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.
I just received the new edition of LEAP 艺术界 magazine with my piece about alternative artists working in Beijing. The article didn’t come through too badly, though they had to cut 4 of my interviews because of space restrictions.
An interview with Elaine W. Ho and Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga at HomeShop.
Edward Sanderson: Elaine, you’ve been here three years, how did HomeShop start? Have you and Fotini been working together the whole time?
Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga: I’ve been to China a few times now, and we have collaborated on several projects, but it’s only at this moment that I’m joining in, as we are trying to think about HomeShop’s future. Elaine will be able to tell you more about what she’s been doing so far.
Elaine W. Ho: I think HomeShop really came out of my experience of living in China and my fascination with the juxtapositions between public space and private space here, which I think a lot of people notice or are intrigued by when they come here. A lot of the work that I do involves the public space and looking at alternative settings with which one is interfaced with an idea or a “work”, and because of that particular interest in negotiating a public space and a private space—not only on a spatial level but also on a social, economic level—this idea came to me: let’s play with the commercial space and see what we can do with that. So this was how it originally came about, and all the projects we’ve done here are based around this environment and the people here and are determined to a great extent by the architecture and the way that this space in particular relates to the community.
I think in general it’s an interesting question: what is alternative? It’s obviously completely relative to the established situation. I think the way things are at the moment in Beijing, that means working around the profound commercialisation of the majority of presentations that are currently taking place.
So, if I was asked to point someone in the direction of ‘alternative’ spaces in Beijing, where would I send them?
My first thought would be the Arrow Factory, a project space located in an old hutong shop front. And why do I think of this as alternative? Because it’s one of the few spaces which leaves behind the established art zones (798, Dashanzi, the Liquor Factory), and is also determinedly non-commercial.
I think project work in general and specifically the kind of things Arrow Factory are presenting, are some of the most interesting thing happening in the visual arts in Beijing at the moment. By ‘project’ I mean to go beyond producing just a set of products which fit nicely into the ultra-commercialised environment we have here at the moment. The gallery I look after also concentrates on projects, with an internal definition of working with the artists to make the most of their ideas, supporting them however we can, allowing them to develop their ideas in new presentations that may be within or outside the space itself. Other spaces like Long March, Arario and Joy Art (wow, they don’t have a website) also have this kind of vision, I think.
Another interesting space, although technically from Guangzhou, is Vitamin Creative Space. They are currently showing their ‘SHOP’ project here in Beijing after its debut at London’s Frieze Art Fair. Now this piece seems to throw the commercialism back in your face – it is a shop after all, positively revelling in the commercial status of the works on display, but by doing so you feel that there is an implicit critique going on of that structure from which the ‘SHOP’ gains it’s everyday meaning and rôle.
But I don’t think I’m being naïve or overly idealistic, even given the situation we are in at the moment. We all have to make money somehow, not least the artists, so I’m not talking about rejecting saleability altogether (unless that is your particular schtick). I’m just trying to make a case for seeing other meanings for artworks than an immediate call to their capital value, which in my experience has tended to lead to lack of innovation and staleness in recent Chinese contemporary art, as it has done elsewhere in the world at different moments.
With project work you have a kind of commitment to the artwork which seems to be one way to define ‘alternative’ at this moment in Beijing, as it’s not that common yet, or perhaps it’s just that good results are rare to find.
As an afternote, it will be interesting to see how things develop with the global financial downturn, and what this means for ‘alternatives’.