I was selected to participate in a four-week artist residency at the 501 Artspace in Chongqing, China. I have written this blog as a way of documenting the experience and what happens after the residency when you get back? This project is supported by Arts Council England, 501 Artspace & The Chinese Arts Centre.
Comparing my proposal to the actual outcomes of my project is still ongoing, although I do feel I achieved most of the original aims. Work that I actually realised in Chongqing was a street intervention, end of show ‘happening’ and an improvised stage performance. Since being back in the UK the experience of working in China has emerged in the form of new performances, video work, recently culminating in a live art/installation exhibition at the Chinese Arts Centre in December 2010. Due to the ongoing artist residency programme at The Chinese Arts centre I had the opportunity to participate in a group show facilitated by Wang Jun an artist I met during my stay in Chongqing. Whilst working at 501 Artspace I interviewed a number of artists to learn about their practices. This work continued in the UK with Wang Jun and I interviewed him with a translator, which was recorded and shown at the ‘Scholars Rock’ exhibition at the Chinese Arts Centre in April 2010. I have presented 3 artist talks at Liverpool John Moores University, Leeds Artspace and at The Chinese Arts Centre. Self-publishing in the form of a blog on Newworknetwork website, a-n artist talking, You Tube, Facebook and Twitter has provided a fast and effective way of showing my work to a wider audience. My artistic profile has been raised due to this online activity, which has led to more exhibition and event opportunities.
When I arrived in China in mid January it was the lead up to the Chinese New Year, which meant that the university was closing and students were travelling away to see family. This meant that it was not possible to present a formal Artist Talk. However to meet the requirements of my proposal I used a recorded artist interview which came about after I initially interviewed the Chinese artist Zheng Li whom then questioned me about my work. In my final ‘New Arrivals’ performance at 501 Artspace at the end of the piece, after a short Q & A I played the recording of my artist interview, which was translated throughout. During my time in China there were a number of events happening such as the ‘International Arts Festival’ in Chongqing and ‘Expo’ in Shanghai was being heavily promoted. From this experience I made work in reaction to these events and used the ‘private view’ as a framework for a leaving style party ‘happening’. ‘Event Culture’ is an international phenomenon a theme that has continued in my work.
Throughout my stay in Chongqing my host Yan Yan introduced me to new artists and from him I learnt about his experience of the live art scene. I spent New Year with his family, which was a unique experience to participate in local activity. Since being back in the UK I have made links with artists in Manchester who are due to participate in the residency programme. This has led to an offer of an artist talk at a symposium at the Chinese Arts Centre in 2011. In December 2010 myself and Philip Davenport an experimental poet worked together on an exhibition at the Chinese Arts Centre called, Ghosts move about me patched with histories a live art, installation. This was a new experience collaborating with Davenport and we feel that we have produced a piece of work that has the potential to tour. Working with new people has showcased my work to new audiences this has resulted in an invitation to perform at an event called Fuel, in Manchester, 2011.
What would you have done differently?
I do feel that 4 weeks was too short a stay and on reflection taking into consideration the time it took to travel to China and the Chinese New Year holidays, 5-6 weeks would have been the ideal period to stay. I have produced a large body of work, which I have distributed through social networking websites. However with hindsight I feel that the work should also be distributed as a designed, DVD, show reel that can be given out to curators and arts organisations nationally and internationally, which I did not take into account in my project budget.
This video piece is taken from the Chinese New Year, Gala TV show. When I watched the show in China there was an English computerised translation over the top of it which really undermined the performance as it sounds devoid of emotion. I found this amusing and have recreated the piece emphasising the computerized voice. This video was part of the installation at the Chinese Arts Centre.
Follow the link below to view the video:
Post Ghost, Part 2
On the opening night we had around 25 people whom we crammed into the space. On reflection it was probably too many as later performances with fewer people in worked best. Again I am still always surprised at how the audience, want to follow direction even though I said little although I used a lot of physical gestures. As I ushered the golden ticket holders through the glass doorway a wall of people met me. I have read somewhere that a group of 8 and under in a meeting situation will express their own feelings or views. However, if the group is larger individuals will tend to go with the crowd. I don’t know what it is but I do feel that the fine art audience is harder to please or get a reaction from. The audience laughed at my dancing and even commented on it while I was moving around. At the end I held my pose and they nervously clapped, paused and then clapped again almost trying to make me move through their actions.
I do find it interesting why people clap or laugh in this situation, which isn’t really funny, and my performance is pretty ordinary. It’s as if the audience are trying to gain some control of the situation and move me along. I was aware of this during the performance and would deliberately hold poses to slow the piece down and not adhere to the crowd. As there were so many people in the room some had already sat on the sofa and I was worried if they would move on my request. They did and I ushered the golden ticket holders to the seats and played the video. The rest of the audience were crammed behind the sofa or had moved to the adjacent wall quite far away from the video. As the video ended and the lights went off the room fell silent and I moved to the ladder. As I positioned myself in the doorway everyone seemed to stay still and not follow my movements, which meant that most people didn’t see me strike the light. The audience may of only heard this action or seen a dim light. As I left the audience in the darkened room they stayed their expecting me to re-enter the space.
I did three more performances later in the week and each one was so different depending on how many people were in the room. Repeating the piece allowed me to add more gestures which were needed at certain points to direct the crowd. I was most happy with an audience of 8, as they were more vocal, trying to speak during the performance. I felt more control over the group and at the end of this particular performance I had to go back and tell them the piece had ended as they just stood still in the room for about 10 minutes. Generally people acknowledged surrendering themselves to my control and feeling a tension of what was going to happen next. The most surprising performance was with only two people, one particular person who was British/Chinese had his hands up against the wall as if I was going to search him. He tried to talk to me a lot throughout the performance but I just cut him off by not speaking. During the dance it was very intense as I really pointed and moved close to them. The audience member commented that he thought I was a bit like witch trying to cast a spell on him. Other comments were;
It was like you were performing a ritual about life and death.
Some people are invited to the disco and others are not, whilst others get to be famous.
I felt included and excluded.
Why didn’t you give me something to hold?
I just wanted to follow you.
People with the golden envelopes had the privilege and we didn’t.
I wanted to know what song you were listening to.
How did you get the same dress that the lady was wearing in the video?
It was beautiful.
Post Ghost, Part 1
I know I haven’t been blogging as much as I would have liked however getting the work made in time was so close to the wire unfortunately this had to take a back seat. At the artist talk we had about 15 people, which was really nice to see, as I was worried that no one would come. I started the talk first as I wanted time to prepare for the later performance. I went for the more formal slideshow although I sat on a chair, as I don’t like standing behind reading stands. I decided to focus my talk around the work I was making before I went, blogging and my initial research before going to China. Unfortunately I have lost my China photographs and had to use my blog, which wasn’t ideal however I was still pleased that at least I had this to show. I missed a middle section in the talk were I wanted to show another video piece and make reference to feelings of absence not being unique to China but how I can have these feelings in any place. On reflection I should have had a rough script to ensure not missing stuff out although I think I did well considering there was little time to prepare. Having the artist talk before the opening was a good idea as it ensured visitors stayed for the whole event and got more information about the artist and the work.
The performance started with me handing out golden envelopes and fake notes to the audience who were waiting in reception. I ushered people with the golden envelopes to the wall and signaled the rest of the crowd into a different entrance. I escorted the golden envelope holders through the entrance from the street and they waited behind the glass door while the gallery audience watch. As I direct people into the gallery I follow them in changing my persona, thanking everyone for coming round my house as I slip my shoes off. I offer tea but only have enough for one person. I change into my green sparkly dress behind a mini changing screen and proceed to mime silently and dance. As I hold my final pose at the end of the dance people nervously clap. I move the people off the sofa to allow the people with the golden envelopes to sit and I play them the magician video. I stand silently til the end. Lights go out. I move to the ladder and climb, framed by the dark doorway I sit and strike a match, watch it burn. I descend the ladder and leave. The audience are left standing in a dark room and eventually I turn the lights back on.
Marking out the ghost
For the past two days I have been making my second video with a little help from my friend artist Andrea Cotton. I just felt at ease and happy to have someone assisting me who gets the way I work and has an eye for detail. I was filmed marking out the performance in the space with no audience. As Phil’s wallpaper is black and white I thought the video would work better if I tinted it the same colour. As usual I underestimated how long it would take to run through the whole piece, although the process is helping me remember the sequence of the performance. Today I need to install the DVD players and see how the whole installation is working. My plan is to do a full dress rehearsal and I may ask a few people to come in and watch. Usually I would not run through the final performance with an audience, as there is no guarantee how they will react. There are key sections in the performance that I need to test out such as the lights being turned out, changing over DVD’s and how to handle a chicken roaming around the gallery. I still need to prepare for the artist talk and I plan to use my blog and show some of my videos. I want to focus the talk on the development of my work, performance, the artist’s I met and the influence the residency has had on my recent work.