Dear All

This is He Cong from Vitamin
hope you deal with the visa problem smoothly~~looking forward see you in Guangzhou
``
Best
Cong

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In 2006 we sent seven artists to the village of Toge in North West of Japan as part of the Echigo Tsumari Triennial. Rather than go and make another giant splash alongside the Kabakovs, Turrells and Abramovics (such difficult neighbours) the idea was, with a heavy nod to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, to get the artists to live for a month with the village, to help them with where they wanted to go and the questions they had – How can we make our rice more profitable? How can we encourage young people to come and live in the village? How can we have a better relationship with the tourists? (see www.sevensamurai.jp)

This situation is different, but also similar. Toge, Nanling and our village of Coniston here in the Lake District, are all related, like the same village in a different time zone or alternative realm in the multiverse, where some things just changed ever so slightly and led to another path, or just at different stages in the story. The issues are the same: tourism, ecology, sustainability, globalisation, creativity, self determination, impact of technology, shifting populations, changing cultures and so on.

Toge was a farming village through and through, which was adjusting to the ageing of its population and the encroachment of mass tourism. But Nanling was effectively born in the 1950’s out of the need to supply a labour force for the hydro-electric power stations up in the mountains. Similarly Coniston’s growth has waxed and waned in relation to the industries that have come and gone – mining, sheep farming, tourisming and even dry stone walling which drew in thousands of labourers from across the country looking for a bit of wall to build. And not just skilled wallers but a whole range of disgraced bank managers and off the rails types, so not much change there then.

Conversely, Nanling has taken a step change in its aspirations in that it has been taken on, in totality, by a developer who is striving to re-present the whole social and natural ecology of the region as a destination eco-tourist resort. In effect, proposing a new model commensurate with the modernisation of China, whilst ensuring the preservation of the existing village culture and its socio-ecosystem.

It seems the rural issue is now bubbling faster and faster to the surface of the global agenda pond. What with all the super highways (real and information ones) it does appear that the biggest changes are now happening where once there were just fields. It’s pretty clear what cities do now and they will carry on doing that thing that they do for some time. It’s the green space that’s now calling for help or at elast attention. In some places it’s still emptying out, like Toge, or in others like ours, its filling up again but with not necessarily the right people. Farmers are turning into curators, curators are turning into farmers. In the UK the Jamie Oliver / Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall axis of offal is turning 300 years of industrialisation on its head and everyone wants to be a peasant farmer again.

So in this regard the magnificent seven for this adventure is made up as a portrait of New Britain, looking forward with a hangover from the past. Whereas the Seven Samurai of Toge were hardened Grizedale regulars with a long and reliable history of social engagement, these are at the younger and newer and greender end of the spectrum. (Read in the voice of Charlie’s Angel’s Bosley:) Bryan and Laura Davies are married. I recently described them in an article as the Robin and Lucienne Day of the footballers’ wives generation, which I still hold to be true. Bryan has a more than appropriate family history but I’ll let him elaborate on that. Kai-Oi Jay Yung has never worked with Grizedale before but came onboard with recommendations from local art glitterati. She, like my wife, is British Born Chinese, or a Banana, as I believe they’re known in the trade. Harold Offeh is originally from Ghana and his mum is building the most amazing house there. Guestroom are Maria Benjamin and Ruth Hoflich. Ruth has to stay at home this time because of it’s a bit too far to go with a young child right now but will be chipping in from the comfort of her own home. Adam Sutherland is. He just is. That sort of makes seven, but then we asked if Vitamin could find us a translator. This being a country in the ascendant, they not only got us a translator but the super-qualified Jiaying who can also do Japanese, video editing and anthropology.

The group will arrive in the village on April 28.

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Wow, so Nanling is almost here and I am experiencing mixed stirrings of emotions, expectations and general internal witterings one can only perhaps undergo armed with the knowledge that bananas are definitely multi-shaded and past monkeys if Alistair is Chinese and I am not.
Spag bol and Sefton park are about to be airplane fooded into dumplings and grass (without a fence?) and the Scouse accent (apart from the sound of my own) is about to become the song of Nanling dialect, Cantonese? I wonder if I can use my minimal understanding of my parent's soundings to possibly get by without raising my eyebrow at Jiayiang too many times/day?

So, I am thinking about starting to try and locate post colonialism when I get there and how I fear I might possibly malfunction in response to the cultural change taking place in this seeming idyll, of which we are about to become part. How I can with my hands and head help happiness and make friends because it's been a while since I knew China?

From here it's kind of a big deal - China is about to be removed from black and white stills through my parent’s eyes and memories of eating copious white steamed buns on a ferry from Hong Kong to Shanghai at age four. Things have changed as I bore witness when I visited Nanjing but that was a colourful smog swept ancient capital six years ago and now I am going to a resort that appears to me behind wavy lines, a village that is at once fabricated yet real. Perhaps I should not connect my visit to Ngong Ping Village in Hong Kong last year in the same thought trail.

I've been invited to write an article for A-N about artist's engagement with local communities focusing on a Scottish artist's Sri Lanka project, but I also think Nanling is a great place to begin. I am wondering what each of us will help to plant and who/what is about to enter our lives... If it’s ok with everyone, I may interview people during the course of the trip or refer to the blog towards the article.

Anyhow, impressed by Brian’s cup practice, I’ve decided to go back to skool …

http://keralanext.com/news/?id=1212505

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/mar/31/china.waste

See you all soon!

Topics: [Art] [Nanling Village Ecotourism Resort]

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There is an idea of art as luxury good and there is an idea of art as public good – to make the world better and happier. This morally driven aesthetic view usually has a harder time coping with the complex bits, more than the luxury one which can just ride the waves. (I used to do the former, but it didn’t like falling in the water, to milk the analogy.) Getting bogged down in morals and righteousness, particularly in art world symposia, usually means a lot of ‘unpacking’ and sitting round in a circle of chairs. But if we were to embrace the multiplicity of contemporary culture and revel in the pile up, like a teenager surfing, texting, DS-ing, you-tubing and watching tv all at the same time, could we get to a more appropriate way to respond to cultural change and be helpful from the inside rather than out?

It would also be good to move on from the local-global talk like they are still two worlds apart. We all know this now surely. Local is an old word with an old use and it doesn’t fit anything anymore. I live in a town, work on a farm, travel the world etc etc. Claire Bishop said she couldn’t see how we could work in China at the moment. But half my family are Chinese. My children are Chinese, maybe I’m Chinese too. You can only talk this talk so long before you start to cringe, hearing yourself sound like a middle aged lecturer in multi-coloured Aztec pattern stretch pants. The theme of this year’s Guangzhou Triennial (down the road) is ‘Beyond the post-colonial’ and you can sort of see what they mean. But they need to look at another angle too, not just from a year zero redefinition of Asian art sense, but from an all encompassing multi-layered sensibility. The Sino-International art world is on a roll right now, highly commercialised and highly successful, but there is also a huge groundswell of activity outside the centralised zones of Beijing and Shanghai that going to play a big part in China’s intellectual growth.

This project has come from the ground up, not because we want to ‘get into China’, but because we made friends there and think that they might be able to help us and we might be able to help them. Nanling is like the Lake District was 50 years ago and possibly Nanling will be a model for the Lake District of the future. These are nodes of cultural activity that seem important and relevant. These are the places that are now feeling the pinch from an expanding, intertextual, convoluted world. It’s not as clear as that, obviously, but it’s a good point to start doing something.

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