making art in china

What’s it like to be a foreign artist in residence in China? Last night, three of us from the Taipei Artist Village went out for dinner with a friend who is a poet and his family which turned into something of a kids party, somewhere way past Mirimar, home to the world’s second largest ferriswheel. Later that night we were talking about why Australia even bothers having one-hit wonder residencies, and then mostly failing to support any further projects. For all the amazing experiences and chances to meet with and work with local artists, if there isn’t some conscious and strategic plan to take advantage of the first residency within the following 18 months, it’s basically just a crazy holiday, and does nothing for Australian and Asian arts communities. But as I’ve been told, “We funded you to China two for AsiaLink (2 years ago), we won’t be funding you again any time soon.”

So while in the centre of Asia, it becomes very apparent how artists from all Asian countries regularly work together. Artists travel from Hong Kong, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, all over just like artists in Europe travel from Berlin to Brussels, to Vienna. But Australia, clueless to the last just doesn’t seem to get it that all it takes is a little concerted effort, some planning that goes beyond three months and artists from there could be a real part of the Asian scene, instead of tourists, which is mostly what they are now.

In Beijing though, artist Charlie Hecht writes for NY Arts about his residency experiences at Picked Arts Centre, which manages to encapsulate the joy and confusion being a fly-in resident.


What an amazing day. What manpower and ingenuity can accomplish. Li Gang and I went off to the metal fabrication facility at approximately 10 o’clock. We took a taxi, since it would be another week until his van could be repaired. It needed extensive work, but Li decided to do it since it had been such a dependable car and he had already gotten over 100,000 miles on it without making any major repairs. Simon saw us walking out to the main road to get a taxi and said that he was going stir crazy, as he had been working very hard for two weeks on some of his new paintings. He asked what we were doing. He wanted to join us because he thought it would be a good break to see what other people are doing. The first thing we did at the metal fabrication facility was to inspect the etched calligraphy words. The steel was still flat and was being cleaned up and the scaling was being ground off. However, the etched letters looked fantastic. I realized that this was a major change for the good.

We then discussed how we wanted the flag shaped. I found a piece of copper and showed them the shape I was looking for and my concept. They then rigged up a type of jig. It consisted of two pipes with a slightly different diameter mounted on what looked like a saw horse. The pipes had an opening between them which was the width of the steel that I had purchased. Using up to 15 people, they were able to cold bend the flag to the shape I wanted. We then adjusted the shape by hand. This would have taken many months back in the United States, but with the use of the jig and up to fourteen people, the fabricator did this in less than an hour. These persons did the second flag bending in less than 20 minutes. It was remarkable. I took a number of pictures and Simon was very excited because he now knew what he would do with the woks which were rusting back at his studio. Li was excited because he could see the potential of using these types of etchings for some of his future projects. Everyone was excited.

Again, we were invited to lunch with Lao Xu and one of his foremen at the Fantasy Restaurant. From there, we took a taxi back to the Pickled Art Center; however, I got off at one of the main streets to get a cab to go into the women’s market to buy Hannah her birthday present. Getting there was no problem. My mission was accomplished. However, the taxi on the way back again got lost. The taxi driver had no idea where he was going. He didn’t speak any English. Somehow I was able to get him back to the general area, and then I recognized certain key landmarks and was able to get him back to the compound. He was as relieved as I when we arrived at the Pickled Art Center.

That night there was a gallery opening for three artists, all with the last name of Li. It was very cold, so people tended to huddle around the fire in the main room of the gallery. Outside, there was a cook making barbeque. The barbeque was very good. I thought that would be my dinner; however, at about 8 o’clock, a whole bunch of us decided to walk to the Garden Restaurant for dinner. Almost everyone there was an artist, except Lutitia, who, it turns out was French. She has been in Beijing for six years and owns a gallery. Her former lover, who was a very well known Chinese pop singer, was also there with his two-year-old son which he had fathered with Lutitia. However, neither the singer nor Lutitia spoke to each other at all during the meal. We drank a lot of rice wine and a good time was had by all, although most of the taking was in Chinese.