An icy chill has descended, seemingly out of nowhere. The Public Art studios were freezing today – not as cold as Rogue Studios can be, but getting there.
I spent last night and this morning finalizing a presentation about my proposed artwork for Zhujiajiao, the water town. Unlike the students, who are working in groups, I will be working alone on this and so I’ve had to keep things as simple as possible. Time is also a major factor; the exhibition opens so soon I can’t believe it, these are not timeframes I am used to! My work often takes months rather than days to make, BUT it’s good to have normal practice challenged from time to time.
As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, Ling Min suggested I use an old boat as the site for my work. In thinking about what to do with it, I have let my visual experiences of Shanghai guide me – the vertical lines, repeated forms, covered surfaces and the collision of traditional and modern have all informed my idea – but there’s also a nod to the thirsty, as this is for a water town after all.
I’ve pitched the plan to Yijia and she seemed to like it, now all I have to do is convince Ling Min and I can get on with it…
At 8am students are already arriving at the studios. The Public Art course has a great space, or at least I thought so until Yijia, my host and lecturer on the course, says that other disciplines have much better studios. Sculpture, for example, has a cavernous and fancy space, but it’s not as scruffy as Public Art and so I don’t think it has as much charm.
The morning starts with student presentations to the Dean about how their plans for the Water Town exhibition are proceeding. Some of the groups have made great progress, however the Dean has stern words for those who have wasted time. The exhibition opens on 9 Dec and two of the groups haven’t even agreed a location for their work, let alone finalized a proper budget (good to see undergraduate students having to think about this aspect). Negotiating space for artworks in the Water Town should have been underway a long time ago, as both local government and residents have to agree to plans, which is likely to be about as straightforward as a drunken water snake.
I give feedback wherever I can, but it is a slow process as only Yijia and one student (who asks me to call her Grace) can understand any English. I decide to focus my attention on the group who are making a miniature mock-up of their “Floating Lawn”, as communication through making is an easier option. Pointing and miming is preferable to staring in blank silence at laptops filled with budget sheets/paperwork I can’t actually make any sense of.
The afternoon is full of hard work, wild hand gestures and laughing. The students are lovely. Once work is underway and they realize that their plan might actually happen, they get giddy with excitement. It won’t just be a digitally rendered floating lawn, it will be an actual one! The day ends with us walking down to the University Lake to see if their mock up will float. They lower the bamboo, string, matting and grass creation into the water and phew, it floats. They still have some hurdles to cross though – the design they have is for a lawn of 5 x 5metres and it has to survive on the river for 20 days…
I took a taxi to the South of the city today (Songjiang district), as I will be teaching for a few days at the Institute of Visual Arts. I was reminded once again just how massive Shanghai is – the taxi took an hour and a half and that was with traffic actually moving!
The Institute is part of Fudan University. I haven’t had a chance to look at the campus yet as Yijia, the lecturer who invited me, took me straight to a hotel. I am writing this 15 floors up at the Hotel Vienna. The wind is whistling outside my window and the view tells me there is still a lot more Shanghai out there. Where does it end?! This part of town has a slightly French feel to it – it has wide, tree lined boulevards, which the skyscrapers and futuristic glass domes of the University’s many, many Institutes render tiny, despite them being the equivalent of major roads back home.
I’m looking forward to meeting students tomorrow (despite the 8am start). I’ve had a nice bit of email correspondence with some of them already, which makes the whole thing seem a little less scary. In the meantime, more sketching and collaging and drinking Chinese tea puts my mind at ease.
Sunday weather. A grey, muggy morning turned into a day of torrential rain, but as luck would have it, these were perfect conditions to see the current exhibition at James Cohan Gallery.
The gallery is in what was once the French quarter of Shanghai. It’s housed in a lovely old garden villa, which still has the feel of a home (albeit a shabbily grand one, complete with hand painted ceilings and 1930’s stained glass windows). The show is called “Day and Night” by two of the gallery’s New York artists, Spencer Finch and Byron Kim. It was a pleasure to find and enter the space, as not only was the weather bad, so was the traffic. (Apparently this weekend gridlocks are common because so many people are out to buy the hairy crabs (!) that are currently in season.)
Softie that I am, Finch’s work did make my eyes well up (just a little bit, mind). His light pieces had the same tranquil tenderness that Agnes Martin’s paintings do. (Agnes Martin is one of my favourite painters and her work really does make me teary.) The pastel colours of his melting candles hummed in the dull light and his light-box take on a winter’s dusk in Paris was equally potent. I emerged from the gallery feeling like I’d just spent an hour floating through space. Delightful.
I spent today at Shanghai University’s Library.
“Fear of the word can therefore be understood as fear of the magical power of words, and it is tempting to see in most textual censorships, book burnings, mockeries of the readers craft, an exorcising attempt to defeat the suspected wizardry of language itself.
It may be that a society, defining itself through the erecting of walls, nurtures at the same time the suspicion that within those walls something will be born that will contest its definition, will seek to alter its identity. And even though our societies grow in the give-and-take between that which we exclude and that which we include, we are more wary of the critical and inventive force of language than we are proud of its power to preserve. Consequently, we attempt to restrict or deride its imaginative efforts.”
The Traveler, The Tower and The Worm, Alberto Manguel