From Teaching to Taopu…

Tuesday began like this…

…a bit different from Monday morning’s smog. Tuesday also began with a little Rachel administration, work for the CCVA, and writing for my blog…all whilst drinking brown rice milk. I’m not sure whether I like this stuff or not…maybe it is better warm. It’s very gritty. The hours flew by that morning and before I knew it, it was time for lunch. Lisa and I went to ‘Vegetarian Life Style’, a restaurant a few streets away from work that does a set menu for 22 yuan (about £2).

It always tastes good, usually different each time you go. It baffles me as to how they manage to make food that looks and tastes so much like meat from tofu and protein substitutes. I think I’ll be seeing a lot of this place over the coming months. No complaints there as I love that place. Afterwards, Lisa and I always seem to need a little sweet treat, so I got a caramel pudding (I think Lisa got a cake). It was actually like a crème caramel in the UK that would usually come in a plastic ribbed yoghurt pot like tub that you have to turn upside down into a bowl and pull the tab on the bottom/top to release it. It tasted good although a little odd. It’s the difference in the dairy products out here. I’m not sure if I’ll have one of those again but at least I tried it.

Onto the afternoon teaching session, which was cut short, as I had to attend studio visits with Joshua in the Taopu district of Shanghai. In the time I had, I managed to complete brief one-to-one tutorials with all the students regarding the thematics of their “appropriation” projects and they seemed to be progressing well. Some students were far stronger with the research process and documentation within their sketchpads. This is definitely something I need to encourage students to build on, as these facets are so important as part of any creative practice.

I left AIVA at around 3.30pm to meet Joshua, Darren (who had arrived from Hangzhou), Laura (the Manager of AIVA) and the driver in the car park to drive to Taopu. Traffic was as usual a little crazed but we arrived in good time to see a couple of very key contemporary Chinese artists. The first was Liu Jianhua, an artist who reproduces ordinary daily articles, such as books, stuffed toys, shoes, hats and bags in the form of earthenware/chinaware, presented as sculptures.

He showed Joshua (and us all) a series of new works, which due to ethical issues I cannot talk to you about…I have to protect the concept. It is such a shame as they are incredibly beautiful works. Joshua is considering them as part of his and Jonathan Watkin’s (Director of the Ikon Gallery, UK) exhibition ‘The Unseen’ as part of the 4th Guangzhou Triennial 2012. However, I can tell you about Liu’s piece ‘Mark the Space’ that was shown in ‘Arts Towada’, Japan, in April 2010.

I thought it might be appropriate for the exhibition I am to curate on the theme of ‘The Temporary’ as it represents the negative space, the void that remains from a temporary experience, the temporary experience of lying or sleeping on a pillow. They are gigantic works, almost a public sculpture. I just enjoyed their presence, their look and function (or lack of function), the absurdity of their created and imagined situation as it addresses the boundary between the public and the private.

“Let’s imagine ourselves sleeping sitting on the dents on the pillows that somebody else has left.” – Liu Jianhua

I asked his studio assistant, Layna, to forward me further information so I can add it to the shortlisted artists folder on my laptop. A good moment as the exhibition’s concept is now solidifying in my head. Exciting!

Next was Xu Zhen’s MadeIn studio complex just across the road from Liu’s studio. I met Xu last year during my interview PhD research phase…he did remember who I was but can’t remember what we spoke about! I don’t think I would either if I was him…he must meet so many people. Xu took us round his workshop spaces and studio, which is attached to ShanghART, so he also took us round that space.

I interviewed Lorenz Helbling, Director of ShanghART there last year too. In one of the workshops, people were constructing new embroidered and sculptural works, which are to go on show at ShanghART later in November 2011, hence AGAIN due to ethical issues I cannot tell you much about them or their concepts. It is surprising how little contemporary (Chinese) artists actually contribute to the construction and fabricating process of their artworks. It seems it is cheaper and easier to get others to do it for you…though I do realise for some artists it is integral that the making part is done by them. I think this would be interesting to research…as to whether there is a tipping point for artists when they decide to get others to help, or to make the works explicitly for them. Joshua again was choosing some of these “unseen” works for the exhibition ‘The Unseen’ as part of the 4th Guangzhou Triennial 2012…and I think I was to have one as part of ‘The Temporary’ too…very exciting. I wish I could tell you about the concept!

After these quick conversations, it was time to head back into central Shanghai to go for dinner at ‘Lynn’, a fabulous restaurant that I have been to many times before. It was Darren’s last evening here…actually he was flying out at 11.20pm that evening so he didn’t even have the whole night. The rice wine came out again in full force to celebrate Darren’s Chinese adventures and departure, and my arrival…which when followed by cocktails at ‘Kiitos’…well you can imagine what happened…anyway, it’s been made official, I’m in Shanghai.

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