A project for Nanling Village and Eco Park, Guangdong Province China

In November 2005 Grizedale Arts’ Deputy Director, Alistair Hudson, was invited on a British Council curatorial research trip to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to network with Chinese artists and organisations, with a view to developing future projects.

On this trip Alistair saw a wide range of commercially operating galleries but was introduced to Zhang Wei, director of Vitamin, who had heard of Grizedale Arts work through Gavin Wade. Vitamin came across as a markedly different kind of arts organisation, which whilst (by necessity as they are no public galleries in China) a commercial operation, demonstrated parallel and related interests to Grizedale in the changing role of art and artists.

Initial conversations centred on a series of projects, co-ordinated by Vitamin, for the mountain village of Nanling, 80 miles to the north of Guangzhou. This village was being developed as a forest park eco tourist destination, by an altruistic property development company. Whilst it was building luxury hotels and investing in tourist infrastructure, it was also striving to maintain and improve the socio-cultural life of the village, through artists commissions and a sympathetic treatment of the natural and social environment.

On the back of these discussions, Zhang Wei invited Grizedale out to Guangzhou and Nanling in March 2006. The visit was organised and led by Zhang Wei and included meetings with the Zhongheng Ecotourism Development Company.

The Zhongheng Ecotourism Development Co. Ltd. is a company owned by Chinese Nationals and it is their goal to develop the first ecotourism destination in China in the forests of the Nankun Shan Mountain Reserve, Guangdong Province, S. China. The development team is implementing an innovative approach, which is holistic in nature, employing a quadruple bottom line strategy:
• not only protect the existing forest biodiversity, but enhance it;
• not only involve the local people but also help them benefit from the development;
• not only inject much needed capital into the local economy but also make a profit;
• not only respect the spirit of the place but enrich it through thoughtful, sensitive sustainable planning and design.
In a country where uncontrolled development is causing untold damage and displacing millions of people, Nankun Shan Mountain Nature Reserve is an exemplary study in environmental, social, economic and spiritual consciousness.
Nankun Shan Mountain Nature Reserve is located in Central Guangdong and 80 miles from Guangzhou. The reserve was established in 1984, and its major objective is to protect the subtropical evergreen broadleaf forest. The nature reserve lies within the boundaries of the Nankun Shan Forest Park, which covers an area of 260 sq. kms. There are over 1,300 plants to be found in the park with over 30 sq. kms of Bamboo. There are over 74 bird species in the reserve and nationally protected species include the Mountain Scopes Owl, Grey-Headed Woodpecker and Orange-Bellied Leafbird. There are over 176 species of butterflies, with four of them considered near-threatened.
Over 5,000 people live in the Nature Reserve and the main income generating activity of the local people is the harvesting of bamboo for use in scaffolding in Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
Vitamin had previously hosted an arts programme in the village as ‘Fools Move Mountains’ curated with Hou Hanrou, with the artists Mathieu Briand, Shen Yuan, Sylvie Blocher and Marc Boucherot. The project laid the foundation for contemporary artists to work with the development company and the village community. Whilst the development company and the village wish to continue working with artists and artist groups, Vitamin had some reservations about the success of these previous projects and so invited Grizedale Arts to develop an arts project for the village, which would offer a more complex, beneficial and engaged approach.

For Grizedale the opportunity fits well with their current ambitions and development in the Lake District at their HQ at Lawson Park farm, a project that aims to consider differing ways of using land and landscapes and working with the communities that use or inhabit them.

Grizedale, like Nanling, is a rural yet highly complex place, a place which is now at the forefront of contemporary debate on cultural development and sociology. From it’s traditionally ‘remote’ location Grizedale is conducting a highly influential and timely programme of ‘active’ contemporary art.

Further discussions were held with Vitamin in March 2007 when Alistair Hudson was asked to speak at a symposium as part of a Connections Through China Curatorial trip and at the recent Far West Conference at Arnolfini, Bristol.

The themes were further elaborated at the symposium Restarting from Asia as part of the preparations for the Guangzhou Triennial this September, when Alistair was asked to speak on the relations between contemporary rural issues and the move away from post-colonial attitudes.
See http://interview.artron.net/zb_index.php?inter_id=80

The proposal
The overall aim of the project in development is for Grizedale Arts to establish a series of projects for the village of Nanling. These projects will come out of an initial residence by seven artists and curators and will seek to help the village in it’s transformation from 20th century rural industrial village to 21st century eco-tourist destination. Following on from Grizedale’s Seven Samurai project in the Japanese village of Toge www.sevensamurai.jp the ultimate aim is to be helpful, to make art and artists effective an the emerging supra-geographic situation.

The initial residence of 3 weeks will set up the relationship with the village and research what the resident population need help with. The projects will then unfold and develop over time throughout 2008 and 2009 in partnership with Vitamin Creative Space and the Zhongheng Ecotourism Development Company Limited.

The intention is that these projects will also have a manifestation at the Guangzhou Triennial in 2008 and are given a platform on an active and dedicated website www.happystacking.tv. The site will be maintained not only as as the primary interface for the project between participants and observers, but also as a knowledge resource for the future.

Grizedale Arts have been in discussion with Tate about future involvement with the projects.

Research and development
Grizedale Arts are taking group of 5 artists to live and work in the village of Nanling for a period of one month. The group are to be provided with accommodation in the village by the Development Company with further assistance from Vitamin. Vitamin have supplied a translator and facilitator for the duration of the R&D phase. The period of time will be largely used to discuss and research potential projects but may also include small scale projects and outputs, for example a group blog, recordings of local histories, music, performance, horticulture etc and generally being useful to the villagers, even in the simplest of ways.
The ambitions of the Nanling project will centre on working with the Development Company and their relationship with the village. Looking at how the village will relate to the ambitions of a post-capitalist business model in relation to traditional life and cultural change. The company have a - for the UK -unique approach to this development. The artist projects are seen as a way to engage the community in decision making and change. There is a desire from the company to maintain and encourage many of the qualities inherent in the village and traditional way of life and to this end the company have established a team of quasi social workers with a brief to assist the in the village communications and development.

The artists and villagers will be looking together to find new ways in development and how the ‘rural’ is represented and participates in wider society. This issue is at the forefront of critical thinking and why this project resonates with current developments in China and the UK.

Grizedale Arts will be looking to relate its experiences of the English Lake District, tourism, cultural development and social practice with those of Nanling, through a sustained and meaningful relationship.

Guangzhou Triennial
On the back of it’s pioneering work in social practice, Alistair Hudson has been invited to participate in the symposium for the Guangzhou triennial in November 2007. We have been in discussion with Vitamin and Triennial curators Sarat Maharaj and Johnson Chang about how this project can feed in to the GZ Triennial, as it picks up on many of the subjects in play.

Longer term ambitions
Grizedale wish to develop a longer term project that draws on the material generated by the R&D residency that would have a constructive effect on the development of the village and feed back into the home context - the Lakes. There are clear similarities with the ambitions and challenges of the Nanling context that offer potential alternatives and inspiration to both sites. China has a different approach and is at a very different stage of development, at once far behind and way ahead of what is happening in the UK. Grizedale envisage an exchange programme centred on agriculture/horticulture/economy and new ideas about the visitor experience. There is also considerable potential to develop architectural projects, in particular ecologically related building and land use.

Grizedale are currently in discussion with the curators of the 3rd Guangzhou Triennial to have a manifestation of the project in the Art Triennial in autumn 2008, which will provide a significant public platform for the project and enable the village to have a voice in the wider progression of China’s development.

Beyond this the aim is to bring villagers from Nanling to the Lake District in a return visit, to bring new ideas to Grizedale’s rural community.

Links and partnerships are also currently in discussion with The Royal Society of Arts, Tate, British Council and the Cultural Olympiad.

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