, ‘Studio Chongqing’, at the Chinese Arts Centre. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and all I felt like doing was napping under some sharp, strong rays outside…but as soon as I got to the venue my PhD excitement kicked in. It was time to hear some Western perspectives on residencies at the 501 Contemporary Art Space in Chongqing, China. How did they deal with the “transcultural” and the process of translation?

Before the symposium began, I managed to see the Chinese Arts Centre’s latest exhibition ‘Human Error’ by artists Household and Dario Utreras. The show focuses on the collaboration between the artists and the public through exploring the relationship between machines and their users, technology and mass production, and interactive sculptures as a site for creative production. People are guided round the space, prompted to carry out tasks where errors have occurred and asked to help correct these mistakes manually through the use of machines. An interesting idea which resonates through my recent book arts project looking at a history of typewriter errors – ‘Words Are All We Have’. A few photos are below…it was fantastic to see children and families get involved too…a real hands on affair where you got to see processes evolve.

The symposium was introduced by the female performance artist Nicola Smith, who completed her residency  at 501 in 2010. She was dressed entirely in black and held a battery-powered hand fan. Everyone initially questioned her actions and what was about to happen. A melody was on loop in the background. As the blades of the fan went round and round it created a message in red LED lights saying “COME WITH ME”. She negotiated the stairs whilst dancing backwards, down into the education suite. The delegates followed with a slightly comedic expression on their face, smiling, at the same time not sure what to think or do. Nicola’s work is meant to ‘punctuate situations in public and private spaces by playing out a series of actions, in order to disrupt the expectations of the audience’…she certainly achieved this.

Sarah Sanders, another performance artist who completed her residency in 2009, presented a live performance throughout the duration of the symposium. You could see her from the education suite through a thin long window on the right hand side of the room. She was standing on the fire exit stairwell holding and pouring a small quantity of sand from one hand to the other. It was a “durational” performance and, to me, directly referenced meditative processes such as Tai Chi. I’d occasionally fixate on her performance and consider what she must or mustn’t be thinking. I had a lot of time for this work…it struck a chord inside me…the pure simplicity of the process and the handling of “nothingness”. The endurance and repetitious qualities too…

Next was David Hancock who was the first artist to be resident at 501 in November 2007. He acted almost like a guinea pig for the project and made sure the appropriate initial infrastructure was present in order to support the future artists in residence. 501 is located in the Huang Jue Ping district on the south side of Chongqing. David became interested in how the Sichuan Fine Art Academy worked as an institution, where he looked at how artists are trained in the West, that they are almost self-trained, whereas in China it is very traditional…they don’t start doing their own work until the third or fourth year of study. They’re learning all the traditional techniques, which makes it even harder for students to get on the course in the first place. He spoke of how language was an issue when making work. A painter, he focussed on the “ecstasy” pose (once used by other artists including by El Greco)…simple idea but an opportunity to meet and engage with other people and artists in a simple way. Finding a balance between engage with the city and whats going on, and with making work. He was keen to curate an exhibition and for them to see how he would curate a show from a Western perspective. He chose the Cottingley Fairies as inspiration as he was interested in why artists were making “escapist” works at this time in Chongqing, full of fantastical creatures and people. He felt Chinese artists thought he was key in being able to get them shows abroad…a sense of prestige…when this wasn’t the case. He referenced artists and spaces including Hu Ke, Li Chuan (residency at Gasworks 3/4 years previous), Mao Yan Yang (done residency at Chinese Arts Centre), Studio 11, Zhao Bo, Zhu Hai, Tankloft Studios (University studios), Zheng Li, Yang Xun, Dora Li, He Jian. To David, the residency experience was positive, but he was very aware that if he lived there and was Chinese it would be very different. As a Westerner he felt as though he could do  and get away with a lot more. Questions were raised as to whether there were issues in communicating with the Chinese artists and if they use a different language to discuss and think about their work…a notion I am examining. It is a constant learning experience…each organisation learns from that process.

The final artist examined before the intermission was Sue Manchoulas, specifically her performance ‘Breathless: Part 2’ from her recent residency in the Summer of 2010.

The interview with the artist had been prerecorded. What came across in her short film was the power and influence of her own heritage and history on her practice, such as how she was adopted by Western parents whilst knowing she had Chinese lineage.

So the short and very interesting intermission followed. It included a small Chinese food feast of cream, crusty and honey buns, plums sweet and sour snacks, rice crackers, seaweed, spiced nuts and Chinese tea…a miniature banquet.

Whilst we were eating, the experimental poet Philip Davenport spoke of his residency back in 2009/10 and his calligraphic and text-based works which used both Chinese characters and the English language. Plain and simple, he is a wordsmith. He spent most of his time reading out previous blog posts which recorded his time out in China. This reminded me of my blog posts and self-reflective experiences. I’d forgotten about how emotional that place made me…and my writing.

A think a couple of speakers might have been cut or missed out (??), so the final session ended up being the prerecorded Q&A session with Ed Pien and Johannes Zits. Ed had an exhibition at the Chinese Arts Centre in 2009, and travelled with Johannes to Chongqing in 2010. You could see an instant creative energy between them, therefore a solid and stable relationship shined through, which I’m sure enhanced the outcomes of the residency. They spoke of the “not knowing” what you are about to experience, and the misunderstandings…the on-going sense of guessing, second-guessing and waiting…negotiating and confronting what you are presented with…notions that I am examining directly within my thesis.

Curator Ying Kwok ended the day by talking of the aims of the Chinese Arts Centre and their involvement with the Studio Chongqing residencies. I’m hopefully meeting with her and the Director, Sally Lai, in the near future do discuss my PhD exhibition. During the afternoon, I managed to talk to Helen Kaplinsky, a curator from London who will be doing a future residency at 501. She is touching on similar notions with my research so it was interesting to talk to her  in the future about the development of her curatorial practice. I also managed to speak to a few other people from the Manchester art scene including another PhD student. We spoke of our love and hate relationship with our research, which reminded me of what happened earlier last week. When I had finished the first draft of the manuscript for the World Art journal/conference paper, my second supervisor very kindly gave it a quick proofread. He made a comment saying my writing had “symptoms”. I replied saying it’s like my writing and contexts were “suffering” as such…he then replied saying my first supervisor used to say writing his PhD was like “a special kind of suffering”…there’s a running theme here. It made me laugh very, very loud.

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