U is for…

…unbelievable coincidences that sometimes make you question the world, like when you’re writing and listening to music, and then write down the same word that has just been sung, or when you are driving in you car and read a word that preempts something that happens later in the day, or when you are with old friends and discover that somehow they know people you never thought they could, or when you are on the other side of the world and bump into someone you went to school with. It is a small world, so it is inevitable that these things happen…but it does make me think…are these life’s messages somehow…out to tell you something? I had a bit of a strange week this week and prior to this had a week or so off for Easter to catch up on life, when in reality catching up was actually writing, organising, planning and implementing all those things I just hadn’t got round to. So its time to fill you in on what’s been happening. Are you ready? As it is quite a novel today…or more of an autobiography right?

Hello sunshine, hello smiles. I love the sun and here it is. Surprisingly I have had another head cold or flu, it wiped me out for about a week, I was so so lethargic. I swear as soon as you stop doing something you get ill. It is like your body suddenly relaxes and the bugs go yes, time for a party in Rachel’s body! It always happens. All I did was sleep for days and eat cereal. Also during that time, I, for some reason unknown to me, decided to delete the entirety of my external hard drive AFTER backing up my laptop, hence I lost nearly everything, well everything! Mostly photos and music but PhD as well, eek! All my photographs from my time living and working in America. It is funny though as really how often do you look at digital photographs? Not very…so losing them makes you realise, well to me, how memories are inside your head…its been cathartic too as it has permanently erased certain things, for good, and it feels good. So the data recovery people phoned me today to tell me that can give me some files…all numbered from 1 to over 20,000…they might not be able to be re-archived and put back in folders. So what is better, all, none or something in between which is what I’m probably going to be working with. I’ll let you know what happens. If I get them back completely I’ll show an 2008 American selection box on here as a treat to me and you!

Last weekend I was at my first BBQ of 2010 with RJW and his friend who works on BBC documentaries. He recommended that I watch the 2008 BBC documentary ‘Wild China’. In a word, it is inspirational, and I loved this quote from the first episode…

“…we will eat anything with legs except a table, and anything with wings except a plane…”

I’m a little apprehensive about what I might come across when I’m out there, yet at the same time very intrigued and happy to try, well most things…which brings me on to the travel grants and funding that I have been applying for. At the beginning of the Easter break, I completed two applications (with a little bit of faff), the first was for the BIAD Fieldwork Travel Grant (supposedly for up to £800, but I applied for £1100), and the other was for the Chinese Student Award from the Great Britain China Educational Trust (GBCET) (up to £5000 but I asked for £2405). So far, I can say that I was SUCCESSFUL in being awarded the BIAD Fieldwork Travel Grant of £1100, which covers my full international flights including internal transfers and additional little travels for the entirety of the proposed 2-month trip in the Autumn of 2010 from Beijing to Shanghai, Shanghai to Hangzhou and back again, and finally Shanghai to Hong Kong. Any suggestions as to where RJW and I should go and see and do let me know! I am so, so pleased I received this grant as it takes off a little bit of pressure regarding the finances. My PhD colleague Lorenzo was also successful in receiving his funding to go to Finland, I said I’d high five him in the research office – batti cinque! he replied. Now I have to wait until later on in May to find out about the GBCET grant. Fingers and toes crossed, or daumen drucken in German – thumbs in. RJW and I are going together, to support each other through what will be an amazing and no doubt life-changing experiences. Very, very excited about this.

During my Easter break I also encountered a very last-minute interview with curator David Thorp at Initial Access in Wolverhampton.

Initial Access during exhibition installation

Suffering from a chronic case of the sneezes and a very, very nasal voice we spoke for just under an hour about how he came to work with contemporary Chinese art and artists, his views of this “scene”, his recently curated exhibitions ‘Facing East’ at Manchester Art Gallery and ‘Lu Chunsheng and Jia Aili: Counterpoints’ at Iniva, London (on display until 15 May 2010)…we also spoke of other issues around the term “curator”. We spoke of the practical and theoretical considerations of curating and the potential problems of moving work from one culture to another, therefore the changes in context, and the need to think freely and creatively, perhaps not always cross-culturally with the audience AND institution in mind. Thorp stated,

“…the global phenomenon that is contemporary art is actually a lot of very vibrant regional centres, some of which, some artists come out of those regional centres and make up this global thing, you’ve got Asian, China is a regional centre, India is another regional centre if you like….with its own collectors, you know its own support for artists, its own discourse, all sorts of things going on. It’s completely independent of the Western institute.”

He regards Curator Karen Smith as “a spokes person for contemporary Chinese art and very highly regarded by the Chinese as much as she is in the West”. It is always interesting to hear peoples views on other professionals in the domain. This response below I found poignant,

“…the kind of relationship between the mainstream and the periphery means that a lot of the ideas that are being explored in the core of the western mainstream have been very, very thoroughly explored, turned over and discussed and so on, pulled apart and put back together again. They haven’t been explored in the same way at the periphery, so you might have an artist in Beijing, or somewhere, who from a local perspective is breaking new ground but actually from a global perspective or if you go back to the core that is territory, it has been very, very thoroughly turned over. So you could bring this regionally ground breaking artists over there, over here and it doesn’t have the same kind of resonance or relevance at all. That’s one of the things one needs to consider.”

When discussing whether there is a hidden underground in the contemporary Chinese art in China, Thorp didn’t think there was, however, I suggested a possibility within the performance and live art scene as its more intangible and less institutionalised. Let’s see if I can find it in the Autumn. The previously mentioned idea of ‘relevance and resonance’ you will see reiterated later on in this post by Director/Curator, Simon Groom. This first formal interview really began to confirm some of the key questions I want to ask my chosen interviewees and also made me have a little bit more confidence and belief in what I do. There is a lot of room for development.

After this interview, I drove back home and climbed back into my lounge den that I had created in order to recover from an average British head cold and I completed a couple of  job applications, one of which was for an Admin/Receptionist/Marketing job at Newhampton Arts Centre in Wolverhampton. I was actually successful in getting an interview for this job, which would have been today, but after submitting the application I found out I was successful in receiving the BIAD funding. I went and chatted to the interviewer and was honest about my impending PhD research absence in the Autumn. And rightly so, they want someone long-term, but its nice to know I was considered and shortlisted. That day also brought to light an afternoon seminar in London by ArtInsight called ‘State of the Art – China 2010’ (this is a PDF link to the programme). Considering it was only 3 days away I made the decision to pay my student fee and attend, and I’m so glad I did as it was quite revelatory.

From left to right: Jeffrey Boloten (Managing Director, ArtInsight), Katie Hill (Curator and Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Chinese Art, University of Westminster), Simon Groom (Director National Gallery of Modern Art Edinburgh) and Sheng Qi (Artist)

The seminar started at 2pm and I happened to walk in with Simon Groom, Director of the National Gallery of Modern Art Edinburgh. The funny thing was we both realised we knew each other somehow, but could not remember where from…then suddenly near the end of the day I remembered, I leaned forward from the row behind and said it was from our time at Tate Liverpool. I was once an Information Assistant there and Simon, a Curator…a funny coincidence again! He said it took him back and laughed. That’s what this post is all about…networks, relationships and coincidences.

Anyway, the first session ‘The Chinese Contemporary Art Scene’ began with academic and curator Dr Katie Hill where she gave a brief overview of contemporary Chinese art referencing specific artists such as Wenda Gu who deconstructs language to examine the impenetrability of meaning of Chinese culture, and Ai Weiwei who goes beyond the average means of being an artist due to the global digital restrictions in China. She stated one of the reasons that Chinese art was propelled into the International world was because many of the artists went abroad, with a turning point in the year 2000 when many returned to China. She believes there has only been a formal infrastructure which has sprung up in the last ten years, through the integration of the international art world and China, as prior to 2000 it was “pre an art world in China where there were no art districts as such”. Now there is a huge new environment for contemporary Chinese art,

“…dramatic performance work is extremely important, as artists are putting themselves at stake entirely outside the market, the body is propelled into the space in a very dramatic way which is about the environment and the body but it is about the intervention of the artist pushing themselves right into spaces, producing this dramatic tension and imagery….it leaves a strong mark on the identity of Chinese art to form identities…a crystalisation of identity. What is courageous? What is radical in contemporary Chinese art?”

Simon Groom followed and spoke about the context in which the exhibition ‘The Real Thing’ from 2007 happened. He curated this with Xu Zhen and Karen Smith, who was mentioned earlier in this post by Curator David Thorp . Groom began by saying,

“The rate of change is such that two years in China, probably corresponds to fifty years in the West.”

He gave background and context for what he saw as a “holistic” exhibition, speaking of how research commenced in 2005, how artists were selected and chosen as they questioned what were their anchor points? What was real to them? What wasn’t? He highlighted the rate of change putting forward the question,

“How as an artist can you keep up with a society that changes so fast? The normal model is for an artist, in a way almost, to think, to re-imagine, to reinterpret society. If the context within which you are operating outstrips both its scale, imagination, affects millions of people, what role is there for the artist? That for me was the biggest question and makes China stand apart, culturally speaking, from many other parts of the world, offers itself up as a new paradigm as to how we think about art in the West.”

Groom referenced artists including Xu Zhen, Wang Wei, Yang Fudong, Qui Zhijie, Wang Peng and Ai Weiwei. In the panel discussion Groom made a very beautiful statement,

“Contemporary Chinese art is routed in a time and place with universal relevance and resonance.”

This references back to the conversation with David Thorp who also mentions the idea of relevance and resonance. Again another coincidence. Hill also mentioned how culture is understood as an industry in China, as a product This point I found interesting. Art can be seen as a product especially if looking at it from an art market point of view, which we were at this seminar. But it is many other things as well, intangible…?

Session two, ‘The Chinese Contemporary Art Market’ was more statistical and figures based. Graphs, plans, charts, stats and data regarding the Chinese Art market were provided by Managing Director of ArtTactic, Anders Petterson. Director of Chambers Fine Art, Simon Kirby, then spoke of his work in Beijing and New York, speaking of “oriental aesthetics”, where artists are invited to pose the next generation of artists, hence bringing younger people to the gallery to start conversations in new territory, in order to create an indigenous world of their own. He questioned,

“What different ways do Chinese people view their world? How might we view the world from different perspectives?…The terms of reference we use in a contemporary aesthetic are Western and used in China…There is a whole part of this world we know nothing about…we must try to get to the bottom of what does it mean to have a cultural background that is different.”

Finally Sylvain Levy, Leading Collector and Founder of the DSL Collection discussed a universal culture. He stated, in China, Beijing’s 798 Art District is the third most tourist draw, where they want to build 1500 new museums nationwide, most of them with budget in excess of $100 Million, by 2015. This is quite a benchmark to set. This again makes you think back to the issue of culture being seen as a product out there. Levy also referenced an openness to digital social networking media where over 70 million people in China have a blog, specifically giving Art Radar Asia as an example of “soft power” in China. I will hopefully be working for them as an intern and writing for them over the summer, but i’ll speak more about that when it is finally confirmed. I have a Skype interview with the Editor on Tuesday. Exciting! Levy finished on a fantastic quote that,

“Art is about singularity…every artists has its own personality, its own market and destiny. It is a landscape.”

So after this intensive afternoon of PhD chatter, I was very pleased to have met more professionals in the field which will help to inform my research. I aim to speak further with both Dr Katie Hill and Simon Groom over the summer prior to my fieldwork research trip in the Autumn. So where to next with this post? I would say I’ll try to keep it brief, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

The following day to the seminar I had a tutorial with Darren where we spoke of the interview, the seminar, the lost hard drive data, the transcribing, the recording and the archiving of conversations and interviews. What is and what isn’t appropriate to transcribe? Do you have to transcribe in full or can you paraphrase? We also talked about ethics in-depth as during the seminar an issue of “genre conflict” arose, which I haven’t spoke about as I don’t think I can yet, or can I? Basically, there were conflicting views around the whether the interpretation around ‘The Revolution Continues: New Chinese Art’ exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery was deemed successful or not. Until I can have further and more formal discussion about this I will not speak of it again. But this definitely hopefully makes for an interesting case study as part of my PhD.

I have started my role as Visiting Lecturer in  Photography/Fine Art Photography at the University of Wolverhampton as part of the final year students ‘Creative Industries and Opportunities’ Module. In the first session, I did a lecture on ‘Curating – the Hows and Whys?’ where I spoke about the exhibition \”home\” which I recently curated (and still need to do the evaluation for), whilst putting it in context of what kind of other exhibitions you can curate. The 23 students are a broad mix of backgrounds and ages with 6 of them being ESOL, which I think makes the session even more interesting as you become more aware of how you present material and information. On Tuesday, the session was largely based around ethics and exhibition applications. I recommended the use of Wordle as an online programme to establish what words you use the most in a statement and whether these are the ones you want to project to your reader. Here is what when i entered this blog post after I had finished writing it…

It’s interesting right? To see you text “visually”. I think you get the gist of what I was talking about today! Also I suggested talking to or being interviewed by friends or colleagues if you find it hard to write down your concept or personal statement. This brings me onto a-n Magazine who contacted me over Easter as they wish to print a version of the article ‘Lost in Context: Hand me a Pen’ in their May 2010 issue. I actually wrote this article for newartcriticism.co.uk Hit & Miss e-zine in April 2009. I will upload a copy once published.

Finally, a couple of creative things forwarded onto me which I thought might be nice to finish this rather extravagant post. The first is a “musical typewriter turns your essays into aural masterpieces”

Typing the Sound - Yanko Design

…which is such a beautiful mechanical device. The second is Brian Dettmer’s Book Autopsies. It was so hard to choose an image to put on the blog…

Book Autopsies © Brian Dettmer

Dettmer “carves into books revealing the artwork inside, creating complex layered three-dimensional sculptures.” I adore this labour intensive intricate work. So I reckon that’s all for today. I apologise for it being such a long read as I know thats not really the nature of a blog but thatnk you for reading if you’ve got this far.

Oh and on more thing, courtesy of my very generous RJW I have an iphone…but who doesn’t right? Think I might have been late in the game. It’s good and it’s bad, it’s occasionally temperamental, it’s addictive, it’s word games, it’s letter, it’s text, it’s messages, it’s a diary, a record, a source of my own history and mostly of my dialogues. I love that.

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