I have been super stressed for days from the pre horror of travelling. Mostly based on the thought of being in close proximity to people I don’t know and can’t control, and sure as hens have teeth I find my self sitting on a bus, superheated, super packed, stinking of sweets, like children’s sweets, a sense that the whole interior is slightly sticky and hairy. I am forced to sit tight up to a string teen yoof, trackies tucked into white socks - hot or not? He - as is common amongst male teens - needs to vibrate vigorously for the entire journey. I think this is a bit of an animal thing, Guinea pigs do it; it suggests they are ready to mate. I think teens do it through learnt behaviour rather than the sheer pressure of semen seeking an exit. It is however extremely annoying. My own sex drive has diminished from what was probably a rather low level anyway – even as a teen I could only just tolerate annoying girls on the off chance of a shag – a sex drive does help a lot with tolerating other people. Anyway nowadays I have the libido of a eunuch in an old peoples home, which does greatly adds to my lack of tolerance. My tension over travelling is akin to a visit to the dentist for a double route canal. I am actively nervous before hand, my stomach turns over, it’s not a fear of flying - although there is that, it is really just the thought of unavoidable human interaction and my fear of that – in the unknown, will there be a wailing baby, a mobile screamer, a jigger, a laugher, a smeller, a bulimic, a talker, a incontinent, a leaner, a drinker, an agitated mover, an American, a movie watcher that laughs unfeasibly loudly, a farter, a snogger, a scouser, an eater, a drinker. I once advertised a room in my house as suitable for a small quiet oriental, a 21 stone Corstophine Scot moved in.

The train service has it seems really given up operating on a weekend, the station is deserted, and travel is by bus, I finally get a train in Preston and after having my seat in an empty carriage entirely taken over my Americans, who then proceed to clean the entire environs with wet wipes, well of course I moved as the fist wet wipe was eased from its wet reeking socket.

I attain a kind of peace. I have those sound block headphones which make you look like Phil Spector and probably feel like him too – anyway in the shooting models department. I did once sit next to a super model on an airplane - a story I have told many times, it was that German one who married an Magician. And boy was she annoying, I did eventually spill a gin and tonic into her bag as some consolation for the incessant chatter about health and wealth – obviously my libido had already dropped away at his point in my life.

The flight to Hong Kong was uneventful despite the plane being full packed; it was virgin like the train but definitely more bearable. The principle downside was a man behind me that spoke excitedly to his companion for the entire trip, and this irritation was tempered by empathy for the companion, I was tempted 10 hours into the flight to ask the man if he would allow a reply to his monologue? Just a faint word, just a whisper, a mumble from the silent companion.

Whoever suggested flying into Hong Kong and getting a bus to Guangzhou clearly had not attempted the trip in some time. 5 hours later and after multiple checks and double checks, through ‘no lingering’ areas, accompanied by the sound of Chinese pop, instrumental versions which Brian found wholly to his liking. He later asked our companions if they recognised the song - signing it to them – turned out to be ‘The East is Red’ a song Brian’s dad sang every morning.

Monday Morning we spent in Vitamin space and we had a nice lunch with Sue and Vincent and then a long drive to the village.

The programme was of course immediately punishing, a sense that no one was exactly pleased to see us pervaded. We met with people from the Eco development company and had dinner in the company restaurant. Followed by a meeting lasting a couple of hours. The most interesting bit of information was that the ambition for the village and the park was to become a centre for ‘silent Tourism’. An idea I have a great deal of sympathy for – I think they meant peace as a destination, rather than silent tourists – of which there is little sign in China. After a universally sleepless night we were up early for breakfast in the market place feeling a bit universally pole axed. The market was all local produce including fish, vegetables and a rather disappointing sign saying ‘it is forbidden to buy or sell wild animals’. We had warm liver porridge, very nice, Pork chow mien, super nice, rice noodles and leak broth, very nice, all washed down with warm Soya milk, very nice – there was the odd slightly anxious face in the group.

First visit of the day was to a farm. All laid out in perfect order, the complex watering systems each field draining into the next and raised beds within each paddy. Brian took special interest in the humanure composting system which also supplies gas for the cooker. Its basically 2 holes in the ground and a chute to take new waste to the base of the first chamber. We got a diagram drawn up for future reference. So this little plant provides cooking and fertiliser for the abundant crops and avoids the necessity of a complex sewage system. Not sure what the drawbacks are – I guess you have to move some smelly shits around.


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Stuck in
Stuck in
On our way
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# A large, usually conical pile of straw or fodder arranged for outdoor storage.
# An orderly pile, especially one arranged in layers. See Synonyms at heap.
# Computer Science A section of memory and its associated registers used for temporary storage of information in which the item most recently stored is the first to be retrieved.

I am currently sat in a cafe in Liverpool called FACT eating up the wi-fi and there is a large amount of stacking going on. A plate on which my shared carrot cake sat has just been whisked away and piled on top of ten others, plus I've just filed away a word doc into a bulging folder detailing arrangements for a project out to California in June before leaving for China tomorrow.

All this data entry will hopefully be retained but moreover sifted through the fresh air I can't wait to breath out in the national reserve of Nanling... actually the book I was looking at last night (Co-evolution) seems to suggest that the air in China might not be so fresh... and perhaps also I should not have watched that Panorama program and its focus on the danger of jet fuel fumes escaping into passenger carriageways.

It's ok, I will purchase some anti-varicose tights to wrap around my head and I am sure that the stomach churning brew cholera vaccination I glugged back does more than what it says on the bottle.

I wonder how Nanling will reflect aspects of those sweeping stats of Co-evolution's pages into real experience on government policies about sanitation to transport..(e.g China's urban population growth by 2030 estimated at 70%)... anyhow, what is this co-evolution?

It's good to start stacking and arranging layers.

Here I will begin with an interview I have just conducted with Grizedale towards an article I am writing for A-N magazine (www.a-n.co.uk/) on a Scottish artist and project in Sri Lanka. This I intend to destack whilst I am out in Hong Kong but sharing of all this is hopefully useful to all.

Laptop world means you could be everywhere or nowhere...


Grizedale Pre-Nanling Questions
About Grizedale
JY : Grizedale describes itself as an international research and development agency, how does the organisation structure itself differently from a traditional organisation in providing opportunities for artists?

Grizedale: On several levels
Residencies are more like long term relationships and are more akin to commercial sector artists – gallery relationships, ie there is a stable of artists that is drawn from for different projects
Most projects are group or communal activities a sum of their parts rather than offering stand alone presentations. Artists within projects are often there to represent a position within the overall message
The programme is directed, the organisation has an agenda into which artists projects fit. There is considerable freedom for the artist but if the work doesn’t function within the programme and the artist doesn’t respond and work with the ambitions it is likely the period of residency will be short
65% of the turnover of the organisation goes into artists commissions, fees and production costs – in comparison to 5% or less for most gallery orientated organisations
The organisation works across a wide spectrum of activity from Agriculture to the web, on a very micro small community level to international projects and world themes
The organisation is dependent on networks for the dissemination of the programme, there is no gallery, the only public access space is the website. The website offers more access than most organisations give with public space ie blog, documentary and general openness of thinking and discussion
The organisations approach to the artist is in many ways a challenge, to work in this context, to engage with a diverse range of cultures, many outside of the confines of contemporary art style, to contribute usefully to the organisation, the communities engaged by the organisation

JY : Due to the democratic, process led nature of your projects that merges boundaries of customarily defined roles, to what extent does the term curator or director become defunct or take on a different meaning?
Grizedale: I think there is a challenge again to the artist to be relevant, to be creative, the organisation takes an active role in projects, often producing components of the programme, usually minor in terms of art product but often significant in terms or how the programme is articulated, the blogs and web material is subjective, critical, the organisation will often provoke artists by developing and delivering ideas, certainly contributing to the end product in significant ways.
I have never really understood a definition between curator, director or artist. All these roles are engaged with the organisation of material, and the presentation of it to generate some meaning/message/idea. There are often variable craft skills across these titles, and differences in terms of scale and types of material used – from people to ideas to paint
These terms are often misunderstood, in cliché terms the curator is someone that chooses material, the director someone that manages, the artist someone that creates, in reality we all do all these things probably for different reasons and maybe in different percentages. The curator director in the UK has traditionally had quite a passive role, I think drawing a blueprint from the commercial sector and the museum sector. Public sector curation should be a far more directed, political and cultural in its ambitions, a contributor to how society understand and develops. This is much more the model in Europe.

JY : What is the importance of fashioning a programme that actively engages with the complexities of the rural situation- what is this situation and how does the strategy tie into the local community? Please exemplify
Grizedale: Rural and local are merely a set of conditions like any other environment. I find them interesting, complex, rich and misunderstood. I think that in this micro format we have a valuable model for thinking and experimenting, understanding how culture works and evolves, how we find ways to work more usefully. There is in the rural a more direct relationship to the natural world and within small communities a different way of living as a community. Both these ‘differences’ could be considered as the building blocks of contemporary society and I believe give us clues into how we have changed and how we might more successfully live and work. However this is not to say that the rural offers a shinning example, far from it, possibly more of a dire warning.
In light of a general shift in the way we think about the world, the rural is coming in from the margins to the centre ground of contemporary debate, evident in new phenomena such as green thinking, slow food, environmentalism, technology opening up the remote etc.

About Happy Stacking
JY : Who are the different parties involved in setting up the project and in what way would you describe this as an artist-initiated project conducted in association with organizations?
Grizedale: The project was initiated by an invitation from Vitamin and Zhang Wei, from a link via Gavin Wade, then taken up and pushed forward by Grizedale and in particular Alistair Hudson. The potential for the project linked strongly with the Grizedale project 7 samurai and had many parallel themes and issues shared by the Lake district situation. I wouldn’t call the evolution of the programme particularly artist led, certainly the Grizedale working methodology is centred around discussion with artists but I think the programme is often pushed away from what many of the artist would actually like, i.e. gallery exhibitions, critical reviews, commercial product and connections to the market. The programme is a result of a number of forces, curator, artist, community, commissioner all working for slightly different goals but having enough in common for it to be a worthwhile endeavor
JY : Who are the artists and what skill sets or defining factors led to the selection of those specific artists?
Grizedale: On a very practical level artists that could communicate well, would be able to talk to people, listen, would get along as a group. In this project we did not look for particularly differing positions, more artists that we thought would link into aspect or possibilities we saw in the project. So architecture, community engagement, performance, political ideas, evolving identity, the web, constructed communities/utopias, cross cultural relationships. We were also interested in the group representing a vision of the diversity of contemporary UK, an idea about diversity and identity
JY : In what way do you intend Happy Stacking, a project in the rural setting of a remote eco tourist village in Nanling, to offer artists a real and meaningful context in which to place their practice? How does this draw a parallel with developments at Lawson Park and Parkamoor?
Grizedale: I think the context is real and meaningful whether it is a good place to place your practice is less certain. The previous project Vitamin evolved in Nanling and which they were unhappy with gave artists the run of the village culture and the opportunity to create work. What Vitamin were unhappy with was that the artists made work that though engaging with the village had at its core the ambition to be a product for the western commercial art world.
Grizedale is not really looking for artists to place their practice in these places but to react to and contribute to these places and communities. Most of the artists take something away that is transferable, does contribute to their practice and gives them a slightly different take than many of their peers. There is a certain tension in this approach and it doesn’t work for everyone however if you look at the Grizedale history the vast majority of the artists that have worked with us have continued to work and have in very many cases had a lot of success. There is a popular notion of artist development amongst arts organizations. I think Grizedale is one of the few that really has a record that proves that ambition. Big organizations like the Serpentine or Whitechapel do develop artists very successfully but inadvertently. Most of the prominent contemporary artists have worked as a technician in one of these institutions and have often made work as a reaction to them, they usually hate them.
JY : The seven will encounter new communities in a different global region. How do you intend this to promote connections between the artists and the contemporary realities in which they live if this is so far removed from their own culture?
Grizedale: At this stage this is a research led project. However from Grizedale point of view the divisions are not that great, a village is a village where ever it is, an agricultural lifestyle is pretty universal, the weather, the seasons, the rotation of crops informs how you live.
The group will to some extent decide how they integrate, if they do. In Japan the group lived as the village lived, working alongside and in the same cycle. The village responded by working alongside the group for the presentations and performances
JY : What input do you intend the artists into the framework, subject or direction of Happy Stacking? What role do you play in the facilitation of the project?
Grizedale: In Japan the ambition of the project was established prior to going and the premise was to ‘solve’ a problem that the village had identified. In this project we are not at that stage, the issues are more complicated and the relationships equally more complex. In this instance Grizedale felt the project should spend more time in research. However I do have a few thoughts about how things might progress and I will be ‘trying them out’ /using them to provoke debate and ideas development
JY : How do you think the ‘community’ may respond to our presence? In what way do you hope they will benefit?
Grizedale: Well there are several communities; the company has a significant presence, about 30 people living in the old red army part of the village. The village is mainly made up of old people and young children. There is another community of people that work in the cities and return to see their families and children.
The issue for the village is that the company want to make them part of the attraction, they think this will be fun, I think we might be there to help them make it so or find another way to become part of modern China. These are issues that we all have to deal with
Many of the issues for these communities are analogous with our own situations. I expect there to be mutual benefit, exchange, from very simple things like food to bigger more complex issues like migration, the shift from 3rd to 1st world, in a way embodied in the village, generational relationships, etc. I imagine that there will be a follow through from the project and that might include return visits, and other opportunities to work together. In Japan the artists and the village ran a farmers market to promote the village rice. In that instance both parties got what they wanted from the same event.
There is also implicit in this question the supposition of viewer and viewed, or an element of intrusion which is central to older models of both tourism and art. It would be good to look at moving on to more complex and evolved ways of making relationships with people.
JY : Taking into account Seven Samurai, were there any learning points which you can bring to this project before our journey to China? What were those failings and what social condoms can we use this time round?
Grizedale: Being polite and considerate, respectful and interested. Living the same life as the village, ie getting up at 5.30 eating at the same time etc. Simple stuff same as you would do if you were staying with someone. Learning a few words of Chinese, smoking heavily and giving them gifts. Doing something useful that makes sense for the village community, not making the kind of art that works in Europe in a gallery, using your art skills in a relevant way.
JY : How is funding facilitated?
Grizedale: ACE and British Council, Support from the development company and Vitamin
JY : How is Grizedale hoping to develop and grow from this project?
Grizedale: Much of this is mentioned above. We are interested in the conditions and how they relate to us and how artists work in small communities how that can benefit them. The development of a web presence, making the project process accessible and interesting (ongoing issue)
JY : In the context of the global cultural change the villagers are undergoing, how can artist’s understanding of technology be useful in helping in this process of change? E.g. the blog/non-physical production/ a more dialogical approach
Grizedale: It is uncertain at the moment how teched-up up the village are. They might teach us a thing or two. There is a lot of work going on around the value of the anecdote and knowledge resources which this taps into. In another way there is quite a bit of work to be done in persuading some folk that the web is more than just an art gallery brochure and is in fact a very useful tool. For us here in traditionally remote corners of the world, it opens things up so we can take part in a general cultural dialogue which was previously impossible.
JY : What possible involvement could this residency have with the triennial and how does Grizedale view Happy Stacking as a project within the context of ‘Farewell to Post-Colonialism’?
Grizedale: It would certainly be good to do something in relation to the triennial given its themes and the dynamics within the curatorial steering group. One version of post-colonial is not necessarily the same as the next, but it is clear that the emerging voices from previously non-urbanised zones play a key role in the debate which we must elaborate on over the coming weeks over the project. Sarat Maharaj certainly has some interesting views on this and he asked me to speak at the last triennial symposium on this so maybe we can draw him in to the discussion. Similarly Nicholas Bourriaud is revving up his next book (which undoubtedly will be avidly read by every art student like Relational Aesthetics was) on the Altermodern which links in tidily or at least tengentially to what is going on here.
JY : What is your understanding of the term ‘social entrepreneur” and does this term apply to this Nanling?
Grizedale: Maybe.


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A project for Nanling Village and Eco Park, Guangdong Province China

In November 2005 Grizedale Arts’ Deputy Director, Alistair Hudson, was invited on a British Council curatorial research trip to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to network with Chinese artists and organisations, with a view to developing future projects.

On this trip Alistair saw a wide range of commercially operating galleries but was introduced to Zhang Wei, director of Vitamin, who had heard of Grizedale Arts work through Gavin Wade. Vitamin came across as a markedly different kind of arts organisation, which whilst (by necessity as they are no public galleries in China) a commercial operation, demonstrated parallel and related interests to Grizedale in the changing role of art and artists.

Initial conversations centred on a series of projects, co-ordinated by Vitamin, for the mountain village of Nanling, 80 miles to the north of Guangzhou. This village was being developed as a forest park eco tourist destination, by an altruistic property development company. Whilst it was building luxury hotels and investing in tourist infrastructure, it was also striving to maintain and improve the socio-cultural life of the village, through artists commissions and a sympathetic treatment of the natural and social environment.

On the back of these discussions, Zhang Wei invited Grizedale out to Guangzhou and Nanling in March 2006. The visit was organised and led by Zhang Wei and included meetings with the Zhongheng Ecotourism Development Company.

The Zhongheng Ecotourism Development Co. Ltd. is a company owned by Chinese Nationals and it is their goal to develop the first ecotourism destination in China in the forests of the Nankun Shan Mountain Reserve, Guangdong Province, S. China. The development team is implementing an innovative approach, which is holistic in nature, employing a quadruple bottom line strategy:
• not only protect the existing forest biodiversity, but enhance it;
• not only involve the local people but also help them benefit from the development;
• not only inject much needed capital into the local economy but also make a profit;
• not only respect the spirit of the place but enrich it through thoughtful, sensitive sustainable planning and design.
In a country where uncontrolled development is causing untold damage and displacing millions of people, Nankun Shan Mountain Nature Reserve is an exemplary study in environmental, social, economic and spiritual consciousness.
Nankun Shan Mountain Nature Reserve is located in Central Guangdong and 80 miles from Guangzhou. The reserve was established in 1984, and its major objective is to protect the subtropical evergreen broadleaf forest. The nature reserve lies within the boundaries of the Nankun Shan Forest Park, which covers an area of 260 sq. kms. There are over 1,300 plants to be found in the park with over 30 sq. kms of Bamboo. There are over 74 bird species in the reserve and nationally protected species include the Mountain Scopes Owl, Grey-Headed Woodpecker and Orange-Bellied Leafbird. There are over 176 species of butterflies, with four of them considered near-threatened.
Over 5,000 people live in the Nature Reserve and the main income generating activity of the local people is the harvesting of bamboo for use in scaffolding in Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
Vitamin had previously hosted an arts programme in the village as ‘Fools Move Mountains’ curated with Hou Hanrou, with the artists Mathieu Briand, Shen Yuan, Sylvie Blocher and Marc Boucherot. The project laid the foundation for contemporary artists to work with the development company and the village community. Whilst the development company and the village wish to continue working with artists and artist groups, Vitamin had some reservations about the success of these previous projects and so invited Grizedale Arts to develop an arts project for the village, which would offer a more complex, beneficial and engaged approach.

For Grizedale the opportunity fits well with their current ambitions and development in the Lake District at their HQ at Lawson Park farm, a project that aims to consider differing ways of using land and landscapes and working with the communities that use or inhabit them.

Grizedale, like Nanling, is a rural yet highly complex place, a place which is now at the forefront of contemporary debate on cultural development and sociology. From it’s traditionally ‘remote’ location Grizedale is conducting a highly influential and timely programme of ‘active’ contemporary art.

Further discussions were held with Vitamin in March 2007 when Alistair Hudson was asked to speak at a symposium as part of a Connections Through China Curatorial trip and at the recent Far West Conference at Arnolfini, Bristol.

The themes were further elaborated at the symposium Restarting from Asia as part of the preparations for the Guangzhou Triennial this September, when Alistair was asked to speak on the relations between contemporary rural issues and the move away from post-colonial attitudes.
See http://interview.artron.net/zb_index.php?inter_id=80

The proposal
The overall aim of the project in development is for Grizedale Arts to establish a series of projects for the village of Nanling. These projects will come out of an initial residence by seven artists and curators and will seek to help the village in it’s transformation from 20th century rural industrial village to 21st century eco-tourist destination. Following on from Grizedale’s Seven Samurai project in the Japanese village of Toge www.sevensamurai.jp the ultimate aim is to be helpful, to make art and artists effective an the emerging supra-geographic situation.

The initial residence of 3 weeks will set up the relationship with the village and research what the resident population need help with. The projects will then unfold and develop over time throughout 2008 and 2009 in partnership with Vitamin Creative Space and the Zhongheng Ecotourism Development Company Limited.

The intention is that these projects will also have a manifestation at the Guangzhou Triennial in 2008 and are given a platform on an active and dedicated website www.happystacking.tv. The site will be maintained not only as as the primary interface for the project between participants and observers, but also as a knowledge resource for the future.

Grizedale Arts have been in discussion with Tate about future involvement with the projects.

Research and development
Grizedale Arts are taking group of 5 artists to live and work in the village of Nanling for a period of one month. The group are to be provided with accommodation in the village by the Development Company with further assistance from Vitamin. Vitamin have supplied a translator and facilitator for the duration of the R&D phase. The period of time will be largely used to discuss and research potential projects but may also include small scale projects and outputs, for example a group blog, recordings of local histories, music, performance, horticulture etc and generally being useful to the villagers, even in the simplest of ways.
The ambitions of the Nanling project will centre on working with the Development Company and their relationship with the village. Looking at how the village will relate to the ambitions of a post-capitalist business model in relation to traditional life and cultural change. The company have a - for the UK -unique approach to this development. The artist projects are seen as a way to engage the community in decision making and change. There is a desire from the company to maintain and encourage many of the qualities inherent in the village and traditional way of life and to this end the company have established a team of quasi social workers with a brief to assist the in the village communications and development.

The artists and villagers will be looking together to find new ways in development and how the ‘rural’ is represented and participates in wider society. This issue is at the forefront of critical thinking and why this project resonates with current developments in China and the UK.

Grizedale Arts will be looking to relate its experiences of the English Lake District, tourism, cultural development and social practice with those of Nanling, through a sustained and meaningful relationship.

Guangzhou Triennial
On the back of it’s pioneering work in social practice, Alistair Hudson has been invited to participate in the symposium for the Guangzhou triennial in November 2007. We have been in discussion with Vitamin and Triennial curators Sarat Maharaj and Johnson Chang about how this project can feed in to the GZ Triennial, as it picks up on many of the subjects in play.

Longer term ambitions
Grizedale wish to develop a longer term project that draws on the material generated by the R&D residency that would have a constructive effect on the development of the village and feed back into the home context - the Lakes. There are clear similarities with the ambitions and challenges of the Nanling context that offer potential alternatives and inspiration to both sites. China has a different approach and is at a very different stage of development, at once far behind and way ahead of what is happening in the UK. Grizedale envisage an exchange programme centred on agriculture/horticulture/economy and new ideas about the visitor experience. There is also considerable potential to develop architectural projects, in particular ecologically related building and land use.

Grizedale are currently in discussion with the curators of the 3rd Guangzhou Triennial to have a manifestation of the project in the Art Triennial in autumn 2008, which will provide a significant public platform for the project and enable the village to have a voice in the wider progression of China’s development.

Beyond this the aim is to bring villagers from Nanling to the Lake District in a return visit, to bring new ideas to Grizedale’s rural community.

Links and partnerships are also currently in discussion with The Royal Society of Arts, Tate, British Council and the Cultural Olympiad.

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the briefing of the seven
the briefing of the seven

Dear All

It seems that Adam may at last have his visa so it looks like we are off. Please find attached all the relevant material I can think of. There are still some things to be confirmed but hope to have these to you before the end of tomorrow.

Do let me know if you have any questions no matter how trivial.

Adam has all the tickets for you.

Remember your passports.

Can you all make sure that you have your own travel insurance in place and that you all bring the technical equipement you need to work and make sure that you have money to get by on before you get to Nanling - with at LHR KK or in Guangzhou (cash points seem to work ok)

I am going to put edited versions of this online so let me know if this is a problem. The more we can convey online the better. Please send the website to your freinds and tell them to watch and comment.

I think it would be nice if you could take a gift with you to the village - like Yorkshire biscuits, homemade jam or something (customs permitting?) they seemed to love tins of sweets etc when I was last there.

If I've forgotten anything let me know.

Keep in touch and good luck.



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Dear All

This is He Cong from Vitamin
hope you deal with the visa problem smoothly~~looking forward see you in Guangzhou

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In 2006 we sent seven artists to the village of Toge in North West of Japan as part of the Echigo Tsumari Triennial. Rather than go and make another giant splash alongside the Kabakovs, Turrells and Abramovics (such difficult neighbours) the idea was, with a heavy nod to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, to get the artists to live for a month with the village, to help them with where they wanted to go and the questions they had – How can we make our rice more profitable? How can we encourage young people to come and live in the village? How can we have a better relationship with the tourists? (see www.sevensamurai.jp)

This situation is different, but also similar. Toge, Nanling and our village of Coniston here in the Lake District, are all related, like the same village in a different time zone or alternative realm in the multiverse, where some things just changed ever so slightly and led to another path, or just at different stages in the story. The issues are the same: tourism, ecology, sustainability, globalisation, creativity, self determination, impact of technology, shifting populations, changing cultures and so on.

Toge was a farming village through and through, which was adjusting to the ageing of its population and the encroachment of mass tourism. But Nanling was effectively born in the 1950’s out of the need to supply a labour force for the hydro-electric power stations up in the mountains. Similarly Coniston’s growth has waxed and waned in relation to the industries that have come and gone – mining, sheep farming, tourisming and even dry stone walling which drew in thousands of labourers from across the country looking for a bit of wall to build. And not just skilled wallers but a whole range of disgraced bank managers and off the rails types, so not much change there then.

Conversely, Nanling has taken a step change in its aspirations in that it has been taken on, in totality, by a developer who is striving to re-present the whole social and natural ecology of the region as a destination eco-tourist resort. In effect, proposing a new model commensurate with the modernisation of China, whilst ensuring the preservation of the existing village culture and its socio-ecosystem.

It seems the rural issue is now bubbling faster and faster to the surface of the global agenda pond. What with all the super highways (real and information ones) it does appear that the biggest changes are now happening where once there were just fields. It’s pretty clear what cities do now and they will carry on doing that thing that they do for some time. It’s the green space that’s now calling for help or at elast attention. In some places it’s still emptying out, like Toge, or in others like ours, its filling up again but with not necessarily the right people. Farmers are turning into curators, curators are turning into farmers. In the UK the Jamie Oliver / Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall axis of offal is turning 300 years of industrialisation on its head and everyone wants to be a peasant farmer again.

So in this regard the magnificent seven for this adventure is made up as a portrait of New Britain, looking forward with a hangover from the past. Whereas the Seven Samurai of Toge were hardened Grizedale regulars with a long and reliable history of social engagement, these are at the younger and newer and greender end of the spectrum. (Read in the voice of Charlie’s Angel’s Bosley:) Bryan and Laura Davies are married. I recently described them in an article as the Robin and Lucienne Day of the footballers’ wives generation, which I still hold to be true. Bryan has a more than appropriate family history but I’ll let him elaborate on that. Kai-Oi Jay Yung has never worked with Grizedale before but came onboard with recommendations from local art glitterati. She, like my wife, is British Born Chinese, or a Banana, as I believe they’re known in the trade. Harold Offeh is originally from Ghana and his mum is building the most amazing house there. Guestroom are Maria Benjamin and Ruth Hoflich. Ruth has to stay at home this time because of it’s a bit too far to go with a young child right now but will be chipping in from the comfort of her own home. Adam Sutherland is. He just is. That sort of makes seven, but then we asked if Vitamin could find us a translator. This being a country in the ascendant, they not only got us a translator but the super-qualified Jiaying who can also do Japanese, video editing and anthropology.

The group will arrive in the village on April 28.


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Wow, so Nanling is almost here and I am experiencing mixed stirrings of emotions, expectations and general internal witterings one can only perhaps undergo armed with the knowledge that bananas are definitely multi-shaded and past monkeys if Alistair is Chinese and I am not.
Spag bol and Sefton park are about to be airplane fooded into dumplings and grass (without a fence?) and the Scouse accent (apart from the sound of my own) is about to become the song of Nanling dialect, Cantonese? I wonder if I can use my minimal understanding of my parent's soundings to possibly get by without raising my eyebrow at Jiayiang too many times/day?

So, I am thinking about starting to try and locate post colonialism when I get there and how I fear I might possibly malfunction in response to the cultural change taking place in this seeming idyll, of which we are about to become part. How I can with my hands and head help happiness and make friends because it's been a while since I knew China?

From here it's kind of a big deal - China is about to be removed from black and white stills through my parent’s eyes and memories of eating copious white steamed buns on a ferry from Hong Kong to Shanghai at age four. Things have changed as I bore witness when I visited Nanjing but that was a colourful smog swept ancient capital six years ago and now I am going to a resort that appears to me behind wavy lines, a village that is at once fabricated yet real. Perhaps I should not connect my visit to Ngong Ping Village in Hong Kong last year in the same thought trail.

I've been invited to write an article for A-N about artist's engagement with local communities focusing on a Scottish artist's Sri Lanka project, but I also think Nanling is a great place to begin. I am wondering what each of us will help to plant and who/what is about to enter our lives... If it’s ok with everyone, I may interview people during the course of the trip or refer to the blog towards the article.

Anyhow, impressed by Brian’s cup practice, I’ve decided to go back to skool …



See you all soon!

Topics: [Art] [Nanling Village Ecotourism Resort]


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There is an idea of art as luxury good and there is an idea of art as public good – to make the world better and happier. This morally driven aesthetic view usually has a harder time coping with the complex bits, more than the luxury one which can just ride the waves. (I used to do the former, but it didn’t like falling in the water, to milk the analogy.) Getting bogged down in morals and righteousness, particularly in art world symposia, usually means a lot of ‘unpacking’ and sitting round in a circle of chairs. But if we were to embrace the multiplicity of contemporary culture and revel in the pile up, like a teenager surfing, texting, DS-ing, you-tubing and watching tv all at the same time, could we get to a more appropriate way to respond to cultural change and be helpful from the inside rather than out?

It would also be good to move on from the local-global talk like they are still two worlds apart. We all know this now surely. Local is an old word with an old use and it doesn’t fit anything anymore. I live in a town, work on a farm, travel the world etc etc. Claire Bishop said she couldn’t see how we could work in China at the moment. But half my family are Chinese. My children are Chinese, maybe I’m Chinese too. You can only talk this talk so long before you start to cringe, hearing yourself sound like a middle aged lecturer in multi-coloured Aztec pattern stretch pants. The theme of this year’s Guangzhou Triennial (down the road) is ‘Beyond the post-colonial’ and you can sort of see what they mean. But they need to look at another angle too, not just from a year zero redefinition of Asian art sense, but from an all encompassing multi-layered sensibility. The Sino-International art world is on a roll right now, highly commercialised and highly successful, but there is also a huge groundswell of activity outside the centralised zones of Beijing and Shanghai that going to play a big part in China’s intellectual growth.

This project has come from the ground up, not because we want to ‘get into China’, but because we made friends there and think that they might be able to help us and we might be able to help them. Nanling is like the Lake District was 50 years ago and possibly Nanling will be a model for the Lake District of the future. These are nodes of cultural activity that seem important and relevant. These are the places that are now feeling the pinch from an expanding, intertextual, convoluted world. It’s not as clear as that, obviously, but it’s a good point to start doing something.

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