Tag Archives: ‘In Beijing’

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

19th March, 2012

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’

 

Closing drinks – In Beijing

9th August, 2011

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

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

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

Q&A about exhibit, In Beijing – CityWeekend

1st August, 2011

Q&A with CityWeekend
www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing/articles/blogs-beijing/art/helen-couchman

 

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.

 

Comment:
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

Review article – The Global Times, ‘Mirror Images’

11th June, 2011

Global Times 11th, June 2011

Artist reflects on hutong development

by Song Yuanyuan

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

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

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

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

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

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