Almost two months after embarking on a my teaching studio in Wuhan I am slowly starting to get a tiny hold of this city. Having spent most of my day walking around the old city center of Hankou, the township on the opposite shore of the Yangtze River, I was trying to sum up my impressions of Wuhan on the long bus ride back to the university campus. Besides being one of the top ten cities in China in terms of size, Wuhan is somewhat of a dark horse, and it's quite hard to pinpoint its main asset. For all its universities and collages - one out of ten inhabitants is a student at one of them, 1.2 million(!) in all - it's still far away from what I would call a "university town", like Cambridge, Lund, Heidelberg, Leiden or Austin; small, convenient, well-developed, highly academic and full of students. Education in Wuhan, it seems, is more like one of the city's main industrial bases. It's the production of students that is emphasized, not production of new knowledge. And since very few universities in China - Wuhan is no exception - promote studies in the humanities, the output every year is a very large batch of engineers with unspoiled belief in "Scientific Development", i e the extension of which you would call a technocracy.
The riverfront of above mentioned Hankou is lined with night clubs and bars, massage parlours and luxury cars. The buildings are "restored" early 20th century colonial-style buildings turned into a locale where the new rich get their groove on. As a public space it's decent, and I'm sure some of those night clubs are too, but that typology of space is as played-out as the colonial era it originates from. The rest of Wuhan is all about bigness, and it's architectural space as impressive as any one-liner dropped from a helicopter alongside 10-lane motorway strip or wedged in around a roundabout the size of Latvia. The physical dimension of most of this city - I'm sorry to say - is not worth looking at with anything other than fascination - for its brute ugliness and lack of human scale.
Actually, after understanding some of the more underlying messages widely and explicitly published on billboards across the city, I am starting to think that socio-anthropologists could have a field day here in Wuhan. According to my sources, most of the advertisement on buses, billboards, tv and radio revolve around plastic surgery, potency-enhancing medicine, underwear, cars, alcohol and women's hospitals (abortion clinics). In other words, an unsavoury cocktail of emerging-market-induced indulgences.
Or as Wuhan based artist and curator Gong Tian expressed it: Wuhan is a mix of everything cheap, loud and low, plus some anarchism. It's also known as a punk city, a side that I have yet to explore. It all seems so difficult when the city is the size of a European country and there's no subway (yet).
Well I'm not sure the photos below support my story, but at least they are moments from the past two months.
On Sunday I am hosting the informal opening of Black Sesame, the studio space in downtown Beijing that I will share with Institute for Provocation (IFP). Since we found the space in late March, we have been struggling with a few different entrepreneurs for the renovation, and shedding both sweat and tears (not too much blood, yet) in the process. Sweat mostly because of the escalating costs. The renovation will be an ongoing process but we have nevertheless moved in and I work there since about two weeks.
The event is open to our dear friends and colleagues, but please don't be shy to drop by and introduce yourself if I don't already know you. Hope to see you there!
My ears are ringing a bit after I just spent half an hour playing with the game above. Just click on it and you will get hooked. I tried everything: Geometric patterns, Tetris shapes, stacks, letters...it all sounds great. And my leg started jumping up and down in the first minute. Found on Prejka, it originates on this site. Great work!
It's amazing when you realize how easy it can be to make music, as long as someone (tech-savvy musician) has set up the game for you to play. And because music is all about intuition, there is no way of going wrong.
Above is just one of the patterns that came up. Making it made me think about how I was alternating between thinking of the pattern and the music as I was playing. Sometimes it sounded better, but then the pattern was slightly irregular, but when I built a regular pattern, it didn't sound very interesting. Makes me think about architecture and the way we as architect often try to reduce and refine our drawings until they become regular and "correct". If it was music, it would probably be very boring to listen to. This makes me came to think about a lecture I attended this summer, with a Jan Henrik Hansen, a Swiss architect living in New York who has started to transform music into spatial objects; sculptures and patterns.
If the most interesting music is irregular, how come we keep defining irregular architecture as flawed and unfinished. I guess you need to be a master to master irregular and ambiguous space. Taking the example of a real master, Álvaro Siza Vieira builds in a modernist tradition using white rendered walls as his main material, yet he never reproduces the regular grid. The buildings always have irregularities and variations which make them pleasing to the eye in the same way you might enjoy Debussy rather than a regular scale.
Finally, a new song (Feist cover) from a young man whose music I am really enjoying at the moment:
I am watching an interview on Youtube with the Scottish artist Douglas Gordon, most known for his video piece 24 hr Psycho - an installation where Hitchcock's Psycho is screened in slow motion, expanding the original film over 24 hours. Not having seen any show of his works yet, I am very puzzled by them and their simplicity. How we as viewers can start to enter into the life of fiction, and how fictitious characters become part of our lives.
For instance, I recently met two dedicated Seinfeld-fans here in Beijing. Being one myself, the three of us often found ourselves in situations where a few words, or even every-day words expressed in a certain way, became comical because of our shared knowledge of this fictitious reality (which furthermore ended over ten years ago). We indulge in these scenes taking place in our collective memory, constantly aware of their origin and meaning. It was a revelation also because all those phrases, expressions and nuances ("The dingo ate your baby!", "Hell-oooo!", "You had to have the BIG SALAD") become explicitly meaningful in this new company of mine. Before, very few of the people I am around share this body of knowledge (Seinfeld) so I find myself terribly alone when hearing words like pesto or salsa. I want to exclaim "Who doesn't like Pesto?" or "I wanted Seltzer, not Salsa!" but instead it bounces around in my head like a squash ball.
For those of you who have access to this amazing database of contemporary life:
This morning I got the urge to listen to some Kate Bush, more specifically her latest album, Aerial, from 2005. It's an enchanting album, very dreamy and pleasant. One of the most delightful songs is called Pi; after a typically Bush-esque introduction of a sensitive man that lifts her spirit by being very dedicated to his work, mathematics. she starts singing out the endless sequence of decimals of π in a long wonderful chorus. 3,141592653589793.......mmmmm
I just came back from the cinemateque, having finally seen A bout de souffle, Jean-Luc Godards début and hard core contribution to the Nouvelle Vague cinema. It is better than I thought, and surprisingly funny, at times hilarious. The main character Michel Poiccard has an unbelievably slurred expression, acting on instinct in every situation. I could go so far as to say that he is the opposite of myself. A grown French man acting as a lonesome teenager gone wild, not taking any formal framework into consideration for his actions. His eyes turn away as soon as you try to catch a though in his mind, perhaps because there are none. The girl Patricia, a young ambitious tomboy, obviously much more intelligent and mature than Michel, is still seduced by his boyish maverick style. Their interplay is at times frustrating, as he is mostly interested in getting under her clothes and she plays on her sexuality and confuses him. The dialogue is abrupt and inconsistent, and Godard's visual style establishes a restless flow of jump cuts.
The funniest line in the film is when Patricia is sent to interview Mr Parvulescu, a writer realeasing his new book Candida. The questions from the surrounding journalists are as idiosynchric as his cryptic replies, and I turned in laughter for this sharp yet harmless parody on culture journalism. A nervous guy asks Mr Parvulescu in obliviousness how many men a women can love in a lifetime. Physically, that is. He starts counting with his hands: 5..10...20...30... "Plus que ça". More than that. Hilarious. In the end, Patricia gets her question answered:
- What is your big ambition in life?
- To become immortal, and then to die.
I say no more. For once this arty farty experience (going to see a French Nouvelle Vague classic in the cinemateque on a Saturday night) was worth every second and Danish krone. This is truly a masterpiece and I wish to see it many times more.