Archive: 2009

Climate change commission for Al Jazeera

9th December, 2009

Photographic commission  for article:

China’s creeping sands published to coincide with the Copenhagen Summit on climate change.
Al Jazeera, 9th December 2009

 

A river used to flow at the site where Yan Hongmei stands with her daughter.

She remembers it well; 20 years ago, the river carried clear cold water and her father caught fish there big enough to eat.

But, slowly the sand began to encroach. At first it was just a little blown in by the wind.

But the wind grew into more frequent storms and the air became yellow with sand. People wrapped scarves around their faces to guard against it.

The Gobi desert was infringing on Huailai, the area where Yan lives, and the trees lost their strength to fight it.

It rained less and less. “And when it rained, it caused a storm flood,” says 28-year-old Yan.

Living off the sand

Yan recalls how, when she was a child, her family grew maize that dried in the sun behind their house and how, like many other families in the area, they bred small, sturdy Mongolian horses. But only a few thin goats now survive and the family has little money.

Yan’s home is not in a remote part of China – it is just 80km from Beijing and 30km from the Great Wall.

Any aircraft leaving Beijing bound for Europe flies over the village. But if Yan were to see that view from an aeroplane, she would be frightened by the size of the Gobi desert in relation to the short distance between her home and Beijing.

Heading west from Beijing by plane, for almost two hours one sees only barren earth and sand – interrupted by small villages along dirt tracks.

Green conifer forests only come into view as the aeroplane nears Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.

Yan’s family now make their living from the desert by renting out the nearby sand dunes to film crews and tourists from Beijing.

Yan is the cashier, while her husband helps the film crews with their technical equipment. They do not have any competition in the area yet and manage to make a decent living.

But they are unsure what will happen if the desert encroaches even further and know that they cannot halt the sand.

“Film crews hardly need so many sand dunes,” says her husband, Zhang Rongfei.

Planting green walls

When Zhu Rongji, the then prime minister, took office in 1998, he travelled to the drought-hit areas of northern China. Alarmed by what he saw there, he planned a belt of thousands of trees – a green wall against the sand.

A protective ring of trees were also planted in the area where Yan lives. “The farmers are satisfied,” says Yan. “But you can’t plant trees like this everywhere,” Zhang adds.

climate, sand , china

Yan Hongmei worries about how the desert will impact her daughter’s life [Helen Couchman]

Some experts agree with Zhang’s assessment of the situation.

“In some regions the development is under control,” says Wu Wei, a scientist with the department of environmental sciences at Peking University, “but overall it has worsened.”

About 20 per cent of China’s surface is experiencing desertification and driving back the desert costs the country $12m a year.

A Chinese team of scientists from Nanjing have calculated that the desert in northern China has expanded three-fold from 137,000 square kilometres in 1950 to 385,700 square kilometres today.

Scientist Wang Xunming of the renowned Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) believes that during the second half of this century the arid and semi-arid areas in northern China will turn into sand dunes or at the least very arid steppes.

“The survival of the people is under threat,” says Wang, who is convinced that this situation has not been caused by cultivation, but by global climate change.

Liu Tuo, the head of the Office for Prevention and Control of Desertification, says that the encroaching sand is a “serious threat to the people living in this area” and that it harms biodiversity.

“About 15 per cent of the species in this habitat are on the brink of extinction,” he says.

Economic miracle threatened

In China, alarm bells begin to ring furiously when the country’s economic miracle comes under threat.

That is why Wang Tao, the head of the Institute for Environmental Protection at CASS, has calculated the damage of the drought in the ten northern Chinese provinces.

In 2005 alone it was close to $74m. That is equal to half of this year’s trade surplus.

The Middle Kingdom, with its 1.3 billion people, is facing huge costs as a result of climate change; this explains why the government may feel more pressure than smaller countries to respond to the global phenomenon.

Professor Adil Najam of Boston University says he has “big hopes for China”.

As the director of the Pardee Centre for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, Najam was the lead author of the third and fourth assessments for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for which the IPCC was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with other scientists and Al Gore, the former US vice-president.

Najam says China will go its own way “but ultimately it will do the right thing because it knows it is in its own interests”.

Villager Yan has a more down-to-earth approach. “The problem is so huge that even our government is hardly in the position to address it,” she says.

Poverty

Yan’s relatives from the barren mountainous province of Gansu in the northwest are even worse off. They do not get even half of China’s average rainfall.

“They are earning less and less,” says Yan. They live off just $120 a year, while Yan and her husband earn five times as much.

Even the Chinese government considers people with an annual income of less than $150 to be very poor and, in Gansu province alone, 4.4 million people earn less than this.

Yu Qingtai, the Chinese special representative for climate change negotiations, likes to place a transparency showing the poorest regions of China over a map of the regions most affected by climate change. They are literally congruent.

Yan is glad that she is able to lead a better life than her relatives. But she wonders how her daughter will live when the air is once again full of sand.

She says: “My daughter will have to move to the city. We will stay behind alone – in the dust.”

 

Frank Sieren is a bestselling author who has been living in Beijing for 15 years and is regarded as one of the leading German China experts.

His brother Andreas is a specialist in international relations and development aid. He worked for many years for the United Nations in Asia and Africa.

New photographic work on exhibit

20th November, 2009

Three photographic prints selected from the series Untitled (Collecting and Dropping) are on exhibit at Transition Gallery in London through November. For more about this series see the Portfolio page here.

Untitled-(Collecting-and-Dropping)-No.52-©-Helen-Couchman-web-c
Untitled (Collecting and Dropping) No.52

Untitled-(Collecting-and-Dropping)-No.228-copyright-Helen-Couchman-web-c
Untitled (Collecting and Dropping) No.179

Untitled-(Collecting-and-Dropping)-No.228-copyright-Helen-Couchman-web-c
Untitled (Collecting and Dropping) No.228

All from the series Untitled (Collecting and Dropping)No.s 1 – 245. 2007-2009
Printed on Hannamule paper, 56 x 42.5 inches framed.

Mrs. West’s Hats recommended – Beijing Today

18th November, 2009

Vivian Wang from the Bookworm recommends the following bestsellers to Beijing Today readers.

Yu Li: Confessions of an Elevator Operator. By Jimmy Qi
Mrs. West’s Hats
. By Helen Couchman, introduction by Anthony Gorman
Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation
. By Michael Keller, illustrated by Nicolle Rager Fuller

He Jianwei
www.beijingtoday.com.cn

Mrs. West’s Hats review – The Hat magazine

12th November, 2009
Mrs. West's Hats by Helen Couchman. The Hat Magazine, Issue.43. page 42

Click to enlarge

in print

Mrs West’s Hats
by Helen Couchman with an introduction by Anthony Gorman

Mrs. West’s Hats is the first publication in book form of a series of sixty photographic self-portraits produced by the artist Helen Couchman in 1997. The title of the piece refers to Couchman’s maternal grandmother, Mrs West (1909-1993). In the photographs Couchman, made up to look like a young woman of the austere 1940’s or ’50s, is seen wearing a succession of her grandmother’s hats, as though acting out the “role” of her own grandmother as she would have looked during that period.

Carole Denford
The Hat Magazine No. 43. November 2009, page 42

Mrs. West’s Hats review – Country Life, ‘Hats off to new book’

6th November, 2009

Country life for web
in print

Hats off to new book

A young British artist this week unveiled a striking and stylish hardback book that features 60 self-portraits in which she wears a succession of her late grandmother’s vintage hats. Helen Couchman, who grew up in rural Wales andHampshire, re discovered the collection, from the 1940s and 50s, in a chest of drawers after the death of her much-loved grandmother, with whom she spent part of her childhood. To explore inheritance, heritage and memory, Couchman resolved to photograph herself wearing every hat she found, and the result is Mrs West’s Hats.

Despite the austerity of the post-war era, the hats are lively and full of character – demonstrating perhaps that imaginative milliners could give women a means to express themselves despite fabric rationing. Dr Anthony Gorman writes in his foreword: “As the example of Mrs West’s headgear shows, hats are as diverse and expressive as faces.”

Miss Couchman’s favourite is a close-fitting bright blue creation decorated with little imitation flowers. “It’s extraordinary, and you can see in the photo that my expression is a bit puzzled,” she says. “Another interesting one is in straw, designed in keeping with Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ collection of 1947.”

Couchman exhibited the photographs in London and Armenia before publishing them in book form. The work follows another photographic project, Workers, a series of portraits of Chinese migrant workers who were building the infrastructure for last year’s Olympic Games.

Yolanda Carslaw

There and Everywhere – private view

4th November, 2009

There and Everywhere - exhibition invite, Helen Couchman, David Webb, Liz Harrison at Transition Gallery

There and Everywhere

Helen Couchman     Liz Harrison     David Webb
5th November 6-9pm

PRESS RELEASE

Like the numerous luggage labels from different locations pasted onto battered suitcases, artists’ journeys now take centre stage on the cultural landscape. In his manifesto of altermodernity Nicolas Bourriaud proclaims that in our era of globalisation, artists have become nomads ‘wandering in time, space and mediums’. And that their work now ‘arises out of negotiations between different agents from different cultures and geographical locations.’

The impetus for There and Everywhere began with painter David Webb’s focus on his grandmother’s journey made by sea in 1955 from Tanzania to London. This personal history, and his experiences of residencies overseas have led to his making work about travel and ancestry, which he interestingly describes as ‘a turn inwards’.

Reflecting on these themes Webb selected Helen Couchman and Liz Harrison to show alongside him in There and Everywhere. Each artist brings a distinct perspective to the project revealing surprising and unexpected connections between their painting, photography and video installation, so that the general somehow becomes the specific.

 

Liz Harrison’s practice spans a broad range of media, incorporating site-specific installation, lens-based projection, illusion and image. She is based in London and recently co-curated Concrete Dreams at APT, London (2008) and had a solo exhibition Perch at Five Years, London (2009).

Helen Couchman is a British artist currently based in Beijing. Her most recent solo show was at Gallerie Perif in Beijing where she showed a series of woodblock prints. In 2008 her photo portraits of migrant workers building the Beijing Olympic buildings were published in a book, Workers (gong ren).

David Webb is a painter based in London. His most recent solo exhibition was at SE 1 Gallery in London where he showed work made during a residency at Yaddo, in upstate New York. He showed at Transition Gallery in The Painting Room (2008) and was selected for Jerwood Contemporary Painters in 2009.

There and Everywhere - exhibition invite, Helen Couchman, David Webb, Liz Harrison at Transition Gallery text
Transition Gallery Unit 25a Regent Studios, 8 Andrews Road, London E8 4QN

 

Update: 09/11/09 … Standing out for me are Couchman’s photographs so delicate and yet powerful. Corinna Spencer

Transition Gallery photo by Damian Griffiths

Mrs. West’s Hats – London book launch

2nd November, 2009

Dr Carol Tulloch in conversation with Helen Couchman
Book launch and book signing
6.30pm, 3rd November 2009
Phoenix Artist Club, 1 Phoenix Street, Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0DT

Update: 04/10/09
Many thanks to Carol, Mauice and to everyone at the London launch for your interesting questions and good wishes.

Soloshow Publishing

Mapping the move

31st October, 2009

The UAL Centre for Drawing are inviting alumni to draw the Southhampton Row and Charing Cross sites before Central Saint Martins school, based there, moves to King’s Cross. The project is called Mapping the Move. The CSM Museum and Contemporary Collection are now the owners of the drawing directly below. I choose to draw in the two places where I constructed and exhibited site-specific pieces for my graduate MA show (1998) at Charing Cross Road.

drawing, Mapping the Move, CSM, Charing Cross Road
CSM Charing Cross Road 8th floor landing, 30th October

Mapping the move drawing CSM 9th flr studio
CSM Charing Cross Road 9th floor studio, 30th October