Interview via email on October 16.
KL: From memory, An Art Show began on an extremely cramped night at 69 Café. Did you realise you would attract such a large crowd on that first night? When organising the first AAS what were your expectations?
SL: I remember being super nervous. It was a lot of pressure for it to be a good night because one, I was organising it, and two, there were so many people involved who had faith in the event.
The good thing about it was that I had little to no expectations, I was just really excited to be sharing my art and it was empowering to be taking a leadership role.
KL: What prompted you to feature artists, writers, and musicians in the same performance space?
SL: My artwork is very much connected to my music, yoga and often inspires my poetry writing. So It only made sense to me to incorporate all three into one show.
KL: How important do you think collaboration is in the Beijing creative scene?
SL: AAS only came about through collaboration. Simply just talking to other musicians, artists, and poets sparked ideas for all the events.
From organising events, I realised how different musicians, artists, and poets are to each other. That's a challenge for me to really connect everyone together. The more shows I organise the more creative people I meet and that personally inspires me to push the boundaries, break barriers and continue the attempt to create unity between musicians, poets, and artists. Together we can make a stronger and more lasting imprint on the creative scene.
KL: What do you think are the major problems experienced by artist, writers, and musicians in Beijing? Are they similar problems or unique to medium? Does AAS work to solve any of these problems?
SL: A major problem that has been spoken about is not having a platform to explore and experiment on.This mainly came up with the musicians feeling like there wasn't an audience who would appreciate experimental and improvised music.
A lot of the artist that I approached weren't doing any art at the time, simply because they were too busy with their jobs or just focused on other creative mediums. AAS gave some artist a reason to create again. There are many artists that have amazing work but don't have the opportunity to share their work, so I think that's why some artist lose interest to create.
I also had a similar reaction with one of the Chinese poets. His energy was mostly focused on his job. Then after performing at AAS his writing became a priority. The beauty of this story is that AAS inspired him to write again, not for others to enjoy but for his own pleasure.
AAS is working on providing a platform for creatives to present art/music/poetry that is authentic in a supportive environment.
KL: How has your personal Beijing story played out? What encouraged you to become a leader/facilitator in the scene?
SL: I originally came to Beijing to reconnect The Plum Trees, a duo band that my brother (Clancy "Oopow" Lethbridge) and I formed back in Australia. My brother had been living here for 2 years already. he just never came back to Australia, so I decided to move to China for a year to record some music with him.
We eventually formed a full band and the music scene was pretty good here compared to back home. This enticed me to stay a bit longer.
In my second year, I decided to have the hutong experience. No kitchen and an outdoor shower/toilet. During winter was the harshest period for me physically and mentally. It was impossible for me to escape the freezing cold weather and the pollution. On top of that, I had music and singing taken away from me because my neighbours would repetitively bang on the thin walls every time I played. To be fair I played during their bedtime, which is when the creative part of my brain is awake. It was during this time that I used yoga, meditation, and art to get me through it all.
After all that I had a range of watercolour paintings that were all connected to my mental state of living in a hutong and the distinct seasons in Beijing. I didn't have any new music to share, so I really wanted to share my art but there was no platform for what I had created.
Anyways, My friend Nathan Borofka (musician and singer/songwriter) organised a Folk Festival (with music and poetry) at 69 Cafe and the Caravan. It was inspiring to see someone create their own show rather than waiting for a venue to contact them. It really changed my view on how the music scene works. I realised that the scene had so much more potential and I felt like I had been limiting myself for a long time.
I pitched the idea to him about incorporating art into his shows. Nathan supported the idea from the beginning and now. I don't think AAS would have existed if it weren't for his encouragement.
KL: Are there any particular artists, writers or musicians you’d like to advocate?
SL: That's a tough question, there are so many talented people out there !!
I would like to mention my brother Clancy "Oopow" Lethbridge. He's been pushing the boundaries with his solo music as a bass player (as well as in his experimental duo "The Spectacular Fish Riders", "Djang San + Band" and "The Plum Trees") and I'm really looking forward to sharing his projects. He's also a major supporter of AAS and has been photographically documenting the events.
I would also like to mention Lina, a talented photographer. She's her own boss and had just recently opened up a gallery/cafe' called "L-space" on Baochao Hutong.
Sintia Amber who first discovered AAS at Bookworm. She contacted me only a few months ago with her first poem she had written. Now she performs at AAS incorporating acoustic guitar, poetry, and photography all together. She's one to look out for!
KL: These events have become a regular occurrence, how difficult or tiring is it logistically to put on a regular event?
SL: It's very time consuming since I pretty much organise every aspect of the events. I'm also very detailed when it comes to these events which means more work for me to do. At the same time, I push myself really hard to get my own art and music projects done in time for the events.
I book venues at least two months in advance and by that time I also have concept ideas and artists who want to get involved. Usually, I'm organising two events at a time. All the music and poets are booked a month and a half in advance so that all the advertising can be done a month before the show.
KL: What has been your proudest moment running AAS?
SL: My proudest moment was being able to share my brothers travel photography at DDC. He's a very modest guy who is very talented. It was a big thing for me to see his work displayed and given recognition by the creative community.
KL: What do you have planned for the future?
SL: I'm not planning too far ahead, however for the next year I want to continue organising AAS and continue to build on concepts and make them a reality. To be more specific about the shows I definitely want to involve more visual arts such as animation and film that is connected to poetry and music.
KL: What would you say to entice the reader of this interview to your next event?
SL: It'll be building off the previous concepts of nature and there'll be more collaboration between art, music, and poetry.
We are still deciding on the venue and date of the next event. Hopefully a sneaky show in winter.
Shannon Lethbridge is a singer/songwriter, musician and artist. Originating from Australia she came to Beijing two years ago after she completed her Bachelor of Science - Major in Conservation & Wildlife biology. She is now the organiser of An Art Show that has been occurring monthly in Beijing. At An Art Show her art and music performances are often interconnected. At previous events she has performed experimental-improv music with her band The Plum Trees and solo as A.borealis with visual arts projected on stage. Her projections are animations made from her abstract paintings that were painted in her Hutong. These paintings reflect her mental state, the distinct seasons in Beijing and her interest in nature.