Archive: January, 2010

Commission – China Articles for ARTQUEST

10th January, 2010

Commissioned in late 2009 by Artquest for their Artroute – China pages. Published January 2010.


‘There have been many key moments in my experience of living in China, mostly born from small observations of things around me that have taught me something about Chinese culture and usually myself. I suggest that these incidentals are what make living and working in China especially enjoyable…’ Artroute: Asia: China: Being an artist in China: Moving to China

‘With the recent boom the price commanded by Chinese artist works and the subsequent injection of investment, the 798 Art District can no longer claim the ‘gritty artist colony’ title but it still has much of that energy. Naturally as the district is “tidied up” and the rents go up so the artists slowly move on…’ Artroute: Asia: China: Building Networks

‘Guanxi (being friends with the right people) is a big deal when trying to get things done in China but it will certainly not solve all your employment problems. Knowing the right people through networking may well help but at the end of the day you will need a combination of qualifications, being prepared in the right place at the right time and a good introduction to get work in China…’ Artroute: Asia: China: Money: Finding work

‘Should you be unfortunate enough to be taken sick, time spent in an international hospital will tot up very quickly! Of course there are local hospitals, which may charge you less but these will bring other complications specifically if you don’t speak Mandarin…’ Artroute: Asia: China: Being an artist in China: Visas


Helen Couchman was born in England and studied in London graduating with an M.A. in 1998. She has a fascination for travel and has worked abroad when possible, – in Armenia, USA and Cyprus. Arriving in Beijing on the Trans-Mongolian train she was immediately taken with Beijing due to a long held interest in the country and particular in places that are changing fast…’ Artroute: Asia: China: About the China guide

Featured – New York Times, ‘For Expatriates in China, Creative Lives of Plenty’

10th January, 2010

NY Times cutting, 10th Jan 2010. web


For Expatriates in China, Creative Lives of Plenty
by Dan Levin. NY Times arts page, Sunday, 10th January 2010

THERE was a chill in the morning air in 2005 when dozens of artists from China, Europe and North America emerged from their red-brick studios here to find the police blocking the gates to Suojiacun, their compound on the city’s outskirts. They were told that the village of about 100 illegally built structures was to be demolished, and were given two hours to pack.

By noon bulldozers were smashing the walls of several studios, revealing ripped-apart canvases and half-glazed clay vases lying in the rubble. But then the machines ceased their pulverizing, and the police dispersed, leaving most of the buildings unscathed. It was not the first time the authorities had threatened to evict these artists, nor would it be the last. But it was still frightening.

“I had invested everything in my studio,” said Alessandro Rolandi, a sculptor and performance artist originally from Italy who had removed his belongings before the destruction commenced. “I was really worried about my work being destroyed.”

He eventually left Suojiacun, but he has remained in China. Like the artists’ colony, the country offers challenges, but expatriates here say that the rewards outweigh the hardships. Mr. Rolandi is one of many artists (five are profiled here) who have left the United States and Europe for China, seeking respite from tiny apartments, an insular art world and nagging doubts about whether it’s best to forgo art for a reliable office job. They have discovered a land of vast creative possibility, where scale is virtually limitless and costs are comically low. They can rent airy studios, hire assistants, experiment in costly mediums like bronze and fiberglass.

“Today China has become one of the most important places to create and invent,” said Jérôme Sans, director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. “A lot of Western artists are coming here to live the dynamism and make especially crazy work they could never do anywhere else in the world.”

New York Times, Slideshow, Helen Couchman

From the slideshow – click to enlarge


Helen Couchman

China popped onto Helen Couchman’s radar around 2000, when, she said, she “first saw gorgeous little tidbits of something far away”: glossy photos in British magazines of ice palaces in the northern city of Harbin and sweeping tales of the country’s frenetic experiment with modernization. In 2006 she stepped off the Trans-Siberian Railway and into the chaos of Beijing’s main train station, and after three days of wandering around she knew she wanted to live here.

As a photographer she found the manic pace of Olympic construction irresistible, along with the cost of living as compared with London, her home for 15 years. “A £4 tube ticket would buy my dinner here,” she said. Ms. Couchman, 36, who is British, moved to Beijing a year later, and though she sells most of her work in Europe, she said, the “shapes and designs here have completely saturated my work.”

New York Times, Slideshow, Helen Couchman

From the slideshow – click to enlarge


In her most recent work, at right, she poses naked behind a large fan, a traditional Chinese accessory that serves as an emblem of the camera, behind which she is frequently shielded.

She is more than a documentarian. Her book “Workers” illustrates her personal engagement with China. In December 2007 she slipped behind the screens surrounding the construction of the Olympic park and shot portraits of 146 migrant laborers. She returned the next day with two sets of prints, giving each subject a copy to keep and having workers write their name and hometown on the other, which she compiled for the book. “Their families couldn’t afford to come to Beijing and see their role in history,” she said. “Now they have this document, like I would have a graduation or wedding photo…”

Article in full:

New York Times, Slideshow, Helen Couchman

From the slideshow – click to enlarge


Also featured: Alessandro Rolandi (Italy), Alfredo Martinez (US), Rania Ho (US) and Joseph Ellis (US).