Site = Sight
An Engagement in Wandering
As much can be said for stepping outside your comfort zone as can be said for sticking with what you know.
I spent a 31 days in China, this past summer, from May 21 to June 21, as part of The Parsons China Summer 2010 Course. I had never been outside the country before and I felt it was long overdue. I had many reasons for wanting to travel, but my most compelling reason for wanting to go to China in particular was to witness a remarkable time in human history. China is doing things never before attempted by man (as they’ve been known to do.) But China has been makeing big changes happen amazingly fast recently, and the country changes almost daily.
Not only did I want to experience this amazing New China, I also wanted to see the parts of China that are disappearing; the Hutongs of Beijing, an un-Disneyfied Hangzho, some mountains without energy towers sprouting from them like a plague of metal and wire. We do the same thing in the United States. Humans have a hard time not spoiling nature, no matter where we live. I want to see some of the history of the China that I grew up with. My mother and grandmother where both fascinated with China; both for different reasons, but also from a common desire to travel and experience the world. They never had the chance to, but I did.
The course was divided into three different Studios: Humanitarian Design, New Media, and Sight=Site. I had taken two Collabs (collaboration labs) with Benjamin Bacon, who was running the Humanitarian Design Studio. The most recent of those two Collabs, The Design for the Majority (D4M) Course, was where I had first heard the details of the China Summer Course. I knew the Humanitarian Design Studio was going to be a fantastic course and my partner from D4M, Xi Lan, continued with Benjamin in China. That Studio did great things as I knew they would – (and they had fun doing it). However, I decided to join the Sight=Sight Studio run by Simone Douglas, Jim Ramer and Arthur Ou; from the Fine Art and Photography Department at Parsons. I had spent the last several years focusing on design and had not produced art for art’s sake in a meaningful way in quite some time. I decided to go back to my roots. I wanted to discover China with the eyes and mind that first attracted me to the country and culture in the first place, that of an artist. There is the Studio in their own words …
“This is based on the Surrealists’ idea of the Exquisite Corpse, where one idea is shed in order to reveal the next. At the core of this project is the concept of site and the space between or connecting the sites, as mediated by wandering. During the first stage of the project, which will take place in Beijing with a small group working in the Gobi Desert over the first weekend, the primary task will be to gather images, video footage, and materials to use as starting points for an exchange of ideas and form. Students in the Gobi and students in Beijing will simultaneously gather information, and will form the basis for an exchange of work and ideas after the two groups reconvene together in Beijing. The outcome of this portion of the project will be presented at Tsinghua University. The Sight=Site Studio will continue in Shanghai at eARTS, where Parsons students will work with students from China Academy of Art and other universities. In addition to the continued studio, Sight=Site will be part of the Art, Media + Technology workshops at eARTS.”
All of my 10 in 10 projects began as projects in China as part of the Sight=Sight Studio. Some of these projects I expanded on here in New York, other projects ended before they really began. There are several more I’ll add here later, but for now there are 10:
More to come if the time permits
Below is a brief on each project. All have images, many have video and some are end with only audio. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
We were all discussing the words convergence and replace. Simone had mentioned the idea of finding a place we enjoyed and taking that place with us. I got a strange notion about a sculpture in the 798 district. I unfortunately have no idea who the artist is or the name of the work. I looked everywhere of a plaque, hoping I could post it or send it to a friend to translate, I thought I had taken a picture of one sign in Chinese, but I can not find it. Maybe some one will still be able to tell me anything more about the work. I decided to use the photo’s I had taken around Beijing that reminded me of this outdoor instillation of iron statues. I’ll leave it to you to interpret why. I feel like the ones using the 798 Graffiti work best.
This piece was layered, with the idea of heartbeats behind it and rhythm throughout. Our location was the Drum Tower.
Our group had inherited a video piece that contained a steady visual pattern of movement. This is that video:
From this video and the notion of rhythm and the location of the drum tower, I began to think about the stairs, and the rhythmic pattern you fall into when climbing to the top of the Drum Tower. Everyone in our group thought the idea of incorporating the heartbeat of was important. The connection being one between the heart and the drums and the pule of the individual.
We wanted to reconnect people through rhythm and physicality to the experience of climbing the stairs at the drum tower. We wanted to explore the connection of the drums to the heart, the concussive pulse of our own bodies. We felt that if we could recreate the movement and precarious nature of the stairs at the drum tower we could slowly rise the heartbeats of everyone participating. Their hearts then become the drum, our bodies the instruments. At the same time, we wanted to allow the participants to be connected to the rhythm of the people around them as well. The experience and performance consisted of leading everyone into one of the stairwells of Tsinghua University. Each person was instructed to stand on the stair directly behind the person in front of them. They were told to all face the same direction, that of climbing upward. They were then told to hold onto the wrist of the person directly in front of them. It was only the person at the top of the line who did not have the puse of another to “follow”. Everyone was asked to fell for the others pulse. The stairwells was darkened and the participants were then asked to close their eyes. We waited quitely so everyone could settle and really begin to feel the other.
We then asked them to start stepping in place; to slowly and carefully raise and lower their feet without losing contact with the person in front of them and without opening their eyes. While they started to do this we asked them to remember the climb to the top of the Drum Tower the pervious day.
We asked them to reflect on the sounds the drums made and the connection of that rhythm to the rhythm of their steps and the pulse of the person in front of them. As they did this we went up and down the line quitly tracing the symbols fromthe drums onto their wrists in water.
I was inspired by the video and rhythm of the last round and decided to do my own piece on the subject. I wanted to include the actual sound of the performance and use the drums as a more central part of the piece. Incorporation of the new word of the day, Immensity, was also important to my concept. I was also starting to think about the folks in the Gobi and their relationship to us geographically and spiritually. Corpsing the audio off a piece Atalay Harrison did at the Drum Tower and spending hours and hours in the coffee bar trying to get the wifi to give me a good sceen capture of Google maps zooming out from the Drum Tower all the way past the Gobi Desert to show the whole of the earth, a la Charles and Ray Eames Power of 10 coincidentally enough.
I didn’t have wifi or any internet for that matter in my hotel room in Beijing, so to complete the project I had to almost spend the night in an internet cafe in the neighborhood. It really did take a long time to get anything I could really use. One of the videos was great – except – it had the roadmap in Chinese overlaying the satilite images of the geography. I liked the speed and pacing, I just couldn’t use it with the text.
I also incorporated some of the video I took from Lake Houhai near the Drum Tower. It had been raining for a few days off and on and water was an important element from the video we were given to corps for the rythem Drum Tower Corps. I used two different scales of the water video I shot and overlaid them in different mode for the water.
This was another solo project. And quite a spontaneous one for me. The talk was now of Density.
It was a late night (well into the morning hours actually) and I was walking back to the hotel through the night market. I was thinking about convergence, rhythm (pulse) and immensity. It was completely spontaneous.
When I saw it I just reacted, I didn’t think about it too much at all. I quickly side-stepped out of the flow of foot traffic into a narrow space between the bumber of a van (the guy behind me was selling ceramics) and the scene I had to get on video; a particular pile of shirts on a tarp in the ground with the shadows of the crowd flowing like ripples in a river over them. I started digging for my camera.
I had a moment where I wondered if anyone else would see it. I felt a little bit like Paul Vasquez. (Sometimes, the fun comes from sharing something that surprises you too.) I wasn’t disappointed, Simon, Arthur, and Jim all seem to all appreciate it. This is one of the many things I miss about Fine Art. Sometimes you just don’t have to explain yourself. Other people will get it if you do; maybe not everyone but I’m okay with that. Explaining “why and how” you made something takes the fun out of making it sometimes.
Although I tried to go back and recreate that moment, it just never came together right. It rained the first few nights immediately following this recording. I got beautiful night photos, but no chance to recreate that footage. The rain and chill sent everyone packing. I saw him one more time before we left for Shanghai, but his stock had change a bit and the combination wasn’t as good as that first night. Most importantly he was not in that tightly congested area with the perfect light ever again.
That one good spot in the night market, where everything narrows down to only two people fitting through at a time. It makes everything slow down, especially if people stop to look. Young girls and couples on dates get impatient and start to shove thier way through. The lights from the shops across the thin path shine straight through the crowd in all directions so it’s the only spot to get this shadow show of ebb and flow, which are the characters in this play.So in the final edit I stabilized the shaking and rocking as best I could (Thanks Brian, for the Final Cut lesson)
I was teamed up with Felicia Wong go exploring in the Yuanmingyuan Park,also known as the Old Summer Palace with the promt “Replace”. Our companions on this trip where also the documentarian crew for the Parsons China 2010 course, and my friends, Brian Bernhard and Xuan Zhang. They got the whole happening on video, which you can check out in Episode 5/Day 05 “Yuanmingyuan Park”
The grounds of the palace are beautiful with ruins of stone and concret actitecture all around. I also used a large formate camera for the first time. The device was Felicia and it was part of a photo project she’s been working on for some time now. I was excited to have helped. I just hope they turn out.
Much of the grounds had been left as they where when they were burned; stones still lay where they had fallen. But a large part of the structures had been rebuild and replicated. Replace once already if you would.
One of these structures was a garden maze, an ancient chinese stone puzzle. It was fantastic. Interlocking swastika decorated the chest high walls. Walls first build centuries before the symbol had become corrupted in the eyes of much of the world. The maze seemed easy at first. It appeared that you could just see your way out, but that was deceptive. The angels of the walls and curve of the structure as a whole played tricks with our eyes. And just when you thought you were turning the corner to way out out … it would just be a grove with a single tree. Turning you back in search of the exit again.
In our wanderings we began to notice all the missing stones in the walls of the maze, like “pieces missing from a puzzle”. Like our maps of the park, which had no directions for the maze, it was missing that one thing we need. We decided to create an intervention on the space.
We used our maps and pages from our sketchbooks to replace the missing stones form this ancient wall.
This was one of many projects I did with the guys from China Academy of Fine Arts. They are an amazingly talented group of guys. We did a lot of work together in a short period of time.
We were giving the work Romance, and instead of a location we were told it had to be a time base piece.
Our first approach was to use the Chinese romance that was as popular as Romeo and Juliet. The CAFA students told us the love story of two butterflies. We decided to go purchase the story and use the pages to make butterflies we could then burn and record. (There were many in our group who did not look kindly on the word Romance.) We tried all of this with only moderate success. We all wanted to take it further then this.
We regrouped and came up with the idea of Romance being this unattainable ideal. The all consuming sickness that one can lose themselves in. and what are the consequences of this attraction if the objet of your longing does not return your gaze?
Ma Ming is the boy you see in the video. The girl is Jasmine Neha Talwar. I had them switch place after the this first take. Jasmine is meant to be combing her hair in the reflective side of a one way mirror. She would be on the lighter side, oblivious to the figure watching her. Ma Ming would be in the dark half, behind the mirror, staring longingly out as he eats the rose petal by petal.
The space as tight, and of course not ideal. But for getting it done in under an hour at 3 in the morning at a hotel in Shanghai … I like it. (Can you guess where it is now?)
As a huge side note, Ma Ming vomited dark purple stuff for about twenty minutes after the final take. Luckily they got it together before he had to eat too many flowers. The sound is something dug up at freesound.com. I searched for “drone”.
This was spurred very late one night after a long dinner of too much lamb, baijiu, deep conversations about Art and the word “Shadow”. This was our group statement about the nature of being a shadow. It took us 37 takes to get through without one of us laughing. We finally finished the piece at 4:40 in the morning. I just liked those numbers.
We sat in a circle around my laptop for the recording and used iChat to record. Because of this there is a weird blank video that comes with each audio recording. I had separated them at first, but I’m posting both here. To hear the audio you must play the video.
This was another project I did on my own with some help from Michelle Nahum-Albright, a friend who also went to China. I needed her to take the photographs because I wanted to use my own body as the subject. We took the pictures in the hotel in Beijing with a G11 and no flash.
The lighting was horrible and a lot of the images I couldn’t use. But I did get some good shots compositionally, and after silhouetting and color correction they worked perfectly.
I had this idea to blend the landscape of China with my own landscape. I have a traditional 3/4 sleeve Japanese dragon tattoo on my left arm. I thought about all the stories I had read and all the images I’d seen of the myth of dragons in the mountains. I even bought a beautiful watercolor at the Summer Palace of a monk feeding a mountain dragon.
We took the pictures in the hotel in Beijing with a G11 and no flash. The lighting was horrible and a lot of the images I couldn’t use. But I did get some good shots that after masking and color correction where really quite good.
I wanted to capture the impact that the beauty of the landscape had on me and connect my physical self to it visually. These were some of the better outcomes but more importantly, I enjoyed the contemplation of placement. I was also pleasantly surprised by the textures when skin and stone mix. I think this is one project where my age my have helped.
This was about movement the attempt to be still. I was given the translation before the word and I thinks it’s perfect for it.
People are always looking for a seat. Here we offer one. Less stable, so you can not forget your concerns. But stable enough that you might rest your legs and breath a bit.
In resting however, you are still in motion. Tiny adjustments in balance never let you fully relax. It could be a respite for some, torture for others.
It was purchased from our middle eastern lamb grill, which celebrated an expansion that night with fireworks. It was a good night to purchase their chair. And we made sure to get one we had sat in night after night. I have video and images I’ll post here of that night.
I took a stop motion series of each one of the guys sitting in the chair in the road. We had chosen the road for it’s own implications, but I mainly wanted it because of the “stage and lights” look of it. There was always some kind of traffic and noone cared why we where sitting in a chair at 2 am in the middle of the road taking pictures.
When the editing is done on the stop motion I will post it here. In the meantime: There’s a little edit of the making and “testing” of the chair.
This all started with a word we were given, Release, and a location, the Bund in Shanghai, China.
We started as a group by asking each other and ourselves what we thought about the word Release and quickly came to a common interest. At first, we all pointed to release as a physical phenomenon, such as capturing and releasing. We imagine capturing part of the crowd in the Bund and releasing them, using a soft rope or ribbon, even nearly clear thread. Beyond the simple logistics and illegality of physically detaining a large group of people in public … in China, we decide it was also simply the surface to the word release; like the first definition in the dictionary or the first few synonyms. We wanted to go beyond that and try to actively engage the crowd, invite them to participate. So we continued.
As a group we noted Release also as an emotional release, such crying and laughing; which in turn has a physical component. I was very interested in this aspect at and wanted to pursue it further. I was interested in the crowd’s response to our team’s public outbursts. But I also felt like we had not taken it as far as it could go.
Don and the guys pointed out that there where actually quite a few well known contemporary artist in China who had done similar things, public acts of crying and hysterical laughter. I had mentioned the yoga guru in China who makes his students laugh before every class. [or someone similar, saw it on BBC News years ago] None of the guys wanted to “copy” the artist that came before them. And how could I blame them. Also, we decided not to go in this direction because the idea was for the people to enjoy it. We want the crowd to join in willingly and we want them to enjoy themselves.