The golden age is over but Guangzhou still best city in China to be a musician

Posted: 04/18/2013 7:00 am

A performer on Zhonghua Square, which Zhu Desong frequently visits.

A nationally respected musician has told Southern Metropolis Daily that Guangzhou is the best city in China in which to be a musician. Zhu Desong, who helped launch the careers of such megastars as Jay Chou and Luo Dayou, pointed to the talent and diversity of Guangzhou’s street performers as an example of the quality of the city’s music scene. However, he lamented that the city had lost its status as the capital of original music to Beijing over the past decade or so.

Zhu, a descendant of Song Dynasty scholar and poet Zhu Xi, is a singer, songwriter, producer and manager who came to Guangzhou in 1988 after being offered a job by the Pacific Audio and Visual Company.

When Zhu came to Guangzhou, the influx of migrant workers was at its most rapid and his career as a producer rode the wave of vibrancy of Guangzhou in the 90s. Stars whose music he has produced include Song Zuying and Na Ying.

During what Zhu calls the Golden Age of the Guangzhou music scene, there were monthly Original Music Appreciation Gatherings, and there would be awards for best original song of the month, season, and year. Local television and radio would help musicians promote their original songs, but Zhu thinks these media have since bowed to commercial pressure.

However, Zhu still uses his considerable influence to support the city’s street performers. He co-organized the concert “游唱侠英雄会” which roughly translates as Heroic Traveling Artists which was held in Wuhan and Lijiang as well as Guangzhou. The concert brought in a total revenue of 100,000 RMB.

A performer on the subway. Many of the city’s street performers rely on it as a livelihood.

He often stops and listens to performers on footbridges, street corners and in underpasses. Their music varies in quality, he says. Some do it just for recreational purposes, others do it for a living. The ones who do it for a living may struggle initially, but Zhu insists that if they work hard they can have a good life in Guangzhou. All of Zhu’s musician friends own houses and cars.

Zhu attributes Guangzhou’s loss of its status as the country’s original music capital to complacency and lack of investment. One particularly telling moment was the city’s failure to use the Asia Games to promote a song that could be as famous as “Beijing, Beijing.”

Despite Beijing having more opportunities for musicians, Zhu still thinks that Guangzhou is the friendliest, most pleasant and most open-minded city in China. He mentions with particular keenness the wide variety of restaurants that appear unremarkable from the outside but offer very special food.

Here is a video of probably the best known of Zhu’s songs: September 9.


Founder of Guangzhou’s creative “Original Element” thinks city’s art scene set to flourish

Posted: 04/5/2013 4:46 pm

On a grisly wet morning, I find myself standing at the foot of a bright red banner displaying the words “Original Element”, followed by its Chinese spelling cramped underneath. This imposing sign opens the path towards one of Guangzhou’s last remaining art scenes, a business that is slowly receding, mostly unnoticed, at the hands of the government.

Modern art, in its diverse shapes and forms, has been slowly growing over the past few years, fed by a new promise of future liberalization and inspiration from its already developed Hong Kong counterpart. New artists rising from a “massive” underground subculture are breaking the conceptual and commercial barriers once closely guarded by the system. However, while the inspiration and content are there, pulsing and ready to burst, the ground seems to be crumbling beneath their feet.

A new breed of visionary artists is being hounded out of their rented spaces by the government. Old factories and industrial zones, rebuilt from scratch and transformed into booming, colourful headquarters of modern art are being yet again demolished and replaced by financial centres.

However, one man is doing his best to prevent this from happening.

Hugo, Chairman of SILO Creative Community, spread out a protective wing for Guangzhou’s art community and invested in Original Element Creative Park, an art centre coming to life at the heart of Liwan District in Guangzhou.

“All these resources have to form an industry of change,” he says, calmly looking outside the window of his office-turned-living room. Much like his business, the room, raised beyond street level on the rooftop of one of the centre’s under-construction buildings, is a splash of colour in the midst of a grey, seemingly decaying area.

A businessman at heart, he describes his native Guangzhou as “a very pragmatic and realistic city.”

“It took China 30 years to catch up with Europe’s developments. We spent the past developing the economy. Now, we can take a break and think about what life is about and how we want to spend it,” he says, with the help of our translator.

And the best way to start enjoying the already comfortable economic position of this continuously developing metropolis is to give art a chance.

Hugo is already giving it more than just that. With a personal investment of RMB150 million, he is revamping South China’s first brewery and turning it into a vibrant, welcoming art scene.

Outside in the pouring rain, the metallic blows of hammers and the sharp roars of machinery are diligently echoing his promise. Original Element, taken over by SILO Creative Community two years ago, already encompasses a range of art galleries, studios, expensive brand shops, and a sleek, cutting-edge restaurant. This makes for 80 per cent of the space, already established and attracting young audiences. The rest is to be developed within six months, about the same amount of time Hugo thinks it will take to start making a profit.

“The money-making part hasn’t started yet,” he says with a smile. When I marvel at this, he explains his faith in his investment. Having rented the place for the next 20 years, OE is only in its infancy.

It occurs to me that while other renowned art spaces, such as Redtory, are being constantly brought down and facing closure, 20 years from now, this small industrial-looking art district will be the last one standing, a single splash of colour on the city’s grey canvass.

Confronted with this image, Hugo laughs in disbelief.

“People think the creative industry is about places, but it is not; it’s about platforms. So it doesn’t really matter that the government is taking all these spaces back, because there are alternative platforms, such as the digital medium, for artists to express themselves, and that’s the key.”

Hugo’s unshaken belief in the art community’s potential is inspiring. After travelling around the world, including four years spent in Canada, he returned to China, confident that culture will enter a golden age within the next 10 years. His confidence is based on continual observation of Hong Kong, which is pushing new boundaries in terms of its art scene.

Soon, Guangdong will import the same openness, he thinks, especially in terms of modern dance, a form of art in which Guangzhou is already leading.

“China is opening up, mainly politically,” he says. “What you can see around you now is chaos everywhere. But art needs chaos for inspiration and that can be translated as a huge potential for the art world.”

OE is unique in many ways, including how it conducts its business. Artists are charged lower rents for their spaces in an encouraging and supportive gesture. Moreover, the performers are given a free hand: management mostly stays away from the creative process, allowing them to curate their own shows in the way they deem appropriate.

Without doubt, the whole business strikes me as a daring project. Is this a form of dissidence in itself? Hugo shakes his head dismissively.

“Artists don’t have time for revolutions,” he said.

“Sometimes, art can be a form of dissidence, but only in the hands of artists like Ai Weiwei. But these artists, like everyone else, want to survive. So they are not going to kill themselves by involving themselves in politically heavy art.”

However, he does mention a recent “angry exhibition” by a Chinese oil painter. The message, he says, can be interpreted only from an emotional point of view.

As the cold rain outside dies down, we start our descent back in the streets with Hugo explaining that art is the venture of emotions.

If this is true, the current developments are predicting a powerful emotional storm that will sweep Guangzhou in the near future.

Address: Original Element Creative Park, No 63, Xizeng Lu, Liwan District, Guangzhou (Exit D, Xicun Station, Line 5)

原创元素创意园, 广州市荔湾区西增路63号


New US consulate in Guangzhou is given a sculpture, nobody sure what it is

Posted: 03/26/2013 3:22 pm

The United States consulate in Guangzhou is one of the busiest in China. It’s responsible for handling visa enquiries for people all over the southern part of the country, stretching down to Hainan Island.

In short, the needs of the consulate have outgrown its current digs, so it will soon move into a brand new facility in Zhujiang New Town. The consulate is expected to have a grand opening ceremony later this year.

A US artist named Joel Shapiro has created a sculpture that has been donated to the consulate to mark the occasion.  Shapiro, who’s 71 years old, is apparently well-known in the world of abstract art, according to the Wall Street Journal. And as with the genre, much is left up to individual interpretation.

Enter, this:

That blue sculpture to the left is the one designed by Shapiro. What is it, exactly? Some say it looks like a flying man, others wonder if it’s a bird, we think it kind of looks like a guy about to stand up from a chair?!

Shapiro says people are welcome to interpret the design “any way they’d like to, as long as it stimulates the imagination.”

In China last week, Mr. Shapiro oversaw installation of the 22-foot-tall outdoor, bright-blue metal work. The bright-blue Guangzhou work is made of six parts bolted together. Why blue? “I like blue,” Mr. Shapiro said, wearing a blue button-down shirt. But he also explained that the hue “gives the piece a solidity, and it doesn’t reflect light. It amplifies the mass of the piece.” He chose a durable matte paint used by the U.S. military for covert operations.

The sculpture, the result of a seven-year process, was made in a foundry north of New York City. Mr. Shapiro donated the piece to the consulate at the behest of the nonprofit Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies, which paid for the fabrication of the sculpture and has given work by over 200 artists to American outposts in more than 140 countries. In 1999, FAPE arranged for the artist to donate a 40-foot-high bronze sculpture for the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.

Guangzhou is fast becoming a bit of a hotbed for architecture. The new blue consulate sculpture sits beside the Guangzhou Opera House, which has also received international acclaim.

Any guesses on what the blue sculpture is supposed to be?

Let us know what you think in the comments.



Man in Guangzhou hangs roast chickens from limbs and is bitten by woman for “art”

Posted: 12/26/2012 11:00 am

Some performance art in Guangzhou last weekend has left a sour taste in many mouths, and has circulated widely in Sina Weibo.

Kang Yi, a performance artist who has earned some notoriety over the years, stood mostly (but not completely) naked last Saturday with well-done roast chickens hanging from his limbs. A young girl then bit the man’s flesh in several places.  What is the significance of this, you ask? Lola B at Beijing Cream proffers this:

What do roast chickens and love have in common? Absofuckinglutely nothing.

With this piece, Kang Yi theoretically hopes to inspire people to choose a more traditional Chinese path of love. I think this performance will turn me off physical contact with others altogether — and that takes a lot. Performance art is always best experienced in person, and perhaps I would have hated it a little less had I been present, but to add insult to injury, the video documentation that has been circulating for Kang Yi’s work is insultingly poorly edited.

The watching of it leaves me a little confused at best. There is no feeling between the boy and girl. The chickens are there to make the connection between human flesh and meat? — it’s either too obvious or too obscure, and aesthetically very displeasing.

The girl involved is a sophomore university student from Hunan Province. She ended up biting (some say ‘kissing’, although marks were left behind) Kang Yi more than 1,000 times.

Shanghaiist notes the art hasn’t been received all that well online:

The video of the performance has been much forwarded and commented on by netizens. One outraged commentator said: “Today’s society consider rubbish to be art, consider criminals to be normal, and illegal lawyers to be defenders of the law…. where are the police? why have the news reported on this? It just promotes it! Don’t profane art!” Another less outraged commentator said “It’s a waste of good chicken“.

Kang Yi said: “It is inevitable for the body to react when it has contact with females, especially on such a cold day.  It is like ice with fire, carnal desire with the attempt to resist temptation.  I need to choose one of them. I hope my work can wake youths up to look for faithful love.”