tirsdag den 2. juni 2015

English edition of: Ou Ning's Bishan Commune: How To Start Your Own Utopia

This is the first time Bishan Commune: How to Start Your Own Utopia, a notebook by the Chinese activist, editor, and curator Ou Ning, has been published in English. The notebook is a graphic montage piece, where comments, thoughts and short accounts from Ou Ning’s travels to Bishan are intertwined with drawings, clippings, color-coded text, handwritten notes, pictures and quotes. 

The publication consists of two books: the first volume contains a facsimile of Ou Ning’s original notebook in full color; the second volume is a translation of the notebook from the Chinese by Mai Corlin and Austin Woerner also including an interview with Ou Ning not previously published in English as well as Ou Ning’s 2012 text “Autonomy: Utopia or Realpolitik,” which lays out Ou Ning’s understanding of ongoing anarchist practices in a totalitarian, capitalist reality.

Ou Ning was born in rural Guangdong province in 1969. His practice covers a wide range of projects straddling the fields of art and politics. As a filmmaker, he directed the documentary Meishi Street (2006) concerning local acts of resistance against the demolition of an area in a central part of Beijing in relation to the 2008 Olympics. As curator he has headed the 2009 Shenzhen & Hong Kong Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture, and from 2011 to 2013 he was chief editor of the literary bi-monthly Chutzpah!, a magazine that has dealt in-depth with issues such as agrarian communities in East Asia, revolution, queer literature and George Bataille. And these are just a few of Ou Ning’s undertakings.

Read Mai Corlin's introduction here
The book can be purchased from OVO press and Antipyrine

Translated by Mai Corlin and Austin Woerner
June 2015, English/Chinese
135x210 mm, 120+48 pages
full color+black/white
smyth sewn, perfect bound
Co-publication between OVO Press and Antipyrine
ISBN: 978-87-93108-36-3

fredag den 3. oktober 2014

Bevægeligt Akkurat/Movable Accurate/可动恰恰 CHINA TOUR!

可动恰恰是一个游戏,广泛的艺术作品在此游戏中不断产生及再创。每场游戏中,使用循环移位的独特游戏方式 将游戏一场场轮番进行。玩家将被聚集在有多间房屋的空间内,游戏由二至十一名参与者围坐在一个可以自动旋转的桌前进行轻度混乱的官僚艺术游戏。我们回头见,玩家!

恰恰由音集体YOYOOYOY (Anders Lauge Meldgaard, Toke Tietze Mortensen, Andreas Führer Johannes Lund), 艺术Claus HaxholmRasmus Graff创制


Movable Accurate is a system that generates a wide range of artistic works that again creates a new template for other works. It is a circular mutation system. Its nice to play in rooms with other rooms and you should be between 2 to 11 people to play this mildly confusing bureaucratic art-art-art game! See you out there gamers!

Movable Accurate is created by the music collective YOYOOYOY (Anders Lauge Meldgaard, Toke Tiezte Mortensen, Andreas Führer, Johannes Lund), the artist Claus Haxholm and the poet Rasmus Graff.

Movable Accurate’s trip to China is funded by The Danish Cultural Institute in China and The Danish Cultural Season 2014-2015.

Danish translation and facsimile of Ou Ning's notebook How to Start Your Own Utopia

I have translated Ou Ning's notebook 如何创建自己的乌托邦 (How to Start Your Own Utopia) into Danish and we are publishing the Danish translation of the notebook together with a facsimile version of Ou Ning´s original notebook handwritten in Chinese.

The books can be ordered together from ovopress.bigcartel.com or antipyrine.dk

For foreign orders, please notice there will be added a shipping cost. For countries inside of the EU (except DK) it’s 70 DKK. For world wide shipping, the shipping price will be 90 DKK, order via ovopress@gmail.com
 or ovopress.bigcartel.com

Ou Ning: Hvordan man laver sin egen utopi
Translated from the Chinese by Mai Corlin

120 pages (facsimile, color print)
 + 32 pages (booklet, Danish translation)

180 dkk 
Published by OVO press and Antipyrine

For more info on Bishan Commune, please see the following links:

About the translator:
Mai Corlin is currently working on a PhD project on Bishan Commune in particular and socially engaged art in rural China in general.

søndag den 13. juli 2014

Fieldwork Notes: Bishan Bookstore

The newly opened Bishan Bookstore
The Bishan Bookstore is the newest addition to Bishan Project. It is initiated by Qian Xiaohua, who has also established the renowned bookstore Librairie Avant-Garde in Nanjing. According to Qian Xiaohua, he hasn't made the bookstore to earn money. In addition, he continuously donates a considerable amount of books to the local library in Bishan. The bookstore intends to arrange various activities, coming up is a reading group organized by the thinker Wang Jiyu, which will be advertised through posters hung on the noticeboards around the village. Wang Jiyu temporarily resides at Ou Ning's Buffalo Institute in Bishan Village.

Hu Yongfeng, shop owner in Bishan
Not all the people in Bishan quite understood why Bishan Project were setting up a bookstore in Bishan, as the local small shop owner, Hu Yongfeng, expressed: "In rural areas, it is hopeless to try to sell books. The books are not going to sell. How many people actually buy books here? People here like to go to places like next door to play Mahjong. People here love to play Mahjong" (quoted from Sun Yunfan and Leah Thompson's film on Bishan Project "Down to the Countryside"). Other villagers express their clear believe in the project, as another small shop owner, Li Jin, states: "The bookstore will most definitely benefit Bishan, it is a good thing". 

Wang Shouchang, the local village historian, is in charge of the books
The local village historian, Wang Shouchang, is in charge of the books in the bookstore, he explains: "It is not easy to make the locals understand what they [Bishan Project] want to accomplish. In their eyes, the only tangible thing Ou and Zuo has done so far is the Bishan Bookstore" (quoted from Sun Yunfan and Leah Thompson's film on Bishan Project "Down to the Countryside"). Read more about Wang Shouchang on Adele Kurek's blog.

Xinghua working at the bookstore
Xinghua, who works at the bookstore, explains: "At first, the villagers came to the bookstore just to have a look. They would walk around with their hands on theirs backs, not touching anything or sitting down anywhere, but after two months they have slowly started coming here more often, being more relaxed, coming here to read books, access the internet or just to hang out".

Tang Xue, Ou Ning's fiancé, is the manager of the bookstore and takes care of the café
Tang Xue, manager of the bookstore and in charge of the cafe, explains, "To me the bookstore is not only a place for displaying and selling books, it has a multitude of functions; it is a reading space and a platform for exchange. I hope that what everybody accepts and requires is not only books, I hope that people will engage in exchanges, share thoughts and be influenced by culture, and the café can provide this kind of unreserved space".

More information on Bishan Project in English:

Ou Ning's blog

Adele Kurek's Tumblr

Tom Cliff, the Survival Politics Blog

torsdag den 16. januar 2014

Farming is Ugly: Reform, Friction and Bishan Commune

From 2014, Anhui Province will pilot a reform of the residential land market in China, thus integrating rural Anhui in the national housing market. On the opposite note, artist and activist Ou Ning has proposed the Bishan time money currency, intending to establish an alternative economic circuit in Bishan Village.

Bishan Village. A new and an old Hui-style house side by side, fronted by a very blue tele company commercial

Bishan Village, Yi County, Anhui Province

At first sight, Bishan village doesn’t come across as a poor village; the traffic conditions are good, the small county seat is only 15 min away on electric scooter, the preferred vehicle of most villagers, and the county seat can boast of a new hospital, a new school, rows of new townhouses and apartment blocks, construction sites and smaller factories. There are similarly plenty of newly build houses in Bishan. Nevertheless, the wealth represented by these new houses, does not come from the local economy, but is almost entirely based on young people going to the city to work, sending money home, building houses they do not themselves reside in. Old people and small children constitute the actual population as most young people have left to work in the more developed urban areas. Furthermore, many families, who have migrated to the city, have had no legal way of selling the land they no longer reside on, leaving the village dotted with empty houses.

Yi County is renowned for its well-preserved Hui-style villages, and the growing reliance on tourism through the past ten years has altered the economic foundation of these villages considerably. Bishan is, however, not one of these tourist sites. Even though Hui-style remains the predominant architectural feature, the many newly build houses cause a lack of visual, rural authenticity so crucial to urban tourists. Nevertheless, Bishan has become attractive to investors, mainly within the hotel sector, who wish to take advantage of its proximity to famous tourist destinations and good traffic conditions.

In this Huizhou village on the foot of the Yellow Mountain range, artist, curator and editor Ou Ning and his colleague Zuo Jing initiated Bishan Commune in 2011; a call for a return to the countryside and a renewed relationship between urban and rural areas, countering the official line of further urbanization.

A house for Bishan Commune

An old compound in traditional Hui-style in the centre of Bishan constitute the headquarters of Bishan Commune. Ou Ning bought the house in 2010 and called it Buffalo Institute. In the spring of 2013, he moved permanently to Bishan with his family (mother, younger brother, nephew, girlfriend and her son). The move indicates a significant turning point for Bishan Commune, entering a phase of action and interaction.

A constant flow of visitors, foreign and Chinese, urbanities and local villagers, pass through the house and stay for longer or shorter periods, either to work and discuss with Ou Ning, to do smaller projects like investigations of the local folk music or handicrafts, fieldwork studies of the countryside or, as many do, experience the traditional Hui-style houses in a new condition.

The house occupied by Buffalo Institute used to be the dormitory of the sent down youth during the Cultural Revolution. A story that now somehow repeats itself, albeit under very different circumstances. Buffalo Institute is a gathering space of free, independent learning and sharing and where elaborate discussions on the unfolding of Bishan Commune and the future of Bishan village continuously take place, which is also the result of Ou Ning and his family’s warm curiosity and generosity.

Informal land market

Ou Ning was not legally allowed to buy the house in 2010, so the proof of ownership still carries the name of the previous owner. In the countryside there are roughly three categories of land: farmland (collectively owned by the villagers), state owned land and residential land (the land your house is built on). Farmland can be expropriated and converted into state owned land and then sold or leased to developers and the like, but residential land can so far not be traded within the law. However, circumvention of state regulations unofficially sanctioned by local officials has created an informal residential land market in Bishan and Yi County making it possible for Ou Ning, Zuo Jing and others to purchase houses in Bishan. Due to the unofficial character of this residential land market and the consequential lack of real estate agents, it still requires good connections with the villagers to purchase a house, since you need introduction to the farmers who are willing to or can be persuaded to sell. Moreover, not many people dare to undertake the costs of buying a house without the necessary legal protection in case of expropriation or the like, further limiting the scope of this informal residential land market.

To address these issues, Anhui Province is from the beginning of next year piloting an official market for residential land in a selected number of counties (scmp.com), including Yi county under whose jurisdiction Bishan is placed. This pilot residential land market makes it possible for external actors to purchase or lease houses and land within Bishan village legally, something which can potentially transform the appearance and demography of Bishan once again.

Farming is ugly

Ou Ning explains that it is often urban people of wealth who are able to buy the old houses and undertake the high costs of restoring them. Mrs. Liang, who has recently purchased a house in Bishan, expresses that she wants to convert the land in connection to her house into a flower garden, since “it is not pretty to look at cultivated farmland”. This statement suggests a problematic attitude towards the rural cultural landscape.

If the further opening up of the housing land market implies an invasion of unscrupulous capital with no consideration for and appreciation of the existing rural cultural landscapes and practices, then Bishan might be on the path of a dangerous development, turning the village into an urban playground, designed to fulfill the ever-expanding needs of urban residents and tourists. When not properly integrating the rural residents in the decision making process, this kind of development tends to neglect the needs of the rural population by not creating any real job opportunities for often uneducated farmers and causing a fluctuation in housing prices and general living costs.

This is also an aspect where the presence of Bishan Commune in Bishan can be a significant factor. Bishan Commune and their like-minded continuously make an effort to influence newcomers to the area as well as local villagers and officials of the importance of preserving rural culture as a visible feature of Bishan and direct the development in a more sustainable direction. If they succeed, then Bishan might be able to change for the better, providing job opportunities that will allow young people the possibility to choose to stay in Bishan. The need of Bishan to develop economically is a stated priority of many of the local residents, who generally support expropriation of farming land, since it allows capital to enter. Ongoing discussions with the villagers on this subject, make the economical aspect a concern Bishan Commune have had to take into consideration. Even though they might not always agree with Bishan Commune on the terms of development, local villagers and officials show great support for the initiative.

Alternative economic circuit

As a means to establish an alternative economic circuit in Bishan, Ou Ning recently proposed the Bishan time money currency, where smaller tasks such as housekeeping at the local guesthouse Pig’s Inn or helping in the fields of Young Village Officials Garden, can be exchanged for a meal at the local hotel Tailai, books at the soon-to-open branch of the Nanjing bookstore Librairie Avant-Garde, or second hand artifacts donated to the shop Ou Ning will open at Buffalo Institute and so forth. All the Bishan time money members listed above agree to this system of exchange. Even though the system valorize labour in a manner maybe not entirely consistent with Kropotkin’s concept of “mutual aid” advocated by Ou Ning and maybe won’t bring any direct job opportunities, it still provides an important alternative to the existing model and manages to incorporate the villagers’ concerns for some sort of economic possibilities. Furthermore, Bishan Commune can be an important marker of identification and will give Bishan a special standing in relation to the neighboring villages, providing that “something different”, which will be important when attracting the right kind of “caring” capital to the village.

The Bishan time money has yet to be put into effect, but Ou Ning expects it to be set in motion sometime around next spring. In my opinion, the most interesting aspect of the Bishan time money, is how the villagers will embrace this new system, if they will make it their own, thus creating the possibility of this alternative currency to exceed the core members and entering the village society as a whole. When asked whether Ou Ning has discussed making an independent monetary system in Bishan with the local officials, he answers: This I do first, and then I ask.

The coming years will show, how the presence of Bishan Commune in the village and the introduction of Bishan Time money combined with a reformed residential land market will affect Bishan and which direction the development will take. But to answer the question Tom Cliff asked in his introductory article on Bishan Commune: Is intention sufficient? I think it is safe to answer, that with this kind of project intention can never be sufficient. But intention is an important trigger for agency, and in Bishan Commune’s case it is an agency that is constantly reinvented and renegotiated in collaboration with local actors, thus aiming at creating new spaces of possibilities in Bishan and beyond.

Mai Corlin is enrolled as PhD fellow at Aarhus University, Department of Culture and Society, China Studies. Her project is entitled Utopian Imaginaries in Rural Reconstruction – Urban Artists in Rural China and is concerned with socially engaged art in the countryside of China.

onsdag den 19. juni 2013

Unearthing the Past: From Independent Filmmaking to Social Change

Wu Wenguang, considered the father of independent Chinese documentary film, has since 2005 slowly but surely been handing over the camera to people on the margins and to younger generations of Chinese documentary filmmaking. In 2010 Wu and Caochangdi Workstation initiated the Folk Memory Documentary Project, where young filmmakers go to the countryside to gather and document memories of the Great Famine (1959-1961) from elderly villagers. This text was originally postet on AsiaPortal's InFocus Blog.

Wu Wenguang introduces his film "Treatment".
Wu Wenguang introduces his film “Treatment”.
Bumming in Beijing
Wu Wenguang is known as one of the first to make independent documentaries in China. His first documentary film, Bumming in Beijing – The Last Dreamers, aired in 1990 and soon after the film toured the international film festival circuits. Wu started out in 1988 filming five artists, a writer, some painters and a theatre director all involved in the production of art on the edge of Chinese society. The artists had, for the most part, no Beijing registration and they stayed with friends or in shabby courtyard houses on the outskirts of Beijing close to the old summer palace while trying to practice their art in the China of the late 1980s. Only one of the five artists portrayed in the film remained in Beijing, by 1990 the other four had left China to pursue their dreams elsewhere in the world.  Wu’s documentary was the first in China to give the characters of a documentary a space to voice their concerns and dreams of the future, letting the narratives of their stories weave together presenting lives on the edge of Beijing, both figuratively and literally.
For the next ten years, Wu produced several documentaries concerned with people living on the margins of Chinese society and films related to sensitive historical issues. Meanwhile, he toured the international film festivals and presented and discussed his work with international filmmakers and audience. In 2000, when he again found himself at an international film festival and was yet again asked the question: What will your next film be about? Wu realized that he was not interested in ‘the next topic’, making ‘the next film’ or filmmaking in general for that matter. What he wanted was to make change possible by creating the conditions for change in people.  Wu believed the camera could be instrumental in this process: by giving people the opportunity to record and re-experience their lives through the lens of the camera, there was maybe a possibility of creating awareness of the marginalized person’s own position and thereby a possibility to empower this person.
Initial steps
The initial steps in the direction towards engaging in possible social change were taken in 2001, when Wu and the dance choreographer Wen Hui made the performance and documentary film Dance with Farm Workers. 40 migrant workers, originally from Sichuan Province, were hired to be part of a dance performance in collaboration with Wen Hui’s international dance troupe. Nine days of rehearsing culminated in a public dance performance which took place in an old, empty factory in Beijing. The process was intended to establish a relationship between the people who build the city (the migrant workers) and the people living in the city (in this case the dancers and documentarists), while it also directed attention to the poor conditions migrant workers often worked under and the local urbanities prejudice towards them.
Even though the intentions were sympathetic, and the film features moments of sincere interaction between the migrant workers and the dancers, the performance still seemed to reproduce an existing hierarchical relationship between migrant workers and urbanities. The workers remained workers in this new context. Nevertheless, Dance with Farm Workers represented a new attitude in Wu Wenguang’s documentaries moving towards a more engaging kind of filmmaking.
Handing over the camera – the Village Documentary Project
In 2005 Wu Wenguang initiated the Village Documentary Project – an EU-funded initiative projected to document the village self-governance system introduced in the 1990s with democratic elections at village level. Instead of going to the countryside himself, Wu decided to hand over the camera to the villagers themselves. The idea was that the villagers, by looking at their own community through the lens of a camera, would see the community with fresh eyes and reach another level of awareness. Wu advertised nationally for villagers willing to participate in the pioneering project and in the end ten villagers from all over China were chosen. They were given a camera and taught to use it through intensive workshops at Wu Wenguang’s Caochangdi Workstation in the north eastern corner of Beijing. Each villager made a film which related to the village self-governance system in their own village. The ten villager films feature very different perspectives on and circumstances for democratic elections in rural China, presenting diverse rural communities full of good-will, corruption, laughing children, misunderstandings, close relationships, stubborn village elders, younger generations with new views on society and in some cases seemingly democratic elections in village China. Wu Wenguang has with the Village Documentary Project taken a step back in order to provide a platform for the villagers from where it is possible to transgress social barriers and present rural problematics to a greater audience.
Collecting memories – The Folk Memory Documentary Project
Building on the experiences from the Village Documentary Project, the Folk Memory Documentary Project was initiated in 2010. Young people, some still in school and some recent university graduates, were engaged to go to the countryside to gather and document the memories of the Great Famine from 1959-1961 from elderly villagers, telling the previously untold stories of the millions who died because of the famine. Most young people in China today are taught that the famine was caused by natural disasters and debt to the Soviet Union, a narrative the filmmakers and the villagers come to question once they unearth the memories of the people. Each of the young filmmakers went to a village with which they had a personal connection, either they were born there themselves, their parents or grandparents had grown up there or a family member had been sent there as ‘sent down youth’ during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). The young filmmakers spend three months every winter in each their village collecting memories of the troubled and agonizing years of the great famine and being part of the rural community. The interviews with the elderly villagers are used in the documentaries and are gathered in a memory archive at Caochangdi Workstation.
At Lund University. From left to right: Zou Xueping Wu Wenguang Zhang Mengqi and Shu Qiao
While the young people are in the villages to shoot their documentaries they are advised by Wu Wenguang and Caochangdi Workstation to set up small scale, socially engaged projects. The young filmmaker Zou Xueping organized screenings of the Folk Memory Project films and arranged garbage collecting activities, to address one of the more pressing problems in many Chinese villages. Another participant of the project, Zhang Mengqi, made a public library to make books more accessible in the village and to create a place for sharing. A third participant, Shu Qiao, raised funds for a monument to commemorate those who died during the great famine, a way to create awareness in the village of the wrongdoings of the past. Furthermore, he engaged a school class (11-12 year olds) and had them collect and document the memories of their village elders. In this way, the memories of the great famine were transferred to younger generations and thus seized to be the taboo it had previously been. These films collects memories of a forgotten past of suffering and a the same time document young people’s journey into this past as they rediscover themselves through a process of interaction and engagement in an effort to dissolve taboos and traumas of the past.
With the Folk Memory Project, Wu Wenguang has handed over the camera to villagers and young people of China using the camera as a tool of unearthing the unknown and of transforming the present by rewriting history.
Mai Corlin

Wu Wenguang and the three young filmmakers Zou Xueping, Zhang Mengqi and Shu Qiao visited Lund University, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS) and University of Copenhagen in April 2013 where they presented Caochangdi Workstation’s Folk Memory Documentary Project. Most of the films of the project can be viewed for a small fee on China Independent Documentary Film Archive: www.cidfa.com. For more about Caochangdi Workstation please visit their website www.ccdworkstation.com.

Mai Corlin is enrolled as PhD student at Aarhus University, Department of Culture and Society, Asia Section. Her project is entitled Utopian Imaginaries in Rural Reconstruction – Urban Activists in Rural China and is concerned with socially engaged art in the countryside of China.

Wu Wenguang presents the Folk Memory Documentary Project “Memory: Hunger – Protest Amnesia through Documentary and Theater”: 
 Clip from Bumming in Beijing – The Last Dreamers:
 Clip from Dance with Farm Workers:

fredag den 5. april 2013

Ou Ning on Anarchism

In an article by Ou Ning on his blog at Alternative Archive entitled "Autonomi: Utopia or Realpolitik" (Chinese: 自治: 乌托邦或现实政治), Ou Ning discusses anarchism in China in a historical and contemporary context. He focuses on the anarchism of Peter Kropotkin as one of the key persons for anarchistic theory and praxis, and he draws heavily on the anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber and his descriptions of contemporary anarchistic autonomy experiments and practices with the Occupy Wall Street Movement as an example of a succesful anarchi.

Ou Ning promotes a non-violent anarchism based on direct-democracy, where elaborate discussions will lead to some sort of consensus between the implicated people. Ou Ning furthermore argues that anarchism is actually already present in contemporary societies: "[...] if you stop waiting for the wave-like spectacle of a grand revolution but instead try to enter into the minutia of everyday life, then when you enter into shared life in urban communities, when you engage in volunteer work in exchange for time coupons, when you go to the countryside to learn about labour-exchange traditions, when you observe and take part in village autonomy and grassroots democracy, or when you create indie media in cyberspace, taking part in shared proposals as an individual, then you may encounter, learn about or practise the ideas of anarchism." (Ou Ning's blog).

A flowchart of consensus-based decision-making, created by Grant Horwood (aka "frymaster"), Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2