Archive: exhibition

The WORKERS 工人 series on exhibit in Beijing, 8th April – 8th May

5th April, 2012
Four years ago the book, WORKERS 工人 was very difficult to print and now, finally, thirty portraits are being shown in Beijing in a group show curated by curatorial duo Wong Jun and He Bing.
About the project ‘WORKERS 工人
About the publication ‘WORKERS 工人’

 

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You are cordially invited to the opening ceremony for the ‘Heyi 798 Art Project’ at three p.m on April 8th 2012, to be held at the Heyi Hotel.

Address: Yihe Hotel, 9 Jiuxianqiao Lu, east side of the Dashanzi Road junction, Chaoyang District, Beijing.

The ‘Heyi 798 Art Project’ is an art project of a new type and the highest quality. Gabriela Salgado independent curator, formally of the Tate Modern, London has generously agreed act as a consultant for the project. Close on a hundred renowned artists will be in attendance and original works of all types and styles will be on show.  Ten artists have been invited to create special pieces for the show, site-specific works adapted to the surroundings of the Yihe Hotel. In the tradition of art interventions in public space, a venue that is normally traveller’s respite will have a close-up encounter with the world of art.

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2012年4月8日下午3点于如家酒店集团和颐酒店举行“和颐798艺术项目”开幕式诚邀阁下光临!

地址:北京市朝阳区大山子路口东酒仙桥北路9号和颐酒店

“和颐798艺术项目”是一个高规格、新形态的艺术项目,该项目已确立英国泰特当代美术馆策展人Gabriela Salgado担任艺术支持。届时近百名国际知名艺术家将亲临现场,展出各类原创艺术作品。此外,还将发布十多名艺术家精心策划的个人艺术项目。他们会根据酒店现场环境创作与之相适应的作品。以艺术介入公共空间的方式,使酒店这一旅居空间和艺术零距离契合。

Invitation

Beijing Excavations: An Interview with Helen Couchman – Whitehot Magazine

30th August, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beijing Excavations: An Interview with Helen Couchman

whitehot | August 2011
by Travis Jeppesen

The hutongs – or traditional lanes – of the Xicheng area surrounding Houhai Lake in downtown Beijing present a picture of a rapidly disappearing facet of city life. Filled with hidden courtyards and single-story houses, often dating back hundreds of years, walking among them reminds one of what Beijing used to be like, prior to the rapid modernization that has taken place in the last ten years, which has seen the erection of countless skyscrapers, high rise apartment buildings, and soulless American-style shopping centers.

It is this world of “old Beijing,” which is constantly being threatened with extinction, that forms the setting for Helen Couchman’s latest series, In Beijing. The British artist, who has made Beijing her home since 2007, made the interesting choice of using three small mirrors in photographing seemingly random sites among the hutongs. The ongoing series can be viewed as an extension of Couchman’s continual engagement with her adopted hometown, a process that first received international attention around the time of the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, in the form of her series of photographic portraits, Workers 工人 (gong ren).


Travis Jeppesen: Maybe we can start with the Workers 工人 (gong ren) project. How did you gain access to the Olympic building site when they were working?

Helen Couchman: I did contact people and hoped to get access in an official way, but no one replied. So I didn’t have any access. I just walked on site one day. More precisely, I had been walking around the premises for a couple of months every now and then. I’m interested in changing landscapes, and that’s one of the reasons why I came to Beijing. Normally, when I’m dealing with landscapes, there are no figures involved in the work. So I started by mostly photographing the site. But then one day, I was photographing two workers right by one of the gates, and they said, why don’t you come inside and have a look? And so I walked on site. They were at the point where it was no longer a massive hole in the ground, so it was relatively safe. Another workman further down asked if I would take his photograph. He didn’t have a camera, but was excited by the idea of having a photograph of himself working on the site.

And so I came back to the site soon after that with a plan. I designated a certain time period; otherwise you can photograph people endlessly. I spread the word that I would wait there for two days and would photograph anyone who wanted to be photographed. I took pictures of 143 people in those two days. And I said I would come back with prints to give out. I printed them and gave any of the workers who managed to meet me again their photograph – because it was all unofficial, there was no chance of meeting anyone again outside of the project, so I waited in the place where the portraits were taken for two days with these prints. I told them, “I’ll return and wait for two days. Come and find me and I’ll give you the print.” Then I asked them for their signature and their home address. I didn’t take any more photos on those days. A couple of people came up and asked me to take their picture later, and I had to say, “Sorry, I was here for two days and I decided before I started that I had to put a time limit on this project.” Looking through the book, you’ll see that some of the people are listed as unknown, and that’s when I didn’t meet the person again. I was sorry about that. But in a sense, it fits the project. Because the fact is with these situations, where large numbers of migrant workers build vast areas of construction in China, you never know who they were when you’re looking at the end product.

I told them that I thought what they were doing was great work. Any foreigner who is familiar with Chinese building sites will tell you that it is a very hands-on process. At a western style construction site, you might have a guy with a crane, but at a Chinese construction site, instead you might have fifty guys pulling a rope. I’m interested in the changes that are happening in China and in this case, form whom this massive stadium, aquatic center and Olympic park were being built? These workers would not have the papers, called hukou, needed to return to Beijing during the Olympics or the money to buy tickets. They wouldn’t be back to see the building when it was finished.

Jeppesen: It highlights the inherent anonymity of the situation.

Couchman: Well, before the Olympics, there were especially large numbers of migrant workers coming through the city. You’d see them sitting at midday eating lunch, and they would be gathered in large groups sitting on the pavement. And you might wonder, where did all these people come from? Where are they sleeping tonight? What are they working on?

I assume that a lot of the prints were sent to their families, who also probably wouldn’t have had the hukou necessary to come and see the Olympics. Though millions watched it on television, along with those around the world. But at least they have a picture of their uncle or their father or their cousins in front of the iconic buildings they helped to construct. It does bring a sense of ownership, I think. And I suppose a lot of the families will keep it as, say, you might a wedding or graduation photo. You know, “This is what I did. I worked on the Olympic Stadium in 2008.”

Jeppesen: “I participated in history.”

Couchman: Yes, it was history. It was very important for the Chinese. Because they hyped it themselves as an invitation to the world to come and see what China could do. The hype was not coming from outside. They made a big deal of it.

Jeppesen: Your latest project with the mirrors, what’s it called?

Couchman: It’s an odd one. Usually a title comes to me early on. With this project, I had difficulty and I think there’s a reason why. My motives aren’t complicated, but there is a lot going on within the images. It’s a lot about found objects. It was hard defining, but I found that whenever I was talking about the project, I talked about an exhibition in Beijing. So I called it In Beijing. At first, I thought it was temporary, a working title. But finally, I think I might stick to it because it ties the series down to a certain location. And it becomes, again, about location.

Jeppesen: It engages specifically with the topography of this neighborhood where you’re living in Beijing. I’m wondering what the genesis of the project was.

Couchman: Usually I have a snippet of an idea and I brew on it for ages until it becomes urgent to do. I have had those three mirrors sitting on my desk since January 2009. I wanted from the beginning to capture nearness and distance in the same image. But then later on, the reason why the project became pressing was because I put the two problems together.

I wonder how to interpret my surroundings, and in this case how the city’s changes can be interpreted. They recently demolished two large areas around the historic Drum and Bell Towers, and they [the government] had said that they were going to demolish another enormous area. Some locals were up in arms about it. So then they decided to curtail the plans, however they had already demolished two large areas to the north and south. I was sorry to see this had happened and that it seemed so inevitable. I live in the hutongs and have walked and cycled around them since I’ve lived in Beijing.

I felt that there was something to be done with what I refer to as the edge – where you have the upturned, demolished earthy site, basically earth on one side and then the hutongs leading away undisturbed from that edge on your other side. I’d been taking pictures recording where they had demolished these neighborhoods and flattened the earth; where it was bare. I walked across it, watching workers, machinery, scavengers, and children digging into it. Bringing the cityscape quickly down to an earthy flatness is quite surreal. Removing all the stuff that makes a city, you are starkly reminded that underneath it is soil and nothing more.

Jeppesen: Regarding the earthiness or even grittiness of the photos, it’s very Beijing, isn’t it? It also relates to the people, too. Beijingers are regarded as being very down-to-earth.

Couchman: I think Beijing is a very earthy place. One of the reasons why I live here is because it is being dug up. Not everyone would make it a destination city – a place that’s being dug up! – but I definitely came here for that reason.

Jeppesen: At what point did you decide to bring the mirrors into it?

Couchman: The hutongs are complicated. Some people think they’re slums, some people think they’re beautiful, some think they’re historical treasures and should be protected by UNESCO. I think there are arguments that fit all those examples. I’m certainly a big fan of the hutongs. But it’s a wrestling match between something beautiful, something ugly, something really old, and then someone will stick a brand new door on it – it’s all mixed together, and in that respect, it has so much humanity. So I decided that nearness and distance play a role, as they helped me to define the “view” more definitely. With the mirrors, I can mix a green leafy tree behind me, further down the hutong, with a scruffy piece of plastic that’s covering someone’s woodpile. The mirrors can reflect those contradictions physically and allow me to place possibly contrary views of the place together within a single image.

Jeppesen: It’s a lot more authentic than what you find on a postcard of Beijing. But in an extremely detailed way, which gives it aesthetic value. And it’s so abstract, because with the mirrors, you get several different images within a single image, almost producing a collage effect. I remember reading that there’s a superstitious aspect to the use of the mirrors, as well.

Couchman: Yes. I didn’t know this when I began the project, but I thought there was likely to be a superstition or meaning with mirrors, and it turns out the Chinese do have this. I read that mirrors were considered to affect the flow of energy, wealth, and healthiness of a space, and had historically been placed outside houses in China to ward off negative forces. I use that myth in the text accompanying the work because it feels very apt, though it wasn’t fundamental to my making the project.

Jeppesen: Would you say that photography is at the core of your practice?

Couchman: Yes, I think photography is a medium, amongst drawing, printmaking, and installation, that I often use, but if you asked me where my instincts lie, I’d say sculpture. I’ve been taking pictures since I was a child. My grandfather gave me a plastic camera when I was eight or so. I always wanted to take pictures. But it has always felt more like note taking, rather than the final item. Now I use photos as my final pieces more often because a lot of my photography has become, not a document of an action, but often, part of that action. So, for example, in this particular series, it was important not to end up documenting the hutongs. I wanted the final images to be active. I think a lot of photography records something seen. This work does by default document aspects of the hutongs, but I imagine the feeling when you see the exhibition is that the pieces are about a particular process of doing something. A sense of place, of being there and getting dirty and dusty. Rather than more of a disconnection – the photographer has disappeared and the illusion is left. I wanted this series to be dirty, dusty, and physical. That’s why my feet are in some of the pictures. It’s about being right there on that physical texture. I wanted this to be remembered as well. It’s about walking around, feeling it, touching it, and playing with it. I think photography is sometimes still too much about illusion. In my practice currently, I think photographic illusion in the traditional sense is slightly irrelevant.

Jeppesen: You’re trying for something direct and almost brutal.

Couchman: Yes, there is that energy in this series, I think. With the Workers 工人 project, I think when you get right down to it, it’s about exchange. The photographs became items that were exchanged. And then they traveled. Exchange – that’s the key.

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Travis Jeppesen is the author of five books, including Victims, the novel chosen by Dennis Cooper to debut his “Little House on the Bowery” imprint for Akashic Books, and Disorientations: Art on the Margins of the “Contemporary”. His most recent book is Dicklung & Others, a collection of poetry. He lives in Berlin.

• view all articles from this author

 

 

 

Beijing Excavations: An Interview with Helen Couchman – Whitehot Magazine

Whitehot Magazine article

 

Closing drinks – In Beijing

9th August, 2011

Recent exhibition In Beijing closed overnight last month due to unforeseen circumstances. Because of its untimely closure a selection from the series is on show at Amilal until the 24th August.

By way of thanks for your support and the continuation of the exhibition there will be a

Closing drinks
at Amilal 48 Shoubi Hutong (southeast of 66 Gulou Dongdajie) Beijing
东城区鼓楼东大街66号东南侧寿比胡同48号院内
Sunday 21st August, 4-8pm
Sponsored wine bar

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

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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。”
《舶来品》弗兰克·迪科特,2007年出版

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Couchman拍摄关于不同地方的风景变化已经很多年了。自从在北京工作后,她就时常聚焦探索作品里的尺度和身边新旧混杂的风景。目前为止,她已经运用了版画、绘画、摄影和装置多种不同的艺术形式来传达这些所见所思。

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。”

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Couchman总是带着一个照相机和三面反光镜进出大街小巷。反光镜是用来融和拍摄场景里的不同元素,包括物质的和非物质的。与其说最后拍摄出来的是城市风景,不如说是对这个细节和未来都在不断变化中的城市结构和实质即亲近又疏离的探索。

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展览开放 6月19日-7月9日

阿鲁斯艺术摄影空间
北京鼓楼东大街141号,2楼
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

 

Exhibition – Cloud series, Yellow lining

19th September, 2010

Exhibition of lino-cut, woodblock, etched and Chine-collé prints. Shown at the This Is Not A Gateway (TINAG) 3rd, Festival On Cities.

Opening 7pm on Thursday 21st October. Then 22-24th October. Hanbury Hall, 22 Hanbury Street, (off Brick Lane) London E1 6QR

Cloud series, Yellow lining

This new, ongoing series of landscapes employs and variously combines – lino cut, woodblock, etching, embossing and one-off Chine-collé prints, and utilises as its point of reference cloud imagery. To some degree Couchman is paralleling cloud motifs, which she has observed in temples, public architecture and large courtyard homes, (siheyuan) across China. This traditional subject, being usually depicted in stone or wood, materials that are in acute contrast to the ethereality of actual clouds. This mirrors the printmaking process where the cloud is carved in lino or wood or etched in copper.

The inadvertent starting point for these works was Couchman noticing, as the plane in which she was travelling descended towards the as yet unrevealed Beijing metropolis, a thin layer of bright yellow cloud, delineating a relatively fine line of material through which the aircraft quickly passed. From the ground nothing of this curious narrow band was visible, only a clear blue sky.

There is some irony here in the application of the English expression ‘every cloud has a silver lining’, which suggests that everything bad has its positive, if perhaps at first hidden, aspect. In the present case the matter is reversed, the clear blue of the sky being discreetly penetrated by an invisible layer of tangerine haze. It is difficult to see the ‘silver lining’ in this ominous yellow vision.

Couchman’s depictions of clouds are somewhat stylized, presenting age-old Chinese imagery in a modern form that owes much to the technical devices and conventions employed in western comics. Her pairing of Chinese wood and stone clouds with references to 20th century cartoons and design have allowed for a fantasised depiction of a grey and yellow cityscape.

Cloud series, Yellow lining No. 6

 

Cloud series, Yellow lining No. 7