Archive: June, 2011

Review article – The Global Times, ‘Mirror Images’

11th June, 2011

Global Times 11th, June 2011

Artist reflects on hutong development

by Song Yuanyuan

In a small gallery on Guloudong Dajie hang 23 framed photographs. They document the changes in the Gulou (Drum Tower) area as seen by British artist Helen Couchman, 38, who’s lived in a nearby hutong for over four years.

But what’s especially striking is her use of three mirrors placed in such a way that they also reflect the landscape around back into the frame. A Beijing friend gave them to her but they sat on her desk for a long time. “At the end of 2009, I started photographing, thinking about the illusion, and the way I could look underneath things or behind things or at far things with the mirrors,” she said. Couchman explained the mirrors gave her different views, allowing her to see things around her. The mirrors enable her to focus on the textures and see the distance of something in the same picture, “kind of getting the close in with the far,” she added. With the mirrors, she deliberately mixes the view with something natural and bright green, a contrast with the gray sky.

The project is part of Couchman’s PhD research in landscape changes, trying to find out how it changes and in the meantime reviewing the people who live through these changes. “It’s about how we use the land to reveal these things, our economics, politics, and culture,” Couchman explained.

In February 2006, she came to Beijing by train from Moscow, and this became her first Asian experience. “I wanted to see the distance; how far it is from Europe. I was reading how China was changing very fast. Everyone was writing about its economic stories and Yangtze dam; so I had to go quickly to see the landscape changes, I want to see it before, and why it changes and after. I had wanted to come to other places, but China became where I wanted to come to desperately.”

Her photographs depict the Gulou area’s recent changes, in particular during and after demolitions. “I want people to feel like they’re walking the line between old Beijing and the new areas that have been demolished, following the edge of these two places and where they converge. In one direction, you have the romantic beautiful hutong views, and in the other way, you have the earth, the buildings, holes, ground, and the mud,” she said.

Her bare feet are often shown in her photos too, touching the earth, like a performance. “I’m standing there and deciding where to put the mirrors, walking around, feeling it, getting dirty with it to get the ‘on the earth’ feeling, kind of making something out of that moment,” she said. “It’s not a digital illusion; stepping foot on these places, I got really dirty, but it’s nice to be so physical with the place, touching things, which gives you a better understanding,” she said.

Exhibition: In Beijing

9th June, 2011

In Beijing No. 05
In Beijing No. 05

Press release

‘In many parts of China mirrors are placed outside the house to frighten away evil spirits… Mass production of mirrors in the early 20th C. reinforced cosmological conceptions, and mirrors were placed in many different settings to help improve the flow of energy and money, and keep a confined space from becoming dead and stagnant.’
Exotic Commodities,‘ Frank Dikotter, pub. 2007

Couchman has been making work about changing landscapes in various places for many years. Since working in Beijing, her practice has often focused upon exploring scale in her images and the mix of old and new she sees around her. She has used printmaking, drawing, photography and installation to communicate these ideas.

Beijing is a huge city in flux, a city that is constantly changing at a rapid pace. Couchman is curious to know what these changes mean to its inhabitants but also to ‘touch’ what it looks like. Recently, she has been working around the perimeter of a new development, in the hutong lanes near Gulou, the city’s historic Drum and Bell Tower Square, on the edges of what has now been permanently removed. This new photographic series seeks the texture and the vistas of the hutongs that have undergone this process of destruction. As Couchman says, the project aims, “to explore what I can see of the land – literally the earth and fabric of the city. It has a performative angle: process, construction, dirt, proximity and distance are all evident in these images. This is what I am working with.”

Couchman has headed out into the streets armed with a camera and three mirrors. The mirrors are used to fuse the different elements of the photographed scenes, both material and immaterial. The result is not the illusion of a cityscape but rather an intimate yet distant exploration of the fabric, and texture of a city whose detail as well as vistas are in flux.

Aluss Art Photography Space, 141 Gulou Dongdajie

19 June – 09 July


Helen Couchman 最新作品展

“在中国的许多地方,镜子被放置在房子外面以驱魔辟邪……20 世纪初期镜子的大量生产增强了天人观念,镜子被布置在许多不同的方位以促使能量和钱财的流通,并阻止一个特定的空间变得充满煞气和污浊的空气。”


北京是个变迁中的庞大城市,一个经常处在快速变化中的城市。Couchman很好奇这些变化对它的居民来说意味着什么,同时好奇地想去感知这些变化的面貌。最近,她开始着眼于鼓楼附近胡同的一个新的发展项目:对这个城市历史意义重大的钟鼓楼正处在被永久搬迁的边缘。这些新鲜的系列影像试图探寻经历了毁灭之后的胡同的实质与远景。如Couchman所言,这个项目旨在 “探寻这片土地上,我能看见什么——不夸张的说,就是这个城市的土地和结构。从陈述事实的角度出发:进程、建设、尘土、亲近和疏离都在这些影像中清晰可见。这就是我在利用的因素。”


展览开放 6月19日-7月9日

电话:8400-2628,开放时间 下午4点-营业结束

In Beijing by Helen Couchamn, exhibition on the web 2008