Conference: Presenting at ‘Visualising Chinese Borders’

An MEd and PhD academic interlude (I’m writing far too many words at the moment) to present at the concluding conference for the AHRC funded project ‘Culture, Capital and Communication: Visualising Chinese Borders’ (CCC-VCB) at Manchester Metropolitan University.  I’ve been a network member for the research project since it began in 2014, and have spoken about it many times here on my blog, most recently reviewing the conference’s associated exhibition ‘INHERE’ by Enoch Cheng.

The two-day event brought together speakers (academics, artists, curators, designers, artists) from across the globe to talk about the topics of borders, citizenship and state identity in relation to art and design practices across the Chinese straits through the examination of artworks, designed objects, exhibitions, performance and protest spaces.

Visualising Chinese Borders poster

Visualising Chinese Borders Conference MMU day 1  group photo

Here we all are…the obligatory and slightly awkward delegate group photograph. The conference took place at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Business School in partnership with the School of Art. This architectural statement on the MMU campus opened in September 2012 and was designed by the London-based Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios. It was recently named among four outstanding examples of architecture in the north west by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Its modernist angular qualities were designed to play with light, creating the possibility for multiple refractions and reflections. Here, light becomes the architectural structure more than the physical building itself. It was a shame we were in a lecture theatre for the two days rather than it’s spatial glory. Here are my notes from the two-day event, where I’ve highlighted some of what I think are more poignant themes in bold…

Professor Paul Gladston opened the conference with a set of speculations relating to themes of the ‘Visualising Chinese Borders‘ research project, addressing the role of contemporary art and criticality whilst referencing contemporary Chinese art. Here are notes from his keynote paper:

  • Borders as markers of transition…they separate and restrict, they discipline our thoughts, form national stability, offer sanctuary and protection…indeterminate and yet create its own space…borders appear and recede…relates to movement and play…
  • Translation across borders is refraction…culturally pervasive to the point of cliche
  • Referencing the work of Peter Vidal – ‘public space for the performative claim of democracy’ (a great PDF link to an associated book here)
  • The notion of oppositional criticality
  • Alain Badiou and his understanding of ‘the truth of events’
  • The persistently descending aesthetic between art and non-art
  • “Third space” of multi-culturalism – hybridity of cultural difference – “third space” – giving way to a contemporaneity
  • Claire Bishop’s ‘blunting of dialectical opposition’
  • Neo-imperial uncertainty
  • Post-structuralist/post-modernism
  • The collage-montage as deconstructive, negative and productive in its outcomes
  • Borders reasserted and policed in the name of criticality
  • Durable, typical Western post-enlightenment sense distance from society
  • Where do the limits between art and non-art apply?
  • Revolution of the socio-material crisis
  • Public art in China bound with the modern Chinese nation state and their ideology
  • Westernised notions of plurality
  • Movements as localised reassertions of cultural identity
  • The burgeoning international art market – inescapable complicity of the neoliberal capitalist economy/workings of the market place which has enabled localised resistances of post-Maoist politics
  • Transnational competition – transnational norm verus localised aberration
  • Misplaced fetishisation of critical distance and oppositional crisis

Audience: The theme of the conference is the non-West…who was the non-West here? Who were the thinkers? How do you engage non-Western thought in this? I find it problematic to call Chinese thought as the non-rational. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to know what the term border means in Chinese, wouldn’t that be our job to work through these ideas? There’s no West and non-West.

“There is hinterland of these area of thought.”

Audience: Oppositionality seen as a total where it doesn’t need to situate itself as the outside. In recent years, the state has started to pay more attention to contemporary Chinese art. How do you see the position of Ai Weiwei as part of that?

Audience: What is the West’s reception of Ai Weiwei and their perception of freedom and as a political oppositional tool against China?

The first set of papers was placed under the theme ‘Research Findings: Towards a Discourse on Chinese Border Art’ opening with Dr. Beccy Kennedy and Dr. Ming Turner who introduced the research findings ‘Towards a Discourse on Chinese Border Art’What way do borders create limitations for artists? Ming cited artists who deal with borders in Taiwan including Wu Mali, Chen Chieh-jen and Huang Po-Chih. Beccy then spoke of her understanding of borders where the research project was a way of crossing disciplinary, institutional and the national borders…a preliminary project and a bridge to its continuance.

  • “Borders” and “borderness” – dividers of people and of place, split a region into two or into multiple areas….selective filter consisting of apertures and filters…unwanted and contested and other times desired…us and them
  • Artificiality of borders through the outbreak of disease
  • Inter or transnational acts of terrorism, or to escape civil war – seen as “border events”
  • Cited the exhibition ‘The Paradox of History’ (2015) by John Choy…the reside of boundaries, boundaries as memory, residue of how it’s affected people
  • Geopolitical and ideological residues
  • Borders constitute a transposition…transfer to and from a different contexts…repositioning of an original perspective…“trans-position” suggesting the possibility of flux
  • Physical zones…divide place and create a boundary…behind every boundary a state and intention, the sovereign intender
  • There are those who cross boundaries and those who create them
  • Socialism to capitalism, totalitarianism to democracy
  • “Noticing the border is a border issue”
  • Parker and Vaughan-Williams – crossing of borders are fluid and ephemeral
  • What are the political problems face in relation to a Chinese identity?
  • Homeland or “other”, insider-outsider relationship…dislocation from a homeland instigates a renegotiation of identity
  • Diaspora and travel…emblematic/emblems of crossing borders
  • Border as obstruction that doesn’t encourage a fluidity…dwindling political agency within the people where a border delineates
  • Border as a paradoxical construct – whether to include or exclude
  • China’s interior and exterior – “one country, two systems”
  • Sovereignty of borders…(obvious) symbols of the borders/borders

“The functional roles of borders, their meanings as barriers and questions of how to cross them have been crucial for economists…Anthropologists, ethnologists and sociologists, for their part, have often looked at the cultural and social boundaries affecting communities and the identities of border citizens (Cohen 1986, 1998; Donnan and Wilson 1999)…At the same time new common keywords have emerged among border scholars. Identity, for instance, is one of watchwords in current interdisciplinary border studies, often associated with others such as difference and inclusion/exclusion or inside/outside.”

Following Ming and Beccy was curator Ying Kwok (former curator at CFCCA) who spoke on ‘Censorship and Self-censorship in Hong Kong’. She began showing the work, a video by Hong Kong artist (and a friend of mine) Kacey Wong…

This artistic performance work was performed during the annual July 1st celebration prior to the Umbrella Revolution. He engaged the public with his warning signs, highlighting the immediate dangers the city is now facing. Many citizens felt the police were abusing their power during the demonstrations. Ying spoke of the annual ritual of the July 1st demonstration as an opportunity for the people to state their opinion about politics, and challenge the Hong Kong authority. She went on to cite ‘A present to Central Government’ (2005) and ‘I hate Hong Kong’ series (2014) by Pak Sheung Chuen…silent performances of a silent protest…

Pak Sheung-chuen
From A Present to the Central Government (2005). Part 1, 2005-7-1, 15:00-17:00, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. By Pak Sheung-chuen. Sourced from

…and the work of C&G Artpartment and Luke Ching…all artists who are trying to find their own way into the Hong Kong authority through their practice, questioning what censorship are we facing right now?

Taken from

Ying cited a recent Facebook stunt by Puma, the sports company. In January 2015, Puma removed a photo it posted on Facebook of a marathon runner’s identification tag bearing the number “D7689” – seen as targeting Hong Kong government’s Chief Executive CY Leung. “D7” sounds similar to a Cantonese swear (basically the F-word), whilst Leung’s critics often call him “689” in reference to the number of votes he got from the 1,200-strong election committee at the 2012 chief executive election – to highlight his lack of a popular official order to lead the city.’

“It is very important how Hong Kong talks about itself, its home country and political perspectives.”

Next up, me, Rachel Marsden, presenting ‘Local Action to Global “Agitprop” – The Politics of Chinese Occupy Movements’. In my paper, I examined artists and artworks that I consider as social art practices produced during and in the aftermath of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution of September/October 2014. It cited many of the examples I included in the article I wrote for the Transnational Dialogues Journal 2014 (read it here) referencing them against global art practices reflecting on the movement from China and USA, Tiananmen Square protest of 1989, online through social media and recent exhibitions of Chinese art. I’ll be writing another, more specific blog post about this soon, including a book list of all the things I’ve been reading lately on the subject.

Visualising Chinese Borders Conference MMU day 1 33


The first panel discussion was between Professor Paul Gladston, Dr. Beccy Kennedy, Dr. Ming Turner, Ying Kwok and myself. Here’s a write up of my scribbled notes from the panel…a little disjointed in part!

  •  A rich set of papers raising a set of problems where it has become more complex and less clear
  • We are all experientially defined by what is happening at the time – would it have been different if there were no Hong Kong and Taiwan movements
  • We have all challenged assumptions and used categorisations – terms we’ve set ourselves, often we take for granted – always a search for absolutes
  • No research for the Visualising Chinese Borders project took place in mainland China – would this have changed the conversations we’ve been having?
  • Paul Gladston stated that themes from the 1990s were dominant within Western discourses however not within mainland China
  • The spectre of research…hanging around on the “border” complicates and disrupts
  • Western dominant discourses unfolding modernity – drive the research forward in a specific pathway – does this undermine national/cultural integrity in China?
  • The physical border – does this represent a right-ist side of politics?
  • Tianxia 天下 – “unify everything under heaven” – China doesn’t have any borders? Is it universal?
  • Relationship of the regional to the city and the identity of each to borders and internal border fractures
  • Do we resist the imposition of a greater Chinese identity?
  • Intra – intra?
  • How social media is used as an observation tool…is this an underground movement?
  • To what extent does the art form itself relate to the protest? Is it a type of sentiment? Is there a “methodology” of movements therefore of social art practices? What might be taken as art by a specific group might not be art to the wider public. The communication of data – the media we are used to
  • The limitation of borders by which the art can work – the reconstruction – how things are received – there isn’t a universal reception of action
  • The entanglement of performance as protest, is this complicit with spectacle? Art, design and performance as “happenstance”. Does this create confusion and uncertainty?
  • The role of the curator as mediator as a vehicle for these political ideas – curator as agency of these ideas
  • The artist response as artefact or archive – “report in progress”, no conclusion or opinion
  • The relevance of suzerainty/suzerain, the nuo/neo – waiting at the door
  • Tracing the problem of borders is an imperialist imposition
  • Fetishistic desire to “fold into” ones own identity, to co-opt identity

The afternoon session, ‘Design Directions’, began with ‘Design in China: Towards a Transnational Interpretation’ by Zara Arshad – she opened by asking what is Chinese design? Reflecting on:

  • The contemporary design landscape in China
  • Influence of “soft power”, 2007 entering the lexicon of China
  • The consumption of foreign cultural products
  • Transnational movement of goods
  • Local cultural production
  • Reimportation
  • Legitimacy of whether work should belong to the mainland
  • Case studies examining the work of Freeman Lau, Shi Dayu and PINWU (Handmade in Hangzhou shown below)
  • Works are often positioned in the binary between boundaries where the East-West dichotomy is used beyond governance
  • Design enquiries round a specific material – encouraging thinking through practice…a material translation of what China could be
  • Design creating homogeneity where there may be none

“To talk about Chinese design we need to talk about the ideological impact but the flows and networks…while national boundaries do exist, such boundaries are also crossed.” – Zara Arshad

Next was Crystal Chan (MA in Design Cultures student at MMU) who spoke of ‘The Design Culture of the Occupy Sites in Hong Kong Umbrella Movement’. She questioned, how would you evaluate the movement to the movement leaders? Focussing on:

  • The political awakening of the younger generation in Hong Kong
  • The ways of doing and making during the liminal occupy movement as a form of sense-making for democracy
  • Umbrella Movement as the watershed of Hong Kong’s socio-political scene
  • The larger society of Hong Kong as going through a liminal period
  • Liminality – pre-liminal (rite of separation); liminal )transitional rite of the liminal rite/period); post-liminal (rite of incorporation)
  • Participants as creating an agency for democracy
  • Design not as within the design professionals…design as a series of negotiations, assemblages, orientation, orchestrations, arrangements
  • Occupy Movement as a “collective design experimentation”
  • Defined within “actor-network” theory – objects part of social networks
  • The mobility of materials…objects used to create structures and parody images for pro-establishment figures
  • The Umbrella Movement study room at the Admiralty study site
  • ‘Fixing Hong Kong’ – to fix Hong Kong, first to fix the community
  • Design reflecting one’s conscious role
  • Initiative to construct and collaborate to reach democratic conditions

“The playfulness of the liminality period is at one and the same time unstructured and highly structuring: the most basic rules of behavior are questioned, doubt and scepticism as to the existence of the world are radicalized, but the problematisations, the formative experiences and the reformulations of being during the liminality period proper, will feed the individual (and his/her cohort) with a new structure and set of rules that, once established, will glide back to the level of the taken-for-granted.” (Thomassen 2009: 20)


The third session of the day examined ‘Displacements’ with Li Han (Assistant Professor of Interior Design, Virginia Commonwealth University – Qatar) who spoke of her ‘Red China’ designs as a hybridised ideas, a hybridised practice, allowing design elements to talk to audiences.

She was followed by Lily Mitchell, fellow PhD student at CCVA, BCU, who spoke of ‘The Changing Political Narratives of Curating Chinese contemporary Art in the UK’ – contemporary Chinese art as a political concept rather than anything artistic and as a universal concept as defining contemporary China. There are many synergies between my PhD research and Lily’s and at the same time, different angles of interpretation. One example, is the 2007 exhibition ‘The Real Thing: Contemporary Art from China’ at Tate Liverpool. We have both used this as a case study, fundamental to our research, where I look at the curatorial and artistic strategies implemented as a form of interpretive translation barely acknowledging a “politics of display” as such, whereas Lily has framed the exhibition through an institutional politics and and socio-political lens. I must follow up with Lily about her paper and talk more. An interesting discussion we definitely need to have! I didn’t take many noted for this presentation session as I had to go and check on the installation of the conference’s associated exhibition ‘INHERE’ by Hong Kong artist Enoch Cheng (read the review here).

The first day concluded with an extended panel discussion:

Ying Kwok: The “Chineseness” you describe in your paper is very rich…

Zara Arshad: I’m quite wary of the word. The terminologies are always contested. I’m not sure we have the right terms or language to even be able to start the discussion in trying to talk about these hybridised material culture of communities. These are things I’m trying to grapple with as a foreigner to this culture, whilst understanding my own identity through this…How we talk about our ideas is not always direct – design seems to have a very different nature with art – how do you see that functioning in such a big movement…Design can play a serious role within social movements….the design of the everyday…Design activism…making objects of disobedience…

Yuen Fong Ling: The movement itself is about the appropriation of the object…there are two different aesthetics, one is heavily designed, one isn’t…this is a problematic space. To what extent are we learning something from what we are seeing in the occupy movement…how does this play out in the other way? The designers of the logos are branding the revolution…versus a pure vision of what it could/should be…is it a marketisation of the concept?

Crystal Chan: Logos as a way to connect to the younger generation of the Umbrella Movement…their function at the site, function-led at the site, addressing so many things. Artists and designers have a special type of agency, actions, under such events…some take the time to reflect on the movement. A reflective mode.

Zara Arshad: It depends on who we are actually talking about…I was shown the occupy sites by Javin Mo. Who are we talking about in this concept?

Elva Lai: The person who created the Hong Kong passport holder is my middle school friend. We reconnected in the yellow Umbrella Movement. I question this commodification of people’s anger into a product…to make money from a movement. He believed he spent a lot of energy into that design…that the passports holders are worth spending money on. By doing this gesture you are voting for what I believe…it is not useless, it is not an accessory like a keychain…it is practical…to sue it as a way to embrace this idea of making Hong Kong a nation. By buying this gesturing you are encouraging people to believe…

Beccy Kennedy: You could pose this to contemporary artists…artists who are working with political themes…

Yuen Fong Ling: That suggests that modern day protest is a much more complex configurations of things. Reconfigure the tools through which we are controlled by. Can we use these discourses in critical ways, can we challenge them or are we party to them?

Audience: Art and capital are enmeshed. There is enmeshment there always will be, as there is with technology and art. In the same vein, culture as a term is much more flexible…

Audience: There isn’t an organised commodification of the revolution. Also the umbrella revolution isn’t about capitalism…people aren’t making images to make money.

Tyler Russell: Crowd-funding and crowdsourcing acting within the commodification of the movement…interesting how that functions within this conversation…

As ever with a conference, there never seems to be enough time to talk about the subjects and themes raised. For ‘Visualising Chinese Borders’, the first day actually questioned and unraveled our provocations and understandings to the extent that it felt like we were going backwards, revisiting, redefining, renegotiating what we initially thought – which isn’t a bad thing, it just made me realise how unresolved this area of  on-going research, and that it doesn’t have to be resolved. Does the multi-dimensional dialogue become a form of resolution in itself as with most conference outcomes? It has been an acknowledgement of the developing field…an acknowledgement of a work in progress.

In the evening, with VERY tired eyes, I caught up with a London friend who was in Manchester for work. We went to the tasty Yuz Japanese restaurant for sashimi and sushi – food for the brain, and very much needed. I love that place, although Umezushi is my favourite spot in that city…if you like sushi you HAVE TO GO!

The second day of the conference began with sessions examining ‘Performing the Border’ opening with Jane Brake and John Van Aitken speaking on ‘Developing Frontiers: Photography as Border Work in the case of Xian urban village, Guangzhou’

  • Not talking of national or territorial borders – instead urban space being redrawn creating a new series of borders
  • “Moving target” in the development process
  • Sharp shifts in land ownership – transformation of land ownership globally
  • “Urban villages”…those absorbed in Chinese cities/”megacities” such as Guangzhou – seen as a “city of towers”
  • Photographers look for places of drama, places where things connect and disconnect are striking…they look for human expressions of the drama too…
  • Photography captures the stillness of the aftermath comparable to forensics, “a signifier of the memorable”…no longer capturing the decisive moment…

“With the rapid pace of urbanization in China since the late 1980’s/ early 1990’s, the boundaries of large cities expanded to encompass many of the ancient villages on their outskirts. The term urban village is used to describe these villages absorbed into Chinese cities and megacities such as Guangzhou. In the process of urban expansion villagers were often persuaded to sell their agricultural lands, now prime real estate, for development projects.”

Jane and John reflected on a walking tour with a Guangzhou photography guide called Yan…recalling a storytelling the city, its history and changes, then showing videos of different areas of Guangzhou being destroyed where people were seen to continue to inhabit the adjacent spaces.

Jane talked through what I’ve called the “upholstery of the city” where John interjected with a series of provocations:

  • Can photography visualize connections to the networks of power and capital that articulate the current political economy?
  • What power does it have to unmask current realities?
  • What kind of border work does photography do in relation to internal borders and these development frontiers? Is it securing them? Is it masking them behind its smooth shiny surfaces, soothing them into non-existence? Is it simply documenting the prowess or the drama of fortifications? Witnessing the skirmishes, battles fought and lost? Injustices and resistance? Recording the developers territorial gains?
  • Can photographic practices or photographs themselves make distinctions between frontiers and borders?
  • Is the term frontiers more appropriate?

“There is a flattening as a result of topographical realities- this flattening brings contrasting spaces into close proximity. As they are in the space. No long lenses are needed to force these things together, they clash like tectonic plates in a geological cataclysm.”

Display a form of “othering” or “neo-orientalism”…the rise of the megacity…

  • Official form of image making – clear sleek images of skyscrapers, legitimating/validating change…commodifying space…modernising future gaze with place marketing…
  • Mediates urban entrepreneurialism…making legible new spatial and social configurations…engineered topographical imaginings…creating of a new urban imaginary
  • Textile border which regulates access to the space within it
  • Symbols within the photographs…red flags of residents determined to remain, then referencing nail houses (which I’ve spoken about before)
  • Areas decimated because of corporate interest – a global problem
  • New economic framing of the world the urban frontier
  • The village every day life against the border of capital…border as capital accumulation and spatial organisation
  • “Othering” of space

Next was colleague and friend Linda Pittwood with ‘Clash of Impulses: Chineseness and the Body in Chinese Contemporary Art’

  • Clash of impulses as a zone of contradiction
  • Applied to the body and to Chineseness (concept in the eye of the beholder)
  • “Chineseness” has a dual role – deconstructed and formed by artworks formed by Mainland, greater and diasporic communities of China
  • Female body as a clash site…gender(ing) identities/gender essentialism…citing artists Cao Fei, Penyun, Hu Xiaoyuan, Ma Quisha
  • Woman studies formalised in China in the late 1990s
  • Gender neutral dressing and removal of femininity
  • Referring to the colonisation of China and current Western and Japanese discourses of the current time
  • Women bound with ideas of nationhood in China
  • ‘Art by Chinese men and Chinese women cannot be dealt with separately’ – Hou Hanru
  • Linda sees the artists as “other” to the dominant group – Woman artists “other” to the dominant group and states a translation through “liú bái” 留白 (leaving blanks/leave empty space) and “ma” 嘛 (gaps space or pause for emphasis/negative space) – entwined or separate
  • Site of the clash of consumerism and nature
  • Supporting a gender essentialist view?
  • An artists gendered present – moving interpretation beyond binaries

“In order to appear modern China needed to retain a degree of Western cosmopolitanism; in order to assert its unique identity, China tried to identify its national essences in spirit, morality and culture. Women’s bodies served as a site for a clash of these two impulses.” (Wang)

The next speaker was Pedro Bakker with ‘Visualising the (Chinese ) Border of the Private Underground’ who presented his painting practice, his Chinese muse and the border of the private. To define the private underground he cited Madame Mao (Jiang Qing) and his experience of a residency on Chongqing, China, specifically his solo exhibition ‘The Woman of Fate’.

Pedro Bakker book

Mirjam Troester presented ‘Visualising Borders on Stage: The Case of Theatrical Touring on Stage’ framed within translocality (kuadixing 跨地形). She began by citing Ulrike Freitag and Achim von Oppen’s (2010) understanding of translocal mobility as localities of different scale and of different type, the interplay of mobility and impediments and new boundaries. Her examinations included:

  • Visualisation through maps and icons; movement and acting styles
  • Censorship and self-censorship of PRC, People’s Republic of China, Taiwan and Macau
  • Transgress and connect political divides
  • Border not merely a wall or body of water…it is containment that is overcome and crossed…yearning for transgression
  • Borders relationship to (power) asymmetries within translocal mobilities
  • Loss of memory – tourists invading the locality
  • Cross-strait conflicts
  • The struggle of locality to recover
  • Borders alluding to the search for identifications
  • Alternative communities of sentiment

Mirjam’s presentation made me immediately think Yingjin Zhang’s definition of “polylocality” in the publication Cinema, Space, and Polylocality in a Globalizing China Honolulu by University of Hawaii Press…and whether her research was more placed within the “polylocality” rather than “translocality”…something I should have asked her in the panel discussion…

“…polylocality recognizes the existence of multiple, diverse localities and therefore contains the possibility of a translocality that could connect these localities, it differs from translocality in that it does not guarantee the realization of this translocal potential. In other words, polylocality acknowledges that identification and connection between localities can be denied 10 Introduction or prohibited; that not all polylocality is brought into translocality in the same way; and that inequality or unevenness exists in polylocality because of different access to translocality” (Yingjin 2010: 9-10)

Visualising Chinese Borders Conference MMU day 2 6

The day 2, morning panel discussion raised perspectives and questions including:

Audience: How did you navigate the border between the Western and Chinese domain and your difference?

  • Part of an international cross-border debate…collaboration with the local…I see myself as one participant in interpretation
  • I have a long-standing problem with the idea of “research tourism” and photographing others which comes from the 1980s and living through post-modernism. I’m not sure this will ever be resolved. It is healthy to always consider your position to anything that you work with. I wanted to look at other forms of gentrification as its important to make connections between different localities as everything is looking the same…don’t want to talk through a globalising language. Put to one side questions of identity
  • The “Chineseness” of “togetherness” is a big confrontation
  • Often explained through the use of the binary…it’s really easy to sum up to say its a meeting of incompatible elements when its not the case

Audience: Rapid change of space and rapid gentrification as a globalised condition and how it changes our idea of what is native and what is diasporian. Throughout the presentations there is talk of loss of memory…it is ephemeral…how you trace and record that is quite important.

  • Don’t want to frame it through essences of spaces…for that to be a reason…a poetry of absence. It is obviously there when you talk to people in their narratives
  • Erosion of identity, what replaces it?

Audience: For Jane. I was very interested in how you problematised photography itself as visualising borders. I was struck by the interesting space of the reiterations of photographs…how the photographer knew where to take you to get those type of photographs. There is a paradox between the authentic and inauthentic…you as a tourist being scripted through tropes as you say. How did you feel about that?

  • I’m not comfortable with using the images that show “spectacle” as they do give very readable symbols of the contradictions in the world we live in…I want to do more work to understand the iterations, how we can think about those as producing something, they are production of a new kind of border. Kind of a neo-colonialism, neo-orientalism certainly of images of mainland China…
  • It is still a censorship of what you can and cannot look at…

Audience: More of a methodological question – the title of the panel is performing the border, what I heard was transdisciplinarity as a research method. How are you positing your work? What are the challenges? Is it transient?

  • The problem of transdisciplinarity is transdisciplinarity, and its never going to go away…showing its fault lines, not always visible

Question (from me): “Other” and “othering” have been used as terms throughout the conference, are they reductive or are we using it to describe the void, the oblique in a new contemporary way?

  • Some are ambivalent, some are both…they know there is travel across the strait…put themselves into a context where they are seen as different. Conscious of being seen as different…some use it for marketing. Problematic of the term translocality…its not about the local, its only when you see that locality as different from the local that you can move forward.
  • “Othering” as a form of short-hand…also neo-orientalism as a way of critique Chinese urbanism’s visual representation
  • Is it also self-orientalisation…”all borders are manufactured”…brings to mind ‘Orphan of Asia’ book by Zhuoliu Wu…interested with the play, an imposition of the orientalist discourse? “Translocality”…or the “trans”…

“When discussing our relationship to China have we entered a neo-orientalism or self-orientalism?”

After lunch began with ‘Between “Inter-“, “Trans-” and “Multi-” – Virtual Migrations in the 3D Work of Miao Xiaochun’ by Isabel Seliger. Thoughts included:

  • Miao acting as witness and participant of the dualism of Chinese knowledge and the Western world
  •  Homogenising forces of globalisation
  • Documenting or China’s urban development first through photography then through 3D visualisations…visualising transcultural contexts
  • Deframed pictorial information merging into a continual visual stream – initiate contact, exchange and information
  • Desire to blend with the aesthetic ideal of the caucasian male in Western painting – desire for the female figure is denied
  • A “flexible interspace”
  • Transgender and inter-specie dimensions assimilated to a pluraised identity
  • Chinese aesthetic sensibility; intervisual accomplishment of a “hyperculture”?
  • Diachronic and transcultural re-creation of a seminal European masterpieces by a non-Western artist
  • Emerged from a deep tim of Chinese cultural consciousness
  • ‘…cultures between which “inter-” and trans- take place become “de-limited”, “dis-located” and “re-moved” towards “hyperculture” – “hypercultural stock of life forms and practices’ – Byung Chul Han, Hyperkulturalität
  • “Inter-” and “multi-” cultural as Western constructs. “Inter-” is not a notion or terms that shows the relation between subject but is always a constitute of the notion of being human
  • Pursuit of revision and migration
  • Without an aesthetic homeland – they denote the possibility of ever being perceived or known
‘The Last Judgement in Cyberspace’ (2006) by Miao Xiaochun. Image from Saatchi Gallery

Tyler Russell spoke of ‘Visualising Chinese Borders in Vancouver: The role of Artistic and Curatorial Practice in the Development of Strategies for Cultural Resilience and Diversity in the Contemporary’, curator of Centre A, Vancouver:

  • Every utterance of my practice, a border crossing
  • Highlighted UK is still a kingdom
  • Cited ‘Picnic on the Ocean’ food sharing food on inter-territorial waters, and ‘Navin Water’
  • Centre A initially seen as for gentrification and branding
  • Development of the new Centre A space…local understandings within Vancouver’s Chinatown
  • What type of linguistic gestures were using? Including the “NI HAO” frontage…
  • One should express from the self out
  • Gestures, postures, attitudes were welcome…curating as a greeting, curating as listening
  • Chinatown as a site for tangible and intangible heritage…a place where culture articulates itself differently
  • ‘Transgression/ Cantosphere’ exhibition examining language politics
  • Does art have the power to affect a cultural shift, to change perspectives of intangible cultural heritage and language diversity
  • Breakdown of transference from one generation to another…noting diversity
  • Bold, raised awareness, deepening of contemplation,
  • Note, that which we notice, has impact

“What I touch, what resists me – that is what I understand” – Albert Camus, Myth of Sisyphus

Tyler finished on an image of the print ‘No colonialist fantasies were perpetuated in the making of this art’ (2014) framed by the wallpaper ‘I Know Very Well, But Still…’ (2014) both by Alex Cu Unjieng  curated by Natalie Chan. A point of resonance as it reiterated one of the common themes from the two days.

Next was Elva Lai presented ‘Searching for the Home: The Theme of Migration in Contemporary Art’, speaking about her art practice throughout her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.  She spoke of:

  • Home and homeland a dangerous idea for children and poor people
  • Hong Kong and the handover of Hong Kong 20 years ago – Hong Kong as a homeland
  • Helplessness of conveying anger to audiences
  • History hard to understand, takes time to connect…there is over-depiction of place
  • Cultural assimilation of migrants
  • Whenever you talk about history, its about your attention to persuading others – ‘deleting history, borders and identities’
  • Connecting to the mentality of migrants
  • “Migration is moving from one room to another room” – What remains in a room when you move away?

Visualising Chinese Borders Conference MMU day 2 9

The final presentation I saw before I had to rush to drive home as I was teaching the next day, was ‘Between the Borders: Russia and China border dynamics: imagination, reality and change explored by a visual artist’ by Varvara Shavrova. She began by showing her film ‘Borders/2’ (2007), talking of:

  • Borders, borderlines, territories and transitions…reflecting on the Russia-China border
  • Hows is this border (China/Russia) relationship different to China’s other border relationships in the region?
  • ‘Journeys and crossings are evoked in universal experience of human interaction and exchange’ – Katie Hill
  • References to communist cultures, the human side of border issues, the beauty and peacefulness of the border, metaphors for reflection…as points of connectivity
  • When caught between territories and borders…depicted through abstract representation referencing surveillance and barcoding
  • When showing in Dublin, interest in the influence of their borders on her work
  • “Other” sides to the border

The two days of speakers, perspectives and questions further disrupted and complicated our examinations and understandings of (Chinese) borders. We challenged, categorised, uncategorised, questioned, defined and redefined, realising that there is no universality to what we are talking about and that borders whether physical or metaphorical, local-regional-national, local to local or intra-intra are created by our personal experiences and histories, influenced by our specific “before text”. Also, borders are often constructed by limitations either of space, time, place or concept…the constraints of borders. What a border means to me, will be totally different to you…therefore, is there a unique methodology to the understanding and translation of borders? And is this methodology actually performative of ones own identity?

I am a border? A border from and to…? A border (in) between…?

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