Installation of WORKERS 工人. Stades, The Musee Olympic. 2016-2017

It has been a great pleasure working with the Chef de Section Expositions at The Musee Olympic over the last two years. Finally the exhibition came down but here are a couple of installation shots.
‘WORKERS 工人 Gong Ren’ by Helen Couchman at ‘Stades’, The Musee Olympic, Lausanne. 2016-2017.
Photo credit: © The Musee Olympic


Talk – Tate Liverpool

Talk, WORKERS 工人 Artist talk by Helen Couchman
Sunday, 9th April. 2 – 3pm

LOOK17, Liverpool International Photography Festival
Tate Liverpool
Albert Dock
Liverpool Waterfront
Liverpool L3 4BB


Above: Wang Zijun from the WORKERS 工 series. Beijing, China. 2007.

UK/China Cultural Exchange Lab

Interesting day of presentations and round table discussion at UK/China Cultural Exchange Lab organised by LOOK17 and Open Eye Gallery at the beautiful Victoria Gallery & Museum in Liverpool. With Arts Council England, The British Council, the University of Nottingham, Liverpool City Council and RIBA North amongst others.

Ying Kwok, Curator of LOOK17, presenting at the opening of the UK/China Cultural Exchange Lab, Liverpool, April 2017

WORKERS 工人 now stocked at Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool

The book WORKERS 工人 (gong ren) now stocked at Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool.

The artist is giving a talk about this WORKERS 工人 project and her work in China at Tate Liverpool on 09/04/2017.

Talk for the YCW, Young China Watchers, Brussels chapter.

 Snap Change: China through a Lens with Helen Couchman, Artist

Thursday, March 16, 2017, 19:00

Eno Atelier, Rue du Dublin 42, 1050 Brussels

[18:30] Doors Open [19:00] Event Begins


China’s Contemporary art scene has been flourishing amidst a swathe of rapid change on a grand scale. We will explore, through the art work of Helen Couchman, how artists are expressing this change, what subjects they take on and how this is received in China today. Helen’s work in the huge city of Beijing seeks to know what change means to its inhabitants, but also to ‘touch’ what it looks like. Her recent work explored 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 photographic and performative series seeks the texture and the vistas of the hutongs that have undergone this process of destruction. Couchman explores what she 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. Prior to this, she made portraits of worker’s constructing the 2008 Olympic Games as a subject for her first book, ‘WORKERS 工人 (gong ren)’. Couchman photographed building the vast bird’s nest stadium and swimming pool through 143 portraits that each show a single worker standing in front of these incredible structures, looking calmly, confidently and directly into Couchman’s lens.

Join us for a discussion about Couchman’s work and the way artists in China are exploring and expressing change and continuity. How are the themes artist’s in China take on meaningful to a Chinese and international audience and what perspective does an outsider bring to a depiction of change in China?


Artist Helen Couchman worked in Beijing on her hutong project from 2011, and prior to that had moved to live in Beijing in early 2006, soon after she published her first book, ‘WORKERS 工人’, (June 2008). Portraits from the series have been exhibited in London (2008), Hong Kong (2008) and Beijing (2012). Couchman’s work has been shown in in Cyprus (2003), Vermont (2005), China (2006) and Taiwan (2016). Her solo exhibitions also include ‘Mrs. West’s Hats’, Yerevan, Armenia (2004) ‘Gift’, Beijing (2006) and ‘There was no single reason for me to be there at first’, London (1999). Most recently she has exhibited ‘Epoch, Beijing 2006 – 2012’ (2017) a retrospective exhibition of her China work at CFCCA, the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Art in Manchester.

Helen Couchman - talk for YCW, Young China Watchers, Brussels Chapter 16 March 2017

YCW website

Installation of ‘Epoch, Beijing 2006-2012’

Installation shots of Epoch, Beijing 2006-2012 at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester, UK. 26 January – 19 February 2017

CFCCA Helen Couchman print 08 CFCCA Helen Couchman print 09 CFCCA Helen Couchman print 10 CFCCA Helen Couchman print 12 CFCCA Helen Couchman print 13

Photo credit: Constantin Brosteanu.

Video interview, TAV, Taiwan. 駐村藝術家/Helen COUCHMAN 駐村訪談

Video interview with Helen Couchman at TAV, Taiwan, February 2016. 4:38 minutes

Traveling Together, months 7 & 8. Taipei. 7 January – 5 March 2016
(一起旅行・第 7 與第 8 個月.台北・1月7日 – 3月5日.2016 )

英國曼徹斯特華人當代藝術中心交流計畫 CFCCA Exchange Program /
來訪藝術家 Visiting Artist:
Helen COUCHMAN 海倫・考曼

進駐期程 Residency Period:
2016年第一季 First quarter, 2016

進駐地點 Residency Location:
台北國際藝術村 Taipei Artist Village

Short artist interviews – by students from Manchester Metropolitan University and University of Salford

Thank you to arts and film students from Manchester Metropolitan University and University of Salford. The students interviewed very expertly for their assignment – short thirty second films of the artist interviewed about the exhibition, Epoch, Beijing 2006-2012.

Talk, introduction to the exhibition, Epoch, Beijing 2006-2012

Artists talk, an introduction to the exhibition, Epoch, Beijing 2006-2012 for MA students from the University of Salford and Manchester Metropolitan University.
26 January, 4.30 – 5.30pm.

Helen Couchman talk, CFCCA. Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 10.22.44 AM


Helen Couchman talk, CFCCA

Helen Couchman talk, CFCCA

Helen Couchman talk, CFCCA. 2017-02-07 at 10.12.33 AM

Helen Couchman talk, CFCCA

Helen Couchman talk, CFCCA

Helen Couchman talk, CFCCA

at CFCCA, Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art
Market Buildings, 13 Thomas Street
Manchester, M4 1EU

Photo credit: Hannah Vigus

Epoch, Beijing 2006 – 2012 at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art

Epoch, Beijing 2006 – 2012
新时代,北京 2006年至2012年

Works by Helen Couchman, Beijing 2006 – 2012
CFCCA, Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester, UK.
27th January – 19th February 2017

(Installation shots of the exhibition can be seen here.)

Helen Couchman lived and worked in Beijing for nearly seven years, having arrived on the Trans-Mongolian Train No. 4 at Beijing Main Station in early 2006 and then leaving for a project in New York City at the end of 2012. In that period, she created a number of works. Some involved printmaking, both etching chine-collé and using a technique traditional to Beijing – woodblock printing. Couchman’s body of work during her time in Beijing also included installation, photography, drawing, collage, performative pieces, giving talks and tutorials, and publishing books. All were in response to her particular surroundings in those years.

Those years. Ask any historian to define a period or an era. They argue endlessly about when one era ends, and another begins and over just what defines an age. How to identify the beginning of an era? What constitutes an epoch’s end?

The question becomes even harder when considering the history of China and where China is today. Did Couchman witness the ‘Post-Mao Era’? The ‘Post-Tiananmen Age’? It was a time of Olympic fever. Was the Beijing of “One World, One Dream” already beginning to fade as Couchman departed in 2012, only to be replaced by the more nationalistic concerns of a new leader for a new era: Xi Jinping and his specifically “China Dream?”

Looking back at the time between 2004-2013 from the perspective of the present, Couchman feels nostalgia for a moment come and gone. Beijing (or at least the nearby city of Zhangjiakou) is getting ready for the Winter Games of 2022. But compared to the excitement and anticipation which gripped the city and its people in the run up to the 2008 Summer Games, the atmosphere feels muted, the excitement less palpable.

In 2008, China reached out to the world and Beijing was radically re-sculpted. The song, “Beijing Welcomes You,” was played almost non-stop that year as the city was made orderly for the games, but some asked who might be excluded from that welcome. An unintentionally prescient question it turns out, as the period Couchman worked in Beijing did constitute a particular era, one that in 2016 many look back upon with the same nostalgia as Couchman.

The air is better in China in 2016 than it was a decade ago and new Internet applications make life for urbanites easier. The country is in a much stronger position internationally both in economic and strategic terms.  No doubt these are successes.

But there are growing restrictions on expression with new pressures on scholars, artists, and non-governmental organizations.  The domestic Internet offers a range of conveniences at high speed, but access to the outside world shrinks year on year. Galleries close. Film festivals cancel. Critiques of the state and society are dismissed as being influenced by nefarious foreign forces. It is as chilly an intellectual and artistic climate as at any time in the past three decades.

Couchman’s chose to work in Beijing, responding to Beijing in a particular period. These pieces represent a window not just into a recent past in Beijing and China, but also to an alternate vision of a future. One that embraces the kind of international cosmopolitanism celebrated in Beijing in 2008 and then again a year later with the Shanghai World Expo. The values of the Olympics, the opening of hearts and minds to friends from abroad, made this a special time for all living in Beijing.

We are all products of our culture, but we are also products of a shared humanity. It is what connects art, subject, and viewer.  It is what gives us common cause to embrace visitors to our home or to reach out across the world to make new friends. It was in this spirit that Couchman made these works, images of what turned out to be a very special era in Beijing.


CFCCA exhibition. Helen Couchman 2017

CFCCA website: Above, WORKERS, below, interview filmed at TAV, Tiapei, Taiwan


新时代,北京 2006年至2012年
Epoch, Beijing 2006 – 2012

Helen Couchman的作品,2006年至2012年,于北京
CFCCA, Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art

2006年初Helen Couchman乘坐着横穿蒙古的第4号列车抵达了北京火车总站,便在北京生活并工作了七年,此后于2012年底离开,前往纽约的一个项目。在北京的那段时间里,她创作了许多作品。她运用了版画技巧,既有蚀刻版画,又有雕版印刷(即北京的传统技巧,但对她来说却是一门新技术)。Couchman在北京期间的工作还包括装置艺术、摄影、绘画、抽象拼贴画、表演艺术作品、讲座及教学,还发表了一些书籍。所有这些都来自于她在那些年里对周围特殊环境和事物所作出的反应。








UCCA from the website, Self portrait with Long Life Earrings

Poster on the UCCA, Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, Beijing website. The image used is ‘Self portrait with Long Life Earrings’ by Helen Couchman for the artist’s talk, ‘China Stories – Collecting and Dropping, China.’ 2011.

Packing up an exhibition Epoch for transportation to Manchester

Packing up an exhibition, Epoch, late into the night ready for the art handlers tomorrow. Save the date China people. CFCCA. Manchester. UK. Opening 26 January 2017.

.Packing a retrospective exhibition for CFCCA, Manchester opening 27th January 2017

Artist’s talk for ACYPI Melbourne

Thank you to ACYPI Melbourne for inviting me to give a talk last night. It prompted some great questions and lots of conversations afterwards over Christmas cheese and wine.

Helen Couchman talk at ACYPI, Melbourne. 16 December 2016

Talk for ACYPI, Australian China Young Professionals Initiative, Melbourne

Join ACYPI for an Arts focused evening with two inspiring artists; Helen Couchman, visual artist and Mindy Meng Wang, musician and composer.

The evening will feature a Q and A session, a performance from Mindy Meng Wang on the Guzheng and a talk from both artists. They will discuss their work and inspirations and how the Arts scene in both Australia and China are developing, as well as how intercultural ideas are developed and communicated through works of art.

Friday 16th December, 2016

Pozible HQ
2/108-112 Langridge St,
Collingwood VIC 3066

Registration is

Helen Couchman
British artist Helen Couchman worked in Beijing for nearly seven years between 2006 and 2012. She will be talking about her experience of working in the country and the outcomes. Using various media, mostly drawing, photo, printing and installation Couchman has made work in various countries including USA, Cyprus, Armenia, Taiwan but nothing as prolonged as her time living in China. This talk is very timely as Helen is currently working on a retrospective exhibition of her China works for CFCCA, Centre For Chinese Contemporary Art in Manchester, England opening in January 2017.

Helen has published three books of photography; Omani Women, Mrs West’s Hats, Workers – Gong Ren.

WORKERS, Gong Ren at Le Musée Olympique, Lausanne, Switzerland

‘…they give off an incredible force, we can read the fragility in certain looks and pride as they are posing for you. They recall the harsh conditions in which these men and women have working but without falling into any voyeurism or pessimism. Personally, I find them absolutely magnificent and I am very touched at looking at them.’

Rachel Caloz, Chef de Section Expositions, The Olympic Museum, Lausanne.
Talk by Helen Couchman at ACYPI, Melbourne, 16 December 2016

Talk by Helen Couchman. ACYPI Melbourne website.


Flyer for ACYPI talk in Melbourne. 16 December 2016

Flyer for ACYPI arts talk

Talk at Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland

Artist talk at Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand.
3rd November 2016.
At 12.30, Building 1, Room 001 – 2085.

Talk by Helen Couchman at Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland. 3 November 2016

WORKERS 工人 portraits featured in exhibition at Le Musée Olympique, Lausanne

Stades opens tonight at Le Musée Olympique, Lausanne, Switzerland. Featuring at its centre portraits from the WORKERS 工人 Gong Ren series. Until 07/05/17.

Open: 14/10/2016 – 07/05/2017.

WORLKERS portraits featured in the Stades exhibition at Le Musée Olympique, Switzerland

So far the feedback has been very positive,

‘…they give off an incredible force, we can read the fragility in certain looks and pride as they are posing for you. They recall the harsh conditions in which these men and women have working but without falling into any voyeurism or pessimism. Personally, I find them absolutely magnificent and I am very touched at looking at them.’

Chef de Section Expositions
Le Musée Olympique, Lausanne, Switzerland

Omani Women exhibition, Husk, London

Omani Women portraits will be exhibited in London. Opening event this Friday 16th – introductory talk by Helen Couchman, 7pm at Husk.

Omani Women exhibition. Opening 16th September at Husk

Omani Women on exhibit at Athens Photo Festival

Omani Women on exhibit at Athens Photo Festival. The Photobook Exhibition at the Benaki Museum, the Hellenic Centre for Photography, Greece until 31/07/16. #APhF16

by Helen Couchman, Omani Women, exhibition, the Photobook, Athens, Greece, The Benikai Museum

Thanks to Jasmine for making it to see Omani Women at The Photobook Exhibition at The Benaki Museum, Athens

Thanks to Jasmine for making it to see ‘Omani Women’ at The Photobook Exhibition at The Benaki Museum, Athens

Hanging exhibition ‘Mrs. West’s Hats’ with her great-granddaughter

Exhibition hung. ‘Mrs. West’s Hats’ opens tomorrow until 30th June at The Allen Gallery, Alton, Hampshire, UK.

Hanging Mrs. West's Hats with her Great grand-daughter at The Allen Gallery, June 2016

Talk at The Allen Gallery

7.30pm, Thursday, 26th May. An illustrated talk and book signing by Helen Couchman about her grandmother and her hats. Mrs. West’s Hats and an essay about the work are published in a hardback book by the same name.

Talk tickets, £5 obtainable at the gallery.

Mrs West’s Hats the exhibition runs between Thursday 2 – 30 June. Open Tuesday – Saturday from 10.30am – 4.30pm. Entry is free.

Allen Gallery
10-12 Church Street
Alton, Hampshire
01420 82802

Talk , Mrs Wests Hats at the Allen Gallery by Helen Couchman

Mrs. West’s Hats exhibition

Press Release

Mrs West of Binsted was a resourceful lady. She was expected to accompany her husband to many important social events, including garden parties at Buckingham Palace. But cloth was rationed, so instead of a new outfit she wore a different hat for each occasion.   Some she bought and others she made herself so that each time it looked as though she was wearing a new outfit.

After Mrs West’s death, her granddaughter Helen Couchman, who had by now qualified with a BA in Fine Art and an MA in Critical Fine Art Practice, collected together the hats – there were over 60 of them – and photographed herself in the style of the time wearing them and also her grandmother’s original make-up. She then turned the resulting photographs into an artwork which she named ‘Mrs West’s Hats’.

And now ‘Mrs West’s Hats’ is to be exhibited in Alton’s Allen Gallery in June. The exhibition is preceded on May 26th by an illustrated talk by Helen Couchman herself about her grandmother, her hats and what they reveal about life and fashion in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

Helen says: ‘My grandmother was a most influential person in my childhood. In my eyes, she was creative, sharply intelligent and ceaselessly loyal towards me. She was most interested in the future – my future. When I tried on her hats I clearly remembered her. Each hat reminded me of a different aspect of my feelings towards her.’

Helen has exhibited ‘Mrs West’s Hats’ in galleries all over the world, but she is particularly pleased that her work is to be shown in Alton, so close to her grandmother’s old home. Indeed, Helen herself lived in Binsted for three years and attended Binsted Primary School, so the occasion will bring back even more memories to her. She commented: ‘It will be great to show my project in the area where my grandmother lived. It means a lot to me.’

The exhibition ‘Mrs West’s Hats’ runs at the Allen Gallery, 10-12 Church Street, Alton between Thursday 2nd and Thursday 30th June. The gallery is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. and entry is free. The talk ‘Mrs West’s Hats, the life and times of my Binsted grandmother’ takes place at the Allen Gallery at 7.30 p.m. on Thursday 26th May. Tickets, obtainable at the gallery or on 01420 82802, cost £5 to include light refreshments. Both events also feature on the website of Hampshire Cultural Trust,, while further information about Helen Couchman’s work can be found on ‘Mrs. West’s Hats’ and an essay about the work are published in a hardback book costing £12, ISBN 9780956017208, available in the Allen Gallery shop and online at

Omani Women – Islington Gazette article

Artist shows true colours of Oman

Portraits aim to overturn misconceptions

A Highbury artist is attempting to shed light on a little-known corner of the world with her unique portraits of Omani Women. Helen Couchman said the idea came to her after travelling to Oman for work four years ago. “I wanted to understand more about what we mean when we refer to the Middle East,” she said. “Its just so general and vague.”

It was while she was on assignment in the desert that she was first inspired; ” I was at the edge of what is known as The Empty Quarter when I met three women who appeared over the dunes in the middle of nowhere. The women – including a mother and her three daughters – took a shine to her and invited her to their farm. “I was struck by how brightly and confidently dresses the four women were,” Ms Couchman told the Gazette. “I began thinking about my expectations of them being more conservatively dressed.”

When she returned to the UK she searched through archives of Omani Women but found only portraits that were anthropological or of eroticised Persian beauty. Inspired by her own experiences she returned to the country to start her own project. Of course convincing strangers to pose for photos wasn’t easy. “I realised it might be quite a difficult question for people to consider so I approached people in the street rather than at their homes which I don’t think would have been very polite,” Ms Couchman said. Most families had at least on member who spoke English or else would invite a friend over who could. “I would ask them three questions,” she said. “Would they like to be in the portrait? What would they like to wear? And how would they like to present themselves?”

The result is a series of  image published in her new book Omani Women. She will be giving a talk and signing at Waterstones at Islington Green on 9th March at 6pm. 

by Sophie Inge, 3 March 2016


Online, 8 March 2016:

Omani Women - 8th March 2016. Islington Gazette website home page

Islington Gazette online article - 8 March 2016

Talk and book signing at Waterstones, Islington, London

Omani Women. Waterstones book talk and signing. 9 March 2016 40x60 poster for website 2

Omani Women talk, Waterstones, London

IMG_5995 Omani Women talk, Waterstones, London

Omani Women talk, Waterstones, London

常日.行旅 Travelling within Everyday Life, T.A.V. Taipei

TAV exhibition invite. 27 February 2016


「常日.行旅 Travelling within Everyday Life」

展覽日期 Exhibition Date : 2.27(Sat.) 3.20(Sun.) 11:0021:00 (週一公休,Closed on Monday)

開幕茶會 Opening : 2.27(Sat.) 16:00. Runs until until 3.20(Sun)

展覽地點 Venue : 台北國際藝術村,百里廳 Taipei Artist Village, Barry Room


策展人 Curator : 林珮鈺 LIN Pei-Yu

參展藝術家 Artists : 海倫‧考曼Helen COUCHMAN、池田剛介Kosuke IKEDA、郭立亭KUO Li-Ting、瑪麗亞‧朱莉安娜‧拜克Maria Juliana BYCK、昆‧范圖Quynh VANTU、戴翰泓TAI Han-HongThe Island、王佩瑄WANG Pei-Hsuan

特別感謝 Thanks : 胡氏藝術Hus Art、双方藝廊Double Square Gallery







As we embark upon our journey, we are gradually pulling away from our everyday life. In a strange environment, everything we see seems to blink in the dazzling light. This sort of excitement and anticipation is the most attractive part of travel. However, travel and everyday life are not two opposite ends of existence. Living in a strange place is a constant integration process across the border between travel and everyday life.

The artists visiting Taipei Artist Village in January, 2016, in my eyes, are all travellers in different journey stages for different purposes. Among which, someone is travelling around Asia; Taipei represents one chapter of the story about Asian culture. Someone has conducted some observation and fieldwork for some time in different parts of Taiwan, creating the work with a mixture of deep insights into this island. Someone is a nomadic artist who considers the world as home and starts to explore the city’s landscapes and soundscapes in obscure corners. Someone is carrying out the first trip for two with a baby in her belly. Those fragments of her life experience in Taipei are filled with expectation for future. Someone has found himself/herself at home in Taipei and is currently seeking for a new path in this familiar city. These artists’ works on display reflect their own understanding and perspectives growing out of the experience under the interaction of travel and everyday life. They review both inside and outside of physical and mental space and the status that the borderline is constantly redrawn.     

As Marcel Proust put it, “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” When you are on the road, no matter how magnificent and rare the stunning view is, or how ordinary and dull the daily life landscape is, both can be equally splendid and beautiful. Let’s see the world with the traveller’s eyes and live everyday life with the attitude to travel. When travel becomes everyday life and everyday life becomes a journey, let’s depart from here at this moment!


For further details and images of the project Travelling Together exhibited click here

Artist’s talk at T.A.V. Taipei

TAV, banner. with Helen Couchman

Muna from the Omani Women series in the Geographical Magazine

Muna from the Omani Women Series for the Geographical Magazine GE090_FEB16

Since 2012, Helen Couchman, a Fellow of the RGS-IGB, has repeatedly worked in Oman collaborating with Omani women on a series portraying the women she met , their self-presentation, fashion, modesty and individuality. The 146 portraits present a distinctly varied group and showcase the women’s personal styles. Having researched in libraries and archives and found no existing portraits of Omani women, it became clear that this offered a unique context for the work. Of the women who agreed to have their portrait taken, barely ten per cent chose to cover their faces – like Muna above – because of the photography. One of the key tenets of Couchman’s project was that the women themselves could dictate the nature of how they were portrayed. 33 portraits were exhibited in Muscat in 2015 and all 146 are featured in the new book ‘Omani Women’ along with a map of the journeys taken.

Geographical Magazine, February 2016

Geographical Magazine Febraury 2016 cover

February cover


Residency at T.A.V. Taiwan

TAV artists in residence Jan-Apr 2016

Helen COUCHMAN moved to London in 1991, where she completed a BA in Fine Art at Sir John Cass in 1996, and an MA in Critical Fine Art Practice at Central St Martins in 1998. She was more recently invited to pursue a period of post graduate research at Chelsea.
Couchman has exhibited widely, both in the United Kingdom and internationally, often producing new bodies of work during residencies. Amongst these are Cyprus (2003), Vermont (2005), China (2006), London (2015) and Taiwan(2015).
Moving to live in Beijing in early 2007, Couchman published her first book there, WORKERS , in June 2008. Portraits from the series have been exhibited in London (2008), Hong Kong (2008) and Beijing (2012). Couchman’s second book, Mrs West’s Hats, was published in November 2009.
Couchman’s solo exhibitions also include Mrs West’s Hats, Yerevan, Armenia (2004) Gift, Beijing (2006) and There was no single reason for me to be there at first, London (1999). The artist has contributed to a number of group exhibitions, including The Artful Scriptorium, New York, (2010),There and Everywhere, London (2009), China in Motion, London (2008), Solutions for a Modern City, Hong Kong (2008), Future Landscapes, Shewsbury, UK (2005), Uncommon Ground, Sway, UK (2004), Sodium Blindness, London (2000), find(found),London (1997), and Contemporary Chinoiserie, London (2008).


Resident Project:

I plan to make new work in response to my stay in Taipei. In my practice I often make art projects in direct response to the location I work in. In the past they have been referred to as self-made residencies. I spent nearly seven years, 2006-2013, working independently in Beijing initially as it fulfilled a persistent curiosity I have regarding fast changing landscapes and how they reveal the politics and economics of the people in those places. In the last three years I have been working independently on a project in Oman making expeditions across the country to meet women and collaborate with them on portraits.

TAV website - English version

Helen COUCHMAN於1991年移居倫敦,1996年獲得Sir John Cass藝術學院的學士學位,1998年獲得中央聖馬丁藝術實踐評論的碩士學位,近期她被邀請到切爾西進行碩士後研究。她在英國以及國際多處舉辦過展覽,駐村期間常製作新的作品。駐村地點有賽普勒斯(2003)、美國佛蒙特州(2005)、中國(2006)、倫敦(2015)以及台灣(2015)。Couchman於2007年初移居到北京,2008年6月,她在北京出版了她的第一本書《工人》(Workers),這一系列的肖像照在倫敦(2008)、香港(2008)以及北京(2012)展出。Couchman的第二本書《西方女士的帽子》(Mrs West’s Hats),也於2009年11月出版。Couchman的個展包括Mrs West’s Hats(亞美尼亞,葉里溫,2004)、禮物(北京,2006),以及There was no single reason for me to be there at first(倫敦,1999)。藝術家參加了許多聯展,包括The Artful Scriptorium(紐約,2010),There and Everywhere(倫敦,2009), China in Motion(倫敦,2008), Solutions for a Modern City,(香港,2008), Future Landscapes(舒茲伯利,英國,2005), UncommonGround, (英國Sway,2004), Sodium Blindness(倫敦,2000), find(found)(倫敦,1997), 以及Contemporary Chinoiserie(倫敦,2008)。





TAV website profile - mandarin

UK book launch of Omani Women at The Photographers’ Gallery

Omani Women


​A new book by British artist Helen Couchman

In 2012 Couchman began her latest project, exploring portraiture by collaborating with women across the Sultanate of Oman. Before beginning her expeditions around Oman Couchman researched for images of Omani women in archives and museums around London and Oxford and found no material. The handful of images of women she found being anthropological images emphasising the women’s skills or the occasional eroticised Persian beauty, neither addressing the individual, stylish and confident women she had markedly noticed in the country.

“She camped in the mountains, the desert and on the beaches of this beautiful country, in order to gain access to the communities living between the northern tip of Musandam and the southern border with Yemen; between the edge of The Empty Quarter bordering with Saudi Arabia to the west; and along the length of the east coast and onto Masirah Island. On her travels she met women walking or working and asked to take their portraits.” – Sussan Babaie– Foreword for ‘Omani Women – About a journey’

The series depicts the diversity of Omani women, their self-presentation, fashion, modesty and beauty in the country. These portraits show a very diverse group of women from Bedu women to city girls in Muscat and their individual styles.

“Couchman’s project bridges a gap as far as local memory allows. This collapsing of time through an artist’s journey runs as a backdrop to her experience of Oman. The rare privilege afforded a woman artist to focus her camera lens on women of Oman makes this an unusual venture.” – Sussan Babaie– Foreword for ‘Omani Women – About a journey’

12 November 2015
6pm – 8pm
The Photographers’ Gallery
16-18 Ramillies Street
London W1F 7LW

Writing about Omani Women for the Anglo-Omani Society Annual Review 2015

1 Omani Women featured in the Anglo-Omani Society Annual Review 2015 web 2 Omani Women featured in the Anglo-Omani Society Annual Review 2015 web

Anglo-Omani Society Annual Review 2015 - cover

Omani Women – presentation to Omani engineers

Great to present to some of the female engineers at WorleyParsons about the Omani Women project. In Muscat the company employs 50% women engineers.

Omani Women project - presenting to female engineers. web


Omani Women books weighing in at Muscat air cargo office

Omani Women books weighing in at Muscat Airport cargo office. web

Omani Women – About a journey – lecture at Gallery Sarah

Dear Guest,

Greetings from Gallery Sarah

Our current exhibiting photographer, Helen Couchman will be giving a lecture at Gallery Sarah this Saturday morning at 11.30 am about her photography journey through Oman and her book ‘Omani Women’.

If you would like to join us please email your name and we will reserve a seat for you.

Thank you.

Gallery Manager
Gallery Sarah

Helen Lecture Invite, 31 October 2015

Omani Women talk with OURPLANET International School, Muscat, Oman

Lovely to talk with OURPLANET International School, Muscat today about the journey around Oman to make the portraits for the Omani Women series.

Talk with OURPLANET International School. Omani Women by Helen Couchman

Omani women through the lens – Oman Observer

Oman Observer review, Omani Women by Helen Couchman, 27:10:15The charming Muscat is where Gallery Sarah is located. It is right next to Bait al Zubair. With the sunlight giving a natural delight to the photographs, women adorning bright coloured garments come alive, the white colour of the wall making them appear even more vibrant and prominent.
The photography exhibition is called Omani Women. It is a collection of images of Omani women taken by Helen Couchman over three years. The idea took form in February 2012. She flew in from Beijing, where she was stationed at that time, back to London where she continued with her research and planned out the journeys.

Asked what she felt when she began to visualise the concept, Helen said: “My first thoughts were the Omani hospitality and meeting Omani women and being really struck by the brightness of their clothing, their variety and individuality of their clothing. I realised that you cannot buy these clothes on the shelves because the ones I had seen were tailor made. So they struck me as special.”

Helen travelled throughout the country capturing special moments. From the desert to the city, from a mother with her toddler to a working woman — the images portray the subject’s world in a unique way. The women are in their natural surroundings, in clothes they wanted to wear with poses they wanted to strike.

Helen pointed out that one has to keep in mind that each image is a photograph. “I think it is interesting to consider the particularity of photography. Actually in my work as an artist I use mixed media. Sometimes I draw, I paint and sometimes make installations and so on. But when you photograph someone you have that moment when they are in your sight and it is about capturing that moment of time. In this project I deliberately asked the women, my sitters, if they would choose what they were going to wear and choose how they want to portray themselves with their hand gestures, how they would like to cover the faces or how they would like to present themselves, which is not necessarily typical often with artist’s portrait. The idea is that the artist chooses what the person wears or how the person sits and how he or she presents themselves because the artist has that vision. With this I wanted to collaborate with them and find out what they would like in terms of how they wanted to present themselves,” said Helen.

Helen took three expeditions of 10 days each time. She chose not to stay in hotels and instead camped out. And it is one of those locations that inspired her to design the cover of her book entitled Omani Women, which compiles all the portraits that are in the exhibition.

“Oman is a beautiful country and it is such a pleasure to camp here. I realised quite quickly that because of my funding, staying in hotels would make the project impossible for me. But I also wanted to reach far flung places and go to villages, mountains and the desert where it is not easy to find somewhere to stay. Camping gave me flexible time so I could spend time with women and follow each day as it played out. I would just camp wherever I reached. It was the most practical solution. It was a lovely way of spending my time in the evenings,” reflected Helen.

There were lots of interesting places but one that caught her imagination was Haima. “I camped at one place twice because it is in the middle of the country. On two occasions I crossed it. It was the area around Haima. It was very central and desert-like. There was very little but the desert is beautiful. I woke up there and looked out at dawn and the desert was pale pink with little white flaxes. It was beautiful. I thought how beautiful to have such harsh climate, arid and difficult to live and yet have such soft colours, which you can argue as feminine colours. The sky was powder blue. It struck me so much that it became the cover of the book, which accompanies the exhibition,” said the photographer.

There were more sceneries and landscapes that came across during Helen’s journey but she tried hard to concentrate on her project — Omani Women.
“When you are pursuing something, you find yourself in situations which you may not have expected. It is easy to get distracted by the things you are learning and finding out. This project was no different. I came across food, met kids, people playing music, saw landscapes, houses, farming, animals, things normally I would not have expected. This happened all the way through the project. But I tried very consciously to keep my focus on the project at hand because it is so easy to get side tracked. I find that you get good results when you put a lot of energy and focus in what I am doing. I am happy I completed it,” said Helen looking content.

The three-week exhibition will conclude on November 5.

Link to the article online

Video interview, Gallery Sarah, Bait Al Zubair Museum by Oman Daily Observer

The Talk: Helen Couchman on Omani Women Exhibit
by Lakshmi Kothaneth, Oman Daily Observer
Published on 27 Oct 2015

Right next to Bait al Zubait in Muscat, one will find Gallery Sarah. On display, photographs of women adorning bright coloured garments coming alive from the natural sun light, the white colour of the wall making them appear even more vibrant and prominent. Find out how Helen Couchman dedicated her time to capture the captivating Omani Women.

Omani Women now stocked at Bait Al Zubair Museum

Books now stocked for sale at Bait Al Zubair Museum bookshop.

Omani Women books by Helen Couchman now stocked for sale at Bait Al Zubair Museum bookshop

Omani Women feature in Lifestyle pages

Omani Women-story-Lifestyle-pages-1 web Omani Women-story-Lifestyle-pages-2 web

The Many Colours of Omani Women – Y Magazine

Y Magazine article. Omani Women. Deeba Hasan. 1 web Y Magazine article. Omani Women. Deeba Hasan. 2 web



Fully veiled so her expression remains a mystery to observers, the image of a mother from the interiors of Oman holding her child in her arms offers a rare glimpse into a world that is usually closed to strangers.

But British photographer Helen Couchman was able to capture dozens of similar images after gaining the trust of the women. The result is a set of extraordinary photographs capturing Omani women in remote areas around the Sultanate, now on display at Gallery Sarah in Old Muscat.

Y magazine - omani women by Helen Couchman

Many of photographs show the women dressed in their traditional attire, vibrant colours of vivid red and saffron yellow, some with a veil or burqa on their faces, others fully covered from head to toe.

Armed with her camera and a 4×4, Helen went to great lengths to get the images, even camping out in the mountains and deserts. The hardest challenge, however, was breaking down cultural barriers and, as a lone Western woman, to gain acceptance from the communities she visited.

During her three expeditions into the interiors of Oman, Helen criss-crossed the Sultanate, journeying from the northern tip of Musandam and the southern border with Yemen, as well as the vast expanse of the Empty Quarter to Masirah Island on the east coast.

She managed to take a total of 146 pictures. They show women of different ages depicting the diversity of women, their self-expression, fashion, modesty and beauty in the environment that they feel most at home. “When I asked for permission to take pictures of these women, I told them to just pose how they wanted to represent themselves in the photograph,” says Helen.

2 Y magazine. Omani Women by Helen Couchman

Beginning in 2012, the task of taking all these photos was arduous but rewarding. “I would just drive in the Omani Interiors and pass through the market area and other public places. When I spotted a woman, either alone or with her family, I would introduced myself using some Arabic and explain what I am doing and ask them if I could take a photograph of them,” says Helen.

On most occasions, probably because Helen was a woman, she didn’t get no for an answer. “I think I was privileged being a woman with this series, as most women would have rejected [an approach] if I was a male photographer.” Surprisingly, it was the younger women who were more shy, often asking to be totally covered in the photo.

“Sometimes they would bring in a male member of the family and the male would normally say yes or no, after which the woman would speak, so that there is no contradiction,” reveals Helen.

Normally after her conversation with the family, they would ask Helen to go home with them, where sometimes the woman to be photographed would change her clothes into something more fancy and then pose for the photo. Occasionally, Helen managed to take more than one lady’s picture from the same family.

When she sat down with the families, they would talk to her about different topics. “They would speak to me about their children a bit, sometimes their careers and other things, at times they also asked a little bit about me. They often liked to dress me up and wanted me to try on their jewellery.”

On one occasion, when Helen was at a family home in Thumrait, one of the men spoke to her about the last British person who had entered their area. Although he didn’t remember his name, from the descriptions, Helen later figured out that it was Wilfred Thesiger, the British explorer who crossed the Empty Quarter in the mid-1940s.

3 Y- magazine, Omani Women by Helen Couchman

Helen was lucky to get a mix of everything in her photos – wealthy and poor women, girls aged 17 years to older women in their late 70s, and more modern women with their conservative counterparts.

Although she loves all the photos, Helen’s favourite is one in which there is a pregnant woman, wearing a long red dress and completely covered. “It’s the way she has her arms sort of holding on to her stomach, which makes it look like the baby is a prized trophy.”

All of the photos have been documented in a book, also titled Omani Women, and was launched along with the exhibition on October 12.

Omani Women will run until November 7 at Gallery Sarah, from 9.30am until 6pm, Sunday to Thursday.

For more information, visit


Link to the article online

Omani Women photography exhibition at Gallery Sarah – Times of Oman

Omani Women article, Times of Oman. Thursday 15 October 2015

Presentation and Q&A with Higher College of Technology Oman

Presentation and Q&A with the Higher College of Technology Oman about the project, exhibition, photography and book. Gallery visit at the Omani Women show at Gallery Sarah, Bait Al Zubair Museum.

Presentation and Q&A with Higher College of Technology, Oman. Omani Women by Helen Couchman

‘Beyond the Veil’ feature in Muscat Daily about ‘Omani Women’

Article Beyond the Veil in the Muscat Daily about new project 'Omani Women' by Helen Couchman


The two women, who first inspired Helen Couchman to take up a project in Oman

It was amidst the vast expanse of Oman’s Sharqiyah Sands that British photographer Helen Couchman first drew inspiration for her project. 

Helen, who was on a photography assignment in the region in 2012, was working with a group of men in the desert, when two Omani women suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the scorching mid-day heat. “Since I was the only woman in the group perhaps, they immediately took a shine to me and invited me over to their place,” she recalled. Helen remembers heading to their farm house soon after.


Helen with some of the women who were photographed for her book (Supplied photo)

“The interesting thing is that they didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Arabic, but we still had dates, oranges and coffee together and somehow exchanged a lot.”

But what struck Helen most about this experience were the women. “The fact that they were so elegant and beautifully dressed, and were completely in-charge of their farm, made me realise that this wasn’t quite what I had imagined them to be,” she said. Despite the clothing that shielded them from the outside world, they still appeared to be fiercely strong and independent women.

Following her chance meeting with the two women, the UK-based photographer was incepted with the idea for her next project. Since then, she has visited the sultanate thrice, travelling across the length and breadth of Oman, capturing portraits of women willing to lend themselves to her camera.


The result is a diverse collection of 146 portraits, which Helen has compiled together in a book titled Omani Women, which will be unveiled at Gallery Sarah on Monday. Select works from this collection will also be on display at the gallery until November 5.

This is Helen’s third book of portraits. Her previous works

include Workers – portraits of migrant workers who participated in the construction of the Olympic Green in Beijing – and Mrs West’s Hats, which is a compilation of self-portraits, prom-pted by Helen’s memories of her grandmother’s love for hats.

“I found this project interesting for many reasons,” says Helen. For starters, there was very little photographic material available on Omani women. “While doing my research in England, I learnt that nobody had done portraits of them. All the people who had travelled here, usually photographed men, guns or camels. The little material that was available, either did not focus on women as the subject or exoticised them.”

As an artist, Helen felt that she had a mission at hand. What she didn’t realise was that it

wasn’t going to be very easy. But the photographer maintains that she was quite positive about her work from the very onset. “I did not go and knock on people’s doors because it would seem very impolite, but I approached women on the streets and many of them were very forthcoming, inviting me into their homes,” she said. “My plan was to get as many portraits I was allowed and to travel across the whole country to do it. I did not know how much I was going to get,” she says.

The language barrier was another hurdle that Helen encountered during her photography expeditions. Despite the many problems, she avoided taking a translator along. Instead, she carried notes in Arabic that highlighted the purpose of her visit. “When you have a translator, your subject no longer engages with you. As a photographer, I need them to be dealing with me directly. Though, I had some struggles communicating with the women while taking the pictures, the dialogue was still engaged with me on lots of levels. To be honest, there were very few occasions when I completely drew a blank.”

Helen, however, takes great pride in mentioning that her subjects had complete control over how the portraits eventually looked. “As I was working on my project, I realised that the wo-men were really taking ownership of the portrait very strongly. In the history of portraiture, generally the photographer or the artist tells the sitter what to do. But it’s really lovely how the portraits have come along, when I honestly wasn’t in charge. The women chose what they wanted to wear, how they wanted to stand, or whether they wanted to stay covered or not,” she says.

Her most treasured portrait from the collection is that of a woman, who she clicked on her first trip to Oman.

“There was this one particular portrait, where the woman had covered her face with a piece of cloth from the abundance wrapped around her. She was heavily pregnant and dressed in red. The woman was standing upright with her hands on her belly, with the fabric of her dress flowing freely. At one point she stood with a foot forward and a little to the side. The effect was one of confidence and something like a classical sculpture…almost an image like Venus. Despite her face not being visible, she looked like a goddess to me. This and the variety of different ways the women chose to engage for a portrait was very individual and of great interest to me.”

Helen’s portraits are as much about the women from Oman as it is about the strength of their character and personality, which comes shining through in these photographs.

“Your portraits change as you go along because you find out more about your subject,” she says, insisting that she has never been more impressed.  


Omani Women - UK Embassy in Oman Facebook announcement

Omani Women – British Embassy in Oman Facebook announcement

Omani Women exhibition opening at Gallery Sarah

Omani Women exhibition opening invitation card

Gallery Sarah cordially invites you to the opening of
Omani Women
12th October 2015, 7.30pm
at Bait Al Zubair Museum, Muscat
The exhibition will be opened by Her Excellency Greta Holtz U.S. Ambassador to Oman

1 Omani Women by Helen Couchman, opening - images copyright Bait Al Zubair Museum, Oman 2 Omani Women by Helen Couchman, opening - images copyright Bait Al Zubair Museum, Oman 3 Omani Women by Helen Couchman, opening - images copyright Bait Al Zubair Museum, Oman 4 Omani Women by Helen Couchman, opening - images copyright Bait Al Zubair Museum, Oman 5 Omani Women by Helen Couchman, opening - images copyright Bait Al Zubair Museum, Oman 6 Omani Women by Helen Couchman, opening - images copyright Bait Al Zubair Museum, Oman 7 Omani Women by Helen Couchman, opening - images copyright Bait Al Zubair Museum, Oman 8 Omani Women by Helen Couchman, opening - images copyright Bait Al Zubair Museum, Oman 9 Omani Women by Helen Couchman, opening - images copyright Bait Al Zubair Museum, Oman 10 Omani Women by Helen Couchman, opening - images copyright Bait Al Zubair Museum, Oman 11 Omani Women by Helen Couchman, opening - images copyright Bait Al Zubair Museum, Oman 12 Omani Women by Helen Couchman, opening - images copyright Bait Al Zubair Museum, Oman 13 Omani Women by Helen Couchman, opening - images copyright Bait Al Zubair Museum, Oman 14 Omani Women by Helen Couchman, opening - images copyright Bait Al Zubair Museum, Oman 15 Omani Women by Helen Couchman, opening - images copyright Bait Al Zubair Museum, Oman

Exhibition opening images photo credit: Bait Al Zubair Museum

Preparations for the show – Omani Women at Gallery Sarah

Omani Women, Gallery Sarah, Bait Al Zubair Museum, Muscat, Oman. copyright Helen Couchman 4

Omani Women, Gallery Sarah, Bait Al Zubair Museum, Muscat, Oman. copyright Helen Couchman 1

Omani Women, Gallery Sarah, Bait Al Zubair Museum, Muscat, Oman. copyright Helen Couchman 2

Omani Women, Gallery Sarah, Bait Al Zubair Museum, Muscat, Oman. copyright Helen Couchman 3

UK artist to launch Omani Women exhibition – OmanGB

Omani Women, OmanGB, Helen Couchman, Oman, women, portraiture

UK artist to launch Omani Women exhibition

A British artist’s exhibition of photos of Omani women is set to open at Gallery Sarah in Muscat on October 12 – the same week as Omani Women’s Day.

Omani Women, which is also set to be exhibited in London in November, features 146 portraits taken by acclaimed artist Helen Couchman.

An associated book of the same name, funded by the UK-based Anglo-Omani Society, is also set to be launched at both events.

Helen, who completed a BA in Fine Art at Sir John Cass in London in 1996 and an MA in Critical Fine Art Practice at Central St Martins two years later, first visited Oman in February 2012.

“I was immediately struck by the country’s welcome and warm beauty,” she said. “Then, while on an expedition in the desert at the edge of The Empty Quarter, I happened upon two Bedouin women who were walking as if from nowhere through the unmarked dunes. They invited me for cardamom coffee and fresh dates and showed me around their farm, which was hidden behind a couple of dunes.


Photo exhibition to mark Omani Women’s Day – Times of Oman

Omani Women article, Times of Oman. Wednesday 7 October 2015

Portraits of Omani Women – Faces Magazine

In the spotlight, feature in Faces Magazine, Times of Oman. Featuring Omani Women by Helen Couchman. Sept 2015 s

Click to enlarge

Portraits of Omani Women

Lured by the enchanting vistas of the country and the quaint lifestyle of women in the villages, British artist Helen Couchman toured the country to capture portraits of Omani women

When Helen Couchman, a London based artist, first visited Oman in 2012 and toured the country on a photographic assignment commissioned by a charity, she was privy to a mirage-like scene of two women in traditional attire, walking in the middle of a desert – an altogether commonplace event, but one that set the premise for her long tryst with the country and its people.

“This is quite normal in Oman…but not for me,” she says. “It was the middle of the day and the weather was really hot. They didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any Arabic, but they invited me for coffee and I had a lovely time. It got me thinking about Omani women, their farm work and how beautifully they are dressed. They really struck me and I made up my mind to return back and take portraits of Omani women.”

That experience set the tempo for Helen’s consecutive trips to Oman, which has resulted in a colourful and vibrant compilation of portraits in a book titled ‘Omani Women’. Scheduled to be launched on October 15, on the sidelines of an exhibition of the same name at Bait Al Zubair’s Gallery Sarah, the book is a testament of her connect with Oman, established during her camping trips through the length and breadth of the country, as she captured portraits of women going about their work.

Talking to FACES, earlier this month, during a quick trip to the country to finalise the printing, she pointed out that the project took time to take off as she lacked the necessary fund. Nevertheless, on her return back home to London she initiated research on Oman and soon learnt that photographic work featuring Omani women was almost non-existent.
“I am sure there are lots of reasons for this, but I just thought it was interesting to pursue it and that it would be an opportunity to try,” she notes.  “I thought I will travel around the country, introduce myself to people and see what they say over cups of coffee,” she adds.

A map of Oman, inserted in the book, outlines the places Helen has travelled to and camped out along with a friend. She says she opted to camp out as it gave her the freedom to go to remote places while keeping the trip within the budget. In the three separate trips (the first one was from Haima and around the coast, the second around Salalah and the third to Musandam and the adjoining places) that she took to compile the book, she talked to about 300 people and captured 146 portraits. “Not everybody said ‘yes’ but that was expected; for me it was more about talking to women about their fashion, about Oman, about me…it was an exchange,” says Helen. Her Arabic is limited to casual greetings, but she managed with smiles and waves. “That helps a lot,” she muses.

Language, however, was not the only challenge, as the project required her to walk up to strangers in the streets. “I wasn’t just talking to the women; I was talking to their husbands, to their friends… I didn’t face any conflicts, but I know some people definitely didn’t agree, so I had to be quite brave to speak to people…” she notes.

‘Omani Women’ marks Helen’s third venture in the field of books; all of them portraitures, as she feels photography lends itself to books; she sees it as an art form rather than as a coffee table item. “The great thing about books for me is that when I make a series – I often work in series – it allows me to curate that series in a way that people can see the whole rather than the part… The concept is important for the collection that’s why books are handy for me as a structure. The drawings I have done so far didn’t need to be collated this way,” she maintains.

Her first book presents portraits of migrant workers preparing for the Olympics in Beijing; they are all taken in the same position and composition, unlike the current one, which is more focused on the individual. Her second book, titled Mrs. West’s Hats’, is a tribute to her memories of her grandmother. In it she has portrayed herself wearing her grandmother’s hats while depicting different emotions. “It is really about exploring my feelings for her,” she points out.
Her latest venture is unlike the previous two, which had elements of uniformity about them. She celebrates variety in ‘Omani Women’, with regional differences in the traditional attire presenting a new perspective. It was, in effect, the layers of fabric in the traditional attire of women that held her fascination. The variety of choices it offers the wearer is what got her attention, she maintains.

In the book’s foreword, Sussan Babaie calls it a ‘rare privilege that afforded a woman artist to focus her camera lens on women of Oman’, making it an unusual venture. She writes about the collapsing of time that runs as a backdrop to Helen’s experience of Oman, one of which saw her conversing with a local man who connected her expedition to that of Wilfred Thesiger.

The exhibition of Helen’s works at Gallery Sarah (from October 15 to November 7) will feature 33 of the selected portraits from the book. Having exhibited her works (photography, drawing and print making) widely, both in the United Kingdom and internationally, often producing new bodies of work during her residencies, Helen’s rendition of ‘Omani Women’ will be a perfect gift to the nation as it observes Omani Women’s Day on October 17.


Omani Women نساء عمانيات book cover

Omani Women book cover

Production of forthcoming book Omani Women

Production - Omani Women by Helen Cocuhman. Muscat Oman 2015. copyright Helen Couchman

Production - Omani Women by Helen Cocuhman. Muscat Oman 2015. copyright Helen Couchman

Production - Omani Women by Helen Cocuhman. Muscat Oman 2015. copyright Helen Couchman

Production - Omani Women by Helen Cocuhman. Muscat Oman 2015. copyright Helen Couchman

WORKERS 工人 on display to accompany ‘The Chinese Photobook’‬ exhibit at The Photographers’ Gallery

WORKERS  工人 on display to accompany the ‪‎The Chinese Photobook exhibition‬ at The Photographers’ Gallery, London. The show runs until 5 July. More information here

WORKERS, book, art, The Photographers Gallery, London, China, migration, by Helen Couchman

Speaking about a journey and portraiture

Photos taken at the lecture given on the 23rd April in London.
Omani Women art project, Helen Couchman presents at the Anglo-Omani Society, London

Omani Women art project, Helen Couchman presents at the Anglo-Omani Society. copyright Chloe Brookes

Omani Women art project, Helen Couchman presents at the Anglo-Omani Society, London

Omani Women art project, Helen Couchman presents at the Anglo-Omani Society. copyright Chloe Brookes

Omani Women art project, Helen Couchman presents at the Anglo-Omani Society, London

Omani Women art project, Helen Couchman presents at the Anglo-Omani Society, London

Omani Women art project, Helen Couchman presents at the Anglo-Omani Society. copyright Chloe Brookes

Omani Women art project, Helen Couchman presents at the Anglo-Omani Society, London

Omani Women art project, Helen Couchman presents at the Anglo-Omani Society. copyright Chloe Brookes

Omani Women art project, Helen Couchman presents at the Anglo-Omani Society. copyright Chloe Brookes

Omani Women art project, Helen Couchman presents at the Anglo-Omani Society. copyright Chloe Brookes

Omani Women art project, Helen Couchman presents at the Anglo-Omani Society, London

Omani Women art project, Helen Couchman presents at the Anglo-Omani Society. copyright Chloe Brookes
photo credits: Chloe Brookes

Lecture at the Anglo-Omani Society

Helen Couchman, photography

First slide for tomorrows lecture

Helen Couchman, first slide for Anglo-Omani Society talk 23rd April 2015
I’ve always been keen to pack up my things and move. As a child I likened my frequent expeditions to being a snail with my house on my back. My mother called my escapades in the garden camping. My father always talked of adventures. Now its called an expedition.

Drawing re/found in the studio

Drawing re/found in the studio. Pre China. In fact this is inspired by the outskirts of Swansea, Wales, UK.

drawing, UK, pre China copyright Helen Couchman

More landscape drawings have been uploaded here

Invited to give a TED Talk

Details to follow

Amnesty International Art Auction in London

An etching from Cloud series, yellow lining will be auctioned at Amnesty International UK, London on 19th February in aid of Art Refuge.

6pm Drinks Reception and Viewing. 7.30pm Auction
Turner prize winner Jeremy Deller’s work will be up auction amongst others.

Art Refuge helps displaced young people in Nepal deal with the trauma of seeking asylum though art therapy. Often separated from their families and having to travel by foot over the Himalayas, these kids really benefit from the chance to express themselves through painting and drawing. All proceeds will go to getting two UK-based art therapists set up in Kathmandu, and keeping our tremendous projects going for the next year.

All welcome

Drawing is a constant

Drawings have been added to the website. Further drawings will be added one by one in time. Follow these links.

Drawing people
Drawing for projects
Drawing landscape/buildings
Drawing other things

The power of images – Charlie Hebdo

None of the British newspapers published the cartoons today. The Independent impressively skirted the issue with a fresh commission.

Today for one day satirical cartoons was the news and in the UK none were published. Today of all days. There will be many column inches written about Charlie Hebdo but in fact images are far more powerful.

RIP the cartoonists who died. May many young cartoonists go on to ridicule us all.

Charlie Hebdo, in the Independent


Note: Yesterday, 7th January 2015, 12 people were murdered at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

Happy holidays 2014

Christmas Card 2014. Design for Regents Street, London, UK, Christmas, lights. Requested by the Regents Street Association. Copyright Helen Couchman

Rewarding to be thanked recently in the forward of two books

It is rewarding to discover I’m thanked in the forward of two books. ‘The Routledge Companion to Visual Organisation‘ and ‘Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places.’
Books that reflect my life recently…?

Congratulations and thanks to Samantha Warren and Andrew Blackwell. I’m happy that what goes around comes around in life especially when you didn’t even know it!


9780415783675 jpeg

Sharing a selection of printmaking work at the RGS

Sharing a selection of prints from the Cloud series, yellow lining series at Communicating Your Discoveries, part of Explore Weekend 2014 at the Royal Geographical Society, London, UK.
14-16 November 2014

Planning adventures, mapping journeys. Map inspiration, , The Royal Geographical Society, London, copyright Helen Couchman

Planning adventures, mapping journeys. Map inspiration at the RGS

Audio – Stuart Hall Library, INIVA talk

From the Talk and book signing on 16th October

Click here for Helen Couchman’s talk:

10 2014 Research network Helen Couchman_Gemma Romain_Emma Chambers_Caroline Bressey INIVA

Librarian Nick Brown with Helen Couchman, Caroline Bressey, Emma Chambers & Gemma Romain


Click here for the Q & A: (>>30:20)

10_2014 Research Network Helen Couchman INIVA

Helen Couchman


Click Here for all the Audio from the event and a description of the participants work.

Photo of Helen Couchman speaking about her work at INIVA Oct 2014


Many thanks to our presenters for their stimulating talks, and to the audience for a lively discussion. Dr.Caroline Bressey and Dr.Gemma Romain of the Equiano Centre were joined by Tate Britain curator Emma Chambers to talk about their research for the Tate Britain display ‘Spaces of Black Modernism’. The artworks were selected to reveal that the artistic community in Britain during the inter-war years included artists and models from diverse ethnic backgrounds. It was revealing to hear how these artists played an active and influential role in the art scene of the time, particularly in London. The curators have brought to light the trans-national exchange between artists of the pre-war era. It was fascinating to see the artworks, don’t miss the display!

Artist Helen Couchman described her project and book ‘Workers’- photographs of Chinese labourers at the Beijing Olympic site. These migrant workers often spend years many miles away from home. Helen spoke about the nature of the exchange between herself as the photographer and the labourers. She gave each one a high-quality print of the photograph, which many workers sent back to their families. The photographs enabled them to express a pride in what they had constructed. Helen then talked about her other book ‘ Mrs.West’s Hats’; a photo-essay in self-portraiture and identity. A series of photographs show Helen trying on her late grandmother’s many hats. The photographs capture her expression at the instant she saw herself in a mirror. The series elicits responses about family, memory and sense of self. Visit Helen’s website to see her photographs.

Many interesting connections between the two presentations emerged over the course of the evening including; identity, portraiture, ways of connecting with the past and with others.

Talk and book signing at INIVA

Update 08/10/14: Event sold out at the end of the day.

sell out talk at INIVA October 2014


Talk and book signing with Helen Couchman at INIVA, London

Stuart Hall Library’s Research Network at INIVA

Institute of International Visual Arts

With Dr. Caroline Bressey , Dr. Gemma Romain and artist Helen Couchman.
Thu 16 October, 6.30-8pm
Stuart Hall Library
Rivington Place
London EC2A 3BA

Dr. Caroline Bressey and Dr. Gemma Romain will present on their research and curation with Tate Britain of the current display ‘BP Spotlight: Spaces of Black Modernism: London 1919–39’.

Artist Helen Couchman will be talking about her first two books, WORKERS (Gong Ren)’ and ‘Mrs. West’ Hats’ which will be available to buy.

Talk and book signing with Helen Couchman at INIVA, London

Artist Helen Couchman will be talking about her first two books, ‘WORKERS (Gong Ren)’ and ‘Mrs. West’s Hats’. She will present the books and describe how her surroundings prompted each project. WORKERS her first book is a portrait of Chinese migrant workers building the Olympic Stadiums in Beijing in 2007/08. Her second book “Mrs. West’s Hats is a memorial piece about her late grandmother. The projects explore themes of repetition, participation, portraiture, self-portraiture and the role of photography as a record and a celebration.

Further information can be found at

Helen Couchman moved to London to study first a BA and then an MA in Fine Art. More recently she was invited to do a period of PhD research into her own practice ending in 2012.Couchman lived in China for nearly seven years and during her time there exhibited in Hong Kong and numerous times in Beijing as well as back in the UK and in New York. Previously she had often produced new bodies of work while working abroad, Cyprus (2003), Armenia (2004), Vermont (2005) and China (2006). She worked in New York City on new work relating to that city and Beijing (2012/2013).
Couchman will be artist in residence at The Asia Society and is planning an exhibition at CFCCA, Manchester both in 2015. She is currently based out of the UK and working in Oman on her third book.


Dr. Caroline Bressey and Dr. Gemma Romain will present on their research and curation with Tate Britain of the current display ‘BP Spotlight: Spaces of Black Modernism: London 1919-39′. The display brings together artworks which demonstrate the trans-national exchange between artists from diverse ethnic backgrounds during the inter-war years. The artworks were selected from the Tate Collection and public and private collections. Between the wars, a cosmopolitan network of artists exchanged ideas in London’s art colleges, studios and clubs. They were instrumental in shaping the cultural and political identity of the city.
Caroline and Gemma are researchers at the Equiano Centre at University College London. The Centre was founded to support research into the Black Presence in Britain. Spaces of Black Modernism builds on research from the Drawing Over the Colour Line project.

Dr. Caroline Bressey is a lecturer in the Department of Geography, UCL. Her research focuses upon recovering the historical geographies of the black community in Victorian Britain, especially London. Parallel to this are her interests in ideas of race, racism, early anti-racist theory and identity in Victorian society. A large part of her research uses photography and this interest led her to collaborate with the National Portrait Gallery, London, on the representation of black and Asian people in their collections. She has worked as a curator with the National Portrait Gallery and Museum in Docklands.
Dr. Gemma Romain is a historian who researches Caribbean and Black diasporic history. Research Associate for the AHRC funded project ‘Drawing over the Colour Line’.
Vera Douie Fellow at the Women’s Library, documenting interwar Black histories within the collections. Leverhulme Early Career fellowship at Newcastle University, project entitled ‘Negotiating Slavery and Freedom: petitioning and protest in the nineteenth century British Caribbean’. She has worked for various museums and archives including The National Archives UK and the National Maritime Museum. She has taught at Birkbeck College, University of London on the subject of Black hidden histories in museum and archival collections. 

Helen Couchman Talk at INIVA, Omani Women 2015

Books featured at the INVIA bookshop

Book signing on the 16th October. Details to follow.

Books by Helen Couchman at INIVA, London

Happy to be invited to be a Fellow at The Royal Geographical Society

Afternoon researching in the library at the Royal Geographical Society

Afternoon researching in the library at the Royal Geographical Society

Working in Oman on the second phase of my third book project

Adam, Oman

Photo taken by the young woman who painted the henna gift


Spontaneous Omani gift of henna art painted at the souk while working on research and meeting Omani’s in the centrally located desert town of Adam.

WORKERS 工人 at CFCCA, the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art

Workers on sale at Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, CFCCA

WORKERS 工人 now stocked at the bookshop at the CFCCA Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester, UK

Workers on sale at Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, CFCCA

Ruth after Dame Ellen Terry

Ruth after Dame Ellen Terry 2 c

Ruth at Sissinghurst. Painting, ‘Choosing’ of actress Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928) by her husband George Frederick Watts (1817–1904). © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Censored by Linkedin

2nd June 2014: My friend Guo Jian was detained last night in China. 4 June Anniversary sadness #TiananmenSquare 

Find the full article above here:

Following writing the tweet/FB update/Linkedin update above I was written to by Linkedin. They advised that my followers on Linkedin would not be able to see my updates. I responded:

Complaint about Linkedin on twitter

Four journalists spoke to me about the story following my update above, Fergus Ryan at China Spectator, Tania Branigan at The Guardian, Austin Ramsey at The New York Times and Gwynn Guilford at Quartz.

Linkedin story in the Business Spectator 4 June 2014

“I’m very unhappy about it. I think it’s really unprofessional. Especially as I was only sharing things that are already in the public domain,” Ms Couchman told China Spectator

Find the full article here:

Linkedin censorship story in the Guardian 2014

LinkedIn said: ‘To create value for our members … we will need to implement the Chinese government’s restrictions on content.’

LinkedIn under fire for censoring Tiananmen Square posts

Networking site’s decision to stop members accessing prohibited content goes beyond Beijing’s strict web censorship rules

Tania Branigan in Beijing

The Guardian 

Business networking site LinkedIn has said it will stop users seeing content posted from China that breaches the country’s strict censorship laws, after members complained that posts related to the Tiananmen anniversary had been blanked out.

LinkedIn is one of the few foreign social media services accessible from mainland China – where Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and others are blocked – and launched a Chinese-language service earlier this year, but does not have servers on the mainland.

Its decision goes beyond Beijing’s requirements to restrict what users in China see and effectively exports some Chinese controls on content, though a spokesman said it was intended to protect users.

Artist Helen Couchman and journalist Fergus Ryan both reported receiving messages warning them that items they had posted would not be seen by LinkedIn members as they “contained content prohibited in China”.

Couchman, who lived in China for several years, said the decision to block articles she had shared about detained artist Guo Jian was outrageous. “I wasn’t even sharing an opinion,” she added.

Guo, who has Australian citizenship, was taken away by police in Beijing shortly after the publication of an interview in which he described participating in 1989’s pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square and discussed a work he had created commemorating the bloody crackdown.

Ryan said in an article for the China Spectator site, for which he reports from China, that he too had posted pieces about Guo.

Roger Pua, director of corporate communications in the Asia-Pacific region for LinkedIn, said the company strongly supported freedom of expression, but added: “To create value for our members in China and around the world, we will need to implement the Chinese government’s restrictions on content, when and to the extent required … Members in China will not be able to access content that is prohibited in China.”

But the site is also preventing people outside China from seeing material that censors disapprove of if it was first posted from China.

Pua said: “Outside of China, members will be able to view content that is restricted in China, unless that content originated in China – this is to protect the privacy and security of the member who posted that content.

“LinkedIn, by its nature, is a professional network and not prone to conversations that are political in nature. We think the impact is very, very small.”

While most Chinese rely on heavily censored Chinese services – such as the Sina Weibo microblog – some, including many activists and dissidents, use VPNs or other methods to post material on Twitter and Facebook.

LinkedIn said in February that it was applying to set up operations in China, acknowledging it would need to comply with Chinese government demands to filter content.

Cynthia Wong, senior internet researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that while she was not aware of the LinkedIn case, “the best practice that has emerged is that companies will not censor for the world”.

She added: “If there’s material that needs to be taken down in one jurisdiction, competitors will leave it up for the rest of the world – precisely for the reason that we should not allow the internet to go to the lowest common denominator; it should not be scrubbed of everything bar material acceptable to the least tolerant government out there.”

Michael Anti, a Chinese commentator, said: “It means Linkedin now publicly accepts Chinese censorship rule for anyone who is in mainland China, without any hesitation.”

He compared it to Microsoft’s decision to remove his Chinese-language blog in 2005 – a move that sparked international criticism.

In that case, he said, “the company felt wrong and shameful. So you know how much internet freedom we have lost worldwide in the past decade.”

Lucy Hornby Linked in Twitter

LinkedIn is censoring posts about Tiananmen Square by Gwynn Guilford

4th June 2014

Find the full article here:

…Another person to encounter LinkedIn’s censorship was Helen Couchman, an artist and longtime Beijing resident who moved to Britain in February 2013, according to the China Spectator. Couchman said that LinkedIn deleted her post linking to an article about the Chinese authorities’ detention of Guo Jian, a Chinese-Australian artist and friend of Couchman’s. (She shared the same article on Facebook and Twitter, where her posts are still available.) She subsequently tweeted her dismay at LinkedIn…

Couchman’s LinkedIn account appears to be hosted on the mainland China site,, which might explain why her posts fell under its censorship…

WORKERS 工人 on Wikipedia

WORKERS. by Helen Couchman. Wikipedia

‘WORKERS’ & ‘Mrs. West’s Hats’ now stocked at CCA Glasgow

WORKERS and Mrs. West's Hats by Helen Couchman, Aye Aye Bookshop, CCA Glasgow

Working with Omani women

Omani Women, Oman
Working with women in Oman Oman; Women; Omani, Helen Couchman, artistDressing up. Working with Omani women at the edge of The Empty Quarter, central Oman. March 2014

Happy holidays 2014

Christmas card © Helen Couchman 2013

Sue’s star, Mississippi River, Wisconsin

Interview at Birkbeck College – UK China Arts seminar

The first meeting bringing together those interested in understanding and developing UK China arts exchanges.

Designing and making the most of a residency as an artist.
Negotiations and exchanges between stakeholders and national cultural tastes.
Objectives and realities of running a residency programme.

Saturday 2nd November. 10.30am Registration. 11.00am Presentations. Lunch provided. 4.30pm Drinks reception. Peltz Gallery, Birkbeck College, University of London. Tickets £14

UK China Arts

Presentations by:

11.20 Dr Martin Welton – Senior Lecturer, Theatre and Performance, Queen Mary University of London. With Gisele Edwards – Musician, aerialist, theatre maker
Richard Layzell – London-based artist

13.45 Helen Couchman – interviewed by Bill Aitchison

14.30 Sarah Fisher – Director, Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester. With Zhu Miyi


Untitled (Collecting and Dropping) No.52

Small ink print / drawing on paper

drawing, print, buildings, parks, urban, space, green, built-up, places, paper

Tiananmen dawn. 4th June 2009

Beijing, © 2012 Helen Couchman

Drawing – rabbits

rabbit, drawing,

Talk – The Horizontal and the Vertical

The Horizontal and the Vertical

I will briefly introduce myself as an artist who has led self-initiated residencies working in Beijing and then in New York. I will speak about ‘The horizontal and the vertical’ and show slides of my work and others that relate to my theoretical and methodological approach.

I will examine my deliberate transition from Beijing to New York and how this very recent phase in my work has informed my thinking and practice. I will explore and expand upon ideas of what I call a fantasy landscape specific to these places. The usefulness of a fantasy being that it may hold a more apolitical stance and that it need not be tied to current moral or idealised constraints.

My work explores the surreal side effects resulting from the rapid changes travelling between these landscapes. Thinking through how these two cities have evolved and how each community has decided upon what is to be kept and what is to be discarded in the fabric of their existence. What is kept and what is disregarded in terms of land use. Restoration practice, which sees old buildings being demolished and new streets being built in the style of the old. The importance of maintaining traditions and how control and ownership of land is made manifest.
The role of the fantasy both in terms of where communities originate and where these ‘future cities’ may take us.

IMG_6150 Outside the library, NYC. © Helen Couchman
Outside the Library. New York City

Processes of exchange in the landscapes of Beijing and New York. Mapping change, preservation and demolition.

My area of investigation is into the reciprocity and exchange between inhabitants, business, architects and governments who develop environments, change cities and thus society’s behaviour. I am interested in exploring utopian ideas of developing communities and what the communities have to relinquish in order to move towards what is frequently promised to be an improved future.
I am interested in land and cityscapes where the view is fast changing and in exploring the reasons for, and immediate outcome of, such dramatic changes.

In 2009 for the first time more than fifty percent of the world’s population lived in cities.

Helen Couchman January, 2012

Talk at 2.30pm, UAL, London College of Fashion, Tuesday 12th February

New York City, 5 November – 28 January


Albumen and salt photographic printing

21st-24th January, albumen and salt photographic printing course. Followed by a day in archive with head archivist Joe Struble. At George Eastman House, Rochester, USA.

Joe Struble, archivist at The George Eastman Archive, Rochester, USA

Joe Struble at George Eastman House


Happy Christmas & Happy New Year 2013


Mrs. West’s Hats now at the The International Center of Photography shop, New York

The book displayed in the shop.

International Center of Photography
1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036
(Closed Mondays)


Mrs. West’s Hats is also now for sale on the ICP website listed under Books, New, Monographs and Portraits. Click the link here

Mrs. West's Hats by Helen Couchman for sale at the International Center of Photography. screen shot s

Copies of ‘WORKERS 工人’ and ‘Mrs. West’s Hats’ are now in the Art and Architecture collection at The New York Public Library

WORKERS 工人 and Mrs. West’s Hats at the Photobookshow, Brighton

Thursday 8th November
from 1pm, LATE OPENING till 9PM

Saturday 10th November


Art.Zip magazine, Issue 5, 2012

pages 90-91


pages 92-93


pages 94-95


pages 96-97


pages 98-99

For .pdf layouts see here

Artzip header page

Art Zip. Commission by Helen Couchman

Art.Zip magazine, Issue 5. 2012, including ‘Special Feature, Helen Couchman’

As a lone traveller, the English artist Helen Couchman arrived in Beijing via Moscow on the Trans-Mongolian railway in 2006. She arrived into a city that was as familiar to her as it was foreign. Taking a small flat near Gulou, she has since made Beijing her home, making work in her flat and using studios around Beijing and in the UK as needs must. In the spirit of the flaneur, Couchman finds herself walking through Beijing at night, lost in the city that found her. Couchman sent us the following photographic essay from Beijing, arranged “as I would pin images up on my studio wall as I work; to serve as references for my drawings and printmaking.” 

Special edition with guest Editors: Dr. Trish Lyons and Monica Chung

Art.Zip Issue 5 also features: Song Dong, Geoff Dyer, Issac Julien, Margarita Gluzberg amongst others. ART.ZIP is the first bilingual contemporary art magazine dedicated to bringing together the world of art in the UK and China. 

page 90

page 91 (UCCA, 798, Beijing, poster feat. ‘Self portrait with long life earrings‘)

page 92

page 93

page 94

page 95

page 96

page 97

page 98

page 99

For the magazine page spreads see here

Art Zip listing RCA library. With Dr Trish Lyons and Helen Couchman

As the first non-Chinese guest editor of the bi-lingual contemporary art magazine Art Zip Lyons compiled and commissioned a selection of texts, interviews and reviews focusing on the theme of translation. The issue was designed to physically and conceptually hinge around a Chinese caligrapic translation of Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘Chinese Curios’, highlighting cultural differences through the context of graphic layout and bi-lingual texts.
As well as overseeing the overall layout of the issue, Lyons guided the translation of‘Chinese Curios’ an essay by Geoff Dyer and an interview with Song Dong. She commissioned the cover art work and a photo essay on Beijing nightlife by Helen Couchman. In addition to her editorial work, Lyons commissioned a special edition fold out print by the artist Margarita Gluzberg and wrote an accompanying essay, ‘Her Dark Materials’. In this essay, Lyons unpacks the artist’s term of the ‘consumystic’, a hybrid concept that conflates, desire, consumption and the mystical. Exploring the dynamic and material processes that drive Gluzberg’s practice, Lyons draws together literary characters to communicate the dynamics at work in Gluzberg’s photographs.
25,000 copies of the special edition of Art Zip were distributed throughout museums in China including Today Art Museum, National Museum of China, National Museum of China, Beijing, Inside-Out Art Museum, Sichuan Art Museum, Tianjin Art Museum, Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, Guangdong Museum of Arts, Shanghai Doulun Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai Zhengda Museum and Minsheng Art Museum. The issue is held in the library collections of the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts, Academy of Art and Design, Tsinghua University, China Central Academy of Fine Arts, China Academy of Fine Art, Sichuan Fine Arts Institute and Luxun Academy of Fine Arts.

‘Portrait with Long Life Earrings’ published

‘Portrait with Long Life Earrings’ reproduced this month in a Beijing magazine. Along with an interview about uniforms.

'Portrait with Long Life Earrings', Beijing 2012 copyright Helen Couchman Online page below here

The Beijinger Oct 2012

WORKERS 工人 on exhibit at Brighton Photo Biennial 2012

6 October – 4 November 2012

As part of its fifth edition, the Brighton Photo Biennial 2012 invited the submission of self-published, handmade or short run photography books, to be included as part of a photobook Exhibition at Brighton’s Jubilee Library throughout the Biennial (6 October – 4 November 2012) in collaboration with Photobook Show. The only criteria is that the book relates to the Biennial’s theme: ‘Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space.’ All of the books submitted are included here. While the Biennial aims to offer a tightly curated programme of exhibitions, talks and events, the open submission format of this exhibition opens the theme to multiple interpretations.

Each photobook project should focus in some way on the diverse image cultures resulting from recent efforts to reimagine urban spaces through their occupation, and assess a range of historical and contemporary practices in light of the wider discussions they raise. It sets out to probe at the distinctions that separate art and activism, and pose questions as to whether – and in what circumstances – images can serve as agents of social and political change.

BPB12 aims to provide a critical space within which to think about relationships between the political occupation of physical sites and the production and dissemination of images.

BPB 12 will be working in association with Photobook Show (, a Brighton based arts organisation set up to raise the profile of artist-led photobooks, with particular focus on self-published or hand-crafted works. After the BPB12 show all photobooks submitted will become part of Photobook Show’s archive, an ever growing collection of self-published and hand-crafted photobooks that is accessible to the public and forms a part of regular shows and exhibitions held by Photobook Show.


Activestills Collective
Alessandro Rota
Alexander Brattell
Amelia Shepherd
Anastasia Shpilko
Asim Moeen
Barry W Hughes
Belen Cerezo
Chris Mear
Christopher Gianunzio & Jenny Tondera
Clive Rowe
Craig Atkinson
Daniel Seiffert
Dara mcgrath
David Adams
David Galjaard
David Jackson
David Jakelic
david o’mara
Denise Felkin
Diguerher Benjamin
Edgar Martins
Elayne Jude
Elisavet Tamouridou
Emer Mac Sweeney
Ewen Spencer
George Miles
Harry Watts
Helen Couchman
Helen Flanagan
Irena Siwiak Atamewan
Irene Siragusa
John Clayman
John MacLean
Mahesh Shantaram
Marcus Lyon
Minna Kantonen
Mitch Karunaratne
Niobe Syme
Paula Roush
Peter Mann
Philip Anderson
Rick Pushinsky
Rick Pushinsky
Simona Dell’Agli
Steve Poxson
Stewart Weir
Tamara Hussain
Tim Bowditch
Vincci Huang
Wil van Iersel
Zaliha İnci Karabacak


Jubilee Library, Jubilee Street, Brighton , BN1 1GE

Mon/Tues 10am-7pm
Wed 10am-5pm
Thurs 10am-8pm
Fri/Sat 10am-5pm
Sun 11am-4pm

Thirty WORKERS 工人 portraits in situ + the book. Beijing, Spring 2012


_MG_5359 Thirty WORKERS portraits plus the book, Beijing 2012 copyright Helen Couchman c

Thirty WORKERS 工人 portraits

About the exhibition

The WORKERS 工人 book

‘WORKERS 工人’ on exhibit in Beijing featured in Accademia Apulia News

Helen Couchman’s work on show in Beijing

In December 2007 Helen Couchman, member of Accademia Apulia UK, photographed a large group of Chinese workers engaged in the construction work of the 2008 Olympic park. Couchman chose a specific group of labourers, employed to build the iconic ‘bird’s nest’ stadium and the Olympic swimming pool. 

The 143 portraits that resulted are contained in an amazing book WORKERS. Between 11th of April and 8th May 2012 thirty portraits from the WORKERS series will be on show at swanky Yihe Hotel in the Chaoyang district of Beijing. The portraits will be part of a group exhibition, Heyi 798 Art Project, curated by renowned curatorial duo Wong Jun and He Bing. 

The group exhibition, under the wing of Gabriela Salgado (formerly Curator of Public Programmes at The Tate Modern) will include some one hundred established artists showing an interesting sample of eclectic creativity. 

For more information about the series ‘WORKERS’ see 

For more information about the project in book form see, ‘WORKERS’ see

The Heyi 798 Art Project will be on show until 8th May 2012 at the Yihe Hotel, 9 Jiuxianqiao Lu, Dashanzi, Chaoyang District, Beijing.

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

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’



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.

* * *



“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。


China Daily feature – Globetrotting British artist blooms in Beijing

Feature in the China Daily newspaper, ‘Sunday Expat’, 25th March 2012.

‘Globetrotting British artist blooms in Beijing’

China Daily article 25 March 2012


Taken from the ‘Capital Creations’ feature published in the China Daily European newspaper, 16th – 22nd March 2012

The limits of Seeing – Cambridge Science Week

The limits of Seeing – Art, Space and Perception at Cambridge Science Festival 2012

Slide from Professor Carolin Crawford's presentation

Slide from Professor Carolin Crawford’s presentation

Cambridge Science Week 2012, 'The Limits of Seeing' © 2012 Helen Couchman

Slide from Professor Carolin Crawford’s presentation

Cambridge Science Week 2012, 'The Limits of Seeing' © 2012 Helen Couchman

Slide from Dr Joao Linhares’ presentation

Cambridge Science Week 2012, 'The Limits of Seeing' © 2012 Helen Couchman

with Professor Carolin Crawford, astronomer at the Institute of Astronomy

Cambridge Science Week 2012, 'The Limits of Seeing' © 2012 Helen Couchman

Slide from Professor Carolin Crawford’s presentation

Cambridge Science Week 2012, 'The Limits of Seeing' © 2012 Helen Couchman

Slide from Professor Carolin Crawford’s presentation

Slide from Professor Carolin Crawford's presentation

Slide from Professor Carolin Crawford’s presentation

Cambridge Science Week 2012, 'The Limits of Seeing' © 2012 Helen Couchman

Dr Joao Linhares’ presents

Featured – China Daily European Weekly, People – Helen Couchman ‘Capital Creations.’

China Daily, European Weekly. People 16-22 March 2012 feature, Helen Couchman

Feature in China Daily European Weekly, 16th – 22nd March. To download readable pdf version link here


Capital Creations

By Zhang Xi (China Daily)


Last year, Helen Couchman armed herself with three mirrors and a camera and headed straight into the streets. The mirrors were placed in various positions to “fuse the different elements” of the scenes she took, as symbols to help express her feelings that subsequently resulted in a photo exhibition in the Chinese capital.

One of Couchman’s aims was to showcase the “multiple textures and vistas” of the traditional Beijing alleyways, or hutong, that faced new threats of being demolished to make way for new buildings.

“It has a performative angle: process, construction, dirt, proximity and distance are all evident in these images. This is what I am working with”, she says.

The In Beijing exhibition was one of the latest efforts by Couchman, who has lived in the capital for six years. Her work often explores a popular theme: a fast developing China.

The 38-year-old artist, whose primary medium is photography, sometimes also travels back to Britain to hold exhibitions or conduct research. She expects her In Beijing show to travel to London this year. Last week, Couchman was speaking at the popular Cambridge Science Week in a talk entitled Limits of Seeing.

In 2008, she published her first photographic collection Workers, to illustrate her personal engagement with China.

In the book, she showed photos of 143 migrant workers posed with the National Stadium and other key buildings within the Olympic Village constructed for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

In 2010, the artist also produced a linocut collection called Cloud series, Yellow lining, in which clouds and the sky were portrayed as a landscape.

She says her work was inspired by “a yellow line” she saw in the sky as her plane landed in Beijing in February that year.

Couchman, who has travelled to many places in China and produced considerable work here, was inspired to come to China a decade ago.

Images from the Harbin ice festival in northeastern Heilongjiang province on the back of a weekend magazine fascinated her. Even more compelling: stories about the planned flooding of the Yangtze valley. She felt she “needed to come here as soon as possible before China’s rapid changes and development swallowed these places”.

In 2006, she finally got to Beijing via the Trans-Siberian Railway.

“I first came to China on the train from Moscow in January 2006. I took the train as it was my first time coming to China and I wanted to see the distance coming across from Europe to Asia and I had, since I was a child, a fascination for the story of the last Tsar of Russia and his family’s demise in Siberia.

“I was born about an hour south of London and when I was 8 weeks old, my family moved to a ruined farmhouse in the Brecon Beacons National Park in the mountains of south Wales.

“My parents slowly did it up and learned farming. They bought a ruin because the area was beautiful, but at that time you could not build a new home in the national park,” she says. Now a professional artist and taking her works across the world, Couchman still reviews where she should be working every year.

“This year I have some research to pursue in London and projects to do in China.” But her current focus is Beijing.

“Heading to the parks or walking through the hutong in this city is one of my favourite things, “Couchman says. “One of the things I enjoy about China is that I learn something new everyday.”

Update 26/03/12:

Article also features in the China Daily (mainland newspaper)

‘Globetrotting British artist blooms in Beijing’


Talk – ‘The limits of Seeing – Art, Space and Perception.’ Cambridge Science Festival 2012


EXPERIENCE THE LIMITS OF SEEING an art and science panel, part of Cambridge Science Festival. Continuing Visualise’s exploration of the boundaries of inner and outer space we invite all to the second ART AND SCIENCE CIRCLE: a starry, thought-provoking, fun, interactive, public discussion on The Limits of Seeing, on THURSDAY 22nd MARCH at 7.30 pm, LAB 028, Anglia Ruskin University. With Professor Carolin Crawford, Institute of Astronomy Cambridge; Elinor Morgan, Curator Wysing Arts; Helen Couchman, Artist;  Joao Linhares and Matilda Biba, Vision Scientists, Anglia Ruskin University; plus ‘Can You See what I See?’ a new video made specially for the event by Marina Velez and Russell Cuthbert. Don’t miss !! 7.30-9.00 pm. Free event.

In association with Cambridge Science Festival, Anglia Ruskin Science and Technology Faculty and Wysing Arts Centre.


Professor Carolin Crawford is an astronomer at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, and a Fellow of Emmanuel College. Her research focuses on the properties of the most massive galaxies in the Universe, using data collected from the largest ground-based and space telescopes. Carolin combines her research and teaching with her other passion – communicating her love of astronomy to as wide an audience as possible. She runs the outreach programme at the Institute of Astronomy, and in addition to giving many talks on a wide range of astronomical topics, is a regular contributor to both national and local radio programmes. In 2009 Carolin was noted as one of the UKRC’s Women of Outstanding Achievement for the communication of science with a contribution to society. See website –

Helen Couchman (born UK) has exhibited widely, both in the United Kingdom and internationally.  Her first book, WORKERS 工人, June 2008 was exhibited in London and in Hong Kong and will be shown in April 2012 for the first time in Beijing. It takes the form of a series of portraits of the men and women who laboured to build the Olympic park for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Her second book, Mrs. West’s Hats (2009) consists of sixty self-portraits, referencing  her maternal grandmother, whose splendidly eccentric collection of hats Couchman wears in the photographs. Later  works include Untitled (Collecting and Dropping) (2009) Cloud series, Yellow lining (2010) and In Beijing (2011). These works address in part her negotiations with the city of Beijing where she has now worked for six years.  She now lives in Beijing and in London. More at

Dr Joao Linhares: Lecturer in Department of Vision and Hearing Sciences, Anglia Ruskin University. He graduated  in Optometry and Vision Sciences in 2002 from the University of  Minho, Braga, Portugal and was granted a MPhil in 2006, from Manchester University, UK.  He was awarded his PhD doctorate in 2011.  His research interests include hyperspectral imaging, chromatic diversity in complex scenarios and colour vision deficiency.  More at

Joao will be accompanied by his colleague in Anglia Ruskin Vision and Hearing Sciences, Matilda O’Neill-Biba, MCOptom,  who  has a degree in Optometry and Vision Sciences in 2002 from City University, London where she is now undertaking research and currently in the final stages of her PhD.  She is also a visiting lecturer on the MSc Diabetic module, City University. Her research interests include  acquired visual function and colour vision loss in subjects with ocular and systemic conditions (ARMD, Diabetes, MS and Glaucoma); new colour vision and congenital colour vision deficiency and assessment.

Elinor Morgan is  Curator & Programme Director at Wysing Arts Centre which she joined as Operations Director in July 2010. She has been heavily involved with development and commissioning of Wysing’s forthcoming COSMOS residency programme. She was previously Chair of OUTPOST Gallery, Norwich, an artist-run space where she worked with a range of artists and developed various off-site projects. Since its inception Ellie has been keenly involved in the progress of the Eastern Region’s Turning Point network.  She studied History of Art, Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of East Anglia.  More at

Marina Velez and Russell Cuthbert both attained first class degrees from Anglia Ruskin University where they studied BA in Fine Art. Marina is currently completing her second and final year of the Masters in Fine Art course also at ARU.  More at:

For Limits of Seeing they are in the process of making a new video work ”Can You See What I See?‘

Artists Statement:

Most important astronomical observatories are placed in high altitude locations such as the Atacama Desert, the Andes or Hawaii,  where visibility is optimal as they are situated above clouds, water vapour and other atmospheric elements. However, scientists working in these observatories have to deal with physical and psychological high altitude related medical problems. When discoveries are made at these sites, assuring scientific rigour is paramount. This is normally achieved through a series of cognitive tests that measure both accuracy and speed of thinking, conducted between the scientists in the observatory and those based at sea level. This tension between what it is gained in vision and what may be lost in understanding highlights the idea that we do not necessarily see only with our eyes, but rather with our brains and our consciousness. This video work uses a poetic and minimal language to express the problematics of achieving universal understanding of concepts and suggests that this process is both visual and verbal. It explores the limits of vision through communication and understanding that is simultaneously inwards and outwards, subjective and objective.


For the website link here

For Cambridge Science Festival 2012 link here

Cambridge Sience Week Visualise Talk


Radio interview – ‘Helen Couchman – Making art in China’

Interview for ‘Expat Tales’ broadcast on CRI, China Radio International, Beijing and ‘Heartbeat’ broadcast on Strait to Taiwan. Talking with Julianne Page in Beijing it aired at 4.40pm 1st February.

CRI English

Listen to ‘Expat Tales’, 01/02/2012

Helen Couchman is an artist who first arrived in China via the trans-Mongolian railway from Moscow in February 2006. Since that time she has exhibited widely in China and other countries and published two books. Helen is based in Beijing and is continuously influenced by what she sees around her.


Listen to ‘Heartbeat’, 06/02/2012

Welcome to Heartbeat, the show that gets to the centre of China’s ever-changing lifestyle, yet still manages to discover the country’s rich cultural heritage. I’m your host Man Ling.

Today we’ll introduce you to four people who are working in different fields but contributing to society in their own ways.

First up we’ll hear the story of a retired female worker who has committed herself to the task of cleaning up Tian’anmen Square for the past seventeen years without compensation. Then we’ll meet a young man who specializes in IT technology but chose to give up his reliable income and career prospects to become a farmer.

Later we’ll meet a photographer who hopes to show people the true spirit of China and Chinese people through his photographs. And last but not least, we’ll meet an expatriate living here in Beijing who, inspired by her life in China, continues to make exciting works of art.


China Radio International 1008AM, 846AM, 91.5FM. World service on London 558AM, Nairobi 91.5FM – Mongolia 103.7FM – Laos 93.0FM – Perth, Australia 104.9FM etc.

Happy Chinese new year of the water dragon, 2012

Happy Chinese new year of the dragon copyright Helen Couchman 2s

First drawing for ‘Untitled (Collecting and Dropping)’


First drawing for ‘Untitled (Collecting and Dropping)’ 2007

First drawing for 'Untitled (Collecting and Dropping), 2007. copyright Helen Couchman c

Drawing – Bonhams

Bonhams, Christmas 2011

Bonhams, Christmas 2011

Happy Christmas & Happy New Year 2012

Happy Christmas & Happy New Year 2012

Feature – ‘An Artist’s space’ – Agenda magazine, The Art issue

Agenda Magazine 92. The Art Issue Dec. p18-19


An Artist’s Space

Artist Helen Couchman talks about her visual exploration of the capital’s changing landscape
Interview by Jennifer Thomé.

Years ago, Helen Couchman had a feeling that China was changing fast and she knew that she had to see it before it was too late. And so she did. For the past six years, Helen has been exploring her own art, as well as China’s traditional arts, through her exploration of Beijing and its spaces.

You mentioned that you knew you had to come to Beijing. How did your work evolve once you got here? I have always been interested in changing landscapes and how they reveal the politics and the economics of the place, even when there aren’t people in the image. I’ve worked on this reoccurring idea in Armenia, Cyprus, and the States. The reason I worked with fans in my first project was that I wanted to explore the idea of me going somewhere. It was my first visit to Beijing and I had two months to prepare an exhibition of new work. I thought: “What is an artist doing, going to China to work?” I wanted to explore, and understand better how I’d deal with that. What was I to return to England with? Fans bear a historical significance, but are also easy to travel with, which fitted my self-made brief. Their tradition is to be a memento of something you’ve enjoyed, such as a landscape or a poem to a lover. These fans evolved to be a traveling memory in the form of a traditional and oriental gift.

What impressed you most about Beijing when you first arrived? When I first arrived in Beijing, I would go out at night on my bicycle and take photos of huge advertising hoardings surrounding construction sites, particularly on the third ring road. I was impressed with the size of them. I took hundreds of photographs. I have a strong sense of the spacial qualities of my surroundings. You are the sum of all of your parts. It’s not that I go out for a walk in the park and the autumn leaves make me go home and paint autumn leaves. No, it’s that all of these things filter in, and if you keep focusing on certain interests, it comes out of you and your work. This is why buildings have been such a strong presence in my work.

What about your series of “Woodcuts, Cloud Series and Yellow Lining”? What really attracted me to this craft was the way the clouds are connected, and how they end up forming their own landscape. Then I placed things that I had noticed into the landscape – the advertising hoardings, satellite dishes, and the fans. They are all muddled together. The red paper, which is also used in the first project “Gift”, is called thousand year red paper and it’s so saturated with red ink that everything that touches it goes red. It’s a nightmare to work with, but the redness of it is glorious. It’s absolutely velvety, and soaked in color. In my later perfomative photographic series “Untitled (Collecting and Dropping)” I let my fingers become red having repeatedly handled this paper as my feet become black on the dusty floor.

“The key thing that struck me was the power of the people, and the number of hands that China had, and the fact that everything can be moved around or shifted by these people.”

What about your book, WORKERS 工人. Where did the idea for that originate? In a nutshell, it was me looking at how the Olympics was such a particular time for this city, and the country. It seem to me that it was the first time the country had offered an open invitation to the world to come and see what China could do. I felt that it boiled down to a question of rebranding and who was involved in it. I decided to explore the site of the new Olympic park. The key thing that struck me was the power of the people, and the number of hands that China had, and the fact that everything can be moved around or shifted by these people. This is why I decided to put my focus on the workers. I wanted to explore who is involved in the rebranding and is that rebranding for an internal of external market? I told the workers that I would be there for two days, and that I would take a portrait of anyone who was willing, and that I would return to give them a print and to collect their names and names of their hometowns. In the end there were 143 people in the book. Looking at the portrait series there is an element of all 143 being alike – a symbolic worker – and yet they are individuals, which is revealed in their faces and their handwriting. It is also worth noting that hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of these migrant workers are working on things that their families might never see. Their relatives might have seen the Olympics on TV, but never have been able to afford a ticket, even if it had it been legal for them to do so. I like to imagine the portraits now pinned up in family homes across China.

Helen’s book WORKERS 工人, featuring the portraits of the Olympic stadium workers, is available at The Bookworm and online at

No. 222,  Untitled (Collecting and Dropping). copyright Helen Couchman c

Talk – ‘Negotiating Spaces’ talk by artist Helen Couchman


















First in series of “Visualise’ Public Art Talks in Cambridge curated by Bronaċ Ferran.

‘Negotiating Spaces’ with artist Helen Couchman

The first talk in the ‘Visualise’ series organised by guest curator Bronaċ Ferran features visual artist Helen Couchman, who lives and works between London and Beijing. Couchman has made Beijing her own ‘residency space’. Her projects there have included entering the Beijing Olympic village when under construction and making photographic portraits of construction workers who are otherwise invisible and anonymous in the eyes of the world. Recent work depicts the shifting public and private spaces of Beijing including disappearing hutongs and the mysterious layers of yellow dust which she has perceived from an aeroplane whilst flying over the city.

Couchman and Speakman will lead an open discussion about negotiating spaces for art in changing cities.

‎’and…and…and…and…’ 1000 postcards, 1996

and...and...and...and...copyright Helen Couchman

1000 postcards


Beijing Excavations: An Interview with Helen Couchman – Whitehot Magazine










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.

* * *


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

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
Sunday 21st August, 4-8pm
Sponsored wine bar

Q&A about exhibit, In Beijing – CityWeekend

Q&A with CityWeekend


Beijing and London-based artist Helen Couchman talks about her latest work, “In Beijing” showing at Amilal until August 24.

In Beijing no. 8

Can you explain a bit about what fascinates you about land in Beijing, and land in general?
I came the Beijing for a couple of reasons. The main one being rapid changes to the country I infrequently heard stories about. It was extraordinary to hear tales about the dams, cities and industry being built and to have a tiny taste of the millions of lives this affected. I had been working on themes about land use, changing landscapes, the politics and economics evident in our use of land for many years in various places such as Cyprus, Armenia, America and England—China looked like a similarly inspiring place.

How did the idea for your current exhibition develop?
Sometimes some of my ideas burn a hole in my mind, reoccurring and developing until I have to try them out visually. This was one of those ideas. And it played into other thoughts I was having, connecting very well with work I’ve been making over the last couple of years.

Where were you taking the pictures?
I was taking pictures around the old historic Bell and Drum Towers Square. It is the latest area of the old city to be the focus of the developer’s wrecking ball. The pretty hutong lanes on one side of my makeshift path, and the earth, blue fences and open spaces on the other proved of interest; it was a chance to see the earth under the place, to see something missing and to be reminded of what lanes are built upon. I returned a number of times last year to walk around and look at what is happening there.

Your feet appear in these photos. Can you discuss why?
I like the way they remind me of the scale of the work and that the work is all on the ground. They act as a reminder that everything not reflected here is maybe not much more than a foot from the ground. The feet also reminded me of what it feels like to stand on the ground and savor the textures and the dirt, as this work has a performative aspect, and I want the process to be evident.

What do you hope to express to viewers of this exhibition?
I want viewers to leave the exhibition discussing what they have seen and what they know about Earth and how we cover it, build on it and rely on it. I’d like to think that the combination of earth and sky (near and far) in the images reminds us of what we build in between and why.

Why mirrors? And where did you find them?
The mirrors were amongst a box of household odds and ends I was given when a friend relocated out of Beijing. They have been sitting on my desk some 18 months waiting for me to act upon them. I kept looking at them and making experiments with them until I finally could not put it off any longer.

Any plans to take this exhibition on the road?
I planned to exhibit the work in London this September but sadly that opportunity fell though as someone dear to the curator has taken very ill, and so understandably it is cancelled. But there are people who are curious about the show, so there may be another chance to show the series in the future.


I find the artist’s strategy of placing her feet into the photograph to mark scale and “savor the textures” to be a tremendously compelling one. There seems to be a lot going on here. Is it possible to post more photos? Let’s hope the curator’s friend gets better soon so that this work can exhibit in London!
Orko 09/08/11


City Weekend Article

Images of the show – In Beijing

Exhibition in Beijing Exhibition in Beijing © Helen Couchman Exhibition in Beijing Exhibition in Beijing Exhibition in Beijing Exhibition in Beijing _MG_4255 Exhibition in Beijing copyright Helen Couchman

Review article – The Global Times, ‘Mirror Images’

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

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


Talk – UCCA, ‘Collecting & Dropping. China’

UCCA flyer/poster, Self portrait with long life earrings.

China Stories with artist Helen Couchman: Collecting & Dropping. China. 2pm Sunday 15th May at UCCA, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, 798 Art District, Beijing.

北京市朝阳区酒仙桥路4号798艺术区 北京8503信箱

【文化项目】UCCA中国故事系列16:HELEN COUCHMAN:收集与丢弃 – 中国

嘉宾: Helen Couchman
Helen Couchman在威尔士和英格兰的肯特郡,史塔福郡,汉普郡长大。1991年,她前往伦敦;在那里她拿到了约翰爵士卡斯学院的美术学士;在1998年,她拿到了圣马丁艺术学院的批判美术实践 的美术硕士。Couchman女士曾经在英国和全世界进行全范围的展览,也在居住期间经常创造出新的艺术作品,而这些作品也曾在个人作品张中展示。 她曾在塞浦路斯艺术学院担任驻地艺术家(2003年),美国佛蒙特艺术中心(2005)。在2006年,C偶充满女士接受了来自中国的工作邀请,而这次经历激发了她的个人展示灵感。 作品“礼物”在2006年北京的大山子国际艺术节展出。 在2007年初搬至北京后,在2008年6月Couchman女士出版了她的第一本书,工人(WORKERS)。至今Helen 仍在北京继续她的生活和艺术创作。

作为一个在北京居住地英国艺术家,Helen Couchman在2007年12月也就是2008年奥运会之前,独自来到了鸟巢体育馆的建筑地址。她要求一些建筑工人摆出了143个迷惑的造型,并捕捉了这些不知名的建筑工人的脸朝向这个令人兴奋的城市的瞬间。(1)
Couchman 上一年在伦敦的展览“云系列,黄线”的灵感源自于她在北京上空的一次飞行:“这些杰作的漫不经心的开头展示的是当(我)坐的飞机在向北京这座神秘的大都市降落时,出现了一层很薄的亮黄色的云层,之后飞机迅速地穿过这些细线。而从地面是根本看不到这些细线的,只能看到一片蓝色的天空。带点讽刺意味的是,英语中有“每片云都有银色的线”来表示任何坏事情都有其积极的一面,当然有可能这种积极面起先没有被发现。现在的这个情况却被反过来了,清澈的蓝天被一层不可见的橙色薄雾穿透了。而在不详的黄色中很难看到“银色的线”。(2)
(1) Helen Couchman 《工人》 (Soloshow Publishing, 2008)
(2) “云系列, 黄线” 2009,摘自 ‘Sheltering from the Storm’ 发表于Leonardo Journal Transactions 2011年3月
作者Bronaċ Ferran,皇家艺术学院, 伦敦


Guests: Helen Couchman
Helen Couchman in Wales and England, Kent, Staffordshire, Hampshire grow up. In 1991, she went to London; where she got a bachelor’s Sir John Cass School of Fine Arts; in 1998, she got a Master of Fine Arts St. Martin’s critique of art practice the Art Institute.Often created during Ms. Couchman in the UK and around the world we have full range of exhibitions, but also to live a new work of art, and these works also show the individual works Zhang. She has served as artist in residence (2003) at the Cyprus College of Art, Vermont Art Center (2005). In 2006, C even accepted the job offer full lady from China, but the experience inspired her personal showcase inspiration. Works “gift” in 2006 Beijing Dashanzi International Art Festival on display. After the beginning of 2007 moved to Beijing in June 2008, Ms. Couchman published her first book, the workers (WORKERS). Helen has still Beijing to continue her life and artistic creation.

On the theme:
as a British artist living in Beijing, Helen Couchman in that is, before the 2008 Olympic Games in December 2007, he came to the Bird’s Nest stadium alone building address.She asked some construction workers put the 143 confusing shape, and captures these unknown construction workers face toward instant this exciting city. (1)
Couchman exhibition in London last year, “says series, yellow line” inspired her over Beijing’s first flight: “at the beginning of these masterpieces of casual show is when (me) to sit in the aircraft Beijing this mysterious metropolis landing, appeared thin layer of bright yellow clouds, the aircraft quickly after passing through these thin line. And from the ground is not see these thin, only to see a blue sky. a little ironic that, in English, there is “every cloud has a silver piece of line” for any bad thing has its positive side, the positive side of this is of course possible at first not to be found now This situation was reversed, the clear blue sky was orange layer of invisible mist penetrated while in an unknown yellow is difficult to see the “silver thread.” (2)
(1) Helen Couchman “workers “(Soloshow Publishing, 2008)
(2) “Cloud series, yellow line” of 2009, taken from the ‘Sheltering from the Storm’ was published in Leonardo Journal Transactions 2011年3月
OF Bronaċ Ferran, the Royal College of Art, London

UCCA, China Stories. Self portrait with Long Life Earings by Helen Couchman

UCCA from the website, Self portrait with Long Life Earrings



One of five pieces at Affordable Art Beijing

Dragon panel No. 1

Dragon panel No. 1


Two etchings from Cloud series, Yellow lining, two woodblock prints (from the New work, Dragon panel series) and one photograph on aluminum, Boy with Firework.

10am-6pm, 14-15th May. 798 Space

WORKERS 工人 and Mrs. West’s Hats now available at UCCA

Check for gallery shop opening times. Check UCCASTORE for online sales.

UCCA, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, 798 Art District, No. 4 Jiuxianqiao Lu, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China. 北京市朝阳区酒仙桥路4号798艺术区 北京8503信箱

Mrs. West’s Hats – available at Transition Gallery

Transition gallery bookshop


Transition Gallery, Unit 25a Regent Studios, 8 Andrews Road,  London E8 4QN

Workshop – Easter weekend photography

Taken with an iPhone by Frank Yu who attended

‘Sheltering from the Storm – Artistic Residencies and Environmental Change’ – Leonardo Journal Transactions

Extract from the essay:

Living as an artist in Beijing on an open-ended mostly self-generated residency, UK artist Helen Couchman independently navigated the construction site for the Bird’s Nest Stadium in December 2007 before the 2008 Olympics where she asked construction workers to pose for 143 haunting photographic portraits whose anonymous faces look out of her resulting book capturing a moment of intense reality in a feverishly rebranding city. (1)

Couchman’s London exhibition last year ‘Cloud series, Yellow lining’ was inspired by a journey above the Beijing skyline: ‘The inadvertent starting point for these works was ….noticing, as the plane in which (I) 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.‘ (2)

(1) WORKERS 工人 (Soloshow Publishing, 2008)

(2) Cloud series, Yellow lining 2009


‘Sheltering from the Storm-Artistic Residencies and Environmental Change’

Published in Leonardo Journal Transactions, March 2011. Written by Bronac Ferran, Royal College of Art, London

Shot for The New York Times – found on the cutting room floor

Although shot in December 2009 I have not seen these images until this week. Taken by freelance news photographer Shiho Fukada we agreed to do the shoot at Beijing Central station where I very first alighted in China from the Trans-Mongolian train – departing Moscow, stopping in Ulaan Baatar and onto Beijing, February 2006.

Images of my work and another portrait from that day were published with a feature by Dan Levin in both the The New York Times and International Herald Tribune arts pages, Sunday 10th January, 2010.

Happy Chinese New Year of the Golden Rabbit, 2011

Talk – Picturing Beijing

‘Picturing Beijing.’ Helen Couchman will be talking about her work at The Beijing Bookworm International Literary Festival 2011. Tuesday, 15th March, 10pm.

Happy New Year!

‘Snow gate, Heilongjiang Province, Northern China’

Video interview, Mrs West’s Hats – China State Radio website

Click here to see the China State Radio’s web page showing a video interviewing Helen Couchman about Mrs West’s Hats.

The page written in mandarin shows images from the book and a video. The video features clips from their recent hour long interview with Helen about her book and British hats in general. The programme was broadcast live from the CSR Beijing studios on 1st December 2010.

姓名:海伦考斯曼 (Helen Couchman)
来自:威尔士 史塔福郡 肯特 伦敦




Mrs. West’s Hats – discussing hats

Helen Couchman discussing Mrs. West’s Hats with presenter Chloe and milliner Elizabeth Koch. Live radio and video broadcast on 1st December. 8-9pm, Beijing. 12noon – 1pm GMT.

Listen live here on China State Radio 774.

Mrs. West’s Hats – available at the ICA

Mrs. West’s Hats is now available at the ICA, Institute of Contemporary Arts London.

TINAG showing ‘Cloud series, Yellow lining’ opening night

Thanks to Rehan Jamil for the images.

Exhibition – Cloud series, Yellow lining

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

Books now stocked at the Walker Art Center

WORKERS 工人 and Mrs. West Hats both now stocked at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Workers at the Walker

Mrs. West’s Hats book – on view at Les Rencontres d’Arles

Arles International Photography Festival, Les Rencontres d’Arles,                                   3 July – 19 September 2010

Interview – Mrs. West’s Hats. China state radio, Radio Beijing

Live interview for Talk Box on Beijing Radio, 774am.  14th July, 11am-12noon.
Presenters June Lee and Dominic Swire interview Helen Couchman about her work and her recent book Mrs. West’s Hats. The interview was broadcast with an accompanying live video link.

At the studio in a hat borrowed for the show. Photo taken by the host, June. Listen to a previous interview about living in Beijing and her first book WORKERS 工人 here.

Commission – 67 Beijige San Tiao

Interview – Tianjin People’s Broadcasting Station

Interviewed on East & West, Arts and Culture programme. Sunday 13th June, 1-2pm. FM87.8 AM747 Tianjin Binhai Radio. 天津电台滨海广播 with Vivienne.

Listen here to the mp3 file:

Mrs. West’s Hats – now at MOMA PS1

Mrs. West’s Hats is now available at MOMA PS1 bookshop, New York City.

Portrait – Lutz Engelke

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’

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.

Opening – books on exhibit in New York

WORKERS 工人 and Mrs. West’s Hats on exhibit in New York.

The Artful Scriptorium
37-24 24th Street, Suite 406
Long Island City
NY 11101

Opening reception, 10th April 2010, 6-9 pm
Thurs. – Sun. 12-5pm until 25th April

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

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

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.

Featured – International Herald Tribune, ‘Expatriate art thrives in China’

International Herald Tribune Weekend Arts, 9-10 Jan 2010.
Image is No. 52 taken from the series Untitled (Collecting and Dropping)
Page 14 and front page.

Commission – China Articles for ARTQUEST

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’

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).


Climate change commission for Al Jazeera

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.


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

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

Untitled (Collecting and Dropping) No.179

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

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

Mrs. West’s Hats London book launch photos

MWH launch 4 for web

MWH launch 2 for web

MWH launch 3 for web

MWH launch 1 for web

At the Phoenix Artist Club, London

Mrs. West’s Hats review – The Hat magazine

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

Later the installation was systematically cut up

Cutting up my work, it happens Cutting up my work, it happens Cutting up my work, it happens Cutting up my work, it happens

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

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

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


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

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

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

Uncharted Stories – Opening

Uncharted Stories POSTER Helen Couchman

Uncharted Stories
Private View –› 6 – 9 pm October 29

Daniel Baker
Pedro Carvalho de Almeida

Helen Couchman
Annabel Dover
Dettie Gould

Sara Angel Guerrero-Rippberger & Rossella Emanuele
Hannah Hurst

Ope Sarah Lori

Catherine Maffioletti
Aaron McPeake
Marcela Montoya-Turnill & Cayetano H. Rios

Idit Nathan
Jane Norris
Deepan Sivaraman
Tansy Spinks
Deborah True
Anna Vickers
Senem Yazan

28 October –› 5 November, 2009
11 am –› 6 pm

The Triangle Space
Chelsea College of Art & Design
16 John Islip Street
London, SW1P 4JU



Uncharted Stories panel discussion

Thursday 29 October, 3:30 – 4:30pm
Triangle Space at Chelsea College of Art & Design

Open discussion on identity research with Uncharted Stories exhibitors:
Aaron McPeake
Ope Sarah Lori
Sara Angel Guerrero- Rippberger
Helen Couchman
Researcher at Chelsea, Dr Carol Tulloch

Update: 10/11/09

Thanks to IN for the photos

Mrs. West’s Hats review – Dakai magazine

To view this and the images selected see:
Dakai magazine is a new online journal of the independent arts devoted to creating a necessary, mutually nurturing bridge between the artistic communities of China and the rest of the world.

Beijing based artist Helen Couchman’s new book uses an eclectic collection of hats left to her by her departed grandmother to weave a striking and stylish narrative of an adventurous young woman and her exploration of identity and self-presentation.
A celebration of both her grandmother’s life and mid-twentieth millenary design, Couchman’s photographs ape the fashion photography of the time and resurrect an array of bold and colorful characters that although long out of “fashion” seem as vibrant and exciting as anything we’ve seen recently. The hats, all of which are authentic vintage, range in style from the colorful and classically feminine to the avant-garde, gently recalling a time before the sleekness of the modern era when a hat could serve as the proverbial “cherry on top” of a dignified yet colorful outfit.

Mrs. West’s Hats – Beijing book launch photos

In conversation with Stacey Duff and Dr Anthony Gorman
Thanks to Cissy B for the photos

At Frankfurt book fair 09

Find WORKERS 工人 and Mrs. West’s Hats at
Hall 8, Stand: 8.0 L971. 14 – 18 October

Mrs West’s Hats – Beijing book launch

Thursday 15th October 7.30pm:
Mrs West’s Hats
by Helen Couchman
a book launch

Helen Couchman’s new book is a thoughtful, quiet meditation on the life of her grandmother, a remarkable lady and the owner of a number of extravagant hats. Tonight we explore memory, history, heritage, and inheritance via this beautiful little work, soon to be launched in London and worldwide.
Currently attracting international media attention, Helen’s new book is launched in a climate of worldwide recession – the most pertinent of times to look back on an earlier, less consumer-focused era, and perhaps to a time when beautiful objects were treasured more than they are today.

Helen Couchman is a visual artist based in Beijing, and the author of ‘Gongren’. Tonight’s discussion features art critic and philosopher Anthony Gorman, and Time Out’s fabulous art editor Stacey Duff.
Jenny Niven, The Bookworm Beijing

Soloshow name

UCCA talk photos


_MG_3596 for web

_MG_3605 for web

Photo thanks to E C and M K

In conversation – UCCA Beijing


“Breaking News” 2: Art and Culture – 20 Years of Report Evolution

At Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) Sunday, 20th September, 4pm

Guest Speakers: Caroline Puel and Helen Couchman

Caroline Puel, European and French citizen, born in 1963, has been following China policy for the last 25 years as a young diplomat, student, journalist and writer. Graduated from the Political Institute in Paris (Sciences Po), she studied Chinese at the French Institute for Oriental Languages and The Chinese Institute of Diplomacy, she quitted diplomacy in 1988 to become a journalist. War correspondent between 1989 and 1996 (China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, first war in the Gulf, Iran, Irak, Nicaragua, Yugoslavia) she has been in charge of Liberation office in Hong-Kong between 1993 and 1997 and founded the China Office for Liberation and Le Point, based in Beijing in 1995. She quitted Liberation in 2000 and has developed Le Point Asia Office (based in Beijing). Le Point is now the first French language news magazine. She is also chronicler for Radio France, Radio Suisse Romande, Art Critic (author of more than 15 books about Chinese Contemporary Artists) and Lecturer. She teaches journalism and China Contemporary History in Sciences Po Paris. Founding member of the International Women’s Forum Asia (steering committee), President of Sciences Po Alumni Club in China, member of the jury for the best Chinese translator Fu Lei Prize, She received the Albert Londres Award (EQ. French Pulitzer Prize) for her coverage of China.

Helen Couchman was born in 1973 in England and studied art in London, first a B.A. in 1996 and an M.A. graduating in 1998. She has always had a fascination for travel and have when possible worked abroad, working in Armenia, USA and Cyprus. When she first came to Beijing arriving off the Trans-Mongolian train from Moscow she was immediately interested by the city, because of a long held interest in the country and in particular in places that are changing fast.

Couchman’s project WORKERS 工人 (2008) celebrates the workers who have built the iconic buildings to house the Beijing Olympic Games. The book documents 143 men and women working on the building site and their signatures. Couchman’s practice often focuses upon buildings, landscape and during the last four years in Beijing the notion if the ‘gift’. Having spent some time at the Olympic site she quickly realised that her interest lay with the people who were making this new city possible. So for the first time she made a portrait project that was constructed of portraits of people other than herself. Both her previous exhibitions here in Beijing’s 798 Art District – Gift (2006) and New Work (2007) focused on ideas of exchange and the WORKERS 工人 book stemmed directly from that. Because the participants took home a 15x20cm portrait of themselves there are now homes in the provinces these migrant workers hail from with the portraits either treasured or on display.

Couchman is now preparing two new pieces of work to be exhibited in London in November and a new book, Mrs. West’s Hats, remembering her grandmother.

* * *

“独家号外”系列 2: 艺术与文化-20年发展报告

生活在中国已近20年的Caroline Puel 对中国的社会发展有着深刻地认识,与我们一起回顾中国文化的发展变化,并讲述在过去的20年中法国媒体对中国发展的看法。


蒲皓琳 (Caroline Puel),欧洲和法国公民,1963年出生。过去的25年里,以留学生、记者、作家以及外交官的多重身份在中国生活,并熟知中国的政策。

Helen Couchman,1973年出生在英格兰,在伦敦学习艺术专业,1996年她获得了学士学位,1998年获得了硕士学位。她总是对旅游充满了热情,只要 有机会她就会到国外工作,美洲,美国和塞浦路斯都是她工作过的地方。第一次从莫斯科乘火车穿过蒙古来到北京时,她一下就对这个城市充满了好奇。因为这是她 一直以来所向往的国度由其是这里的快速变化。

Couchman的工人(2008)项目赞美那些建造了北京奥运会上标志性建筑的工人们。这 本书记录了143位男女工人在施工现场的照片以及他们的签名。Couchman的实践经常集中在建筑,景观,在北京过去的四年中她的观念是“礼物”。在北 京奥运会场馆的施工现场工作一段时间后,她很快发现她的兴趣全部集中在让新城市成为可能的人们身上。因此她第一次做了一个肖像项目, 是由这些工人们的肖像构成的而不是她自己。她之前在北京798艺术区举办的展览–礼物(2006)和新工作(2007)都主要体现了其想法的转换,《工 人》这本书的梗概也由此而来。那些参与拍摄的工人们都带回家一张他们自己的15x20cm的照片,它们现在都陈列在这些工人的老家,或是珍藏或是展示。



Left to right: Lucy Hornby our MC and long time correspondent for Reuters. Caroline Puel correspondent for Le Point who has been in China since 1984. Coco our translator and myself.

Shenzhen factory photographs for Die Zeit


Click to enlarge

in print
Die Zeit, 27th August 2009 No. 36. Page 20. Read here by Frank Sieren

Liu Yaping
Liu Yaping at work, Shan Ping City, Dongguan, Southern China

Factory owner K K Wong
Factory owner, K K Wong, Shan Ping City, Dongguan, Southern China

Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China slideshow – Minorities

Slide from the series contributed

WORKERS 工人 – Beijing 2008 Image of the Day

Beijing images of the dayThis short has shown up on You Tube. It was broadcast as an official Beijing 2008 Image of the Day during the Olympics.

It is commonly known as the Bird’s Nest but Beijing’s National Stadium is more than a name. It is a testament to the hundreds of migrant workers who toiled long and hard to make it a reality. See the book that celebrates their achievement. 13th August 2008

WORKERS book featured in the 'Beijing 2008 - Image of the Day', Olympics, China


WORKERS book featured in the 'Beijing 2008 - Image of the Day', Olympics, China


WORKERS book featured in the 'Beijing 2008 - Image of the Day', Olympics, China


WORKERS book featured in the 'Beijing 2008 - Image of the Day', Olympics, China


WORKERS book featured in the 'Beijing 2008 - Image of the Day', Olympics, China


WORKERS book featured in the 'Beijing 2008 - Image of the Day', Olympics, China


WORKERS book featured in the 'Beijing 2008 - Image of the Day', Olympics, China

New Work landscape prints reviewed – Crafts Council magazine, ‘Contemporary Chinoiserie’

chinoisery article small

…The vision of China represented in this exhibition is, as its title suggests, still a romantic and fanciful one, though more actively engaged and critical than its antecedents. Moments of darker realities do pierce through uncomfortably, with Helen Couchman’s paper works commenting on the changes in Beijing’s built environment and Gayle Chong Kwan’s detached observation of the deserted English-style satellite town outside Shanghai. …

Gigi Chang was assistant curator of China Design Now at the Victoria and Albert museum.

Crafts. Nov/Dec 2008

inVisio Images and Organization – seminar

Images and Organization
Visio launch event

19:00   Welcome and introduction to inVisio

19:15    Jonathan Schroeder (University of Exeter):
             Snapshot Aesthetics in Brand Culture

20:00   Helen Couchman (Photographic Artist):
             WORKERS 工人

20:45   Claus Noppeney (CNC Berlin/Grenoble Ecole de Management):
            Seeing Organizations – Understanding Organizations?

14th October 2008
7 – 9.30pm,
9.30pm drinks reception
at The Photographers’ Gallery, London


InVisio talk by Helen Couchman

Private View – Contemporary Chinoiserie

Contemporary Chinoiserie
Curated by Day+Gluckman

Private view: 6pm tonight
11th September – 26th November 2008

Collyer Bristow Gallery
4 Bedford Row


An exploration of a modern day concept of Chinoiserie; relationships,
aesthetic responses and perceptions of China.

Lisa Cheung, Gayle Chong Kwan, Helen Couchman, Stephanie Douet, Ed Pien, Neil Stewart, Pamela So, Karen Tam and Erika Tan

This exhibition brings together artists from the UK and Canada whose work or practice is affected by their connection to China. The exhibition explores how pervasive Chinese culture, industry and aesthetics are in our everyday lives, be them actual or perceived.

‘Chinoiserie’, a French term meaning ‘Chinese-esque’, derived from the Seventeenth Century as an entirely European style that was influenced wholly from China and the East. The China that was being emulated was in fact fictitious. Very few real images of life in China had reached the west. Instead a Utopian land was described and repeated through the use of decorative motifs and styles. The influence and desire for China, it’s trade and culture ramified in to the 19th century, opium wars, trade and colonialism.

In Contemporary Chinoiserie we look at the work of nine artists’ whose practice explores their relationship with China through photography, prints, film, sculpture and ceramics. The artists all reference a contemporary response to a China, neither fully understood nor real; from stylistic responses, mythical tales, and references of racism and displacement to a desire to understand what China means to them. Whilst many of the artists’ are of Chinese descent, others are linked to China through family or, in one case, live in Beijing.

Artist Stephanie Douet is interested in Chinoiserie as the birth of leisure in Europe. The fractured, fictional idyllic life the aristocracy in Europe imitated of China is explored in her bizarre sculptures. Douet, whose two young nieces are adopted from China sees a similar distance in Europe’s understanding of the country today and a continuation of trade and misunderstanding from that of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The sculptures resemble furniture and antiques with indiscernible meaning and use. Their quirky shapes and beautiful craftsmanship are a contemporary take on the curios that came from trade missions in the beginning of Chinoiserie.

Karen Tam, based in Canada, creates installations looking at the influences and cultural particularities of Chinese communities. Her work, like Douet’s, directly references Chinoiserie as she looks at contemporary issues and misconceptions of the culture. Paper cuts, a traditional Chinese craft, adorn the walls, referencing take away menus, railway posters, racist political cartoons and export chinaware.

Ed Pien, also Canadian, was born in Taipei, Taiwan and in this exhibitions presents new work including The Blue Vine. The blue references the Delft Blue colour iconic of exported Chinese porcelain whilst the drawing technique mirrors the hand-painted effect of glaze. As with his earlier works, creatures of all sorts abound. Here the politically motivated and denigrating caricaturization of the “Orientals” in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s comes into play.

Lisa Cheung works often works with people, creating events and group activities. For Contemporary Chinoiserie she will show work created over the past few years for various commissions. One such piece is from a project in Plymouth with the local Chinese community. Working inside the Plymouth City Museum she made new porcelain pieces to go along side those exported though Plymouth’s history as a trade seaport. The crockery showed stylised portraits of the people she worked with at the time they first came to the UK. A recent work used light to shine the last texts messages of the Morecambe Bay cockle-pickers to their loved ones in a haunting installation.

Erika Tan’s work evolves from an interest in anthropology and moving image having studied Social Anthropology and Archaeology at Cambridge and film at the Academy of Arts in Beijing. In Contemporary Chinoiserie she shows ‘Shot Through: Journey of Connections’, a film looking at her own relationship with China through the memories and notes of well known philosophers such as Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and Julia Kristeva.

Pamela So employs the manipulative qualities of digital photography to re-interpret and re-present history based on her Scottish/Chinese background. So looks at the pick and mix attitude towards the use of Chinese motifs and extravagant and playful elements of Chinoiserie. Developing a lightbox piece, ‘Gaming with pigs‘, based on her own family history of gambling and her own fortunes of being born in the year of the pig she explores the destructive decadence of the genre.

Helen Couchman is currently living in Beijing. As the Olympics approached she sought to understand some of the human impact on the site. A new publication of her photographic portraits of the workers on the iconic ‘Birds Nest’ Stadium and ‘Water Cube’ has just been published with funding from Arup. For Contemporary Chinoiserie she shows a series of woodblock print landscapes. A traditional Chinese medium Couchman has learnt since living in the country. The images, striking on the surface, question the current regard for culture in the city she is watching change before her eyes.

Neil Stewart’s, whose wife is Chinese, has long standing interest in Chinese philosophy, which informs his work. He uses video to explore the very different concepts of time that exist in Chinese and Western cultures. Stewart videos of a traditional Chinese landscape and the room in which Mao lived after the Long March are in fact models.

Gayle Chong Kwan also creates models with everyday objects to investigate cultural environments. Her work is crammed with historical references that comment on contemporary culture.

WORKERS 工人 London book launch photos

At The Photographers’ Gallery

WORKERS by Helen Couchman book launch at The Photographers Gallery 2008

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2 for web

9 for web

Photo thanks to J C

Helen Couchman’s WORKERS

Article by Peter Walters for That’s Beijing

Workers review Helen Couchman

Workers review 2 Helen Couchan

WORKERS 工人 book featured in, ‘Beijing 2008 – Images of the Day’

WORKERS 工人 featured in, Beijing 2008 – Images of the Day.

Beijing National Stadium – Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games
by imagesoftheday, published 13 August, 2008

Commonly known as the Bird’s Nest, the National Stadium for the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games is a magnificent achievement and testament to the hundreds of migrant workers who built it.

WORKERS 工人 review – The Age

Silent workers get their moment to shine before the Games begin
Mary-Anne Toy

The Age newspaper and here on-line. 7th August 2008


Click on image to enlarge


THEY line up one by one to have their picture taken. Behind them are the new Olympic stadiums that will define Beijing and China for the decades to come.

But in a twist of perspective, it is not the magnificent steel lattice of the National Stadium’s “Bird’s nest” or the space-age blue bubbles of the “water cube” Aquatic Centre that dominate the picture, but the individual migrant workers whose sweat and blood – at least six workers died during Olympic construction – have created these structures.

British artist Helen Couchman, who has lived in Beijing for 18 months, sneaked on to the Olympic building site over two days and offered to take pictures of any workers willing to pose.

She deliberately used the same background, with the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube, for each picture to focus attention on the individual. She returned a few days later to give each worker a print. (A few are anonymous because they could not return or be tracked down).

At first people shuffled around uncertainly, but once the first volunteer stepped up she was inundated. Couchman had to encourage people to get back to work so that she wasn’t ejected from the site.

When she returned to distribute the pictures she got each worker to write down their name, village and province.

The resulting 143 portraits, along with the worker’s signatures – the individual Chinese characters vary from sweeping calligraphy to simple characters – have been published in a book titled Workers (Gongren).

In the pre-Olympics crackdown, Couchman’s first printer decided they could not print the book without government authorisation, the day after the proofs had been approved.

She managed to find another printer willing to take on what she considered to be an apolitical project that celebrated the workers behind Beijing’s Olympic transformation.

The book was launched in Beijing before Couchman flew to London in late June to take part in an international exhibition on China’s new buildings, which included eight of the migrant worker portraits and the book. She was then invited to show the portraits and launch the book in Hong Kong last month.

“The reason for doing the project was I was thinking of Lewis Hine photographing the people who built the Empire State Building in New York and the photos of the Eiffel Tower being built in Paris – these historic cities, captured in their construction, being built by these unknown workers,” Couchman said.

“Back then in New York it would have been migrant workers, the Irish and the Italians . . . here it’s about the migrant workers who have come from all corners of China.

“I wanted the project to be about the people, hence the composition with the worker in the centre of the frame. It (the portrait) becomes a piece of personal family history and will return to the countryside with them . . . that’s what I’m so delighted about, that these photographs have travelled back with these workers to their home villages all over China.

“These people will not see the Olympics, except on television, but from the photograph, a villager in some remote part of China will see that their uncle or aunt, or mother or father, played a key role in the 2008 Olympic preparations.”

Ironically, as part of Beijing’s clean-up, the city’s hundreds of thousands of migrant workers have been sent home for two months.

WORKERS 工人 slideshow – The Age

Update: Tonight Migrant workers who built Olympic Beijing is on the front page of The Age online.


The online producer of the Australian newspaper The Age sent the following link today. Now live on page one online, They Built this City:

Slideshow for The Age newspaper by Mary-Ann Toy about WORKERS by Helen Couchman 2008 1
Slideshow for The Age newspaper by Mary-Ann Toy about WORKERS by Helen Couchman 2008 2
Slideshow for The Age newspaper by Mary-Ann Toy about WORKERS by Helen Couchman 2008 3
 Update- Tonight Migrant workers who built Olympic Beijing is on the front page of The Age online. 4

WORKERS 工人 review – SCMP

Photographer puts faces to the construction of the Games sites

by Ng Tze-wei
South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, Thursday, July 31, 2008 (page 7)

They may have helped build two of the most significant structures in modern Chinese history – the National Stadium and the National Aquatics Centre – for the BJ Olympics, but the thousands-strong workforce has remained faceless. Until now.

A group of 143 men and women from provinces as far away as Gansu and Sichuan posed for British artist Helen Couchman’s latest project, a book called Workers, which attempts to put a face to the mammoth projects.

Before her lens some appear formal while others are nervous; some wear a poker face, but most beam a smile, amused and somewhat proud. The portraits all share the same backdrop – the venues known as the “Bird’s Nest” and the “Water Cube “.

Couchman said much of the news on the BJ Olympics had focused on landmark buildings, but, she reasoned, what about the people who actually welded the intricate steel structures together and put the many pieces in place?

“The Empire State Building and other historic buildings like the Eiffel Tower – we see photographs with [workers] in them, but we are not sure who they were,” said the 35-year-old, who moved to Beijing 19 months ago and has just begun to communicate with the locals in broken Chinese.

“When you photograph people as individuals, they become memorable. They are no longer a group, a mass, an unknown quantity.”

British art critic Peter Suchin writes in the book’s introduction that the way Chinese positions the workers at roughly the same spot for each portrait suggests they can also be seen as “one single portrait, that of `the worker’ engaged in the making of the Place of the Games … the central focus, the essential signifier of the new BJ”.

Couchman, who received her master of fine arts degree from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, said she had always been interested in portraying urban landscapes through various media.

Her previous works in Beijing include collages in ink, and woodblock prints depicting features of a new city, such as high rises and ring roads, using traditional Chinese motifs.

For this project though, her shift in focus had much to do with the hype surrounding the architecture of the two main Olympic venues.

She said she wanted to go back to the fundamental question of what the Games meant to BJ and the nation.

“I’ve always done work about overlooked landscapes,” Couchman said.

“But here everyone is talking about the buildings, the buildings that are going to represent the new China.

“So for me, the workers became the ones who were overlooked.”

Taking the 143 photographs formed only half the project. The other half involved putting the images into a book to provide interesting details of how Couchman carried out her project, and a wealth of information about the workers that lends significance to the artist’s work.

For two days last December, Couchman dodged tight security and sneaked into the construction site of the “Water Cube”, offering to take pictures of workers.

Those who agreed to take part were each promised a copy of the photograph to take home.

So after the pictures were developed, she sneaked back to distribute them.

Those who heard about the return of the foreigner photographer showed up to collect their pictures, and signed Couchman’s “autograph” book.

A handful never came back. Some had already returned home, the other workers said.

She adopted a presentation format reminiscent of Chinese painter Liu Xiaodong’s ‘Battlefield Realism: The Eighteen Arhats’, which features signed portraits of nine pairs of soldiers from the mainland and Taiwan.

Each labourer wrote their names on the original prints, and the autographs effectively tell the story of how far the workers travelled and the transient lifestyle they lead as migrant workers.

The details provide the human touch – such as how one wrote her surname in the wrong character and crossed it out, and others who practised writing their names on the backs of their hands first, or with help from friends. They indicate the limited education received by these workers, still the hardest-working toilers at the bottom of the new Chinese social order.

Couchman fully expected workers’ rights to be raised in panel discussions during the book’s launch in BJ this month.

However, she was taken aback by the ferocity of a question on whether her work had glossed over workers’ conditions on the mainland, often cited as an example of the nation developing too recklessly with little regard to the human cost.

“It’s good if my work raises awareness [of workers’ conditions]; however, it was not my reason for starting this project,” Couchman said.

“If I had aimed to make this project about workers’ rights, it would not be what it is.”

‘Workers’ (Gong Ren) will be launched in Hong Kong today. A selection of 55 portraits will be exhibited at ‘Solutions for a Modern City’, from today to Sunday at Park Court, Pacific Place.

SCMP South China Morning Post review WORKERS by Helen Couchman

Opening – Solutions for a Modern City

Solutions for a Modern City reception and exhibition
Followed by a book launch at Kelly and Walsh who will then stock the book
Thursday, 31st July 2008, 6-8pm

Park Court
Pacific Place
88 Queensway
Hong Kong

Exhibition runs: 13st July – 3rd August

DSC_2206 for web

DSC_2184 for web

Photo thanks to Darren


Video, The WORKERS 工人 who built an Olympic city
by Mary-Anne Toy, The Age Newspaper, 2008. 4:46 minutes.

Coffee Table Q&A, WORKERS

By Kit Gillet for Urbane Magazine

Helen Couchman interview, Urbane magazine

July 08 Urbane magazine Helen Couchman interview

2008.12 P01-p06 Contents&Contrabutors.indd

Opening – China in Motion

China in Motion Invitation July 4th 08
China in Motion 
curated by Dr Jennifer Greitschus

Contributors include artist Helen Couchman, photographer Ed Burtynsky, filmmaker Antoine Breton, composer Yuli Chen and photo-journalist Natalie Behring.
The exhibition runs: 7 July – 2 October

China In Motion Reminder
This exhibition is part of, China Now, and the London Festival of Architecture 2008,

Interview with Jian Ghomeshi for CBC’s Q: Arts and Culture

Helen Couchman interviewed about the book, WORKERS 工人, for the CBC by Jian Ghomeshi on his daily culture show Q: Arts and Culture. It was recorded live in Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s London studio as Jian was visiting for a week to broadcast from the UK to celebrate Canada Day.

The interviewed is approx 35 minutes into the 1 hour show. First on is Sebastian Faulks talking about writing the thirty-sixth James Bond story, Devil May Care.

Listen to the radio programe here: (>>35:00)

WORKERS 工人 review – The New Yorker

This morning I notice that ‘The Book Bench’ in the The New Yorker magazine have covered WORKERS 工人. See the brief article titled WORK UNIT here or read below.

Under Loose leafs from the New Yorker Books Department this article was published on the 19th June.

WORKERS in the New Yorker


Last December, the photographer Helen Couchman shot portraits of a hundred and forty-three Chinese laborers at the construction sites of the two most iconic buildings of the Beijing Olympics, the National Stadium (a.k.a. the Bird’s Nest) and the National Aquatics Center (a.k.a. the Water Cube). According to the publisher of her new book, “Gong Ren” (“Workers”), she was able to bypass the authorities and approach her subjects individually—a feat that seems extraordinary, given the government’s intense micro-management of what is essentially the nation’s global coming-out party.

As Paul Goldberger noted in a recent review, these new Olympic monuments were “made possible partly by the presence of huge numbers of low-paid migrant workers”; the construction crew for the Bird’s Nest alone “numbered nine thousand at its peak.” He expressed reservations about the price exacted for the sky line’s glory:

In both conception and execution, the best of Beijing’s Olympic architecture is unimpeachably brilliant. But the development also exemplifies traits—the reckless embrace of the fashionable and the global, the authoritarian planning heedless of human cost—that are elsewhere denaturing, even destroying, the fabric of the city.

A slide show of images of the buildings is online; Couchman’s book launch will be celebrated at the Beijing Bookworm tomorrow night.

Ligaya Mishan

WORKERS 工人 – London book launch

Invite for London book launch of WORKERS 26th June London

Book launch tonight at 6.30pm
The Photographers’ Gallery Bookshop, 8 Great Newport Street, London WC2H 7HY

Soloshow Publishing

The Panel, 20th June 2008

L1060207 for web

Photo thanks to C E

Friday’s panel. Left to right:
Artist, Architect, NGO/Labor Rights Advisor, Art Critic, China Historian

Images of Chinese Migrant Workers in Foreign Artist’s Lens

Helen Couchman and her book Workers

Helen Couchman and her book Workers

In December 2007, during her second extended visit to Beijing, Helen Couchman photographed a large group of migrant workers building venues for the Olympic Games. She published the photos in a book entitled “Workers.”

“I think it’s a historical moment for this country, so the people participating make the thing happen. People who are central to the happening should have a record and be sort of proud of what they’ve done.”

“Workers” is Couchman’s first published book. As her subjects, the English photographer chose the migrant laborers who built the National Stadium, or Bird’s Nest, and the Water Cube, the two grandest venues of the upcoming Beijing Olympics.

There are 143 portraits in her book. She asked each worker to stand in roughly the same spot with the Olympic stadium and swimming venue clearly in view behind them. Each worker looks calmly, confidently and directly into Helen’s lens.

An important feature of these photographs is that, irrespective of their archival value, they were taken without the approval of local authorities. Helen simply asked the workers themselves if they would let her photograph them. She did not introduce herself, nor did she know whether her Chinese was good enough to communicate with them. To her surprise, the workers’ responses were very positive.

Couchman talks about what impressed her the most when she took the photos.

“I was really taken by their enthusiasm. I really enjoyed the positivity. Something interesting for me was I knew that handwriting is important in China, but I didn’t realize in a way how important. People took great pride in writing their addresses and names beautifully. And they felt their handwriting wasn’t good enough. They had conversations with friends who they thought could write them well and asked them to write for them.”

A worker helping to build the Birds Nest

A worker helping to build the Bird’s Nest

Besides each portrait what also in the book are the workers’ signatures and the provinces where they are from. Some are from Sichuan Province, and some are from Henan Province.

Helen gave each worker a copy of their photo for them to keep or send home to their families.

John Pauline from Australia is one of the lead architects on the Water Cube. He has been working on the project for more than three years.

Pauline has seen many publications about the Olympic venues in Beijing. He says Couchman’s book is quite special.

“What impresses me most is unlike other books of the Olympics or stories about Olympics, it’s not about the athletes. It’s not the buildings, and it’s not about Beijing. It’s about people. That’s wonderful to take the shift of attention from the worldwide audience and just focus on the physical hand of the workers who have built these wonderful buildings, who are going to be largely responsible for making the Beijing Olympics a success.”

Wang Kan is a doctor of Laws at the Renmin University of China. Wang has been helping migrant workers on a program arranged by his university. He believes that they deserve respect.

Wang says Couchman’s book gives them that respect. He talks about one photo that especially caught his attention.

“There is a photo about a female worker. She smiles on the photo and she looks very proud of herself. I think for me I like this photo because it shows a construction side. We believe construction is only for men. But you see women there. They enjoy the same happiness as the male workers. That shows more like equal culture between Chinese men and Chinese women.”

As the Olympics is drawing near, Helen wishes that this book will be a great gift for this grand event.

The four workers are on the same page of this page, each of whom with a smile on their faces.

The four workers are on the same page of this page, each of whom with a smile on their faces

A signature of one worker and his hometown

A signature of one worker and his hometown


Interview at:

WORKERS 工人 – Beijing book launch

Beijing Book Launch for WORKERS by Helen Couchman June 2008Panel discussion and book launch with:

John Pauline – director, PTW Architects, Wang Kan – secretary general, China On Action, Stacey Duff – writer and art critic, Time Out, Helen Couchman – artist.

7.30pm at The Bookworm, Building 4, Sanlitun Nan Lu, Chaoyang District, Beijing

Soloshow Publishing

WORKERS 工人 on Danwei

WORKERS by Helen Couchman, book launch on Danwei 2008

British artist Helen Couchman will be launching her new book – WORKERS 工人 –  at The Bookworm on Friday night June 20 at 7.30pm. 

Couchman photographed a large group of Chinese workers engaged in the construction of Plympic projects such as the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube. The book is an album of 143 portraits of workers standing in front of the iconic Olympic buildings they helped to construct, together with each workers name and home town, written in his, and in some cases her own hand.

Jermey Goldkorn

On The Granite Studio

This morning Jeremiah Jenne has spread the WORKERS工人 word on his well read Chinese history blog The Ganite Studio. See here (link broken) for the posting.

Book delivery – WORKERS 工人

IMG_8665 for web

Book delivery (half of them)

Short radio interview – Affordable Art Fair Beijing

To listen see China Radio International’s web page, The Third Affordable Art Fair Beijing, scroll down the page and ‘Click to Listen‘.
A sound bite cut from an interview with Liao Jibo recorded at the fair.

Affordable Art Fair interview 2008

The annual Affordable Art exhibition in Beijing has become a celebration time for art lovers who want to buy some cheap yet high-quality works.

This year’s exhibition has just concluded at the 798 Space in Beijing. The three-day event featured a wide selection of visual art including paintings, prints, designs and photographs.

Most importantly, the price of the displayed art ranged from 10 yuan to 10,000 yuan or some 1,400 dollars — much cheaper than those in other shows.

Our reporter Liao Jibo was there and filed this report.

About 600 creations of painting, printing, design and photography were available on this year’s exhibition, much more than ever before, and their prices too were lower.

They were created by 150 contemporary artists from China and other parts of the world.

Jiang Kun is a Chinese painter whose works are usually sold at 20,000 yuan, or about 3,000 US dollars.

However, at this show, each piece was priced only at 7,000 yuan. She was exhibiting four paintings depicting world-famous artists in a tongue-in-cheek way. She hoped more people would be able to appreciate contemporary art due to the lower prices.

“The price of modern Chinese art works is unrealistically high some times. As an artist, I have the responsibility to promote art and make more people afford the art works.”

Helen Couchman, an artist from England, also had five pieces on show here. Although she said her creations were priced much cheaper than usual, she felt it fitted for this particular exhibition.

“I think it’s great. The reason it works because the gallery only takes ten percent. Usually most galleries take fifty percent. But at this show, artists can afford to make it less expensive because they don’t have to give fifty percent to the gallery. It’s fair.”

In the current Chinese art market, it is becoming harder to find affordable yet high-quality works of art. As the economy booms, contemporary Chinese artists are seldom on the collector’s lists of must-have work as prices for many of them are too high.

A painting by Chinese artist Yue Minjun was sold at Sotheby’s for nearly six million dollars in London last October. It is the highest price ever paid for a contemporary Chinese work.

In late 2005, the first Affordable Art Beijing was held as an alternative to the increasingly elitist art market. Much to the surprise of the organizers, over 100 people queued to get into the venue and nearly half of all the works on display were sold within an hour.

The exhibition is now an annual event, which serves as a platform for young talent to display fresh ideas and give the city’s art lovers an opportunity to take home an original creation.

Tom Pattinson from England was one of the organizers of the exhibition.

“What we want to do is to make people who don’t have millions of dollars actually afford art. Affordable Art is a matter of opinion that eight thousand or ten thousand RMB is not affordable to some people. But really in the market place, ten thousand RMB is very affordable compared to the price of Liu Xiaodong, whose work is sold millions of dollars. We are very pleased to see a lot more people who come and walk out of the door, carrying something and with a smile on their face.”

Mr. Pattinson said 200 works were sold within the first hour of the exhibition. Bregtje van der Haak, a traveler from Holland, said she was lucky to be in Beijing during the event. She bought two paintings for 5,500 yuan, or less than 800 dollars. She said the paintings appealed to her and that the price was quite reasonable.

“It’s affordable. Affordable means you can actually buy it within your means. The painting appeals to me. It’s very personal as which kind of art you like or which painting you like and which image draws your attention.”

For art lovers, Affordable Art Beijing gives an opportunity to take home a unique piece of contemporary art. For artists, it provides an excellent platform to express themselves. The exhibition has indeed become one of the most eagerly-anticipated events of the country’s art calendar.

Production photos of WORKERS 工人

Charcoal on paper

IMG_7374 for web

20 minute poses (75 x 110cms)

Satellite dishes

There is something about the silent communications that huge satellite dishes suggest that I find intriguing and an inspiration in my work.

IMG_2689 for web

IMG_2225 for web

Landscape No. 2 (80 x 100cms)

Charity auction in London

The signature print from my current exhibition, Jianguomen No. 1, was auctioned in London last Monday at the Emerging Markets Benefits Ball to raise money for charity.

The money raised will continue to support Task Brasil (, who act to support street children in Brasil; Health Unlimited (www.healthunlimited) which works in 15 countries globally in helping to build sustainable community-based healthcare; Cotlands (, a South African group of hospices which offer residential, palliative and respite care to children with HIV/Aids; and Downside Up, (, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for children with Down’s Syndrome within the Russian Federation.

Interview – Radio Beijing’s A Tale of Two Cities


Jane Chan Radio BJ for web
Jane Chan in the new studio

Portrait – Sheng Qi

Sheng Qi
Chinese artist Sheng Qi with banned painting for The Age newspaper

New Work at Galerie Perif

door with poster 1 for web
New Work
exhibition poster

fan in window 1 for web

landscape wall 2 for web
Landscape Nos. 1-9, Beijing (80 x 100cms)

dragon panels x3 5 for web
Panels Nos. 1-3, Beijing (85 x 150cms)

Private view – New Work

New work
Private view 3-6pm today. The exhibition runs until 15th November

press image 1.Oct07
Jianguomen No. 1
(64 x 84cms)

Beautiful commercial

Beautiful Commercial, Beijing, Helen Couchman



Going digital

me and the camera for the web
My new pro digital SLR camera. Five days old

Creekside Open 2005

Creekside open