Words In London (Part II) – UK

Onto my second day in London, the first Friday in February, which began with an early lunch meeting with Kerry Brown from Chatham House. He is Head of the Asia Programme there, and leads the Europe China Research and Advice Network (ECRAN). An artist friend Bharti Parmar said I should contact him as he might be good to talk to about my current PhD research…so I did. We had a meeting over a swift Pizza Express lunch – tuna niscoise salad with no dressing or tomatoes for me (acid free as ever), Kerry had a pizza of some sort…not that you really need to know what we ate. I met him at Chatham House where in reception I was confronted by the world-famous Chatham House Rule devised in 1927 (as shown below), which may be invoked at meetings to encourage openness and the sharing of information…personal viewpoints can be voiced not in relation to the organisation or institution you are representing…I think a lot of places need a rule like this.

I’ve just realised how English the photograph of Chatham House looks…very “London” if that makes sense. Anyway, Kerry and I jumped straight into discussion of our experiences with China, Sino relations, my PhD research and more from the moment our feet stepped out of the Chatham House doors. He spoke very articulately with such energy that I had to think quickly, which was good as my responses (I think) were therefore, built more on instinct as I had less time to ponder. He was brimming with information! Here are a few points from the conversation…I forgot to record it, which I am now regretting as there were many references I would have liked to have followed up. I’m sure Kerry could clarify them in an email. So we discussed ‘the Chinese political levels of theatricality’, the communal view of life in China and where allegiances lie, referencing Ai Weiwei. When discussing the exhibitions selected for my PhD case studies Kerry said it was about having a Wittgenstein philosophical attitude of “Don’t think, just look!”…let the water stand still. We then spoke about the economic side of China…the influences of the tax and GDP levels, the monetarisation of everything, whilst referencing the importance of writings by David Harvey who I am looking into now.

“China has massive labour surpluses, and if it is to achieve social and political stability it must either absorb or violently repress that surplus. It can do the former only by debt-financing infrastructural and fixed-capital formation projects on a massive scale… The danger lurks of a severe crisis of over-accumulation of fixed capital…” – David Harvey (From A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005), pg. 141-142)

This financial aspect to China’s development is a factor that I need to consider as part of my PhD as it strongly impacts on the development of the art market – they go hand-in-hand. Kerry spoke of his recent work as Executive Director for the ‘Liverpool-Shanghai Partnership’ from 2006-2010 for the Shanghai World Expo 2010 and the role of cultural diplomacy…the work of broadcaster and journalist Philip Dodd and his views on cultural China, the legacy of Confucianism, the catastrophe of Confucianism in a Chinese context and the catastrophe of Christianity in a Western context…how unsettling it is to assert the importance of moral behaviour linked to exercising power….the value in social relationships is arbitrary (symbolic power relations)…how do you opt out? The power of arbitrariness…the reputation of the system in relation to understanding the people’s needs…to “regimes of fear”. He recommended the text ‘Seeds of Fire’ (I need to find out who this was by) a book examining dissidents…can’t rationalise the relationship between the state and the party. ‘Where is power more successfully codified? The real power is with those who have control over financial resources…if you follow the money you’ll find out how the system works…you’ll find the door of the party organisations.’ Kerry was definitely right…and this applies to the funding of cultural institutions out here. That would make a very interesting study. He told me to look at the work of Julia Lovell from Birbeck, University of London, and her Western views of China as her research into The Politics of Cultural Capital: China’s Quest for a Nobel Prize in Literature may well be of interest to me. Kerry recommended another book to look at the idea of cultural critique in China and the morality of the Chinese officials…it is ‘No Enemies, No Hatred’ by the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo who is quite a controversial name in China right now. The statement I found below states one of his perspectives…and I must emphasise not necessarily mine. I wanted to post a video and article regarding recent thought on Liu Xiaobo but I thought it was not appropriate as there is the possibility I could get into a world of trouble out here.

Final thoughts were about irony…’the best writing about foreign hypocrisy is to use irony’…”unconscious irony”….”ambiguity and irony”…we discussed how this should be an exhibition construct…a cultural construct…and the idea of “submerged meaning” 淹没的含义 (yānmò de hányì). This latter comment is definitely a key understanding as part of my research…this is the realm that gets mistranslated causing the voids and gaps in translation. A very intense conversation filled with so many research pathways that I need to look into…selectivity is the key.

The next meeting that day was with Yi Lori, Gallery Manager of the Hua Gallery in Battersea, London. My PhD supervisor met her at a conference last year and recommended and I went and saw the gallery  to discuss possible future collaborations and projects. The space is commercial minded and only been running just over a year, hence marketing and PR strands are still being established. We talked of possible artists to show, exhibition concepts and scheduling in 2013…they were incredibly obliging in terms of what I can do there and how they can support the projects…even offering to help build audiences with local universities if I want to do more educational and academic events in relation to my PhD research. A very positive hour that holds a world of opportunity for the coming years. Projects in the making.

It was time for post-meeting social fun times and chatter with cornerstone friends…firstly with a friend called Rachel who I met during my Masters studies at the University of Leicester. We went for a pot of tea and a well-needed catch up at the Bluebird Cafe in Chelsea…a great place to have breakfast by the way as the egg options on the menu were great. You can’t beat a good poached egg…usually for me with a mackerel fillet and Hollandaise sauce. After this I went to meet another friend Felicity for post-work, early evening Science/National History Museum staff chatter and drinks…or in my case peppermint tea on tap.

My final day in London began with numerous text messages about snow…snow warnings…soon to happen snow chaos across the UK. Friends and family were concerned my train would be cancelled and I would not be able to get back up North and home, but National Rail assured me my train was fine. A relief to be honest as I was on quite a tight schedule with my UK days. For lunch, I met with my good friend Johanna Hällsten, who is also a contemporary sound artist. We went to one of my favourite vegan-vegetarian restaurants in London’s Soho called ‘Mildreds’ where I had the stir fried asian vegetables cooked in sesame oil and teriyaki sauce with garlic and ginger, fresh chilli and coriander served with organic brown rice, toasted cashews and marinated organic tofu…super super yum. I can’t get enough of their food.

Afterwards, we headed to Selfridges as I had read about their new project called ‘Words, Words, Words’ curated by It’s Nice That to celebrate the written word. Definitely my kin of thing right? I was so glad I found this online just before I got to London. ‘The UltraLounge on the Lower Ground floor of Selfridges, London, will be transformed into a library and become the epicentre of the ‘Words Words Words’ theme. The library will provide a unique interactive space to become fully immersed in the topic, from specially curated ranges of inspirational books to fascinating classes and lectures.’ (Selfridges 2011) As part of this, It’s Nice That in conjunction with the artist Stewart Smith of Stewdio created a ‘Word-a-coaster’ (as shown below), installed as an interactive window display. It is a massive wooden rollercoaster which dispenses 30,000 unique 2012 fortunes. I loved this….simply loved it. Here is an interview with the artist Stewart…as to how the project came to be.

Sadly, when Johanna and I got there, the rollercoaster contraption was out of order…a little bit of a childish sad face appeared for a moment until the shop assistant informed us we could lean over and grab one of the capsules. Phew! So Johanna got “squeaky” and I got “solipsistic”. For Johanna, “squeaky” was very apt as a lot of her future sound works involve “squeaky” sounds and “squeaky” floors…”squeaky” happenings for her in 2012. For me “solipsistic” provided confusion. I liked the way the word is spoken, the actually phonetics of it…as for its meaning, that’s where the confusion lied…I wasn’t quite sure. Initially, I thought it had negative, almost egotistical and selfish connotations, however after a little research (thanks to the wonders of the Internet), I came up with more balanced and philosophical definitions (as it is a philosophical word coming from “Solipsism” theory by Rene Descartes).

“Solipsistic” means that a person can rationally believe in only themselves as everything else is beyond their experience…that one is the only person that actually exists, and everything else is constructed as a result of their imagination, including everybody they know and everything that’s ever happened…that we create our dreams not only at night when we sleep, but also in the day. I’m going with the latter definition that 2012 for me will be “solipsistic”…where I live the dream day and night.

The ‘Words, Words, Words concept store was fantastic. I was overwhelmed by all the very “Rachel” things in there to feed my love of text, typography and language. Also on display, were a couple of interesting text artists including typewriter artist Keira Rathbone as shown below…and text and language artist Sam Winston who’s work is incredibly intimate. People after my own heart. I’d encourage you to go to this “concept store” as it is an enjoyable find…that’s if you like all things words, words, words like me though…if not just go to find out your fortune for 2012 (hopefully it won’t be as cryptic as mine).


  1. gads girlfriend! how much juicy stuff have you squished into one blog post? – my brain is frying (really) …. ps – regards your china /art/phd thingy….. have you looked at the chinese – aus connection? (maybe I’m just getting all nationalistic or something, but the connections between the two countries are actually v. interesting…. when he’s not residing in a chinese gaol, ai wei wei calls oz home…. ) sorry that’s all I can type – my brain has seized up….

  2. Yeah…I get a little too much energy writing this thing…i’m trying to write shorter posts! Yes to looking into Chinese-Australia (and even New Zealand) relations…there are a few academics out there who are instrumental in the Chinese art scene…might be an area I look into once the PhD is done…hopefully heading out that way at the end of this year. Thanks for the comment…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s