This is the second and final part of the interview with Sheng Jie (aka gogoj), discussing her activities as a visual artist and experimental musician in China. Link to the first part of the interview.
This is a new series of posts for this blog focusing on individuals, groups, or organisations that have played notable roles in the history of critical music practices in China. These practices appear in many different guises, often described as “experimental music” or “sound art”, neither of which is entirely satisfactory in describing the practices which often exist in many hybrid forms. My adoption of the term “critical music” (following the writings of G Douglas Barrett) attempts to avoid the limitations of these terms, while highlighting the active nature of the sound component of the practices. These posts will primarily take the form of interviews, each one aiming to place the subject within the general history of critical music practices in China, and contextualise their current practice within their overall development.
Sheng Jie (aka gogoj) is a visual artist and musician based in Beijing. Much of her current experimental music and sound work reflects her study of the violin and cello, as well as of video and performance art. Since returning to Beijing from college in France in 2005, she has been developing various forms of audio/visual performance using these elements. Recently she has begun incorporating a gesture-based computer interface that allows her to “manually” manipulate her video and audio signals on stage. In this interview she talks about her practice and how it has developed, her relationship with the music and art worlds in Beijing, and why she adopted this gesture interface. The interview covers a lot of ground, and so has been split over two days for convenience. Part two will be published on this blog tomorrow.
In the final interview for this series of posts about the DIY scene in Osaka, Japan, I spoke to Kazuma Sasajima who runs an “independent culture shop” called Nice Shop Su from his tiny apartment in the attic of an old residential building not far from Umeda (one of the major commercial districts of Osaka). Nice Shop Su was established by Kazuma and his partner Kaori Nakao in 2013, and sells many different types of artist-produced bits and bobs. One thing that interested me about Nice Shop Su was that Kazuma deliberately chose to locate it in an area without a strong art community. This approach provides a contrast with the development of the community of artists in Baika, which was discussed in the first two interviews in this series (with Go Tsushima and Kaori Yoshikawa). For this interview Kazuma and I were joined by Kazuma’s friend, the graphic designer Daisuke Minami, and the artist Makiko Yamamoto, who acted as guide and translator for my visit and to whom I am hugely grateful.
Previous interviews in this series:
- DIY Osaka part 1: interview with Go Tsushima
- DIY Osaka part 2: interview with Kaori Yoshikawa, Noooooooooooo Kitty
Over the last year I’ve been fortunate to be able to take three short trips to the city of Osaka in Japan. While I’ve been in the city, and time permitting, I try to learn about the music and sound communities there. Last July I published some first research from these trips here on this blog, and last month I was there again for a few days. This time I was able to interview several people who represent various aspects of the alternative or DIY scene there. They are the musician Go Tsushima, Kaori Yoshikawa at the artist-run gallery/event space Noooooooooooo Kitty, and Kazuma Sasajima at the “independent culture shop” Nice Shop Su. Over the next three weeks I’ll be publishing these interviews on this blog.
First up is the interview with Go Tsushima, a musician who lives in the Baika area of Osaka. I visited him at his home/studio and we talked about his background, the music that he produces, and the Baika area in which he lives – an area that is quite special for Osaka (and maybe for Japan generally).
A little bit of background to Baika: Baika and its adjacent areas are apparently seen as unattractive, perennially unpopular due to geographical and social reasons. I have been told—and I should stress this is pure anecdote—that because Baika is in a low-lying area near the port, it is susceptible to flooding were there to be a tsunami, thus discouraging development of the area. Perhaps related to this, I was warned by one person that this side of town is the “rough” part of Osaka – although when I visited I didn’t particularly feel this.
In any case, because of this unpopularity there is perhaps an added impetus for the property agents to actively promote occupation of the vacant commercial spaces, or for local property owners to provide affordable residential accommodation. Consequently there has been a small, but possibly significant, influx of creative people and grass-roots arts organisations visiting or putting down roots in Baika. This situation has created an opening for less commercial activities, leading to a tentative community forming with, I think, great potential.
Despite the closure over the last few years of a number of live venues that were homes for experimental music in Beijing, the scene—while small—is generally maintaining a level of activity that gives great cause for optimism. By way of example, I’d here like to focus on the activities of two members of the Beijing improvisation scene, Zhu Wenbo and Sean Lee.
Zhu Wenbo has quite a high profile locally due to his activity performing solo as well as in a number of groups, and as the organiser of experimental music events, particularly the Zoomin’ Nights series. Sean Lee has a quieter presence as a performer focusing on computer music practices. They first met through their work at the social media company, Douban, and since 2015 have performed together under the name of “no performance”. Zhu Wenbo has elsewhere described no performance as, “between composition and improvisation, electronic and acoustic, or computer program and instrument”, and in 2016 they debuted a new piece called “Okra” combining rule-based composition and improvisation, which has since been performed in a number of forms with different sets of people. I met up with them both at Wenbo’s apartment in Beijing to talk about their backgrounds and what Okra means for them.
Following the series of interviews I made with sound workers in China back in April, and since I’ve now (temporarily!) moved back to the UK, I’ve taken the opportunity to record a further set of chats with people and groups in this country. Generally speaking these people interested me because of their approach to the way a practice negotiates the social fabric. The relationship between these speakers activities and what one might call a cultural practice is perhaps quite an ambivalent one, in some cases even an irrelevant consideration for them. I point that out because such activities have in some cases been subsumed within an art practice—specifically the “dialogic” approach—but such practices may at times be seen to “work” better when kept at a distance from such a context, a choice of position which in the process calls into question the efficacy of an art-based practice in attempting to come to grips with the world.
A chat with Bianca Elzenbaumer, Paolo Plotegher, and Rosanna Thompson of New Cross Commoners:
A chat with Dr. Lynn Turner on Guerrilla Gardening:
A chat with Maurice Carlin at Islington Mill:
Xu Bing is one of the most internationally recognisable Chinese artists, through his art that for many years has addressed issues of cultural and symbolic communication, and for his role as Vice-President of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing. Born in Chongqing in 1955, Xu earned his bachelor degree at CAFA in 1981, staying on as an instructor afterwards. He left China in 1990 to teach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, living and working in the United States for 18 years before returning again to China in 2008 to take up his current position. CAFA is one a set of eight academies that represent the official route to recognition as an artist, in China. Xu’s appointment as the head of CAFA represented a loosening of the forms of art acceptable within the academic system, opening the doors to a more general embrace of contemporary art in China’s academia. In 2008 CAFA opened its onsite Museum in a building designed by the Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, which Xu proudly describes as “the best museum in China,” and it was here that Xu sat down with Art Review to discuss academic life in China and his part in it.