søndag den 29. december 2019

Talk: The Visual Resistance of the Hong Kong Protest Movement

December 11, 2019, I gave a ChinaTalk lecture at the University of Copenhagen organized by ThinkChina.dk and Asian Dynamics Initiative. Watch or rewatch my talk by clicking this link: ChinaTalks Lecture on "The Visual Resistance of the Hong Kong Protest Movement - From Post-it Notes to PR Machine."


Since June 2019, Hong Kong has been flooded by a surge of visual resistance as part of the ongoing protest movement. Throughout the protests, we have seen a visual landscape that is promptly and ingeniously responding to events on the street, in the press and on the political arena in a fast-paced battle of the truth. The visuality ranges from graffiti slogans calling for revolution, drawings of protesters as manga cartoon characters and superheroes with superpowers, memes ridiculing the government, prints with graphic depictions of police violence, fact-filled pamphlets and on to small stickers reminding people to keep hope and their mental well-being, post-it utterances of peace and love for all Hong Kong’ers and so much more.
In this talk, Mai Corlin showed how the visual resistance has developed from hand-written post-it notes to become a full-grown leaderless, decentralized, organic functioning PR machine. Corlin argued, that the more than 150 protest walls wall-papered with protest posters and scattered across the territory of Hong Kong function as central sites of resistance allowing for another temporality and another kind of participation than the short-term explosions of the weekly demonstrations or the massiveness of the visual production unfolding online, on message services and on social media platforms.

onsdag den 11. september 2019

Platform Aesthetics: Fieldwork Notes from HB Station (黄边站) and SoengJoengToi (上阳台), August 20-25, 2019

 The public bar at SoengJoengToi's space in Guangzhou

In August, I visited Guangzhou's SoengJoengToi (上阳台) and HB Station (黄边站), two intimately intertwined, independently run platforms for working together on art and social engagement. I met with Liang Jianhua and Li Xiaotian, curators of HB Station as well as "project owners" at SJT, to a talk about how SJT and HB station organize as platforms for alternative art practices in contemporary China.

HB Station - Contemporary Art Research Center (黄边站 - 当代艺术研究中心)

From the outside, HB Station looks like an independent, artists run organization producing art exhibitions in a conventional, white cube art space. However, perhaps even more than being an art space, HB Station functions as a platform for thinking and sharing and for connecting people from different traits of life.

HB Station initially began as an art space for alternative art education in 2012, run by artists Huang Xioapeng and Xu Tan. Liang Jianhua explains how the set-up behind HB Station was reorganized in 2015, with a new team of people becoming in charge of the place. Many of the new team members were previously affiliated with HB Station's alternative art education program, in some sense, they took over the institution and changed it from the inside.

HB Station is now focused on exploring alternative Chinese and East-Asian art practices and milieus through their "Banyan Travel Agency," seeking out forgotten issues within Chinese art histories, bodily experiences and publications practices as yet another form of alternative education.

Poster from the first Banyan Travel Agency tour 

The first Banyan Travel Agency tour was organized by HB Station and funded by Times Museum and took place in 2016. They visited a community house project in Tokyo, Dinghaiqiao Mututal Aid Society in Shanghai, Shibai Bookstore in Shenyang, the people from the shut-down Our Home Autonomous Youth Center in Wuhan and artist-farmers from SangWoodGoon in Hong Kong.

The group of people that participated in the first Banyan Travel Agency tour also became the main drivers behind the wish to set up the new space that became SJT. HB Station was considered too close to the art world and too far from the city center and it was decided to find a new space that could accommodate the needs and wishes of this group of young radicals to have a place to gather and to connect with other people. In 2016, they began looking for a space and in 2017 SoengJoengToi opened its doors.

SoengJoengToi's space in Guangzhou

SoengJoengToi (上阳台)

The space of SJT is more akin to an autonomous youth house. At common meetings they decide on matters of relevance to the space and the collective in general (e.g. how to handle angry neighbours or how to participate in exhibitions as an inhomogeneous collective or how to avoid being shut down by the police).

SJT is organized around various "project owners" (业主) initiating sub-projects using the space in various ways and to varying degrees and for varying periods of time. The projects include, but are not limited to, the bar at SJT, Fongfo Print Press, Fongfo Monthly Zine (冯火月刊), the Sewing Co-op (女子天团), HB Station, the Travel Agency, Banyan Space (at Times Museum), Moonlight Film Screening Project, Material Engineering Group and much more (Link to list of SJT projects in Chinese).

Being a "project owner" at SJT means for one that you contribute rent. Rent is divided on the basis of projects and not people nor the amount of space you use. Meaning that one project can have several people = low rent, while other projects are run by one person = higher rent. Most people pay rent out of their own pockets and rely on income from day-time jobs. The members of SJT are composed of a diverse group of people with only a smaller portion being affiliated with the art world.

Cover of Fongfo Monthly Zine, issue 75, August 2019

The Sewing Co-op preparing for an exhibition at Synnika Project Space in Frankfurt

Liang Jianhua and Li Xiaotian explain, that when they refurbished the space, they moved the outer walls in by a meter or so, in order to create a roof-covered corridor outside of the actual space that would be open to everybody on the street even if SJT itself was closed. They hadn't imagined that this kind of semi-open structure would make so many people come by.

Li Xiaotian, in front of the bar fridge and SJT's collection of toys.

Pointing towards the wall behind her decorated with small toys, Li Xiaotian says that girls from the neighbourhood come and take pictures with the toys and then they chat with her about what kind of space SJT is and what SJT are doing in the area.

Mindmap of SJT and its projects and connections

Platform Aesthetics

Both HB Station and SJT are first and foremost described as "platforms" (平台,平台性) and not as spaces. Having a space seems to be a smaller part of being part of a platform, and also, physical spaces in China tend to be temporary, whereas an immaterial platform seems more resilient.

I suggest the term "platform aesthetics" (平台美学) as a more open way to understand these kinds of art practices and how they navigate. Using the platform as prism allows for the projects to have multiple expressions and channels and doesn't reduce them to only one output modeFurthermore, these projects actively use the platform to propose a large range of ideas about community, how to connect with like-minded across East Asia, ideas of living and working together along with experimental aesthetic expressions, participation in fine arts exhibitions, publication of various printed zines and other printed matter and so forth.


Thanks so much to PhD Student Siyan Xie from Department of Fine Arts, Chinese University of Hong Kong for introducing me to SJT and HB Station. Siyan Xie is writing her PhD project on the practice of SJT.

Thanks also to Ragna Rask-Nielsen's Foundation for Basic Research for supporting my fieldwork in Guangzhou.

And thanks to S.C. Van Foundation for generously supporting my book project on socially engaged art in China.

fredag den 23. august 2019

Fieldwork Notes: Filmmakers Workshop, Caochangdi Workstation, Qinjiatun Village, August 1-4, 2019

Zhang Mengqi, body exercise, photo: Wang Hai'an

Folk Memory Project 2019, Event no. 27

Summer Workshop for Rough Editing of Filmmakers First Film

Caochangdi Workstation, Beijing, 1-4 August, 2019

Participants: Zhang Mengqi, Zhang Ping, Shao Yuzhen, Liu Xiaolei, A Rong, Hu Tao, Tu Haiyan, Gao Ang, Wei Xuan, Hao Yongbo, Liu Yanzhuang (Dudu), Wang Hai'an, Shu Qiao, Mai Corlin, Zhang Liyuan, Wu Wenguang.

The beginning of August, I participated in a documentary filmmaking and body workshop with Caochangdi (CCD) Workstation at their space in Qinjiatun Village. CCD Workstation is no longer located in Caochangdi, but in Qinjiatun Village, one hour drive north of Beijing, in the studio of Wu Wenguang and Zhang Mengqi. There are several other filmmakers/writers affiliated with CCD Workstation also living and working in Qinjiatun Village. Furthermore, they attract many people that come by and visit and work with CCD. 

CCD Workstation can be understood as a loosely organized platform from where people interested in documentary filmmaking discuss, share experiences, help each other and try to reach another documentary film language through body exercises and deliberation. Most of the discussions take place on a shared email-list or during workshops, like the one I participated in this August. Generous discussion notes from the workshops are published on Facebook and on CCD's public Weixin account, making more people able to partake in the discussion of the development of the new documentary films, explorations of memory and the body and their engagement in rural China. 

Many of the young filmmakers, including Zhang Mengqi, became part of CCD Workstation as part of the Folk Memory Documentary Project initiated in 2010. Each of the filmmakers would return to their own village or a village their family is close to and stay there for a prolonged period of time to film. The project is characterised most clearly by its rural commitments as well as its socially engaged side-projects. Since the filmmakers spent a lot of time in their respective villages, they experience the deficits and problems of rural China and tried to solve what little they could solve by setting up various projects (See my short article on CCD and their projects here). Furthermore, elaborate notes, stories and thoughts from their stays in the villages are published online as well. For the new batch of filmmakers participating with draft films in this workshop, their works (for now) revolves around personal and painful memories, being outcasts of society, land battles, education of poor children and so forth. The new filmmakers seem to have their own independent struggles to explore.

Links to workshop notes from CCD Workstation's Weixin account in Chinese:

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

Workshop Notes

From left: Hu Tao, Mai Corlin, Wu Wenguang, Gao Ang and Wei Xuan. Photo: Wang Hai'an

The program began 9 am every morning with yoga followed by a body workshop consisting of varying exercises led by Zhang Mengqi. The exercises pushed the participants to transgress their own praxis. The workshop ended with each of the participants performing a self-chosen memory with their body.

Gao Ang (left) and Hu Tao (right), memory performance exercise. Wang Hai'an on the floor in the front.

Zhang Mengqi, memory performance exercise

Afternoon break at Zhang Ping and Hu Tao's house. From left:  Zhang Ping, Gao Ang, my daughter and me.

Dinner at Zhang Ping and Hu Tao's house.

After dinner walk, each night between 7 and 8 pm, led by Wu Wenguang

Gao Ang and Hu Tao getting ready for the screening of Gao Ang's observational-style documentary film on land disputes in rural China. No title yet.

From 8 pm each night, we watched draft cuts of the young filmmakers documentary films and discussed the films in plenum afterwards. The sessions often lasted until 1-2 am in the night. The critique was direct, with everybody giving their views and suggestions for further development of the piece. The discussions were aimed at making the filmmakers more aware of their choices, pushing them to reach new grounds.

"狂人日记" (Mad Man's Diary). Working title of Wei Xuan's film. The title is inspired by the Lu Xun short story of the same name.

Tuan Yan, the main character of Wei Xuan's film and an outcast of the village Wei Xuan grew up in.

Getting ready for the screening of the second rendition of Tu Haiyan's "丢失了记忆, 丢失了自己" (To Loose Your Memory is to Loose Yourself).

Still from Tu Haiyan's "To Loose Your Memory is to Loose Yourself." The film tells the story of Tu Haiyan's harsh childhood in various villages and towns in rural China. Besides one or two family photographs from Haiyan's early life, the film shows no actual footage from Haiyan's childhood. Most of the visual material is composed  of Haiyan's self-portraits filmed with a handheld camera or shots from trains or from what must be Haiyan's atelier.

Gao Ang during the discussion of her observational documentary film on land disputes in rural China. Photo: Wang Hai'an

Liu Yanzhuang (Dudu) getting ready for the screening of her film, working title "Namaste." The film was composed of footage from Dudu's work as a volunteer in a school for poor Nepalese children in Nepal along with a significant sound track. Photo: Zhang Mengqi

Hao Yongbo, working title: "告别19岁" (Saying Goodbye to 19). Unfortunately, I missed Hao Yongbo's film. I had brought my seven months old daughter along, which created some limitations at times:-). Photo: Zhang Mengqi

Late night discussions on the terrace. Photo: Wu Wenguang

On day three, I gave an improvised talk on socially engaged art (社会参与式艺术), focusing on projects in rural China. Photo: Zhang Mengqi

Participants of the 2019 Folk Memory Project Summer Workshop for Filmmakers, Event no. 27.

For more on Wu Wenguang, Zhang Mengqi and Caochangdi Workstation, see my short piece "Unearthing the Past: From Independent Filmmaking to Social Change" (2013).

Thanks to the S.C. Van Foundation for generously supporting my fieldwork trip in China.

onsdag den 21. august 2019

Fieldwork Notes: Bishan Village Part III, Bishan Crafts Cooperative, August 12-16, 2019

Bishan Crafts Cooperative (碧山工销社) by curator Zuo Jing and his team, opened in Bishan Village in late 2016. BCC collaborates with the Japanese design company D&Department and sells luxury design goods in the village. It has space to accommodate an artist-in-residency program and a ceramics workshop, though non of these programs or workshops are up and running just yet, and it is uncertain when that is possible.  I met with He Qiuping, the manager of BCC, who recently moved to the village and will stay for one year, living in Zuo Jing's compound Bishan Academy (碧山书院). 

The BCC sprung out of Zuo Jing's research project "Hundred Crafts of Yi County" (黟县百工), where he along with a group of students researched traditional handicrafts in Yi County such as wood carvings, food production, bamboo weaving and so forth. The idea is to take these old handicrafts and artifacts and revitalize them by renewing their design and placing them within a contemporary context and use.

Besides Bishan Bookstore (碧山书局) opened by Ou Ning's long-term friend Qian Xiaohua in 2014, BCC is the only part of the Bishan Project that was allowed to continue after the closure in early 2016, provided that they only continued their commercial activities and avoided any public, cultural events. Though it has been more than three years since the closure of the Bishan Project, even mentioning the Bishan Project name is still considered politically sensitive.  

While the local authorities in Yi County and Bishan Village won't allow for public, cultural events taking place in their village, rural county governments across China gladly hire Zuo Jing and his team to do exactly that. Zuo Jing has taken the Bishan project model, refined it and implemented it in villages around China, in what is called "rural reconstruction through art" (艺术乡建). What characterises "rural reconstruction through art" and most other larger-scale art projects in rural China is their close association with the local authorities, whether they are on good or bad terms. 

In Bishan, the presence of Bishan Crafts Cooperative and Bishan Bookstore provide the village with entry points for tourists and other visitors to further explore aspects of life in Bishan. Hopefully, the  situation concerning the organization of public, cultural events in the village will change in the coming years.

Read more about Zuo Jing's other rural projects in Wang Meiqin's enlightening book on socially engaged art in contemporary China.

The store, situated in the old Mao-era department store, has been gently renovated to preserve as many of the characteristics as possible.

D&Department map of Bishan and places to go in the village.

The café at Bishan Crafts Cooperative

Meeting at Zuo Jing's Bishan Academy with Bishan Crafts Cooperative manager He Qiuping (left), Zhang Xin (right) from Zuo Jing's team and Dong Qingqing (middle), a master student writing her MA thesis on Zuo Jing's art rural reconstruction praxis.

From left: Dong Qingqing, me and He Qiuping

Zuo Jing's Bishan Academy, an old, renovated Hui-house in Bishan Village

More fieldwork notes from Bishan:

Thanks to the S.C. Van Foundation for generously supporting my fieldwork trip in China.

mandag den 19. august 2019

Fieldwork Notes, Bishan Village Part II, August 12-16, 2019

It has been three and a half years since Ou Ning was forced by the authorities to leave Bishan Village. His house, the Buffalo Institute, has mostly been left empty. Weeds grow in the front courtyard as nobody tends to the house anymore. Most of the artists associated with Ou Ning have left Bishan, it is difficult to get permission to do any public, cultural events. Both the county and the village committee are weary. However, the village seems to prosper and continue its fast paced development - just like the rest of China.

The newly renovated village square right across from the office of the village commitee.

"幸福都是奋斗出来的" (Happiness Comes Through Struggle), as said by Xi Jinping in his 2017-2018 New Year's speech. Wall of the village committee.

Kunlun International Youth Hostel opened in Bishan in 2017.

More fieldwork notes from Bishan:

Thanks to the S.C. Van Foundation for generously supporting my field trip in China.

Fieldwork Notes: Bishan Village Part I, August 12-16, 2019

I am back in Bishan! It has been three years since my last visit. My last visit was half a year after the closure in February 2016. The atmosphere in the village was very different back then. Now things seem more relaxed. People are chatty and open. The village seems to be thriving. More then 40 homestays and inns have opened in the village - mostly by villagers themselves, but also some by outsiders.

Tourist are flocking to Bishan in their summer holidays. Many villagers express their approval of the development and the local village commitee and the local government support the villagers in setting up homestays.

By the village entrance are a map of the homestays in Bishan and wooden plackets with the names and phone numbers for the homestays, so that newcomers can finde their way through the village.

The entire village has been beautified, with flowers along the main roads, an improved garbage collecting system, new and improved paved village roads and road names. The villagers express satisfaction as the development has brought more job opportunities and people in general to Bishan.

Wang Shouchang still works at the bookstore. He has made a new map of Bishan with all the new homestays. Though not all of them are equally succesful, as he said.

Li Jin is still beautiful,

and so are the new kids of Bishan. 

Events are organized for the children,

elderly villagers hang out by the small store by the village entrance,

Thanks to the S.C. Van Foundation for generously supporting my field trip in China.