opening night 3

Saturday, July 16, 2005
Opening at italian Morella Gallery. A group show called Internal Injuries, featuring 7 Chinese artists. We are too early, so we go for lunch at the Sichuan Food restaurant across the street.

Film screening at Platform China shows a series of European short-films. I cannot understand the following discussion, so I go to sit in the gallery room where I will exhibit and contemplate my installation. Today it seems small - idea too big? Natalie, Xiao Lu, Xu Zhongmin invite me to join them for dinner at a donkey restaurant. During a long drive in Xiao Lu's new Jeep she explains the system for speeding tickets: video cameras placed along the main roads record the traffic, and the public has to check on a website wheather they have been fined - huge additional fines are given if you don't pay on time. We eat some donkey and talk about art education. Xu Zhongmin explains that the ones who study art are the ones who are unsuccessful in other disciplines. Still the competition is fierce. There are only a few small art schools in a city of 13 mill. and you have to pass many drawing tests with live models. The art schools are state run and very conservative. Emphasis is on learning techniques by copying, only some of the younger teachers are more liberal and knowledgeable about Western contemporary art. It is a bit random what western art books and information the students get hold of, and again they tend to copy whatever they see. According to Xiao Lu, the lack of creative thinking in the school system results in a lack of originality. There is too much respect for history, tradition and the teachers. Most graduated artists take jobs as interior designers, garden design or in publishing, while only a small percentage goes on to become professional artists. Most of these are the state hired, realist propaganda artists, while a very, very few break away and become independent artists who try to make it in the international art world. Everyone around our table have studied abroad.

lama hotlog and disco

Friday, July 15, 2005
An eclectic day. We start out visiting the Lama Temple, which is really impressive and has a cool and thick vibe of centuries of praying. It is one of the few historical sites left untouched by the Cultural Revolution, and most of the Buddha figures and temples are intact. After lunch at Xu Xiang Zhai vegetarian restaurant across from the Confucian Temple, we walk through the hutongs to the Bell Tower.

According to my guide book there is much debate about the origin of the word hutong. The most convincing argument is that hutong derives from a Mongol word, hotlog, that means "water well" and suggests a small area of the city that may have been served by a single well before they dug the canals to supply the city with water.

At night we go to a DJ-gig in a club in Ditan Park. It's a real disco, next to a 4 storey Chinese restaurant. Loud techno music is pumping as we enjoy a drink and a delicious fresh fruit plate while people dance and wave their hands in the air like they don't care... The vibe is unusually asexual.

homegirl 2

Thursday, July 14, 2005
The laptop fan is shot and it gets really hot. Guess I'll have to bring it back for repair... I stay home and work and plan a trip to Yuncheng where I want to photograph the salt of China's "Dead Sea". We later decide to skip this trip since in China you can only buy one-way train tickets, maximum 4 days and minimum 3 1/2 days in advance. This is because the beds sell out quickly. Our trip gets post phoned several times, and when we realize that the same thing would be true for the return ticket we decide to focus on Shanghai as our one big trip.

Upset and excited I give birth to an installation idea for my exhibition at Platform. It involves water, mosquitoes, earth and construction. You'll see.

bad connection

Wednesday, July 13, 2005
After 4 days the phone is back on, and I patiently upload images and enter posts on Hotlog. The connection is soooo slooooooow and keeps cutting off - but better late than never...

We are invited for dinner by Leatitia at Laobeijing restaurant opposite Poly Plaza off the 2nd ring road. The traffic is terrible and on top the driver makes several detours and does not know where he's going - it takes over an hour to get there. Brian and several artist residents are here. I sit next to a Mexican Embassy intern wo turns out to be my Mexican artist friend Yoshua Okon's sister in law. The world seems small again.

After dinner we meet up with John Campell a musician and journalist, who takes us to a club called Club Yu Gong Yi Shan, where several Chinese bands play, people chat, smoke, drink and play pool. The first band is kind of interesting, combining traditional Chinese instruments with electric bass and guitar.

want sex

Tuesday, July 12, 2005
The phone is still dead. Take a cab to Starbucks to check my email, but the network is down. Walk to Workers Stadium where Beijing Art Now Gallery is located opposite Gate 12. I want to see an exhibition by Zhao Gang. He was a member of the earliest avant-garde group in contemporary Chinese art, the Star Group, before moving to New York in 1983. Here he started an artistic deconstruction, deconstructing content, concepts and technique allowing a shift from unity to diversity. The show is called want sex, and the artist explains that he explores a personal narrative about his childhood as he grew up in a Cold War Era and Cultural Revolution. The source of the work is a teenager's sexual anxiety. In China, the only sexually suggestive images were ballets of female soldiers dancing.

The network freezes when I plug in my laptop at Gongti International Youth Hostel.
Take the subway to Tiananmen Square to meet Anne Karin and co who are in town. We want to see the Beijing Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, but are too late, and go to the Square to play with Mimir's kite instead before heading for 798. Try one more time to go online at At Café. After 5 minutes the network goes down, and at home the phone is still dead...

public transportation

Monday, July 11, 2005
Head to town determined to figure out the Beijing Subway. It turns out to be easy as pie. They have signs in letters I can understand, and announcements too. Everything is clean and air-conditioned. The 3 RMB ticket keeps poor people out, and the crowd is typically young and professional. Our destination is Beijing Railway Station where we find the waiting room for international passengers furnished with red plastic armchairs. It has a ticket window. A not very helpful woman refers us to a travel agent since we have questions before we are ready to purchase our tickets to Yuncheng and Shanghai. We take a bus to the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall for 1 RMB to discover it is closed on Mondays, Mao's Mausoleum too, so we purchase a kite and fly it on Tiananmen Square before visiting the Zhongshan Park. I want to see the alter for the autumn gods of the earth where the emperor performed sacrifices for the harvest. A square wall with 4 gates surrounds the square alter which is divided in four colors of earth: black to the north, red to the south, white to the west and green to the east. The middle is yellow representing the power of the emperor. The amount of people who want to take a picture of them selves with one of us is a little overwhelming. We take the subway to a cab home.

Knud Larsen, one of my teachers in architecture in the 80s gives a surprise call. He is in Beijing on his way back from Tibet. He visits with Rigmor and Petter, Baard Breivik's assistant. Mel has made dinner and they bring cheese and bread and wine. Rigmor talks about the need for the Chinese government to allow the artists some space and the scene to grow. It used to be Paris, NY and Berlin, now Beijing is hot, and the government should support this moment. Other issues discussed: professors from the Academy, international artists, cheap labor and materials, live traditions, good skills, no masks or glows, moral issues?

girls girls

Sunday, July 10, 2005
We visit Beijing Photographic Equipment City in the far west of the Haidian District with Beatriz. Downstairs are numerous stores for new and used cameras. Medium and large format cameras are a bargain while 35 mm which is what I need are less so. Upstairs is amazing! Hairdressers and wedding parlors where you can borrow wigs and costumes, and have your hair and make-up done to have your photograph taken against any thinkable backdrop. 3-D pictures are also available. Large groups of young girls gather around models who receive the latest beauty treatments. I am tempted to challenge Cindy Sherman with a photo shoot here.
We walk through the garden of the Temple of Heaven where we exit the East Gate to meet Rigmor at the Pearl Market and Toy Market before and after having lunch. Here are lots of cheap temptations.
At night we go to a performance at Platform China by artist Zhang Hui and his group. He is sitting inside a round table on a chair with casters. Around the table are various dishes of food cooking and he eats constantly as he turns slowly around. Elsewhere on the floor 2 people are dragging a huge white frog around in a leash, while others are alternately sleeping, walking, climbing up the wall etc. It is hard to grasp the core of these rituals or even a grain of meaning... Meet Rain and Nathalie and Bajou, and see QingQing -the art scene is quite small.