I am currently renovating a new space for art and design, located next to IFP Studio in Heizhima hutong 13. The space is shared between IFP, WAM/万物 and Here & Now Studio and will be used for exhibitions, installations, workshops and alike. The official opening will be some time in June. Below are some snapshots of the current state of renovation:
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.
The next morning, only a few pieces of wood were left.
It's now been two days since we drew our last screws into the two projects that became the product of the ITERATE workshop. The first thing I want to do is to thank our dedicated students Song Yating, Zhai Jingyang, Wu Yulun and Yangyang Seunghee. Without their adventurous choice of joining this speculative workshop, it would not have taken place. The fact that we had a group of students pushed us to do our homework and prepare a rigorous theoretical framework for our exploration, presenting a wide range of precedents and references from many different fields. The point being that we are operating in a field that crosses over to many other disciplines, and the two pieces that came out of the workshop also constitute an ambiguous result in terms of definition.
Defining what it is we made is perhaps not the most important issue here, but it still one of the crucial points of criticism that we are now facing. Early Sunday morning I received a phone call from our landlord saying that a group of neighbours had gathered in the courtyard in protest of the installation of sticks and string designed by student Yangyang Seunghee. The problem was not only that we had failed to inform all the neighbours in the courtyard behind, but also that these suspended objects were hanging at a height where you would have to crouch down to avoid collision, creating an especially precarious condition because of the lack of lighting during night time.
In a different context though, this installation might have been understood as a temporary artwork which could be spared a few hours of existence, but in the context of one of the few remaining preserved Beijing courtyards, it was seen by the local retired residents as a threat to their security and therefore must be taken down. To make it simple, we were naive towards our neighbours' capacity to accept a temporary piece which would force them to take a different route, and they were perhaps overly dramatic in their reactions against this alien object. Nevertheless, it is worth reflecting on the consequences and how they could have been avoided.
Which leads me back to the main topic; the content of our exploration and conclusions which can be drawn from it.
There was a series of underlying notions in the formulation of the framework this workshop, and by extension in the research project that now has started. From my own side, I would like to stress the ideological aspect of our project: Addressing the prevailing issue of the credibility of our contemporary consumer society. The workshop addresses this issue in two direct ways: By limiting our source of material to used or discarded matter, things that would have been disposed of in landfills or incinerated, we would not impose unnecessary pressure to the environment for the purpose of developing a specific new knowledge. The fact that these objects have unique variations in terms of form, colour and texture as well as possessing their own latent history, make them all the more gratifying to work with. In addition, we explored the social aspect of how these objects can be retrieved and harvested in the specific context of Beijing's old city. The second point is the fact that the tool we used in the reconfiguration/design of these materials, Processing, is a free, open-source software and coding language. This of course means that while you as a designer first have to design and customize your tool in order for it to become efficient, it also brings a lot of advantages. During the past two weeks we only scratched the surface of the possibilities offered by using this environment, but the future process will be directed towards developing and streamlining the code to our use.
Another major aspect is of course that of using our abilities as designers to propose and speculate on solutions for local and global issues. This aspect of the workshop is perhaps where we failed. Despite an ambitious level of research in the way some materials are used and how they are instrumental in the accretion of small reclaimed spaces in the hutongs of Beijing, the connection between our design process and these issues became increasingly blurred in the second week. In many ways, it is just as important to learn new tools as to be critical to them while they are being applied.
With better planning and stronger focus for the Processing classes, we would probably have come further in the form explorations on an earlier stage, giving more time to establish a solid relationship between our materials and the environment in which they were found. To resume to our mission statement, we wanted to explore the intersection between design, computation and public space. By designing without specificity in neither user nor site and erecting the pieces in a sheltered, semi-private courtyard we not only avoided confrontation with the public, but projected an sense of arrogance towards the local community. Instead of allowing our neighbours and our initiated friends from outside to meet inside a common fascination for our research, and despite good intentions, the works provoked a sense of alienation from the point of view of our neighbours.
To conclude, I would like to see this experience as part of an ongoing process, in which we tap into a wide range of material flows in the city, in production processes and socio-economic systems and reformulate unwanted output into operational synergies. In other words, turning waste, in whatever scale, into desirable matter.
From January 30 to February 12, I will host a workshop in our studio in Beijing together with architect Jordan Kanter. The workshop will investigate the nature of the hutong as a public space through reiterative analytical processes, with the aim of introducing architectural intervention(s) in the city. We will also host a number of lectures during the course of the two weeks.
Below a short introduction:
ITERATE workshop 2012
This workshop aims to create new perspectives for activating, illuminating and informing new meaning to the everyday spaces of the city. Working in the neighborhoods, streets and hutongs of Beijing, we will identify and define ongoing patterns of use, materializations and micro-topologies as a catalogue of the urban experience.
Using a variety of computational tools, including the KML language in Google Earth and the Processing coding language, we will develop techniques to operationalize this data as dynamic diagrams. These diagrams, in turn, will guide and inform a series of interventions back into the public space. The process is inherently iterative, alternating between observation, activation and evaluation of the intervention, constructed with new or reconfigured material on the site. The computational diagrams function as a mediating framework between these modes of work by charting and informing the interventions as an ongoing emergence. The first part will be a series of exercises familiarizing ourselves with the site and the scripting tools, proceeding to the formulation and execution of rigorously conceived, team-based projects engaging (physically, virtually or both) the public space of Beijing. It will culminate in a review by an outside jury and a public showing (and possible publication) of the work. A lecture series exploring the relationship of public space to politics, individual agency, computation, art and architecture will coincide with the workshop.
The workshop is open to architects, artists, planners, geographers, engineers, programmers and students of the above or other disciplines; anyone interested in exploring the intersection between design, computation and public space.
Instructors: Max Gerthel (SE) (KARCH, Tsinghua, HUST) Jordan Kanter (US) (Sci-Arch, Tsinghua)
Lecturers: See the workshop blog
Software: Processing Google Earth KML Rhino/Maya
Date: 2012-01-30 - 2012-02-12 Location: IFP workspace in a Beijing courtyard near Nanluoguxiang Cost: 2000 RMB for students 2500 for professionals
Apply by sending a brief portfolio (max 10 MB) to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Find more information on the workshop blog
Organizer: Institute For Provocation (Beijing)
Supporter: Huazhong University of Science And Technology (Wuhan)
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!