Serge Onnen at Black Sesame


June 27th, 2014, 5-9 pm

I am very happy to invite you to the opening of Black Sesame, a new project space for art, design and sensory experiences located in the courtyard at Heizhima hutong 13. IFP has teamed up with visual anthropology studio Here & Now and furniture concept WAM/万物 to transform the former boiler room into an open-ended space dedicated to exploring the limitations and possibilities of our human senses. Offering itself as a spatial platform for creativity open to IFP residents and the local community, Black Sesame will be a venue for high-quality projects, interventions and workshops.

For this opening event Dutch/French artist Serge Onnen will create a site-specific installation which invites visitors to explore the different characters of his animation film project Cloacinae. With the help of personal, hand-held light sources the shadow puppets will come alive and inhabit the white screen dividing the installation space in two. During the evening there will also be live music and Swedish traditional midsummer drinks and snacks.

Serge Onnen was resident at IFP in 2012 to explore Chinese shadow puppet theatre and work with puppet makers. This lead to a series performances (CAFA, Three Shadow Gallery, Zajia, Paper Tiger Studio) and collaborations with several musicians. This year he is back for a shorter period to work on animation using this more then 1000 year old chinese art form that could be seen as the earliest form of projected moving images. This will be the first animation ever made using this primitive media. Cloacinae is a 12 minute long movie about a unfortunate 1 cent coin that ends up in the sewer. The movie will be scored by musician Li Daiguo and will premiere at Rotterdam film festival 2015. For this exhibition Onnen will show all the puppets he has made so far in China. A zeotrope, another primitive pre-cinematographic device plays a important part in the movie and will also be shown and spinning during this one night event.

More info on Serge and the film:

Scenography for Paper Tiger

I have completed a scenography project for Paper Tiger Theater Studio in Beijing. The play/performance is called 狼奔豕突 or 'Raging Wolfs Crashing Boars' in English. It's based on a new script for the stage by Paper Tiger's artistic director Tian Gebing, which is then performed by a number of dancers/performers, in a form that tries to break down the borders between dance and theatre. The play tries to mock the contemporary middle class soap opera life and constant earn for status. At the same time it pays homage to this city; its strong characters and vague ideals. The design for the stage is based around the concept of light being the only material visible on stage apart from the performers. I worked closely with the director to develop various forms of objects with integrated lights that the performers could use in their movements as a form of prop. At the same time the do not play the traditional role of props as they do not represent any objects mentioned in the script, but rather they act as an extension of the performers' bodies. In some cases they become the only source of light and in some cases they are supplemented by stage lighting.

Team: Max Gerthel, Sid Gulinck, Hu Wei





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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


- 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)

Well anticipated

Since I am a big fan of Junior Boys, I'll share here with you a preview of their new album, due for release very soon! And here is a youtube clip of what I assume will be the first single from the album. It certainly sounds very Junior Boys. I already love it!

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Myspace, future archive

In order to find how well Google treats my new site, I just googled myself. To my pleasant surprise, it turned up as No 1. Olé! Strange, though, was that as No 4 in search turnout list was an old blog post I made on Myspace ages ago. The title of the post was listed in google's search (doesn't google own myspace btw?) and so suddenly I found myself on myspace for the first time in at least one year, to find that they have restyled the entire site. It looks good, the only problem is that the first time I entered the site my VPN was set to Hong Kong, so now all text is in traditional Chinese characters. Even after restarting Firefox and setting my IP to Vancouver, I'm still getting the Hong Kong site. They still have some things to figure out...

Anyway, below is my last post on myspace. The setting: Early January 2008. I'm in Paris finishing the internship at Edouard François and preparing for my trip to China. Let's just say one thing: Rien, je ne regrette rien...

It feels better afterwards

Paris is a city of stone. A white, wrinkly old face that doesn't turn to see if you're alright. Everywhere I go I see blankets covering the souls that also found out that city is made of stone. And that so are the hearts of the people living here.

Yet I always seem to be coming back. I get hypnotized by its beauty and elegance, its contrasts and decadence. Finding words for this ambivalence is beyond my writing capacity and, as I struggle to imagine a different means of expression the city and its stories flow through me. Inspiration comes swiftly, inflating me with images and formulas, but the expiration is weightless, like a fart. So far I am formulating ideas that I know I won't, but still hope to realise. Now I can only live and hope that this tree I am watering will one day bare fruit.

Working with every bit of my own production for two months last summer left me no clue to my capabilities. Is there anything more than self criticism to be found in a retrospect? My life is currently dedicated to the thought that all this input, my designing my destiny is going to result in a new language to speak my mind. New perspectives on old territories and virgin projections on the most extatic world.

Will all of this give me what I want?

π (pi)

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

Kate Bush - Pi

The Table

It's been more than one year in the making. Perhaps not one year in the process, but I started sketching on it late 2009, then went for a long break before the design was finally settled a few weeks before christmas. And we also had it delivered on christmas eve, but the lacquer had barely dried and apart from having thumb marks and dents all over, I got a headache from the fumes after a few minutes, so it was immediately sent back. This time the finish is still not up to my normal standards but I guess we'll have to find a real carpenter to build the next one. Anyhow, now we have a workspace worth mentioning. And tomorrow it will be wired up so we can plug our chargers in the small compartment in the centre while only letting one single "tail" supply the us with all the power needed. The design comes from a long line of studies of different strategies and shapes. Already last year when the apartment was under construction I felt that this narrow space needed something organic to break it into smaller pockets and defy its sense of depth. It started with a few triangular designs but in the end I had to find a balance between using length of the room and making it more efficiently used. The shape of the top is made by a freeform spline, and I used grasshopper to provide measurements for the base.

Seating 7-8 people, I hope it will also be big enough for our daily agglomerations of computers, books, speakers, notebooks, napkin holders, wallets, mobiles and random electronic devices. Measuring roughly 200x118 cm, it should be enough for two.

Apart from it being very functional with its little compartment inside the top, I enjoy the table's sculptural qualities,

If you are interested in the table or another customized one, contact me.

Springy feel

There is an air of spring in Beijing. The wind washing against my Northern skin as I rumble down the streets on my old noname bike has been reasonably temperate so far this week. Today, stopping at a red light by the northeast third ring road I saw the sun reflected in the green-tinted window of a large 90's midrise and thought: Ah! There's nothing like getting uplifted by a imposing piece of infrastructure like this. In a few months, I will join the crowds of men with exposed bellies and women with ditto heals. Ah! Spring will soon be here and I'll be able to wear my active-carbon-nano-particle-filter mask without my face getting all wet and gooey inside from the condensation. I so wished I had brought a camera to capture that moment. Instead I'll share a photo from the summer of 2008. Like most Beijing summers, it was a painstakingly sticky and humid one.

The Most Predictable Best Albums of 2010

1. Hot Chip – One Life Stand2. Four Tet - There Is Love in You 3. Matthew Dear – Black City 4. Yeasayer – ODD BLOOD 5. Caribou – Swim 6. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening 7. The Radio Dept. – Clinging to a Scheme 8. Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me 9. The Knife - Tomorrow, In A Year 10. Florence + the Machine – Lungs


Yes, I am reading J M G LeClezio's collection of short stories with the above title, occasionally. But not tonight. I have a fever and soar throat. This is frustrating. There is a long list of things I should be doing in preparation for the crit on Thursday, but not one of them has been completed. Unfortunately I won't be able to present what is currently being developed partly in my head (where it shouldn't be) and partly in my laptop (where it shouldn't be either). It should be clearly put together in pdfs that can be printed out and hung up on the boards so can get some feedback. Now it looks like I'm going to have to present most of my material some time next week and without the guest critics. I just hope this fever won't kill me first.

Practice what I preach

How do you work with a site without borders? How do you construct a body of knowledge from contemplating a line? How abstract or concrete is it?I am currently struggling with these questions, knowing that there is not one answer but endless possibilities. And that will always be our problem: There is never only one solution to a problem. Especially the problems we create for yourselves.

Ok, I don't think I'll get anything proper written at 1.30 with a blank mind. Alternating between autocad, rhino and illustrator isn't really the world's most stimulating activity. And I should get some sleep.

Notes on the wall - figuratively

berlin-former_potsdamer_platz-1982 Welcome to my blog. It will be my personal notepad, hopefully a useful scrapbook where I map my thoughts on architecture and life. In that order. My previous blog followed my arrival and stay in Beijing in 2008, this one is thought to take a broader perspective. And I will be writing in a language which is not my mother tongue, so please overlook the linguistic shortcomings.