Critical Music 5: Interview with Ambra Corinti and Rong Guang Rong

Critical Music series: This series of posts focuses 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 related to concepts such as “experimental music” or “sound art”, although neither term 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.

Welcome to the fifth interview in this series. This is an interview with Rong Guang Rong (A Rong) and Ambra Corinti. In 2010 A Rong and Ambra founded Zajia in Beijing, an influential arts space and bar in the Gulou – a very traditional urban area in the centre of town, characterised by the network of hutong (thin alleyways surrounding the imperial palace in central Beijing). For Zajia, these hutong provided an everyday community setting far from the more or less segregated art districts of Beijing. Zajia became an important hub for experimental music performances, amongst many other things. Its story demonstrates how such physical venues appear and survive, and ultimately how they reach the end of their lives – giving insights into many aspects of how the community and infrastructure for critical music is developing in China. In the latter part of the interview A Rong talks about his activity as a documentary film-maker. He recently won an award at the Rotterdam International Film Festival for his most recent film, and he has various ongoing documentary film projects that will survey experimental music and sound practices in China.

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ArtSlant: The artist is the Genius of Suffering – Interview with Pei Li

The Artist is the Genius of Suffering

Interview with Pei Li

Interviewer: Edward Sanderson (ES)
Interviewee: Pei Li (PL)

The pursuit of beauty and the artist’s commitment to their practice are parallel concerns for Pei Li, whose solo show closed recently at Beijing’s Platform China space. This young artist holds these pursuits to a high degree of scrutiny and suspicion, regarding the beauty and fame as suspect notions that demand a certain cynicism. In a series of complex and sometimes audacious projects, she has grappled with the ideal of the artist and the relation that art has to the presentation of the body through representation, psychological projection, and performative acts. The following conversation was conducted via email and a face-to-face interview in Platform China’s galleries. UPDATE: Platform China have kindly translated this interview into Chinese.

Pei Li portrait

Edward Sanderson: You titled your show at Platform China “Generation P,” and the catalogue cover shows a text that has been roughly crossed out, leaving only the words beginning with the letter ‘P’ visible. Can you explain this and what is its significance?

Pei Li: At the very beginning I planned to call the exhibition “Generation Pain.” The sound of the word “pain” is close to my name “Pei” in Chinese, and I have a particular interest in pain. But then I felt that, for me, using the word “pain” was a little strange, because I always want to be fun. I like pain, but my character is cheerful and optimistic – and I think there is no conflict between the two!

I have a dual personality: sometimes I am cheerful and optimistic, and sometimes I fall into deep depressions. When I was a little girl I had infantile autism, apparently I would stand face-to-face in front of a wall, for the whole day, day after day. Actually, up until the age of 14 I don’t have much memory of my childhood, my family told me all about this.

When I was a teenager, I used to cut myself – not because of any bad experiences, just because of the pain itself. But I think pain on the body is really nothing. The real pain is the one you feel in your heart, a pain you cannot see.

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ArtSlant: Not Quite a Roast

Half Rabbit (Local Whispers 2): Maria Castro, Experimenter En Couleur, Leslie Deere, Felicity Ford, Yan Jun, Christian Krupa, Catherine Shakespeare Lane, Alex McLean, Christopher Moon, Ruan Qianrui, Neil Webb, Ron Wright

Platform China, No. 319-1, East End Art Zone A, Caochangdi Village, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100015, China

5 June – 3 July, 2011

The title Half Rabbit here refers to the fact that we are now half way through the Year of the Rabbit, in the Chinese calendar. The animal years represented in the Chinese zodiac run in 12-year sequences, so for anyone born in a “Rabbit” year, the current annual cycle is a particularly auspicious time. Following the custom of reading one’s prospects based when you are born, the theme for Half Rabbit attempted to address issues of identity and fortune.

This was planned to be the return section of Local Whispers, an exchange project between Audio Architecture in the UK and SubJam in China. The first part having taken place in January at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the follow-up show at Platform China was to have seen the British artists collaborate with their Chinese counterparts. These collaborative efforts are often promoted as a way to use cultural activities to improve relations between countries. But this does not easily happen without a suitable environment in which foster such a result, and how much it occurs in practice very much depends on local conditions and effective support from both ends.

As it happened, unforeseen circumstances complicated the return of this show to China, and although there was a strong group of artists and great potential, the divided nature of the title could equally refer to the half-fulfilled final product.

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ArtSlant: Pedestrian Potentialities?

19 Solo Shows About Painting (Bi Jianye, Huang Liang, Jia Aili, Jin Shan, Liao Guohe, Li Qing, Liu Weijian, Lin Yen Wei, Ma Ke, Qin Qi, Qi Wenzhang, Sun Xun, Sun Wen, Song Yuanyuan, Wu Guangyu, Xiao Bo, Xiao Jiang, Xu Ruotao, Zhou Yilun)

Platform China, Caochangdi, Beijing, China

12 March – 31 May, 2011

Over the last few years Platform China has established a strong programme of shows, displaying refreshing latitude with respect to exhibition formats and presentation of artworks.

A couple of highlights for me included the extravagant group show “Jungle” from early last year. This expansive show continually refreshed itself over its two-month period, inviting the artists to adapt their installations and bringing in new artists. In what seems to have been a precursor to the current trend in Beijing of withdrawing the curator from the process of the show, “Jungle” eschewed such a figure or even an strong theme leaving the results in the hands of the artists (for better or worse).

At the end of 2010 “The Third Party” (which I reviewed on this site) represented the opposite stance in relation to curation, with Beatrice Leanza taking, if not centre stage as curator, then at least a dominant role, corralling the large collection of alternative practices.

And so we reach the current offering: “19 Solo Shows About Painting” has been produced by the Platform China Contemporary Art Institute as the first of what they propose will be an annual series of shows. Stepping back into curatorially-bereft territory, “19 Solo Shows…” mirrors the format of “Jungle,” with an extended collection of artists and a sprawling layout taking up a large part of both of Platform’s buildings. But this time the focus is squarely on painting and its presentation.

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ArtSlant: Busy Beehive

Review of The Third Party Part 1: How to Be Alone (or nowhere else am I safe from the question: why here?)

Platform China, 319-1 East End Art Zone A, Caochangdi Village, 100015 Beijing, China

November 11, 2010 – November 30, 2010

Developing quite a reputation as a space which encourages experimentation in their shows, Platform China currently have two shows which in their own ways leave some breathing space in the works and the formats of presentation – a rare and noteworthy situation within the oftentimes banal Beijing gallery environment.

In Platform’s Caochangdi space right now their upstairs gallery is devoted to a solo show by Chinese artist Jin Shan, presenting his mercurial series of mini-videos “One Man’s Island” as a scattered installation of monitors and projections, marking out a complex space with these recordings of the artists minor activities. But the focus of this review is actually downstairs, in a smaller room to one side of the entrance, where a rather heartening group show has been installed, which literally and theoretically opens up a space for a physical negotiation with the works on display and for discussion around them.

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