Thursday, April 17, 2014

iDtown #3: The Factory

Girolamo in his studio box
The three of us for whom the factory was the thing began by scrounging. Maybe there's something in a western art training that encourages that? Girolamo pulled all sorts of broken pallets & crates & scraps of wood into his studio, Savinder collected artifacts from the still unemptied rooms of the former living areas of the factory and I snapped up as many as I could find of the plywood jigs that the workers had cut for gluing hardware to the giant glass studio doors.

Ours was iDtown's first residency & so the workers had no idea yet that what was refuse to them was art supplies to us. No sooner would Giro fill his studio with the detritus he needed for his installation than the workers would diligently return his studio to a pristine state. It got to where everything in his studio wore a label identifying it in chinese as "the artist's work." I, on the other hand, while on a bit of R&R in the big city of Shenzhen, got a call from Hang Feng on behalf of the workers: could they take down my installation as they still needed the jigs...artists stealing from workers, workers stealing from artists, made Hang Feng hysterical with laughter.

Savinder Bual had one of the best finds of all: a fragment hanging on an abandoned bedroom wall, portraying, as it turned out, the young woman chemist who steered the former dye factory's process. The collaged flowers were a weird synchronicitous confirmation of Savinder's preoccupations as she came into the residency. As various toys & gizmos arrived from Taobao to be promptly dissected,  Savinder's worktable grew into a wonderland of mechanical objects ready to bloom. Her playful experiments finally lead to a, for her, rare video in color, a celebration of the beauty of the peeling mint-colored factory walls & the spiral mechanism found inside a disassembled measuring tape.

To see the delightful thing that became of the blue green bulbs on the worktable, click here for "unfurling."

Without Savinder's help & encouragement, my own first foray into video would probably never have happened...still working out how to get it embedded here so for now just a still teaser...

Photo credit: Chen Hang Feng

Girolamo Marri loves to work that moment that so many of us would most prefer to avoid, that tense time when some idle interaction stretches out into profound embarrassment: the invited speaker, while remaining at the podium, never actually begins his speech; the TV interviewer, waiting for  the equipment to be "repaired," keeps the interviewee standing absurdly by...

At iDtown, Girolamo prepared a meal that could not be eaten...resulting in an extra factory run for resident artist Li Xiaofei. In yet another illuminating moment about "Made in China" really means (see Chen Hangfeng's Xmas ornament village), the factory turned out to be a workshop, stocked with PVC & microwave ovens & an extended family with the artisanal skill of creating, in plastic, extraordinarily faithful reproductions of real food. For Girolamo, they conjured up the remains of a chinese meal: a metal bowl smeared with sticky red sweet & sour sauce, another full of discarded fish bones, a small porcelain bowl holding the final grains of rice... all labeled "the artist's work" just in case...

Giro further put us all in an state of anxious suspense with his Nine Gentle Ghosts, 9 Moka Espresso pots rigged to eventually spew their contents out with a loud retort (a small anxiety of potential that I experience every morning as our own pot hisses to fullness...) I've since learned that in Rome, during a period of political unrest in the 70's, Moka pots replaced the traditional glass bottles as containers for molotov cocktails. Their handles made them easier to run with & to hurl, & that little factoid confirmed for me that there's a certain anarchic pleasure that Girolamo takes in the world.

For what I got made, stay tuned for the next post... 

For the first post in this series, an intro to the artists, click here.
For the post on the other artists at the residency, click here.

Monday, April 7, 2014

iDTown Residency #2: The Beach

Finally, a series of long overdue posts to bookend the post introducing the cast of characters at the iDtown amazingly productive time for all & here's what got made...

I was so entranced by the factory that I might not even have mentioned that we lived a stone's throw (or really, a leap over the prefab worker's shelter on the far side of our garden) from the beach of the South China Sea. But, interestingly, for all four of the Chinese artists (out of the seven of us), it was the ocean & the beach that were the thing. 

Ed Lo, perhaps answering his ancestral call to sea, spent his days on the beach harvesting sound. You might imagine this sound as that of the waves breaking on the empty shore during the lonely off-season but you would be entirely off the mark. This is China & even in a deserted village there is ceaseless human activity. Each day of even marginally good weather the beach filled with wedding photographers & dressers & stylists & their prey, the [very young!] newly- or soon-to-be- weds.

photo credit: my bad studio snap of Ed's beautiful b&w photo...
for more beautiful images go to "Ears & Eyes" at www.auditory

In Ed's black & white still, it looks like La Dolce Vita but it's actually Happy Island Photography, working to the susurrations of the charismatic photographer's "xiao xiao Xiao." (smile smile Smile.)

At the end of residency, everyone's studio box became their exhibition space...a new experience for all to remove the traces of a working studio & transform the space into gallery. The transformations were lovely in every case but it was in Ed's studio that I stayed on & on, listening to the stones & cement speak the quiet that was in hiding at the beach... Click here for something of the experience in Ed's "Eyes & Ears: Homage to Rolf Julius." And here for his take on the tranquility of the factory, "Eyes & Ears Special Project: Concert for the Empty Loft."

While Ed was trying to grasp the current moment, Jiang Hong Qing had flown off in his mind to the future history of Guang Hu, to a time when China is the world's only superpower & deeply invested in the genetic engineering of humans.

Photo credit: Collected from our WeChat exchanges...I think it's shot by Vivay, Glorious Barista.
On Guang Hu Beach, employing a plastic doll allegedly modeled on the Chinese-American basketball star, Jeremy Lin, and a slew of props ordered from the amazing Chinese online marketplace Taobao,  Jiang Hong Qing staged "Dust Harbor," a short animated film that somehow managed to fully capture the inner life of a young soldier yearning for home. Seemingly abandoned by his command, yet continuing to serve out of a sense of duty, he ponders the meaning of existence & of selfhood as reflected in the individual grains of sand on the beach. 

Jiang Hong Qing received a classical academic art training but eventually turned to video & animation. Film, he says, allows him to explore what he feels is the essential human condition, our existential loneliness, the way in which we are each ultimately unknown to the other. But, as He-Whom-I'm-Trailing observed, it was probably Jiang Hong Qing's skill as a figurative sculptor that gave the plastic doll the range of expressive postures & gestures that allowed one to so fully empathize with the young soldier, so completely believe in his identity and personality.

Li Xiao Fei whose work is all about factories - to date, he has filmed in some 190 of them - was often away from our factory, filming in the nearby industrial cities of Guangzhou & Shenzhen. Not so surprising as it's the factory work life that fascinates him & our factory was hollowed out of all but us "creative industry" types. But, in the end, it was not the factories but the stories told by the Guang Hu villagers about the dark tankers that hovered off the beach that inspired the video Li Xiao Fei showed in his studio box.

Juxtaposing the wonders of wedding photography & the silent menacing presence of the tankers illegally dredging sand offshore, Li Xiao Fei's video was poignant & amusing & quietly provocative in the mix that makes all of his work so absorbing to watch. As with Jiang Hong Qing, there's a central premise that informs Li Xiao Fei's Assembly Line videos, an epiphany that came to him as he rode the Circle Line Cruise around NYC, the reality that all of us in our way are on an assembly line, each of us finding meaning where we can in what we do. He writes: "Assembly lines, large or small, uphold social systems and maintain a surface appearance of order... This order is constantly being cut up, restructured, transformed and rebuilt into an illusory reality."

photo credit: all above snapped by me from videos playing in the artists' studio boxes
The little bell sound that Taobao's Chat makes is now forever associated in my mind with the artist who made it possible for us all to be at the iDtown residency in the first place, Chen Hang Feng. Those of us who don't read Chinese kept him so busy ordering materials on Taobao that he unfortunately never got to make any of his own work. But he did get to the beach. To all of our awe, in a wetsuit bought on Taobao, for up to an hour each day, Hang Feng swam in the cold cold sea.

Next up, what the factory inspired...