Monday, December 23, 2013

iDtown Residency: The Artists

The floating corners on the left side of this image belong to the floating boxes that are the six studios set variously slant inside the shell of one of the former factory buildings at the iDtown residency. Inside the studios are:

Chen Hangfeng, a Shanghainese artist working in sculpture, installation & video, is the artist who invited all the rest of us. His recent 4-channel video documents an ancient Chinese village known in the Qing Dynasty for the beauty of its landscape, and in this dynasty, for its xmas ornament industry: it really changes your idea of "made in China" to see all the handwork & invention that goes into the "cheap crap" you buy at Walmart. Hangfeng's work walks a quietly political line between the art & traditions of China's past and the realities of its current culture of consumption.

Edwin Lo is a sound artist from Hong Kong. I am very curious to see what he captures here as the landscape seems to corresponds to so many of his themes. He writes about an earlier project: But something that is pretty hard to express are the emotion, isolation, solitude, nostalgia and romance associated with places I had been, which are unexplainable or even understandable. It probably is one of the key moments in my life that I really want to express and tell something anyhow...Ed comes from a seafaring family, with a fisherman for a grandfather & an oil tanker captain for a father, so it falls to him at every meal (and I mean, every) to answer the "what's this fish" question.

Jiang Hong Qing, a conceptual artist working in various media & teaching video in Shanghai, has out done us all for cool (la feng le in Chinese) with an exceptional pair of bicycle glasses. His quirky way of seeing the world slant comes thru in all of his work, including a project inspired by Roland Barthes in which he weighed against each other, on a scale, volumes of the Bible as translated into various languages. As we all hide from the [unseasonably yucky] elements at the local coffee house, Jiang Hong Qing is storyboarding a mythic history of the village, past & future, and ordering all sorts of curious props on

Commercial break: seriously, the coffee house here in this village is a complete outlier, like no other cafe I have ever been to anywhere. Molika, a.k.a. Vivi, who owns it, knows things about coffee that I didn't even know there were to know. In the evenings, she gives coffee lessons that include the science of brewing. She's been training a young man named Ah Baung, but, try as he might, his coffee has a bitterness that hers never ever has: it's all in the temperature, she says, so you can't really get a steaming hot cup but oh it is so sweet & smooth... and then there's the being whose favor we are all courting, the coffeehouse cat, Nai Pao...

Li Xiaofei,  artist and founder of a number of art spaces, does spectacularly grand - think of Frederic Church's icebergs - documentations in video & photography of factories that process elemental materials like salt & coal, & also incredibly touching interviews with the people that work in these factories. His is the kind of work that brings me sharply up against how narrow is my understanding of the world's realities.

Girolamo Marri is an Italian artist who worked in Shanghai for a number of years before heading off to the Royal College of Arts in London to do an M.A. in sculpture & performance. He's the Artist as Trickster, turning assumptions & pieties on their heads, in ways that are anarchic, funny, and revealing. Girolamo brings a whole cast of characters & false facts to every meal, recently  introducing into the English language, a Punjabi word, useful in art criticism, that describes dung so lowly that even a dung beetle refuses to roll it.

Savinder Baul, from the U.K., works in video animation, inspired by early film technologies like the zoetrope & the stereogram. Savinder taught in Shanghai for a year. In one of the videos that came out of that time, she attached a traditional Chinese kite of a falcon, a silhouette you often see in the Shanghai sky, to the ceiling fan of her flat. The bird rode around & around on the fan in a continuous loop. The existential futility of it could make you panic...or it could make you laugh.

And then there's me, the chirp. Writing this up, it strikes me that all these artists share a deep seriousness, a great sense of humor/appreciation of absurdity & an intense engagement with the human condition. I feel so honored to be included among them. Now, if only the rain & cold would quit so we could get ourselves from the coffeehouse to the studio...

At the coffee house.
From the left: me, Molika, the barista; Ah Baung, her student; Edwin Lo; Chen Hangfeng; Jiang Hong Qing.
Coffee house photo courtesy of  Savinder Baul; top photo, me.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Drawer # 3.7 : Coral by Sand & by Design

This drawer, with its bits of coral collected on a beach on the Chinese island of Hainan, came to mind as I walked today along a different beach, this one at the edge of a small fishing village on the coast of the South China Sea, just west of Shenzhen. I had imagined, while I packed to come here, sunny weather, temperatures in the mid-70's. But it's raining. And, in order to stay warm in the chill wind, I'm wearing just about everything I brought in my suitcase. Still, it is quite lovely in the quiet emptiness - so unusual for China! - walking along the beach bathed in the violet light cast by my new purple umbrella, purchased at the single shop in Guan He village, the Guan He Department Store, a proper old-fashioned five & dime.

I'm here as one of 6 artists invited for the inaugural residency at iDtown, "an arts district betweens the mountains & the sea." We arrived last Tuesday to find studios not quite ready (surprise) for occupancy but the former factory compound has been wonder enough, leaving me too gobsmacked to even shoot many photos. I'll post more about the factory & the other artists soon but for now here's the view from my studio box out to the end of the studio building, including one of the "la feng" (chinese for "cool") bicycles we use for the 5 minute ride between village & factory...when it's not sheeting down with rain, that is...

The two circular objects included in the drawer are cast ceramic filters for I-know-not-what, purchased in a shop full of other unidentifiable ceramic wonders. Their delicacy & the logic of their design appear to me as the human mind channeling the cleverness of the natural world's design.

In good weather, the village beach is crowded with the froth of brides posing for wedding photos. At the farthest end, there are a series of tableaus, mixing up, like this drawer, the natural & the man-made, in one direction the sea, in the other a factory, plastic gardens in between.

The natural world the manufactured world the invented world colliding into each other...

Drawer #3.7: From top, boxes 1, 2 & 4:  coral collected on Hainan beach; box 3: particle filters made of cast porcelain purchased in the hardware market in Shanghai. Drawer liners: chinese brocade in wave pattern.
Photo credit for full drawer: Bruno David; all others are mine.