New residency programme

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Finally, after months of preparation, the Institute for Provocation is launching a new residency programme in collaboration with IASPIS. The 2-month residency is open for Swedish visual artists, architects and designers and starts in August this year. Deadline for applications is May 8, application here.

 

More information:

Iaspis – the Swedish Arts Grants Committee’s international program for visual art, architecture, design and craft – announces a new residency collaboration with the Institute for Provocation (IFP) in Beijing during 2013-14. The residency is open to applications from visual artists, architects and designers, and is thematically focused on the topic of public space in China.

Residency period: In 2013, two separate residencies of two months each are offered to two candidates, one from August 22 - October 22, and one from October 20 - December 22. Please indicate on the application form which period you are applying for.

Application deadline: 8 May 2013

Application procedure: The Iaspis delegation of the Visual Arts Fund selects a shortlist from the received applications. The final selection of grant holders is made by IFP. Successful applicants are informed by Iaspis on behalf of IFP at the end of June.

Grant: The total sum of the grant is 50 000 SEK per person and residency. This should cover costs for return travel Sweden-Beijing, food, sustenance and eventual production costs over the 2 month residency. As part of the residency, IFP provides shared workspace, accommodation and a part-time assistant. Please see more detailed information below. About Institute for Provocation

The Institute for Provocation (IFP) is a Beijing-based workspace and think tank hosting residencies, research projects, workshops and lectures stretching the borders between visual and performing art, architecture and design. As a workspace, IFP focuses on the thinking process before or even beyond the actual creation of an artifact: the collection of dramaturgical information, the testing of different architectural scenarios, the summarizing of existing artistic vocabularies and realized projects, the experimenting with new media or disciplines, and so on. Space, territory and geography serve as bridges between many disciplines and IFP has a specific interest in research that proposes cross-disciplinary strategies to open up for inquiries into topics related to these notions.

IFP was originally established under the name Theatre in Motion (until 2010) by sinologist and dramaturge Els Silvrants and architect Shuyu Chen and has since 2005 collaborated with artists, architects and performers on a wide range of projects and residencies.

The studio and workspace is located in a 85 sqm renovated courtyard house in the old city of Beijing. The studio is shared with 1-3 other resident artist(s) and IFP staff, has basic facilities such as internet, projector and screen, basic hand tools, shared kitchen. The resident artist will be accommodated close to the studio in a private or shared apartment with private bathroom. About the residency

As a part of an ongoing research project into the conditions for public space in Chinese cities, the Institute for Provocation in collaboration with Iaspis invite artists, architects and designers to apply for a residency based around the topic of public space.

China's economic rise over the past three decades is the result of a conscious strategy in which cities are playing a key role. Urbanization has been and will continue to be the main instrument for bringing the people out of poverty and into a consumption- and service lifestyle. But as the existing cities sprawl out and new ones are built from scratch, little attention is paid to their spatial and social qualities. The massive leap in scale from the ancient architectures to the new forests of highways and high-rises that now dominate the cityscapes create an array of problems related to space, identity, environment and social and economic equity. The juxtaposition of opposites – formal and informal, open and closed space – shapes the syntax in the reading of the Chinese city.

The applicant is intended to form their own interpretation of the theme and eventually find a focal point for his/her research. Responsible for running the programme in Beijing will be Max Gerthel, Swedish architect and IFP collaborator since 2011, and IFP's artistic director Shuyu Chen. We will guide the artist and provide insights into China and Chinese culture, special knowledge about cities and public space as well as local contacts in various fields. The residency will revolve around research as the main activity, without any specific requirements from the host organization regarding output or production by the artists in residence.

The purpose of this thematic residency programme is both to have a close dialogue and exchange between IFP and the artist, as well as to create more continuity, as each artist contributes to a larger body of research. This accumulation of knowledge, observation and interpretation can thus be shared internally, but also to the local community.

As a part of Sessions, IFP's public programme, the artist will have the possibility to present themselves and their work, listen to other practitioners and take part in discussions. There will also be possibilities of collaboration with external institutions for lectures and/or academic exchange. The residency will also be announced through IFP's network and newsletter, further enhancing the artist's visibility in China.

Residents will be provided with a desk space in the shared workspace of IFP's studio, accommodation in the vicinity of the workspace, a part-time art assistant providing interpretation/ translation and other assistance, support and guidance from IFP staff and opportunity to meet other artists in related fields. If the resident wishes to bring their partner/family for the full length of the residency s/he must inform IFP two months in advance. Any extra expense for accommodation of related guests will be carried by the resident.

IFP Sessions: Maurice Carlin

For the second IFP Sessions of 2013, Institute for Provocation will host Manchester based artist Maurice Carlin, who is the current resident artist Homeshop . His work revolves around the practice of publishing, defined as ‘the creation of a public’, a collective consciousness built around actions in public space.

Maurice will give a talk about his work and how it has developed from his experience of self-organisation through Islington Mill Art Academy, a peer-led experiment into alternative modes of art education. Islington Mill is a mixed-use building providing artists with incubation, production, collaboration and performance spaces. Home to over 50 cross-disciplinary studios, an artist-run B&B, gallery, residency and club spaces, it occupies a unique position within the UK, and has evolved over eleven years to become the cultural haven that it is now.

Maurice's work has been featured in publications including Frieze, The Guardian and A-N. Recent shows include First...Next...Then...Finally, Castlefield Gallery, Manchester (2013), Blanco Blanco, La Escocesa, Barcelona (2012), Self Publisher and Other Works, Banner Repeater, London (2011), How to Stay Awake, MCP, Antwerp (2011) Other Forms of Life (with Bik van der Pol), AND Festival, various locations (2010) and Beyond the Dustheaps, Dickens House Museum, London (2010).

IFP Studio, Saturday, April 6 at 6 pm (18:00 for our 24 hour friends)

The talk is held in collaboration with Homeshop, and the following day we will join there to take the discussion further. Se below.

 

Open discussion at homeshop

What are the challenges of establishing and running an independent art space/community? What possible structures can enable an independent art space to become independent of its core team? From another perspective, is there a line that separates, blurrily, an art practice from institutional organization, and what are the critical capacities proper to the different gradations?

On Sunday, Institute for Provocation will be joining Michael from Homeshop, Maurice from Islington Mill and others to launch a discussion around the topic of independent art spaces. Since we all represent various types of art spaces and collectives, we thought it fit to share our experiences in a public format, inviting everyone in to join this moment of self-reflection.

We have lined up with even more questions such as:

What contexts or practices does your space arise from? Who do you consider your "stakeholders"? What is the distribution of locality/international among your concerns? How long have you been active? What have been some changes during the life of your space? e.g. moves, reorganizations, renamings? Is there a separation between your physical space and your "project"? Is the space an institution? What necessitates or allows such a title? Is the space a form of artistic practice? Is authorship involved? How do you fund your space? How much does this enter into the activities that you consider your core concern? How are decisions made? How does this shape what takes place? Do you consider the way you run your space as a "model"?

Sunday, April 7 at 6 pm at Homeshop, Jiaodaokou beiertioao number 8

Welcome!

Metamorphosis

I had seen some of Günther Domenig's work, but this bank (sic) building in Vienna is outright bizarre. I don't know whether to be excited or disgusted... but for sure some of the ideas carried out here are epic. The guy must have read Kafka's Metamorphosis during the concept phase because if it doesn't look like a giant insect of a bank building, I don't know what.

 

This looks mostly like the underside of Darth Vader's mask in scale 50:1

And the inside is somewhat anatomical...

Domenig, who sadly passed away last week, is one of those extremely talented visionaries who became hugely influential among a younger group of architects; Wolf Prix, Zaha Hadid, Thom Mayne, the ones that were better at branding themselves and reaching out internationally. The few buildings that were built by this master are worth a closer look, as they will reveal the source for much of the formal language seen in many projects by the above mentioned above (and others).

Read more at: http://www.domusweb.it/en/from-the-archive/remembering-gunther-domenig/

Best album of 2012

John Talabot - Last Land from Stroll TV on Vimeo.

 

Runner-up:

Matthew Dear - Beams

Matthew Dear - Her Fantasy from SonoroHelicoidal on Vimeo.

 

And  according last.fm, this is what else I listened to:

Grizzly Bear - Shields

The XX - Coexist

Cat Power - Sun

The 2 Bears - Be Strong

College - Northern Council

Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man

The Weeknd - Trilogy

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mine Jubilee Edition

Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn't

Rodriguez - Searching For Sugar Man

Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

Drake - Drake

Gotye – Making Mirrors

Incarnations – With All Due Respect

Active Child – You Are All I See

Glasser – Ring

The Third Meaning

This installation was a part of SaYiZheng (Sleepwalking in Chinese, or sometimes translated as nonsense) a night art exhibition taking place last Friday in and around Doujiao hutong here in Beijing. The exhibition was organised by IFP's artist-in-residence Zoro Feigl and artist and curator Tianji Zhao. Altogether 23 artists participated, and quite a large amount of people came to see the exhibition and performances.

The idea behind this installation was to create a space with light, and as a response to the rough and ecclectic environment, I decided to create something that was quite purist and clean, but still made from materials found locally. The flourescent lights are activated by sound, which is also common here, especially in staircases of residential building blocks. However in the hutongs the lights are usually quite dim and the relationship to sound is more surprising. The configuration of a gate or a portal suited the site very well and provided a quite new experience of the hutong space. At the same time, its purity and materiality can refer to the typical white box gallery space, in which this kind of flourescent light fittings are virtually prerequisite.

The title, The Third Meaning comes from a text by Roland Barthes, referring to a third layer of meaning in SM Eisensteins films. I don't claim to harbor such a meaning, but if there is a third layer of meaning to anything, I'm sure someone can find it.

 

 

Preliminary sketch

 

animation

The next morning, only a few pieces of wood were left.

IFP Sessions #4: Hans van Houwelingen

 

On November 24, the Institute For Provocation here in Beijing will host a talk by the Dutch conceptual artist and sculptor Hans van Houwelingen.

Hans van Houwelingen mostly works within the realm of public space and his artworks often take on ideological contradictions and ambiguities, representing them in a physical form.

Feel free to join us at the IFP Studio, heizhima hutong 13 at 6pm. More information about the artist here.

UPDATE:

The talk was very interesting and lead to the eventual interruption of the presentation as a discussion over one of the works (proposal for a memorial for guest workers in Rotterdam) became extensive. Indeed the conceptual nature of Hans' works are open to interpretations and criticism of various kind, and I definitely enjoy the way he discusses the meaning of things, rather than their formal attributes.

Below some photos of the talk.

Omni table now in production

After spending the last four months in Sweden I have found a producer for the Omni table and it is now in production and sold through the furniture shop OLSSON & GERTHEL in Malmö. The table top is make in solid oak and comes in three finishes: Black stained, white oiled or natural soap treated. Black painted steel frame. More finishes and sizes coming soon.

You can order the table here, free delivered in Sweden, please contact OLSSON & GERTHEL for information about overseas shipping.

re-iterate: Dashalar

 

Later this month, friend and colleague Jordan Kanter will be running a workshop in Beijing together with Gilles Retsin (AA-DRL, Kokkugia). The workshop will be based in Dashalar, one of the most dynamic and well-preserved parts of the historic city of Beijing. Collaborators are CMoDa, a platform for digital art and crafts, fronted by former NOTCH organizer Yang Lei.

More info below:

 

// Workshop Overview

Ecology of Objects In the course of this 10 day workshop, we will explore new techniques for mapping, cataloguing and intervening in the processes of development of the Chinese city. Working directly in the streets, alleys and buildings of the historic Dashila district in central Beijing, we will trace the particular patterns of inhabitation, use/reuse, production and exchange, documenting the ways these processes are materialized in the physical structures of the site. Working out from this “ecology of objects,” this workshop aims to explore new perspectives for activating, illuminating and informing new meaning to the everyday spaces of the city.

Participatory Mapping // Object Oriented Urbanism This work proceeds in two independent, but increasingly interwoven tracks: on the one hand, the revitalization of the Situationist approach of participatory mapping to unveil the underlying, often hidden dimensions of city identity, formation and logic; on the other hand, the development of a computational platform custom built in the Processing coding language, allowing for the visualization and manipulation of the various objects and elements – both concrete and ephemeral – encountered in the site. This begins an exploratory process into possibilities for reconfiguration, mutation, remediation, logistical reorganization, etc. in the building up of city form that is both historically grounded and radically new.

Exhibition @ CMoDA (Chinese Museum of Digital Art) + Beijing Design Week We will work directly with the agencies responsible for the development of the Dashila district to envision strategies for dynamic, iterative interventions into the fabric of the neighborhood. This will be an intensive, team-based effort with the aim of generating exhibition quality work. We will employ a variety of overlapping media (diagrams, maps, renderings, video, animation, interactive computer scripts, etc.) to communicate the logics, narratives and iterative systems at work. The results of this workshop (and a previous workshop held in Dalian) will be exhibited at the 2012 Beijing Design Week and the GeoCity Smart City exhibition at the China Museum of Digital Art (CMoDA). The workshop is open to architects, landscape architects, urban designers and planners, geographers, artists, filmmakers and anyone interested in the intersection of city development, computation and design. No coding experience required.

// Instructors: Jordan Kanter (SCI_Arc, FuturePlay), Guest Instructors TBD

// Techniques: Processing, Rhino/Vray, Illustrator/Photoshop, Geotracking/Geotagging, Basic Film Editing + Motion Graphics

// Sponsors/Collaborators: CMoDA, Dashila(b), 北京大栅栏投资有限责任公司 Beijing Dashilar Investment Limited, 北京广安控股有限公司及旗下的北京大栅栏投资有限责任公司 Beijing Guang’An Holdings and Beijing Dashilar Investment Limited

// Dates: 2012/08/22  –  2012/08/31

// Location: Beijing Shijingshan Electrical Relay Factory, No. 8 Dawailangying Hutong, Dashila’r  石景山继电器厂分厂8号

// Workshop Fee: 500 rmb

// Apply: send resume + work samples (under 2MB) to j.kanter@gmail.com

 

http://foundcity.blog.com/

Word on the street

The China of the Future will once again be the Kingdom of Bicycles - Yung Ho Chang (i) The reason why this quote makes me lose my faith in the gentlement who uttered it is that I just saw four (4) Bentleys on the twenty-minute bike ride back from the office. Sure, it's the right neighborhood of Beijing to spot this particular brand, since a Bentley dealership just opened in Sanlitun, but these were seen far away from it and I also saw a Ferrari passing a Maserati (in between Bentley number 3 and 4). I don't think I need to mention all the A8s, Mercedes Geländewagens, few Porsches and the mat-lacquered BMW convertibles which crossed my path. But more interestingly, just as I came out from the office in Chaowai SOHO looking around for my old Flying Pigeon, I heard a high-pitch roar and turned around to see an Audi R8, in polished aluminium finish (basically only a handful of these exist on the planet) swirling out on to the driveway.

When I was a child, from an age so early I don't have memories from to about 12, I was obsessed with cars. I could spot a Mitsubishi, a Citroen or even a rarity like Lancia from more than a hundred meters distance even before I could even say my own surname. Towards the final years of primary school, I started to hide it from my friends and classates since I was embarrassed to be interested in something so...mineral. I did go to the school discos and occassionally talked to girls but once a month when the latest edition of "Teknikens Värld" dropped down into the mailbox, I would dive into it and absorb every single technical specification, learning by heart the no of horsepowers of mundane saloons like Peugeuot 605 as well as super-sports cars that weren't even sold in my small Scandinavian homeland. I would digest every word of every virgin test drive and even chronicles about family life and the MGB club's trips to Jersey.

But again, after a certain age this fascination with the motorized world ceased, and I could move on to other, more important things like architecture, stopping on the way at Nirvana and flanell-shirts, Stussy jeans and Ice Cube, Graffiti, Skateboarding, Wu-Tang, Tommy Hilfiger, and finally German techno (which I still occassionally go out to enjoy). Of course, it was hard to rid myself of my past passion and I still have a habit of remembering the new car models when they hit the streets.

If I had seen a one-in-a-billion Audi, four Bentleys, one Maserati and one Ferrari in the course of 20 minutes as an 8-year-old, I would probably have thought I was dreaming.

Now I just feel sick.

I feel sick because I am in China and nowhere should you see so many ridiculously expensive cars in such short time frame but at a car salon, in Geneva, Frankfurt, Paris Detroit or Tokyo. Maybe even Beijing Car Show. But not on a Tuesday night at 9.15 in a developing country.

This place seems just sprawling with people who don't know what to do with all their piles of cash (yes, they do still use cash in China, for obvious reasons, and in huge amounts since the largest bill is 100RMB). And all they seem to have forgotten what it's like to ride on a bicycle, for never have I seen such egoistic drivers as here. Never ever do they stop until they are centimeters away from hitting you. Their automobiles are constantly in motion, as if they thought the engine would stop if they did (which is probably the case wth the first Chinese-made cars that were rolling on the roads). And as if to celebrate this fact, they never want to turn them off. I've gone through parking lots outside shopping malls where many of the cars were idling just to keep the AC on until the owners came out again several hours later!

Not to get too deep into it here, but I feel this topic is so loaded with political, economic and consumption ideals that it deserves to be studied, in facts and without judgement. I want to understand, both how this could become such a common way of unloading heavy wallets, and a symbol of China's growth and rise as a global power. How did the world's biggest bicycle-city become the world's biggest car-city in one generation?

(i) From The future will be...China. Thoughts on What's to Come Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Pinoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli/UCCA, 2012

Other things

For the last few months I am working for an architecture office in Beijing and thus have not been able to write very much. From the end of this month, however, I will be in Sweden for three months and hopefully have more time. /max

Chinese Public Space Symposium

PROJECTING THE FUTURE FOR A CHINESE PUBLIC SPACE

- A symposium on the possibilities of a New Urban Realm

I am currently in the process of planning a symposium on the possibilities of a future Chinese Public Space. The aim is to start a multidisciplinary discussion about among those involved in the planning, design and realisation of China's future cities; their parks and landscapes. What are the possibilities for designing specifically "civic" spaces, belonging in the realm of society rather than for community or symbolic use?

Public space in China is a topic which crosses over into many other aspects of Chinese society; the political impact of the emerging middle-class, urban planning policies (or lack thereof), social stratification, congestion, urban cultural expressions and the emergence of a ‘virtual public space’ on internet sites, forums and microblogs.

In the Arab Spring and other forms of public mistrust towards political leadership, public spaces play a key role in providing a forum to meet and raise opinion, allowing political movements to gain momentum and eventually cause change. This fact has been, since the 1989 Tiananmen square protests, well noted among Chinese political leaders. As a consequence, urban designs of new Chinese cities often lack the kind of open, accessible squares and public meeting places found in urban centres around the world.

Before 1989, in cities designed during the Mao era, the Big Square typology was often introduced as a part of urban regeneration, to serve as a venue for political gatherings (for example during the Cultural Revolution), along with long and wide boulevards for military parades. In recent years these large squares spaces have often been invaded by commercial interests and become the staging ground for local governments’ self-promotion. At the same time, they have lost their public raison d’être as the urban population has found their place inside air-conditioned shopping malls. The boulevards have become highway-like traffic arteries for the ever-growing number of people moving around in cars, often dividing the city spatially and socially. We can see this development in Chinese cities of all scales and in every part of the country.

According to the German scholar Dieter Hassenpflug, the spaces of Chinese cities not belonging to either of two major institutions Family and Community are considered to be Open Space, which means that they belong to whoever claims them; for example cars, plants, trees, pedestrians, individuals or groups who use the vacancy for temporary activities such as dancing, tai chi, free markets etc. This typology is distinct from Public Space in the sense that its use is always negotiable, and the public - free individuals - have no universal right to it. This configuration is very different from the concepts of public space prevalent in Europe, and yet most of the architects and designers involved in the construction of Chinese cities have very little knowledge of this.

After a long period of negligence towards those spaces which still can be considered public, the growing middle-class is now at least beginning to attach greater importance to the size, design and safety of their urban environment. This is not to say that the space that these urban space are public in the sense of being civic, but instead they are often private spaces that have the appearance of being public (Example: Sanlitun Village, The Place, Jianwai SOHO). We can also see that China’s ageing population, which is increasingly urban, is putting high pressure on public parks, and making use of random open spaces such as memorial squares or generously sized sidewalks for playing music, dancing, playing boardgames and socializing.

This symposium aims to bring together the different stakeholders in the formation of China’s future urban and rural environments: Architects, landscape architects, urbanists, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, cultural theorists and activists, for a discussion and exchange of views.

Questions to be discussed: What new concepts can be formed to describe the different conditions of open space in China? What kind of urban spaces in China fit in to the Western description of Public Space and how? What are the consequences of the shifting of public communication from urban spaces to online social media? What role can designers really play in the reappropriation of the urban realm? Will Landscape Urbanism save Chinese public space?

Organiser: Institute For Provocation (Max Gerthel/Jordan Kanter/Chen Shuyu)

Beyond Wang Shu

In connection to the recent appointment of Wang Shu as this year's Pritzker Prize winner, I recall a thought that I had around the same time last year when the prize was given to Edouardo Souto de Moura. My first reaction at the time was, probably like many others, that this prize is out of date. Not that Souto de Moura is not an accomplished architect, but in relation to the long list of previous laureates, most of them already well-known to the general public when they got the prize, he is a local Portugues architect with solid practice and a few good buildings to his name. No masterpieces, but quite nice. There had been a few laureates in the past with similar scale of output, and Souto de Moura was perhaps better known than in the architecture world than Sverre Fehn by the time he got his prize. But there was another aspect that made me conclude that this kind of prize has played out its role. The previous year, the prize went to Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, who work together but also run their own individual practices. As many of the previous laureates, they have discovered new territory in the field of architecture and also created a long line of followers in their home country and elsewhere. This can hardly be said about the modest Portuguese who is mostly known as a former disciple of master builder and laureate, Alvaro Siza. There was a sense of lack of imagination in the jury's choice. Without doubt, there were other people more qualified to enter this exclusive club solely based on their contribution to the field. Indeed, the political dimension of this kind of prestigious award; the implied geographical correctness often works as a block for giving the prize to the same country or region too often. Many issues make it problematic: Either the choice is too predictable, too controversial or not famous enough.

The most difficult thing to overcome though, is that an increasing amount of architecture practices are formed as collectives, without a recognizable "mastermind". All the efforts needed in the process of erecting a building are by definition in need of a collective, as everything from drafting a programme to design to construction has a number of agents who provide their part of the process. More importantly, many offices are set up so that a group collectively produce designs which are then selected, and therefore the principals work more as an editors rather than designers. This needn't reduce their influence in the design process or even the end result, but when a collective efforts of a practice of several hundred architects can be reduced to that of one, then I believe something has been missed.

Until this year's appointment of Wang Shu, I felt that giving this kind of prizes to individual architects somehow feels outdated in the current world of architecture. The whole idea of the eccentric architect sitting at his drafting table next to a dried-out cup of coffee at 10pm sketching on manifold with thick 8B pencil feels kind of murky, perhaps also because this is my experience growing up. The photo of Souto de Moura by his desk did not exactly help to erase this image.

After reading Brendan's comment in Domus that I wrote about earlier today, and getting his secondary comment, I felt I had to empty all my possible points of view on this matter, only to realise that the prize actually has a purpose, and that it can reach deeper into the system and attempt to execute its influence more than it ever has in the past. Wang Shu might still be young, perhaps too young (some of his work could use a little of Eduoardo's austerity) but he is bold and smart enough to understand how he can do the most good. He realized early in his career that building in China is about putting things together, through a poetic game of give and take with the craftsmen. So far, I have only seen a handful of building that was carried out in full according to the architect's drawings. There is simply too big a gap between what we envision and how this vision will be executed. The only way to achieve something new in architecture in China is to explore that gap, and to invent by combining the existing construction technologies into new typologies and methods.

There is actually not a big difference between the two most recent laureates. They are both simple, noncommercial, nonfamous architects firmly grounded in their local traditions. In the end, the revolutionary thing about this prize is the fact that it praises individuals, who distinguish themselves through a high level of integrity in a world where architects have taken part in the collective demolition and eradication of thousands of years of history.

The Pritzker prize will doubtlessly bring Wang Shu a lot of fame, not at least in China. But while this new spotlight has already caused an inflated sense of self-pride in the motherland,  Mr Wang himself will presumeably keep building his career with brick, tiles and mortar.

Because Wang Shu

 

In this recent op-ed in Domus Brendan McGetrick explains his view of why Wang Shu got the Pritzker Prize. Compared with my own hypothesis (which is less elegantly formulated below) it's less about geopolitics and more about the decline of trust in architects following a global financial crisis and consequent recession. Indeed, there is a geopolitical side to the jury recognizing China's rise as a political and cultural power in the world, but Brendan argues that it is Wang Shu's methods and low-tech amateur approach to architecture which carries the most significance in his (modest) oeuvre.

Indeed it is reasonable to engage in such a reading of the event, and I agree with Brendan's arguments. However, I would like to put forward another hypothesis: Contrary to the Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize and the recent ascent of Ai Weiwei into superstardom following his 81-day detention, the Pritzker is less of a diplomatic meltdown. It will not create a Norwegian salmon boycott in Zhongnanhai or ignite mass-demonstrations around the art world, but it will shed light into a dark and remote corner of architecture and urbanism in China, one that is rarely highlighted by the regime and enjoys little understanding by the industry.

Mr Wang not explicitly political, but in my mind his works evoke many of the same attitudes as presented by the two dissidents. By working with local materials and craftsmen he is creating his own individual interpretation of Chinese architecture traditions, not a reproduction of a "global" "modern" "style" as so many of his peers who simply reproduce their own and others' work for the weekly submission of some medium-size-city urban planning museum proposals and mixed-use suburban drop-down bombshell. In addition, this is also how Ai Weiwei bagan his career as a builder in the late 1990's, and there are many interesting parallels in their careers and approach to designing.

In this 2008 interview of Wang Shu by Bert de Muynck, he describes some of his own working methods and attitudes towards the contemporary architecture practice:

"This month I have to design three museums, so my studio stops working for one month. Everybody goes home, so I can work on my own. I send them to the countryside for research or give everybody a list of books about traditional Chinese painting, French philosophers, movies or any subject that might be helpful. This is their homework. When they come back, we have a discussion, and then we work again."

He also reveals the need for architects (in China and elsewhere) to be pragmatists and grant the clients their less admirable wishes, albeit with a sense of humour and political irony:

"In the Contemporary Art Museum in Ningbo, for example, we designed two large floors. When we presented our plan, local authorities told me they had the money to build the museum, but no money to operate it. They needed a space they could let out in order to generate money. I told them that, apart from selling fish, they could do whatever they wanted on the ground floor to make money. But art should be on the first floor. When I said this to the mayor I used Marxist theory, explaining that a basement is about economy and an upper floor about art. I hope he got the joke."

All in all, despite his own scepticism of the appointment ("I'm still so young!") I hope that the prize will help shift the focus of China's reconstruction (a lot of it will have to be rebuilt soon again) from large to small, from global to local and from Wang (king) to Shu (book, calligraphy, script).

Read Brendan's text for yourself here.

 

IFP Session #2 Film screening

Tonight at 6 pm in the our studio, Institute For Provocation will host Belgian filmmaker Bram van Paesschen who is screening his latest film Empire Of Dust. The film depicts the reality of the Chinese involvement in Africa through the eyes of two middle-men in on the ground in Congo Kinshasa. Synopsis: Lao Yang and Eddy both work for a company called CREC (Chinese Railway Engineering Company). They have just set up camp near the remote mining town of Kolwezi in the Katanga province of the RDC. The goal of the company is to redo the road – covering 300km - that connects Kolwezi with the capital of the province Lubumbashi.

Lao Yang is head of logistics of the group. He is responsible for the equipment, building materials and food (mainly chickens) to arrive in the isolated Chinese prefab camp. The Congolese government was supposed to deliver these things but so far the team hasn’t received anything.

With Eddy (a Congolese man who speaks Mandarin fluently) as an intermediate, Lao Yang is forced to leave the camp and deal with local Congolese entrepreneurs, because without the construction materials the road works will cease. What follows is an endless, harsh, but absurdly funny roller coaster of negotiations and misunderstandings, as Lao Yan learns about the Congolese way of making deals.

Bram van Paesschen

Born 1979 in Vilvoorde, Belgium. Graduated in 2002 from Sint-Lukas in Brussels, film/video specialization documentary. Lives and works in Brussels. (Except for when he’s elsewhere)

The work of Bram Van Paesschen is indebted to various traditions of documentary filmmaking, from "classical" to fake documentary and essayistic formats. What unites this very diverse body of work is a sometimes radical, sometimes playful reflection on the rapport between the filmmaker and the filmed, as well as the necessary and responsible involvement of both in creating the documentary artifact. (Katrin Mundt)

Date & Time: Saturday March 10 at 6pm in the IFP Studio, Heizhima hutong 13, Dongcheng District, Beijing.

Because of the limited space, please notify us by email to max@iprovoke.org if you plan to attend the screening and following talk. And please don't arrive after 6.30! Thank you

Open Door Syllabus

 

Since February 20 I am leading a studio for undergraduate students of interior design at Tsinghua School of Art & Design. The studio will focus on basic concepts universal architecture and introducing a number of canonical works from the Western and Eastern hemispheres. Analytical studies will take up most of the first half, then gradually moving towards transforming the accumulated research into a small-scale project.

 

OPEN THE DOOR AND LET THE SUN SHINE IN - INTRODUCTION TO ARCHITECTURE

The main objectives of this 7-week studio is to:

  • Introduce the notion of architecture as a way of thinking through three basic concepts universal to architecture and neighbouring disciplines; landscape and interior architecture.
  • Expose students to architecture theory and analytical assignments in which they are forced to use language and images rather than design to describe their way of thinking.
  • Emphasize the process and the tools rather than the results, forcing the students to draw conclusions from their previous work.
  • Collect data and analyze canonical works of both Western and Eastern architecture, historical and contemporary and assemble it into a coherent archive.
  • Finally, to synthesize analysis and experiments into a design concept based on the previous findings.

The studio aims to give the students a basic knowledge of architectural history and theory through a number of lectures and case studies. These analytical studies will gradually lead to a design assignment based on the observations and conclusions drawn from the previous phase.

SCALE The notion of scale in architecture is ambiguous. Architects tend to assume that there is a general understanding of the concept of scale, but at the same time tacitly recognize that many different perceptions of scale exist and they are deeply rooted in cultural, historical and social values. In architecture, geography and many other disciplines, scale is used to define relationships between the real object and their representations. This use is instrumental to the conception of space, as the designer uses drawings and models to represent their intentions. Other uses of the word scale are more subjective and refer to the way we relate things to each other in real-world values (right scale, out of scale) or describe their size, importance or impact, (a large-scale military operation, a small-scale manufacturer, a medium-scale city). In Chinese, these are three different words, 比例 (relation, ratio) , 尺度 (proportion, measurement) and 规模 (scope, extent, size) which facilitates the use in the architecture field. Nevertheless, there is a direct link between the above mentioned concepts of scale in the English language.

The most fundamental reference for scale is the human body, a measure that as been used in most human cultures throughout history, and still prevail in many cultures (e g foot, inch). In order to build up an understanding of scale and its importance, the students will create their own system for referencing between different scales.

MOVEMENT In both Occidental and Oriental cultures, movement is a major aspect of architecture. Movement is not only about circulation within a building or a complex, but it is directly related to hierarchy, organization, perception etc. While this wide understanding of the concept has been extensively explored in the West, especially since the Modern Movement, there is a more implicit understanding of movement within the Oriental realm of architecture. The assignments will explore these different aspects and bring a conscious understanding of movement into the design.

ATMOSPHERE While the concepts of scale and movement are relatively well-defined within architecture history and theory, the notion of atmosphere is quite a lot more ambivalent. It generally ranges from the phenomenological aspects to the metaphysical, yet architecture can be analyzed and conceived using this notion consciously.

The assignment will focus on the phenomenological aspect of atmosphere, focusing on light, materiality, colour and relationship with the environment. As with scale and movement, the aim is to provide the students with a basic understanding through case studies and analytical drawings/models, all of which will compiled into a larger body of research.

 

List of architectural works for analysis:

WESTERN CLASSICS Le Corbusier - Villa Savoye Frank Lloyd Wright - Falling Water House Ludvig Mies van der Rohe - Villa Tugendhat Luis Barragan - Barragan House Villa Malaparte Adolf Loos - Haus Müller WESTERN CONTEMPORARY Steven Holl - Nail Collector’s House OMA/Koolhaas - Villa Dall’Ava Peter Zumthor - Kunsthaus Bregenz Alvaro Siza - Iberê Camargo Museum (ICM) Ben van Berkel/UN Studio - Möbius House David Adjaye - House For An Art Collector R & Sie (n) - Invisible House EASTERN CLASSICS Beijing Siheyuan (北京四合院) Temple of Heaven (北京天坛) Foguang Temple (佛光寺) Katsura imperial villa I M Pei - Fragrant Hill Hotel (北京香山饭店) EASTERN CONTEMPORARY Ai Weiwei - Red Brick Galleries, Caochangdi Kuu Architects - MINUS K HOUSE/ 南汇别墅 FCJZ/张永和 - Villa in Shanyujian, Huairou, Beijing Wang Shu - Xiangshan campus building Liu Jiakun - Luyeyuan Stone Sculpture Art Museum