food work

Maybe because of the sudden cold snap in Beijing, people’s minds seem to have been focusing on events around food recently.

There’s been Emi Uemura’s Country Fair and HomeShop taking culinary care of the No+ch visitors (and—kind of unrelated—but what is it with the sudden cup cake obsession in Beijing?).

I’ve just heard that we now have Arrow Factory organizing a bake sale out of their hutong storefront space, where “artisan home baking enthusiasts purvey their handmade cakes, pies, cookies, cupcakes, breads and coffee.” This will take place every weekend from Oct 30 to Nov 21, from 1-6pm on Jianchang Hutong (off Guozijian Jie).

Considering the most memorable thing about most openings is the quality of the food and wine, I can do nothing but applaud this effort. Also, keep an eye out for Michael Yuen serving fresh coffee from his mobile la pavoni machine – now that’s good crema!

UPDATE: photos

Bake Sale at Arrow Factory

Photos from Ma Yongfeng’s “forget art” show

As Ma mentioned in my interview with him, the group show “forget art” which he has curated took place this afternoon in the Dragon Fountain Bathhouse in Caochangdi. Following his reasoning for the show, the works more or less blended into reality, so for a while the whole bathhouse was an object of artistic possibility.

Photos from Donkey Institute of Contemporary Art

Last night saw the Donkey Institute of Contemporary Art (DICA) take to the streets of Beijing for its first outing this year.

Last year DICA was showing a selection of artists’ videos on the screens attached to the donkey, but this time around Michael Yuen and Yam Lau have created custom-built shelves for the cart which display a library of artists books.

After being moved on by the police from their original spot, DICA ended up on the corner of Fangyuan Xilu 芳园西路 and Jiangtai Lu 将台路 near the Lido Hotel, a busy intersection. There was a good turnout of locals on their way home from work and art-people, and many people took the time find out what was going on and thumb through the books:

DICA, Beijing 21 July DICA, Beijing 21 July DICA, Beijing 21 July DICA, Beijing 21 July DICA, Beijing 21 July DICA, Beijing 21 July DICA, Beijing 21 July DICA, Beijing 21 July DICA, Beijing 21 July DICA, Beijing 21 July DICA, Beijing 21 July

Notes on Alternatives in China

Some are artists setting up programs for themselves or their peers, others are fully-fledged companies offering a wide range of art services. All see themselves as “alternatives,” but what do they mean by that and how do they sit in relation to the Beijing art-world?

These brief notes on some “alternatives” in Beijing (and beyond) were inspired by a visit to one of the groups mentioned, TCA, which led me to question just what it meant to be “alternative,” what is “alternative” a reaction against and how do these organisations go about positioning themselves?

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thinking aloud: listening and making generative music

Why just listen to generative music when you can easily make your own…1

It strikes me that because Generative music is likely different every time it is listened to, the act of listening to it can be accorded the role of creating that particular piece every time, therefore putting listening on a par with making, or even demoting listening as a role for the audience – maybe listening becomes “active,” listening as part of the generative process.

Generative music is the the most adaptable of “live” music – in that it’s always new, always different, no matter if it is a public or private situation, and it’s dependence on mechanical reproduction allows it the portability that “traditional” live music lacks. In terms of community experience, that particular version of the piece could be a shared experienced, in a live performance with an audience, but on a one to one basis it never has the potential to be communal, or shared – every launch of the piece occasions a new version, and unless it is hard coded as a static file cannot be transferred. But hard coding as a static file destroys the nature of the piece as generative.

One might ask what meaning it has if it is always different – where is the piece? This seems an inappropriate clinging onto outmoded forms, given the nature of generative systems, a paradigm for music (and indeed art in general) that may be difficult to maintain. If one must reduce it to such a thing one can look at it from two sides (maybe more). The meaning, the piece, is the method by which the piece is generated, the system, the order, the algorithm. Or, as I suggested above, the meaning is in the reception, but in a very fugitive sense. Static recordings can only be examples, maybe representing practical methods of revenue generation or dissemination, as in the production of documentation for ephemeral works by artists.

UPDATE: Coincidentally, Robin Peckham just posted a link to a piece by Nick Seaver, at the Comparative Media Studies department of MIT, where “he is studying indeterminacy and control in sound transmission, the role of ‘skill’ in aesthetic judgments, and the history of automatic musical instruments.” Nick posted a piece yesterday on his blog, noise for airports, about his research into the Player Piano. He makes an interesting point about “live” music, and its interpretation where the player piano is involved. This definitely relates to my notes above trying to define the “piece” where generative music is concerned:

“Live” music as we think of it today didn’t exist before audio recording—it was impossible for a sound to not be live. The player piano makes things a bit more complicated: is it still live if the notes are all punched on a roll in advance but “interpreted” by a live pianolist? Advertisements showing the ghostly hands of famous pianists on the keys suggested perfect fidelity: the parts of your piano would move exactly how they did when Rachmaninoff or Paderewski played. Would this recording, played on an actual piano, count as “live?” 2

Player Pianos were also an important instrument for the American composer Conlon Nancarrow, who wrote extremely complex pieces using punched paper rolls, pushing the machines to their limits and beyond the limits of the human ear. Sound and performance artist Michael Yuen tells me that:

Nancarrow had to specially alter his player pianos. they were fitted with vacuums to suck air out quicker. There are times when his music calls for 25 notes per sec. That’s a note every 40 msec. The ear can only hear a difference at best at 20msec. Without the turbo charged pianolas, the mechanism pulling the air couldn’t move the hammers and notes go missing. 3

I’d be interested to find out if these machines were popular in China, and if musical production of this sort has influenced the current generations of artists and musicians?

  1. Intermorphic (2010) Mixtikl 2: THE Generative Music & Loop Mixing System. [Online]. Available from:
    http://www.intermorphic.com/ [Accessed 5 March 2010].
  2. Seaver, Nick (2010) OLD MEDIA: INTERACTIVITY AND MECHANICAL MUSIC. noise for airports. Weblog. [Online] Available from: http://noiseforairports.com/post/426858290/old-media-interactivity-and-mechanical-music [Accessed 5 March 2010].
  3. Yuen, Michael (michael.yuen@internode.on.net) (10 February 2010) Re: generative v. hand-crafted. Email to: Sanderson, Edward (cpupro.art@gmail.com).

DICA: Donkey Institute of Contemporary Art review

DICA: Donkey Institute of Contemporary Art

DICA curated by Michael Yuen and Yam Lau. First outing, 4 August 2009 in a local market area away from the 798 Art District.

A review? How can you review art on a donkey? What is this venue which turns the gallery inside-out, taking the works on a tour of the local area, carried by an animal characterised in popular mythology as a strong but stubborn worker?

I want to see the donkey travelling, Michael described his trip from the stable to 798 as quite magical. The travelling suggests the possibility of getting lost, losing its audience even. Maybe it works better without its audience, who is its audience anyway? The art community who turned up are not really its audience, but they in themselves serve as a point of attraction, an exotic crowd. If the audience is the locals, why? Because the donkey is normal for that kind of area in Beijing, it has been chosen to blend in with the context, not to be about its strangeness as an attraction, but promoting some kind of normality. The donkey, and by extension the institute, displays “steadfast oblivion” – in some way divorced from any audience, it is a worker here, it comes to perform its task and leaves.

So here I am still obsessing about the donkey and not touching upon the videos being shown on its back, perhaps just proving my own position as part of the art world, and probably not the donkey’s audience after all.

In order to get some answers, I’m interviewing Michael this week, and will post extracts from that chat to this blog.

Michael Yuen announcement notes

Quoted from my gallery’s announcement of a new artist:

CPU:798 is delighted to welcome Michael Yuen to our roster1 of artists. Michael’s work encompasses a plurality2 of media3, and he is already well-known4 in his native Australia for a body of exceptional works making use of light5, sound6 and performance7. With Michael joining CPU:798, we are building on our mission8 to present the most interesting new media9 artists from both inside and outside of China today10.

Over the past few years Michael has divided his time equally between Australia11 and China12, and in both environments13 his works have investigated the nature of public spaces14 and how small events and interventions15 can have large-scale effects16 on those spaces and the people in them.

  1. What would be the appropriate collective noun for this?
  2. Plurality: perhaps plenitude. Or plethora.
  3. ‘New’ media as opposed to ‘traditional’ media.
  4. see his biography
  5. e.g. Flash. Also includes sound as part of the piece.
  6. e.g. Pulse. Also includes light as part of the piece.
  7. e.g. Follow. Developed because of the specific difficulties creating a sound or light piece in an urban environment where the ambient noises and visual clutter would mask the elements of the work.
  8. see statement on website
  9. see note 3
  10. expanding the gallery’s focus out from photography per se
  11. Adelaide
  12. Beijing
  13. How different are they, and how does this manifest itself to the artist and through his work?
  14. Particularly differences in the nature of public spaces. I have never lived in Australia (I visited Sydney once for 3 days), but from my experience from living in China, comparing this to the UK and Europe, the Chinese use their spaces in very particular ways. The spaces may be the same, or in many ways comparable, or completely different, but people here in China occupy them in a very characteristic way. It is a confluence of character (habit, tradition), architecture (in the sense of a human planned external controlling affect on the occupants), environment (a ‘natural’ external affect), and immediate practicality (an internal affect) which all go to suggest what happens there.
  15. sound and light work in this way – materially discrete
  16. an effect is that we experience them as an artwork (something removed from everyday life;or, something like everyday life which makes everyday life suddenly seem strange?). They assert themselves, make themselves known. Distract or attract attention. Trip up, disturb, unsettle.