When in Rome – Transnational Dialogues 2014

Last year, I was selected to take part in the ‘Transnational Dialogues‘ 2014 project, specifically the Second Caravan China research event and part one of the project’s European closing events in Rome. My participation was based on the context of my on-going PhD research and independent transcultural curatorial practice. Sadly, due to surgery and recovery kingdom and everything in between (which I’m kind of done with at the moment after yesterday’s revelations), I could not go to the China caravan but I have followed the project as it has developed throughout the year. I was invited to talk as part of a panel discussion during the closing event programme that took place a couple of weekends ago at MAXXI | Museo nazionale delle Arti del XXI secolo in Rome, and to contribute words to the second ‘Transnational Dialogues’ journal on the theme of “Change Utopia!”.

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Transnational Dialogues‘ is an open and on-going cross-media platform managing and imagining artistic and cultural projects with a focus on the new geographies of globalisation and the emergence of a multi-polar artistic and intellectual world. ‘Transnational Dialogues‘ facilitates artists, creatives, professionals, intellectuals and writers from Europe, China and Brazil to come together for a series of exchanges in both physical form and online. The platform promotes sharing of information, networking, and conceptual collaboration between individuals, organisations and institutions working in a variety of disciplines transnationally, and offers a trampoline for future collaborations and initiatives. Under the slogan “ChangeUtopia!”, ‘Transnational Dialogues‘ 2014 reflected on the failure of existing economic and social models in the three regions, and the role of artists and cultural production in gesturing towards alternative futures. The process takes the form of a year-long process of networked-production, a multilayered exchange and mix of virtual collaboration, meetings, seminars and caravans.

The closing event took place at the beautiful concrete brutalist designed MAXXI Museo, Rome, within the context of their current exhibition ‘Open Museum Open City‘ curated by Hou Hanru – the museum’s current Director and, as I hear, turning the place around going from strength to strength (at a cost obviously). He popped in and out of the event on the Saturday, including for my in discussion event – thanks Hou! Artists, curators and researchers were invited from the Brazil and China caravans to take part in a diverse series of discussions and performances. A list of some of the closing event participants can be seen here, and the final programme (in Italian and English) with talk/discussion/performance themes here.

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One of the outcomes of the ‘Transnational Dialogues‘ 2014 project was the publication of the project’s second journal – “Change Utopia!”. The articles examined three main research strands – Utopias, Futures and Dreams [U], Artists and Cities [C] and Cultural Policies [P] – published in English, Chinese and Portuguese.

[U] starts with a reflection on aesthetics and politics by Luiz Camillo Osorio, followed by a thorough overview on how this applies to the recent wave of protests in Hong Kong (Rachel Marsden). The discourse continues with memories from a visit to a garden, the utopia par excellence, by Chinese novelist Hu Fang. [C] follows with an account of the activities of ‘Entremeios’, an urban design project in Rio de Janeiro (Barbara Szaniecki and Zoy Anastassakis). From São Paulo comes the experience of Largo da Batata, which looks at public and collective making (Laura Sobral). Finally, Andressa Vianna and Chico Daviña invite us to leave our comfort zone when undertaking such transnational dialogues. [P] brings together analyses and reflections on the interaction between the governmental, the commercial, and the practitioners’ spheres in the artistic, cultural and creative sectors. Starting with a quick overview on China (Wang Dong), the section focuses on Brazil with contributions from both practitioners (Mariana Lorenzi and Jota Mombaça) and politicians (Juca Ferreira and Tatiana Richard). The journal also features photos and artworks by Adeline de Monseignat, Andrea De Stefani, Dao Dao, FangEr & MengJin (Fake Design), Kate Thackara, Laura Engelhardt, Lin Jingjing, Luca Forcucci, MP5, Nina Gschloessl, Ronald Duarte, Tianji Zhao, Xing Xin and Zhang Kechun.

I love getting a new piece of fresh print…especially when I’m published in it…it smelt amazing…and there is something special about the newspaper zine nature of it too. I’m being sent copies to distribute, so if you want one let me know.

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I had been following the Hong Kong protests since they had been unfolding, which Luigi Galimberti, Coordinator of ‘Transnational Dialogues‘, had seen through my social media feeds, so I was already forming research methodologies. After discussions with him about the thematic of the article I was to write, and due to the end of September deadline for/timing of article submissions, in the end it seemed appropriate for me to comment upon this current Hong Kong protests-Occupy Central-Umbrella Revolution-Umbrella Movement including the art about, and from, the unrest…hence, I came to write ‘Hong Kong’s Visual Politics – A city observation or global “agitprop”?’, which can be read here through the full journal edition on ISSUU…http://issuu.com/euroalter/docs/td-issuu-web/1?e=1106430/10132447…or downloaded as a PDF here.

Here is the introduction to give you a taster…alongside which I cite the work of numerous creatives and artists including MILK, Stand By You: ‘Add oil’ Machine’ for HK Occupiers, ‘Wishing Knots’ (2014) by Ye Yun and Nozomi Kanemitsu as part of Beijing Design Week 2014, Sketching Occupy Central/Urban Sketchers Hong Kong group, photographer Lam Yik Fei, Beijing performance artist Huang Rui and more, concluding on my personal definition of a new “agitprop” culture.

“In the few days of writing this article, the political, social and cultural contexts embedded in the words ahead changed faster than my fingers could type. As protests go, the student-led Occupy Central’s ‘Umbrella Movement’ in Hong Kong has become a defining historical moment in China’s history, the biggest pro-democracy protest second to Tiananmen Square of 1989. It has taken hold of the world’s (social) media since 28 September 2014, unfailing in its strength and diverse voice, developing more unpredictably and faster than China’s city skylines,giving a potential new power to the people through what I’m questioning as a new global discourse – China’s contemporary “agitprop” culture.”

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Agitprop by Rachel Marsden 1 Agitprop by Rachel Marsden 2

15 November 2014

Session 1

The closing event began with ‘Who is…’ a performance by Chengdu-based Chinese artist Zhou Bin. In this durational one-off, site-specific performance, Zhou Bin sat on a chair in the space, leaving one empty opposite him. With his eyes closed, in silence and with no performance breaks, he methodically, ritualistically and meditatively picked up a pearl from a bowl that sat in his lap, throwing each one against one of the gallery walls he sensed around him. The sound of the pearl hitting the wall surface pierced the tension of viewing in the space…over and over and over again creating a performance rhythm. The bowl contained thousands of pearls, each representing one day spent with his wife. When there were no more pearls left (which was very late into the evening), the public was asked to help re-collect the pearls with the artist.

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Photo courtesy of Elena Dalibot

Photo courtesy of Elena Dalibot

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Zhou Bin is one of the best known performance artists in China. After he has graduated from Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts, he took part in the artistic communities of Old Summer Palace and Songzhuang in Beijing. He now lives and works in Chengdu, China. Zhou Bin has created more than 50 performances that he has been taking around the world. He has recently founded “Micro Body Language”, the first “body art” festival in China.

Session 2 

Whilst Zhou Bin‘s performance continued into the afternoon and evening, Luigi Galimberti introduced “Change Utopia!”, the ‘Transnational Dialogues’ Journal 2014 that I have previously spoken about, and about the forthcoming programme for the two days. He saw the event as an exchange dialogue…a question of a need to rethink the reality we are experiencing. We are not giving solutions, we are debating, raising questions, talking about what we have faced. Through the three themes of ‘Utopia’, ‘Futures’ and ‘Dreams’ we will go beyond superficial observation of a European point of view and perception of museums…art and the city and the relationship between the two, but how can we understand this space from different points of view, understand the reality of life…also, the “Cultural Politics”. This is an opportunity to spread the word, information on the developments and the limitations, sharing our reflections.

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Luigi’s introduction was followed by ‘Festina Lente’, a performance-Dialogue with You Mi (curator, Cologne) and Lorenzo Marsili (director, European Alternatives, Rome). Starting from archaeological discoveries until recent urban redevelopments, Lorenzo Marsili and You Mi tried to draw and re-draw the history of the cultural, artistic, architectural and social developments of China and Brazil, and of their ties with the European context which often acted as an invisible but influent bridge among those two countries.

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Session 3

Next up was the panel discussion ‘Hong Kong: Art and Protests’ where I spoke alongside Wang Dong (Curator of the He Xiangning Art Museum, Shenzhen) with moderation by Lorenzo Marsili. The session aimed to talk about the current protests taking place in Hong Kong in the last weeks, considered on the topical moment of Chinese contemporary history, second only to the protests that took place in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The cultural discourse that crosses the “Umbrella Revolution” is intrinsically linked to the development of the social media, of digital art and of democratic propaganda.

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Photo courtesy of Elena Dalibot

Photo courtesy of Elena Dalibot

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Photo courtesy of Elena Dalibot

Photo courtesy of Elena Dalibot

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Here are some of my notes from the session that I frantically wrote down, largely citing Wang Dong’s perspectives…China has a “special” situation, after the Cultural Revolution happened in 1976, China has become more tolerant in social and economic contexts. In China, contemporary art is about collective memory, trying to express freedom…indicative of experience and feelings of society. More museums…a new museum is being built every day showing that the Chinese government gives a position in the support of the arts and of culture. In Hong Kong, the Umbrella symbolism leaves a lot left to be satisfied in terms of contemporary art…art relationships on site and in a social context. 10s-80s-90s are different in terms of histories in China and Hong Kong. For Hong Kong, political terms are inevitably used…and today as to what we can find out. I stated my issue with the work “democracy” and how it is culturally specific in terms of an action, movement and term. With art, comes new and more possibilities to EXPERIENCE. Positively, this “real” situation is related. Lorenzo asked about the intellectual, social and economic relationships in China…where having a discourse is more artistic in terms of a code, vocabulary, that pushes up art and politics…it is all debatable.

“What extent is art a privileged language in China?”

Wang Dong questioned what is art? Are there any bubbles in the art market now and what is the invisible hand in the art market? Ai Weiwei is famous for contemporary Chinese art for 1) expectation from the West, an image that stands for what democracy is, or freedom from China, and 2) We should have artists like him to do things for the rest of the people…art gives a possibility to speak in China. If we go back pre-1997 and handover for Hong Kong, what was democracy then? When owned by the UK? What is democracy now? And during 2000-02 and 08 global economic crisis?

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Photo courtesy of Elena Dalibot

Photo courtesy of Elena Dalibot

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The Umbrella Movement, their ideas, all about their life and social movement, a “blasting fuse”, start a reasoning. They are asking for a better life. They don’t see their future as bright. What is the real reason behind all of it? Not what is said in the media as it is seen from any different levels and perspectives. The Hong Kong economy has reached a problem through the occupied business area.

Lorenzo questioned when we speak of Hong Kong in Europe, is it close or not close to contemporary art in China? Are their two different art worlds? United art worlds between Hong Kong and China? Wang Dong replied stating the current social and political status in Hong Kong, Macau, China affects this. In Hong Kong and Macau it is more about community art, social reaction and reflection. Chinese younger artists are self-expressive and don’t care about social and political matters. The younger generation are different in terms of thinking and thoughts on China. Hong Kong artists are more interested in art that is more for communities and the people. Public space and museums to advocate arts for the people.

Robin Resch who was also part of the ‘Transnational Dialogues’ project, asked about the reaction from the younger generation in China. Wang Dong stated that the younger artists are more about the art market. Does not mean that the younger generation of artists care more about their future, care about society and politics. Art education in China and being an artists is a tool in your life. They want a bright future in art. Europe has a long history in museums. Children in Europe own a unique perspective that parents will not get. Natural relationship with art. 70s/80s serious political movement. Can’t imagine what life people had. Parents lives impact of younger generation of artists – also current art education systems. Reference made to the “lucifer effect” – experiment in USA of 18 volunteers in 2 groups, the officer and prisoner, sadistic or emotional. Wen we take part in a collective movement we forget our own feeling. Once your in this, you have to keep in mind, automatically follow the group, collective aim, target which gas towards conflict with Police. Students react radically, unbearable. Police’s duty to protect. Sometimes we have to stand out rather then getting into thee events. Is this what I want or is this conformity a behaviour? Another question from the audience asked what art is or art could be? Art as a service for the public, serve the public to be beautiful.

“Agitprop” seems designed and polished(?). Shared over the internet, common place, inter-specificity, opposite of interactivity. “Demonstrations for change”. Wand Gong – social movements in Hong Kong…the Umbrella Movement…who is ultimately behind this? Thinking deeply – difference forces ideas. Art should not only be a response, it should sense those behind the movement. Being a Hong Kong artist, how to raise ones own question, not just a response. Lorenzo then asked how these questions and debates resonate in Brazil where in relations to the internet and the street, decentralisation of power, no parties/movements, no people taking the flag. “Imaginarium” people have now, it doesn’t matter if we question how it is achieved. The “imaginarium” is more open. Desire and possibility if going to the street.

Session 4

Following dinner in MAXXI’s restaurant – I swear it is compulsory for contemporary art galleries to have killer-good cafes and restaurants – it was time to get lost in ‘De Rerum Natura. Field recordings from the Amazon’, a sound art performance by the Swiss and Italian composer and artist Luca Forcucci, who is currently based in Berlin. The piece samples recordings from the Brazilian rainforest as the main musical material. “The performance explores the experiences of listening, where the perception of the dynamic relation of space and sound are the main element.” Funnily enough, when the performance was taking place, there was a HUGE thunder and lightning storm in Rome that interfered and interplayed with the performance through additional light and sound. As I was laid horizontal on the polished concrete floor with my rucksack as a cushion, I got lost in what consumed me aurally. As you know readers, sound art from, of and influenced by Chinese contexts has become a current research interest area so I was very pleased to witness this and meet Luca…who strangely (but not so strangely as it’s wordgirl’s world), knew a handful of my closest Shanghai friends. Small world as ever. Small Chinese art circles as standard.

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The final session of the day was by Petra Pölzl (curator, Berlin) who presented a showreel and critique of ‘Performance art from China’. Her instinctive selection presented documentation from past performances undertaken by artists from Beijing, Chengdu and Chongqing, China, some of which had never been displayed before out of the country. The videos showed strategies employed by the artists to express individual and collective concerns through time, space, their body and their existence…themes of “apartment art”, “meaningless art”, everyday actions, banality, “internal affairs”, ritual and daily ritual, endurance practice, self-harm, political protest and more. Featured artists were Huang Xiang, Dong Jingling, Li Binyuan, Liu Chengrui, Liu Wenchao, Alessandro Rolandi, Sazi and Xing Xin. This session was great to end the first day, to be immersed in the reality of art practice, first -hand insight…then joined by an exhausted Zhou Bin, who had finally finished his on-going performance. It would have been good if there was a greater opportunity to unravel some of the themes from this session with wider audiences as the crowd has wained as it was much later in the day.

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16 November 2014 

Session 1

I didn’t attend the morning session “Open Museum”,  a performance-walk with Bel Falleiros (artist, Sao Paulo), Robin Resch (artist and curator, Berlin) and Lorenzo Romito (Stalker, Rome) as I decided to go and hunt, discover and find things in the city, having a short morning adventure in Rome. So much to see in the city and nowhere near enough time! Some of the questions they aimed to ask during the walk included – what defines the centre? Where is it and what does it mean as a starting point for a walking dialogue? How do we perceive the spatial territories within the city? Where are the transit zones and boundaries? This new walking performance was part of the collective and performative journey that the artists involved have been carrying on across Europe, China and Brazil.

Photo courtesy of Elena Dalibot

Photo courtesy of Elena Dalibot

Session 2

The afternoon session started at 3pm in gallery two of MAXXI with “Open City”, a discussion with Bel Falleiros (artist, Sao Paulo), Robin Resch (artist and curator, Berlin) and Lorenzo Romito (Stalker, Rome) with moderation by Luigi Galimberti (coordinator, Transnational Dialogues). They discussed findings, narrations, memories  and recollections from the morning performance “Open Museum” between notions of peripheries and centres, urbanism and art, artist and citizen. It developed ideas on ‘the verge of the flâneur spirit of Dadaism and the methodical research of political spaces to live and share’ whilst building on the collective and performative journey that the artists have been involved in across Europe, China and Brazil for Transnational Dialogues. “Open Museum” aimed to question what defines the centre? Where is it and what does it mean as a starting point for a walking dialogue? How do we perceive the spatial territories within the city? Where are the transit zones and boundaries?

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LR: The walk was through “actual territories”…what I call the islands of the contemporary city.

RR: Not so important as where, but why and how we get there…and who we meet on the walk who lead us somewhere…it is the interactivity on the side.

BF: To see the difference and similarities of backgrounds, even when it is just the three of us we can talk about that. The direct experience you have with a city through walking, makes you want to talk about it. I liked the part of the walk where we walked down to the river as it is something between built and natural space…some kind of architecture and ruin of different spaces. All these elements that construct this landscape is nonsense but at the same time beautiful.

LR: It is crucially important for us to relocate ourselves and understand our sense of place to get you in the habit to recall, the necessity of understanding who we are and the others. Our view of the site becomes intense…there are a lot of different approaches, that eventually collaborate to name or produce a space. This is a way to name space. Those left over spaces are known as “non-sites”, these are really the sites. The city will never find a future if we don’t understand that we have to relate to that…not everything can be included in the city. We have to recognise an “outer space”, the leftovers, the garbage, the other…these are the sign of the future that we must acknowledge. If we don’t know how to re-inhabit this space as the common space, we will never reach a future for the city…when the city is dying out.

RR: What is requires is the participants of the collective work to tune into a collective frequency. The longer the walk, the longer this can talk. On the walk we were only just tuning into each other.

LG: At least two places, we did illegal/borderline crossing. That’s important and the point. Can you talk about doing illegal things to conquer reality.

RR: Don’t have to respect each boundary around you…you have to decide whether to go back or go further and take the risk.

BF: I was thinking of the idea of art or the city has some sort of guide so you never have the risky experience. It is like going through this real experience when taking risk.

LR: Transnational work is not just walking its walking across…we are losing our capability to function on our own. There are applications to do things for us. Risk…we take the responsibility to see what we are not supposed to see…we already find a path…there are holes…there are ways to enter. We cannot trust the media in the way that they talk about the place, we cannot trust urban planners in the way that they create the space.

LG: How was the walk this morning different from a walk in Berlin…in terms of trespassing?

RR: Many similarities, wastelands, abandoned buildings, riversides. The two cities are extremely differently but in the walk you couldn’t feel in that much. What is the possibility of walking, of trespassing different territories different to city planning, you can lose yourself and find yourself in different occasions…you can open doors inside of yourself. It validates a lot for me. It open doors to the space you inhabit many times.

BF: It does have similarities to Sao Paolo…the island feeling and forgotten spaces. Sometimes I was feeling a little in Sao Paolo but the background is much harder…it’s much dirty, the social problem is bigger, it’s much different. At the same time I realised there are less fences than there…you are always transgressing the space. There is a lack of memory…spread of memories…in Italy there is an over-presence of memory.

LR: Rome is a city of design…this city of turning into ruins, that them became a new infrastructure and a new vision…this is when modern Rome was finished. Since then contemporary Rome has been a waste of land and an abuse of ideas. This is when we felt the urge to walk across. The effort to build a third Rome has only been an ideological effort. Contemporary is a stop to the becoming of the future…it is a timetable…the spontaneity that is the frame of this city can recreate a possibility. It is place where we found insurgence and the future in the banality of space. It is learning to adaptation of the change. Contemporary does not allow stratification. I see contemporary as a strong critic to our social and political parameters…when it comes to a culture we share this term contemporary. I would put the term contemporary to a museum to go forward.

BF: Contemporary can embrace so many different things. It is a giant field. In Lorenzo’s text, I can insert this question, the lack of experience of the spaces, this bombing of information, and you always have to have an opinion, these things make us aware of our responsibility, far from our direct experiences. I miss the more direct experience of things and also, the true experience of art.

RR: One misunderstanding that happens is that contemporary art happens in a contemporary art museum and a contemporary art fair…it is “interpassivity”, which has happened in the contemporary art world, messages get passed quickly, it is one aspect of contemporary art.

LG: What form do you give to your urban explorations? How do you document your works?

RR: I started looking at methodologies…I use photography, drawings. I did daily walks in Rio de Janeiro…I would try to make maps, emotional maps, but I stopped doing that. More recently I started doing a collective umbrella, that guides people through a GPS system…an experiment. The more complicated you go, the more opportunity you have to lose the direct experience. I don’t have a methodology of documentation. I transform the experience into different objects or works.

LR: We use this idea of mapping in different way…socialising this esoteric practice with different people on masse, we started using a blog and maps. We strategically proposed the area that we were going, asking the people who were with us to tell us more…we tried through this experience to get diverse contribution. Socialised and left open…the possibility for self-organised general plan of the city. If all this practice is spontaneous they are reorganising and understanding the city, changing the visibility of the work, where the experience would become the image and the city the background. It is about planning. To shape the city of the future we don’t need planning we need an awareness…a recognition of the becoming of the city beyond the planners and architects. Contemporary is omnipresent-present. We have to be confident…we need to give space to space.

BR: In the beginning it was more collecting images and notes…then collecting things, 2-D objects I found in the street, now I’m more interested in objects, such as stones.

Audience: The idea of a going for a walk – the idea of going for a walk – it is more than often an individual thing. The idea of contemporary and the collective…this group idea is actually cementing the idea of the contemporary as a one experience. It is the changing of the boundary, playing with the boundaries…trespassing…pushing back against the areas you cannot go. As a group you can do this, as an individual you are threatened.

Me: Can you define you work as part of psychogeography and “drifting”?

RR: Walking was drifting…a drift group in Vienna. For me it was a crucial entrance but I think my work goes beyond a drift and a psychogeography…territories inside of the city…spaces that have no interrelation…no emotional borders. Through a drift you can have a more intense feeling about it, sharpen your senses about it and you emotional reaction it.

BR: It is interesting in a drift you can reach places you won’t reach through a defined routine. I like the idea of their rules and methodology background, it is interesting to make something out of this very spontaneous society.

LG: What is drifting?

LR: It is a river. All these attempts to recreate the possibility of exploring space. Exploration wastes experience. Cartographic discovery of the West is defined as a return…Mapping. Re-enable ourselves to feel free to discover, explore, travel. To explore we have to reset. How do we recreate the emotion to explore? It is a human necessity…we should get rid of this bizarre attitude that it is very subversive somehow as it can change our way of looking somehow.

Session 3

Following on from this session was “Curating the Metropolis”, a performance-dialogue with Marta Mestre (Curator, MAM – Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro) and Wang Dong (curator, He Xiangning Art Museum, Shenzhen). These two young curators from established museums in Brazil and China engaged with the questions what is the need to reach out to new audiences? Is it related to the need of justifying the spending of public money for culture? Otherwise, what could new audiences bring to cultural production? How do museums in Brazil and China behave in this respect? Are museums the real arena where politics and art meet each other?

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“Curating transformations in Rio” by Marta Mestre. She introduced her background stating the peripheries in Rio – the favelas – play a key part in the city and culture. She looked at the configuration, emerging cultures and social changes of Rio in the last ten years. “A city squeezed between the sea and the mountains”…11 million people in Rio…6 million in the centre of the city where 20% are in favelas. She showed the difference in the metro development between Rio and Shanghai where Rio still only has two metro lines and Shanghai over 20. “Me alone selling the view – Me alone seeing the view – I only sell the view – I only sell if you pay in advance.” Rio is a city of contrast, a broken city split between “morro” and “asfalto”. Marta spoke of  how the poorest communities in Rio started to change citing statistics of general Brazilian social change, and global projects and exhibitions as to how the museum could be in the future.

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“Curating the Metropolis” by Wang Dong. He is currently doing a PhD at HKBU in Hong Kong in curatorial practice and audience development. In his presentation he looks at the development of gallery culture in Shenzhen and his initial research into Macau, Hong Kong and Shenzhen. He introduced the art ecology in Shenzhen…until 2014, they have 18 million people…Shenzhen is a young immigrant city of 3 million.

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He cites He Xiangning Art Museum is one of two national art museums there, OCAT Shenzhen, Dafen Art Museum. Live spaces including B10, OCT-Loft, The Old Heaven Bookshop…F518 fashion creative zone…Print Artists Village. There is a shift of artists from the centre to the periphery of the city…”Voice of the New Whp”. He went on to speak of the culture production and transmission of He Xiangning Art Museum…the Shenzhen International Sculpture Biennale…exhibitions and projects as case studies. There are nine art schools in China producing many artists where the He Xiangning Art Museum specifically curate graduate shows. Wang wants to look into the relationships between human beings, capitalism and the environment citing Xu Bing’s recent project.

Xu Bing He Xiangning Art Museum

Wang then spoke of one case study called ‘The Benjamin Project’ with Dafen Art Museum and the Dafen Oil Painting Village. It is famous for it’s reproduction and mass production, a copy factory, of Western paintings from all over the world. Wang curated a project that had a close relationship to this idea of reproduction in Shenzhen, the idea of “made in China”, quality and copyright – ‘it is time for us to face these questions’. He uses Walter Benjamin’s book  ‘Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ as initial inspiration. Three German artists were then invited to go to Dafen Oil Painting Village asking artists to appropriate and paint Benjamin’s book…as shown below. Benjamin’s book was displayed alongside the series of paintings. A review of the exhibition can be read here.

The Benjamin Project

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The exhibition is conceptual…when you look at one there is no need to look at the rest as it is not understandable to the Chinese public…it is not understandable. Wang questions what he is supposed to do with this exhibition…how could he make it more closely connected with the oil paintings in Dafen and the audiences in Shenzhen. He invited well-known professors to give the public a presentation about who Walter Benjamin is and reproduction in China. Wang then did an open call…sending official letters to people who had twins, triplets and quadlets as he sees them as reproductions in everyday life, also making clear reference to the one-child policy. The children were then invited to the exhibition to see the show and become participants. What will be the main role of the public in the contemporary art world nowadays? There is a very interesting phenomenon…biennales, triennales, the same events, exhibition formats…we seem to forget the audience…neglect the audience.

Q: Are there independent spaces in China? What can these alternative spaces contribute in the contemporary art scene?

WD: In China, the new president just gave an open speech about culture and policy in the future – “we should keep on going with the strong development in art and culture because culture plays a prominent role in Chinese history and economy”. This positive message from the government…there are numerous museums popping up in China like mushrooms in Spring. We also have been intervened with the capitalism of the art market in China…younger artists are focussing on the art market. There isn’t a big relationship of the public to the art market…only minimal collectors. Entrance tickets are now charged to support the capitalist cycle. Our museum is free…but private museums charge. A lot of galleries in 798 Beijing, in 2008 because of the good market, a lot of good workers throw away their work, sell their work to buy things…so would just paint. It works effectively to them. Nowadays a lot of art galleries move to Hong Kong…there are heavy taxes for art businesses in China, that is way many have moved to Hong Kong to escape this. Awkward and embarrassment…China do not need an audience…however, we do need them at the opening. The audience have a role as an appendix in the contemporary art world in China. How could we get though datas and feedback from the public, to use that information and get it as part of curatorial practice…they also need to take part in constructing contemporary art in China.

MM: The way we are financed interferes with the way in which we curate. We have a big issue about spaces. The public and the private. The independent and autonomous spaces in brazil are in Sao Paolo…there is only one in Rio. This is problematic. In the museums, they are mostly mixed public and private. Since the public fund for cultural initiatives was created, it was a process of start culture all over the country. Nowadays in Brazil there is something very strong…which is the market? In the last five years the market has grown enormously…with some artists only working for the market. Difficult in a country where there is no commonplace. I miss some kind of autonomous spaces even to expose art. I think we have to take part of our audiences, instrumentalise audience and public otherwise museums will be a very boring place.

Luca Forcucci: Social art..art that becomes more discussion with art and the audience…it becomes more immaterial. What would be the role of the museum in this context:? How will you convey this form this practice? How as a curator will you crystalise these concepts?

MM: We must not trust only museums, they are the weakest links. We must see other links like the surrounding communities, Let’s share knowledge. The abandonment of art for other practices. It is very inspiring to see work that opens up a door to a window to think about relationships…relationships between communities.

LF: In the future will you become a network rather than a place to see works…maybe the museum of the future is the cloud.

MM: In 1978, MAM had a huge fire where the majority of the works were destroyed. How can we trust the museums or object orientated theory. It is important to think and share based on some kind of things that can not only be objects. One possible way is that you said. The object is based on a Eurocentric theory.

Photo courtesy of Elena Dalibot

Photo courtesy of Elena Dalibot

Session 4

Concluding the day and the closing event in Rome was the performance “ROLO” by performance artist Wellington Dias from Macapá, Brazil. I had very briefly spoken to Wellington when he arrived in Rome and only a basic understanding as to the nature of his performance art practice, so I was interested to see it “live”. It was originally created in Brazil where in Rome, it was the fourth time Wellington had a done the performance. ‘It is a ritual to give my body into the space, the exchange in the space. It is an experience to test the limit of his body…in one place’. The place is very important for him. The first time he did it in Brazil, he did it within a community where he had lived for 6 months, letting the people in, becoming part of it…the second performance he did after he finished university, on the beach…the third performance in the community were he was born as part of a social project. He said that people feel a necessity to help him when he is performing.

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Born in the Amazonian state of Amapá, Wellington Dias graduated in Performance Art at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO). He co-founded the Rio based collective Bando Filhotes de Leão (RJ). He is one of the coordinators of Casa Gira Mundo (Lapa, Rio de janeiro) and founder of the Bando Filhotes de Leão (Rio de Janeiro). His project “Tecno Barca”, which took place in the Archipelague of Bailique in the Amazon River, won a Funarte 2011 award and the Premio Samuel Benchimol de Empreendedorismo Consciente 2012.

The weekend was an experience that doesn’t happen very often…an extended interlude into my world of on-going (PhD) research into transnational exchange, the transcultural dialogue, the trans-collaboration, the global collective vision, the intimate trans-connection of space, place and people between China, Brazil and Europe. Everyone there for the same reason, to cultivate knowledge on a the same transcultural common ground…building new networks and pathways for translation, for meaning-making. It was also a time to realise how interlinked contemporary art circles are especially in or related to China, where I heard so many familiar names of friends, artists, creatives being referenced…and there is something beautiful about that. Through meeting these intelligent theoretical and practical minds, there is always the question as to what to do with all the material, ideas, thoughts, questions, created…we have already begun to start and continue conversations…to talk of new potential areas of research and project planning…to develop frameworks for future understanding. Brazil and South America have always been on my list to go and visit, get lost in, research their cultural ecologies…and now I have more reason to go and can’t wait. Until then, I have a PhD to finish…and a future to look into…

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3 responses to “When in Rome – Transnational Dialogues 2014

  1. Pingback: 2014: Expect the unexpected…and 谢谢 | Rachel Marsden's Words·

  2. Pingback: FACeTS (Fine Art at Coventry Talk Series) | Rachel Marsden's Words·

  3. Pingback: Research Networking Lab 3 – Culture, Capital & Communication: Visualising Chinese Borders (CCC-VCB) | Rachel Marsden's Words·

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