The title’s sensationalist. The cover I quite like; it looks better somehow attached to a book than on a screen. Black for Africa and red for China is crude when I think about it; does fit the title though. The paper is atrocious, not much better than newsprint, grey, joyless, and floppy.
Howard French I’ve been reading as a blogger for nearly ten years (bloody hell how did that happen), since he was based in Shanghai as the New York Times bureau chief. He doesn’t blog so much anymore, and hasn’t been based in China for most of the time since I added him to my feed reader. I seem to be reading more Africa stuff lately, possibly arriving at that from one side via mediæval art and my interest in representation in the artworks, and from the other via China. Gordon Matthew’s Ghetto at the Center of the World, exploring the Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong and the international trade with Africa by Africans run through there, as well as the large African community in Guangzhou are probably the most significant prior connections. Germany’s colonial history would be a third.
I was hoping for a substantial book, along the lines of Frank Dikotter say, rather than Susan Mann, and it is investigative journalism of a type. French spent a lot of time travelling back and forth across Africa, met and talked with a lot of people, both African and Chinese, but it’s more like a very long piece of journalism than a book, each chapter and section repeating the same structure, the same meetings of individuals, the same driving, the same observations. It tends towards a homogeneous and not so meaningful view of Chinese presence in Africa, despite that being not French’s aim.
Anyone who follows China or Africa even in passing in the usual sources like the NY Times will have their opinions and prejudices confirmed: corruption all over, racism, colonialism, environmental destruction, lack of legal transparency, fragile democracies or crypto-oligarchies, war and horror never too far. Even with the occasional positive or bright moments, the implicit future for most of sub-saharan Africa with China moving in isn’t a hopeful one. His discussion of China using migration to Africa and elsewhere as a means of dealing with its own population explosion and accompanying social and environmental issues is the one thing I’d read more of.
Ah, I’m not supposed to be reviewing here: why I’m reading it rather than what I thought afterwards. Maybe to say the subject of China in Africa—if it is indeed substantial—is one deserving solid works. This book is ok for a light Saturday afternoon read after finishing the weekend paper, but like newspapers it carries implicit bias, and whether it was in French’s preparation or writing it is limited in the diversity of subjects—either interviewed or discussed—the story builds itself on.
This is the month of Adelaide independent choreographers with five developments that I know of and maybe a couple of others I might be making up. Gabrielle, whom I’ve known and made things with for years is working on a solo, with one showing only next weekend.
Chapter 1: persecution, blood and stories of the human spirit.
Concept and Performance – Gabrielle Nankivell
Soundtrack – Luke Smiles / motion laboratories
My sweat is my armour. Ecstasy is my shell and I am wrapped in the steely grace of determination that keeps the sunny moth away. I am on an empty set, held up by sound, beads of sweat and the roar of my life before. I am a gladiator. I live from the carrions of my own invention. I’m a warrior of beauty, a survivor, something of steel. I have strength, determination, power in failure and honour and grace in defeat.
You are invited to join us for the first showing of the initial development of Witch/Red. We welcome your presence and your feedback.
Where: ADT back studio, Wonderland Ballroom, 126 Belair Road, Hawthorn.
When: Saturday 5th April 2008, 7:30pm
Please RSVP by the 4th April so we can take into account seating.
0415 458 084
Lina is in Adelaide, working on a development of a new performance, with a showing next Friday. Lucky I’m here too so I get to see a bunch of new work in the next couple of weeks getting made by Adelaide’s. More on the others in the next couple of days.
I would very much like to invite you to an exclusive showing of the first creative development of a new dance work by myself, Lina Limosani.
Currently titled “THE TIGHTER YOU SQUEEZE”, the work is exploring the concepts of Attachment and Detachment.
Your presence and feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Please feel free to forward the invitation to others who may be interested in viewing the development.
Please RSVP to this email address if you wish to take up this opportunity.
Hope to see you there.
The Tighter You Squeeze
(a first development showing)
Friday 4th April, 7:15pm
Devised and directed by Lina Limosani
Choreographed by Lina Limosani and dancers
Dancers: Adam Synnott, Lisa Griffiths, Aisdair MacIndoe, Emma Stokes
Media Designer: Edmund Chiu
Level 3, “The Atrium”
136 North Terrace
Alison Croggon said to me, “I like drinking with theatre types, and those whom I drink with are pretty cool about the reviewing thing. There’s this kind of unspoken pact that I am there to be honest, and we all have to put with it.” So, seeing two of the choreographers I’ve already worked with, and several of the performers (who are often the choreographers also) are good friends, for me there’s still this nervousness about how much detail do you want?
Ausdance SA’s Choreolab is something of a development showcase for both emerging artists in Adelaide and those who have been around for a bit who are trying things out. In this context, and in a venue that is only really able to present the works as showings, I thought there were two works that I regarded as in some form of development and three others of the seven performances and films that whether or not in actuality finished had achieved something of a coherence that made me see them as complete.
Watching Sarah Cartwright dance, I realised my seat was perhaps not the best if I wanted to see someone lying on the floor through a forest of heads. So much of Where I’ve got So Far… was missing behind the lack of a clear line of sight. She was dressed in almost rehearsal clothes, comes in, lies down, and has this kinda corporeal almost smutty movement, part way through pauses, lies down a bit further upstage and partially caught in the uncovered mirrors of the studio vaguely repeats.
I’ve seen Sarah in class and in Melbourne in a workshop with Roz Warby, where I got curious about Barebones, and what they were doing hanging out with Roz, but never performing, so there’s been this wondering what she actually becomes on stage. Sarah also has been spending time with Becky Hilton, and like none of the other pieces, this looked straight out of Melbourne. It was a really pleasant surprise to see her perform, and become this other person, who is intriguing to watch move.
Far from Becky, John Jasperse and all the rest of the New York thing, I guess this is the isolated evolution of a style. Sarah understands kinesthetically what she is doing when she moves like Becky, but so removed from the roots of this aesthetic, she’s making it into something else, maybe softer, maybe less aggressive or precise or conscious, something new. Sometimes I did want to see her move twice as fast, or get carried away in the frenetic momentum of it, but this was one of the pieces I thought really was in development and would like to see go somewhere further.
The other piece that seemed like an excerpt, like reading a chapter from the middle of a book was Daniel Jaber’s Swanhilda is a Punk. Before the show, I’d been sitting in a bookshop trying to read all of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a menacing, dark work of Norse deities and unhealthy decay, worlds he has been an expert at since his graphic novel days of Sandman. As a violent, neck-slashing assault of nihilism I thought Daniel should be reading this and William T. Vollman’s Viking crypto-histories, the scope for derangement and upsetting preternatural narrative subtexts could really be taken to extremes in his choreography.
There was in the style and execution a distinct ADT feeling, but like so much stuff in Melbourne a few years ago that looked like Chunky Move, it’s more because the dancers in the company themselves make up the movement, which does engender a troubling notion of the Artistic Director as choreographer. Daniel I think has already a clear idea of movement beyond the repertoire of steps that I would love to see where it goes. I did want louder, dirtier, scarier, something verging on the monstrous sex fiends in Ghost in the Shell, and really, Alexandra Jezouin should be in ADT (and I did feel nervous that I was sitting next to Daniel).
The three other works that I saw as closer to finished if indeed already there were all films. Firstly Alison Currie’s whom I’ve been staying with and saw Mr Potato Head in her lounge. Long, languid shots of a foot, clad in stocking or shoe, so I was thinking, “mmmmm foot porn”, then vulnerable close-ups of her looking into the camera, somewhat in part profile as if not wanting to submit a direct gaze, and long unsteady handheld voyeuristic glimpses of her in public places, doing headstands in the railway station to the consternation of a black-clad woman sitting on the same bench, or in a busy concourse.
Post-Tracey Emin, there is a glut of shoddily made and embarrassingly personal video art by and about the artist, styled as the conceptual art of this decade is me, and often it achieves some semblance of art through sheer repetition but mostly is derivative, boring, mediocre and just crappy. Alison, possibly because she’s making dance is nothing like this, though superficially in the vaguely the same conceptual region. I was reminded more of Cindy Sherman’s untitled film stills or Laurie Anderson’s 1980s New York performance art. And she has a development coming up soon, so more dance for Adelaide.
Sam Oster and Felecia Hick’s Circuit to me looked like an advertisement for an airline or an electricity company, slick and with much post-production. As a dance film it just washed over me, coupled with what is the contemporary dance equivalent of elevator music, the ambient electronic soundscape.
There were a number of pieces that used this non-committal soundtrack, including Sarah’s and at times Amanda Phillips’s 3XPERIMENTIA, with Alexander Mitchell who is a highly talented composer. His score mostly was far from this but occasionally slipped back a decade to Squarepusher’s drum-machine freakouts that were unheard of then but now … it seems too easy. For dance, electronic music is dangerously close to being an unmemorable dead end.
Amanda’s film with special 3-D glasses and LSD psychedelia is only an early development of a larger interactive performance, but as a film I thought it should be shown everywhere, now. Gala Moody and Lisa Griffiths perform, occasionally with a black horse, a store full of mannequins, and themselves in reflection and across time and haircuts. Visually the 3-D effect is magnificent and makes for phenomenal dance, even without the glasses, the subtle effects on the video, grading, contrast, saturation make for a dreamlike swirl of inky blackness and luminous bodies.
My one criticism in this is the use of an effect something like solarisation, that leaves the bodies mostly as outlines. I thought this was really an effect for the sake of it, and heavy-handed at that. The beauty in the film lies in its subtlety, the use of stereoscopic filming and projection is complex and vital enough in itself, that only the softest of changes are necessary to induce striking differences in feel and emotion.
The first time I saw it, Lisa with the mannequin’s arm, a slow-motion seduction, then both of them hidden amidst the torsos and limbs, it was straight from Kes in Bladerunner. Amanda said she’d done some extra filming of Gala, then with shoulder length blonde hair, now with shaved head, and the two bodies overlapping, arm and fingers reaching out, caressing an invisible face, one Gala with hair the other without is the most unsettling, powerful and human moment in the entire film and evening.
Periodically, I write about stuff in China that has little at first glance to do with making dance and art. Mostly my focus is centered on Guangdong as this is where I live when I am in China. My art is primarily concerned with the destitution of humanity, and I think there is little more destitute than for someone to have their entire life, history, home, means of eating and earning a living stolen from them by cadres who are no better than imperial thugs reigning over their personal fiefdoms. The Guardian had an excellent article this weekend on rural land-grabs and peasant protests, specifically in 云浮 Yunfu, 汕尾 Shanwei, and 太石 Taishi in Guangdong Province.
Among the most explosive books in recent years was an exposé of torture, murder and exploitation of peasants by brutal local officials. A Survey Of Chinese Peasants, by Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao, was quickly banned by the authorities, who feared it might spark unrest, but pirate copies continue to be widely circulated and an English version – retitled Will The Boat Sink The Water – has recently been published. The authors lay it out plainly: “It is safe to say that the edifice of China’s industry is built from the flesh and blood of toiling peasants and urban development was achieved through their pain and sacrifice.”
In one of my earlier science-fiction gorges, populated mostly by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, occasionally Philip K. Dick, and a perpetual shallow sea of forgotten genre-ensnared library detritus, there was a story, I think short, about a person trapped in an endless city, layers of apartment blocks laid out on meshes of grids, insurmountable, and sliced by taut wires of train lines. Was a city block detonated, leaving the viscera hanging on the sides of those monstrosities more fortunate, or am I confusing this with my 2000AD Mega-City 1 days?
Anyhow, the protagonist sought to escape by catching a train, which went in an unwavering straight line, yet which took its occupants back to where they started, or to somewhere identical, a burning, heat-slicked municipal hell. The closest a movie got to imagining the miasma this city possessed for me was of course Blade Runner.
Looking out from the 8th floor windows of Park19, windows that a – thankfully – harnessed (though attached to the table by frail hemp rope and mortifying carabiner) air-conditioning repairman had been recently swinging out of, across the the southern districts to the dockyards, the sky a petulant sulphuric haze made vaporous and intangible by rising humidity, I thought of nothing other than this was the city the train ran through.
The centre of the manufacturing universe, Guangdong Provence now has the largest population in China. Bigger than most countries even it’s hit 110 million, with a migrant worker population in that total of 31 million, most of them in Dongguan and other salubrious holiday resorts. The figure doesn’t include illegal or unregistered migrants, so like the official population which just hit 1.3 billion, there’s probably a few million more swimming around the province.
Guangdong Province, one of the economic powerhouse in China, has replaced central Henan Province to become the most populous region in the country, Guangdong Provincial Governor Huang Huahua announced Friday.
The figure includes 79 million registered permanent residents and 31 million migrants who have lived in Guangdong for more than six months, Huang said at the on-going Third Session of the 10th provincial People’s Congress.
Elaborating the major reason for the change, Huang said that though Henan and Sichuan are the most populous regions in China, residents from the two provinces have come to Guangdong in recent years looking for jobs.
As the Pearl River Delta is now teemed with temporary migratory workers from elsewhere in China, acknowledged Huang, the provincial government will move some of them to the eastern and western parts of Guangdong and some mountainous areas.
Previously, Henan Province was China’s most populous region with a registered permanent population of 94.72 million.
Professor Yu is going to be taking alot of shit for a while for thinking Rem Koolhaas should apologise for the Beijing CCTV building, and bagging him and other western architects for not coming to China as teachers.
His whining, which makes him sound like a spoilt brat who didn’t get picked to hang with the cool kids at school is accompanying his unsuccessful attempts to hawk more work for himself as a Beijing architect. Coming after the 中国国际建筑艺术双年展 1st Architecture Biennale – Beijing, his shrill self-aggrandisement, and parochial reference to 5000 years of Chinese history is dissembling to the real and critical issues of architecture and town planning in China at the moment.
Yu also makes no mention of Koolhaas’s work in Beijing in 2002 to preserve the heritage of the city’s hutongs. In short, he’s a wanker, and the writers of the article should use spellcheck. It’s Koolhaas, not Kohlhaas.
Yu in 2004:
The famous Western architects –Kohlhaas, Andrews –have to make a decision.They must know that a building is inappropriate for China, but they also must come up with the most outrageous design or they won’t win the contract. So they are asked to choose –money and fame or a responsible attitude.
Of course, Kohlhaas was asked to build this, and I don’t want to criticize his talent if he hadn’t taken the contract, maybe some worse architect would have. But when Einstein developed nuclear power, he sent out a message when he admitted his regret I would like to see Kohlhaas set this example to other architects and planners in China and admit the building is unsuitable for Beijing.
Koolhaas in 2002:
Ensuring that Beijing’s residents have visible evidence of how their city has evolved, Koolhaas asserts, is a necessary counterpoint to his forward-looking building designs. “I find it very important that we don’t do hit-and-run projects,” he says. “I don’t want to be a carpetbagger. Westerners have really been, in a certain way, exploitative. They use the opportunities but they don’t really think about the impact. We’re trying to engage in a kind of systematic investigation of what—in the current circumstances and with the current economy—would be a plausible repertoire of urban forms. I think you can invent new forms that are about street life. That’s what interests me: to maintain the specificity of this city.”
In-between Co4 Documenta and UBU a bunch of artists and me spent a couple of hours sitting and drinking on the grass out the front of 華山創意文化園區 Huashan watching performances by local drumming, music and theatre groups. Not just a fun evening of free performance with a sound-system in serious need of tweaking though. Huashan, like Beijing’s 大山字Dashanzi 798 Factories, Shanghai and Guangzhou artist villages is staring down the barrel of a gun at its own demise. In a bitter irony, the agents of Huashan’s demise is the Council of Cultural Affairs. Like so many mid-20th century and earlier industrial sites, Brisbane’s Powerhouse, London’s Tate, Huashan could remain an amazing place for art, but more likely, it will be a place for the consumption of culture and the real artists, they’ll have all moved on.
When Wu and other artists first came upon Huashan around 1997, it was a derelict group of Japanese-built warehouses that had lain unused for years. So they moved in and claimed it as a fringe art and performance space, something Taipei lacked.
Over the next two years, different groups grappled for the complex, one of the few large open areas in downtown Taipei. Through repeated protests (and drum circles), arts groups managed to secure the space under the management of the Association of Culture and Environmental Reform in Taiwan (藝術文化環境改造協會), beating out competing development plans, including one to build a new home for the Legislative Yuan on the site.
Ultimate administration of the land went over to the Council of Cultural Affairs (CCA)(文建會), the central government agency that last year adopted a new attitude towards Huashan, hoping to bring it under the umbrella of its Creative Industries push, a plan that extends to all sorts of cultural production from pop music to fine arts.
Last November, the CCA pushed out the Association of Cultural and Environmental Reform, granting management to a more commercial group and renaming the complex the Huashan Cultural and Creative Industry Center (華山創意文化園區).
Now the CCA wants to build a new skyscraper to use as its own offices. The building would be built within the walls of some still unused and un-renovated warehouses on the Huashan site, said Wu.
The proposed design, he said, would remove the structures’ roofs (which are currently falling in) and leave the walls. The tower would be built inside the walls.
“It would destroy the feel of the place,” said Wu.
“In the whole city, Huashan is really only the only arts space where you can still see the sky.”
The NT$30 billion budget that would include continued renovation and development of the Huashan site, however, has not yet been ratified by the national legislature. The protests aim to stop or alter those plans.