The spectator of the epic theater says: “Life does not have to be like that.  There are options.“(Bertolt Brecht)

Vanguard Gallery

Vanguard Gallery

Highly recommended: Watch it on large monitor (1920 x 1080), switch HD on, make the video fullscreen:

Watch The Interactive Fu Manchu KTV on Vimeo

2014-06-加油站7-杂志广告-0626-01
We are besieged by photographs that are illustrations, by newspapers that are narrations, by cinema-images, by television-images. There are psychic clichés just as there are physical clichés – ready-made perceptions, memories, phantasms. There is a very important experience here for the painter: a whole category of things that could be termed „clichés“ already fills the canvas, before the beginning. […] Clichés are always already on the canvas, and if the painter is content to transform the cliché, to deform or mutilate it, to manipulate it in every possible way, this reaction is still too intellectual, too abstract: it allows the cliché to rise again from its ashes, it leaves the painter within the milieu of the cliché, or else gives him or her no other consolation than parody. [… Even] the reactions against clichés are creating clichés.

Gilles Deleuze

 

More than ever before, conflicts revolve around “knowledge” and the use of “soft power.” Adversaries are learning to emphasize information operations” and “perception management”—that is, media-oriented measures that aim to attract or disorient rather than coerce, and that affect how secure a society, a military, or other actor feels about its knowledge of itself and of its adversaries. Psychological disruption may become as important a goal as physical destruction.

John Arquilla and David Ronfeld

 

As an artist i usually never start with a story / idea / metaphor that i want to tell to an audience, but with something that for any reason attracts my attention and curiosity, while at the same time i can’t tell why. For sure that is also true for our upcoming collaborative project that deals with the figure of Fu Manchu. I remember you told me first about your plan to do a project around that figure in 2013: While we had a subway ride from the Shanghai Institute of Visual Art in Songjiang together, you spoke about an I pad-App that you planned to develop in the future. Since i never had heard about that figure before, i also soon started again to forget about it. A few months later the name was mentioned by you again, and this time i did some research in the Internet and was watching a short video-clip on Youtube: It happened to be an excerpt of the „Mask of Fu Manchu“, a black&white movie starring the British actor Boris Karloff, who once had given himself a Russian sounding stage name to be better qualified to play the villains in Hollywood. I remember that i really had to laugh out loudly, because the whole movie seemed totally ridiculous to me: A strange Western but Asian styled guy, an exaggerated and surely somehow racist stereotype and phantasm right from the horror cliché corner was dealing in a most expressionist manner with a sword and a mask which in the plot was connected to Dschingis Khan. He obviously seemed to represent a very evil character in a sharp contrast to a handful of smart and honest Western characters, who finally succeeded in preventing him from conquering the world. My first reaction was to think about the movie as a absolutely ridiculous product, and somehow i also immediately had to think how the founder of Wiki-leaks was depicted in two recent movies in such a paranoid and self-centered manner, that i automatically had to draw a connection between his Hollywood representation and the figure of Fu Manchu. I came up with the very quick and basic idea to shoot a movie with the title „The Usb-Stick of Ju Assangu“ as a mocking version of the above mentioned historical Fu Manchu movie. For some days i was seriously thinking about doing that, and I considered to do the shooting with an exclusive cast of Chinese actors. When i told you about the rough idea in our University canteen, you said that you would like to give me advice for that project, especially in regard of my understanding of the „Chinese Psyche“, while for me that project idea anyhow had nothing to do with China or Chinese people at all. But in a very naive manner i asked you then if you are willed to collaborate on a series of Fu Manchu projects, and i was very happy when you replied that you had have the same idea to ask me. We soon decided to work together, and even got an exhibition venue quite fast. We met from time to time, did some small work and discussed the concept. And while we slowly had some technical progress regarding the development of a 3d-character, somehow i had the feeling that our concept kept quite static. I had quickly given up the idea of the „Ju Assangu“ project, and for sure i became also very interested, why you on the first hand had chosen the Fu Manchu figure. I have to underline, that for me as an artist each project / collaboration means first of all research to me, so during the project working period i generally try to collect informations, to rethink my interest, to question where it comes from, and even more important, where it will finally lead to: as an artwork that somehow tries to distill this research process and opens complete new questions for me and an audience. I never do know the outcome in advance.

BildRecently you told me, that you aim with our project to produce an emotional effect towards the audience, and you also said that you want to tell the „truth“ about Fu Manchu. I have to admit, that i listened here very carefully, since for me as an artist it is very important, never to become a producer of emotions. There are also no messages that I try to communicate with my art. The reason is simple: I can’t stand authorities, and as an artist I also don’t want to become an authority by myself. I don’t consider myself as a clever or sensitive person who wants to transport an unique wisdom or vision. Neither do i believe that the audience needs to be educated. In contrary, i am convinced that the audience is always more intelligent than any artwork. It might sound very stupid, naive and probably another stereotype: But i practice as an artist since i have many questions and much less answers. So what i try to do as an artist is in fact to create a space where i can approach these questions from an infinite amount of perspectives. I do clearly not always succeed with that task, but at least i need to try it again and again and again. So in fact there is really nothing on first hand that i want to tell with the Fu Manchu. Instead i want to approach this figure and its relevance from different perspectives, not stopping at a point that i already do know.

BildI understand that Fu Manchu has to be seen in the context of soft power, but i am also convinced that it is much too simple to show that. Many books have already been written about that topic. We have to be aware that the „Fu Manchu Stereotype“ is also a product of a specific historical period. It’s pure racist figuration completely disappeared at the latest in the 80s. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t pop up from time to time, but it definitely lost its attraction to a broad audience. When people worldwide started to make fun about Fu Manchu in the 80s, i guess that at least 90 percent made fun about the stupidity of the character and not fun of „Asian people“. The reason for that is simple: Fu Manchu as a figure is so much exaggerated and demonized, that it is obviously a very unreal figure. Fu Manchu is a cliché, and it is racist, but it is a fictional figure: It has never been the prototype of how Westerners percepted Asians in general, but it was one way of a fictional imagination (which is bad enough as i admit). And regarding its impact towards the present: From around thirty friends that i asked in recent months about their knowledge of Fu Manchu, there was only one who had heard about it: An this was because of the mustache.

I have to say frankly that i was a little bit surprised today when you said that you actually never watched a Fu Manchu movie: I think, even if it is the greatest bullshit, once we are working with that figure we should at least have personal knowledge of its historical media representation.

BildAs an important part of my individual research process i read a lot about Fu Manchu during the last weeks. A huge bunch of information is online accessible. In 2013 there seems to have been some sort of revival of Fu Manchu in certain media. I found informations about a stage-play called „The Fu-Manchu-Complex“ that was produced in the UK. Just recently I finished reading an interesting book written by German scholar Ruth Mayer dealing with the seriality of the Fu Manchu figure and its formal relevances for the spreading of the yellow peril idea. In fact, I was quite impressed by the huge amount of literature available that is deconstructing the Fu Manchu stereotype.

I also read this article from the South China Morning Post,

http://www.scmp.com/news/world/article/1228548/racist-curse-fu-manchu-back-spotlight-after-chevrolet-ad

where a British Sinologist is quoted as following:

“Racial stereotypes of any kind can be very persistent, they recur again and again in different variations depending on the changing circumstances, but it gets back to the same message, which is this conception of ‘us’ and ‘other’,” said Clegg, author of Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril: The Making of a Racist Myth. “It’s all about dividing people according to salacious ideas about race that underlie the feeling of western superiority.”

I have to say that i fully agree with her statement, that racial stereotypes such as Fu Manchu are effective in dividing people into this conception of „us and the other“. And it is clearly such a conception that can be made responsible for a lot of injustice and cruelty in our world. As a German citizen I am always remembered that once people from my home-country produced the very perverse, inhuman and abhorrent peak in this history of the failure of humanity. And this didn’t happen in the very distant past, but just seventy, eighty years ago.

BildThat said, this „conception of us and the others“ is something i am very afraid of. I believe there is no „us“ and „others“, but only a together, but i do also see that certain interest groups for different reasons still are keen on producing this division into „us“ and „others“. At this point of the discussion we already entered the area of perception, and i have to admit that i am more than pissed to see how this genuine area of the arts has been hijacked by militant governmental and cooperate advocates of the so-called soft power. For these perception managers – surely partly also unaware of the real effects of their activities – practicing art is just another exercise of power: And the real fuck is, that our world still seems to work that way. But i also honestly believe, that real art can break that closed circuit of power, and i see how countless people outside the art market are constantly working in this field. Humans crossing all national and cultural borders have become very fed up with the „disruptions“ that soft power produces. I am convinced that real artistic independence will finally pay for many artists, that don’t see themselves as part of an elite that wants to educate the masses from a position of power.

Yes, Fu Manchu is a racial stereotype, but i believe we never should underestimate the people. As long as we as artists are continuing to tell them what has to be seen how, we will never break the closed circuit of power. As artists we are in constant need to stay independent, to find new alliances and to dis-appear when the time has come to re-appear somewhere else. Living in China for some years I understand the concepts of „The Chinese Threat“ and „The Need For China To Rise Peacefully“ that Chinas government wants to transmit, but I am also convinced that as long as the local cultural sphere needs to follow political guidelines, it will never work. Art is not the prolonged arm of politics. People are not so stupid. I don’t believe that Western people in general see Chinese people pursuing their individual dreams as a threat. Actually people everywhere want to live in peace and comfort, and this is only possible if the gaps both on national as global layers are vanishing. There are certainly people who are heaters, but they are found on all sides.

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Coming back to Fu Manchus media revival in 2013: One main reason for that was the global release of the „Iron Man 3“ movie, which featured a villainous figure named „The Mandarin“.

The article in the South China Morning Post quoted above also refers to it:

But a Fu Manchu-like character is receiving far wider viewership with the release of Hollywood blockbuster Iron Man 3, featuring arch-villain The Mandarin. […] Iron Man 3’s “Mandarin problem” has been widely discussed by fans of both the film series starring Robert Downey Jnr, and the Marvel comic universe. The problem? The comic-book Mandarin is a “racist caricature” of a Chinese bad guy, according to Iron Man 3 director Shane Black. […] the character echoes a stereotype of Eastern “otherness” described by Clegg. “He [The Mandarin] is very obviously a reincarnation of Fu Manchu,” said Clegg, a vice-president of the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding.
She summarizes the attributes of Fu Manchu as “a criminal mastermind … secretive, and insidious, he has an abhorrence for the truth, he has nasty kinds of torture and nasty ways of disposing of enemies”. […]
“I get the impression that the Chinese people are very confused as to why they receive a hostile reception in the western media, and why they are perceived in a negative fashion. Chinese people tend to think that their rise is peaceful and they don’t understand the ‘China threat’ idea that prevails in the west.”

And the China Daily titled: Fu Manchu lives again in blockbuster

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http://www.chinadailyasia.com/opinion/2013-05/15/content_15074284.html

The latest Hollywood blockbuster, Iron Man 3, centers on the free world’s fight against a hateful and monstrously evil arch villain called The Mandarin – a megalomaniac who is actually a cheap reprise of Dr Fu Manchu, an odious figure oozing racially-slanted remarks and attitudes who constantly stirred anti-Chinese hatred in a series of pre-war black-and-white movies.

When I went to Germany 4 weeks ago, i was curious and started to watch the Iron Man 3 movie on my flight entertainment system. After i had read about the Fu Manchu-ness of the movie in Chinese media before, I found myself very surprised to see the „Mandarin“ depicted as a kind of islamic terrorist stereotype, where only the name still seemed to give reference to its blueprint of a racist comic figure with Chinese roots. Since I was quite tired and I am also not too fond of that kind of movies anyhow, i felt asleep while watching. But on my flight back to China i did another attempt and finally watched the movie from beginning to the end. It came clearly out that the character was not only rewritten as a kind of „bin Laden reprise“, but that the whole Mandarin plot was changed drastically from its cartoon template: In fact, in Iron Man 3 „The Mandarin“ is shown as an Western actor with a preference for women and drugs, that is paid and commissioned as a kind of Video Dummy by the real villain, which was clearly represented by a Western stereotype. So even when the clothes some people might have reminded of Mongolian descent (i even didn’t had any clue about that):

But the original being shown in the United States and other countries across the world positively glories in every outrageous utterance and gesture by The Mandarin. Inserting yet another racial undertone into the film, his character is played by the Anglo-Indian Sir Ben Kingsley, who spouts his hateful rants in a spectral voice and is garbed in cloaks and other clobber reminiscent of a mounted Mongolian general from the days of Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire.

It is a pure fact, that in the movie itself the stereotype of „The Mandarin“ was clearly demonstrated as a pure Western fabricated stereotype. So the movie had in itself a kind of meta-layer, that produced the deconstruction of „The Mandarin“ in such a way, that not even a blind person could have missed it.

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This lets me very clearly scrutinize the motivation of above mentioned commentators. Why do they refer to a movie, that they very obviously never had seen before? And that let me also ask, what was the strategy behind these articles? Or in other words: Which groups on which sides are really interested to feed this idea of „The Chinese Threat“?

I will give another example from an internet article published yesterday (I could mention others as well..):

After reading the article „How the world sees China?“ I was really asking myself, where its subtitle „Mention of China throws up popular associations and worrying stereotypes“ is coming from? And how did an ancient image of Fu Manchu made it to the cover image?

http://www.theworldofchinese.com/2014/06/how-the-world-sees-china/

The article lists 20 main things that people abroad connect with China. The target audience of the website – which aims to give a multifaceted view of China to Non-Chinese speakers – doesn’t provide any informations to which survey the article relates to. Who did it? When? Asking which people? But the twenty things people connect with China are anyhow regarding that article:

Yao Ming, Wechat, Jackie Chan, Chinese language, The Forbidden City, Spring Festival, Dumplings, Mah Jong, Terracotta Warriors, Peking Duck, Dragons, Peking Opera, Pandas, Kung Fu, Chinese Porcelain, The Great Wall, Bruce Lee, Hot Pot, Chopsticks, Writing Brushes

The article then continues in the following way:

What was more interesting, however, was what people thought of when they thought of Chinese people. This pie chart shows the very slightly disappointing results.

????? Please have a look at the link above and continue to read from there. What is so disappointing here? What might people say when asked about their perception of people in Switzerland, Germany or Austria f.e.?

To be very honest, for me „Fu Manchu“ is a psychotic trap. A fictional paranoia dispositive. And the real curse of Fu Manchu is, that it still seems to produce paranoia today, but from another side: As long as people believe that other people see them as Fu Manchus – or even worse, as long as they make other people believe that they are seen as little Fu Manchus- they will exactly produce the same divisions as once the creators of the figure did.

And this is a perverse feedback chain. And as an artist, this is my real departure point. Not to tell that with an artwork. But to work with that trap. To make it empty, ridiculous, meaningless material. To de-sign it. And then to ask how we can get out of that trap. Together.

Shanghai, 14.06.2014

Preserve distance, point out contradictions and dissimilarities.

“[We] must drop our habit of taking the different social structures of past
periods, then stripping them of everything that makes them different;
so that they all look more or less like our own, which then acquires from
this process a certain air of having been there all along, in other words
of permanence pure and simple. Instead we must leave them their distinguishing
marks and keep their impermanence always before our
eyes, so that our own period can be seen to be impermanent too.

Bertolt Brecht

“He who only imitates and had nothing to say
On what he imitates is like
A poor chimpanzee, who imitates his trainer’s smoking
And does not smoke while doing so. For never
Will a thoughtless imitation
Be a real imitation.”

Bertolt Brecht

Shanzhai (Chinese: 山寨) refers to Chinese imitation and pirated brands and goods, particularly electronics. Literally “mountain village” or “mountain stronghold”, the term refers to the mountain stockades of regional warlords or bandits, far away from official control. “Shanzhai” can also be stretched to refer to people who are lookalikes, low-quality or improved goods, as well as things done in parody.

(from Wikipedia)

2 weeks ago I started to teach my second semester @The College of New Media, Shanghai Institute of Visual Art (Fudan University). Most of the students i know from last semester, when we had some fun learning the basics of MaxMspJitter, discussing Brecht’s notion of the “Distancing Effect” and developing practical semester projects.

They will finish their studies next semester, and quite a few of them want to apply for master programmes abroad. So this time it is more about their final works and almost all of them seem to be highly motivated from the beginning. Continuing our artistic research from last semester, we do focus on interactive video and electronics with Max (+ Arduino). Additionally the notion of “Shanzhai” will be another starting point for our class.
Recently I got a copy of Byung-Chul Hans essay “Shanzhai – Deconstruction the Chinese Way”, which provides some interesting material for initial discussions. The notion of “Shanzhai” seems to be fruitful, especially against the background of the continuous mass-mediazation and a new paradigm of interactivity. We do witness fast transformations that should be carefully reflected while we are looking for new strategies to orientate in the world. The French philosopher and media theoretician Baudrillard once described the media as something that destroys the symbolic and replaces it with a simulation: But the simulation does in his opinion not only serve as a mode of communication, but as a mode of control as well. Following him, the “mass-mediazation functions through the imposition of models […], imposing their own models of meaning, development and resolution”. This is something that I consider to be worth for further research (with purely artistic means): – while dealing with new media to have a closer look to the dispositifes / apparatuses that encompass us. Giorgio Agamben gives a handy definition in his essay “What is an Apparatus?”:

“Further expanding the already large class of Foucauldian apparatuses, I shall call an apparatus literally anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviours, opinions, or discourses of living beings. Not only, therefore, prisons, madhouses, the panopticon, schools, confession, factories, disciplines, judicial measures, and so forth (whose connection with power is in a certain sense evident), but also the pen, writing, literature, philosophy, agriculture, cigarettes, navigation, computers, cellular telephones and–why not–language itself, which is perhaps the most ancient of apparatuses–one in which thousands and thousands of years ago a primate inadvertently let himself be captured, probably without realizing the consequences that he was about to face.”

Another interesting explanation we can find in the writings of French Philosopher and Sinologist Francois Jullien: He deduces the notion of “dispositif” from the sphere of warfare, where it denotes the environment and the conditions that renders a (military) operation possible. In this context Jullien also describes strategic thinking and situation based (re-)action in Chinese Writings as an attempt to move within an apparatus – to make use of the limitations that are given – and to transform it. From a distance, certain lines of thought and the percepted space seem to anticipate the digital and specific attitudes and tactics that start to exist under the paradigm of interactivity. Let’s not only think about the principles of DIY and Hacking. John Cage was one of the first who hot-wired the ethics of the “global village” (McLuhan) with Zen and Chuang-tse. From a didactive point of view i consider the MaxMspJitter graphical programming environment as a precious toolkit for artists, that makes computer and technology better understandable. It let you create, control and modify environments without the limitations of more customized software. The high-level graphical patching approach is a good compromise between preciseness and user-friendliness. It is an important skill to learn more about the traps, hidden potentials and lost folds of our apparatuses. With the rapid development of interactive media, the question of control becomes even more important. If there is a wisdom of the crowds, is there a stubbornness of the crowds as well? Is there something called “creative leadership”, do we need it and what are the social impacts if interactivity becomes a new paradigm of our time?

My hopes for this semester:
That we start a collaborative research process and have some fun doing so.

We should start with imitation: Everybody tries to make a good copy of something he/she likes.
The initial hypothesis: A good copy is only possible, if we do fully understand what we want to imitate. Once we do understand, just copying might become a little bit boring. We can modify, rethink, take different paths at some points. We can start new from zero.

What everybody should keep at the back of his / her mind:
– If we talk about Interaction (Design), who makes the rules?
– Are the rules fix?
– How are the rules communicated?
– Who defines the rules?

It might be useful to investigate some aspects of Brecht’s concept and implementation of the learning play further, especially in contrast to “other forms of theater”:

“Brecht developed a new type of theater which he called Lehrstück “learning play.” […] Brecht described them as “a collective political meeting” in which the audience is to participate actively (GW 18: 132). One sees in this model a rejection of the concept of the bureaucratic elite party where the theorists and functionaries are to issue directives and control the activities of the masses. In these plays, correct doctrine and practice would be discovered and carried out through a participatory, collective practice rather than through hierarchical manipulation and domination;”
Douglas Kellner

“Pleasure in observation alone is harmful for the state just as pleasure in action alone. Insofar as young people while playing perform actions that are derived from their own observations, they will be educated for the state. This sort of playing must be invented and performed in such a way that it is useful for the state. It is not beauty that is decisive for the value of a sentence or a gesture or an action, but whether it is useful for the state when the players speak a sentence, perform a gesture, or carry out an action.”

“For by imagining that they have got hold of an apparatus which has in fact got hold of them they are supporting an apparatus which is out of their control.”

Bertolt Brecht

I was recently commissioned to do a small interactive video-work for the N-Minutes Video Art Festival in Shanghai, that wants to bring video art into the public space. The festival’s second edition took place in a shopping mall and established a Panda painted by Liu Fei as its main logo.
Original Painting by Liu Fei
I like the paintings of Liu Fei. He is a funny guy, and his paintings do look funny as well. Liu gave his pandas a slightly aggressive appearance, since they were supposed to mirror the image that the US had of China at the time while he was painting the pandas. For the N-Minutes Video Art Festival I decided to transform one of his painted pandas into a 2-dimensional marionette that can be controlled by passer-byers in the shopping mall. When they move their body in front of a camera the panda imitates their movements and can also interact with some virtual balls following physical laws.

The result is nothing more than an entertaining distraction in this case, but that was what I had been asked to do and i think that it was quite ok for that context. Sometimes it is also nice just to play a little bit.
My second contribution for the video art festival was the screening version of my nine-channel video work „Sevastopol in August“, a work more important to me.

The (commercial) request for Interactive Media and latest Technology is still growing, in China as elsewhere. Recently I met a team of young project-managers, who work for a government-close company based in Beijing and Xian. Their company plans to construct a „spectacular“ theatre building in Xian. Located in the vicinity of the historical sites of the Terracotta Army, it is supposed to host an impressive live performance show, where stories from Chinese history are narrated within a hydraulic stage construction and the latest multimedia realtime effects. Their company was especially assembled for this project and evolves from a huge enterprise, that did – as far as i know – mainly conventional city street lighting before.
As another example, the Intel and Vice funded Creators Project – a “global network dedicated to the celebration of creativity, culture and technology” ( http://www.thecreatorsproject.com ) – has a big focus on China and is quite popular in the nation.
www.thecreatorsproject.com
Local Universities establish new design and media related departments, even the ITP (Interactive Telecommunications Programme) from the NYU will open a Shanghai campus for the kids from rich Asian families soon (the study fees are the same as in the States). Additionally there are plenty rumours about government-funded and controlled „DIY-hacklabs“, that shall educate the young in the creative use of technology. And the „Music Valley“ project, that I described in my previous post, is only one small example for a centrally planned creative hub. I could probably continue the list with Disneyland Shanghai and the plans of DreamWorks Animation for a Shanghai Entertainment District that is considered to become a “cultural landmark” during the next years (more infos: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/08/business/global/08iht-park08.html ).

Alltogether I think that this is an very interesting development and i am glad to be in China right now. I meet many young people that are very pragmatic and optimistic about the future, and that is definitely a good thing. There are some dynamics in the play, that still give plenty of freedom while shaping the future. I suppose, that especially the balance of power between art and mass culture will determine the direction of this development: it might be too simple to locate it just between the two poles of innovation and democratic development on the one hand and political re-territorialisation and a cultural deadlock on the other hand.

“[…] that the money, the rich need to educate their children to civilised men (“Kulturmenschen”), only exists, since the children of other parents are sold to vice”

“The trouble, however, is that at present the apparati do not work for the general good; the means of production do not belong to the producer; and as a result his work amounts to so much merchandise, and is governed by the normal laws of mercantile trade. Art is merchandise, only to be manufactured by the means of production (apparati).”

Bertolt Brecht (about opera)

The learningplay teaches by being played, not by being watched”
 
What we must learn above all is consent.
Many say yes, and yet there is no consent.
Many are not asked, and many
Consent to the wrong things. Therefore:

What we must learn above all is consent.“

Bertolt Brecht

 

Brecht understood his concept of the learning play as an important step towards the creation of a new kind of participatory culture that should trigger social and political transformation. What he describes as „The Theater of the Future“ and what he also differentiates strictly from his (earlier) concept of the epic play can be understood as basic principles of a political aesthetics that is directly targeted towards the masses: the learning play does not happen anymore in the „bourgeois theater space“, but tries to „recruit“ its audience in the streets, factories and educational institutions of its time.

Recently I had again to think a lot about the notions of „Art“, „Interaction“ and the „Public“. The Chinese government announced in the recent past that it wants to strengthen and expand the nations cultural industry. The contours and aftermaths of these development plans are now slowly taking shape.

During the last two semesters i have been invited to teach two workshops „The City and Interactive“ @China East Normal University. Its School of Design is a relatively new department and offers a somehow design-, art- and new-media related studies programme. The main idea behind the workshops was to develop ideas for interactive installations for the Shanghai City Space. I am based in Shanghai, and it is a coincidence that the head of the School of Design @China East Normal University is right now in charge for the urban master plan for exactly the area that i am living in.



This traditional Shanghai Honkou Neighbourhood will soon be transformed into a cultural district with some trendy cafes & restaurants, design offices, one cinema, a music live-house, a kids museum and a music experience centre. It is located quite central in Shanghai, just two bus stops or metro stations north from the Bund. My wife grew up there, and whenever we visited China in the past, we used to stay here.
The tall building we are now living in was not existing when I first visited the city ten years ago, and the metro station was not yet opened. During my second visit in 2004 i filmed extensively with my first camcorder, which i bought extra for that trip. I never showed this video footage to anybody, but this autumn – eight years later – i will take the camcorder and film at the same locations again. Readers familiar with the urban dynamism in this city might imagine, that everything looks and feels quite different now. Almost a year ago a Sheraton hotel opened its doors here, so slowly you can spot the first foreigners here as well.
The historical 1933 building, a former slaughterhouse, was beautifully renovated and does now host wedding photographers, event spaces, restaurants, bars, design shops and the Ferrari Owners Club of China among others.




Opposite of it in another huge building is a multifunctional stage that hosts plays and events.
A third huge building just opened recently, mainly filled with small design and event companies, but also a wine-house and a bar imitating the pub from a famous US TV-series. Two more huge factory-like buildings are being renovated right now.




Definitely one key point behind the urban transformation is the idea to attract additional investors, tourists and consumers. Such strategies are well known and sometimes controversially discussed in my home-country as well. Three of my Chinese friends, who live in the same area, have already been told to move out of their apartments soon. Their landlords want to sell their real estate now. I am quite sure, that they are not the only ones in the area that have to find a new flat soon. In the streets one can see an enormous amount of small tobacco shops and mini-markets run by residents, that hardly do any business. Chinese friends told me, that the compensation money for re-location might be higher if the residents used to use the space commercially. I am not sure if this is just a rumour or reality.

The neighbourhood also encompasses part one of China Music Industry Park in Shanghai.


It is run by Shanghai Synergy Culture & Entertainment Group, a governmental body that plays the crucial role behind the transformation process:

Shanghai Synergy Culture & Entertainment Group (originally Shanghai Synergy Multimedia Group) is a large audio-visual industry group led by the Shanghai Municipal Committee of CPC and the People’s Government, and governed directly by the CPC Shanghai Propaganda Department Committee. […]

The China Music Industry Park in the Hongkou District will renovate and preserve several historical buildings and integrate them into modern music business service offerings. The park contraction will renovate old warehouse buildings during the next two years, and equip them with complete systems of high-quality recording studios and music producing facilities, as well as services and technology related to music production. […]

In recent years, Hongkou District has focused on renovation in the older community and the construction of new functional metropolitan infrastructure in areas surrounding the North Bund and North Sichuan Road. Moreover, environmental protection and sustainability have been at the top of the agenda. The comprehensive Suzhou River and Hongkou Bay clean-up project has accomplished its first and second stage objectives. The renovation and rejuvenation of the historic 1933 performance and stage park will create yet another Shanghai metro centre that embodies modern community and lifestyle, which will greatly benefit the CMIP.“

(from: www.ssceg.com/en/about/ssceg.html)

Therefore it seems to make perfect sense that the working title of the urban master plan is „Music Valley“. Since there is the wish to integrate optional interactive light-, sound- and video-installations in the public space, i had been asked to teach the workshops and also to contribute my ideas for interactive media installations to the urban design team. The „artworks“ that are requested for the urban space should definitely serve a similar function as the more classic „artworks“ one can already experience in the lobby and floors of the Sheraton hotel opposite the main street:

They should look beautiful, please the people and attract visitors. Passer-byers should become astonished and be happy while playing. The slogans that are used for the urban design are very similar to the familiar slogans from „communication agencies“, advertisement and city marketing. Role models therefore are certainly existing „Art in Public Space“ and „Art Events“ that are targeted towards a broad mass audience, such as f.e. the Luminale lighting festival in my home-city Frankfurt.

Click here to listen to Brecht (German / Chinese)

“The Scenery”

“The Dramaturg”

“The Actor”

“The Philosopher”

Above all, the Chinese artist never acts as if there were a fourth wall besides the three surrounding him. He expresses his awareness of being watched. This immediately removes one of the European stage’s characteristic illusions. The audience can no longer have the illusion of being the unseen spectator at an event which is really taking place. A whole elaborate European stage technique, which helps to conceal the fact that the scenes are so arranged that the audience can view them in the easiest way, is thereby made unnecessary. The actors openly choose those positions which will best show them off to the audience, just as if they were acrobats…The artist’s objective is to appear strange and even surprising to the audience. He achieves this by looking strangely at himself and his work.

Bertolt Brecht

I have an insatiable curiosity about people; it’s impossible for me to see and hear enough of them. The way they get along with each other, the way they develop friendships and enmities, sell onions, plan military campaigns, get married, make tweed suits, circulate forged bank notes, dig potatoes, observe the heavenly bodies; the way they cheat, favour, teach, exploit, respect, mutilate and support another; the way they hold meetings, form societies, conduct intrigues. I always want to know why they embark on their undertakings, and my aim is to distinguish certain laws that would allow me to make predictions.

Bertolt Brecht (“The Philosopher” in “The Messingkauf Dialogues”)


Audiolink Hanns Eisler: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/Auferstanden_aus_Ruinen.ogg

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