CFCCA Curating China conference

Despite the downpour, the trip to Manchester to attend the CFCCA conference on curating china, was highly rewarding. In fact, I wasn’t at all surprised to see that it’s a sold-out event. This is the first time I visited CFCCA after their rebranding campaign. I’m not sure if I like the branding colour (yellow) much, but it works, and it is young and cheerful. I like the modern and clean layout of the place, the addition of a souvenir shop selling artworks, scarves, notepads made by Chinese artists, and the provision of a user-friendly theatre.

Above all, the speakers they invited for the conference are really the kind of experts who should come to the UK more often to share their insights and experiences. Li Ning, curator at the China Art Museum in Shanghai, gave an impressive hour-long presentation on Chinese art history, with a focus on contemporary Chinese art, the diversity of art schools and their reception in China. The artworks she discussed in her presentation are most varied and interesting, from the use of colours and symbolic motifs in early poster art, to the new generation of Chinese artists such as Zhang Xiaogang, Yu Youhan, Yue Mingjun and Liu Ye. What I really like about Li and her attitude as a curator is that she believes in what she does, and comes across as being very sincere in promoting the museum and Chinese art, which don’t always mean the same thing. I wish she could talk more about the relationship between Chinese art and the social demographics, but I suppose one hour is already testing the attention span of the participants.

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Aric Chen, design curator for M+ museum (within the West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong), shared with the audience the latest development of the museum. As Chen humorously pointed out, this museum hasn’t even been built yet, it has – typical of how Hong Kong people work – accumulated over 300 pieces of artwork for its collection. Someone in the audience asked whether Chen has enough funding to invest in a quality, comprehensive museum collection from scratch. Chen replied that they were given, as a start, a 5-year budget of, em, US$200 million. Humbly, he said that this amount might seem a lot to some people and to some it might seem too little as there are always artworks out there that are astronomically-priced. There was a wave of suppressed excitement in the form of whispers: ‘it’s a lot’. Personally, I am convinced that the capital and lead time for planning the museum is more than sufficient. The ongoing buzz of mobile M+ activities is rather instrumental in building up audience and art education. I just hope that it can achieve more synergy and connection with other existing and planned museums in China, and to encourage new artists and collaborators rather than focus on the prize winners and bestsellers, and to aim at diversity and originality rather than formulaic success.

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Jiehong Jiang (Joshua), director of the Centre for Chinese Visual Arts at Birmingham City University, highlighted the importance of art curators (at least those in China) to have the ability to raise funds, in addition to the aesthetic judgment anod creative responsibilities. The Asia Triennial he curates for next year also sounds fascinating, bringing the works by leading and emerging Chinese artists on the international stage. He is also curator of the Fourth Guangzhou Trienial, the Unseen, with Jonathan Watkins of Ikon Gallery, Birmingham.

Catherine McDermott, Professor of Design at Kingston University and Donna Loveday, who heads curatorial design at the Design Museum, shared their insights on the development of design practice over the last decade, tracing its humble beginnings in the pre-Design Museum days, to the current design scene and the rise of design curatorial practice. They also highlighted some innovative collaborations on the diversity of international cuisine.

You can also check out the conference contents online on CFCCA website: http://cfcca.org.uk/index.php/Exhibition/curating-the-contemporary-in-china-conference

West kowloon arts hub in Hong Kong part 1

m plus Hong KongGraham Sheffield, former artistic chief of Barbican Centre in London has decided to quit his role as CEO of Hong Kong’s HK$21.6 billion (£1.8 billion) West Kowloon arts hub project after five months. He has resigned due to health reasons, although many think that there must be more that triggered his abrupt decision to leave. The Wall Street Journal blog highlights that this follows the government’s decision to abandon Norman Foster’s canopy design for the arts project, while the Hong Kong Standard‘s article pinpoints Sheffield’s unfamiliarity with the local arts scene and his willingness to market the city’s arts hub on the world stage.

With the urgency to complete the 40-hectare cultural district before 2015, the Hong Kong government is now on an immediate global hunt for a new arts director. Words have gone round that Stephan Spurr, GM/director of Swire Properties with substantial arts background especially in theatre education and artistic direction, is tipped to be one of the candidates.

Mastermind behind the thriving Island East district in Hong Kong, a distinct strip of land where art and commerce meets, Spurr has demonstrated much creativity in transforming the landscapes in this skyscraper city. Born in Japan, educated in the UK and Canada, and having worked in Hong Kong’s competitive property development sector for several decades, he has international vision and is strongly supportive of arts development, especially theatre. Over the last few years, he was the volunteer artistic director for Shakespeare4All, directing plays and inspiring local schoolchildren to master Shakespearean drama/literature. He was also involved in advising the strategy of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, which has seen considerable expansion in recent years and attracted many new patrons on board. (Read more from SCMP‘s article)

Hong Kong is a heavily built-up city, and the project land area reserved for the arts hub is a rare piece of land for new architecture, property developments and museums. With a first high speed rail soon to be built across this region, it is a great location that will soon be connected directly with the Beijing capital. Many interests are involved. Many. In my opinion, this factor calls for leaders with vision as well as diplomacy.

We are yet to discover what top-notch candidates may register their interest in this artistic director role, and the jury’s still out as to how far this arts hub project will transform the arts scene in Hong Kong or even Greater China. Yet one thing is for certain: it is time for Hong Kong to address the need for a workforce of diverse talent, to create opportunities to fuel the long term growth and development of the city’s arts and culture. It is high time to cut back bureaucracy that will poison arts development and the retention of human capital.

Much work needs to be done.

Rachel Whiteread’s drawings

Rachel Whiteread’s drawings exhibited at Tate Britain are a fascinating account that compare sculptures with modern architecture. Sketching furniture with correction fluid, tracing silhouettes of buildings and spaces on graph paper, articulate a deep preoccupation with the way imagination converts one’s two-dimensional seeing into a three-dimensional world. In some sketches, buildings are painted over with varnish, prompting us to consider the inter-dependence of the exterior and the inteior, the outward appearance of an architecture and the interiors or the inhabitants themselves.

rachel whiteread drawings at the tate

There is, typical of her work, no visible sign of human interference, yet the skeleton of these houses convinces one of a living if hidden presence. It is as if the simple lines, shapes and primary colours suffice to render or allude to what’s there.

Tracing forms and shapes with the use of primary materials, grids and minimalist lines, Whiteread’s drawings take on a pristine quality and an unspoken understanding towards urban living. City dwellers, hidden most of the time behind the wall facades of offices, homes and public buildings, are the faceless that populate these spaces. The recurrent motifs of walls, floors, windows and doors convey ritual and repetition.

One especially intriguing dimension her drawings: the meditation on the patterned floor. It teases the imagination, this exposure of the floor behind the carpet, beyond the footsteps it ensures day and night. The image of the textured floor on measured grids, coloured plaster white with correction fluid or varnish painted, hints at the passage of history, that in due course even the weathered floorboard we walk on will fossilise and become part of the past.

Credits Palm Beach Art http://www.pbart.com

See TATE ETC magazine for an interview with the artist, especially her engaging artpiece Place / Village, click here.

Thomas Heatherwick and his super-sculptures

Thomas Heatherwick and his art intrigue me.

Years ago, my boss at Swire gave me an interview clip on Heatherwick’s childhood. I find out that Heatherwick, born into a family of artists, harbours a questioning mind since he was a child. He likes to find out new ways of doing things. It’s fascinating how the curious, geeky child who makes strange greeting cards and craft for his mom becomes the man that he is today.

The man behind these ideas

When I was working in Hong Kong, I remember seeing the British artist for the first time, the creative mind behind the £120m Pacific Place Contemporarisation project, a visionary attempt to redesign one of the best malls in Hong Kong. He has a very intense look about him and doesn’t seem to give a damn what the world thinks of him. There he was, artist behind B of the Bang, in a press conference and media tour that promoted his creative work, oblivious to all that publicity surrounding him. He looked as if he was thinking of his next big idea. Nowadays, Pacific Place has a much more dramatic look about it, with the lighter shades, rippling wooden facade of toilets, musical capsule lifts, airy piazzas, a greenhouse Italian restaurant, and a dazzlingly luxurious hotel with a most modest stony facade (For more, click here).

The living coral sculpture he did for Shanghai Expo’s UK Pavilion this year is equally startling. I love the subtle, quivering silhouette of the sculpture (video).

London Mayor Boris Johnson has announced Heatherwick’s design for all Londoners: a new, low-emissions Routemaster bus which, in my opinion, looks like a red cake of soap. The new bus will roam London’s streets from 2012 onwards.

The new Heatherwick bus that looks like a cake of soap

Have a look at his medium- and large-scale projects on his studio if you have the time. They seem to assume a life of their own. (Heatherwick studio)

I am still planning to go to the Beach Cafe in Sussex he designed one warm sunny day.