Monday, July 28, 2008
First. How does this happen to a person? Standing at a bus stop in Feijacun, Beijing with this outfit, a unicycle, and a popsicle:
Yesterday was another show in Tonghzou with my friend Andrew. I unicycled in a performance with 3 Santalopes, and a pizza. I participated in a show called "Dagaocun Art District International Artist Exhibiition 2008". I showed 3 videos; "The Hat", "And This, of Course, Is the Earth Down Here", and "Pioneer". I showed four works on paper: "Zai Zher" (Map of Beijing and Bishenke), "Zher" (small Bishenke prints), and "Pioneering I and II". The artist village is comprised of converted warehouses. They run an international residency where Andrew and friends are staying and working. I am glad to be able to check "unicycle performance art in china" off of my life to-do list. Phew. I thought that would be the most difficult one to accomplish.
After the show, I had dinner after with Andrew, Matt, and Julie at a local restaurant. How Cher. We reflected on the month and the different experiences that each of us had ~ mine a more solitary, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, make-it-up-as-I-go-along kind of experience where I was around more Westerners and in a more central location not far from 798 and Wanjing, theirs seemed to be focused on the project, getting the footage, and being absorbed in the fascinating local culture of Tongzhou.
I was able to speak some Chinese with some of the curators and Art Directors from 798 who attended the show. One guy said that I look very much like his elementary school classmate. Andrew, Matt, and Julie said that I look more Chinese than I did last week. hmm. Wo bu jer dao.
Today, I went to Gugong with Lu Ying and another friend of hers who teaches digital media at a college in a provence north of beijing. I didnt realize before today that there are mini museums within Gugong which exhibit Chinese cultural artifacts~ ceramics, painting, jewelery, canopies, etc... There are also many buildings where you can view the emperor's living and working quarters. The architecture is spectacular. The garden was jaw-dropping. There are certain places in China, where, when you stand in one place and just look around, taking it all in, it is just plain overwhelming. The shapes, the forms, the size of things, the types of things~everything, is unlike anything I have seen before.
While walking through the traditional Chinese paintings, we talked at length about the way which Chinese children are introduced to art---they learn how to paint the different styles from the different dynasties---each style has certain rules which the draftsperson must follow---a certain way to draw the leaves on a tree, a certain way to draw the mountains, a certain way to draw the water. Line is very important, as is gesture. Some of the paintings are very long and in the form of a scroll. These works are meant to be seen as the viewer passes in front of the piece---a time-based gesture. They are not to be observed all at once. This references cinema, the moving image, and any time-based medium. Capturing the natural movement of the figures is of great importance, and people are depicted in the act of doing something---playing an instrument, talking with friends, reading, etc... Returning to the way in which Chinese children are taught to paint---with so many rules to follow, and having to paint in such a way in order to enter the art academy---I wonder how this way of learning structures one's brain completely differently than the less rule-based style of American Art Education.
Also, the Chinese pottery is incredible to see in person. The patterns, colors, shapes, and intricate drawings have inspired artists in all cultures. I took many photographs of a particular vase which depicted 3 guys at the palace. Maybe one is Confucius, wo ber jer dao, I'll get back to you on that:
remember for bishenke~gold leaf on paper~possibly the rooves of the bishenke on the map-print~also remember to reference the aformentioned vase when planning the print. I am thinking about the design for the print. I want to keep in mind the score-based, performative nature of the project. Maybe this is the type of solitary performance I have been honing in on all of these years~ performance of the solitary kind (where does the performance come in with no audience, eh? eh?). well... the rules were set very clearly before this whole this began. The rules were: Go To Every Pizza Hut in Beijing in One Month. This, I accomplished. 39 Pizza Huts, within a reasonable radius of the city. I can't stress enough how strenuous an undertaking this is. Consider the size of Beijing, the heat of the summer, the stress of being stared at because you look a little different, then the fact that I barely speak the language, the difficulty of finding a map with Pinyin spelling, then figuring out how to prounounce the pinyin and understand when someone says a road name to me. Then, there was the initial translation from the Google searches of "Pizza Hut Beijing", which I could not do as an English-language Google search and come up with a comprehensive list. For this, I had to seek assistance from Yang Yang, the Chinese assistant at Imagine Gallery. Yang Yang and I sat together and made a list of the Bi-shen-ke's which appeared on the online yellow pages and then found them on the map. Out of this emerged the initial numbering system which matched the Bishenkes on the map to those on our internet-compiled list. It was difficult for Yang Yang to pinpoint all of the exact locations of the Huts on the map, because it was a Pinyin map and she had the addresses written in Chinese characters, plus, Beijing is huge, so many of the small roads were not included. This gave me approximate locations and a handy list, written in characters, which I couldnt begin to read, but I could go to a chosen Bishenke, approach someone on the street, and ask them where the building was as I pointed to it on the list. When they answered me, I had little idea what they had just relayed to me, beyond following a pointing finger.
It was actually the very first Bishenke I visited, in the northwestern part of Beijing---the place most difficult to reach from my home, where they gave me the all important card-list of all of the Bishenke in Beijing. This became the good word,and important to keep close to me as I tried to find more of the locations.
By bike, on foot, by bus, by subway, and occasionally by taxi, I proceeded to find every little out-of-the way and every big in the middle of everything Bishenke which Beijing could claim as of July 1st, 2009.
I can continue this process discussion, but now I turn to presentation...
I know that one of the pieces will be a large print and one will be a multi-channel video. The print will be an extreme abstraction of Beijing's ring-roads, with the Bishenke places in their approprate spot. The restaurants will be cut-out and montaged with multiple, different angle pohotgraphs of the buildings, then re-assembled and dropped on the map. From across the room, it will look very abstract, not until one walks almost up to the piece will they realize that they are looking at many small-ish (max 8" x 10" Bishenkes). I am also tossing around thoughts about the piece, from far away, looking like a chinese traditional painting~ the stroke style reading similarly, but then when you get close, you realize it is something entirely different. Almost as if you are lost and need to ask for directions in order to see the piece...
now there's an idea!
...anyway, perhaps I will use marker to try to recreate all of the trips I took in order to see the different buildings and take the photographs... stress the part about it being about the journey of the performance...
okay, i will write more later. now, I am tired. Gnight.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Mao Zedong had a saying, "You're not a real man if you haven't climbed the Great Wall". (不到長城非好漢)
I hiked the Great Wall Last Thursday with friends from Alfred-- Andrew, Matt, and Julie. We hiked a challenging route along the top of the wall---a 10 kilometer stretch from Jinshanling to Simitai.
I had many opportunities to speak Chinese on this 3-day excursion away from my home in Chaoyang to their gallery on the waaay Eastern side of Beijing, around their neighborhood to different restaurants, and the trip to the Great Wall with our hired cab driver--who drove like a maniac. The freestyle driving in China is scarier than the legal drinking and driving I experienced last summer in Trinidad. Julie made the astute observation that people drive here like people wish they could drive in the US---someone in front of you is too slow?? Let them be---just drive in the other lane toward oncoming traffic, pass them on the right shoulder, drive next to them in the same lane on a single-lane road, or drive on the sidewalk! Why not?
This hike was steep an long and included 30 of The Wall's towers.
One of the most interesting things along the way was the presence of hawkers---people trying to sell you goods (tshirts, fans, chopsticks), as you walk along the wall. A group of three women latched on to us for almost half of the walk. It started out as a friendly interaction-- we were walking together, they asked us where we were from, and, enjoying the conversation with the oldest of the group, I split off with her and was speaking at length with her in Chinese--I told her I was an art teacher and an art student, I was American, etc... she then launched into "I am a poor Mongolian farmer. No work. You buy tshirt?" I heard there were hawkers on the wall, but I didn't expect this many and this kind of persistence. These women, all in their 40s-60s, were all but running up and down the trecherous steps and steep inclines so they could ask us again and again to buy their goods. "Coca-cola? Beer? Water? Chopsticks"
There weren't too many other tourists along the route, which was nice. We saw a group of South African students, some English young people, and a pair of American Sisters. Along the way we shot footage for Andrew's Santalope. The footage turned out quite good.
We made it to Simitai, quite exhausted after 4 hours of hiking and taking photos. The end was pleasant--there was an Indian-Jones-looking rope bridge, and a zip-line (which we didn't have time or guts to do). We met our kind and crazy cabby. I sat in the front on the way back and talked with the cab driver quite a bit. It was here that I realized how much my Mandarin improved. By now, I understood about 30-40% of what he was saying. I told him we wanted to buy some fruite, that we were American, that we needed to use the bathroom, I asked him if he wanted to have dinner with us (he said no, he already ate), and I asked him if he liked the movie Ghost (that one was tough to get across).
It was a fine excursion and relaxing to mumble and use slang with American friends. Peace out...