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The garden starts to fill with flowers heres a few that made it into the house
Deputy Alistair shows off what he's learnt as a father of four, as he confidently manhandles our new Tamworths into their field.
A blot in our landscape has been recently removed c/o James Herd, a local waller so famous among those in the know that people gasp audibly when you say you've got him working for you. (Despite appearances to the contrary, the Lake District National Park is not heaving with skilled and inexpensive wallers just dying to get going on your project, though there are plenty of retired bank managers and teachers who will 'have a go' at great cost to your budget and patience). In just under 3 working days he and his assistant - also a James - transformed the natural bog that lies at the heart of the garden here, with this simple and beautiful wall, all built with stone found on site and without a single tool.
I took these shots during a talk on art on roundabouts, see blog entry 'Sculptoric'
Excited to find Morels on the sand dunes of Barrow, a somewhat meagre haul compared to buying them in the market in Barcelona - food shopping in Spain is a depressing experience everything is half the price that it is in England and more than twice as good, a fair bit of the seafood is from Britain to boot - but the price of razor clams is phenomenal - well compared to buying them from the fish bait shop. I am now less surprised to hear that they are diving for them on the west coast, apparently even underwater you still use salt to get them to emerge - weird huh
to Adam Sutherland
I have some more questions about that TOGE people visitted Grizedale.
Q1.Where did TOGE people work ? Did they work in the Lawson Park of your
Q2.How is the spread of your field ? According to your website, Lowson Park
has an area 15 acres. Do you use all area in this park?
I'm glad if you would answer my quesutions.
And thank you for your kind.
from Eimei Ishii
Toge people worked at the Lawson Park farm making 3 new Tanbos (rice paddies) and clearing forest areas
They also collected mountain shoots and ran a cooking workshop for local chefs. The best resturants in the area attended including the famous Sharrow Bay Hotel and Michelin 2 star l'Enclume
On the last day of thier work programme they made a resturant for the village of Coniston in the famous Ruskin Institute. Many local people came (90) and the special food of Toge was very much enjoyed by all. Many people tried Warabi (Braken) for the first time and some started to consider it as a possible crop. The donations (250 pounds) from the visitors were given to the funds for the Coniston Water Festival www.conistonwaterfestival.org.uk a village festival on the lake
Lawson Park farm has 2 areas of land one is 15 acres of land that has not been farmed for 50 years. This is the area the village mainly worked on we are bring the whole area back into use. The other area of 5 acres is all gardens and the village built a bridge now called the 'Toge Bridge'. Later in the year we are hoping to bring a builder from Matsudai to make a new resturant in the gardens where we will make seasonal food including the mountain vegetables introduced by the villagers of Toge. We hope we will have further relationship with the people of Toge as all these projects develop.
All the best
To Adam Sutherland
How do you do?
I'm a reporter on a Japanese local newspaper,Tokamashi branch office of NIIGATA-NIPPO.
The other day,I interviewed Kimio Yamazaki in Toge Tokamachi.
Yamazaki explained me his experiences in Grizedale, and that's very interesting for me.
so I want to report it for my newspaper.
I'm going to write about GrizedaleArts and you too.
So,I have a questions.
Q1,Could you tell me your date of birth?
Q2,How do you want to be mixed up with people in Toge Tokamachi?
I'm happy if you will answer my questions.
(My English is so poor. I'm sorry.)
Thank you for your mail and for your interest in this project
Firstly my date of birth is 18/12/1958
Regarding involvement with the village of Toge
We are interested in the situation in Toge and rural Japan. There is a point now where the villages are making descions about the future, to farm or to make tourism or maybe other possibilities. In our area we have already made the descion to do tourism and now we are finding the problems with this approach. We wanted to explore with Toge some other possibilities and we wanted to introduce a cross over of cultures and ideas. Many times in the past this cross over has produced the crucial results that make for fruitful change.
We hope to work again with Toge in our or thier future projects, this year we will be making a new TV station and we will show and discuss ideas from Toge, next year we will make a many culture resturant for an art biennale and I hope Toge will take part in that project in some way.
Lastly be sure to promote the website address for the Toge shop - the best rice in the world!
Any further questions be confident to ask, your English is very good
Flights from Liverpool are not sustainable, although the captain tells us of great news – Easy jet are planting trees to offset the carbon toll – frankly about half way through the flight, with a plane load of hysterical liverpudlians - that’s staff and passengers - all squeaking on in their cheeky chappie voices and laughing like Stan Boardman voice trained hyenas, for 2 hours - you don’t give a fuck about global warming, you wouldn’t give a shit if the entire universe caught fire and vanished like a burning Amaretti paper, if the other thing it’s impossible to comprehend that the universe is in disappeared down a cosmic plughole in a roll top bath with claw feet. You would merely experience a gentle sense of relief, a light but warm wind on your face and a gentle lapping of lakeshore waves about your bare feet - kind of a feeling.
I was in this air born tube of skallys as I was speaking at a conference in Barcelona, this had seemed like a good idea back in a wet and cold Lake District January, only trouble was I didn’t really look into what the conference was beforehand and I don’t think they really checked me out. My talk went down like a base jumper without a parachute, a kind of collective ‘are you telling me I ‘ve just run over my own child’ sort of response, no questions just a desperate ‘please get him of the stage before I become a puddle’ collective look. Recently I have been getting rather disturbingly enthusiastic responses to my talks so I really wasn’t ready for this and found it a rather awkward. Post talk none of the previously friendly people would talk to me, I walked through the crowd as if I had suddenly gained a force field that kept people a strict 10ft from me.
All in all it was one of the strangest conference style events I ve ever been to - imagine an Artist Newsletter (artist support agency) conference on how to get on in sculpture, maybe called ‘Making it Big’. The date is mid 80’s, the event is in multiple languages and the speakers have been selected by a room full of monkeys with a typewriter.
The guy who was MC was hyper friendly, every time he passed me – hand flapping, Groucho Marx walking - he would indicate two rather straight Americans with the words ‘doze guyzere kcrazy, a’m tellink yu, my got yez, dere crazzie’ the two besuited artist/managers of the Hudson river sculpture trail (100 miles of very big sculptures) look back blankly each time. Having seen their talk I am inclined to agree with the MC but possibly for different reasons. The question and answer section of their talk became a series of one upmanship anecdotes on moving large sculptural weights, ‘ I brought 30 tons back from Careara, 2,000 bucks shipping, 100 bucks to the fork lift driver, slip a couple o’ hundred to the guys in customs’. This sure aint critical theory.
Another presentation about a sculpture trail in Andorra called ‘Men of Steel’ features 7 men of a certain age making steel sculpture to celebrate the – now closed - iron mines of Andorra. One piece is a frieze of cut steel of vaguely figuerative forms. One cant help thinking how thrilled the miners must have been, how they would (given the chance) have sat for hours musing on the human condition, contemplating the man/earth transformation conundrum. Maybe the legacy of the mines is better expressed by the many monumental objects it has contributed to situated around the world, now these shipping tonnages I suspect may just piss on the tonnages we had already heard of. I look at this stuff and wonder why on earth anyone wants to do it, it looks hard, they tell us it’s hard, these are big things, they need death defying installation, I just don’t get it. Maybe I ve been in the art world too long and have lost any simple response I ever had to the meaningless object but does anyone actually even like these things? d’Suvero, Chilleda, these are the leaders in this field, their subject seems to be ‘exploring space’, wresteling with the pure problems of sculpture. (There are lots of references throughout the day to the word space and the exploration of it, I always hear it as outer space and momentarily think ‘oh that sounds good’ ‘exploring urban space’, ‘a journey into space’ Space is the place – no they didn’t say that’s a Sun Ra film).
The highlight talk was a close run thing between a man (traffic planner I think) that talked at length about roundabouts and the placing of art on them. Mainly he showed examples of dangerous, disproportioned, aesthetically displeasing…. there was a long list of things that were wrong and a very short one on things that were right. It was pretty funny for quite a long time (about 15 minutes –the talk lasted about 40), the range of works seemed to encompass examples of the art shown throughout the day. By this time in the conference I was considering that the whole thing maybe was a spoof, that some art people had set me up, maybe something to do with the Big Art Project (Channel 4 reality art programme in the making).
This talk was followed by Magdalena Abakanowicz, like Marina Abromovitch in her delivery and to some extent content. Her lecture started with a totally wild suggestion that all people of the world no longer had to worry about hunger of other physical discomforts (I think she meant Europe). She then stated ‘munkindt aulshow now haz zee chapacity tu exshterminate heemzelf einshtantly’ all delivered in a stacatto Russian Dalek voice. Sadly the talk then declined into a description of how she made her sculpture groups and the ease of shipping vast tonnages with only a brief return at the end to the Dalek manifesto. She also showed a classically poor quality piece of film documentation of a Butoh dance piece she had made in Japan, which was rather amazing – she was rather amazing full stop. Of course it was all that post war everything is shit and hopeless Beckett stuff so beloved of that generation, mankind is a mutant headless zombie type thing living in a hole, bag, bin, concrete shoes you know the sort of thing. Then I remembered that we all loved that ‘life is shit and then you die’ thing back in the day when art had only the serious message, then around 1978 someone made this terrible T shirt that said ‘Fuck art lets dance’ and then everything was alright. It really reminded me of being at art school in the 70’s.
The other talks included a presentation from the woman who advised Barcelona on public art acquisitions who seemed to be presenting her child’s home work – ‘Some sculptures you can see in Barcelona’ – in which she managed to omit Gaudi and many other of the sculptures most people would associate with Barcelona in favour of an lengthy romp through Victorian building decoration of the most dismal nature, I overheard someone describing her as an academic – Crapademic.
Possibly the most painful talk covered the works done for the 92 Olympics 8 bad examples of works by the usual suspects - still it was a long time ago and that kind of thing was kind of new then, i.e. conceptual works in places where people would not have any interpretation to explain what a series of numbers meant, or how the word born meant something different in another language. Here’s the line up for info - it is a classic; Plensa, Kornellis, Baumgarden, Ruckrheim, Horn, Merz, Munoz, Turrell, obviously one expects to see Weiner at the end of any list of artists of that period but no, here he was pioneeringly absent. The talk was equally classic, extremely long winded vague notions about understanding urban space as an environment that can be changed by the intervention of a connection to space as a understanding of.. I think it might have been a round, you know London’s burning, fire, fire etc. The rather nice conference organizer had to try and translate this shambles, he had a bit of the Robert Wagner about him, she a little of Mrs. H (Hart to Hart – 80’s TV show) ‘when day met it wus moirder’. So many people left that the organizer had to stand up and ask anyone else wanted to leave that they should do it now, generating a gurgeling drain unblocking exodus. I stuck to it not wanting to be rude and thinking how rude I could be about it later – the more I suffered the ruder I could be - without guilt. The recurring thought was that we would shortly be suffering a similar series of works for our own blood sucking, life draining celebration of the animal within (Olympics).
In the afternoon the MC changes his ‘Doze guyz are kcrazee’ to ‘you kcrazzee, my got yez, yur crazzee I’m tellink yu’ and he takes the opportunity to introduce me to all the crazy people at the conference none of whom want to talk to me (that’s how bad it was). I had dinner alone.
It all makes me think about these mini art worlds, no one at this conference knows of any of the artists I know, I don’t know any of their work or the names they reference. This is madness and it’s replicated madness, many times over, multiple mini worlds all self perpetuating not even interested in each other. What use is all this, and really what a waste of all this effort and skill. I think the problem is that the ‘other’ seems such a threat, mix all this up and it could start to get interesting.
I think my interest in the relationship between these many cultures is right, it’s what makes me keep going but this ‘coal face’ does make me wonder. The name of my talk was ‘Ways to be Useful’ ,pre talk the American guys saw the title and said ‘well there aint no way we can do that’ - Doze guyzre kcrazee.
Travels with Grizedale Arts Deputy Director Alistair Hudson 03/07
On a plane to China again. 20 Curators on another crusade. This time the cause is Connections Through Culture, building lasting relationships between cultural organisations in the UK and China; though the political impetuous that drives us forward, that throbs deep in some cortex, is there’s gold in them their hills.
Connections though Culture is a joint initiative between the Department for Culture Media and Sport, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Council with support from the Scottish Executive.
I’ve been on one of these trips before in November 2005 and the itinerary for this is the same gruelling, relentless tour of galleries, dealers, museums, studios, handshaking, functions, speeches. Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun, enlightening, humbling and all that, but ultimately a little bit shallow. They feel like forced encounters and it’s difficult to navigate away from that. My cynical angel on the left shoulder keeps telling me the Chinese are laughing at the endless streams of curatorial crocodiles filing through, wanting a piece of the action. The more reasonable one on my right tells me that this is diplomacy in action. This is how we prevent wars.
I’ve been asked to join the group mainly to speak at the International Curating Forum in Beijing on Saturday. After Beijing I’m going to go off-piste to Guangzhou to meet with Vitamin Creative Space, with whom we are developing a project. Then after that it’s back home to get on with the stuff that pays the bills. I’ve had to cut this trip short as we’re so busy at home, building Greasy Poles, artists visits, public art strategies, fundraising, building a new office, running a farm, planning our project for Rochelle etc. It’s the downside of a small team like Grizedale that you can never find the balance between the grafting and the pioneering and the flag waving.
Cynical angel has just pointed out that I’ve conveniently and swiftly moved on from developing a project with Vitamin after we had agreed that all this China malarkey is just a bit sordid. Well obviously it’s not as clear cut as that.
I’ll have to come back to that.
Lumbering over Siberia in the dimmest light of predawn I can’t resist the mental flash of us as WWII action heroes approaching the drop zone. Blacked up faces and empty swag bags. Grab as much Chinese Contemporary Art as you can boys then head for home. It is all slightly sordid, but kind of inevitable.
We always used to joke on these kind of mass art world jaunts to Venice, Munster, Istanbul and where-ever, that if the plane went down you’d wipe out the art world. I suppose it was said in semi-deluded semi-seriousness, but now it’s a complete joke. There’s China now. And it’s getting big.
At a recent board meeting, after announcing we were going to work here, Claire Bishop couldn’t understand how we could do it. But we’re all Chinese now, we’re all in it together. Not least me; my wife is Chinese and so are my children back home. I eat Chinese, speak Chinese (badly) and worry about how its thirst for world resources is going to affect us all. I don’t think that I would have said in 1907 that I don’t want to, or won’t have, anything to do with America.
Upon reaching the hotel at 2.00pm we have 20 minutes to check in before our guide takes the group round the Forbidden City as an introduction to the Chinese context. Having seen the City before I decide to skip and go to bed. I’m knackered and nauseous after being on the move since 7.00 am the previous day. A cup of tea and a mooch in the park fit the bill better, especially before tomorrow’s symposium.
It would have been good to see the FC again though, I love the spectacle of it and it’s mix of history and fakey. The sheer volume of tourists there is just as much as a wonder of the world as the buildings themselves. And to add spice this time the palace museum within the walls is hosting a British Museum exhibition; a kind of Now That’s What I Call the History of the World Volume One. It marks a key moment as the BM tries to rebrand itself as the World’s Museum, a counter-imperialist move to maintain its collections through an outreach programme of global proportions. A bit like Grizedale really.
17 March International Curating Forum
Curating international work for a different cultural context
Presentation and interpretation
The relationship between artist and curator
Fan Di’an, Director National Art Museum of China
Wang Huangsheng, Director, Guangdong Museum of Art
Lu Jie, Director Long March Space
Gao Shiming Professor, China Academy of Fine Arts
Pi Li, Director, Universal Studios
UK Moderator; Claire Lilley, Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Alistair Hudson, Deputy Director, Grizedale Arts
Jo Lanyon, Director, Picture This
Laura Pottinger Director Bedford Creative Arts
Tom Trevor, Director, Arnolfini
On the top floor conference hall of the National Art Museum of China the scene is quite United Nations, with podium, extravagant flowers, desk mounted name placards, translators’ booth and radio headphones providing the simultaneous translation.
This is serious. In a rash moment I had listened (I’d like to think in a Benjaminesque way) to that angel on the left and titled my talk I’ve got a Brand New Complex Harbinger: The Curator as Farmer. Realising that jokes, never mind references to the Wurzells are going to be lost here, I adjust to Curator as Farmer, Farmer as Curator.
As we alternate between Chinese and UK presentations it’s clear there’s something amiss. The British are giving case studies, the Chinese are talking theory, what seems to me like 90’s art theory, though the translation both ways is so bad it’s flattening out all the nuances.
Also the whole thing is so comically formal that there is no room for any discussion. Each speaker speaks for 20 minutes. After 18 mins a bell rings to warn you your time is nearly up. Then there is a further 10 minutes for questions also demarcated by the bell. This ten minutes is actually about 3 after the technicalities of making the translation work. I’m assuming that they don’t have Just a Minute in China, but surely some kind of cultural osmosis has taken place here.
Also another gulf opens up. All the UK curators are from the public sector. All we seem to talk about is audiences, engagement, social context and all that jazz. The Chinese contemporary art scene has no public sector and no public funding, they are all effectively art dealers bolstered by post colonial theory and the Economic Miracle. They don’t give a shit about audience. They have the most rampant and testosterone fuelled art market on the planet and they’re having fun. And good on them – I’m almost jealous.
The PHD students in the room are clearly intent on what the Chinese Uber Curators have to say, some of sections almost bristling with boybandfan electricity when the likes of Lu Jie, Pi Li, Fan Di’an and Qiu Zhijie speak.
Lu Jie’s address comes across as slightly aggressive. These boys are on a roll.
Fan Di’An summarises that the Chinese speakers spoke about big ideas and the British spoke about the small things. This time there is a bristle of something from us, particularly me, as I was talking about the end of art as we know it, which by my books is pretty big. But I don’t think Beijing wants art to stop being what it is just yet.
Interestingly the students are coy when it comes to asking questions in the sessions, maybe a little bit overawed by the big hitters. But afterwards many of them speak to the Brits and we get the feeling there is a new generation of thought emerging which is against the orthodoxy of the Chinese speakers.
798 is Beijing’s East End art zone. A Stalinist Bauhaus designed munitions factory and industrial zone on an epic scale. It’s like Shoreditch, Hoxton, New York’s Chelsea and Berlin’s Mitte all rolled into one and pumped full of drugs.
It’s Sunday and busy with people wandering between the galleries – both Chinese middle youth and the ubiquitous clusters and crocodiles of Euro Curators shopping for their programmes with black note books or Blackberries.
The first time I came here I was wowed, of course. But also developed a running gag with a couple of my fellow curadors, which basically involved going in to each gargantuan gallery space, holding out arms wide and with and with a gentle nod of the head proclaiming “great space” in an exaggerated and overdrawn Euro accent.
And this still holds true as each gallery we visit gets increasingly cavernous. Pi Li’s Universal Studios is an aircraft hanger size gallery which was a not for profit space until they realised there was no point in being not for profit. So now just run for profit.
Pi Li is not there and his Dutch business partner gives us an impromptu talk and guides is round the Chen Shiuoxing installation – which is classic commercial gallery style turns a light, small animated video piece, which is quite fine by itself, into a whopping great museum installation that presumably requires hard labour, heavy engineering and several tonnes of steel. Congenial and amusing in that particular Benelux way, he is a refreshing antidote to the bullishness we have experienced to date. Again that good old English question of ‘who is your audience?’ pops up. He smiles. I cringe a little. A few collectors with buckets of cash, that’s who and that’s all you need.
But I like Universal Studios, it’s doing good things and the artists are interesting. For all my angel’s mocking, it’s is not just there to make money, it’s just that it can and it’s the best way to get things done round here.
So onward and upward and to the Ullens Foundation. Guy Ullens has made billions from Weightwatchers and now has collected the world’s weight in Chinese art. Not wanting to deprive the world of access to his collection in a bunker somewhere in Switzerland he is creating the most mammoth gallery you have ever seen in 798’s largest factory space.
I saw this space on my first visit before they started work. It’s a modernist concrete cathedral like two Tate Moderns glued together. That time I met the Director Fei Dawei, who along with Bev Byetheway, has one of the best names in art.
This time we just see the site office and are given a talk in front of the architect’s model (about the size of a ping pong table) by Colin Chinnery. I met Colin at the Guangzhou Triennial when he was an artist and working for the British Council. He’s half Chinese with a thick Scottish brogue and he’s now the deputy director and director of programme for the Ullens. He talks with unfettered passion about the project, to make China first world class professional standard museum. There is clearly a bottomless pit of money behind this and Colin can do whatever he wants. You can understand his glee and we all look on with open mouths, envy and a slight gigglyness in the face of the project audacity. It has all the hallmarks of the ultimate Bond baddies’ base. Except bigger than anything Blofeld could ever afford.
To add to this scene you have to bear in mind that Colin, stood before the model with saucer eyes, is, well, short. And, all dressed in black, bears an uncanny resemblance to Peter Sellers’ in Dr Stranglove. Clare from Yorkshire Sculpture Park asks is the building will be big enough for his ego. “Probably not.” Replies Colin, jovially.
What this will all do for Chinese art is very intriguing, as it will be the first major non-commercial space hosting art for art’s sake. It may help to move away from the dullness of all that art produced for a demanding client base, but equally could develop another Saatchi scenario, albeit 100 times the scale. Watch this space for now, but if there are any budding curators reading this, I’d send your cv in to them now if you fancy an easy life of no holds barred space filling. No. Expense. Spared.
Before a reception at Long March Space a quick pop in to Platform where David Thorp has curated a David Blandy show. Ahh. This seems to be all (as in completely) work commissioned by Grizedale Arts on the back of his residency, yet not a Grizedale mention in sight. This is fairly usual but disgruntling none-the-less.
The British Council have organised a party in Long March Space and it’s pretty good with Pecha Kucha (think art lecture Karaoke) on a terrible sound system. The booze is flowing and there’s a decent buffet with decent dim sum and cake. The vegetarians in our midst go crazy as this is the first time they have been catered for all trip.
Lu Jie, the director of Long March Space is not here as he’s flown off to California, even though he only just flew in from somewhere else on Friday. He’s apparently taken something like 90 flights in the last year. Better or lesser hands could make a good joke/art project about the Long March and carbon footprints.
I’m not sure here is the place to analyse Long March as it’s a complex case study but central and representative to the whole Chinese Contemporary Art boom. See their www.longmarchspace.com for further details, but you might say that on paper they are/were very close to Grizedale in terms of philosophy. Certainly before going to Beijing everyone kept saying that we must go and see them. But they are also a very different animal. Having emerged from its origins as process and artists’ collectivity, political and social activism etc, it is now one of the main galleries on the scene. A heavyweight, Gagosian style, in a space that reminds me of Victoria Miro, maybe a bit bigger.
Like Gagosian and all, they even have entrée level gallery girls who are so really nice and incredibly like so hospitable in that todally American-international way. Ju Lie’s assistant is super helpful, super trendy and super friendly, translating and joking along as she introduces us to artists and guests at the party. Amongst them are Davids Blandy and Thorp.
Davids Blandy comes up and we have a natter, shortly to be approached by the aforementioned galleristas:
Gallerista: “Heeyyyy, like you did like that really cool stuff over the road, right?”
David: “Errr, yep.”
Me: “Hello, I’m Alistair from Grizedale. We commissioned the work in David’s show”
David “Oh yeh, that’s right, you commissioned the main piece. Oh yeh and the New York piece. Oh actually and the big photograph as well. Oh yeh, actually everything in the show!”
At the airport I say farewell to my fellow curators, who are off to Shanghai, and I head out alone, Scott-like across the concourse over to check in zone A.
After the grey, cold, dusty and harsh ruthlessness of Beijing (even though I like it like I like Berlin), Guangzhou fills me with a smile. This is partly because I feel relieved at the freedom of having my own schedule, but also because its on the cooler side of warm and sunny and breezy. The taxi ricochets around the lanes of the motorway the way Chinese taxi drivers like it, overtaking on the hard shoulder and avoiding two pile ups in short succession. Normally I’d be in a ball on the floor, but with the air so clement, some Sino-reggae on the radio and the windows fully down, there is a definite tropical balm thing going on.
Arriving at Vitamin, this mood is maintained. It lacks pretence, being hidden away in a sweat shop block behind a multi-coloured food market, selling spices, dried mushrooms, char sui bau, snakes and fluffy white bunnies, slaughtered to order by a man with an axe and a bloody apron.
Having been here twice before it’s also like a seeing good friend again. Compared to Beijing galleries the space is less fussy, less try hard, yet the work more considered and dare I say poetic. In Beijing the catalogues are big and heavy and in colour. Here they are penguin paperback affairs, gently written and clearly with something to say.
Zhang Wei the director is busy in a meeting in her office and her husband and co-director Hu Fang is in Vienna. They’re just a busy as all the others in China, but the mood is much more relaxed. For the first time on the trip I have moment of quiet, sit down nest to sunlit window in the gallery, take in the work and listen to the back drop of noise from the market outside. This is like being in Venice, apart from the fact that the space is crossed with soil stacks from the floors above and every so often there is the distinct slatter clatter of human slurry rattling down the pipes.
I’m here to continue discussions on a project for the village of Nanling in the upper reaches of Guangdong province. The mountain village and its surrounding primordial forest park have been acquired by a property developer to build it up as an eco tourism project – building hotels and a visiting audience, whilst maintaining the natural environment and the village culture. It is at once medieval and supermodern, a heightened nodal point in the supra-urban scenario on which I spoke in my talk in Beijing.
Vitamin have been developing art projects there with the developer, though not necessarily for the developer, for a couple of years. Zhang Wei has not been entirely satisfied with how these have worked and asked us to go out last year to have a look at the village to see what we might think or do. A clear case in point was the playground made by French artist Mathieu Briand with the children in the village a. A classic case of context art, it provided a number of images of and dialogues on social engagement, but is actually never used by the children anymore. They live in a forest for goodness sake.
So our challenge is to somehow make art work in this situation. To be of use, to be of benefit to the village and not just the artists’ careers. It may be that art, at least in its popular incarnation is not the answer, but this is why we got on so well with Vitamin; because, like us, they actually asked the question if art was the right answer and had the balls to say that what they had tried had not been necessarily successful.
Incidentally, our relationship with Vitamin came about partly through my first curator-crocodile trip to China in November 2005, so they must work to some extent I guess, but it needs willingness on both parts. And for this to work we need to be doing things that we are all interested in.
Day 2 was wet but bearable and the work pace furious again – with this troop we could scalp the site in a week. I have now noticed that using equipment is the principle joy. There is an antipathy for the spade, I didn’t see one of the village pick one up for a moment, or a hand saw.
Principle achievements were felling timber and clearing fallen trees. The afternoon we managed to ‘plant’ mushrooms (in logs) and build a new and rather substantial bridge. There was little time wasted on aesthetics, just practical decisions about longevity and usability.
Toge men folk arrived for battle/work on Monday morning at 8am having twiddled their fingers for 2 hours waiting for us all to get ready, and then they were off, no stopping them chainsaws whirling. I started off with a chainsaw but was quickly overridden and my saw handed to a man more able, 72 but more able for sure I’ve never seen my saw work so well, the vorpal blade. The only difficult thing was getting them to stop, a moment of turned back and another tree crashed to the ground, they certainly do enjoy confirming the sound of a tree falling. The day was foul, driving rain which does tend to slow you down a bit, by lunch time everyone was soaked – Yasura-san explained that now he felt alive again. For lunch they all changed into my clothes, a bizarre sight the checked and tartan land army. As the weather worsened I called the afternoon session of and the village slept.
I whisk the Toge women off to the Lilliput Lane factory at Penrith after they express a desire to develop our prototype model of a Toge house. It was made by a LL sculptor, but the company remains rather disinterested in the project. The women would like to cast the commissioned mould and paint the models themselves, a kind of bootleg Lilliput Lane production, so the chance of an informative tour of the factory offers some useful insights for them.
The company allow me to film the visit and tour, and don’t flinch at the copious notes Mitsuko-san takes at every stage.
It’s great to spend time with the village, and artist Junko-san (who we met in Toge) again. Junko doesn’t do small-talk. In the car she leans over to me and says “Are Beatrix Potter and Harry Potter related?”
I say, tentatively, “Conceptually….yes. But actually, no.”
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