Saturday, 30 May 2009

An almost Osage gallery








On the airport side road, near Chaochangdi, there's a gallery complex with this unfinished gallery space. I was told that the Osage chain of galleries rented it for two years with the intention of opening a new branch there but the downturn stopped that. A little shimmying under a gate and the distraction of a small car crash on the adjoining road helped me get in.
There were barking dogs initially that raised my adrenaline level but they and I settled down to appreciate the birdsong and rustling leaves with the background rumble of traffic. The lighting is particularly theatrical.

Cycling through Feijiacun

According to a recent article in the Guardian, ()4 new highrise buildings are finished each day in China. My local village in Beijing doesn't have highrises but the pace of construction here is relentless. I wish I'd filmed the village when I arrived so I could show how quickly houses have been knocked down and rebuilt. But it's taken until now for me to be able to negotiate the streets on my bike with sufficient confidence that I can consider holding a camera at the same time



Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Hegezhuang unfinished studios with Stéphane




Next to the red brick gallery in which I danced last week is a compound of unfinished studio spaces. On Stéphane's last day in Beijing I brought him there to see if we could use the space. There were a couple of guys hanging around but when I approached them to ask them what they knew about the place, they said they didn't know. They cleared off, leaving us the expanse of courtyard to play with.



The buildings are not beautiful but it still astonishes me that the resources committed to their construction should have no outcome except to provide empty space for people to use as toilets; or for me to use as a backdrop for my research.



Unlike the solo material which I prepare in advance, adapting what I've brought to the conditions which I find there, with Stéphane the dance is improvised. It relies on the structure of a familiarity with one another built up over two years of working together. The outcome is takes longer to unfold than my constructed material. It explores rather than move forward to a predetermined outcome. Of course, in the constructed material, I think that though the destination is predetermined, what is learned and who I will be when I get to the end is unknown.

Dancing with someone else in these spaces is less familiar to me and though that's good, I haven't yet comprehended what it means for the work.

Friday, 22 May 2009

How we move and what moves us

Working on Dialogue, Xiao Ke and I continue to explore the different information in our bodies, acknowledging the different training systems that have contributed to our understanding of movement and also the wider cultural ideologies that shape our approach.

Teaching the dancers of LDTX, I’ve been confronted by the differences again. I saw the company dance last week and was impressed by their sinuous fluidity and their spectacular gymnastic ability but they don’t shift through space in the way I expect a contemporary dancer to do, they don’t connect strongly to the floor (though they can melt into to it like a ribbon) and they definitely don’t stand on one leg for any length of time. Most of the dancers, I learned, trained in Chinese traditional dance and have little formal training in modern techniques. That’s not a problem at all, except in so far as some of the choreography indicates a kind of modern/contemporary aesthetic which these clever performers can simulate but don’t really inhabit.
Teaching them Cunningham class was a challenge for me since they are so accomplished in one respect and yet don’t have the basics of the approach, on the other.

The theme of what’s different emerged again when I visited Beijing Dance Academy to see a project called Dancecross that Middlesex University’s ResCen has undertaken there. Contemporary choreographers from different countries including Shobana Jeyasingh from the UK had been invited to work with groups of recent graduates of the BDA to create short new works. (photos from the Chinese blog of the project here)The creative process is the focus of research. What I got to see was a piece halfway through Shobana Jeyasingh’s 12 day stint in Beijing. It was dynamic and detailed but Jeyasingh explained that the notion of weight and consequently momentum was very different for these dancers trained in traditional dance. Her knowledge of the ideology of Indian classical dance gives Jeyasingh some understanding of the approach of the dancers. She explained to me that for the classical or traditional dancer the idea of harmony is very important. The dancer is in harmony with the space and doesn’t consider its use in the dynamic and perhaps adversarial way that a contemporary choreographer and dancer might. She said that it had been necessary to explain this to the young dancers in her piece who didn’t understand the jagged lines of energy which she inserted through their movement into the space.

Thinking about this has been interesting for me, given my concern with the body in space. The nature of that relationship is never taken for granted. The performer has a terrain to negotiate, a place to be known and adapted. That makes the space an important protagonist/antagonist in my work.

And it tells me that there isn’t really an environment with which I feel sufficiently in harmony to be able to forget about it. That harmony is the infant’s world who hasn’t yet learned to differentiate its perceiving self from the objects of its perceptions. The dancer in the space is an individuated subject then, a thoroughly Western phenomenon that may not make sense in Chinese dance culture at this point.

Monday, 18 May 2009

He Ge Zhuang village








Opposite the unfinished gallery mentioned in my last post is the village of He Ge Zhuang which has become an exemplar of refurbishing villages in traditional style but with contemporary facilities. The project is the work of the couple who run the very tranquil Orchard restaurant in the village and who have set up the YinYang community centre too ( a mixture of Western Psychotherapy practice, Traditional Chinese massage, pilates – somehow very New York and tranquil and chai latte).



The Orchard also runs a charity to support the children of migrant workers in the He Ge Zhuang. Also through a project called REAL LIFE they intended to make some of the renovated traditional houses available to expats. Their publicity blurb goes like this:

Tired of living in a gated compound of luxury villas?
Wondering from the 27th florr of your downtown high-rise apartment whether is possible to live closer to nature?
While expats have traditionally enjoyed a special status in China, some have described the gated community lifestyle as far too removed from the reality of the Middle Kingdom. 'It's so fake,' we often hear people tells us.
In 2007 the Real Life Beijing Co.,Ltd., signed contracts with the local government officials to renovate several courtyards in the village of Hegezhuang in Cuigzhuang Township.

...

Most importantly, this project seeks to not marginalise the residents of Hegezhuang, but rather to improve the lives of both the villagers and the Real Life clients. Clients sign a long-term lease with the company which in turn provides a fair income to the village landlords. The clients, in turn, have the opportunity to enjoy a lifestyle not readily available to expats in Beijing, and which is protected by the Real Life company with official approval by the village and township governments.


I wish them well but there are murmurs of anxiety in the brochure copy, little nodes of tension not far away: 'a fair income', a lifestyle 'protected', 'official approval'. And the Real Life name sounds like the title of an organisation in some dystopian novel.

The fact the village is surrounded by trees makes it particularly peaceful.




Some of the village houses seem empty awaiting renovation.








It’s quite beautiful and I hope it works out for everyone.

Architecture of boom and crash-bang

I do go on about building in China but I’ve also come across a number of stalled building projects. Near where I’m staying there’s a huge space which was intended to be an art gallery but remains unfinished because there isn’t the money to complete it.







Next door is a series of spaces that were intended for use as artists’ workshops but these too are empty because there may not be the demand for the spaces that there was at the height of the China art frenzy in recent years, when young Chinese people decided to become artists as a quick way to make money! That’s changed now and many artists here seem happy since they think that quality will emerge from the ruins of the market funfair.




I attended the opening of a new exhibition at the Red Gate Gallery’s Watchtower space last Sunday. For the exhibition, called ReGroup - New Opportunities in A New Climate, some of the gallery’s well known artists were asked to make work on a much smaller scale than they’d become accustomed to in the past few years. The new modesty is more commercially viable in this climate and perhaps more appropriate.

So when I dance in these unfinished buildings in Beijing, I feel like I can insert myself in the narrative structure of the global financial crisis, as it is manifest here. What am I saying when I do so? Maybe nothing more than that I’ve survived so far. I’m still here. More than that, there’s potential I can work with.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Richard Long - Land Artist



"One thing I like about my work is all the different ways it can be in the world," he says. "A local could walk by and not notice it, or notice it and not know anything about me. Or someone could come upon a circle and know it was a circle of mine. I really like the notion of the visibility or invisibility of the work as well as the permanence and transience."


"I guess I'm an opportunist, really. I go out into the world with an open mind, and I rely to a degree on intuition and chance. The idea of making art out of nothing, I've got a lot of time for that. Walking up and down a field, or carrying a stone in my pocket, it's almost nothing, isn't it?" Almost.
Richard Long in an Observer feature

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Ikea Beijing and an art auction in 798








The hum and hiss under 798's art factory market video

Rehearsing Dialogue




While I'm here in Beijing, Xiao Ke, Yin Yi and I are rehearsing Dialogue, the piece we made in Dublin last year. We will perform the piece in Edinburgh in August but more pressingly here in the Penghao Theater at the start of June. For these rehearsals, we're using a great studio that's also in the village of Fei Jia Cun (just beyond the modeling school - that's modeling school as in America's Next Top rather than clay modeling). Quite apart from it being light and tall, this fantastic dance space has two bedrooms and a kitchen. It could be a great residency space if only they had wifi. I'm not jealous but having a dance floor is a little kinder on the joints than my concrete set up.



I have purchased some comforting yoga mat building blocks from the village shop (full of surprises - though decaf coffee isn't one of them) and the colours can't help but match the paint splashes on the floor.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Meanwhile in Dublin...'exemplary professionalism'

The Irish Times Digest keeps me in touch with news in Ireland so I was happy to read this feature about Sarah Browne and Gareth Kennedy who are representing Ireland in this year's Venice Bienale. The feature alludes to the couples 'exemplary professionalism' as some kind of counter to the questions that were raised about their youth and profile when their selection was announced. I'm glad they were selected, not because they're professional, but because they are good and because they engage with ideas and experiences that are meaningful to a wide range of people.

Gareth is bringing a group of Dublin buskers to Venice

AS PART OF Kennedy’s individual project, the buskers have already been in action in Dublin’s Docklands. Architectural photographer Ros Kavanagh has photographed them against contemporary buildings there – incongruously, as Kennedy notes.

“Docklands was supposed to be this new, thriving urban quarter,” he says. “You have the utopian language of the architecture, but it’s unfinished, it’s aspirational, and now its future is unclear, and the buskers look out of place against these empty glass facades. They’re part of the informal, human economy, as opposed to the official economy.”

The photographs will be on display in Venice, where the buskers will perform and, all going well, accumulate quantities of coins which will be displayed in a vitrine in a corner of the Irish space.

“There is always a public dimension to what I do,” Kennedy says of his work. “I like taking the notion of the vernacular, of the way people take what is given and somehow manage to make it their own.”


Taking what's given and somehow making it our own - a motto I'm always keen to promote.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Firecrackers

In the morning I hear firecrackers and late in the evening too. It puzzles me as I don't know of any festivals going on at the moment. I asked my composer friend why people are setting of firecrackers and he explained that in the villages people set off firecrackers to celebrate the completion of various stages of construction: the foundations, the walls, the roof. Each stage is also an opportunity to invite the neighbours to a celebratory meal. So in this culture, each house is also an exercise in community building. A wall can bring people together as well as separate them.

The frequency of the firecrackers in this small village suggests that the building boom hasn't stopped here.