Zhu Wenbo and Sean Lee: no performance and Okra

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.

"no performance" (Sean Lee and Zhu Wenbo) performing Okra, Meridian Space, Beijing, November 2016, photograph by Edward Sanderson.

“no performance” (Sean Lee (left) and Zhu Wenbo (right)) performing Okra, Meridian Space, Beijing, November 2016, photograph by Edward Sanderson.

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”[1], 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.

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Social Food: Emi Uemura interview

Emi Uemura is a Japanese artist currently living in Beijing. This weekend she held the “Country Fair” at the shop at Vitamin Creative Space in Caochangdi. Country Fair brought together farmers, community activists and artists in a friendly, festive space where information, experience and perhaps most importantly, food, was shared. Emi’s “daily activities” have worked to bridge a gap between art practice and sustainable development in the world primarily by using food as a starting point for discussions about the social issues it impacts upon. This interview took place while she was preparing for the Country Fair and gives a little background to her overall working process and how she sees her activities fitting together – both with the artworld and with people who have no connection to art.

Japan, Canada

Edward Sanderson: Can you give me your background? You were born in Japan? How did you end up in China?

Emi Uemura: I was born in Japan and grew up there, going to College in Sapporo to study English Literature for two years and then transferring to the University in Halifax, Canada,

I went to Halifax to study spoken English first of all, and while at the University I took Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology, which still influences my thinking. Around that time, I started to meet students from NSCAD (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) and began engaging with art, social activities and changing eating habits, After graduating from the University, I went back to Japan, worked for a year, then went to Frankfurt, Germany.

Germany, China

ES: What was Germany for?

EU: At this time, a couple of my friends attended Städelschule, a school in Frankfurt, so I was simply curious to experience living in Germany with a group of friends. I was not an official student at the school, but I sneaked around and attended their lectures, film screenings and especially their cooking classes. And did some small projects while I was there.

ES: When would that have been?

EU: 2005–2007, for two and half years. And I think that was the time I was really influenced by the relations between space and food. Even though it was a small school they had a chef and a huge cafeteria where the students and teachers sat together and eat. I found that quality interesting, that in front of food people are very open and have discussions. I think from that point on I wanted to be working with food.

Then I went back to Japan again for two years and I consciously worked with food. The artist Fuyuka Shindo and I had a collaboration unit called DUET♪. We started catering and organizing food events and projects. At this time, I was working with the Sapporo Artist in Residence programme, and I learned the importance of long-term processes for producing work and engaging with people. I’ve now been in Beijing since the end of last year, because a friend of mine is living here and again, I’m looking forward to experiencing a different culture.

Seed Bombing

ES: Maybe you can talk about some of the things that you’ve done, like the Bento boxes, the Chain Letter Dinner at “also space”, and the seed bombing. I’d also like to ask about your work with Elaine Ho’s HomeShop. There’s an informal group of people around that, and you work together on certain things. Perhaps saying you work together is too much of a structure – it’s an informal, friendship thing, so the seed bombing, for instance, is a kind of joint effort.

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