Day 9 travel and conclusion

Beijing International Art Biennale

Trailing my suitcases behind me, I was at the airport, retracing my steps to where I had landed a little bit more than a week ago. This was the moment to finalize and draw the conclusions, to see what had changed in me and what remained unmoved.
In this short trip I saw a lot of outstanding art, at times I was intimidated by the sheer size, numbers and the technical skill used to produce the work. The Art industry scared me outright, reducing me to a speck of dust in the wind.
Walking down the long corridors of the Beijing Capital international airport I am trying to pep myself up, trying to pull above the 10.000 artists in the  Songzhuang art village. I must be better, do better! And I compare 10.000 with my inner individual struggle for creative originality. But quickly 10.000 sighs drown my voice. [personal note: don’t forget the I-object]

robot by Michael Julian (my son)

Lately I was listening to a BBC podcast about ageing. Most life stops, not through old age, but through accidents. Accidents in the widest sense. A warm summer’s day scorching the grass. Animals trapped in a forest fire. The accidental exposure to the wrong bacteria or virus. It seems that our life forms do not put special energy into prolonging life of an individual, but rather in procreating life to ensure the survival of the species on earth.
For humans, we need more than the spreading our DNA for our species to survive. Our existence is also linked to our culture. It allows us to share and express our emotions. Through the formation of culture we find ways to express ideas and pass on our thoughts and experiences.
Are 10.000 artists in Songzhuang enough for passing on their cultural ideas to 1.344.000.000 Chinese?
300.000 German artists for 81.000.000 Germans?
200,000 British artists for 63.000.000 Britains?
180,000 French artists for 65.000.000 people in France?
This is a moment to think latterly about our the future and reality.
a) Art is a product that should be kept exclusive in order to keep a high return value for the investor?

b) Artists carry and spread our cultural heritage, we need more artists to express ideas and pass on our thoughts and experiences.


Day 8 Today Art Museum

Beijing International Art Biennale, writing

A Happy Xmas sign lay on its side in one of the galleries, it was difficult to read if this small art area surrounding the Today Art Museum was on the decline or needed maintenance. The building 1 of the museum was closed, but a work crew busy in their moon festival holidays break was making up for lost time.

Building 2 was open, I was the first guest. On the first floor I saw the results of a printmaking workshop. I found one of the flyers advertising the event.
Woodcut workshop. Bring your favourite drawing or a photo and under the guidance of a woodcut printmaker make your own woodcut.
I counted some 200 works that were neatly framed and displayed. It showed some real talent and it was nice to see a museum/ gallery involved with educating people about the physical process of making art. Their previous project involved primary school children and parents exploring colours through taste.
Upstairs showed a collection of Korean artists involved with a cultural exchange. Using traditional techniques mixed with new media, it felt like a breeze of fresh air.
Building 3 showed the work of Xiaotian Zhang’s  abstract works entitled Soliloquy. I was fortunate to meet the artist. We exchanged cards, and he gave me a beautiful catalogue of his work. The paintings are very quiet and minimalistic. I studied his works with care, knowing I could deepen and improve my own work by listening and looking at these silent encounters.

For dinner I met up with Tobias Marx

Day 7 theatre

Beijing International Art Biennale, writing

It will all be in Chinese, the cashier informed me.
I will come and look, I replied.
For the arts you don’t need language, she replied with a smile.

Beijing People’s Art Theatre

That evening I returned to the Beijing People’s Art theatre. The area in front of the theatre that had always been empty during the day was now full with seriously expensive looking vehicles. Excited to watch a play about money and greed in the company of 200 other people I entered the foyer and there was a great atmosphere of excitement and anticipation.  My seat was on the second floor, balcony, at the front, the cashier had chosen well. The lights dimmed, the show began. The story was about the greed of a young couple that ran an old age home. To finance their flamboyant lifestyle, the couple swindled heirlooms from their clients.  When the pressure of life achievements are questioned, doubt sets in and paths are reformed. I must confess that I dropped off once or twice allowing people from my dreams to interact with the play, which added to a whole new dimension of theatre experience.
A most enjoyable evening.

Today I said farewell to William Robert Steven who I met out side an art store.

Day6 Beijing ART industry

Beijing International Art Biennale, writing

Two years ago after visiting the 798 district in Beijing, I wanted to see the Chaoyang district situated north of the 798. Could I walk? No it is too far. I got the directions written in Chinese on paper and found a taxi. The driver did not know where it was and while driving got onto his mobile phone to get directions. The man’s taxi ID photo stuck squarely on the dashboard did not match up with my driver’s face, so I imagined he was the cousin talking to the real taxi driver for directions. But we drove and drove, onto the highways and the ring roads of Beijing. I think we are driving in circles, I said crossly. He got back onto the phone and because I did not know where we were going either I looked out over the grey field looking for any kind of reference point. After some time we got off the highway. Then we entered a long avenue with painting workshops. At last, I felt a sense of relief. On either side the shops displaying rows upon rows of painted canvases. Flower arrangements, landscapes, men and women in revolutionary poses, horses and riders on the steppe, trucks, tractors and children in barren landscapes. Then, in front of us SCORCHING SUN OF TIBET – CONTEMPORARY TIBETAN ART SHOW, a massive building. That is where we stopped.  The taxi driver pointed out motioning with hands that he could wait, there would be no taxi back. I kindly thanked him and dismissed him, I would find my way back. Shaking his head he drove off. I entered the Song Zhuang art centre, in the Kuni village, Song town, Tongzhou District. I was dazzled by such a vast collection of impressive works from Tibet. Large bold paintings, installations and sculptures. 2012, I am back in the same museum, and I realise the taxi driver had brought me to the wrong location, but despite my mumbling, I am grateful, because he had brought me to the Industrial Art zone of Beijing. Marc, Peter and Tinne had planned this visit. Peter organized a bus (with Jane our tour-guide), Marc and Tinne, mapped out where to see and what. Today some 10.000 artists live and work in the Songzhuang. I have been trying to work out how many that is.

pingpongWe stopped briefly at Marc’s comfortable studio, sporting large black and white paintings and one ping-pong table. Next door the studio was used as a gallery and meeting place and amongst other works showed some of Tinne’s paintings. A ping-pong table was also present. (they laughed, it seemed like a must have item amongst the well to do artists). Across the road, more studios and a piano store. Marc told us that the rent is approximately 300 Euro per month. But at the rate of expansion and demand in the art village he did not know how long that would last. In recent years the demand on rentable space has gone up by 70%. Artists are not the only ones looking for affordable studios, and they have to compete with property developers . In the bus on the way to the Shangshan museum, Marc pointed out new studios and galleries.  ‘Last year this was a field’, he said shrugging his shoulders. In disbelief I looked at row upon row of double storied buildings, with new name tags giving an identity to a otherwise anonymous uniformity; gallery of HongKong, gallery Shanghai, gallery cube this or cube that.

Sunshine International Museum entrance hall

Sunshine International Museum entrance hall

At the museum of the Shangshan Art Centre in Songzhuang, the owner showed us round his 2 storied buildings. Ten artists had recently installed their installations. Hans Mes and Nancy Kozikowski showed us their work in the spacious building.  With great new wealth streaming towards successful businessmen it is not uncommon for them to build a museum especially for their collection. The owner kindly invited us to have something to eat, but we regretfully declined; Marc had us on a tight schedule. Being overwhelmed by hospitality and the sheer size, vastness of the museum space, we set off to our next destination; more artists studios. The smaller paintings measuring 3×4 meters ( that is the size of my studio) and of course the ping-pong tables. Then to the MOCA an other privately own museum. But before that we stopped briefly at the Sunshine International Museum.

We entered, I saw the entrance room and  the 2012 catalogue which was published in 3 separate books (each spine measuring 7cm in width) and walked out again. There was no time to walk 3 football pitches of art. Then the MOCA and then an other museum, ‘art is a drug’, or art is a medicine that ensure good health. With all that art in my eye I felt the artist inside me struggle with such a confrontation off the vastness, the mass of the art. It began to lose its point. I asked Linda our guide if she was brought up with art. ”Once a week”, she told me, ”we used to get calligraphy or painting in high school”. Asking Tinne who lives in the Art village, ”who buys all this art?” Tinne: They are used as gifts. In China, if  you like your job, you should give your boss a painting. Everyone knows in China that art is a good investment. Chinese art, mind you; they may even frowndown on western art. The painting is not seen as a bribe, but puts you in a better position for a possible promotion. And as a successful businessman you should have a good piece of art in your office and your house. Now I truly understood what the Art industry was, but what did it mean for me? Where is my place in the Arts? Where does this  leave me? Is there any point? Will any efforts succeed?

Today I met up with Sara Rahanjam, Raheleh Salmani Nooravar, Eva Petric, Guadalupe Luceno   Farzana Ahmed, Marc Baufrere, Harumi Sonoyama  ,Tasana Kondee, HansMes & Beke, Nancy Kozikowski, Peyman Shafieezadeh extra

Day5 Beijing International Art Biennale 2012 farewell

Beijing International Art Biennale, writing

The next movie would start at 15:00, an American movie, I insist on the 14:00, I did not want to wait, but it started 15 minutes ago, the cashier felt obliged to point out. But that´s okay, I sometimes like the challenge of catching up with the main plot of the movie. Some times a block buster can turn out even better half missed. I was guided from one usher to the next with a very little light, this was no longer the international hotel, where boys stood and waited sleepy, promptly I was shown my row, and found my seat in the darkened space as someone with a gun walked stealthily on the big screen. Now Bruce Willis was doing the shooting, as I huddled down in my seat. It was not a happy flick, we did not laugh. With the conference over and the artists gone, contact seemed to have ended.

Before leaving the hotel I spoke and met up with Annetta Stylianou, Tatiana Farahian, MD.Aloptogin, Rafiqul Haque, Aleksandre Gelashvili, Marina Tikhonova & Nikolay Tikhonov, Roger Thompson, Helena Henrietta Vogelzang , Miroslav Mandic, Kristina Ristic, Koeh Sai Yong, Mansour Ciss,

Day4 of the Beijing International art biennale 2012

Beijing International Art Biennale, writing

Mickey (my son) and I stood on the beach. 2010. The ‘’black kite’’ kite that I had bought him in China was about to go up into the sky.
“Not too far”, the three and a half year old told me. I let out some of the string and the kite gave a tug and it was up in the air. The wind pushed our backs and the kite pulled on the line wrapped around my finger. Mickey stood and looked worried, first up at the kite, then me.
“Not to far, that’s enough” he warned again.
But there was nothing I could do. The wind was too strong, the string too thin. It snapped, and the kite like a lame bat fell toward earth. Just as it was about to flop down on the beach a last gust of wind punched the kite. The kite flew up briefly before dropping down some 20 meters into the sea. We ran forwards. ‘’Come!’’ I shouted as I picked Mickey up and ran to the water’s edge. We watched the waves crash over the top of the helpless kite and it sank. Mickey was in tears, I held him close as I scanned the surface of the water in case a wave would bring it up on shore. But the bird had sunk. Devastated over our loss there was no consoling Mickey over the drowned kite. But for a brief moment the bird came up, out of the water. A spark of hope, we could still save the kite, but do I let go of Mickey? how deep is the water? Is there an under current? Get my shoes off? The bird sank again, never to be seen again. The bird became a fish, this is the story that we took home with us. The kite bird that  became the fish.
‘’When you go to China, Koert,’’ Mickey said in earnest once he learned that I would attend the 5th art biennale of Beijing, ‘’you will have to get a new kite, the same one.’’

Two years ago some where near the Qianhai lake I had bought the kite. This year I had a mission, to find the same place, to find the same kite. I set off early from the hotel and followed my instinct. Four hours later I was back at the hotel, with a kite, and a long length of strong kite string.

In the afternoon Alessandro, Christina and I took a taxi back to the museum. Arriving at the museum, a woman had already hailed our taxi.
As we got out she said, ‘’If you want to get in to the museum, you are too late. The won’t let anyone in after 4, they close at 5.’’

‘’We’ll see about that,’’ I said, clutching my biennale participant badge hanging round my neck with a distinct blue cord. As we strode to the entrance, Alessandro and Christina confessed that they did not have their badge.
‘’Ah, but you have your cameras, so you can be photographers.’’
We marched in shielded behind the badge and cameras. Later in the museum I saw the woman we had met out side.
‘’Ah you made it in,” I exclaimed “well done.”
“Yes”, she proudly replied, “I followed you, because I could not miss this museum. It is my last day and the lonely planet guide said, if you have a few hours to spare, you must see this  funky museum.’’

Funky indeed. I was standing mesmerised in-front of the work of Qin Huanshuang, a Chinese painting 185x 315cm ‘Morning in the Sajiangkou’. With my nose practically on the paper I followed the patterns incorporated in one of the farm worker’s jacket. Subtle greys and orange lines folding in and out making the checkerd pattern of a thick shirt that curved around the arms and waists. Nine farm workers, their faces tanned and slightly redend by the cold, smiled outwards as they looked into a bright future.

I moved on to other works, the international section, mainly on the 2nd floor was jam packed with works and ample diversity. It was obvious that some artists had connected with the theme future and reality, and viewed our future critically. Perhaps questioning our motivation to form an alliance with nature, or alienate from nature. Or looking at our constant need to expand.  Others embraced our future not being able to wait for it all to happen, bright opportunities that are just beginning to surface. Dark matter and antimatter, Higgs, our understanding of magnetism in organic matter, the universe ever expanding. And finally artists whose work was completely off topic. But that too is a valid comment on the future and reality of the visual arts.

Art is an expression of our emotion
Not all expressions of emotions are art.
Some of our expressions are better suited for media like Facebook.

From the works that I made most connection with is from Adel Todd, Trinidad and Tobago. Her work deals an other future and reality; violence in boys as they grow to adulthood.

Detail of Anthuriums  Adele Todd Violence Blooms 2006-2009 Trinidad

Detail of Anthuriums Adele Todd Violence Blooms 2006-2009 Trinidad

I spoke to

Giovanni Lillo, Anna Harutyunyan, Mary Moon, Ara Haytayan, Amir Hossein Bayani, Ramtin Zad, Julian Voss-Andreae, Piko Sugianto, George Gavriel, Daniel Ernest Icaza Petersen, Tiiu Kirsipuu , Outi Erika Adamsson, Svenja Jill Deininger, C. Michael Norton, John Keith Brown, Patrick Chong, Zaharia Gheorghe Kriangkrai Kongkhanun ,  Najat Hassan Makki , Noah Daniel Smith Schenk, Peter Wayne Lewis, Alessandro Cardinale, Christina Gori

Day 3 Beijing International ART Biennale 2012

Beijing International Art Biennale, writing

That morning over breakfast I was sitting at a table with some participants. “Are you going to come to the opening at the inside out museum in Haidian? We have a bus, it only holds 20 and will leave at 13:30.”  Not waiting for an answer, the conversation no longer in any particular way included me and, drifted to blues clubs, millionaires and swanky deals, let my mind drift off to Jim, Basie and Frank from J.G Ballards ‘Empire of the sun’.  A fancy-dress party and cocktails. We all had our agenda.
I would follow a part of the morning session of the symposium, the afternoon would be spent at the art district 798.

The symposium was opened by the chairman Shao Dazhen, followed by Wang Yong, Nui Kecheng and Zuo Zhongyi. Yu Yang, dean of art history, school of fine arts, Capital Normal university gave his view of Chinese painting in the recent 30 years, and looking at the position of the Chinese art in comparison to the west. Followed by comments on the potential growth of the Chinese art industry. (in Europe we talk about the creative industry, what is the art industry?)
This was followed by the critic Zhu Qi, who gave us an interesting talk about the oil paintings in China which comparing to ink and paper is a relative new technique. He showed us an exciting development of painters from the 1990 to 2006 ranging from traditional landscapes in oil, to a more naive narrative style of painting to a hyper realistic painting, using everyday subjects such as fat man on stretcher being annoyed by mosquitoes. The symposium ended at 17:00, but like I mentioned I had my own agenda. The day before I had already taken a look at the Rosebud gallery in district 798 and saw a gripping performance by the Beijing modern dance company with a giant paper marionette. The art district is filled with work and at 12:00 I started with Landscapes in nowhere by Ju Tae Seak, Looking away, in the Lelege Art space and so I went from one space to the next. The immense scale of the art exhibition spaces and the corresponding size upon which the works are made are greatly impressive, you could put  a train in most of the exhibition halls. Once the awe of the grandness and the intimidation wears off you can still enjoy the confidently, well executed works, evoking a feeling of nostalgia. But what Mr Zhu Qi  ( the art critic from the morning symposium) had shown us in his slide-show, that was not in the art district today. The image of the painting of a fat man lying on the stretcher being annoyed by mosquitoes was replaced by a skinnier man lying on a stretcher with no mosquitoes.

photo-collage by Li Dui, participant in 2009 Beijing 798 Art festival

animal regulation

animal regulation

That day I spoke and met up with

Weaam Ahmed El-Masry, Mohamed Ibrahim Elmasry, Abdel Mo’men Shams, Mohammad Bassuony, Kawther Al-sharif, Mina Nasr, Samar Elbarawy, Kate Vrijmoet, Xiaohong Zhang, Juan Andrés Hermosilla Hermosilla, Mauricio German Rivera Jimenez, Tara Behbahabi, Britta Westhausen, Linda Lildholdt, Said Aniff Hossanee, Emanuele Giannetti

Day 2, the opening Beijing International ART Biennale

Beijing International Art Biennale, writing

The national museum of art in Beijing was busy and getting ready to receive the guests for the opening. As artists holding our blue and green guest cards we had special access to the exhibition prior to the opening. Mingling with the museum guards still placing guard rails around the sculptures and fixing up the walls with white dabs of paint on brushes we walked through halls and took in the artworks. The ground floor showcased the artwork of the Chinese participants, and like in the previous biennale, the works were exquisite. Large works of dreamy mastery, using traditional ink on paper or oils or acrylic on canvas were confidently painted. The sculptures stood firm in their transformed material. The works where made by men and women that were obviously so well trained in their skills of art making, that we only see such dedication in the west in athletes, dancers or musicians. Hours of practice, hours of doing, resulting in physical actions perfectly synchronized with their thought. Further on in the museum, the republic of Armenia had its own ‘Special exhibition’, as did Mexico, and a series of etchings from Fransisco Goya. Moving up to the 2nd floor the exhibition continued with the works of the international artists. Sometimes a little crowded, the collection showed a full array of diversity found in our world cultures. And it was obvious that the curators of the Beijing international art biennale did not choose the art works by status or personal connections but through an open call for artists. To be part of this varied collection is truly unique.

In the second room I found the familiar grey and green colours of my painting, then I realized it was mine, the painting was hanging on its side. Quickly I looked around to see if I could bring this to the attention of anyone in charge. No one, so appointing myself to take charge. I found two guards to help me. We unhooked the painting, turned it and hung it on its appropriate hanging wire. With some improvisation we levelled the painting so that it was straight, and brushed off the dust and specks of polystyrene packaging flakes. Now we were ready for the opening. The people streamed in; I will have to come back an other day. The work that I presented was ‘sculpture of animals and children’.

More about the process can be found in a short video clip.

Straight lines and curved lines

That day I met up with:

Vu Quang Hung, Nguyen Truong Linh, Ho Mingh Quan, Do Duc Khai, Nguyen Thai Thang, Nguyen Duc Viet, Peter Hiers, Joan Marie Kelly, Mainaz Bano, Jitendra Kumar Sharma, Rajib Bhattacharjee, Maurya Shitanshu Gupt, Sonal Varshneya, Shatrughan Kumar Gupta, Vidya Sagar, Jyotsna Gyanani  Deb Dulal Dutta, Danilo Oyarce , Dmitry Zharov

Day 1 Arrival Beijing International ART Biennale 2012

Beijing International Art Biennale, writing

The first thing on my list would be, as I had promised myself, to take a swim in the pool of the international Beijing Hotel. After a long walk in the hotel, in sandals and a tracksuit, I found the hotel swimming pool in the basement with 3 assistants waiting for me. I reported myself at the desk. A locker key was produced and went from one assistant to me to the other and at the lockers/changing room a towel was wrapped around my waste, my sandals replaced for slippers, then another assistant guided me to the swimming pool through a labyrinth of passages. The swimming pool was large, at the far end a life guard was perched high in his chair guarding a solitary swimmer in the center lane. I choose the side lane, freestyle, breaststroke and to catch my breath a lazy backstroke looking at the painted clouds on the ceiling. After some time the other swimmer ended his swim and left. Now I was the solitary swimmer save guarded by the young man in the high chair. I thought to myself what an odd job?. The quiet ripples of the waves I created where gently caught and damped by the swimming pool float lines.

swimming pool float lines

As I went up and down the length of the water I focused on orientating myself, regarding the pool’s edge, timing myself before I would hit the side, forth pillar, the float lines changing from white to yellow to red, the clouded ceiling edge would end, time to reach out and touch the edge of the pool, turn, push off the wall with my feet. A bit of crawl, then breaststroke, my ears blocked by the bathing cap, the sounds of water echoing of the walls and ceiling as if I were in a cave. After half hour of swimming or so, I got out of the pool and dried myself with the towel. Putting my spectacles on I thought the guard looked so bored he might be near to sleeping. I felt a pity for him remembering the internal battle against sleep in lectures about leverage and force. Now I observed the guard carefully, picking out a reference point on the chair to determine if his body was slowing sagged and crumbling into sleep as he breathed in and out. It seemed as if he was asleep. On turning myself to collect my gear, I heard a loud clatter. He had fallen off the chair. I did not spin around to look, but gave him some time to regain his dignity. But when I did turn, he was not on the chair, nor on the ground but had hidden himself behind a pile of deckchairs.

That day I met up with Nasser Palangi, Elmar Peintner, Linda Verkaaik, MD.Jalal Uddin, Bishwajit Goswami, Khalid Mahmood, A.S.M.Mustafa Jamal Akbar, Robert Evgeni BaramovMichael Lyons, Laurin McCrackenSidi Mohammed Mansouri Idrissi, Edy Asmara Purta, Uuk Paramahita, Bambang Juliarta, Made Gunawan Le Tran Anh Tuan, Nguyen Dinh Vu, Ly Truc Son, Nguyen Khac Chinh.

[if any of the artists have a website that I do not have please write me. If you do not have one, I recommend you should make one. WordPress offers a free service, or blogger or many others.]

Introduction Beijing International Biennale 2012

Beijing International Art Biennale, writing

In the next 9 days I will report on the Beijing International Biennale 2012. It will be an account of my impressions, adventures and thoughts.
In July I received an email from Daniel employee at a logistic company, Germany.
Could you confirm that we can pick up your work on Tuesday morning for the Beijing show?.
Reply: sorry Daniel, I am in Greece at the moment, but next week Thursday I’ll be back, and we can make an arrangement to have the crate picked up.
Reply from Daniel: the work will be put in a container next week Wednesday, so please find some one to give us your work.
Fortunately my work was already crated and ready for shipping. But how was I going to find some one, to break in to my studio, and arrange with a truck driver to pick up my work within the next 4 days?

 sculpture of animals with two children by K Van

The work that was chosen was the top part of a triptych entitled: sculpture of animals with two children