VISA-gate (Marsden to Ai Weiwei) – 25 days in Asia

It’s time to return to Asia in nine days time and I can’t wait. In nine days?! I’ve still got so much to do (including getting my haircut today)…a sudden realisation…eek! I’m surrounded by lists at the moment. What I would call “organised chaos”. I think a lot of curators, writers, well creatives live this way…a constant balancing act of projects and life that somehow makes sense. Agreed? It’s a way of life right? Open to a discussion here as always.

The primary reason I am going is for the continuation of the AHRC funded project ‘Culture, Capital and Communication: Visualising Chinese Borders’ (CCC-VCB), a research network that I have been part of since it’s start in November 2014. To date, I have contributed to the first and second of its five research laboratory sessions, where three and four take place on 7 September at Asia Art Archive (AAA), Hong Kong, and on 12 September at National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan respectively. I have not yet been to Taiwan so I’m incredibly excited about this opportunity. In addition to the research lab, I get to stay in Taiwan a little longer than the other project participants to teach at the university, specifically an afternoon session on online, digital and new media arts (I need to decide on the lecture title – now added to my list). I will be very interested to see and experience how the Taiwanese students learn and engage in (international) arts education, all in relation to my research topic for the Masters in Education in Academic Practice I’ll be completing this Autumn.

CCC-VCB project is about China art and borders working with academics, curators and artists from Britain, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. The Principal Investigator, Dr Beccy Kennedy, is based at Manchester Metropolitan University and the Co-investigator, Dr Ming Turner (who I will be staying with), works at the Institute of Creative Industries Design at National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan. Partner venues include Castlefield Gallery and the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) in Manchester (the latter I worked as Research Curator from 2012-14), and Community Museum Project with Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong. The fifth and final lab will be a summative conference at Manchester Metropolitan University in Spring 2016.

On the flip side of Hong Kong and Taiwan, I will be going to China…specifically Shanghai and Beijing (and maybe other places in between)…to undertake research for my forthcoming/second project ‘The Temporary: 02 – Rarekind China’, opening 4 February 2016 at CFCCA and across the city of Manchester, UK. RKCN is a collaboration/co-curated with Stoke-based designer Andy Cooke who I have known for many years now. It will create links between, and new works by, graffiti and street artists in China and the UK/Europe where they will produce limited edition print series, site-specific works in the public realm, documentary films and so much more. Watch this space and ‘The Temporary’ Facebook page for more details.

I haven’t been back to China since living there from 2010-2012…I have been back to other parts of Asia though. I left in December 2012 due to Amoy tiger tummy revelations, trials and tribulations (which I’m going to write about next) and to crack on with my beloved PhD (beloved?! Ha…the final months ahead!). I have another HUGE list forming of all the new (or not so new anymore) galleries and independent space to visit, exhibitions and studios to see, and people…artists, curators, creatives, friends and my China family who I have dearly missed. I fear it could be emotional…and exhausting as I step up a gear into China full-speed. I miss this dynamism.

As standard, it was back to Manchester to get my VISA. As I’ve lived and worked in China before, it was a pretty easy process…just lots of paperwork. Funnily enough, I applied for my VISA around the same time that Ai Weiwei was applying for one to come to Europe. Finally, his passport was returned to him after it was confiscated by the Chinese government four years ago (I can’t believe it’s been four years!).

Rachel Marsden visa 2015 1

Rachel Marsden visa 2015 2

The Chinese (dissident…though I question this term) artist was originally only granted a 20-day visa to the UK following the Home Office ruling that he had failed to disclose a criminal conviction on the application form. However, when Ai was detained in China for 81 days in 2011 he was never actually charged with any offence. The UK Home Secretary, Theresa May ended up intervening and ordered that Ai should be given a full six-month visa to visit Britain and sent him a written apology. Ai is already in Europe as you read this. He will be in the UK, specifically London next month for the installation and opening of his first major – some would say blockbuster (a terrible term) – institutional exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts and for a bonanza of a private preview on 15 September. No doubt this will be a select celebrity, partial funfair and  in part “stereotyped” event(?) – I’m worried it will turn into the Met Gala 2015 event in NYC – or will they move beyond a contemporary “Chineseness” and beyond Ai Weiwei as the key representation of what Chinese contemporary arts stands for today and place him and the show within broader more transcultural contexts? I’ll read about it whilst I’m away…I’ll critique during my travels…I’ll see the show on my return (as I’ll be in Taiwan when it opens).

So much adventure ahead in Hong Kong (3-10 September), Taiwan (10-17 September), Shanghai and Beijing (17-29 September). My eyes and mind are ready. Are you readers?

Ai Weiwei Visa 2015 4

Ai Weiwei Visa 2015 5

Ai Weiwei Visa 2015 3

Ai Weiwei Visa 2015 2

Ai Weiwei Visa 2015 1

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