Music in (my) Mind…

I’ve found that if I listen to music I tend to write better…I think less about the periphery thoughts, worries and distractions, and focus more on what I’m doing. I think for some people it can work either way, be a total distraction or a complete motivation. At the weekend, I managed to write 800 good-ish PhD words in a day. I’ll no doubt go back through them and tear them apart, but I certainly felt as though I’d accomplished something that made the start to this festive week a whole lot better.

I’m trying to find local bands and musicians to listen to from Shanghai, Beijing, China as a whole, not only for myself but to take back to my musician friends in the UK. So far, courtesy of going to gigs at a few clubs and bars, attending EP releases and also attending the Night Market at ‘Dada’ last week, I’ve come across some seriously good sounds. I’m not going to say noise as “noise” is a music genre in itself out here, which is incredibly popular…not my kinda thing though. My selection of finds includes ‘Hamacide’ and his album ‘Mighty Little Machine Remixes’……‘Dead J’ with his new album ‘tíng tái lóu gé‘……‘AM444’ who I would like to say are like a Chinese-Shanghai version of No Doubt/Gwen Stefani…’Plastic Chocolate’, a Shanghai/Korean group that I can’t find any information about online but I came across one track that sounds pretty good……‘Rainbow Danger Club’ with their album ‘Where Maps End’……and finally the ‘Bass Shelter’ EP. I asked people if they knew any electro-jazz-funk-sampling-bass-beat-folk-acoustic local music…a very broad-based request…and these were the recommendations I got. Pretty good I think. I have started chatting to ‘Hamacide’ by e-mail and hopefully he’s going to show me more of the local music scene here. I think a few friends back home will really appreciate what I’ve discovered and who knows, maybe they’ll inspire them somehow. Finding and listening to new music always breeds creativity in me, and fingers crossed helps to write more words of my PhD. It’s PhD Wednesday today so let’s see what happens.

Apart from music…I have been attending the land of contemporary performance, interactions with exhibitions, and collaboration with creatives…that and doing bookbinding workshops with the Jewellery students at AIVA, but I’ll talk about teaching another time. The contemporary performance event on Saturday evening was the ‘Legacy of Marina Abramovic –Future of Performance’ as part of ‘Taking the Stage OVER’ in collaboration with Space18 at Bund18. Another fantastic space in Shanghai. I have spoken previously about Abramovic’s work as I went to see ‘The Life and Death of Marina Abramović’ as part of the Manchester International Festival 2011 earlier this year.

‘Taking the Stage OVER’ is ‘a dynamic, year-long exhibition that attempts through a series of events, situations, and happenings, to activate an important chapter in the history of contemporary art from the last decade. The artists featured developed their own projects related to live art, performance, theater, situations, actions and other live aspects in art presented on “the stage” and its various manifestations at multiple sites throughout Shanghai.’ An interesting concept and project developed by the Shanghai-based independent curator Biljana Ciric.

During the evening screening, an interview between Jovana Stokic and Marina Abramovic from 2009 at the ‘Marina Abramovic Studio’ in ‘Location 1’ was shown (which you can also see through the last link). In this, you hear Abramovic recite ‘An artist’s life Manifesto’ which can be read here…I have stated part one below:

1. An artist’s conduct in his life:

– An artist should not lie to himself or others
– An artist should not steal ideas from other artists
– An artist should not compromise for themselves or in regards to the art market
– An artist should not kill other human beings
– An artist should not make themselves into an idol
– An artist should not make themselves into an idol
– An artist should not make themselves into an idol

‘I put my own life into performance; body is the subject and object in my work; I ritualise everyday life to make things simple, making things minimal to almost nothing, leaving a pure presence of the performer and public in the space; body and mind in the space as it happens; bringing the public to a special state of mind for transition; performance becomes life itself; I am interested in legacy, building a legacy.’

In addition to this insight into her practice, another short film was played about Abramovic’s new project in Monte Negro called the ‘Marina Abramovic Community Center Obod Cetinje’ (MACCO Cetinje) to be built in a derelict fridge factory which opened in 1953, the largest in eastern European at that time giving local people 8000 jobs. In the video, as shown below, Abramovic gives a personal insight into why she is setting up this new centre…it is incredibly inspirational to hear what she wants to achieve.

After the screening Jovana Stokic, curator of the ‘Marina Abramovic Studio’ gave a further introduction to Abramovic and her work through Skype in a conversation with the project curator Biljana Ciric and Q&A session with the audience.

On Monday evening, two exhibitions opened at the Minsheng Art Museum. The first was ‘Eternal Sunshine’ by the New York-based artist and filmmaker Marc Lafia, presented by Mathieu Borysevicz from the Shanghai Gallery of Art. Here, Lafia transforms the virtual space of online social networks into a large-scale interactive installation involving video, sculptures, and audience participation. It brings together a number of techno-social concerns that have been central to Lafia’s artistic career, in particular, his interest in how our environments are programmable, and how we are all part of an elaborate program that is as real as it is virtual.

‘Eternal Sunshine’ is constructed around an imaginary swimming pool which helps to set the scene of a warm summer afternoon. Strewn around the pool are lounge areas, a ping-pong table, video monitors, an open microphone, electric guitar, and other activity stations including a series of ad hoc questions listed on a blackboard that encourages audience feedback. Surveys ask audience members to list their favorite books, films, vacation spots, and emails. Free refreshments, art and dance classes, karaoke sessions and popular magazines are provided as a way to retain the audience and encourage them to customize the space to fit their own expressions, needs and tastes. While this open recreational space is fun and relaxing, it is also a laboratory, a place to inventory people’s likes and dislikes, their fears, pleasures, intimate longings and desires. In one corner of the room we see signs, ‘more happy music’, ‘more sun’ ‘evacuate’. These signals suggest that this enjoyable place is actually pre-designed, a software program beyond our control. The signs also suggest that the environment is continually being optimized and personalized. In fact museum staff will update any requests of the participants, whether it is to play their favorite songs, change the color of the lighting or add their favorite flavor refreshment, all in effort to streamline the eternal sunshine of utopia. Eternal Sunshine employs art as an event and uses networks, both private and public, to affect a cultural space that produces in the end, what we know as globalization.’ – Marc Lafia

This was an adults (and children’s) playground for the evening. It was really good to see some Shanghai’s art world getting involved with this playful interactive installation instead of usually seeing them in a formalised private view context…to see curator Hou Hanru, and gallery Director Mathieu Borysevicz play the drums, and gallery workers play ping-pong, eat pizza whilst sitting on the floor, and sing karaoke. This felt like more of a summer social than a formal exhibition opening. Perfect. During this time, Lafia also gets you thinking about how social networks and interactions work and “play” in our daily lives…how narratives are constructed of our lives both in reality and virtually online…where and how do I fit in with all of this? And can I drop my guard, stop thinking so much and get involved? Let’s play!

One artwork really emphasised these notions. Called ‘Hi How are You Guest 10497’, it is a video piece ‘which brings us back into a contemporary moment, where we live inside cinema, inside the network, and where one can reach out across global networks to connect to other ‘private’ spaces. The video portrays the network life of a young woman. In her solitude she remains connected — however ethereally, however precariously — to the world around her. Here we begin to sense that the world has become one global network where identity is always and already expressive, always and already enmeshed in the web of becoming.’ As you sat in the armchair, immersed by the video imagery and the surrounding photographs of Lafia’s conversations with hundreds of (random) people online, you couldn’t help but feel like just another person in this huge network that exists online…questioning your worth and position in the world. Who and what am I in this all?

The second opening at Minsheng Art Museum was for the exhibition ‘Voyager/Rencontrer’ by filmmaker Robert Cahen, curated by Hou Hanru, It presents the artist’s video creations since 1980s. Most of the works are results of his travel experience to various parts of the world, bringing viewers into a veritable floating world navigating between reality and fiction. There were two works I spent a lot of time with…’The Circle’ (2005) and ‘Winter Landscape’ (2005)…silent landscapes of escapism, very different to the energy of the exhibition upstairs. Therefore, there was a strange paradigm between the two shows…from the sublime, peaceful realities from Cahen’s travel experiences, to interactions with real and virtual identities as part of Lafia’s. There was certainly a conversation between the two, even if not intended.

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