Monday, December 15, 2014

To the Studio

Two days after arriving I had visited the Village to pick up essentials, and managed my first trek into Shenzhen. It couldn't be avoided any longer - I had to get to work. My studio was a wonderful, large room with lots of natural light. I set up a table in front of the window and settled into taking an inventory of my space and materials.

All the details were new and different. Even the keys had a different shape than anything I've seen before. All the doorways have tall thresholds you need to step over (ADA would have a field day). The light switches are push button. No screens on windows and many don't function. My space was generous in size, allowing me ample area to pace back and forth while ruminating, there were several tables and chairs, and it had an air conditioner - it was perfect.

The terrifying blank canvas. The space was wiped clean and ready for me to make my mark. 

I loved working on the table in front of the window where I could watch all the goings on outside.
Unfortunately, so did the flying cockroach that landed in front of me one day before scuttling off to parts unknown
and seriously affecting my day.

To jumpstart I started by rubbing onto paper the fun textures around me. Everything seemed rich in pattern, even the manhole covers. One texture in particular was the embossed glass in the windows. So with my new rice paper and graphite pencil, I started working with these new designs.

Which way to the toilet?

A painter, Gideon Rubin, occupied the studio before me and left behind a stack of Chinese propaganda magazines from the 1960s. I couldn't read the text and didn't know exactly what the stories were about, but the images were provocative and full of innuendo.

The delicate embossed design from the window felt instinctively Chinese to me. I had nothing to base this on but a naive impression, but I continued following that muse and started rubbing these patterns onto the magazine pages. Interestingly, during a studio visit with some Chinese designers later in the month, I found out that this window design is in fact a traditional one that was used in most houses a long time ago. My visitors were feeling nostalgic since most of Shenzhen is new and no longer has these windows.

I followed this thread of impressing traditional glass patterns onto propaganda newsprint, and watching it emerge into new patterns. Then decided to add to this configuration yet another layer, embroidery.

These studies were labor intensive which made me very nervous and conscious of the time, but I couldn't help it, and worked on them anyway. They led me to other ideas and I brought them home to continue exploring over the winter.

In parallel to the embroidery studies I also started playing with some found materials and building sculptures. There was a container full of rusty clamps that are used to hold scaffolding together. They worked by attaching in two directions to stabilize both vertical and horizontal bars together.

As Daniel very perceptively pointed out to me, fiber artists want to make everything into an interlocking structure, and that's exactly what I was doing. They are symbols of the construction and frenzy that is happening in Shenzhen and China. Each bracket is an individual entity that is just like the next one. Each exists in large numbers and performs the same singular function. In my beginning sculpture, they were all brought together into a tenuous vertical form, like a skyscraper.

So happy that I remembered to bring the gold leaf from home.

Daniel is a recently graduated fiber artist from Liverpool England and has been in Shenzhen teaching english for two years. Working with him over the course of the month was one of the highlights of my residency. We both spoke the same art language (English too though I did learn some bloody slang!). We shared artists and artwork and it was amazing how our different nationalities added so much interest to our conversations. On this first Sunday, we walked around Da Wang scavenging for all sorts of things.

The walk to get to my studio was an adventure. I was situated in the middle of a work area for the company that owns
Da Wang Culture Highland. I still don't have a clear picture of what goes on there but apparently there are many departments to this company with galleries and venues in other parts of Shenzhen and in Beijing. 
The property is used for storage and as a work area for anything that needed to be built or maintained.
I often stepped over workers on my way to the studio who were in the middle of welding, or painting I beams, or assembling mysterious wire grid frames. 
There were so many inspirational tableaus of color, material and texture.
And what was even better, I had permission from Tom to use ANYTHING I found.
This environment enhanced my narrative of visiting a strange land. Observation was key and for someone like me, who loves to eavesdrop and construct other people's tales, it was a heavenly temple on earth
(insert Chinese folklore here:).
This world of found objects was my oyster. All I had to do was beware of the snakes!

Daniel was looking for wire, I was less specific but hit the jackpot with this box of rusty scaffold connectors. We went our separate ways and got to work. It was a good day and a very good start to the month.

This post is part of a series documenting my experiences in China. 
Please follow previous entries by using the blog archive in the sidebar to the right. Or click here for the beginning. 


  1. I love the photos of Da Wang "junk". It's an old water bottling plant, and there are all these weird, industrial parts laying around there. I spent a lot of time, just looking at the various parts, trying to make sense of them.

  2. Also, this space is used as a sort of warehouse and work area for Da Wang businesses in other parts of the city and country. When I was there they were very busy painting I-beams red and building funny looking wire grids inside wooden frames.... very mysterious :).

  3. Brava! Love the layering and pattern based work!