Archive: 2010

Portrait – Lutz Engelke

20th May, 2010

Portrait - Lutz Engelke, Triad Design

Lutz Engelke, founder of Triad commissioned for Die Zeit, 20th May 2010.

Berlin based company Triad won the commission from the Shanghai World Expo 2010 committee to design one of the three themed pavilions at Expo, ‘Urban Planet.’

Article by Frank Sieren.

Featured – British Embassy Beijing, ‘Britons in China’

28th April, 2010

In order to celebrate and showcase British peoples’ contributions and accomplishments in China, the British Embassy Beijing launches ‘Britons in China’. People will be profiled on the British Embassy website in the year running up to the 2010 Shanghai Expo offering readers an inspiring insight into the lives of notable British people and their endeavours in China.

This last three weeks features Helen Couchman as the Expo opens.

At Beijing central station. Photo: Shiho Fukada for the New York Times

Helen Couchman

Helen Couchman (photographed by Wang Jing)
Name: Helen Couchman
From: Wales, Staffordshire, Kent, London
Living in: Beijing, China

“I learn something new every day about China, others and myself. It is a place that heightens my senses and it’s often surprising, one minute I will be eating 2 kuai noodles at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and the next I will photographing the Vice Premier.”

Photographs of sparkling palaces made of ice in Harbin and news of a country undergoing change at unprecedented speed is what first attracted Helen to China.

In 2006, she decided to travel overland on the Trans-Mongolian railway, and after 3 days, Beijing had worked its charm on her. She decided she wanted to move there and has been living and working in the capital since the beginning of 2007.

Helen is a British artist based in Beijing. She has exhibited her works worldwide and published her first book, WORKERS 工人, in June 2008. The substantial book, takes the form of an extended series of portraits of the men and women who laboured to build the Birds Nest stadium and Water Cube at the Olympic park constructed for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

[Wang Zijun, from the WORKERS 工人 series’. 2008]

Her most recent work is a photographic series titled Untitled (Collecting and Dropping). She poses naked behind a large, exquisitely decorated but progressively deteriorating Chinese fan. It encompasses Helen‘s interest in the inevitably esoteric codes of a foreign culture in which one finds oneself still a stranger, an outsider, no matter how long one stays.

[Untitled (Collecting & Dropping)’ No. 52, 2007-09]

Helen has visited the Harbin ice festival twice during her time in China. In 2009 she was invited as a guest of the Provincial government to photograph the 25th Anniversary of the Harbin Ice Festival.

For more information see

For the books (and stockists) see: Or they are available on Amazon.

Featured – China Daily, ‘Private fantasies, creative vulnerability’

29th March, 2010

Feature article, ‘Private fantasies, creative vulnerability‘ about Helen Couchman’s work is in the China Daily newspaper this morning.

English artist Helen Couchman at work in her Beijing home. Wang Jing / China Daily

British artist presents cultures in photographs. A look at her bio makes it sound like English artist Helen Couchman has taken her art on a journey all round the world, the UK, Cyprus, Armenia, the United States, and for the past four years, China.

Couchman, however, would be more inclined to say that it is the other way around, that it is her art that has taken her all over the world. And for the last four years, it’s Beijing.

“I’ve lived in lots and lots of different places, but being here it’s pushed forward. I’ve taken it further.”

The question Couchman has been pursuing in her recent work deals with her how to identify ourselves with where we are, what is an ideal city and what makes Beijing Beijing?

“While I’m observing the city and what it means to go around and observe. I only see what I think I understand,” she said. “But I love the otherness of all of these things, and when they get filtered down they form, well, these fantasies, really.”

Couchman has chosen to visually articulate these “fantasies” through the manipulation of scale.

“With some projects there are tiny high rises or huge dragon statues. I feel that the dislocation or manipulation of scale make a playful landscape. And that’s been quite a recurring theme.”

In her series Untitled (Collecting and Dropping) Couchman presents this juxtaposition of cultures in a sequence of photographs, where she poses nude behind a massive Chinese fan from which the paper is gradually removed.

Couchman’s latest book, Workers, was a project that documented the men and women hired to construct the Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Water Cube prior to the Olympic Games. Photographing 143 individuals posing in the same position in front of these massive structures they have helped construct, the book is a singular portrait of both the workers and Olympic-fever Beijing.

While her primary medium is photography, she also works in other mediums. Her most recent work, a linocut series, Yellow Lining 12345, an exploration of clouds and the typography of the sky as a landscape.

She says the inspiration for the series came when she arrived back in Beijing in February. “It was a blue sky day, but when we landed there was a smog of white, and what really struck me was that on top of this was a band of yellow, a sort of layer of tangerine.”

She decided to use relief printing for the series because of its rough-and-ready graphic appeal. “Because of the nature of woodblock printing, it really lends itself to a sort of crude form of printing, the positive and negative and little in-between. They’re a little more like a comic strip. A bit explosive,” she said.

Work from the series will be on sale at the Affordable Arts Beijing fair on April 24-25.

However, it was a photograph that first drew her to China. “I had seen pictures in the back of a glossy weekend newspaper supplement and one time they had a picture of the Harbin Ice Festival and it burned a trail in my mind from about 2000. After that, I was obsessed with coming.”

In 2006, Couchman was finally able to make her way to China via the Trans-Siberian Railway.

“I had never been to Asia before so it was great to go by land,” she said. “When I arrived in 2006, I decided after three days I wanted to live here and a year later I moved.”

But for someone whose living is made from exhibiting her ideas in public, Couchman’s creative method actually requires a lot of privacy.

“Even my friends don’t know what I’m doing,” Couchman said. “I just need a space. I don’t want to have to deal with other people’s points of view at this stage. I want people to see it and know what they think, but I think in the creative process you have to almost stop and go on with it. It’s a very vulnerable position to be in.”

Still, like any artist who deserves the title, she is comfortable with vicissitudes of her creative drive. Private fantasies, creative vulnerability

“I’ve got boxes of notes,” she said.

“Things I might come back to later because it might just be not the right time.

“I think that ‘s why I don’t understand why people harp so much about originality,” she said.

“Art’s all a melting pot of a bunch of other things people have seen and heard. The discipline is that I keep pushing myself on my own terms not a race against other, But a race against myself.

Christine Laskowski
Arts, China Daily

See the same on the China Daily online here:

Interview – China state radio, Radio Beijing

2nd March, 2010

Live interview for Talk Box on Beijing Radio, 774am.  2nd March, 11am-12noon.
Presenters June Lee and Dominic Swire interview Helen Couchman about her work, her book WORKERS 工人 and living in Beijing.

To listen click here.

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).