Interview on March 16th at Cellar Door, Dongcheng
KL: Have long have you been doing this?
A: I’ve been doing visuals for about three years. I did it in college as well but stopped when I came to Beijing so after two years here I picked it back up again – three years ago.
KL: Why’d you quit doing it?
A: I’m not a trained graphic designer so I realised that I was spending so much time on one visual where I could have been studying. I quit for awhile and then came here and realised that it’s a lot more fun when you’re not having to study all the time.
KL: So, it started off as something you did purely for pleasure or have you always wanted to do some ongoing collaborations?
A: Yeah, it’s always different working with musicians. You can use one visual for a certain style of music then it might not be acceptable in another. So, the stuff I do with Noise Arcade can be a lot more chaotic than something for Motorbike Girls. It’s very different artist by artist but when I was doing it before it was mostly for experimental musicians and getting back into different genres took quite a bit of getting used to.
A:是的。和很多不同的音乐人合作感觉很不同。你可以为某一种特定的音乐制作特定的视觉效果。所以我和Noise Arcade合作的作品就比和 Motorbike Girls合作的作品更失控。不同的艺术家会有不同的制作风格。我之前大都为实验音乐家创作，现在转变到其他不同风格的音乐制作，这中途花了蛮长的时间去适应呢。
KL: Working across different genres, do you have to work with narrative at any point?
A: Just visuals as accompaniment for everything. Nothing, for me, is narrative. We were going to plan in the future but we haven’t gotten to that yet with an unnamed project.
KL: Which bands have you worked with?
A: Noise Arcade, Comp Collider, I did some stuff with Gui Gui Sui Sui before. Mostly it was pieces that Dann [Gaymer] and Su [Nan] created and I just mixed them. Motorbike Girls, Puking Unicorns, Disco Puppet, Dee [Sheng Di], this unnamed project I’m working with now. They are in several other bands so I won’t say them.
A：Comp Collider，Noise Arcade, 之前还和鬼鬼祟祟合作过。大部分作品都是Dann [Gaymer]和Su [Nan]创作的，我只是将音乐结合起来。像这些未命名项目：Motorbike Girls, Puking Unicorns, Disco Puppet, Dee [Sheng Di] 这个未命名的项目是我现在在做的，这些作品都来自不同的乐队，我就不一一提了。
KL: It’s a secret. A covert mission.
A: Deep ops. I know it’s cliché, but I’d have to kill you if I told you.
KL: My will to live is dissipating so I might appreciate that service at some point.
KL: That could be a very interesting visual project as well but trying to match it to the right audio…
A: That might be difficult. My favourite so far has been working with Noise Arcade because Mike [Cupoli] is usually saying, “just give people seizures. Do it! Go!” Working with Comp Collider was really fun. Those guys were actually just, “Colours. Shapes. Go!” Which is a lot more fun being able to have free experimental rein. Not having a lot of constraints. Some bands typically are very precise with what they want. What colours, bit rate, everything. So it’s fun to just be able to go out and do whatever I want.
A: 那会很难哦。到目前为止，我最享受的还是和Noise Arcade的合作，因为Mike [Cupoli] 总是说：“我们的目的是让现场燥起来！尽情发挥！。”然后和Comp Collider合作也很有趣，这群家伙总说：“有想法，就大胆做啊，不管什么颜色形状，你决定就好”。有这种自由发挥的实验机会真的很有趣，有些乐队很清楚自己想要什么，视觉要做成什么颜色啊，要多少比特率啊，所有事情都有要求。所以只要能做我想做的，就已经很满意了。
KL: So do you have a sense of responsibility, this weight on you that you have to represent their musical vision?
A: Not at all. It's fun. I don't feel much weight with it. It's more or less just reading the audience. If people are typically getting bored you don't want to keep doing the same thing you're doing so you have to adapt. The same thing an improvising musician would do. You have to be able to adapt to the crowd and adapt to the music at the same time. That’s a little bit of weight but other than that, not much.
KL: That would make you very software dependent, too. How does the tech side of things go?
A: The tech side is a little more fun. I use a GoPro HERO5 and a Nikon D3300 to get everyday scenery. On one project we worked on, I just took a trip to the hutongs with my GoPro. There were some things I had to edit out particularly people pissing in the street.
KL: I feel like there would be some bands who would really appreciate someone pissing in the street.
A: Some but I feel like that wouldn’t get passed the censor bureau. Someone might come by and ask me to “have some tea” and I might be missing in China for a few months.
KL: That’s quite bad, too because tea is a diuretic so it would lead to more pissing and it would be a downward spiral of trouble.
A: Especially if the camera’s rolling.
KL: And it always is, right, with a GoPro?
A: That’s right, it is. Just strap it on your head and go have tea. Get beat by a few armed guards. That would make a good video.
KL: All in a day's work.
A: Exactly. But, yeah, as for software there’s a few different ones that you can use Resolume, for example, or sometimes you can even take the raw data of a video and tweak the audio components. So you’re altering audio components on raw data and then you’re able to export it back to a video and you can see some really cool effects but, that’s particularly time consuming because it doesn’t always work. If you mess up the header of a video, your video is done. It will not work. You always have to constantly back files up because experiments do have their downfall. Sometimes your computer will crash if your audio is too big, the raw data is too big or, if you’re using the wrong file type. Using different types of video files live can be problematic at times. I've had computers crash mid-set. The crazy blue screen of death. It sometimes can work but then you’re looking at a blue screen for the next 20 minutes.
KL: Was there any footage, in particular, that has been taken by the mid-set computer crash that you were upset to lose?
A: Once we were doing it at Temple and I had three or four .mov files on top of each other and I thought, hey why don't I add a fifth because that’s smart. Usually, most computers can handle three or four videos depending on the size and these were all quite large. So, when I added the fifth in it just went crazy. My computer started flashing all these blue screens popping up and then you saw my desktop.
KL: Do you always use your own visuals or do you also collect interesting stuff?
A: Both. I’ll use visuals that I’ve made and sometimes I will use sci-fi films, but I don’t think I’m allowed to use for music videos. I might get a phone call from Fincher or other directors who aren’t particularly happy with that but we have used films like Blade Runner, Predator, Alien. So, you'll have a bunch of hectic colours and then boom Sigourney Weaver's face is staring at you. Some people in the audience do typically find that off-putting and a little disconcerting seeing Sigourney Weaver staring back at you when there's a metal band playing.
A：都有吧，有时候使用自己创作的作品，有时候使用一些科幻电影元素。但我感觉一些电影制作人不会同意我去使用他们的电影来做音乐视频，像Fincher或其他导演会很不满地给我打电话。但是我们有使用过电影元素，像Blade Runner, Predator, Alien，用的就是电影元素。这些作品会让霓感到一团激情燃烧的颜色，像炸开了一样，然后你会雪歌妮·薇佛的脸在盯着你。其实当金属乐队表演时，许多观众一看到雪歌妮·薇佛就会感到厌恶和不安。
KL: It’s even worse when you’re in the shower.
A: One of my favourites is using scenes from Blade Runner because the colours are already pretty interesting in the film alone and then being able to tweak the distortion, taking the blues out and adding extra reds does make for a good video.
KL: They do have usually have distinctive colour palettes. As far as your adventures around the hutong with your GoPro, is that an important element? You want to bring in the Chinese, the local?
A: Definitely. One video we made before is called Editing Bad Translations and the whole thing I wanted to do is take something that’s significant to China. I live in a hutong right down the street and wondered what here has no one seen outside of China? Duh, the hutongs. So I just went for a walk and in parts of the video, you can see a guy cleaning a fish in the street over a grate. There's at least 15 fish beside him and he's just sitting there, chilling. You go a little farther and there's someone taking a piss. You go a little farther and there's maybe 80 or 90 Qingdao bottles just stacked around. That's the hutong and this is going in the video now. So, instead of stopping there I just kept walking so as soon as the hutong ends you see a Starbucks and then you see all this modern China. Then the video ended up being about 12 minutes long so it matched the audio perfectly.
KL: So, this is an introductory lesson for the uninitiated to China?
A: Pretty much, yeah. That video was quite difficult to work with because it was over two and a half gigabytes so putting that into the rendering software then transferring it to raw data. Adding reverb and chorus to it then going back to a video took at least 15, 20 tries just to get the video back in one piece. At one point it was just a green screen and you could see some movement through the hutong but it was mostly green. Getting rid of that took a while. The final product turned out good. At least, I think so.
KL: Does the frustration show through?
A: It does. There were a few times I rage quit, slammed the computer down. It doesn't stop until I open it back up, CTRL-ALT-DELETE, cancel everything, then I rage quit again. Then the drinking starts.
KL: And you get even less done.
A: You get less done.
KL: Do you think you have a particular visual style that is recognisably your own?
A: Seizure-inducing, chaos, lots of colours, too many colours. I would say, I like going heavy on the greens and reds, you know, Christmas style. Adding distortion to a video, I'd like to think it's my style because I'm not clicking a button that says distort. A lot of it is importing the raw data and finding the effects that I like in a video and then programming it into the software and then using it live.
KL: Does constantly doing video works linked to audio change the way that you listen to music in your everyday life?
A: It does.
A: As far as synaesthesia goes, I can hear a certain bass line and think that would look good on a video. So being able to replicate that on a video takes quite some time to adapt to but once you get it, it’s one of the best feelings. It’s like you just made a sound turn into a visual effect and getting that takes a lot of trial and error but once you get it, it’s worth every second.
KL: Are there any particular songs or bands that you want to make videos for, even if it’s only for you to enjoy at home?
A: I have been seeing Dress Code all over these days and would really like to work with them. Those guys are all incredibly gifted musicians with some catchy tunes. Also, I was listening to zydeco recently and there’s a lot of good driving beats which would probably go so well with some visuals.
A：我这几天一直在看Dress Code ，还想和他们一起合作呢。这些人都是很有天赋的音乐家，创作的曲目朗朗上口。另外，我最近还听一些zydeco（柴迪科舞曲），里头有很多不错的拍子，也许可以很好地将它和一些视觉艺术结合起来。
KL: That’s getting into some diverse genres, there. Do you feel a bit limited by the bands on offer in Beijing?
A: Not really, no. Everything I work with is usually a different genre, from experimental IDM to punk rock and everything in between.
KL: If you’re working with someone like Comp Collider where there is a degree of improvisation, do you have to do somewhat of a mind meld with the guys?
A: Yeah. They are in their own world and will change on the ground as they’re moving so I’ll have to adapt with them because I don't know where they’re going. Those guys can read each other and I have no idea where they are going. You have to be where they are going to be without having too much going on, on the screen and they start toning down. Sometimes I do want to go balls to the wall and make it just absolute unadulterated chaos but you have to keep yourself back because if they start toning down their playing style then I have to as well. Or, I could just be an asshole and just keep it going like a strobe light or static. Keeping myself in check is kinda difficult.
KL：如果你要和像Comp Collider 这种即兴表演的人合作，你想和他们心有灵犀吗？
KL: In that collaboration are you considered a part of that improvisation? Would you go to their rehearsals or would they talk to you about their intentions?
A: Mostly they tell me their intentions so they say this is what we want to do, this is what we plan on doing, let’s make it work. Usually, I’ll send snippets of the videos to each of the bands or each musician. I’ve only been criticised a few times and always take that into account. Sometimes it’s difficult to rein in the chaos.
KL: Is it always the same person?
A: Usually. Most people are pretty cool.
KL: What do you have coming up?
A: After the Noise Arcade and Disco Puppet show at fRUITYSPACE on Wednesday I’ll be at RECroom on April 1st and 8-Bit on April 22nd. I’m also doing a music video for Mike [of Noise Arcade] now. Don't know which song I’m gonna choose but as soon as I figure out, I’ll let you know. We’re making a series of music videos for him and it’s very difficult to keep up with him because the man can put out music. His last album I did one called Developmental Speed. It was so much fun to work with. I just took old footage from beach trips and goofing off around Beijing, spliced them all together. It's kinda creepy at some points because you see the silhouette of a head pop up. As for the series we’re trying to do three, four or five more. Hopefully.
A：Noise Arcade 和Disco Puppet在fRUITYSPACE演出后，4月1日我会去RECroom 演出，4月22日在 8-Bit演出，我现在也在为Mike [Noise Arcade] 做音乐视频，目前还不晓得选哪首歌，但是如果我确定了歌曲会告诉你的。我们在给Mike的音乐视频做一个系列，但我发现很难跟上他的脚步，因为他总在出专辑。他有一张和我合作的最新的专辑是叫Developmental Speed，这张专辑超级有趣，我只是把从漫步海滩到闲逛北京的老镜头拼接到一起，看上去挺令人毛骨悚然的，因为你会看到一个头的轮廓突然出现在你面前。至于这张专辑，我们希望能做到系列三，四，五这样。
KL: So, it’s definitely a partnership at this point?
A: He’s the musician, I just swim in his wake.
KL: Would you consider doing visuals for anything independent of music?
A: Yeah, I wouldn’t mind doing that. I would like to get involved with art galleries but I haven’t really spoken with anyone about that yet but it’s something that I would like to do in the future. Art galleries or at small bars. I’ve done visuals at Soi Baochao with Van a few times while DJing, for other DJs or just while he’s playing music and just trying out new things. I’d like to do other bars, other environments as well.
KL: Do you think your vision is more Gulou-centric or would you do stuff at Sanlitun as well?
A: We’ve played at RECroom before with Eclectic Electric. I did one thing last summer with them and it was so much fun. It was a Eurotrash party so we were using old BBC videos and people were getting into it. I think I heard Barbie Girl at least three times that night.
KL: Oh, God!
A：在和 Eclectic Electric合作前，我在RECroom演出，去年夏天和他们做了一件事，超级有趣。那是一个欧洲派对，所以我们用了一些旧的BBC广播视频，然后大家都投入到制作里，那天晚上，我至少听了三次Barbie Girl 的声音。
A: I said, okay, you guys wanna do that? I can do some weird stuff, too. It was pretty fun doing stuff like that. I’ve only played in Sanlitun a few times. I've noticed a lot of people don't really like the chaos aspect that is more welcomed in Gulou so you can definitely see that there’s a dichotomy existing between the two. Wudaokou is a different scene, too. A lot of bars there won't have any visuals. They just put on a movie and say play.
KL: Temple was doing that for a while.
A: I remember Kill Bill was on at one point and I could listen to metal and watch Uma Thurman slice some people up. It’s perfect.
KL: They were stuck on Who Framed Roger Rabbit for a while there.
A: I appreciate that. I’m perfectly fine with Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
KL: After a few blackout drunks, you wake up in the morning and are like, what’s reality? Why was Bob Hoskins there?
A: There are cartoon characters in your room, little birds flying around.
A：我记得有一次他们放Kill Bill 时，在某一片段，我听见了金属的声音和看见了Uma Thurman将人切成一片片，这太有创意了！
KL：他们有段时间热衷放Who Framed Roger Rabbit。
A：我觉得Who Framed Roger Rabbit挺好的。反正我挺喜欢的，没意见。
KL：晚上醉的不省人事后，早上一觉醒来，精神恍惚，然后纳闷：“我在虚拟世界吗？为什么 Bob Hoskins也在那里。
KL: Let’s wind it up with what’s your dream project? Where do you wanna head from here?
A: I would like to see more musicians have VJs – people who can adapt to music instead of just pressing play on a video. I have seen some people around recently that are doing some pretty great work and I would like to see more of that with bands. Playing music is highly respectable. I love it but having someone that can adapt music to visual design is something I’d like to see more in the future.
KL: So, it’s not so much what you’ll do but how you’re going to make an impact on society?
A: Hopefully, people don’t say, God, this sucks! Stop doing it. Hopefully, I’m not going against any movement. I’d like to get more people involved with making designs using raw video as opposed to just finding something on YouTube.
KL: Maybe you’ve gotta work on some sort of propaganda angle.
A: Perfect. Get me in touch with the CPC. I’ll do it.
KL: Maybe you need to start flashing subliminal messages.
A: We’ve done that before. Just flashing the word “headache” every now and then. I don't know if it worked or not. Maybe the music induced some headaches.
KL: I think you should do something measurable. A visual Simon Says and watch the crowd.
A: That’s a good idea. Tap your head. Jump up and down.
KL: Scratch your nose.
J; I’m gonna have to do that. I'll do that for the Wednesday show and hopefully, can make some people pat their head or turn a few circles.
KL: Or something completely ridiculous.
A: Throw your shoe. Preferably at Michael.
Alkeshka, is a musician, producer and VJ hailing from the United States. His style varies performance to performance, but always contains a particular sort of peculiarity. Catch him VJ with Noise Arcade, 4 Channel Club and bREAKTHEDOLL at RECroom on April 1st and with Noise Arcade and DmH at 8-Bit on April 22nd.
Artist and knitwear pioneer
Interview on March 10th at Stuff’d, Jianchang hutong, Dongcheng
KL: okay, you’ve just recently had an exhibition in Arrow factory gallery in this hutong (Jianchang, Dongcheng) with a lot of knitted green hats, can you explain what you’re trying to do with these ideas?
HYP: The green hats on this exhibition were initially made several years ago by my mother. Actually in 2015, when I went back to my hometown, I found that my mom had knitted two big bags of beanies. That was her routine task.
KL: 最近你在 Arrow Factory 画廊（东城区箭厂胡同）里办了一个展览，都是关于一些手工编织的绿帽子。这些帽子怎么来的？是什么突然让你办这个展览呢？
KL: So, your mother’s work made you sad because she works so hard to make them, are you telling this story or there is a big story?
HYP: Basically, during my mother’s era, there was a tradition that a woman has to learn a skill before she gets married. Because hand knitting was a necessary and valuable skill in the 1980s when people lived an impoverished life, it was also an essential requirement of a prospective wife. After China’s reform and opening up, knitting was gradually replaced by mass production of factories and began to disappear. I was born in 1983, life was so difficult at that time, I still remember when I was young, my family didn’t have spare money to buy new clothes, so my mom made all of the clothes for the whole family, including scarfs, sweaters, pants, hats...if the clothes were worn out, my mom would mend them, even sometimes I had to wear my sister's cast-offs which had a lot of patches.
KL: So, you were born in Deng Xiaoping’s period of opening of China. Is the idea that China has changed so much but your mother hasn’t, so the hats come to symbolize the big change before Deng and after Deng?
HYP: Yes, kind of, in fact, the impact of any national policy on a small town was very profound, I believe that many people who were born in the 80s or 70s all dressed in clothes knitted by their mom. When I grew up, I left my hometown and went to a high school in a city. When I moved to the new environment, I was so impressed by the outside world and how life was so different from what I had in my hometown. I found that the clothes shopes sell are really stylish with good fabric that I’ve nerver seen before. By contrast, the sweaters my mom knitted were out of date . I still remember that when I was in junior high school, I had to pinch and scrape in order to save money for buying some trendy clothes, such as LI-NING, ADIDAS, METERSBONWE. So from then on, I didn’t dressed in the clothes my mom knitted anymore, and my mother gradually gave up this work.
Due to reform and opening up, a lot of people of my age left their hometown and chose to work and live in metropolises, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou. This is a very common phenomenon in China now. I’m part of this migration wave. I left home and went to Chengdu for study, then came to Beijing for work and have stayed until now. Now I usually go home every two years.
KL: Where is your hometown?
HYP: Luzhou, Sichuan province.
KL: Where is it? Like near Chengdu?
HYP: I think it’s about three-hour drives to Chengdu. I’m a typical local person from Luzhou.
HYP: Once, I returned to my hometown for an exhibition and didn’t let my mother know, and I found that my mother was knitting hats, and I was told that a purchaser from a hat factory wanted to buy my mother’s hats and was going to pay my mom 2 yuan per hat. Usually, one hat is around 7 to 8 yuan, the purchaser pays too little, and I asked her why did you start knitting hats again? And she said there is nothing to do in her life, she likes to kill time by knitting hats. I suddenly realized that my mother still hasn’t changed from the way she used to live.
There are a lot of women playing card games and Mahjong in the town, this is what the housewives often do, but my mother holds the opinion that as she always loses at cards, she would prefer to spend her time doing something meaningful rather than waste money on card games, even though the salary is meager.
KL: That sounds like my mom, too.
HYP: I understand my mother, she was born in the 50s to 60s in the days of planned economy. Thrift is implanted in her character under the background of food rationing and other hardships. She is accustomed to living in a way of saving money that determines the way she looks at the world. Then she would think in this way: “ if someone pays me, I will knit hats no matter how much he gives me, even 1 kuai, 2 kuai.” But you know, some woolen yarn is of such poor quality that sometimes her hands blistered.
HYP: I can’t tell her about all of things I’m preaparing because I want to pretect her. I have to pre-arrange all of stuff before she involves in this project. I don’t regard myself as an artist, I feel more like a director, you know, because this story is like a movie which exists in reality. So that’s the story about the hats from my mom.
HYP: After that, I decided to help her. Initially, I wanted to collect my mom’s hats, but I knew she would not be willing to give them to me. Then I found one of my college classmates - Xiaofang. (I named her) She would love to help me after she knew this story, and then under my instructions, she found my mother and told her that a French hat company based in Lyons wanted to buy her hats and provided her a good price. My mom was so happy and agreed to cooperate with Xiaofang.
My mother can’t speak Mandarin, and doesn’t know how to use Wechat, so it was a little difficult for her to start business with Xiaofang, especially when Xiaofang paid my mother by WeChat, my mom didn’t know how to withdraw money, as well as she fact she doesn’t trust the internet, so for a long time, she thought if she would suffer a loss through the internet. But after several deals, she gradually got used to WeChat and knew how to accept the “transfer,” although she still doesn’t know how to pay by Wechat.
Once, I put the bag of hats in my studio and my friend Hezhi who is also an artist, asked me what was going on, and I told the story to him, then he put forward an idea that I should hold an exhibition. Later, he spoke to Arrow Factory and they gave me an exhibition in November last year. Wangwei, the boss of this project, approved the proposal after only 10 days.
Then I began to prepare but I didn’t want to sell these hats, because the products are my mom’s painstaking effort. I want to collect “her time,” and, as she is far away from me, these hats became a way in which to understand my mother’s life. But one day, an idea came to me. What if I arranged for a factory to produce and sell them? So I went to a factory and asked them to produce some hats the same as mine, but they told me that these hats cannot be produced by machines, only by hand, they have to find the folks who have the knitting skill to finish them, so it reminded me of the hat purchaser in my hometown, they all act the same way, so I would prefer to have my neighbors earn money rather than let these purchasers and factories take my money.
The hat was 3 kuai in the beginning, while I paid 30 kuai per hat to my mom under the guise of Xiaofang. My mother made a good profit, while some of the neighbors are jealous about this, and they made ironic remarks to my mom: “What ‘s the point of making green hats?!” “Are you making your husband a “green hat”? (This is a Chinese idiom, in English it means the husband is cuckolded).
I found these neighbors (middle-aged women) to knit hats with my mom, and I set up a special purpose entity (a fake company) and had these neighbors work for me. Now there are 30-50 people working for me, but they don’t know I’m their boss. In their mind, their boss is Xiaofang. Currently, We are trying to knit more hats with other colors, because green hats don’t meet the customers’ needs and Xiaofang is in Sichuan province to supervise the process.
KL : How much you selling them for?
HYP: It varies. Between 90 and 300 yuan per hat, depending on the quality of wool.
HYP: I’m developing a new brand called “Hu Xiaofang” in Taobao store, which aims use knitting to spread the warmth of family to everyone so they will recall their childhood memories. Also, I wanted to provide jobs for these women who other than gossiping and taking care of their children are idle and fooling around every day, .
KL: Will your mom find out?
HYP: Not yet. I hope not, she is so busy now, she has endless hours to knit and work, and teach her neighbors how to knit and sew. These neighbors have three-days training before they can knit by themselves.
KL: These are designed by your mom? She made the pattern?
KL: Why you still get your mum to knit hats in green wool when no one would buy them?
HYP: Because green color was better for her eyes .
KL: How much profit do you hope to make? Do you think you will sell a lot then make a lot of money? Is the art or story more important than profit?
HYP: Actually I hope I can make money from this business, because it can keep my mother’s job and provide these neighbors a long-term job. As for me, I don’t depend on this business to make a living, the art exhibition will end, it’s temporary. Every hat has its own story behind it, I hope people buy the story behind, not just the hat itself. I don’t think selling these arts works will reduce the value of arts. And I don’t believe that arts are only displayed in gallery, arts should be in everywhere. The original intention of this exhibition is not for art, I just want to help my mom and these middle-age ladies, and show them a new lifestyle.
2016 "Thanks", Space#3
2016 "ID", 魔方MOCUBE
2013-2015 "Boss Club" (9 exhibitions)
2013- “Big Philosophers Project" (4 exhibitions)
2011-2012 “@ Dang (Party)” (8 exhibitions)
2010 “Express Delivery Exhibition" (4 exhibitions)
CV Group: 2014 “Unlived by What is Seen”, PACE Gallery Beijing
2016 个展 “谢谢” 3号空间
2016 个展 "身份", 魔方MOCUBE
2014 “不在图像中行动” 佩斯北京
2013 成立 "Boss俱乐部" 一至九回
2013 参与策划“大哲学家项目" 一至四回
2012 策划组织“@ 党事件” 一至九回
2010 策划组织“快展快递" 一至五回
Interview on March 1st via email by Angela
AL: The zine first grabbed my attention on the shelves of Yue Space during the last Loreli art market. So how did the group come together? Whose idea was it?
SGC: We formed Sponge Gourd Collective as a response to the constant surreality of living in Beijing in the present moment. We found that we were attracted to a lot of strange, similar aspects of the evolving cityscape, and decided to try to solidify this amazement into a tangible project. Plus, as newcomers to Beijing, we felt a common urge to document the changes we were witnessing. That became the first issue in our zine series, called People's Square/人民广场, which combines all of our skills: Daphne does ethnographic research, Diane is a visual artist, Justin is a photographer, and Beatrix is an aspiring filmmaker.
AL: And what made you want to document urban growth and the dark side of gentrification in China?
SGC: Initially, Diane and Daphne were planning to do a project mapping out the values and priorities that are driving urban development in Beijing and NYC. Because of their experiences volunteering and working at CAAAV, a community organization based in Manhattan Chinatown that works with low-income Asian communities—including Chinatown tenants being evicted because of gentrification—they wanted to see how conversations around this process in New York could inform their understanding of development in Beijing.
We know gentrification isn't the same in both contexts, and that apart from the fact that ethnically Chinese communities are affected in both cities, the environments encompassing these instances of gentrification differ widely. Even within China, the communities affected are diverse: for example, the residents of Enning Lu in Guangzhou have responded differently to processes of gentrification than residents of Beijing's Gulou Hutongs have. The idea for the project connecting NYC and Beijing evolved as we realized that the scope of what we wanted to do was huge, and we had many unanswered questions, so we decided to do a project with a more specific focus on Beijing first.
Growing up in China, Justin experienced the breathless pace of change firsthand, and feels that he hasn't had time to deeply appreciate what past generations have left behind. Like all Chinese people, he has had to confront the meaning of living in a "developing country", and coping with how the reality of the situation often does not live up to claims of increasing prosperity. For those of us who have come to China more recently, after our parents or grandparents chose to leave, living here and witnessing this change is a chance to make sense of what has happened since our families immigrated. For example, the street where Daphne's mother grew up in Shanghai is now a heritage site, Diane's father's rural hometown near Yangzhou is being turned into an ecoentertainment park, and the traditional courtyard house where Beatrix's grandfather was raised is now an unrecognizable apartment tower.
AL: I really love that you guys made the zine bilingual. I personally feel that the subject of gentrification is not being covered sufficiently and efficiently in Chinese. Whose idea was this? Who was the person in charge of translation/interpretation? Did the residents have qualms about speaking to you guys at all?
SGC: It's actually covered in a lot of different ways in China, but without the exact term 'gentrification'. Any news about 拆 is discussed so much that it's a norm. Even apart from that, it's such a common occurrence - most people have lived through experiences of demolition or gentrification of their own neighborhoods or homes - that 'news' about it becomes almost unnecessary. The main difference between our coverage and Chinese coverage may be that we, as a group of newcomers to Beijing, may be more shocked by some elements of what we're seeing, so this comes through in what we make — the framing of the zine narrative is completely from an outside perspective looking in, and the specific content shows what we found striking and worthy of recording, which may already be normal to locals.
As for making the zine bilingual, we want our work to be accessible to readers both in China and in the diaspora, and having it in both Chinese and English broadens our reach.
The residents were fine with speaking to us: some chatted, while others were busy going about their lives and did not talk to us. One woman was surprised we were there - she said there are snakes in the village and people don't normally come visit. The real ethical concern is that what we're doing is coming from a place of privilege compared to people who live in the urban village, and whether we are exploiting their stories for our own gain. There's a responsibility when engaging with any community to think about this ethical concern, and to evaluate your capacity as an outsider (individual or group) for impact (negative or positive, intentional or not). Three of us are foreigners who graduated from Brown. We're coming from a place of curiosity, and that in itself is definitely privileged. We try to maintain awareness of this privilege in how we frame the project; rather than trying to influence readers to see things from our perspective, we acknowledge the subjectivity of our voice while preserving some sense of open-endedness. We hope that the zine takes people through the steps of our exploration instead of making any conclusions, and along the way, invites readers to join in.
AL: Do you feel more empathy towards the buildings or the structures that have been destroyed or the people who were forced to leave / the collapse of communities?
SGC: It's not that we have empathy toward the structures, but it's more that they both symbolize and bear evidence of how the demolition affects living people, in both positive and negative ways. Sometimes renewal and redevelopment can be great for people who live in these places because, for example, their compensation allows them to move into an apartment with proper plumbing and better amenities. We're most interested in understanding whether people are prioritized or exploited in the process of negotiation that happens when land is expropriated. Most of the time, it ends up being very unfair, and that's what the issue is—not that the building has been smashed, but that it was smashed in the middle of the night on a man and his elderly mother, who have nowhere else to go.
AL: What do you hope to accomplish by making this zine?
SGC: We want to record some slivers of Beijing's current state. As we've stated and as everyone knows, China is changing fast, and the present moment-- especially the mundane, perhaps unpleasant parts that don't accord with narratives of progress-- may be quickly and easily forgotten. As human beings, we think we're smart, but most of us have the memory spans of goldfish, and forgetting the past makes us easier to manipulate. Actively deciding to preserve these narratives has the potential to give us more clarity in the face of an unpredictable future.
AL: It seems that even though less than 100 of the original households in this village remain, we learn from the zine that the community is still very much vibrant. Does it matter that the original residents no longer live there if the community is kept alive?
SGC: Community isn't necessarily about being tied to a specific location, or preserving the exact residential makeup through time. It's about people feeling belonging, having history with a place, and attaching their identities to other people's identities. The zine points out that people still live there in order to show that there's a huge imbalance between the state of development and the lived realities of ordinary Chinese people. The current state of the village shows the fluidity of people passing through a place, rather than the "vibrancy" of the community. For example, what was once an elementary school now houses many migrants, exemplifying the transformations outside of Beijing's 5th ring, an area which has undergone huge changes in the last several years due to money flowing in through local governments and developers. The human changes are responses to the influx of money, but the pace of "progress" leaves people behind.
AL: Any upcoming projects? Do you planning on making a series of zines on gentrification in China?
SGC: Yes, the next zine in the series is going to be about Beijing's 簋街! It's going to be like a huge spicy party, but before the party is over the wrecking ball comes down on the house full of guests, and now we're trying to figure out if everyone survived. You're invited!
丝瓜集团(Sponge Gourd Collective) is a loofah for the future, a squad of green goons, a slimy surprise. We investigate urban transformation to explore Chinese futurities. With backgrounds in visual art, photography, anthropology, community organizing, film, and literature, we develop multimedia projects that broaden popular conceptions of China, to leave more room for the blurry spaces in between.
Our projects deconstruct unstable meanings of Chineseness and speak to Chinese youth and members of the global Chinese diaspora. Self-searching is a seed that sprouted this collective; as rapid development calls for a fluid, flexible future, our conceptions of identity too must remain open to flux.
You can reach the team at
or follow them on @siguajituan on Instagram
Interview on February 26th at her studio in Huantie, Beijing
L: How long have you been creating art? Is this something you’ve studied?
YZ: No, actually. I started doing this in late 2013. It was the first project that I did after I graduated from the UK. In the beginning, I just did some body-casts and showed them at HomeShop, at that time that was an organisation in the hutong with artists and they'd have festivals or exhibitions. That was the first time I showed it to everybody and later, I was involved in other exhibitions and events. Officially, I started working on this full-time in 2014, one year later.
KL: What lead you to doing body casts?
YZ: The reason was that I studied industrial design. That’s more like doing products and lots of model making and I was particularly interested in materials, the process and trying new stuff so that’s why one day I tried a little cast on myself and thought, that’s cool. I didn’t let it go. I didn't know what I could do with it. After that, since I got back to China I thought, I have nothing to do so let’s continue the project.
KL: I can see a lot of hands. Are hands something that you like to focus on?
YZ: I think the hands have many combinations as body parts. For example, the ears and nose are just what they look like but for hands, you can have different gestures, different meanings. You can hold each other or have a single hand in different positions. I think that’s the reason why there are lots of hands here and they are all different.
KL: Do you think that hands do show a person’s personality?
YZ: Yeah, I believe that. That’s the interesting thing, people’s bodies are constantly changing every day but they do really notice. If you compare a young person’s hands with an old lady’s they are totally different so that is the time aspect. The time is reflecting on your hands. Also, there is a Chinese story saying in the old time, rich families daughters don't do hard work so their hands are really soft, very clean, but for the women in the countryside, they work on the farm, they have to take care of the children and also their livestock so their hands have lots of wrinkles and callouses. I do believe that.
KL: Is that something that you want to reflect in your art, the divide between wealth and poverty, leisure and hard work?
YZ: That's an old concept. We do believe this exists but in the modern times, everybody works at their computers. Maybe, just young and old and the passing of time. How you can see this aspect. One of my first customers actually told me a story that he wants to shake the hand of himself in twenty years. So he cast his hand right now in a holding gesture and he said, later I will let older me meet my younger self. This is meaningful and really poetic.
KL: You do other body parts as well, there is a piece here with somebody grabbing their belly. What are you trying to say with that?
YZ: Recently, I have been doing some larger scale casts because a woman asked me to do a cast of her pregnancy. This piece you see right now is actually a testing model. I want to test on myself to see whether it’s alright or what type of things I need to pay attention to. I did myself squeezing my belly because people think if you are chubby you can play with your belly. I think that’s an internet thing at the moment and I think it’s funny so I did it and it looks funny. Recently, we’ve had patients getting their face cast. They are usually couples and one couple looks very similar in their face. My mum couldn’t tell they were a couple. When they came she said, is that her sister? And I said, no, that’s her husband. So they decided to make two faces so they could take it out and see how similar they are. Many of their friends tell them they look like twins.
KL: That’s a strange kind of narcissism, falling in love with yourself.
YZ: I know. Exactly! I ask all of my patients to write a story why they want to do the cast and they wrote that if you like yourself you should marry a person that looks like you. That’s something really unusual that it would be hard to find elsewhere.
KL: It seems like a lot of people are commissioning these unique portraits. Are some of your works for exhibition? Do you try and put series together or is it mainly commission-based work?
YZ: I think we have quite a base of patients, about 260 right now, so it depends on different exhibitions and different themes. Like, last Valentine's Day we came up with a book with the theme of love. I selected the stories about love. Not only the love between couples but also, love between mum and daughter or unreachable love, people who didn't get their boyfriend or girlfriend. People who failed but still love them.
KL: How did you reflect unrequited love in your portraiture?
YZ: They usually write the story so when people see the hands they can read the story, too. I think they can relate them. We did a series called BodyMemory: STORIES last year in New York so we also asked people to donate their stories to us. To write us a message and give it to us or leave it on our WeChat account. When we do an exhibition we have a whole wall full of medical cases so everybody can participate. They can write their story and people can read about it. I think it’s half/half. People come to me to do a commission but during the process we talk and they tell me more about the story behind and I can be inspired. From my patients, I might get other stories or I can get more information and try to analyse it or get it together into a series.
KL: Have you ever considered doing a Cynthia Plaster Caster tribute in any way?
YZ: Somebody told me about her. They had a portable suitcase and they’d just knock on the door [of musician’s hotel rooms].
KL: Do you think you would ever do something so daring?
YZ: You mean making casts of penises?
YZ: We had a hate series. Last Valentine's Day, somebody gave us a story asking, why on Valentine's Day does everybody give something to the people they love? Why not the people they hate? Do they deserve a piece of your hate? So he donated a dick cast. In America, there is slang "dickhead." It cannot translate in Chinese that well because you're commenting on your friends. You don't hate this person you just think he is annoying or bad. So we just cast the little bit on the top of the penis, the dick head, and turned it into a little sculpture so people can send it to the people they don't like.
KL: Were there any takers?
YZ: Yeah. Surprisingly, we also made some chocolates because it was Valentine’s Day and the chocolates sold pretty good. In another aspect, this could be a loving gift in the LGBT community. Gay friends probably laugh at it but it's also a talking point.
KL: In China, the government frowns upon anything pornographic or overtly sexual in any way. Was that a problem or is that something you worry about?
YZ: We do have some concerns about that. I don't want to be blocked by the government just because they think it’s pornography so I didn't release the hate series here. But, if somebody knows me on WeChat and they know what I’m doing and they really want that, they can still get it. It’s not publicly bought, it is more of a secret thing.
KL: Do you see yourself always continuing to collect narratives so you will have this life’s work of stories connected to some physical presence?
YZ: Yeah, I think I’ll do it until the day that I can’t do it. Maybe if some big changes happened in my life I would stop but so far I don’t think there is any problem with carrying this on. Also, we charge a fee for making casts so it’s also the income for my studio. It’s a healthy relationship. The customer/patient is happy to get a special gift and I’m doing what I like and they also really appreciate this project. That makes me enjoy doing it. I’ve recently received lots of messages from Weibo and WeChat saying, I just really like your project. I can really see the young people appreciate something different. Weird or special, they get the point. Ten years ago there might not have been much allowance or space for this type of project but right now with so many buyer shops opening, the trend of design, so many independent brands. People have different tastes and the market is getting more and more specified. I think that's a good sign for designers to find their position and their passion for what they like and what they really want to do. I feel that they do a few years and by the third year, they feel like it is kind of hopeless. I think that is just because they haven't connected with their group. I've always believed that everything has its own audience but it's about how you find your audience. How you use your brand or personal influence as a magnet for those people.
KL: Are your aspirations more commercial or artistic?
YZ: I’m still a product designer so I think I still consider the commercial side rather than the artistic but I still have an artistic side.
[At this point Li Zhou’s friend Eric interrupts to remind her of all the impressive gallery shows she has done in the US – see list at end of article]
KL: That’s impressive.
YZ: Let’s put it this way: I’m probably the most business-minded artist and the most artistic-minded person in business. It overlays because, I don't want to separate them, but, I do have an idea of how to sell these things and how to sell them at exhibitions as an art project. There are two parts to this project.
KL: How much do you guide your patients into the gestures or choices they make about body parts?
YZ: I think I usually ask them why they want to do it. They usually have some ideas. Whether it is a gift for themselves or a gift for a person they like. According to that, they will think about what their relationship is to that person. Otherwise, I will ask them if they have had any special experiences with your body parts. Maybe you cut your finger when you were little and it really hurt but later it was fine. Usually, it's really story-based.
KL: Do you find that the nature of your project makes it important that you have a very good rapport with your patients?
YZ: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s a really important part of our project. I would say the experience has equal weight to the result. So that’s why we build a whole narrative around this project otherwise it would become just some typical whatever project. That’s why I set up the doctor’s things and when I wear the doctor’s suit I feel like I am acting. I’m in the doctor mode. It’s a switch.
KL: So, it’s almost performance art in one way, too?
YZ: Well, kind of but it’s maybe not going that deep. This helps the customers come in. When they walk in and see a doctor’s office with all the decorations and they will put themselves in the role. When I ask them, what’s wrong with you today? He will understand he is a patient now. It is a whole process just like making an appointment, seeing a doctor. It all helps them understand the process rather than just going shopping.
Born and raised in Beijing, Yi Zhou is an artist and
independent designer. She received her MA in
Industrial Design at Central Saint Martins College of
Art and Design and moved back to her hometown.
Her work has covered a broad range including art,
design and fashion. Most of Yi’s projects are drawn
from daily life, focusing primarily on the interrelation
between human relations and behavior. She takes
inspiration from social issues through observation
and categorization, transferring those insights and
analysis into playful artistic manifestations.
’BodyMemory’ has been exhibited at ‘Get It Louder’
2014 in Sanlitun the Orange Hall. At the same time,
she spoke at a lecture <Pet Project: Start from
Amateurism> at UCCA as part of this exhibition.
BodyMemory has been featured in several leading
press outlets such as Timeout Beijing, Cool Hunting,
Crane.tv and Huffington Post. It is also a regular
project at Beijing Design Week since 2014.
BodyMemory Mobile Clinic 2014-2015
Sunday Market Slurp! , Mar. 2015
Aotu Studio, Dec. 2014
Ying Space, Nov. 2014
Loop Shanghai, Nov. 2014
DDC The Dusk Dawn Club, Nov. 2014
MUYE Art Studio Nov. 2014
BNC Brand New China Oct. 2014
Dashilar, Beijing Design Week, Oct. 2014
Get It Louder Sep. 2014
Living Room coffee, Beijing Design Week, Sep. 2015
Zo-ee Select, HongKong art center, Hong Kong, Sep. 2015
Story Teller Showroom, Shanghai, Sep. 2015
West Bund Art and Design Fair, Shanghai, Sep. 2015
PIN sstudio, Kaohsiung, Aug. 2015
Good Institute Store, Taipei, Aug. 2015
Maaaaaket, Beijing, Jul. 2015
Monster Shop, Beijing, Jun. 2015
Baishan Living Room, Apr. 2015
Small Cast: 540 / RMB
1:1 Scale White Resin Material
Finger necklace, ear pin, mouth pin, nose pin, tongue necklace, etc.
Single Hand Statue 1000 / RMB
Two Hands Statue 1500 / RMB
Face Statue 1500 / RMB
Bump and one hands: 3000 / RMB
Bump and two hands: 3500 / RMB
Single Baby Hand/Foot: 800 / RMB
Two Hand/Feet: 1500 / RMB
Start from 600 / RMB*
Price may be different from breed and age
Mini series: Above prince + 1500-2000 / RMB
Everything above can be made into a 18k gold plated brass jewelry.