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Now it’s not that I don’t like art, some of my best friends are artists, it’s just that sometimes the art goes a bit too far… in the direction of strange, confusing and a frankly bit dull.  I found the Shanghai Biennale a bit like this, though on reflection I think I’d seen too much art in the last few days and really, if you want to take in lot of art that is based heavily in theory, then you need more than one day to consider everything to do it justice, because I think that sort of art requires more thinking time.  The Biennale was at the Power Station of Art, a fantastic venue though there’s not much natural light and I wondered if that was one of the reasons they included so much video art.  I have discovered that my issue with the video art is actually more a practical one, not about the art itself.  Firstly, there is often nowhere to sit to watch the film.  If there is a seat it is often uncomfortable with no back rest.  The second issue is that if you are in an exhibition where there are 5 videos and each one is more than 15 mins long and you want to do them justice, then you would need to devote over an hour to those videos and if there is a lot of other art to see in that exhibition as well, then that is just not practical.

Art often forgets about practicalities.  We can add this to the list of things to get the public more engaged with art – make the art more comfortable.

Of course I saw some work in the Shanghai Biennale that I really liked and it’s always worth it for those moments.

Now I’m back in Xiamen trying to make my own art.  It’s really difficult and for me at least it doesn’t  come naturally.  I hope I can make some paintings that I am satisfied with.  There are lots of interesting things that I want to say about the way we live on this planet, but at the same time I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that I believe that great painting is also about the composition, the colours and the use of the paint.  Andy sent me a link to a Hockney interview on radio 4 from the other week which made me remember this.  He’s gone back to looking at perspective again.  Hockney will just paint anything around him because how the painting interprets what he sees matters more than anything else.

Yesterday I went to the art shop with professor Jin Xian so he could show me the best quality oil paints.  They were all old and oozing out of the seams a bit because no one buys the expensive ones, so I got them at discount price.  We fist went to to the art shop near the studio but it has closed down.  Like in the UK the shops are suffering because of people buying online instead.  We talked about Hockney and Jin Xian reminded me that Hockney visited China and took lots of inspiration from the Chinese ways.  This is where he was told about the idea of ‘Hand Eye Heart’ – the things you need to make a great painting.  Jin Xian said he likes the artist Tony Bevan.  I think we have similar taste and I’d like to speak with him more about his views and see his paintings.

We arranged that I can go to see the Xiamen University Fine Art Course next week.  My art friends here are always careful to make sure I understand that the fine art course is more about teaching skills and traditional techniques rather than theory.  There was a point when Ineke, worked closely with the University to create a really progressive Fine Art course, but when a new more conservative board came into power in the Uni they told her to leave.  That’s when she set up CEAC.


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Today I saw some art, which I think was really needed, as the overall overload of information yesterday made me doubt how I could make that translate into Art, but seeing Art always provides inspiration.  I first went to 50 Mognashang Road, which I had been really looking forward to and it definitely delivered.  50 Mognashang Road is an industrial area taken over by artists (as they do), featuring mostly commercial galleries but also a few critically acclaimed artspaces showcasing some pioneering Chinese and International exhibitions.  The best work I saw was a kinetic installation called ‘TaiChi’ by Hu Jieming in and exhibition called Twofold in the Chronus Galllery.  You can read about it here http://www.chronusartcentre.org/en/Exhibition.aspx

The interesting thing about 50 Moganshan Road is that the high and progressive non commercial art is presented with the commercial ‘put in in your trendy flat’ art and in the British art world I am not sure that would really happen.  The area also has street art, design shops (some really beautiful ceramics) cool cafes and artist studios.  We just don’t get all of these things in one place in the UK.  I think we like the idea that artistic venues are clear about what they are and what they are trying to say and therefore don’t want to associate with other venues who are in their eyes striving for something different.  Maybe we should relax a bit?  I enjoyed the exhibition in Chronus Gallery despite the fact that there was some commercial (arguably a bit rubbish) art in a lot of the galleries surrounding it.  Maybe in the UK we are worried that people won’t see the difference.  Or maybe it’s because in the UK we get the choice to make more considered decisions about who we associate with, but in China, even in Shanghai, there is relatively little art around and even less progressive art and so whatever does exist needs to form a defiant collective in order to survive.

The art in the afternoon only got better.  I went to the Rockbund Museum to see an exhibition by Ugo Rondinone called Breathe Walk Die.  I’ve been showing people the photos and video clips ever since.  Ugo Rondinone makes paintings, sculptures, installations and performances that when exhibited, become one artwork in themselves.  In this case he painted the walls of the gallery with psychedelic colours and displayed similarly coloured circular paintings on the walls and had performers dressed as clowns sitting and lying around sleeping in the gallery.  There were 40 clowns in total over four floors.  I don’t really know where to begin except to show you some photographs.  I found it really funny and intriguing to watch the Chinese people interact with the clowns and consider if the exhibition was in the UK if we would behave in the same way.  The Chinese people visiting the exhibition seemed to like it a lot and they generally wanted to take photos of the clowns or take photos of each other with the clowns, often doing a pose the same as the clown.

There were no inhibitions about getting really close to the performers, sitting or lying right next to them or looking closely at their faces.  It made me think about how reserved us Brits usually are.  The clowns would only move to make adjust themselves to get comfy or stir a bit, often in reaction to someone coming close to them.  It was all a bit bonkers but great to watch.


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I think I might be suffering from overstimulation.  When I got here yesterday I was so excited but I think now I’ve almost had enough.  All the coloured lights at night time look amazing but also it’s a bit crazy out there and I’m thankful to be back in the hotel, sat in the rooftop bar, which is a tranquil haven compared to the street below.

The visit to the Yangshan Deep Water Port today was better than I could have asked for really.  Nigel, my guide and his friend Harry who drove were both really nice.  Nigel turned up on an electric scooter that conveniently folded away and went in the boot of the car.  He let me ride it later.  I want one!  Here’s a photo of Nigel Harry and the scooter.

The Donghai Bridge was as expected, really really long and very impressive.  It went through a beautiful wind farm in the sea.

What I wasn’t expecting was how the Yangshan Port had been set up for east viewing by tourists.  There were in fact 4 different viewing platforms across the island, carefully built on the rocks that naturally exist.  Also, I was expecting noisy, busy, dirty, dull and a bit terrifying frankly but in fact it was pretty much the opposite. It was another beautiful blue skied sunny day, even Nigel was surprised at the weather and air quality, and because the container port is really the only thing on the island and the island is, relatively speaking, a small platform in the middle of the sea, it is surprisingly peaceful, quiet and clean.  Of course nothing goes on there except the import and export of containers.  But it goes on all day and all night.  There are containers as far as the eye can see and along the water’s edge the container lifting cranes, disappear off into the distance.  What is in all those containers?  Nigel was intrigued as well.  He suggested one of them might be full of laptops.  I think, at some point when I ship my artwork home, it will be in one of those containers.

It was incredible and incredibly massive.  It’s just that for some reason it didn’t feel as big as I thought it would and now I’ve had time to reflect, I think it had something to do with the peace and quiet (other than the odd crashing noise) and the great expanse of space around the port, which meant that there wasn’t so much to put it into context with.  I can’t argue with it though, it was a great view and because it was  lovely day the colours were incredible with my back to the sun.  The containers look like children’s building blocks.  The colours are regulated, red, blue, green, yellow, white, nothing fancy.  They are picked up with ease by the massive cranes patterned with the notorious red and white stripes.  To me the containers represent all the people.  They are full of all the stuff that all the people want.  Do we really need all that stuff? There are a lot of people in China though, but the number of people in China can’t be blamed, they make and ship all this stuff because everyone across the world wants it.

It was only when I got to viewing point number three that I read the information board which told me that there were actually 3553 residents in 1423 families originally living in Xioyangshang (one of the islands that makes up the Yangshan Deep Water Port).  The notice went on to tell me “…However, to support the Deep-Water Port project, all of them, baring the overall interests in mind, removed to Shengsi, Nanhui, and some other places, which was a great contribution to the success of the port…”  The notice the described that a pagoda which I could see in the near distance was therefore erected to commemorate the contributions of the people who were resettled.  The term ‘some other places’ would have been more amusing had the situation been less disturbing.  I’m sure it wasn’t meant to be so flippant but I would like to ask the people who were removed if it was worth it for the benefit of the whole country, and the lovely Pagoda of course.  I know  that in China terms 3553 people is not a big number.  It’s just so hard to not see things in British terms and to get my head around what is ok and what’s not ok.

The first draft of this blog post ends with a rant about individual human rights, censorship and the value of democracy, despite the fact that with democracy comes the right to vote UKIP – never thought that I would say I am happy that people have the right to vote UKIP…. anyway I decided to post the edited version.  I don’t want to upset anyone…except the UKIP voters, I think I’ve already upset you a bit.  I doubt there are any UKIP voters who read my blog.

 


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When I first  arrived in China I was actually really nervous about visiting Shanghai, because at that point I was even unsure that I’d be able to navigate my way around.  As I found in Xiamen though, if a place has water (a river, sea or big lake) then there’s always a point of reference and it is much easier to find your way.  In fact vast expanses of water are the only real space that you get in Chinese cities, other than the odd park (or in Xiamen’s case, many parks) but there’s nothing like Hyde Park.  Anything that big would just be a waste of space.  The water imposes space that would never exist if the choice was in China’s hands.  Nature will always regain some control.

As time went on in Xiamen and I got more settle in I became less nervous about the trip to Shanghai and more excited.  Now I’m here it has exceeded expectations still.  I have to admit, it was a little scary trying to find my hotel from the subway station at midnight last night, but this morning the sky was blue (not grey and polluted as I imagined), the sun shining and it was far less busy than I anticipated.  It was easy enough to get my bearings and read the map.  The Subway is designed especially for incompetent people like me and street signs on major roads have South and North or East and West markers on them.  Why can’t we do that in London?

I visited People’s Park first to take it all in a bit.  There were people playing cards and Mahjong ad doing Tai Chi and calligraphy with water on the ground.  Some guy (fairly young, in his 20s or something) was checking out a plant for ages.  I thought at first it was a bit dodgy then realised he really was just interested in the plant.  These sorts of things are just much more acceptable here than at home, or maybe it’s just that here people find enjoyment in things in a different way.

I listened to a radio 4 news report a few weeks ago about how there is  a real problem with loneliness in the UK, especially effecting older men.  Why can’t older men in the UK go to the park to play Mahjong, fly kites by the sea and sit on the street drinking tea and chatting to people?  There is a lot for us to learn from Chinese social culture.  I get the optimistic feeling though that something can be done about it.  We can replicate what’s going on here in our own British way, I’m just not quite sure how yet.  I met with Jenny and Sean from Metal today as they have come to Shanghai for a conference.  We were talking about public engagement with art and how something radical needs to happen to engage the general public with Art in Liverpool.  There are millions of lonely people in the UK and the art world is finding it difficult to engage people with contemporary art (which is usually free).  Are we not missing a trick here?  We need to find a way of mixing Art, Mahjong and social kite flying and bring it to the lonely people.  I think though, for the people of China it must also be the conversations that happen alongside these activities which gives them the real value, or at least the ‘social feeling’.  I believe, from experience with my studio group, Arena, it’s the social feeling that get us enjoying art.  When we all visit exhibitions together we have a great time.  At least I enjoy it so much more.  But the Arena crowd are already engaging with Art.  We need to give the ‘non arty pubic’ the social feeling when they engage with art and then they will enjoy it more and want to do it again.  Maybe we need to start by making galleries feel a bit less imposing.  If you want to make people feel part of something it might be easier if they feel they can at least speak around the artwork.  Maybe the people who want silence could be offered earplugs?

Anyway I was writing about Shanghai.  I visited the urban planning museum first which should be retitled the Urban Planning Propaganda Museum.  That is of course an exaggeration, but it did give  a rose tinted perspective to the future of Shanghai.  They promise a more environmentally friendly Shanghai with cleaner air, less water pollution and more relaxes space, but how is this really possible?  It is a mammoth task if they want to do this and also keep developing and expanding.  The museum is still great though, because of its incredible model of future Shanghai, filling the whole room with a raised viewing platform around it.  It wasn’t dissimilar from my view of all those storage container at Xiamen Container port, seen from above, all those massive towering apartment blocks and all those huge storage containers full of all that stuff, reduced to tiny cuboids. The existence of all those millions of people represented in little blocks.

I saw an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art by Li Lei called Shanghai Flower.  He makes painting about urban life.  It made me consider all the colours and the business on the streets here.  The paintings were very busy and colourful but also well balanced and beautiful.  The main colours I’ve noticed in China are red, yellow and white and lots of red and white stripes which seem to signify a number of things.  There’s also the funny multi-coloured bunting that is sometimes used to guard something like a health and safety hazard.  It always makes me laugh when there is bunting to protect people from a bit of building work that’s going on and then simultaneously a big pole lying across the path right next to it.

After the MOCA I went to the Bund; the waterfront area along the western side of the Huangpu River.  It’s a sight to behold, you could stay there all day watching the boats go by and all the people taking photographs of the super modern skyscrapers on the east side and of themselves and each other with the view.  It is even more so impressive in contrast with all the tightly packed streets enveloped by tall buildings.  When you get to the Bund, suddenly there’s space, the river and then the incredible view.  River cruises and working boats alike move silently up and down the river and of course my favourites were the working boats which look almost out of place.  It is all the contradictions that make China such an exciting place.


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I thought I should show some more pictures of life here in Xiamen.  In fact maybe more pictures in general and less talking this time.  It takes ages to upload pictures though and for some reason it is always worse in the evening.

Here are pictures of my apartment, the entrance to it and outside on the street and some photos of CEAC and around and a pig that was in a bar in Zengcou an Fishing Village.  I’ll post more pictures of general stuff in another post as I think it’s actually one of the most interesting thing to show you and I must not forget that as I am getting used to it.  I’m not getting used to seeing pigs in bars though, I don’t think that is a usual thing even in China.

I wanted to go to the mainland to see what Xiamen island looked like from there and also to drive over the bridge that goes right next to the container port.  May told me I could take the 841 bus and then get off when I want to.  I wasn’t sure where was the best place to get off and I also realised I’d have to be really careful to not get lost and be able to get back to the same bus stop to get the 841 back.

I headed in the direction of what I thought was the sea and it just so happened that the street I walked down took me to a really beautiful park and incredibly the park lead me to the sea.  It was a fabulous view and well worth the trip.

I decided I was on a roll with having a productive day so on the way back I got off the bus where all the ferries are and managed eventually to work out how to buy a ticket for a boat trip around Gulangyu, which is a small island opposite Xiamen which is apparently very beautiful but also really touristy and busy on a weekend.  I will go there with Andy when he comes to visit in January and maybe on my own before.  The boat trip gave me more great views.  I am not sure what it is I am looking at half the time, but I quite like that.  Here is also a picture of Xiamen Island from a distance.

I’ve been making some more work too.  Still on paper.


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