One of my Monkey Kings -an unruly, irrational, haughty and selfish lot, actually- has chosen to stay here in Bern, Switzerland. He likes it here. Artist happy, monkey happy, collector happy!
Today and yesterday the building I have my studio in, Das Alte Loeblager ("The old Loeb stockbuilding") held open days, as part of the cityfeast of Bern Bumpliz, a suburb of Bern that apparently already exists as a town for a thousand years and only recently was added to the city of Bern.
There were many people visiting, we did a small exhibit in the shared exhibition space where three of my works were featured, I shared my businesscards and got some good tips from people about the Art world of Bern. Colleagues served fresh mint tea and snacks and I got to know some more neighbours from upstairs, and to sample some of the singing talent that the sound studio on the fourth floor is curating.
The local newspaper "The Bund" came by to take pictures of the various ateliers and have a little chat, and I was very glad to be featured in their online reports about the many activities during the Stadtfest. (You will have to scroll down to find the tidbit about me)
My utmost thanks to all visitors for showing interest in my work. -it is always a joy to see people looking intently to my work- and hopefully till soon at an exhibition elsewhere.
All these works, except two, no longer look like this...
I like to put things on the floor, and walk around amongst the various works in various stages of progress. I rarely concentrate on one single work for the whole day, I go back and forth between them.
The tea is two years old white tea, in China sometimes also used as medicine. When I want a long purposeful break without succumbing to the urge of playing around with smartphone or Ipad, I make tea the slow, Chinese way.
On the weekend of the 20th and 21st of August, the "Stadtfest Bern" 2016 edition comes to Bern Bümpliz, the area where my studio is located, and the whole of the Altes Loeblager, the old storage building that is now filled with artists and young businesses, is participating!
The building opens on both days at 11:00 hours, and closes doors at 14:00 hours. There are four floors filled with artists, musicians, filmmakers, designers and young entrepeneurs to show you what they are making and dreaming, and should you be in the neighbourhood of Bern, do pass by! There will be music and there will be play, and there will be coffee, and beer, and design and art.
Pass on these words!
Some while ago, friends visited my studio. Kindly, they sent me the pictures they made of the visit.
A nice chat, a lot of gazing, some explaining, some political stories and coffee were exchanged. No cookies though. I ended up keeping those all to myself.
“Nothing we use or touch can be expressed in words that equal what is given by the senses”
Therefore, I use not words, but images.
I am a storytelling artist, I was told, and I agree utterly with that. But I do not want to tell a story. I want to hint at a story. Combine fragments of stories into a strong image that can maybe spur the viewer to make a new one, or at least question, maybe even augment the one (s)he has in his or her head.
Maybe that, which I want to show about humans and their stories, is ambiguous. I know that our identity, be that individual, local, national or global, is a story. Yet. I believe that story. I need it myself too. We all need to be a story. Yet. It is just a story. An amalgam of choices, connections, way of presenting that cannot be defined as ‘the truth’ but isn’t a lie either. Something that is all together not present in the world, in the way that it is something you cannot touch, yet at the same time it is very present as is steers our actions and thoughts. Those of you and me as well as industry and nation leaders.
We are a storytelling species. We naturally try to connect everything we see, everything around us, into a storyline. It is by connecting things into stories that we make our greatest discoveries, and make our gravest mistakes.
Whenever I am painting or drawing I am saying: “Now try to make a story out of this!”
A few snapshots made while working. Most of these works no longer look like this.
This one, for instance, is now completely different, and I even have it turned around in order to not look at it for a while. It needs something something, just still something....
These are pictures taken with my phone, so quality is crap. On purpose. I'll leave you guessing.
The light is different. And the way the air feels. Not just because of the pollution, which is everpresent in Beijing, even when it is not polluted. Those rare days are experienced in heightened joy exactly because there is (almost) no pollution.
But also on those clear days one feels the air is very different from what I am used to in northern Europe. Must be the humidity. Beijing air cracks my skin half of the time. In winter, when pollution is at it's worst, and in early spring, when the sandstorms come, it doesn't just crack it, it blasts the skin, parches it, wraps it in dust and soot.
More so, even, in Song Zhuang, where I had my studio for two years, where the buildings were heated with old coal stacks, their low, small chimneys barely higher then the rooftops, the smoke they bellowed ominously darkbrown. That heating, which I paid for inclusive in the yearly rent, was not really heating. It kept the studio from freezing in winter, which meant it was about 6 degrees celcius in there during winter months. Acrylic becomes less fluid then. And painting for more then three hours becomes a really cold endeavour, even in old ski clothes.
For that reason, I did not go to my studio in the winter months, and every time I returned in march, the dust was piled up half a centimetre inside. I did not have an air purifyer there. I have made many a brushstroke with a slight headache. That is how it goes.
I went there by electric scooter, a one and a half hour trip from where we lived near the fourth ringroad, a journey through newly built and more to be built middle class Beijing neighbourhoods, past crumbling hutong like neighbourhoods, dusty suburbs, past the last kilometers of the Grand Canal, through the last open fields between Beijing proper and Tongzhou, into the conglomeration of farmers villages surrounded by migrant workers homes, muddy markets and newly built galleries, highrises and studios that stand forlorn in the plain that is Song Zhuang, waiting for inhabitants, fame and fortune. Somewhere behind one of the muddy markets was a small community of artists in a U shaped courtyard, built by an investor with a heart for art. Mostly Chinese, one Belgian, two french and me. Only my direct neighbour spoke a bit of english (broken, but much better then my chinese)
It was an adventure. To go there, to be there, to walk around the migrant neighbourhoods, the bustling markets (liangmian! jianbing!) the absurdity of the empty neighbourhoods being built and built and built, standing there in the wind, trying to embody prosperity, modernity, promise and artsiness in the middle of nowhere.
Today, while perusing interviews with artists on the wide, wide internet, I stumbled upon this quote by Cecily Brown: "My subjects are still in the process of becoming"
I like that quote. A lot. Which lead me to whisper to my computerscreen: "Whereas my subjects are in the process of decaying"
Food for thought.
What a difference!
To be able to speak the language, to move through society unaided, to look and ask for things easily, makes all the difference. It took me two years to get a studio in China, in Bern, one of the groomed, polished, neatly organised cantons of the Swiss federation, (there is not a thing here that is not groomed, polished or organised) it took me a total of three weeks. Long live the internet and the simple roman script!
My new studio is in "Das Alte Loeblager" once a storage building for one of the more fancy warehouses of Switzerland, now a creative and entrepreneurial 'breeding ground' for artists, designers, musicians, small businesses, you name it. It is a dusty, slightly unorganised place, which pleases me - there is only so much polishing, grooming and organisation I can deal with, after China - that smells of the academy and a student house's kitchen combined. It has light, it has true heating, it has internet, it is a on a 15 minute bikeride through everyday fresh air from my house. What else could I ask for?
Well, for the intercontinental movers to take less long for bringing our stuff from halfway over the world... but that would be pushing it, I realise.
(EDIT: halfway september 2015 all my stuff arrived, and I could start for real in this new space which suits me very well indeed)