How do you like your eggs in the morning? I like mine with a yolk…preferably a runny one. Sadly, there was no yolk…strange right? Is that a Chinese thing? Here is what I had each day for breakfast last week whilst I was staying in the hotel in Beijing. I’m a little behind with my blog posts as I grapple with the chaos and change of being in China. Things are hard to keep on top of at the moment but I’m slowly settling in to Shanghai life now and feel content to be back…first, let’s go back to Friday which started with cheerio-like cereal with hot soya milk, a yolk-less egg, which i didn’t really eat, and a couple of tiny steamed buns…oh and tired, tired eyes. I didn’t sleep until 2am, so waking for 8am the next day was a real challenge.
The savoury pancakes, steamed buns and hard-boiled eggs still in their shells are a Chinese breakfast standard. I’m looking forward to getting some street pancakes in Shanghai…the ones covered in soy paste with a little spring onion, parsley and chilli. Perfect and for only 30p. Yummy stuff…also looking forward to some vegetarian bao zi. It is making me hungry writing about it.
The CCVA conference at CAFA started a little later on that morning, which I very much appreciated. The bus came to collect us at 9.15am…the short journey felt so wrong as we knew it was only a ten or fifteen minute walk to the CAFA campus…but everyone gets taxi’s here. I couldn’t wait to get to Shanghai to be re-acquainted with my Chinese bicycle. The day opened with Olivier Richon’s poetically worded paper ‘Screen Memories: Photography, Fetish and Relic’…it was a real delight to listen to as he explained the concept behind his photographs in such an articulate manner. He referenced how his practice remarks on fetish relic and memory, image and language, images produced by language, shadow of and in the image…can their be a shadow language? If seeing is before words, what is before seeing? He spoke of how photography began with the staging of an event, where making, taking and talking about an image is like an open book.
“The camera, like a parrot, is an imitating machine who never makes a clear sentence.”- Olivier Richon
When taking a photograph, the object becomes petrified, turned to stone. Movement erases monumentality as the photograph forces objects to be still. It is made visible and readable like an open book. What if the shadow becomes a void? Do you lose the photograph? The picture becomes a meal to the devouring appetite of the reader. A frame is a device which creates fragments. Olivier goes on to state that fetish blocks memory and relic releases memory where language and image are intertwined.The act of remembering can be compared to the act of writing. The fetish is like an image to conceal what is found, what is to be seen. It blocks trauma and traumatic memory, and articulates a split between knowledge and belief. Relics hold the knowledge and belief, the representation of a person, situation or object. It creates belief.
After the first two sessions, it was already 12pm and time for another feast at the CAFA restaurant. This time all the eight courses were laid out ready for consumption. I obviously didn’t eat the meat, but loved the tofu noodles and the king prawn…also the carrot dumplings. I could eat them forever. Simple dumplings like this are perfect.
Straight after lunch, Darren, Tang Xiaolin and I jumped in a taxi to see the exhibition Joshua has curated at the Today Art Museum entitled ‘Guanxi: Contemporary Chinese Art’, on display until the 23rd October 2011. There was no other opportunity to see it during my Beijing few days, so I had to bunk out of the conference for few hours. I’m not sure anyone even noticed our absence. This group exhibition displays the work of Jiang Zhi, Qiu Zhijie, Shao Yinong, Shi Jinsong, Shi Qing, Xiang Jing, Xiao Yu, Yang Xinguang, Yang Zhenzhong, Zhang Dali, Zhang Enli, Zhuang Hui & Dan’er. I’d spoken about the work of Jiang Zhi in a conference paper I’d given the day before, so I was intrigued to see which works were on display here. The exhibition has previously been on display at the Guangdong Art Museum in Guangzhou, China, earlier in the year, and it could quite possibly be manifested into a third exhibition in 2012.
The concept of Guanxi describes the basic dynamic in personal networks of influence, and is one of the most powerful forces in Chinese culture. Though it has been usually read in English as ‘relationships’ or ‘connections’, the concept as it is used and rooted in Chinese culture is much more all-encompassing than any single non-Chinese term could sufficiently express. With China’s dramatic changes in the political, social and cultural context, guanxi has been further enriched as an intangible complexity that pervades our daily life, both personal and collective.
Joshua set up a regular email exchange between himself and each individual artist within the period of three months in parallel with the development of their visual practice. Discussions in the emails had been regarding the concept of guanxi in the social and cultural contexts, and the development of the practical proposal in relation to their artistic response. The writing correspondence itself can be seen as another form of artistic practice, contributing significantly to the exhibition’s curatorial development. You can see how it has been articulated and visually displayed in one of the photographs below where the alphabet is present on the wall.
Going back to the Today Art Museum triggered so many memories from last year when RJW and I assisted with the installation of ‘Negotiations’. The strange familiarity of this place, city and situation made me pause for a second…but not for long. China doesn’t let you pause for a long time! After here, we then went back to the CAFA campus to see CAFA Art Museum to see the ‘CAFAM Biennale’. It is the first ‘Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum Biennale’ and will be held every two years. It is ‘founded on a broad vision of contemporary culture, and it references the framework, structure and unique characteristics of international biennales, from a Chinese cultural standpoint, and utilizing the academic research background of the Central Academy of Art, it attempts to explore historical and literary issues, emphasizing the creativity and conscious nature of art as it explores the vanguard in cultural thinking, research and exhibition modes, constructing an international platform for academic research and artistic dialogue.’ The theme of the ‘CAFAM Biennale’ is ‘Super-Organism’, and examines notions of ‘super-machine’, ‘super-urbanity”, ‘super-body’ and ‘bio-politics’ to create a scene that engenders a ‘super-organism’, and breakthrough all previous narrow definitions, widen boundaries and invent new forms. The exhibition displays the work of 30 contemporary Chinese artists in relation to 19 international artists. I would list them all but I haven’t got the exhibition pamphlet to hand. In my opinion, the exhibition was incredibly varied and a complete mixture of cross-disciplinary contemporary art practice. I had a moment where I was unsure of the thematics and felt that some works had not been greatly considered as part of the curatorial process…as though they had been put in a specific location because there wasn’t any other option. There were some very strong and key pieces though…more in the new media and digital realm that I couldn’t really record with photographs.
Our visit to the ‘CAFAM Biennale’ was cut short as we needed to get back to the CCVA conference in order to see my PhD colleague Tianran present his paper at 4.15pm. I had a quick wander outside the museum, as Rut and Olivier had mention the day before that they had come across white stones in the surrounds of the museum that had been used as part of a community project…they had messages written in Chinese characters on them. I wish I knew what they said and what they were for…
Tianran’s paper focussed on the idea of “crowding” as a means of transportation for an image, a form of production, a behaviour and phenomena. How we view an individual from crowds. He looks at the notion of web crowding and how it influences the audience, image and object…the collective influence on websites. He references the image as a symbol, as “capital”…symbolic power, symbolic violence, symbolic capital and symbolic labour. The main fight of web crowding is its potential. Everyone is hidden, there are no class or social boundaries, their identity of being governed is hidden. He used an image from the recent Chinese train crash as an example as how crowding altered the image capital, where the original image becomes part of the overall dialogue, comments, responses, feedback, conversation, argument, the fight. Crowding views the images and the crowds collectively, together. This produces a new psychological image to the public space – “accumulated viewing”. The crowds are resistant of the cultural capital of images. They give up the fight to be part of the “violence”. The interior structure of crowding has to have structured identity to differentiate the violence. Web crowding could act as a democratic platform as they can be more brave to criticise the government as their identity is hidden, then are not just within but outside the authority…a grass root democracy. However, will this help to push the Chinese reform from up to down? There is a need to develop a new mass ideology where it is power to construct a new reality. Inside violence is competing with outside violence for leadership. Will crowding eventually become a violence within the inside field? One very interesting question was asked after Tianran’s session as to whether the concept of crowding would still work if it was taken out of the Chinese context? We had a brief discussion about this and decided that China’s context does alter the concept of crowding, but it would work differently in most other cultures.
Tianran was the last session of the whole CCVA conference. Next year, I think it is taking place at the CCVA‘s new partnership institution, the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London, UK. So, it was time for another CAFA banquet, where during the walk there, Tianran called me “lao jie”, his teacher sister…I can(apparently) ask him for help at any stage as I am more advanced in my studies and currently teaching…a traditional concept of looking up to your colleagues/elders who are more progressed. I felt very honoured that he thought of me like that and we joked about it all evening…like when I asked for water or a napkin. It makes me smile. The conference has been a good opportunity to get to know my colleagues a lot better. I think travelling long-haul forces you into unknown experiences and therefore, makes you learn about people very fast. Two bottles of rice wine came out at dinner…I thought it was unethical to post photographs of my PhD supervisors downing shots of the stuff so instead here are some more appropriate images of the evening’s events…hours of eating, drinking and talking, in I think four different languages. “Transcultural” reality.